If you've been sewing for awhile, you probably have accumulated a good amount of sewing tools. Bag designers know having particular tools on hand will make manipulating fabric into a gorgeous bag creation an easier process with better results. Most of the tools and notions we will be covering are easily found at a fabric or mega store. All should be easily sourced online as well. I have provided some links for your convenience. Kaya Papaya Design is not affiliated with any of these.
Let's start with making sure your sewing machine has the right tools:
When I was learning to sew by candlelight (haha), we basically just used any thread, as long as it matched. I don't remember looking at the actual content of thread. Nowadays, we have more thread options and I personally am more aware of the content of the thread and fabric choices and making sure they are compatible.
Your handbag is going to get a lot of use, so a polyester thread is preferable to cotton. A 40 wt thread will stand up to a lot and can be used for both construction and topstitching. However, a thick topstitch thread will bring the deserved attention to your painstaking topstitching detail. A 12 wt is a nice chunky thread. Be sure to use it in the needle, and the regular polyester thread in the bobbin. Some sewists like to use a thread with a nice sheen for topstitching, highlighting their work.
Hector J Rivas photo
As in all sewing projects, using a new properly-sized needle will give you the best results. You're going to be stitching a lot of layers of fabric, interfacing and stabilizers, so your needle needs to be up to the job!
A denim 90/14 needle or leather 100/16 needle can handle the layers. A leather needle has a wedge shaped point that penetrates heavy fabrics and layers without tearing. It is best used on non-woven fabrics such as leather, vinyl, and cork. A denim needle is preferable on wovens such as denim, canvas, and cottons, and will also work well on cork. You may prefer to change to a topstitch needle when topstitching. It has an extra large eye for the thicker thread, and is super sharp to penetrate multiple layers.
A Walking Foot is the best for moving all those layers along. Additionally, some fabrics and interfacing/stabilizers want to cling to your throat plate and the walking foot will make sure they glide through without you pushing or pulling, causing distorted stitches. If your machine didn't come with a walking foot, you can purchase one for your particular model or a generic brand depending on your shank.
For topstitching, an Edge Stitch Foot has a blade to align with the edge of your fabric. This foot is also referred to as a Blind-hem Foot or an Edge-Joining Foot. It has a wide needle opening, allowing for needle positioning.
For inserting zippers, both a Zipper Foot and a Binding Foot are useful, though not necessary to get the job done.
If you are stitching leather or heavy vinyl, a Non-stick or Teflon Foot can be helpful, particularly when used with a Teflon or Queen Supreme Mat.
Of all the feet listed above, if you are going to be making many bags it is worth investing in a Walking Foot. I have personally shopped at Sewing Parts Online and have found their pricing, shipping, and customer service excellent.
A Walking Foot is going to move all of those layers through, but sometimes you get to a seam intersection that is going to need a little help. The quick and dirty method is to take a small scrap of vinyl folded several times and place behind the presser foot, giving it extra lift off the fabric. The little tool that does that for you and can be moved to adjust for different thicknesses is a Hump Jumper. One of the cheapest tools to purchase for your toolbox, but certainly a sanity saver when you need it. Your needle will thank you!
Bag making involves a lot of detail work as with topstitching, adding trim, and making things look just right. Aside from the finishing steam pressing, getting your stitching just right is going to distinguish your bag from a simple homemade item. You need to be able to see what you're doing!
Lighting is a feature that I think all sewing machine manufacturers could improve on installing. Why are we not seeing LED lights integrated into their designs? I added these to my machine, and I can actually sew with just these and my machine light and not need any additional lighting. This is wonderful when your eyes are tired from the brighter overhead lights.
I discussed with the sewing machine repair technician about installing them, as they won't adhere if he has to remove them. He said that if the machine housing meets in the middle with a visible line, then just position the light strip to one side or the other. My housing "crack" is toward the back, so no issue with adding them to the middle. Stand lighting can get expensive, but these LED lights are totally affordable, easy to install, and a game changer in viewing your work, especially for night sewing.
Sewing Land has a review of the LED lights along with 6 others for 2021. I can't address stand type or other lights as I have a simple swing arm regular lamp over my machine, a bright room with natural light from two windows, and then my wonderful little LED lights. Your sewing situation may need additional lighting. Your eyes will thank you, and your work will be much better.
Having the proper tools for sewing bags makes the process so much more enjoyable, efficient, and rewarding!
Next up for Your Bag Making Tool Kit - Measuring, Marking, and Cutting Tools: Part Two.
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