Purl Soho Hand Tote
This project was fuelled by fabric. Look at the fabric! Layers of lush foliage with leaves from my favourite Staghorn plant, clusters of silvery greys and tiny flowers all on a midnight black. Designed here in Melbourne by Louise Jones, a local designer who creates patterns for fabric, wallpaper and more. I’m guilty of ‘finding’ this beauty when visiting a friend’s studio – she shares her space with Louise – I spied it and I wanted to sew it, immediately! I ordered a metre of this upholstery-weight linen, with vague plans to make some kind of bag. Choosing a pattern didn’t come quite as easily. I knew what I wanted – big and boxy, more wide than long, with fabric straps – but I didn’t know where to find it.
After some searching I stumbled on this Purl Soho pattern . If you can get past the mesmerising knitting patterns on the Purl Soho site (it helps if you’re a shocking knitter like me) there are some great free sewing patterns tucked away in the ‘Sew’ section. Yup, free. The bag pattern fitted my brief almost perfectly, though I did stare at it for quite a long time because the photographs give nothing away on size. It’s called a ‘hand tote’ which brought up visions of a compact number that would carry next to nothing – just a small step up from a hand bag. This worried me because I like a bag that carries a LOT of stuff. There are no scale references in the beautiful pattern photographs – an actual person holding the bag would help with the scale… or even a little bit of a hand – so I finally dragged out the measuring tape to discover the dimensions are good, with a finished size of 14” wide x 11 ¾” high with a 4 ¼” base. I could squeeze in a laptop, wallet, lunch and drink bottle or two, and still have room for a small person’s pebble/leaf/shell/stick collection. All in a ‘hand’ tote.
Because this pattern wasn’t tried or tested by anyone I knew, I was reluctant to cut into my precious tropical wonderland linen without seeing a few versions first. After much googling, it seemed NO ONE on the whole world wide web has made this bag?! I could find no clues beyond the original pattern. Why hadn’t anyone made one? Was it a dud pattern? Eventually I sewed a toile in a sweet denim with stitched polka dots, and can confidently report it’s great: Quick. Easy. Clever. With some unexpected details like the handles, which are pinched together and sewn into a rounded shape (gah, I can’t explain… so I took a photo instead). I really like the that the handles run on the outside and tuck into the accent panel; and the accent panel lines the base and together with the interior pockets give the bag a good structure. The raw inner seams are bound with bias which neatens the inside and means don’t need lining. And, as per my original wish-list, the handles are made from fabric, which means I can easily wash this thing.
The only adjustments I made on the first denim bag was to lengthen the handles as they were too short to sling over my shoulder – I added 9 inches. The tropical bag was hacked a little further as I lengthened the body a bit as well, and lined it with a light denim to give it more structure. I also sewed the tropical version with a nylon topstitch thread – I initially used a white topstitch but the weight of the fabric meant my stitching wasn’t neat enough to be glowing in white. That change of heart required an absolutely breathtaking amount of unpicking – don’t you hate it when those ‘quick’ and ‘easy’ patterns end up taking so much longer than expected….
Luckily, I love this bag a lot so the extra hours of labour are forgiven. Above all else I’m chuffed to have made a bag using fabric that was designed and produced locally. And I’m also secretly excited to put a version or two of this bag onto that great big catalogue of sewing choices that is the www. I may even add a few more in future.