Well, since I don’t usually have much to write about anyway, why don’t I chronicle the making of my new messenger bag?
This is my current bag. I sewed it with a needle and thread by hand in the summer of 2003. I don’t know how many dozens of hours it took me to make. I used duck cloth from Jo-Ann Fabrics that ended up being too light (you can almost ball the whole thing up into your hand), there are massive fraying problems, it’s not quite big enough, the snaps on the left pocket are virtually useless (half of one is missing), and the shoulder strap is too long (meaning when I ride my bike with it the bag keeps getting caught on my ass). It’s served me well for two years, but last year I decided it was time for a new one, which I’m just now beginning.
I took my mom’s sewing machine to Cleveland with me. I didn’t consider this “cheating” because I’d still be doing it manually, of my own design, and it would be literally impossible to sew by hand the heavy canvas I intended to use. It’s an ancient Singer Featherweight, basically a collectors’ item that I’m pushing to its absolute limits with this project.
After fruitless searches in various fabric stores for canvas that I thought would be heavy enough, someone recommended I try a marine supply store downtown. I went to Samsel Supply near the shipping yards and walked away with 12 square feet of 14oz. canvas for around six bucks. It smells and leaves a black, chalky residue on your fingers if you handle it enough. I might have to wash it eventually, but I’d rather not. Maybe I’ll just scrub it with a brush and some cold water.
The architecture of bag making is actually pretty complex. It’s a lot like origami and is very trying on my sense of spatial reasoning. Things that seem like they would be simple aren’t.
Here are the three biggest pieces involved. On the left is the 16″ x 24″ sheet that will become the back and the flap. In the middle is the 40″ x 5″ strip that will become the sides and the bottom. On the right is the 16″ x 12″ sheet that will become the front. I plan to sew three pockets onto the front that will be covered by the flap, and hopefully will have more success with the installation of snaps this time around. There will also be a 2″-wide, adjustable cotton webbing strap, once I can find some material for it. Oh and the flap will be strapped down by two leather belts that I have yet to buy.
Here is the first pocket, sewn to the right side of the front.
Here is a close-up of one of the corners of the first pocket. It’s a huge mess. Behind that cleavage of canvas are two layers, which means that, when folded together as flat as possible for feeding into the sewing machine, I’m squeezing four layers underneath the foot clamp, even though I’m only trying to sew three together. It does not like that. It’s very difficult and I don’t know how I’m going to deal with this problem on the remaining pockets. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem since the pocket isn’t big enough to hold anything very heavy, and a liberal application of Fray Check should prevent any further deterioration. In fact it’s quite a bit smaller than I had intended. One of the remaining ones will have to be pretty big.
An important lesson I’ve learned today is that canvas (or any fabric for that matter) is not 2-dimensional. When you fold it, you subtract from some of your carefully measured and cut lengths (some as small as 1/4″ in my pattern). I should have accounted for that.
I’ve been working on it for almost 9 hours today so I’ve had more than enough. Stay tuned! Photos of the process will be uploaded to the bag 2.0 set on my flickr site.