Weekend Duffel: Tips for Success (Part 6)

I thought my previous article in the Weekend Duffel series, showing the finished product, was the end of it.

But I got a comment from a reader named Toby, who found my blog via Craftsy:

I have just started this course, am on the second or third video now … the bag looks HARD and I can see it will be a challenge for me.

I’ve never understood sewists who shy away from certain types of projects altogether because they appear too difficult. I like to undertake difficult projects, because I learn new skills, improve old ones, and I have a sense of satisfaction when the job is done. And even if I fail, the project is not a waste because i have learned something.

While I didn’t feel Toby was going to run away from the project, I was compelled to provide some words of encouragement. And I realized that my comments might be helpful to anyone tackling this project, so I’m creating a blog post from them.

Tips for Making the Weekend Duffel

1. The bags have a lot of steps to follow, and a lot of cutting and sewing to do. But each step by itself is not terribly difficult. Most of the sewing is straight lines. The handsewing is pretty minimal. The challenging parts come near the end, when you have to sew through a lot of layers of fabric, because it just gets harder to manage things while still trying to sew precise lines.

It was extra challenging for me compared to the course because I used canvas, which was heavier than the quilting cottons used throughout in the class. And so some of the seams were thicker than those in the video. But if you have a sturdy sewing machine, or if you take the difficult seams slowly, you should be OK.

2. I had pretty much done all of the techniques for this bag individually in other projects. For instance, I made zippered pockets when I sewed a series of hoodies, and I made bellows pockets before for a telescope caddy. For something like the zippered or bellows pockets, buy some extra fabric and zippers and make some samples first so you feel comfortable with the construction steps.

3. Take care to measure and cut everything precisely. Get a quilting ruler, a cutting mat, and a rotary cutter and take your time measuring and aligning the cuts so the dimensions are correct, and the corners are square.  Use the marking lines on the ruler and the cutting mat to place your cuts accurately.

After I fused all the interfacings to the fabric pieces, the interfacing stuck out on a few edges. I went through again with the quilting ruler and rotary cutters, and trimmed the pieces so I knew they were the correct dimensions and were square. That really cut down on issues further down the road in construction.

4. Make sure you watch the entire Craftsy video course before starting construction. You’ll know why certain things are done the way they are, because of requirements further down the line. Sometimes the instructor doesn’t mention an important detail till farther down the line.

5. The printed course notes are very useful; they have an interfacing guide sheet which is essential to follow. I made a point of double-checking measurements before I started cutting, because I didn’t have canvas fabric to spare in case of error. I also pinned interfacing to fabric pieces BEFORE fusing them. I double-checked against the course notes to be certain I was applying the correct interfacing to the correct fabric pieces. Then I did the fusing.

6. In my case, since I was using very contrasty colors, I had three thread colors (to match main, accent and lining) and I had to do thread changes as I went through the project. Always ask yourself at each step which thread you should be using. You may want to use one color in the needle and one in the bobbin at certain points, such as the flaps and handle grip.

7. Don’t be afraid to rip out a seam and try again if you’re not happy with the way it came out. Working with the canvas made it easy to rip seams, since the fabric was so much more rugged than the thread and I didn’t have to be dainty with the seam ripper.  A few times I had to rip out a seam because I had the wrong color thread and the stitches in the seam were visible (see #6 above).

Enjoy making your bags!

Follow-On Projects

Somewhere along the line, I mentioned I want to make a travel ensemble featuring the following matching accessories:

  • A Dopp kit, made from the spare canvas I have on hand. PatternReview member kcurtis has made a really exceptional video tutorial on YouTube, that’s on par with the Craftsy courses in terms of quality of instruction.
  • Matching laundry bags, made from ripstop nylon.  I have some construction ideas for these, so I will be producing an “original” design and am thinking about producing a video tutorial. Shout out in the comments if you’d like to see that.
  • And finally a travel wallet, again made from the spare canvas.

None of these are super-big projects, and I’l tackle them in time.  But for now I’m going back to Vogue 8940, determined to turn that pattern into a wearable pair of pants.


4 thoughts on “Weekend Duffel: Tips for Success (Part 6)

  1. Corey

    I enjoyed your duffel bag posts. Not sure I would make a duffel bag, more like, reusable shopping bags. I might do a belt bag for myself since I am having a hard time finding anything that I like.

    Attempting difficult projects are like easier ones. You do one step a time. Not sure what other advice to give on it, but take it slow, make sure you complete each step so that you are pleased with the results. In the end that is all that matters and that you enjoyed the creative process of making something with your hands. That is what I enjoy about sewing, working on my skills, and creating something that is wearable, usable, functional and aesthetically pleasing to look at.

  2. Stoting Stitch

    No, you don’t need a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from MIT to sew those bags, but as your own notes attest, there’s a LOT to it. Make a change in one detail such as the fabric and you may find yourself with new challenges. Many sewers don’t realize how much time can be consumed by trial-and-error. If they’re on their own they’re understandably overwhelmed, at least momentarily.

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      I chose to do two bags because I was pretty confident that I had mastered all of the challenges in this project up front; I had underestimated the sheer amount of work involved and making two bags doubled that effort.

      I definitely agree that making a change (in my case, choosing a heavier fabric) can alter the project and create new challenges; since I had conquered most of the other challenges in this project I was able to deal with those changes. But that’s also how you learn!

      I think a beginner who closely follows the plan in the course has a very good shot at a successful result, because the video covers quite a lot of ground in terms of construction detail. For instance, the instructor has you machine-baste the thick layers together at several steps in the project, so that it’s easier to do things like join the end panels when you finally get to that step.

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