5 Lessons Learned When "Going Rogue" With Fabric Choices

Lisa Stewart adjusting a pattern Cici Tote Bag confident beginner foam interfacing Linen

The Cici Tote Bag is Kaya Papaya Design's second pattern and was released in early 2020. We reformatted the pattern structure earlier this year and included some add-on features to make it even more versatile. Needing pictures for the launch, I decided I would make a bag. 

I found two linen fabrics in the apparel section at JoAnn's and fell in love with them (and the sale price) and decided with matte black hardware it would all come together as a beautiful bag.

There were a few challenges I hadn't planned on.

The pattern is written for decor fabric exterior with vinyl or faux leather overlays and straps. Peltex gives the bag firm structure. In conferring with Patricia, she advised me to substitute foam as I do not like super structured bags. Since I was using fabric instead of vinyl for the overlay,  I would need to cut four overlay pieces, with an added seam allowance for sewing together and turning as I couldn't use a raw edge.

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Prewashing both linens was to remove any sizing and to preshrink in case this became an issue with adding the interfacings. I steam pressed the linen to alleviate more shrinkage before block fusing the SF101 for the pattern exterior.

Before cutting out the OVERLAY pattern pieces, I marked a 1/4" seam allowance to the top edge of the pieces. I actually prefer 3/8" for wiggle room, especially with a curve involved, but as you can see from the pattern sheet, 3/8" would've interfered with the ZIPPER POCKET FACING piece. 

I block-fused the paprika linen I would be cutting for the overlays, as I felt this gave it more structure for cutting the curves. The linen stretched on the grainline before adding the SF101, as you'll see in the second photo below.


I laid the OVERLAY piece cross-grain so I wouldn't get a lengthwise stretch, as I was still seeing some with the SF101 attached, though not as much without the interfacing.


I apologize for the lack of photos for the following steps.

Making the overlays in pairs, I did the following: 

  • I layered the overlay fabric RST, with one SF101 side facing up.
  • Using pattern weights, I drew around the OVERLAY pattern piece.
  • I then removed it, put pattern weights down again, and cut out my pieces, using a rotary cutter as much as possible. This avoided the bunching that may have been caused with pins, or making marks in the linen, or loosening the SF101.
  • Once cut out, I clipped the pair RST.
  • I marked the 1/4" seam allowance in the shaped sections. I also notated 1/4" at one top edge as a reminder when I would begin stitching.

The overlays were then stitched together at 1/4" at 3 mm stitch length. I clipped the curved areas and turned. I actually had to go back and clip some more as I wanted a very smooth curve and did not want any stretch when manipulating it from the right side. I pressed (not ironed) carefully. 

First Lesson: Use a linen-blend. That stretching is going to come back to haunt me as I assemble the bag. I have linked an excellent resource at the end.

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I encountered my first problem when adding the exterior slip pocket. I had meticulously fussy-cut the pocket before adding the SF101. I did not recheck the piece measurements after doing so. Though the pocket is folded WST and topstitched (in other words, no turning), the fabric had distorted. In order to follow the design, I had to put the pocket on slightly diagonally to allow for the distortion. This was the first sign there may be trouble. In looking at the photos up-close, it really isn't evident, but was very frustrating when the pocket edge did not line up with my marks for placement. (Bonus lesson: Make sure NOT to pick up a sharpie pen to mark the center on the front exterior of your bag. Thank goodness the fabric design looks like black ink!)

I next added the strap connectors. Here I encountered more of an issue involving the foam. With it being on the bottom as you are sewing, it can cause issues in sliding underneath the presser foot. Additionally, though I used a long piece of 1/4" DST to hold the strap connectors in place, the first one shifted slightly. I knew the linen would not do well if I used the seam ripper, so I left it alone. And kicked myself for doing the front of the bag first! 

Second Lesson: Adding a layer of SF101 over the foam to seal the seam allowance edges would've been well worth the extra time as I am soon to find out! Additionally, I really do not like the Pellon foam. After using it numerous times, I am going to find an alternative. And 3/8" DST would hold those straps much better. I mistakenly assumed that because I was using fabric I would get better adherence than when using vinyl. But, it's not super glue, and all those physics involved in movement, and thickness, etc. are against it. 

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After having more success with the last three strap connectors, I was feeling good about the overlay. The turned edges looked great. I began stitching the first one and got to the curved edge and realized things were not going well, though I was using a 1/8" presser foot. I also realized I couldn't use the seam ripper without possibly catching a fabric thread in the process and causing a "pick" and the holes that may not steam out or the possible stretching distortion. I left that wonky stitching in place and marked the remaining curved edge and the other overlay with the 1/8" seam allowance. 

Third Lesson: Always mark the seam allowance on curved areas! It's so much easier to follow the line than keeping the presser foot edge lined up.

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I added the bottom to the front and back without incident. I did use Peltex for the bottom and I was excited to put my first purse feet on. I don't really care for extra bling, but linen will not do well sitting on the floor! But I soon learned that the ease of adding the bottom did not translate into a success. Foreshadowing: the bottom consists of one piece of linen, SF101, and Peltex - not inside the seam allowance.

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How hard can it be to sew the sides together? I was meticulous about matching the overlay seams - in fact I like to baste them in place first. Keep in mind that if I were using vinyl, I would have two layers of vinyl over two layers of decor fabric and 2 layers of SF101. Instead, at that upper edge of the overlay, I have four layers of linen, 2 layers of SF101, another layer of linen, and another layer of SF101 on EACH side of the seam.

I basted the seam, and then sewed it in place. Fortunately, I decided to check before moving on to the second side. It was slightly off. I did this three more times, and my seam was looking ragged AND stretched, and the foam had decided it didn't want to stick around, and my frustration was off the charts. After the third try on side one I gave up and just KNEW that I'd do better on side two. Nope. That linen wanted to slide against itself and refused to match on that big seam. 


Fourth lesson: I was sick of sewing this bag. Oh, wait. I meant to say that fabric glue may well have helped hold this seam in place. Of course, if I had covered the foam with a layer of SF101, that would have added that to the seam as well. Or I could've used a stapler as we do on gussets. 

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The rest of the bag sewing proceeded without any more drama. I made it through the final press, and it was looking great. Those pictures I posted on Facebook were awesome and I didn't really focus on those mismatched sides. (You know, let's highlight our good features - not our flaws). 

But while taking the pictures, I did notice some problems. And now that the bag has been sitting around - it has not been used at all, just sitting on a bench in my bedroom, here is what I have noticed:

Bubbling from too much pressing and reheating the adhesive. Also, the bottom looks flimsy.

Lesson 5: I should've used two layers of linen and SF101 as I did in the overlay. You can clearly see where the Peltex is not up to the edge of the seam allowance. The bottom also sags in the middle (and the bag is empty!), so two additional purse feet would've helped. The linen doesn't hold it's shape like vinyl would. 

More bubbling. This was happening when I made the original photos from just handling the bag to position it. It has worsened. 

More SF101 issues. 


The crumpling of the overlay to the bottom due to lack of the Peltex structure. Also, notice the wrinkling on the straps. The linen is stretching slightly in both situations. There is a reason that linen is considered a "shabby chic" look. 

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Though in the photographs I posted online the bag looks pretty good, I know it will not hold a "crisp linen-look" that I was going for. I have pointed out 5 lessons that I learned making this bag as it is and that may have improved the structure. However, to truly get a crisp look on The Cici Tote Bag, I think the Peltex or equivalent should be used. If using something other than vinyl on the overlay, you carefully need to consider the fabric properties. I have seen decor fabrics stretch as well as canvas. 

Additionally, due to the structure and form of this bag, I do not think it would hold up well to washing, even on a delicate or hand wash cycle. Though all interfacings, including Peltex, say they can be washed and dried, you can see that there are interfacing issues relating to turning the bag and handling. The adhesive on those products cannot take repeated heating with good results.

Below are some products I have since used or plan to use in the future to try for better results in making any type of bag (We have no affiliation).

  • Robert Kaufman's Essex Linen - a blend of cotton and linen, with less stretching. Also has a really nice finish. I have used this and love it!
  • 2Minutes2Stitch lightweight woven interfacing - I have switched from Pellon and other brands to this and have had good results. Additionally, it comes in a mid-weight woven for exteriors and that would be perfect for backing the linen and may reduce the stretching I experienced. 
  • Annie's Soft & Stable - I have purchased this but have not used it. I feel at this point that anything has to be better than the Pellon product!
  • Peltex Sew-in 70 - to avoid the bubbly effect, I would put the woven interfacing over this to hold in place. Additionally, a Decovil product may be superior. Check out our Bag Making Stabilizers and Interfacings chart for equivalents. 

Hopefully, this information is helpful to those of you wanting to deter from The Cici Tote Bag pattern's recommendations, or at least realize that your choices may greatly impact your final product and differ from the pattern's design intent.

I personally like to try out my ideas and visions that may differ from any chosen pattern recommendations. With a firm grip on how a fabric will perform and the best stabilizers to use, you can prepare better for the outcome. I always urge you to practice on scraps as much as possible, and actually wish I had played around with the linen beyond which stitch and tension was the best. 

Comment or email us with any tips you have found particularly helpful or your thoughts on this article. We'd love to hear from you!



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