After weeks of deliberating fabric choices, I finally made myself a Campfire Messenger Bag – because I totally need a new handmade purse for the quilty events I plan on attending this year! This was another great pattern from Anna at Noodlehead – the instructions were clear and easy to follow, and assembly was easy (no swearing required) as well. I spent some time browsing Instagram for inspiration on colors and fabrics, as well as looking to see if there were any modifications that looked like they would be handy. For some reason, I have a much easier time picking fabrics and colors for gifts for other people than I do for projects for myself. I have to keep reminding myself that if I find fabrics I like better after my project is finished, or it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would and I don’t care for the colors I picked after all… I can always make another one. Ultimately, I decided to go with simple colors for the outside of the bag (Robert Kaufmann Essex Linen in “charcoal”), so it would be more versatile than some of the beautiful but really loud colors available now, with “my” flower appliqued on the front, of course. I used one of the newsprint-style fabrics that I love for the lining – Modern Background Paper (Newsprint) by Zen Chic for Moda.
Anna does a wonderful job writing her patterns – they’re very easy to follow, and the bag assembly makes sense. I haven’t noticed anything in her patterns that ends up seeming like extra or unnecessary work, and unlike some other patterns I’ve read, I haven’t had to go find a sew-along with photos to figure out what the heck they’re talking about in the pattern. Unfortunately, due to the apparently excessive amount of stuff I like to tote with me everywhere, her bag patterns end up a little on the small side for my purposes. The reviews I’d read for this pattern talked about how wonderful the finished size was, but I knew that 2.5″ deep at the base – and slightly narrower at the top – was not going to cut it for my purposes. So, I decided to add two inches to the gusset, leaving the size of the front and back panels alone, and now it’s a perfect size at 4.5″ deep at the base!
I nearly finished the bag about two weeks before I actually got it finished – I decided once it was nearly finished that I really wasn’t happy with the snap closures, got out the seam ripper, and un-made the bag about halfway or so. I changed the closures (more on that below), and also took the time to redo the zipper on the front pocket, which ended up closing backwards of what would be most convenient for the main zipper for the top of the bag. My sewing OCD couldn’t handle it, so that’s fixed now too!
To add 2″ to the bag, it has to be added a few places:
Adding width to the gusset pieces:
Because the gusset pieces have a subtle curve, it’s easiest to add the 2″ width to the center of the gusset. What worked best for me was to fold the pattern piece lengthwise, so it’s half-width, and then fold my fabric as you do when the pattern piece calls for cutting “on the fold”.
I carefully lined up one of my acrylic rulers, so that the fold of my fabric was at the 1″ mark (remember, the fabric is folded), and then I carefully lined up the folded edge of my pattern piece with the outside edge of the ruler – so my pattern piece is exactly 1″ from the fold on the fabric. Pin the pattern piece to your fabric here, and then cut along the top, bottom, and non-fold side of the pattern piece. I used an acrylic ruler and a rotary cutter to cut the top and bottom of the gusset pieces to make sure those cuts were straight. Repeat for all main fabric, lining, and interfacing pieces. Alternatively, if you wanted to be able to cut multiple layers at once, you could cut down the fold you’ve made in your pattern piece, and tape a 2″ wide strip of paper from top to bottom, so your pattern piece can be laid flat with with the extra 2″ in the middle.
Adding length to the flap:
Now that the purse sides are wider, if you leave the flap as-is, it won’t come down as far on the front of the purse, as it attaches to the back panel of the purse. The sides of the purse flap aren’t perfectly straight (they taper a little to have it fall across the top of the bag nicely), so I figured out a rough estimate as to how far into the flap piece the middle of the top of the purse would fall (3.25 inches, by my hurried math), and cut straight across the pattern piece here, parallel to the top edge of the flap. I spliced in a piece of paper that I had cut 2″ wide (don’t get too many hives, I’ve got a rotary cutter handle I don’t like as much that I have dedicated to paper!) and cut the sides of that piece to match the slight angle to the purse flap pattern pieces.
Adding inches to the recessed zipper:
I messed this up the first attempt (whoops). The fabric panels on either side of the top zipper are folded in half… therefore, you’ll want to add two inches to each of the fabric panels, since the fold means it only adds one inch to each side! I originally only added an inch to each, thinking it would total two inches, and then remembered that these pieces get folded. Live and learn. And add to the scrap bin.
Widen the shoulder strap:
Since I made the purse larger so it can hold more – and based on the amount of junk I like to stuff into a purse – be heavier, I changed the shoulder strap to 1.5″ wide rather than the 1″ strap the pattern called for – so the fabric is cut 6″ wide, and folded twice. This also called for changing the pieces of strap that attach the D-rings to the bag. My shoulder strap isn’t pieced, either – I had the yardage of fabric available, so I cut my piece the long way on the yardage, and then ironed the Pellon 101 pieces to it, end-to-end. I ended up trimming my shoulder strap shorter than the pattern called for, after trying it on. I like my purse to fall on my hip when worn cross-body, so that’s the longest I needed the shoulder strap, and when I’ve only got my purse on one shoulder, I like it to tuck under my arm nicely for security.
Other things I changed:
A different way to attach the inset zipper fabric panels to the zipper:
I also worked out an easier way (for me, at least) to attach these fabric panels to the zipper. Whenever a pattern calls for folding edges over 1/4″, I usually scald the living daylights out of my fingers on steam from the iron (I’m apparently not smart enough to remember to turn the steam off when fingers have to be close to the iron), and I seem to be incapable of getting the folds perfectly straight… so when it comes time to top stitch, my stitching looks wonky and awful on the top, bottom, or both sides! A 1/4″ seam allowance on a sewing machine, however, I can do!
1. Fold one short edge over 1/4″, and press. This will be the edge you leave open for turning. I also find it helps with turning if I iron the fabric piece wrong sides together, folded in half the long way. Once the fabric is sewn, the crease is going the correct way once turned right-side out.
2. Line up long edges – right sides together – with zipper sandwiched in the middle, teeth toward your fold, and the zipper stopping 1/4″ short of the un-folded top edge. Pin. Stitch along the two unfolded sides, using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Clip corners.
3. Clip corners, turn right side out and press. Repeat for other side.
4. Pin around three sides (I like to do this to keep the layers from shifting on me), and top stitch around the three sides, closing the short side you had pressed under 1/4″. Voila! Tidy 1/4″ seam allowance, even(er) top stitching, and no scalded fingers.
5. Follow Anna’s directions for inserting it into the top of the bag.
Purse flap closure:
I originally went with the snap closures seen in the main pattern pictures (the extra splash of blue was pretty!), but the snaps I chose were so tight to snap and un-snap, that I was worried about them damaging the purse trying to pull them open, and they were a nightmare to get snapped closed. I removed the front fabric tabs and purchased the alternative “tuck lock” hardware instead.
For the back slip pocket, I carefully drilled out the center stud on the snap on the outside back pocket, and replaced it with a size 20 plastic KAM snap from I Like Big Buttons in color B60 (dark silver) instead, which is much easier to open and close, while still feeling secure. I worried about the fabric eventually tearing out with how hard I had to pull to get this snap undone. Word of advice – be sure to install this snap before attaching the top flap (like the directions specify). My flap was already sewn on when I decided to replace the snap, and it was a pain to get the snap pliers into position with the flap in the way!
Rectangle rings vs. D-rings:
I love the look of rectangle rings, really. However, if you are using them to attach a shoulder strap, you have to sew very close to the rectangle ring on the purse side, or it will twist sideways and be generally annoying, which is what happened with the 241 tote that I made. Perhaps if my straps were more robust – thicker fabric, more interfacing – it wouldn’t be as much of a problem, but I didn’t want to risk it with this bag, so I went with D rings for the shoulder strap attachment.
Attaching the top binding: I’m not a huge fan of top-stitched bindings. I have a hard time keeping everything perfectly straight so once everything is stitched, it still looks straight. I followed the directions for the binding on the two front pockets (which are completely big enough to hold my monster of a Samsung Note 4 in an Otter Box case, by the way), but for the binding for the main opening
I also added a length of ribbon attached to a snap clip to use as a leash for my keys. My keys have a tendency to get buried in the bottom of my purse, and it’s much less frustrating at the end of a long day to grab the top of the ribbon and pull them out, rather than having to fish around! I may end up having to replace this strap with something sturdier than 3/8″ ribbon, but so far it’s working for now.
Something to think about: I placed my lining so that the inside pockets are on the back side of the bag, as called for in the directions. If I were to make this again, I might consider turning it around to the front – or adding pockets to the inside of the gusset side panels instead. If I put something bulky in the back pockets, like my glasses case, it ends up bulky on the outside of the bag, and doesn’t lay flat against me. However, pockets that line up on the lining vs the outside (as would happen if I were to intentionally install the lining backwards) could be problematic for using both sets of pockets as well. It’s something to think about.
Next up on my bag-making list… a Betsy Travel Bag that I’m trying very hard to not be intimidated by (so many pieces for all of the lovely pockets), for taking sewing bits to sew-ins and retreats, and a Poolside Tote for fun!