Tag Archives: bag making

Adventures in pleather – the Madrid Tote

Hello! This month’s Minerva make falls into the accessories category- I’ve made a bag. A tote bag using the Madrid pattern from the Seamwork magazine (Colette Patterns online magazine which is available for free, however when you subscribe you get the patterns too.) Issue 1 had an informative article about making bags which gives lots of tips and answers some of those questions that I’d had.

I have already made a Madrid Tote out of some oilcloth, very appropriate for one who sews and I used it as a practice ground in advance of going a bit more courageous for my Minerva make. Having found out how easy it is to install a magnetic clasp, add ready made handles & generally get a feel for how the Tote is designed to be sewn, I embraced PLEATHER and faux snakeskin using these pretty incredible coordinating materials. I asked Vicki at Minerva for a heap of samples to make my choice as for my Minerva make, I wanted to go for a contrast with piping. It was fun choosing, there are so many options, but burgundy with black piping & handles seemed to work for me and this funky snakeskin goes so perfectly with the burgundy pleather- I could not resist!! Get samples, it’s really worth it when you are ordering online.

And lining? I was mooching around the very inexpensive poplins for something snappy, & where there is an opportunity for a surprise, I feel obliged to take it ….yes, kitties! Minerva sells quite a range of bag making supplies, including the magnetic clasps and ready made handles, which again can be overwhelming if you haven’t used them before – but my choice was based on a simple colour scheme which narrowed down my options, plus having already sewn with the ready made handles in my previous tote, I kind of knew what I would be getting.

The Madrid Tote is just a simple tote – I am sure you could make it up yourself with some appropriately sized rectangles. It has a two tone outer and lining with an interior pocket for phone/ keys etc. Having also made Handmade Jane’s tote, you could also use that as a starting point, buying ready made handles and playing around with the dimensions. Jane’s tote also involves “3Ding” the corners of your bag to give it some depth, as does the Madrid.
Anyway, How did the sewing go? Well I made two interior pockets and added a zip to one of them to make it much more secure for keys.
The plain burgundy is true pleather, something I had never sewn before, so I was looking forward to using my leather needles that came with my machine when it was new, er, about 20 years ago! The faux snakeskin however is more of a fluid fabric, & reading the Seamwork article on sewing with different materials including pleather, it seems that leather needles should not be used with non leather (or pleather) – so the actual sewing mileage of my leather needles did not actually amount to much this time as I swapped back to a normal needle when sewing any seams that involved the snakeskin. And as for the snakeskin, due to it being very much thinner than the pleather, and for general good practice, I interfaced it before sewing with fusible interfacing. I didn’t think the pleather needed it.
Of course, the big thing sewing pleather is that you don’t really want to make a mistake as you are puncturing holes in the material. This is where a lot of my fear came from!
I took some photos of sewing the piping- it’s faux leather and feels really nice. I just sewed it with a zip foot, as you would normally sew piping.
Once the piped seam is completed & your front & back are whole you have to topstitch above the piping – I used topstitch thread. I am still not the best at using topstitching thread, but I always only use top stitching thread in the needle, and normal thread in the bobbin. It’s probably best to play around with your tension too, as I got a whole load of “messy string” underneath where the top thread was too loose.
Are you wary of inserting a magnetic clasp? Don’t be. It’s easy & really elevates your finished bag, making it look so smart & much easier to use than a press stud or button. (And easier to install). The packet has good enough diagrams, and check out this tutorial from Craftapple- this is for a cotton/fabric bag, but for pleather it’s not going to fray – I followed the advice in the Seamwork instructions to use fabric glue around the cuts you make to reinforce them – no buttonholes required in my case.
Madrid 9

The handles are sewn on by hand, and I learnt from the last time I made this bag to attach the handles well below the seamline of the upper bag. These handles are sturdy things & are awkward to manipulate out of the way when it comes to sewing the top seam – lining to snakeskin. When I decided on where to attach the handles, I played around with how much I could move the handles around out of the way to get to that top seam – remember your machine foot needs to get in there too, then there is the top stitching.
Madrid 10
So that’s the pleather tote, and I have been using it a few times around & about. To work – great for carrying around the essentials plus notebooks, lunch & even a pair of shoes! And in the evening it was a great way to transport a birthday present for a friend. And another friend entirely covets it. Part of me wants to give it to her, or make another one.
Madrid 11

The yardages suggested by the Seamwork pattern do allow for some remnants- I am not sure if there is enough to make another bag, but I could see some funky matching purse / wallet or make up bag…..now my fear of pleather has been banished!

For links for  the materials used or to buy the kit, this post is also published here on the Minerva Blogging Network website – it looks as if you can buy the bag making accessories in the kit.
And also this is a good opportunity to mention that Minerva are running a competition which involves the Minerva Crafts Blogger Network. To enter all people need to do is tell us their favourite post from the network by leaving a comment. Then at the end (12th March) 3 people will win the kit to make their favourite project. They have launched the competition to celebrate the start of the sewing bee again and also to encourage people to start leaving comments on the blogger network posts (as this is a new feature on the new website).
Good eh?!
Madrid bag being modelled with Tweedy skirt, Bronte top and Muse Jenna cardigan plus a new crocheted scarflet that was a birthday gift from my talented crocheting friend.

Madrid tote for the sewist

Ok so the verdict on my laptop is not good. After a few hours of diagnosis over the kitchen table it had been referred to a specialist, with a corrupted hard disk partition. I am devastated, naturally, but know it will be in good hands. I am crossing my fingers, toes and eyes for a speedy recovery.
But in the meantime I am not able to blog about any of my makes that need a photo of me wearing them, (from my camera) nor the makes I’ve already photographed, but that’s not the end of the world. I have a few ideas about how to get around that and spread some sewing delights.
Like today’s. I made the Madrid tote from Colette Patterns’ online magazine, issue 1 last weekend.

I had some proper oilcloth ( not the cheap PVC that I was taken in by last time ) bought from a local shop – it’s Vintage Happy by Lori Holt of Bee in my Bonnet and it is covered with, yes, vintage snippets from dressmaking catalogues. It’s a fascinating read! Garment descriptions, gorgeous line drawings of day dresses, the shape of a paper pattern as well as the lady drawn in her foundation garment glory. I have lots left too, so am thinking about making a set, maybe make up bag, travel set….
Anyway, onto the tote. Supplies. I bought some ready made handles which are made by Prym and seem to be available from a lot of online stockists. And if they sell bag handles the likelihood is that they will also sell the magnetic clasp too. And that’s all the hardware that I bought in. I bought from Jaycotts, but Minerva also sells all sorts of bagmaking stuff too. My lining was a stash find- Some left over gingham that was so off grain I am too embarrassed to show much of the off non pattern matched seams.

The Madrid is one of the patterns included with Seamwork if you pay the subscription, but all of the articles, as you probably already know, are freely available online, and in issue 1 there are articles to help you get your head around sewing bags- with extensive tips around bag hardware and sewing leather ( or similar ) for example. I found it really helpful as I have never sewn leather nor have I ever used hardware in bag making and it’s quite daunting, isn’t it? So with a reputation for demystifying techniques that could be perceived as complex, I knew I was in safe hands and not risking too much, by following Colette Patterns’ Madrid bag pattern and attempting a few firsts:
– using a magnetic clasp
– successfully sewing oilcloth
– using ready made bag handles

And there, look, magnetic clasp and bag handles

So as you’d expect the pattern consists of different sized rectangles, and you can use contrasting fabric for the top part and bottom. As I had such fab oilcloth I didn’t want to break up the design so went for the even easier approach and used the lining pattern to cut my outer bag pieces too. I also cut two interior pockets, knowing that a big tote is a cave of abandon when keys / phone / a pen/ purse are required to be found.

I cut the strap that comes over the top so that one of the fancy ladies in her day dress would be centred.


Isn’t she lovely ?

The patterns with Seamwork are also all put together with the premise that they are quick makes and relatively easy sews. I made mine using a couple of hours on a Sunday. It is straightforward. I was prepared to deploy countermeasures for sewing my oilcloth, should my foot stick, but surprisingly I had no problem on that front.


I was careful using pins, but did use pins ( minimally) along the stitching line.
The bag handles are sewn on by hand and this was easily the longest most time consuming step. The only word of caution I would offer on using the bag handles like this, is about where you attach them. They have a certain amount of bulk and you need to allow enough room for the top bag seam allowance as well as a little wriggle room to get your sewing machine foot through for top stitching. If you wanted a double line of topstitching just plan ahead with where you put your handles.

I did use my zip foot too, but with the layers of oilcloth and lining plus seam allowances, it did not like it that much.
So the bag ? A delight. I’ve used it for work on a non gym kit day and it fits all the usual crap without busting at the seams.


I got a few positive remarks ( everyone is used to seeing me with a beaten up old Berghaus rucksack!) and it also started a conversation about sewing, which has to be an excellent thing?

Here it is stuffed to the gunnels. So now I know my ay around Madrid, maybe there’ll be another ….. Has anyone else enjoyed Madrid-making or even exploring Valencia? (the extra clutch bag pattern in issue 1)