Bags for ballet

It has been a longstanding dream of Granota’s to take ballet classes. From the time she learned to walk, she was prancing about on her tiptoes, reading books about ballet, watching videos about ballet, and dressing up as a ballerina (courtesy of our well-equipped dress-up bin). She has a grace of movement that you don’t often see in young children and Mr. Gren and I have wanted to send her to ballet lessons for years, but just haven’t had the means.

Until this year!

We signed both girls up for lessons, beginning in September and surprised them by driving by the dance studio and letting it sink in. I had ordered their leotards, tights, and shoes, but then it occurred to me a week before their classes began: they’ll need something to keep all their gear in. Both girls were adamant that they have duffel bags, because that’s what they’ve seen on the movies and in books. Fair enough. They also wanted their bags to match the color of their leotards: pink for Granota and purple for Rana. I got close. I wanted to use home decorating canvas to help give the bags some strength and structure. There was no plain pink or purple but there were zigzagged stripes. I’m actually glad that was the “only option” because, in the end, I think they made cooler-looking bags than just a solid color.

I’ve never sewn a duffel bag before and, while I probably could have figured it out on my own, I only had a week to get ‘er done and didn’t want to take the time putzing around when surely someone else has already done all the legwork for me. It’s the internet age, of course someone has done it and posted about it somewhere. I found a man’s blog called Bag’n-telle that is all about sewing bags of various shapes and types. I’m sho nuff not going to reinvent this wheel when he has written such a thorough and detailed tutorial, so I’ll just show you a bit of how my bags went together.

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The very first thing was to cut out the ends of the bag. The diameter of this circle piece determines the size of your bag. Of course, you can make the bag as long as you want. I kept the scale appropriate for young children by making the bag only 18″ long. The circle, as you can see, was just slightly larger than 8″ across. I think I used a plate or a lid or something kitchen-related for my template. The width of the bag is equal to the circumference of the circle. Ugh, I know. Where did all this geometry come from? Just know that if you make a duffel bag, there is some math involved. But hey, I did it and lived to tell the tale, so you can, too.

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After cutting out the rectangle for the body of the bag, I cut out a small rectangle for the exterior pocket. Here’s the nifty thing: I only had to finish the top and bottom edges. The top, I folded over for a nice, clean finish because I would be attaching velcro to it. The bottom edge I was lazy and did the minimal amount possible which means: pink that sucker.

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Positioning the pocket on the flat bag involves more math, as does matching up the velcro bits. I KNOW. (Can you even believe it, Dad?) It also involved, in my case, matching up zigzags. Actually, I had to do that first before cutting out the pocket so that I would be sure to have a piece of fabric that was the appropriate distance from the top and sides, etc. etc. while still matching. My head asplode. Notice how the side edges of the pocket are not finished — that is because they will be sewn down under the webbing straps. I almost wimped out and just made fabric handles for the bag, but then I decided to go ahead and get the webbing (which is pretty cheap, by the way). That, combined with the “sport” style zipper and D-rings for the shoulder strap really makes it look legit.

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Slightly more math was involved in arranging the webbing strap (sewn into a giant loop), but having the cutting board underneath with 1″ squares marked all around really helped this step. The left and right ends of the bag in the photo will eventually be joined together via zipper. I had the webbing extend 3″ beyond those edges, but it is actually loose all the way down to the top of the pocket and the corresponding distance on the other side. Looks to be about 3.5″. Also, I confess that initially, after having bought the webbing, I was only going to make handles and not the giant loop. But upon further reflection, it seemed to me that having the webbing extend all the way under the bag would strengthen it and give it support. That also meant that I had to go back and buy another length of webbing for the shoulder strap because I had to use the entire first length to make the giant loop. Another one of those live and learn moments. Don’t be like me.

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At the point where your handle begins, you’ll want to sew an X, like this, for strength. There’s going to be a lot of stress on the bag at this point, so it needs as much help as it can get.

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I put in the zipper and then made teeny-tiny tabs for the D-rings and sewed those to the edge of the bag, being sure to miss the zipper ends. Seriously: legit. I mean, I made something with hardware. Next was to sew in the circle ends and, for a normal person, you would then be done. But I am not a normal person. I have to make things more difficult better. Lining the bags! So making the lining itself (I used heavy-duty nylon) was easy because it’s just the rectangular bag piece and the two end pieces — no straps or zippers or bits of metal. I had to go and mess with that, too, though, by inserting a small zipper pocket on one side (opposite the exterior velcro pocket). To attach the lining, I topstitched it around the zipper, which mostly looked ok, as long as you don’t look too closely at the ends where it got a little wiggly.

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Photo courtesy of a small child with interesting perspective

But wait! We aren’t finished yet! Granota was concerned that her street shoes would dirty the inside of her duffel bag, which would, in turn, dirty her ballet stuff. She was probably right. So I made a small pouch-style bag with an elastic top for their street shoes.

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NOW we are done!

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Totally legit.

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