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Guest Post: Mad Fish Monger Makes A Mad Art Bag

Many of you probably already know Mad Fish Monger as a long time commenter here or as an even longer time commenter on Skepchick. But did you know that she makes stuff? Cooooool stuff? Well she does and today she’s going to school you. It’s activity time! Take it away Mad Fish Monger –

Hullo everyone, I’m the Mad Fish Monger, and I like to make things out of other things. I like to sew and I use a 100-year-old treadle sewing machine because it’s awesome (and it’s been passed down to me by my grandmother). I also use a lot of recycled and vintage fabric. I love taking something apart and making something else, or using something in an unusual way.

Here is a thing I made, and the instructions on how to make one of your very own! I like to make bags because I am the sort of person who carries a lot of stuff. I have ADD and tend to forget things. So having a bag I carry everywhere, with the stuff I need on a daily basis, is really handy and makes it so I don’t try to get on a bus without pants.

And guess what? You can win this very bag, bubbling beaker and all! Start by liking my Facebook fan page. Then on your own blog, Twitter, G+, Facebook or wherever, post something nice or tell me your favourite item in my shop. Link back your comment on my Facebook fan page and I’ll pick a winner from all the wonderful people who were nice to me via one of those random-winner generators. Then you can show the world that everything you do, you do FOR SCIENCE!!

What You Will Need:
Sewing machine
Fabric paint and brushes (or other optional decorative items)
Iron and ironing board (or thick towel on a flat surface)
Something to use for a strap with finished edges* (options are webbing, belts, neckties, or the strap from another bag, or make your own with matching fabric. For instructions on how to do that, see here (interfacing is optional))

*since we’re not sewing the edges into the bag, the edges need to be finished. If you’re using nylon or other synthetic webbing, you can clip the edges with pinking shears and run a lighter very gently along the edge to melt it. Be very careful doing this, you don’t want it to burn or drip. Just use the tip of the flame and pass it lightly along the edge, keeping an eye on it until it’s just melted enough to stop running.

You’ll need two kinds of fabric, one for the outer shell and one for the liner. Lining fabric is usually a light cotton, but not too light, you don’t want it to tear. An outer fabric can be something a little heavier, like canvas or in the case of this bag, a poly-cotton blend.

A Couple of Tips for the Novice Sewer:

  • Right side refers to the side of the fabric you want showing. On some fabrics it’s really obvious (like the lining fabric in this example), but some are the same on both sides, so then just choose which you want.
  • Wrong side is the side you want hidden inside the bag, or the faded, not colourful side.
  • If you have an electric sewing machine, I’d suggest a zig-zag stitch if you’re using any kind of stretchy fabric or a fabric that unravels easily. Make sure you finish your ends by reversing and going back a few stitches, it really helps. If you have a serger, that makes this way easier, but if you can use a serger you don’t need these tips.
  • Keep a stitch ripper on hand, if you make mistakes you might need to open up a seam and try again.
  • If you’re a really new beginner, start with some cheap practice fabric. Some fabrics are quite delicate and having to sew and re-sew can ruin them. Visit a thrift store and get old sheets or tablecloths, or take apart an old skirt if you can’t find any fabric.
  • This pattern is very easy to scale, you can make this bag a tiny little clutch or a huge diaper bag, up to you. Take this basic design and go nuts!
  • Pinking shears (scissors that cut with a zig-zag edge) are very handy for finishing the edges of a seam.
  • You need SHARP fabric scissors. I never understood why my mum was so militant that I never use her sewing scissors for my cardboard box houses until I started to sew. Get some really sharp sewing scissors and post a vicious guard dog to keep anyone from using them for anything but sewing.
  • Make sure you’re using the right setting on your iron, too hot can melt or burn fabric and too low won’t get the job done. If you’re not sure, start low and turn it up. Different fabrics need different settings (synthetics are low, natural fabrics are high is a general rule).
  • The flap on this bag is technically optional. You can make it without, and just have the zipper exposed along the top.


Start by cutting out and ironing your fabric. In this case, the zipper I have is 12 inches long, so I cut 12″ by 12″ for the bag and 12″ by 8′ for the flap. You need two outer and two liner for the bag and one outer and one liner for the flap, plus any other pockets you’d like (here I have just one for inside the bag).
You need the fabric to be as wide as the zipper.

Step 2:

Sketch out your design first so you know how it’s going to look. Paint your design on the flap. Here I am using fabric paint, but there are many options. You can applique, sew a patch or draw with fabric markers. I’ve chosen to paint an overflowing, bubbly beaker in the same psychedelic colours as my lining fabric. Make sure you use paint in a well-ventilated room. Paint fumes make you make mistakes, and you don’t want to waste fabric having to cut a whole new one because you globbed a pile of paint in the wrong spot because you’re dizzy from the fumes. Be careful when you paint! Make sure you leave plenty of room all around the edges for sewing, You don’t want your design to get pulled into the seams. Make sure your paint is completely dry before sewing. Anything you’re going to do to dress up your bag, you’ll want to do before you start putting it together.

Step 3:

With right sides together, sew the flap outer and liner together leaving a gap along the top. Trim the edges (i.e. outside the seam you just made) with pinking shears and make sure you clip the corners. Carefully turn it inside out through the gap and poke out the corners. iron the gap shut and give it a quick stitch to close the gap. Make sure you leave the gap along the top, as this is where it will get sewn in to the zipper, so you won’t see the stitch, the bottom part that hangs over the bag will have a nice clean edge. Iron everything nice and flat, but be careful when ironing over your paint or appliques. Some paint doesn’t take well to being ironed, or not at high temperatures, or you might smoosh your applique, so be ever vigilant.

Step 4:

If you’re adding any pockets, fold down and iron all four sides of the pocket. Watch your fingers! Here I used the iron on the cotton setting with steam, it’s very effective but extremely hot.

Step 5:

Fold one side (what will be the top of your pocket) down one more fold and iron that puppy nice and flat, then run a seam along just that one fold.

Step 6:

Place the pocket on your lining fabric. Pin and sew along the three open sides, leaving the double-folded side you already stitched open at the top. Pinning it first helps keep it straight while you sew, crooked pockets don’t hold things very well. If you’re going to do or add anything to your pieces, do them now. Add all the pockets and decorative items you want before moving on.

Step 7:

This is the trickiest part.
Starting with one outer fabric piece, place the zipper FACE DOWN on top of the RIGHT SIDE of the fabric and sew. Then place a liner fabric WRONG SIDE UP on TOP of the zipper and sew. The zipper is now sandwiched between the two fabrics, and the two fabrics are right sides together. Got it? And don’t try to do this all at once, the fabric slips around, do one layer at a time. This is the most confusing part, but once you’ve done it a couple of times it’ll make sense. Open and iron flat along the zipper so that both fabrics are now hanging off one side of the zipper, wrong sides together with nice hidden seams.

Step 8 :

You’re going to repeat step seven here with the other side, BUT you’re first going to sew the flap you’ve made to the outer fabric, so that when you sew the zipper to the outer fabric, you’re sewing the flap right along with it. When you fold the fabric back from the zipper you should see the inside of the liner. I find once I’ve got this sewn on, it’s easier to keep the edges of the flap out of the way by just pinning the corners in. If you’ve done everything right, it should look like this. With the zipper lying flat, you should have one outer and one liner on one side, and one liner, outer and the flap sewn to the other side. Ready for the next step? Don’t forget to iron everything nice and flat, but watch that fabric paint!

Step 9:

Starting to come together now…
Unfold the bag and open the zipper halfway (don’t forget this part, it makes things harder later if you forget). Put the outer fabrics (with the flap) on one side and the liner fabrics on the other. This should be with right sides together. Pin and sew all the way around, but make sure you leave a gap at the bottom of the liner fabric. Make sure you get over the zipper properly, this can be tough. I usually back up and go over the zipper to make sure it’s nice and tight as there will be a lot of pressure there when you’re opening and closing the zipper. I find it helpful when I’m finished sewing to push with my finger along all the seams from the inside to make sure the fabric hasn’t slipped and left me an unwanted gap in my seams.

Step 10:

Here it is all sewn with the gap in the bottom. Ensure you’ve left the gap in the middle as we’ll need those corners to be sewn. If your seams are all done up nicely, grab the pinking shears and trim outside your seams all around nice and tidy. You can trim the fabric in the gap too.

Step 11 (optional):

This step is optional, but if you want to square out the bottom of the bag, turn the corner so the point lays on the seam along the bottom and run a stitch across it as shown. Do this on both corners of the liner and the outer fabric (so you get all four corners). If you don’t do this, you’ll simply have an envelope-style bag, but squaring the corners gives the bottom a little shape and helps the bag stand up on its own.

Step 12:

Using the gap, turn the whole thing inside out. Keep turning until you’ve got the liner fabric pulled out. If you’ve made any mistakes at this point, go back and fix them now before you sew the gap shut.
Line up the edges of the gap you’ve left and making sure the edges are tucked it, iron them flat and sew. Tuck the lining back inside the bag and straighten it all out. I find it helps to put both hands inside the bag with the liner tucked in and shake the bag upside-down. Make sure you poke your fingers in the corners so they’re all nicely turned out.

Step 13:

Line up your strap on the outside of the bag along the edge seam just below the zipper (in this case I’m using an old belt) and sew like this: start at one corner and make a square. Go diagonally across the square, and back along the bottom to the other corner. Go diagonally across to the top and go back over that side until you return to your original starting point. You should have a square with an X in the centre (or you might see it as a square with two Z’s, one backwards) and the bottom and top seams of the square will be double-stitched. This helps distribute the weight around and keeps any one stitch from holding all the weight of the bag. This is where badly-made bags will come apart, so make those stitches tight! You’ll want to use a straight seam here, or a very tight zig-zag. Be careful that the strap is flat when you sew the other side so you don’t get a twisted strap.

Step 14:

Now that you’ve got both your straps sewn on (and you were careful not to twist them), you’re ready to give it one last iron and tuck.

Step 15:

You’re all done! Go fill up your bag full of stuff and carry it around to show it off. Make them for your friends!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, I’d love to see what you can make!


Brian George

Brian George is an illustrator and designer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. In his spare time he makes videos of Spirograph drawings and complains about doing laundry. Website: Twitter: @brianggeorge Insta: @brianggeorge If you're into what I'm doing, feel free to throw down a bit in my tipjar here: @brianggeorge

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