Tag Archive | pockets

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


NOW we are done!





Totally legit.

Bag lady

I have returned! My trip back East was wonderful beyond words. We didn’t really “do” anything other than just spend time together. It went by so quickly (well, maybe not for anyone else staying in the same hotel who had to listen to us), but it was worth everything it took to get there.

A couple of days before I left, I assessed my carry-on luggage options and decided that I needed a new bag. I had a small carry-on suitcase for my clothes, but I needed something that I could actually get into on the plane without thunking another passenger on the head, not to mention big enough to hold all my entertainment during hours of layovers. My purse doesn’t cut it. I like to keep my purse as small as possible. This bag needed to be able to hold my purse plus a water bottle, book, and small crochet project all while still looking like a purse so as not to arouse the ire of picky flight attendants.

I needed the body of the bag to be big enough to hold all the aforementioned items without being too big (Please store your personal item under the seat in front of you). Neither did I want it to be just one big cavern where small items would sink to the bottom making me That Person in the security check line. Obviously, multiple pockets were required to hold those smaller things. Also, knowing that I would be schlepping this thing through multiple airports, I wanted to have a long strap that I could wear cross-body to keep my hands free. This is more practical in my daily life, as well, when I’ve got to be ready to guide kids across parking lots and through busy stores. It needed to be a wide strap that could bear the weight of the bag without digging into my shoulder. With those criteria in mind, I spent some time searching online and I found two tutorials for different bags that I liked and created an amalgam of the two. I used the body of the Pleated Tote by Artsy-Craftsy Babe and the strap and pockets from the Olivia Bag by Dixie Mango.

Both of these tutorials are well-written, well-illustrated, and produce great-looking bags. And that’s high praise coming from me, because I’m not normally one to get excited about bags and purses.

Finished bag ready to fly!

Finished bag ready to fly!

So next came the question of fabric. Since it was only two days before I left, I didn’t have time to go to the store and I knew that I had enough in my stash. Sadly, the fabric I had in mind for the interior was actually yardage I had bought to make another blouse like the rose/leopard one of a few weeks ago. Why “sadly”? Because the print was terribly, obviously off-grain. That made it unsuitable for clothing, but for the inside of a bag — who cares if the stripes are a bit askew? I needed something heavier than just a plain cotton for the outside and, lucky for me, I had enough denim leftover from a skirt I made years ago (I think that was pre-blog). Well that was easy!

After cutting out pattern pieces, the first order of business was getting the pockets sewn onto the interior fabric. I made an easy pouch pocket for one side of the bag and sewed it down in little sections to fit my phone, pens, and pack of tissues.


But, the most fun was the zipper pocket that I put on the other side! I have never done anything like this before, but it went together like magic. More scrounging in my stash turned up this bright green zipper that I had bought years ago. It was originally intended for a dress, but… I changed my mind about the fabric and all of a sudden I had a bright green zipper with no immediate use in sight. Ah, but that’s why I save everything. The zipper was a few inches too long for this pocket, but a little zigzag stitching at the right length and *snip* Hello, appropriately sized zipper! The link to the zipper pocket tutorial is included in the Olivia Bag post, but I’ll give it to you here, too, just in case that’s all you’re interested in. Show me the zipper pocket!

Interior of the zipper pocket, in progress

Interior of the zipper pocket, in progress

Zipper inserted and looking all professional!

Zipper inserted and looking all professional!


Two other features that I wanted for my bag that were not included in either tutorial were an elasticized pouch for my water bottle and a flap to keep the bag closed. The flap was easy enough to devise on my own, just taking measurements of the bag and sketching out a pleasing shape on paper to use as a pattern. I sewed it onto the exterior of the bag at the same time that I sewed the ends of the strap on, before attaching the lining.

The pouch for my water bottle wasn’t necessarily difficult, but it did take a little bit of advance planning. I measured around my water bottle, allowing enough for seam allowances and a slight bit of ease, and I also measured how high I wanted the pouch to come up on the bottle. It took a few pinning sessions to figure out the placement of the pouch within the bag. I actually sewed the side edges of the pouch onto the individual interior bag sides before sewing the bag sides and bottom together. The rest of construction was the same as the tutorial.


I found the outside a little plain in just the denim, so before I had sewn the exterior together, I cut out a little flower from the interior fabric and appliqued it the the bottom front. It’s not really “my style” necessarily, but it’s nice enough.


So how did the bag fare on the actual journey? Well, I packed that thing to the gills. And therein lay the only real problem I had with it: When I had sewn on the toggle button, I hadn’t taken into account where the buttonhole on the flap would fall once the bag was packed. I ended up really straining the buttonhole to reach the button. It doesn’t look so hot anymore. I’m going to have to reinforce the buttonhole and move the toggle button up higher on the bag so that it won’t be a problem for next time. Other than that, though, the bag worked beautifully. The strap gave nice support, the pockets held my stuff. The water bottle pouch was a wee bit flimsy so next time, I would interface it first to give it a little more structure. But all in all, I deem it a success! And was surprised to find that I had a lot of fun sewing it. If you’re on my Christmas list, you may end up with a bag.