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Getting ready to sew the Tiny Bag

I’ve had this free pattern for a very cute, tiny zippered bag earmarked for a while and I’m sewing it this month! I’ll be adding posts as I go with in-process (and, one hopes, finished!) pictures.

I have friends who are sewing it along with me, so I’m using this post as a spot to gather pre-sew instructions. Come along!

Ode to fat quarters

One of the things that particularly attracted me to this pattern is that it uses “fat quarters.” If you’re not familiar with them, they’re quarter-yard cuts of fabric that are cut from the yard in a pattern like a plus-sign (vs. the more common method of cutting one 9″ strip from the whole width of the fabric). This results in a cut that’s 18″×21″.

It’s a cut frequently used by quilters, and I love fat quarters because…

  • they’re often very lively, delightful patterned fabrics that might be overwhelming in big swaths (like clothing) but are so much fun in small doses
  • if you struggle with coordinating fabrics, you can find fat quarter bundles of four or five fabrics that look good together, sometimes at a little discount
  • they’re usually pretty cheap, typically somewhere between 97¢ (on sale at big-box craft stores) and $4 (for high-end designers and shops), so it’s a good way to experiment with minimal investment
  • they’re precut so I don’t have to stand in line to get fabric cut
  • in fact, they’re sometimes sold at craft stores (or even craft departments in superstores) that don’t have regular fabric bolts, so I don’t always need to venture to my nearest (not near at all) fabric store to get crafty

Okay, enough of my fat quarter love-fest. Let’s go shopping!

At the fabric store: gather your materials!

Here’s what the pattern designer lists for the project:

  • 1 fat quarter or less cotton fabric for the exterior
  • 1 fat quarter or less cotton fabric for the lining
  • other pieces of fabric for the exterior pocket and handles if you choose to not use the fat quarters mentioned above (see below for dimensions)
  • 1 zipper, 9” long or longer
  • 7” x 18” of Soft and Stable interfacing from ByAnnie, or fusible fleece if you can’t find Soft and Stable.
  • Fabric chalk or fabric marking pen

I’m going to go through this in (possibly excruciating) detail for the benefit of the inexperienced. If you already sew a lot, just get the stuff on the list above. 😉

If you’re going to a fabric store, you’ll probably find the fat quarters wherever the quilting fabrics are (often on a wall, looking very colorful):

In this photo, the fat quarters are the small, folded-up squarish bits behind the “Doorbuster” sign. At Joann Fabrics, they call them “Fabric Quarters” (maybe that’s more politically correct?)

The bag, as shown on the pattern page, actually uses four coordinating fabrics, so if you don’t already have scraps you want to use for the exterior pocket and handles, I’d suggest buying four complementary fat quarters.

I ended up spotting a cute stack of coordinated fat quarters at Walmart of all places (I’ve also gotten similar stacks from Michaels, which doesn’t sell regular cut-to-order fabrics) so this is what I’ll be using:

For the zipper, you’ll find a display that looks something like this:

Your goal is to find a 9″ zipper that either matches or coordinates with your bag fabric. I haven’t bought mine yet (I found my fabric after my most recent Joann trip) but I’ll look for one that’s either yellow or black. They’re typically arranged first by color, then by length, and the length is clearly marked:

It’s also a good idea to pick up a spool of coordinating all-purpose thread. For this project, any spool length will do, as we won’t be sewing huge lengths.

For those who are sewing the project in person with me, I have the “Soft and Stable” interfacing and the chalk fabric marker (well, I actually have these amazing heat-soluble pens, but also chalk in case we’re working with a dark fabric) so you don’t need to buy either of those items.

One more optional item that I’m planning to use: this double-sided wash-away tape. I want to try using it to hold the zippers in place before I sew them because I don’t like the fiddly pinning that’s otherwise required. We’ll see how successful this plan turns out to be!

Before we sew: optional-but-recommended prep work

I highly recommend washing, trimming, and then ironing your fat quarters.

Some sewists don’t prewash fabrics, but for me, it’s a better-safe-than-sorry thing. Prewashing ensures you don’t get any shrinking surprises when washing the finished project (and I want the ability to wash this bag, as I don’t have the best track record of keeping bags pristine; there may have been a recent incident with a jar of cream cheese frosting…). It also removes some of the residual chemicals from the manufacturing process.

I typically prewash my fabrics in the roughest conditions they’re likely to ever encounter, so in this case, it’ll be hot water and a moderate dryer cycle.

When you do this, you may be appalled at the crazy knots and threads everywhere. Don’t panic! It looks like a hot mess but it just takes a little trimming to tidy it all back up, and you don’t lose much in the process.

I typically dampen my fabric a bit, let it sit in a bowl for a while to let the dampness spread, and then iron it all out (I find this more convenient than futzing with the spray bottle or my iron’s unreliable “steam” feature).

Once you have all your fat quarters crisp and tidy, we’ll be ready to sew!

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