Last summer I hurt my left shoulder at the beach because I crammed 3 different tote bags on one arm. One multi-functional bag would have helped so much!
Finishing at 23" W x 15" H x 7" D, The Sunset Beach Tote is a seriously large bag, made to hold everything you need for the beach or pool. While the pattern offers explanations for some aspects of sturdy construction, let's dig a little deeper into the process of ensuring a sturdy tote.
1. The pattern is designed for heavy-duty outdoor fabric, which has been manufactured to withstand the sun and usually has a very high rating for a "rub test" - meaning it can stand up to lots of abuse, such as in outdoor cushions. Perfect for a beach bag! (Note that you need to be aware of the "melting" that may occur with outdoor fabrics. The pattern reminds you multiple times to use a press cloth!)
Margaret Ehinger Rutherford used WPC, oilcloth, and medium weight canvas
2. A coated fabric will give added strength. Many outdoor fabrics have a coating to make them "water resistant" - meaning that water doesn't easily penetrate the fibers.
Waterproof canvas (WPC) is tightly woven polyester canvas with a PVC finish on the back. It is extremely durable and can withstand a lot of wear and tear and temperature extremes. Click on the picture for more information on WPC at Fabric Wholesale Direct (not affiliated).
3. The pattern calls for two stabilizers - fusible fleece and fusible Peltex. The fleece will give the body of the bag some structure. The Peltex, a stiff stabilizer, does add structure, but more importantly, it adds support. (See equivalency chart for other products).
Used on the facing, it gives the tote a very firm upper edge and excellent support for the straps. Used on both the exterior and lining bottoms, it prevents the stitching on the bottom of the bag from weakening over time due to weight and stress.
In my two bags below, The Sunset Beach Tote has Peltex applied to the facing, stabilizing the upper edge. In The Cici Tote, I used fleece and didn't stitch the straps to the upper edge. See how the edge curls in and the straps would not tolerate frequent heavy loads.
The bonus with both stabilizers is that your bag stands up rather than flopping over. Useful for loading things up rather than constantly having to use one hand to keep it open.
4. Polyester all-purpose thread is recommended in the Pattern Notions as The Sunset Beach Tote is easily sewn on a domestic machine. Though cotton is strong, it will not hold up to the sun and getting wet, and will deteriorate over time - maybe by the end of a heavy-use summer.
Topstitching thread is an excellent choice for both construction and the topstitching on the bag. If your domestic can handle a thicker thread easily, then go ahead with that, again making sure it is polyester.
5. The recommended needle is an 80/12 with a Microtex point. These are designed to not tear the fibers on coated fabrics. Additionally, should you need to remove stitching, you will not be left with large holes and may be able to smooth with your hand or a press cloth and iron to remove any visible holes.
Leather needles may also be appropriate as they have a wedge point and work well on coated fabrics.
6. The Sunset Beach Tote has double seams at stress points. The boxed corners are sewn at 3/8" seam allowance and again at 1/4". This helps spread any stress from weight rather than resting on one seam. (We've all seen those pulled stitches in the bottom seams of our bags and want to know how to eliminate them!) The center bottom seam is topstitched on either side and the Peltex is topstitched to stay in place.
Straps are stitched multiple times for stability. The straps attach to the body after the fleece stabilizer has been fused, which adds another layer of stability for the stitching on the straps. The last step of the pattern is to stitch a box with an "X" at the remaining loose edge of the strap to the facing which is backed with Peltex. This is the most important step in making sure the strap is able to support a large, possibly heavy, load. It prevents tearing at this major stress point. You want to be sure to stitch below the topstitched edge as you do not want extra stress there. Notice the strap on the left in the picture below.
7. The lining sides have reinforced stitching in that you stitch over the seam allowance twice. The lining slip pockets are divided with double lines for less tear on the individual sections, also shown in the picture below.
An additional step you can take to ensure that your interior pockets don't tear, is to stitch a triangle in each upper corner. Tester Rebecca Hansen did that her in bag.
What about rivets, you may ask.
The Sunset Beach Tote does not include rivets as a strap option. The first reason being the design is intended to have minimal hardware for ultra beginners. The second, and most important reason, is that I do not consider rivets a good choice for exposure to chlorine or salt air.
Additionally, should you choose to use rivets, do not skip the box and "X" stitching combo. Rivets can come out! (says the person who was standing in line to check out when her purse strap released from her bag!).
As you can see, there is much to consider when designing a bag beyond the look and the ease of construction. Be sure to take the time to consider the "why" behind the recommendations on a pattern for the intended results. Any deviation from the pattern should be carefully considered before your proceed, taking into account your intended use of the bag.
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