Sew It!

Patchwork makers have a long history of reusing materials to make beautiful, functional items. So – inspired by the Stitch in Time exhibition – the Herbert’s getting creative and we hope you’ll join us!

One of our curators modelling her Sew It tote bag.

From 13 July to 4 August, we tweeted step-by-step instructions for making a tote bag from recycled materials. Even though the daily tweets have finished, you can still make a tote bag by following the instructions below.

We designed the project so that even if you don’t have much previous sewing experience, you’ll be able to have a go. We’re confident that our instructions will guide you in making a sturdy, fashionable and practical bag that you’ll be proud to use.

Follow us on Twitter to receive the latest news from the Herbert. For this project, we used the hashtag #SewIt.

Begin your Sew It tote bag here. If you have any questions, leave a comment below or contact us on Twitter @The_Herbert.

Step 17 – repeat… and share!

Materials needed for this step: pins, sewing machine or needle and thread

a: Repeat steps 15 and 16 for the second handle

b: We’d love to see your handiwork. Join our new group on Flickr and share your photos:

Step 16 – sew strap to bag

Materials needed for this step: sewing machine or needle and thread

a: Sew the strap to the body of the bag. A rectangle with a cross through it will make a sturdy join.

Technique for sewing the ends of each strap into place.

Step 15 – measure and pin

Materials needed for this step: ruler, pencil, pins

a: Along the top edge of the bag, measure 5cm in from each side. Mark it with a pencil.

These marks will guide you in placing the handles.

b: At the marked point, place the ends of one handle inside the bag.

Make sure there is at least 5cm tucked inside the bag.

c: Pin into place.

Make sure there's about 5cm of handle inside the bag for sewing.

Step 14 – repeat

Materials needed for this step: iron, pins, sewing machine

a: Repeat steps 11, 12 and 13 so that you have two sewn handles.

Step 13 – fold one more time…and sew

Materials needed for this step: pins, sewing machine or needle and thread

a: Fold the fabric lengthways along the central crease (the first crease you ironed.) The raw edges will inside.

You will now have a strap which is four layers thick. The ironed edges are on either side of the strap and the cut edges are tucked inside. They won’t be visible when you sew the strap closed.

b: Pin in place and then sew along the length of the strap.

For a neater finish, sew along both sides of the strap.

Sewing along both edges of the strap creates a neat finish.

Step 12 – fold and iron again

Materials needed for this step: iron, pins

a: Open the fabric up. Fold each edge to the middle to they meet at the ironed central crease. Iron to set creases along the two new edges.

Ironing the straps in this way ensures that you have crisp edges which look neat and are easy to sew.

Step 11 – fold and iron

Materials needed for this step: iron

a: Fold fabric in half lengthways with the pattern on the outside.

Iron to form a crease along the fold. This will help you make an even handle which is easy to sew.

b: Fold short edges over once and iron to create a hem.

Folding the handle lengthways, ready to iron

Step 10 – … and repeat

Materials needed for this step: handle template, pins, fabric, pinking shears or sharp scissors

a: Repeat steps 8 and 9 so you have two handle pieces.

Step 9 – cut out handles

Materials needed for this step: pinking shears or sharp scissors

a: Cut the fabric out along the chalk/pencil line. You don’t need to leave a seam allowance.

Step 8 – begin making handles

Materials needed for this step: handle template, pins and remainder of fabric

a: Pin the handle template onto the reverse side of your remaining fabric.

b: Draw around the template using tailor’s chalk or pencil then remove the template.

Retracing the lines after drawing around the handle template

Step 7 – fold, pin, sew and turn

Materials needed for this step: pins, sewing machine (or needle and thread)

a: Fold your fabric in half, keeping the pattern on the inside.

Carefully match the top seams so that everything is even and straight. Pin the raw edges (the sides of the bag) together and sew closed. You should now have an inside-out tote bag which is complete except for the handles.

b: Turn your bag right side out.

Sides of the bag have been pinned and are ready to sew.

Step 6 – sew!

Materials needed for this step: prepared sewing machine (or needle and thread)

a: Sew across the pinned seams.

You should now have a neat top edge to your bag.

Sewing the top seam

Step 5 – creating the top seam

Materials needed for this step: pins

a: Fold the top seam allowance over twice onto the inside of the fabric.
Folding the top edges over twice will hide the raw edges and make sure the top of your bag looks neat when sewn.

b: Pin the folded edges down.
If you’re using a sewing machine, pin across the direction you’ll sew (at a 90° angle to the top edge). This will make sure the needle won’t break when you sew over the pins.

Folding a neat top edge, note direction of pin

Step 4 – cutting the fabric

Materials needed for this step: pinking shears or sharp scissors

a: Cut fabric along the seam allowance.
Cut along the outermost of the two lines around your template. Then, remove the template.

Cutting around the seam allowance

Step 3 – tracing around the template

Materials needed for this step: tailor’s chalk or pencil, ruler

a: Draw around template
Using tailor’s chalk or pencil, carefully draw around the template. Use a ruler to draw a 1 cm seam allowance around all four sides of the template.

Tracing around the template

Using a ruler to add the seam allowance

Step 2 – pinning the template

Materials needed for this step: iron, pins, ruler, prepared bag template

a: Iron your fabric.
Pinning and sewing will be easier if the fabric is free of creases and wrinkles.

b: Pin template.
Pin the template to the reverse/inside of your fabric. Leave at least 1 cm of fabric along the long sides and 2 cm along the short sides. You’ll need this later when you sew the seams.

Pinning the template onto the 'wrong' side of the fabric.


Step 1 – making your templates

Materials needed for this step: 3 sheets of A3 paper, ruler, pencil, scissors, tape

a: Create the template for your bag.
Tape two pieces of A3 paper together along the short edges. Cut 6cm off the end of each piece so the total length of your bag template is 72cm.

b: Create your handle templates.
On a third piece of A3 paper, measure 12 cm from the short edges of the paper. You’ll have a mark at each end of the paper. Draw a line between the marks to connect them. Then, repeat this by measuring 12 cm from the line you’ve just drawn (or from the other side of the short edge). You’ll end up with two rectangular shapes, each 12 cm wide and 42 cm long. Cut them out. Tape the short edges together to finish the handle template.

Top: A3 paper with outlines for the handle templates. Bottom: Handle templates cut out and taped together.


Materials you’ll need for the project:

1. Sturdy fabric. Old curtains, heavy cotton and denim all work well. If you don’t have anything at home, try looking in charity shops for inexpensive and interesting fabrics. You’ll need a single piece of fabric at least 75cm x 45cm to make a bag and two straps. If possible, wash and iron the fabric before beginning.
2. Sewing machine or needle and thread. It will be faster to work on a sewing machine, but this project is achievable if you’re hand sewing.
3. Pins, ruler, sharp scissors or pinking shears, pencil and a flat space to work on.
4. 3 sheets of A3 paper and some tape to make a template for your bag.
5. An iron is useful if you have one.

We’ll start tweeting the steps each weekday from 13 July. The project will be completed in about 20 steps.


Posted on 07/07/2011, in Exhibitions, Sew It!, Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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