Last year I had my first pattern published in a magazine called ‘Love Sewing Australia’. I decided that, with the cooler weather approaching, it was time to share it with you. The pattern is for a tote bag with a matching Yarn bag (to carry wool for knitting or crochet projects) but can be adapted to many uses.
For those of you who don’t know the story, my grandmother, Oma, is now 99 years old. Last year, when she was turning 98, she asked if I could make her a new bag that she could use to carry her glasses, her water bottle, her cushion (she is tiny!) and other important things. Her instructions were that the bag was not to be an ‘old lady bag’. I mused over this for a while, then made this bag for her.
My Oma spent many hours teaching me to sew, to embroider, and to enjoy other handcrafts when I was young, so dedicating this pattern to her was a small way of showing her how grateful I am that she contributed to my love of making!
This project shows you how to upcycle that old worn out pair of jeans into a gorgeous bag that you can use for going to the office, on a weekend adventure, or to the shops. The accessory yarn bag is perfect for knitting or crocheting on the go, with your yarn accessible but protected from dust and dirt, and from escaping and rolling across the floor of the bus, train, classroom or office.
Using the pockets of your jeans as a feature on the outside of your yarn bag adds a useful outer pocket that can also hold your phone, crochet hooks or a small pair of scissors.
The seam allowances in this project are 0.5cm. If you are more comfortable with wider seam allowances the project will still work, as long as you are consistent and use the same seam allowance on all seams.
Fusible fleece is often sold without instructions on how to attach it. To attach your fleece, heat your iron to the temperature appropriate for the fabric that you are attaching the fleece to. Lay the fleece on the ironing board, with the glue dots facing up, then lay the fabric you are attaching on top of the fleece, covering the fleece completely, with the right side of the fabric facing up. Lay a damp pressing cloth is placed over the top of the two layers and using your iron, begin in the middle of the piece and iron out towards the corners using a slow steady motion. You will need to repeat this a couple of times to ensure that the fleece has adhered well. Do not rest the iron in one spot for too long as you may scorch your fabric. Don’t let the fleece touch your iron as it will make a sticky mess of your iron plate. Let it cool before sewing the now fused fleece and fabric.
1 pair denim jeans, or 0.5m of denim, canvas or decorator weight fabric
0.25 m feature fabric (quilting cotton is used here)
0.5m quilting cotton, homespun or broadcloth
36cm Vilene H640 fusible fleece
A zip that is at least 30cm long.
A piece of stiff interfacing 9cm x 28cm
Sewing Machine (Zip foot optional)
A rotary cutter and mat is useful but not essential.
Oma Tote – Base 25cm wide x 10cm deep. Bag 30 cm long x 34 cm wide. Straps 54cm long x 4cm wide.
Yarn Bag – 23cm x 23cm
Repurposing Denim jeans
To prepare your denim jeans for repurposing, cut the inner leg seam on both legs, then up the front centre seam and around the zip. This will enable you to lay your fabric out flat and assess which pieces are most suitable for use. Check wear around knees, the seat, and the inner thigh. This does not mean that you can’t use the fabric, but you may need to add reinforcing with fusible interfacing.
If your fabric has a stretch to it, it is useful to have the grain across the width of the pieces you cut to increase stability.
Bottom – 35.5cm x 12.5cm (2)
Top – 35.5cm x 6.5cm (2)
Straps –9cm x 50cm (2)
Internal pockets 20cm x 25cm (1) and 10cm x 25cm (1).
Base – 18cm x 28cm (1)
Yarn bag – 24cm x 24cm (1) (NB. I included the back pocket of the jeans within the square which adds both a feature, and a useful pocket to the outside of the yarn carrier.)
Lining cotton – 35.5cm x 35.5cm (2)
Yarn bag lining – 24cm x 24cm (2). (NB you may need to join some fabric together in order to create the lining pieces but this will not affect the bag.)
Bag – 35.5cm x 19cm (2)
Yarn bag – 24cm x 24cm (1)
Fusible fleece interfacing
Bag – 34 cm x 34 cm (2)
General Instructions – Yarn Bag
This is a pouch that will carry two balls/skeins of yarn with openings to allow you to use the yarn while protecting it from dust, dirt etc. A bag like this means that you can crochet or knit wherever it suits you!
1. The first step is to insert your zip. A zip foot is useful for this, but not necessary. Take your square of denim and place it face down on top of the zip so that the top edge of the fabric lines up with the top edge of the zip. The right side of the zip and the right side of the fabric will be facing each other. Ensure that the zip ends overhang the fabric on each side. Then take one piece of your lining fabric and place it on the other side of the zip, with the right side facing the right side of the denim. This is often described as a zip sandwich. Pin the three pieces together and then stitch along the top edge 0.5cm from the edge.
- Flip the fabric back so that the right side of the denim is now facing up and the right side of the lining is facing down. Repeat the same step with the feature fabric and the lining fabric on the other side of the zip, making sure that the sides of the pieces line up with the fabric already attached to the zip.
- Using an iron press the top and bottom pieces so that they sit flat. By topstitching along the edge of the seam, the lining won’t get caught in the zip when you are using the bag. To do this measure 2.5cm from the edge of the fabric, and then top-stitch a line along the edge of the seam and stop 2.5cm from the other end. (If you sew across the whole edge of the zip you will not be able to create neat corners when you put the sides of the bag together.) Repeat this on the other side of the zip, matching the start and finish points.
- Now you will create the yarn feeding holes in your bag. Measure and mark with chalk or a sewing marker two points on the lining on the feature fabric side of the bag that are 7.5cm from each edge, and 5cm from the zip and fabric seam. These are the starting points for your buttonholes. Using your preferred technique for making a button hole, make two buttonholes that start at those points and are 1.5cm long.
- In order to assemble the yarn bag you should open the zipper at least half way so that the zip pull is in the middle of the zip. Then put the right sides of the lining together and match up the edges, and the right sides of the outer fabric together and match up their edges. This won’t look nice and flat and neat due to the buttonholes, but is still very manageable given the amount of fabric involved. The teeth of the zip should be facing towards the outer fabric when you are pinning it in place.
- You will leave a gap in the side of the lining to turn the bag in the right way, so start your seam about 5 cm below the zip on the lining, and sew around the edge of the pouch, until you reach the bottom of the same side of the lining. When you are sewing across the seam and zip where the lining and the outer fabrics join, you will need to open the edges of the fabric up a bit so that instead of sewing in a straight line you feel as if you are sewing a curve. This is to compensate for the top stitching that you did earlier along the zip.
- Once you have sewn the edges of the bag, clip the corners, and then clip the excess fabric around the zip, so that the long ends are cut off and the bulk of the fabric next to the seam is removed. Be careful not to cut the stitching and consider applying an extra row of stitching as reinforcement here.
- Then turn your bag inside out, or outside in, so that the outer fabric is facing out and the lining is tucked in the bag. It will be a little wriggly due to the buttonholes, but it will happen without too much commotion. Make sure that your corners are pushed out properly, and ensure that your zip corners are pushed up properly. A chopstick is very handy for both operations. Then either handstitch the side seam in the yarn bag closed or use your machine to stitch a line to close it.
- You can now place your yarn in the bag, with the ends poking out through the buttonholes, so that you can use your yarn without the balls rolling away across the floor of the train, bus or lounge that you are in. If you are likely to use more than two colours at a time you could place a third buttonhole in the bag to allow for three colours.
General Instructions – Oma Tote
- The first step in creating your tote is to piece together the fabric for the outside of the bag. Pin the long edge of one bottom piece of denim (35.5cm x 12.5cm) to the long edge of a piece of the feature fabric (35.5cm x19cm) with the right sides together. Sew a 0.5 cm seam along this edge then press the seam down towards the denim piece, and top stitch along the denim piece about 0.5cm from the seam. You can choose to use a coloured thread to make a feature of the stitching, and may like to add a second line of stitching 1 cm parallel to the first line to give it a nice finish. I used white thread here, so it blends into the denim and can only be seen subtly.
- Then pin the long edge of the top piece of denim (35.5cm x 6.5cm) to the long edge of the feature fabric with the right sides together and sew them together with a 0.5 cm seam. Again, press the seam towards the denim piece and top stitch on the denim 0.5 cm from the seam.
- Repeat this with the denim and feature fabric for the other side of the bag.
- You now have two pieces measuring 35.5cm x 35.5cm. . Place your squares of fusible fleece (34cm x 34cm) onto the wrong side of each piece, and apply following the manufacturer’s instructions. My tip on the way to attach the fleece is that when you are preparing the fabric and fleece for ironing, you should check that the fleece is on the bottom, with the glue dots facing up, then the fabric is on top, with the wrong side facing the fleece, and then a damp pressing cloth is placed over the top. This will help to ensure that the fleece is well adhered to the fabric. The fleece is smaller than the outer piece to reduce the bulk of your seams.
- Once the fleece is attached, place these two pieces together with their right sides facing each other, and match the seams on each side and pin them in place. Sew from the top edge of the top denim down the side, across the bottom and back up the other side with a 0.5 cm seam.
- Now you are going to make the corners of the bag. With the fleece side still facing out, fold the bottom corner of the bag so that the bottom seam and the side seam are lined up over each other, and the sides of the bag are pushed out into a triangle shape. Pin this corner in place. Measure a point 4cm (1.5 inches)from the point of the corner along the seam, and then mark a line across the bag that should measure 8cm (3 inches). Repeat this with the remaining corner and then sew a seam, reinforcing with a second row of stitches, along the marked line. Trim the excess fabric so that a seam allowance of about 1cm is left.
- This is the time to make and insert the base of the bag. Adding a base gives your bag some stability, without too much rigidity. Take your base piece of denim and fold it in half width wise so that you have a piece 9cm x 28cm. Insert your stiff interfacing inside the folded piece and either fuse it, or simply sew it in place. I used a fusible interfacing, and then zigzagged around the edges to hold everything in place.
- To insert the base line it up along the base of your bag so that the ends slightly overlap your corner seams. Attach the base to one corner of the bag by sewing through the existing corner seam, and the base so that the base is connected at the corner of the bag. Then, ensuring that you have the base flush with the bottom of the bag, repeat the same method on the other side of the bag. Trim away the excess from both the base and the seam allowance of the corner seams, and then turn your bag so that the outer fabric is facing out. Using your fingers crease the edges of your corners so that the base sits neatly in the bottom of the bag.
- To make the straps fold each piece with the right sides together across it’s width so that you have two pieces that are 4cm x 50cm. Stitch along the long edge of each piece with a 0.5cm seam, then iron the seam allowance open. Turn the straps inside out and press them so that the seam is along the middle of the strap. Top stitch along each side of the strap 0.5cm from the edge, and, if you are using a feature colour thread, add a second row of stitching to create a nice finish.
- At the top of the bag use pins to mark a spot 10cm from each edge of the bag so that you have two spots on each side of the bag. Take one strap and pin it to the top edge of one side of the bag so that the seam of the strap is facing out, and the end of the strap is extending slightly past the top of the bag. The strap will appear to be upside down. Ensuring that the strap is not twisted (which is where having the seam to follow is useful) pin the end of the strap to the second point on that side of the bag in the same way as the first. Repeat this on the other side of the bag, then stitch the straps in place just under 0.5cm from the top edge of the bag.
- In order to prepare the lining you need to first prepare your inner pockets. Take the piece of denim that you have cut to be 20cm x 25cm and fold in half with right sides together, so that it measures 20cm x 12.5cm. Sew around the three edges of the rectangle, leaving a gap of about 10 cm to enable turning in the right way. Clip the corners, turn it inside out, and press the seams so that the opening seam is tucked inside the pocket. Take one piece of the lining fabric, and pin the pocket to the lining so that the centre of the pocket aligns with the centre of the fabric, 8cm from the top of the lining piece. Sew the three side of the pocket to the lining, adding some reinforcing stitches at the top of the pocket on both side. Sew a line from the bottom to the top of the pocket half way across the pocket, adding the reinforcing stitches at the top of the pocket.
- The second pocket is to assist with holding knitting needles. Take the piece of denim that you cut to be 10cm x 25cm, fold in half so that it measures 5 cm x 25cm and, using the same method as the first pocket, attach the pocket to the second piece of lining fabric. I attached mine so that it was in the centre of the bag, 5cm from the top. You may decide to have the pocket more to the side so that long needles don’t interfere with the straps. In that case you could attach it 5cm from the top, and 7cm from the side.
- With the two right sides of the lining facing each other, sew down one side, across the bottom and up the other side. Using the same technique as the outer bag create the corner of the bag to measure 8cm across.
- To assemble the bag place the outer bag inside the lining, so that the right sides of the fabric are facing each, the tops of the two pieces are aligned, and the side seams of the outer and inner bags are aligned. After pinning the two pieces together sew around the top edge of the bag 0.5cm from the edge, leaving a gap between the two straps on one side in order to be able to turn the bag inside out. Sew an extra row or two of stitching over each strap to reinforce these points. Turn the bag inside out, tuck the lining inside the bag, fold the edges of the opening inside the seam and press the seam. Finish the bag by top stitching around the edge of the bag to close the gap and create a neat finish to the bag. Congratulations!!
I would love to see any bags that you make using this pattern – tagging me on Instgram is a great way to share your photos! (@alittlebirdmademe).
Now I am off to sit in front of the fire and warm my toes for a while!