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A Ballet Bag for Anika

September 18, 2011

Just a note up front – this isn’t a tutorial. It’s much more narrative because lets face it – descriptions of how I mess things up are way funnier than step by step instructions. I may put a proper tutorial for this up later – but since the basic pattern for the bag isn’t mine, I didn’t want to do that without permission! If any of you want to give this a try in the meantime, feel free to drop me an email.

So, sometimes I get these ideas about things I want to make. I think I know EXACTLY how to make my vision fit reality and I totally and sincerely believe that it’s going to come together just as seamlessly in real life as it came together in my head. After all, I’ve thought it through! I even know how to do each of the little tricky bits! It’s going to be awesome!

You see where this is going right?

I needed a bigger dance bag for Anika. She is taking two classes this year – one a tap/jazz combo class, and the other a ballet class – which means three times as many shoes and two times as many leotards and tights (because we CANNOT POSSIBLY wear the same light blue ballet leotard to do tap and jazz in – no no. For that we need a navy blue tank leotard. School rules man.).

I absolutely love the Tohoku Tote pattern that Cheri posted. I think the tote bag is beautiful, and I figured that would serve as a great base for Anika’s new bag. But see, I just can’t leave well enough alone. In my infinite wisdom, I decided that I wanted to add a full panel divider right down the middle of the bag. It would be great! Tap/jazz gear on one side; ballet gear on the other! AND, the divider would have a zippered pouch in the top of it to accommodate all of the hair stuff we need for dancing.

Genius, yes?

Now I want to be really clear about something up front – all of the major issues and difficulties I had with this bag? NOT CHERI’S FAULT. The basic tote is awesome and easy to sew and I TOTALLY recommend giving it a shot. In fact, I can think of a few more I’d like to make for people off the top of my head. It really is lovely; it’s just that I like to complicate things.

But, I had a plan in mind so I wandered off to the fabric store to pick up a few fabrics for the bag. Here’s roughly what I ended up with:

The bright pink fabric is for the main area of the outside of the bag. The green fabric was for the top of the bag, and the butterflies are some fabric I had to line the bag with. I knew I was going to have to improvise the divider fabric once I figured out how much fabric I needed for other things.

That interfacing was interesting – I picked up a much thicker interfacing than I usually use – it was almost like felt. Still fusible on one side, but it gave a LOT more structure to the finished product – something I totally appreciate now and that totally drove me BONKERS when I was making it.

I also picked up two magnetic snaps – I knew I’d need more than one since the divider was going to be in the middle of the bag.

Plans firmly in place, I marched bravely forward and made the outside of the bag exactly as described in Cheri’s tutorial.

It was pretty easy and quick to put together. And you can see how nicely that interfacing gives body to the bag – it’s really thick but it is nice. (I can say that now, because the bag is done you see.)

Next up was making the divider. First, I measured the outside of the bag at the base and at the top, and drew a shape that would fit more or less straight up and down inside the bag with a small seam allowance.

Note that I did this twice because I totally botched it the first time. I still don’t know how for sure but my divider was WAY too small. It would have been less sad if I’d figured that out BEFORE I cut the fabric, but alas, I did not. Oh well.

When I finally got all the measurements right, I ended up with two khaki trapezoids (the outside of the divider), two shorter pink trapezoids (the inside of the pocket), and two bigger pieces of butterfly fabric to line the inside of the bag with (those I cut according to the pattern).

Next, I stabilized the divider/pocket pieces. I applied interfacing to one piece of the khaki fabric and one piece of the pink fabric. It’s easiest to think about the divider with pocket piece as a Y shape. The bottom of the Y is pretty much the two khaki pieces sewn together with a piece of interfacing sandwiched between them. One side of the upper part of the Y carries the same piece of interfacing up to the top, but the other side of the Y still needs some. So that’s why I put interfacing on one of the pink pocket pieces.

I joined the “outer” divider pieces and the inner divider pieces with a zipper. (For anyone keeping score at home, you should know that on my first attempt I actually sewed the pink and khaki pieces together, thinking it would be easier to treat them as a single piece of fabric – until I realized it would be impossible to get the zipper in there that way. Round 1 with the seam ripper).

I did a tabbed zipper – think like the zipper in Noodlehead’s gathered clutch. It’s a really clean way to put a zipper across the top of something like that – I love the method, and use it a lot. I shortened my zipper a little bit – since I wanted it to be 12″ with the tabs on it, I took about an inch off of my zipper.

Then I made tabs and sandwiched them around the ends of the zipper. Make sure the tabs are covering any metal bits, and sew them very carefully straight across – make SURE you don’t hit any of the metal with your machine needle! Trim down the sides of the tabs to the width of your zipper.

Then you make a sandwich out of one side of the divider piece, the zipper, and the pocket. I put the zipper face down on the RIGHT side of the khaki fabric, and put the pink liner of the pocket over that – basically you have fabric right sides together with the zipper in between.

I broke out the zipper foot and sewed that baby on. Of course, I accidentally sewed the wrong side of the zipper first. Yes, yes I did. Round 2 with the seam ripper.

Then I repeated the same thing on the other side with the other divider & liner pieces, sewed a line of topstitching next to the zipper on the right sides, and ended up with something roughly like this.

Cool! Precisely what I wanted. And it only took an extra hour or so of messing with the seam ripper. Yay?

NOW I figured I just needed to sandwich my divider piece between the two butterfly lining pieces, and carry on with the pattern. (I seriously thought this would work fine by the way. I have a whole slew of pictures I took to show you just how well this would work in fact. Until I realized it didn’t and then – you guessed it – rounds 3, 4, and 5 with the seam ripper.)

In case you are interested, the reason that sandwiching my divider between the lining pieces didn’t work is that the lining pieces are designed to be sewn, and then the corners boxed to essentially have the same fabric form the sides AND bottom of the bag. My divider was only designed to be straight up and down – the height of the bag. No room for the bottom, and no way to box the corners with that center piece in there. No good at all.

At this point I gave up and went to bed, and then woke up at 3am and figured out how to do it. Of course. At least, it made sense in my head.

By naptime the next afternoon I was ready to put my brilliant middle of the night plan into action. Of course, I could only really remember half of it so I had to do a little figuring, but this is basically what I did.

First, I cut a 1.5″ square out of the bottom corners of my lining fabrics.

Since the fabric is a trapezoid this isn’t perfect but it’s close enough.

Next bring the sides of the cut out square together and pin.

Do this on both sides of both lining pieces, then sew and serge (or zig zag) those small seams.

Essentially this is boxing the corners before you sew the pieces together. It’s a little more fiddly but it works.

NOW you can sandwich the divider piece between the two lining pieces and sew the whole thing together – sides and bottom.

Pro tip! Make sure that when you are sewing your seams you really hold the “extra” fabric from the lining pieces out of the way of your needle. Because you’ve got more volume in the lining pieces, there’s more fabric that can get caught up in your seam unless you are really intentional about keeping it out of the way.

At the end of all of this, I actually had a bag lining that fit nicely inside the outer part of the bag – with the divider pocket that goes down the middle even. YAY!

From here, I just followed the rest of Cheri’s instructions to finish the bag – putting the handles on; adding the snaps.

Now, Anika and I are of course fancy so the bag wasn’t “done” until we’d added a rhinestone snowflake to it using my Silhouette machine.

NOW it’s done.

Just in time for the second week of ballet! (I know. I tried. It just didn’t happen. Seam ripping takes awhile.)


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    September 19, 2011 9:05 am

    Christy, this is just adorable! I love it!! I am sure Ani does, too. (But, wow, lotta grief…sounds like you learned a lot!)

  2. September 19, 2011 11:18 am

    It’s really really cute… well worth the struggle, I hope! Now, will Ani be carrying this herself, or are YOU going to be showing it off? 😉

  3. September 19, 2011 10:39 pm

    Hey! It’s very similar to this purse pattern I made (and carry everywhere!):
    Tip for using that heavy fusible fleece — just cut it to fit inside your seam allowances so that you don’t have to sew through it’s thickness all the time. Or skip it and use a heavier home dec or upholstery weight fabric for the outside of your bag. VERY PRETTY!

  4. Angela Quesnel permalink
    September 22, 2011 10:54 am

    Adorable and very practical! Reminds me of the balanced day lunch bags you can now get.:0)

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