Prior to retreat, I saw that Amy Butler and her publisher had released the Blossom Bag on Sew Mama Sew as a promo for her new book of designer bag patterns called Style Stitches by Chronicle Books. Before intimidating myself out of it, and before reading the instructions, I emailed two of my friends coming on retreat to see if they wanted to make it with me. We all jumped on board and collected the necessary supplies. Now that it's complete, I'm thrilled with my new purse. During construction? Not so thrilled. This was CHALLENGING...very challenging (the "Advanced" project rating is completely accurate!). We are all very experience quilters and two of us have made a lot of purses and bags. By the end we all agreed that we probably would not have completed this project without each other's support.
Let me start by saying that 22 pins gave their lives for this bag.
Retreat was a great venue for this project because we had plenty of time, space and cutting tables, not to mention the moral support of our fellow retreaters! First thing Friday morning we began cutting. There are 55 pieces involved, including home-dec weight fabric, heavy-weight Peltex (or Timtex), quilting cotton and light-weight fusible interfacing. Right out of the gate we realized that 2 of our 3 patterns had not printed out the right size from the .pdf file (we think this was due to 'auto sizing' done by their printer drivers). Comparing the pattern sizes to their descriptions showed us that the print-outs were too small. So, we traced the one correct one we had and got going. All three of us chose to make the long shoulder-strap option.
Jo Ann's pieces all laid out before bedtime, ready for construction the next morning!
Amy's instructions are clear, however a few more diagrams would have been helpful, and not having the entire book with us caused some confusion as there are several places in the pattern where an * indicates you need to consult the 'general instructions'. I suppose you can't really complain about this since she gave us the pattern for free! We figured it out. Also, the fabric requirements are extremely generous. We all have tons of very expensive designer home-dec fabric left over. I see several wallets in my future. Probably a matching tissue-holder, too.
The technique of strengthening and giving the bag it's form using Peltex combined with fusible lightweight interfacing is awesome. You cut the Peltex pieces 1/2" smaller than all of your outer bag fabric pieces and then fuse it in place against the wrong side by sealing the interfacing (which is cut the same size as your bag fabric) all around that 1/2" seam allowance. Using this technique eliminates that bubbly fused appearance on the outside of your bag. Pining and sewing through all that Peltex is a challenge, as evidenced by my bent pins!
I love magnetic closures and they provide a nice, clean look on this bag. The flap is a bit strange, as it is a separate piece sewn on with a triple seam across the outside of the top back edge of the bag. I think I would prefer a more integral flap. The straps, strap brackets and covers all went together fairly well - the instructions & diagram were really clear. The hard part was covering all of the raw ends of the straps and handle brackets with the little horizontal tab. We made ours a little bit taller than the pattern called for.
The inside has two dividers, all lined with Peltex for strength. Constructing the zippered divider was a bit confusing (some more diagrams would have been helpful, I think), but we managed to get it all together. The weird part is that these dividers float in the bag, meaning they are not attached to the bottom of the lining, so anything small is going to free-float around in the bottom of your bag. We tried to remedy this by installing our dividers low, so their bottoms are right against the bottom of the bag, instead of the divider tops being flush with the top of the bag as in Amy's example photos (the pattern did not specify how 'high' to install the dividers).
Absolutely, the most difficult part of the construction process was the last step: securing the dividers in the bag. We were instructed to 'pinch' the outer bag around the dividers and sew a bar tack to secure. Well, we're talking 4 layers of Peltex, 4 layers of interfacing, 4 layers of quilting weight cotton and 4 layers of home-dec weight fabric. Yikes. Jo Ann's Bernina barely managed and my Pfaff got through with a 100 denim needle and hand-cranking. I got the "main motor overloaded" message about 20 times and finally my machine gave up and gave me this message: TOO THICK FABRIC. Honestly, I had to manhandle that bag to get it under the foot and when I lowered the foot, it didn't actually move! The instructions suggested doing it by hand if your machine couldn't handle it, and Andrea tried, but not even a tapestry needle could get through all that. This last step was so stressful; I worried about my newly serviced machine. It was nearly impossible to hold those layers together...Jo Ann had brought some gorilla clips that helped. Pins were useless.
And here they are, our gorgeous Blossom Bags. Jo Ann's is in front, made from AMH's drawing room library print, mine is in the middle with the Joel Dewberry print, and Andrea's is back there sporting a gorgeous Amy Butler floral.
We love our new bags but they will not debut until they are safely Scotch-guarded. There was talk of buying a beautiful hook or extra-large shadow box and just hanging them in our bedrooms for display! We did complete them over 2 days which included and an extra-large bag of M&M's, a few glasses of wine and one or two naughty words. Did I mention they were challenging?
Most beautiful projects are though, aren't they? Two more bags from Style Stitches are reviewed here if you're trying to decide whether to buy this book. The photography is amazing and the designs are super inspiring. I do believe that the majority of projects would be difficult for a beginner. A support group helps (just make sure your friends buy different fabric because after all that work, you do not want to be carrying the SAME one-of-a-kind handbag around town!).
Thanks Jo and Andrea. I could not have done it without you. And the M&M's.
More retreat fun coming soon....