As those of you who follow our newsletter will already know, we launched our newest sewing pattern yesterday! Meet the Qualicum Bag:
While I introduced the pattern and it’s variations in our newsletter (and the info can also be read in our shop), I haven’t talked about the design process yet. So, today I want to talk about how I use my Qualicum Bag and tell the story of how this design came to be.
The concept of adding a bag pattern to our shop began three years ago when I set out to make my Mom a really handy and handsomely proportioned tote to carry her laptop and many binders and textbooks to and from work each day (she is a principal and carts around a LOT of technology and reading material on a regular basis!). I did a preliminary search for a pattern that suited the bag I had in mind; it had to have a very large exterior zipper pocket, it had to be especially wide, and it had to have the stripped down aesthetic of a simple canvas tote. I couldn’t find a pattern that suited me.
In the end, I just made my own design on the fly by cutting out rectangles to suit the proportions I had in mind. The end result was a bit messy (as I was figuring out the construction details as I went) but I really loved the aesthetic and so did many of you when I posted the bag on this blog!
My mom still uses that tote daily and the wax has worn in beautifully.
A couple of years later I set out to make a diaper bag for my brother-in-law who was expecting a baby. This time, I continued my search for an existing pattern to suit my criteria and found one which I used. In the end, though, I was unsatisfied with the construction order, the lack of finishing details, and the overall proportions which seemed neither wide nor deep enough to be as functional as I wanted. (Sorry, I forgot to take any photos of this bag before I gave it to them!)
Well, then I found out I was expecting a baby and thought, “What better time to fine tune the bag pattern of my dreams than just prior to a time in my life when I will be using a large bag constantly?” I combined the aesthetic of my mom’s original bag (the large zipper pocket being center stage) and the opinions I had developed about diaper bag functionality specifically and large bag proportions generally to create the very first prototype of the Qualicum Bag.
I wanted the bag to be multifunctional and have a life long past it’s couple year use as a diaper bag. For this prototype I sewed a removable insert to store all the diapering paraphenalia and kept the interior pockets of bag itself quite simple. [Note that our final pattern does not have an insert (which I ended up removing from the bag when my baby was born because it had TOO many pockets in which I lost everything lol) and instead, the final pattern has a more detailed bag interior.]
I added a recessed zippered top closure as per my sister-in-law’s request.
Her and her husband love the bag I made for them but have had the contents spill out in the back of the car once or twice.
I also listened to their feedback and added two side pockets to our Qualicum Bag perfectly sized for water bottles…essential when you’re nursing and feeling constantly dehydrated!
They also tend to be where I stash Noah’s toy of choice for the day:
The prototype that I made for myself featured the perfect proportions everywhere except the straps. On our final design I increased the strap width from 1″ to 1.5″ to better match the size of the bag and to be more comfortable on the shoulder when carrying a heavy load.
I love that my bag design includes a removable cross body strap and sewn in shoulder straps.
Other bag patterns that I have viewed with similar dimensions to mine feature removable shoulder straps…it is always the cross body strap that I like to remove and tuck inside the bag for when I need it. That way it doesn’t swing low and catch on things.
After using my Qualicum Bag prototype for a few months (once Noah was born), I added larger seam allowances to the pattern to increase the strength of the seams and also increase the variety of fabric styles that can be used for the bag. Many bag patterns feature 1/4″ seam allowances but I found these to be too small when working with loosely woven upholstery fabrics. The final pattern includes 3/8″ seam allowances so you needn’t worry about fraying.
Before finalizing the pattern I also added a number of variations to the bag so that it can function as a padded laptop case, a quick-to-sew market tote or a carry-all (which is what I use as a diaper bag). Pictured above is the quick market tote – while the other two variations are involved projects, this bag utilizes far fewer pattern pieces and layers but still produces a similar aesthetic with very little time invested! It can be made in light weight fabrics to become your go-to fabric grocery bag that can be stuffed into your car or a larger bag. I also imagine it sewn up in holiday-themed quilting cotton to become reusable wrapping paper or batch sewn as a Christmas gift.
It was important to me that sewists who usually focus their making efforts on garments feel at home when they work on our bag pattern. Many bag patterns come with a list of dimensions that the sewist must transfer to their fabric and cut out. We have included this (since most pieces are rectangular in shape) but we’ve also included full pattern pieces that can be cut out and laid on your fabric as you would expect from a garment pattern.
Also, as a garment sewist I found the sheer number of little pieces needed to construct a bag to be a bit intimidating. While I find the actual construction process of making a bag to be more straight forward than many garments, preparing and keeping track of all the pieces prior to and during sewing is a bit of a project! To make this less overwhelming, I’ve made labels that can be pinned to each stack of fabric so none of the similar sized rectangles will be confused during the sewing process.
When I’ve made the odd bag in the past, I’ve been frustrated that my finished product has not wound up as rigid and professional looking as I had envisioned. I did a lot of experimenting with different stabilizer and fabric combos when working on Qualicum samples and included all my findings in the instruction booklet. This way you can fully stabilize the bag with a padded stabilizer or you can simply add a little interfacing to high wear points depending on whether you would like your bag to be hefty and padded (think ‘luggage’) or packable and light (think ‘fabric grocery bag’) and everything in between.
So, there we have it, the development story of the Qualicum Bag! The end result is, I think, a very functional and handsome gender-neutral bag that can serve as anything from carry-on luggage to a packable grocery tote.