A Bag of Firsts

Savvy's Piano Bag

I bought this really jazzy piano key fabric to make a music bag for Savannah, along with some coordinating dot and music notes fabrics.

yummy piano keys & dot fabrics

music notes fabric

I searched online to find a pattern or tutorial, and found several, including this one on Purl Bee, a cool NYC stitchery shop and blog. I let Savannah decide which one I should make, and she liked the Purl Bee one best.

the model

I had my misgivings about this tutorial from the beginning … it seemed strange to sew the bag so that the seams were exposed, and then to bind them with such wide bias tape. But there were no negative comments on the project page, and Savannah liked the idea of using all three fabrics, so I set off on the adventure.

I won’t repeat the whole tutorial here; if you’re interested, check out Molly’s Sketchbook at Purl Bee.

Making this bag introduced some firsts for me:

1) First time following an online tutorial (or at least one with instructions more difficult than: cut two rectangles, sew together, voila);

2) First time using Peltex fabric stiffener (when they say stiff, they mean it. The finished bag stands up by itself). Let’s just say it’s about as thick and stiff as lightweight cardboard, the kind that’s on back of a notepad, only slightly more flexible and actually quite easy to sew through;

3) First time making my own bias tape.

my first bias tape ~ easy!

I generally follow instructions (whether cooking or sewing) faithfully the first time, then tweak later. (I always hate it when I read recipe comments that say, “I made this dish, but I substituted lima beans for the bell pepper and mushrooms for the pineapple. It sucked! Will never make this again!”) This time I made a few changes from the outset.

I used my whole piece of music notes fabric to make the bias tape, so I had to use the dots for the handles and the small pocket, but I like it better that way. I added midweight interfacing to the small pocket so it wouldn’t droop. I made the handles slightly longer, and constructed them a bit differently, again because it made more sense to me.

Also, the tutorial recommended sewing the bias tape onto the edges of the bag BY HAND. In some spots, that was 10 layers of fabric and 3 layers of Peltex. Let me tell you folks, it didn’t happen.

the recommended method

I did try to sew on the binding the normal, proper way, by blind-stitching it (by hand, because I couldn’t pin and machine sew, see below) to one edge of the bag with the intention of then wrapping the binding around to the other side and blind-stitching it there as well. This is how far I got after one hour. One side of one side. With 11 more edges to go, not to mention mitered corners, I changed course.

just eleven hours to go ~ hurray

What I ended up doing took nearly as long, especially when you factor in the necessary procrastination time.

Which brings me to the other, not-so-fabulous firsts that came along while constructing this bag:

4) First time getting cramps in my forearms from holding the stiffened fabric out of the way so that I could feed the edges that were supposed to be sewn into the machine. The Peltex made the pieces about as unpliable as possible; imagine trying to bend and sew cardboard. If I made these bags regularly I’d have Popeye arms.

5) First time having to use fabric glue to keep bias tape attached to the rest of the bag so I could sew it. (Remember all those layers I mentioned? There’s not a straight pin in the world that will hold that whole agglomeration together so you can have both hands free to sew it. See Popeye forearms, above.);

just glue it!

6) First time using binder clips to keep the bias tape on while the glue was drying. Attractive, yes?

stationery supplies ~ not just for the office any more

Once the glue dried (and sufficient weeks had passed that I felt guilty enough to finish it), I machine sewed the binding on. Then I still had to miter the corners and stitch up the top edges by hand, so like I said, I really didn’t save any time.

I consider myself a good sewist, but my sewing on this bag ~ it’s not pretty. Also, even though I tried to sponge it off immediately, the glue dried on the outside of the bag, leaving very attractive blotches all over the black exterior.

But here’s the finished product. Ta-da!

The fabric’s lovely, it’s an incredibly sturdy and capacious bag. I only broke one sewing machine needle (I predicted 4). But most importantly, Savvy likes it.

the finished bag

I know you’ll be polite and avert your eyes from the ridiculously bad binding job. And the dried glue blotches. And just in case you’re not polite, I used the darkest photo I could.

shield your eyes from the really bad binding job

It is a very pretty bag, and should last for a long, long time.

large pocket holds loose sheet music

And it holds a ton, including large binders and music books and probably your Aunt Martha.

small pocket holds $, cell phone, etc.

The pattern makes a good sized tote bag. The Peltex reinforces it enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to carry very heavy books in it.The handles are a good length, and the pockets are a nice touch.

However, if I were to make it again, I’d sew the outside the standard way, with right sides together so that the raw edges are hidden inside. I’d skip the bias binding entirely, both for ease of sewing and to spare the world my cursing and the hideousness of my binding technique.

With the scraps I made:

musical bookmarks

And …

a nesting ball

I like to think that songbirds will be using these scraps to feather their nests.



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