Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Boxy Bag - a tutorial for a lined cosmetic bag

So you've decided to take the bull by the horns and try your hand at making yourself  a toiletry bag/travel bag/cosmetic pouch/dopp kitt (so many names for such a humble accessory). I hope this tutorial helps you accomplish that easily. I love these bags and have forever been trying to find a tutorial for a fully lined one that hides raw seams. I finally found one here http://projectsbyjane.blogspot.com/2009/01/lined-zippered-boxy-pouch-tutorial.html and was so thrilled that I sat down right away and started sewing, deciding at the same time to put together a little tutorial of my own to document my progress. It took about two hours from start to finish, but I'm sure now that I have the hang of it it would take half that. It was also a bit fiddly, with lots of steps, but with less stiff fabric it would be a bit easier, and all in all it was pretty easy to assemble and I hope you're not intimidated by all the steps...I just wanted to explain things in as much detail as I could :)

I should warn you that I went a bit overboard with the pictures on this project lol. It seems I either forget entirely to take pictures as I go, or stop after every single step to snap one or two. I do hope that it makes this project easy to follow along with and shows clearly what my description fails to explain...

Right, select two fabrics of your choice. I used Twill for the outer layer but you could easily substitute plain cotton, vinyl, leather, tweed...etc. I also used some pretty stiff interfacing on it (which I forgot to take a picture of, but I assume that all you intrepid seamstresses know how to apply it) to give the finished product some shape and sturdiness, but you don't have to if you want the bag to be a bit more pliable. The inner layer is a good quality cotton print, but you could also use oilcloth or iron on vinyl on the cotton, to make the inside cleanable and waterproof. 

The measurements: The finished bag is roughly 6.5x7.5x3.5 and is almost square in shape. If you want it longer you need to add a few inches to the width of the pieces you cut 
Cut 2 of the outer fabric - 10"x12" (the higher number will be the length of the bag)
Cut 2 of the lining fabric - 10"x12" 
(You could also cut the same again of some felt or batting, to give the bag some padding)
Cut 1 of outer fabric - 3.5"x 12" for the strap and tag (9" for the handle, 3"for the tab)
12" zipper (longer if you want a longer bag)

My fabrics are Amy Butler Twill for the outer, and Anna Maria Horner for the inner layers
Step 1
 Of course I forgot to take a picture of the first step, but I'm sure you will figure it out :) Sandwich the zipper between one pair of the outer and inner fabric, right sides together, matching up the edges along the longer side of the fabric and pinning in place. Attach your zipper foot to your machine and sew the length of the fabric, giving yourself a .25" seam allowance...as usual.

Step 2
Once done, flip the fabric, revealing the zipper, press back, and top stitch close to the zipper

Step 3
 Repeat the process on the other side of the zipper, making sure that the outer and inner fabrics mirror each other once flipped back (right sides of lining together etc. as your sewing the zipper in) Sorry if that sounds complicated...it really is pretty simple to do lol.

Step 4
 Flip again and top stitch close to zipper again.

Step 5
 Now flip the fabric so that right sides of lining are together, and the same with the outer fabric, pin in place - but make sure you leave at least a 4" gap along the lining end (for turning the whole thing right side out once done) Sew the pinned ends together, making sure to backstitch a few times at either side of the gap so that the seam doesn't pull apart when you turn the bag.

Step 6
 now line up the fabric so that both end seams line up in the center, on either side of the zipper, and press the seams apart, and pin everything into place - making sure that the seams line up centered with the zipper. Otherwise the whole thing will be a bit lopsided

 Step 7
Now you have a choice, you can either go ahead and sew the seams now, leaving a gap at the zipper to insert the handle and tab at each end, or you can insert the handle and tab now between the outer layers (right in the middle of the sandwich), centered over the zipper, with the raw edges of the handles facing the raw edges of the bag) If you chose the former...keep reading, if the latter...do so now and pin well in place.
 Before sewing you may need to unpick a few stitches where the lining meets the zipper at the end, just so the lining pulls away from the end a bit (unless you're like me and only realize once you get there that you need to unpick a few stitches :). Sew along the edge of the outer fabric, making sure to pull the lining away as you sew, and leaving a good 1.5" gap at the zipper (for the handle, if you haven't already put it in)

Step 8
 Turn whole thing over and repeat on the lining fabric, not leaving a gap at the zipper.

Step 9
the gap at the zipper for the handle to be inserted

slide the folded handle into the gap and line up the raw edges, pin and sew

reverse a few times over the zipper as you sew, to make sure the seam is nice and sturdy
At this point make sure that your zipper is partly unzipped, otherwise you'll be a bit stuck when you try to flip the whole thing right side out :)
 step 10
The tab is about 3" in length, and folded in half, repeat as with the handle, lining up raw edges and sewing over the seam a few times.
 Step 11
Now to give it it's boxy shape :) take a ruler to the corners, and mark a 1.5" square, making sure that you measure from the seam, not the edge along the sewn side (see red line) Mark all four corners

Flip, and repeat on other side

Step 12
Cut out the corners, making sure you don't cut into the underlying layer

Flip over again and cut out the corners of outer layer
 step 13
Pinch the openings together so that the seam is in the center, and the corners line up exactly. Pin in place, laying flat the seam allowance

Pin all four corners of the lining fabric
 Step 14
sew carefully, making sure that the center seam is still centered (it tends to slip)
 Step 15
Now you're going to do the same thing with the outer fabric, pinching and pinning the corners

Now is the time to make sure you like the shape of your pouch. If you want it to be taller, lay it flat again and measure a larger opening at the corners. Remember, you can always make it taller, but not shallower, so start off with a smaller gap at the corners if you're unsure, and make it bigger as needed.
Once all four corners of the outer fabric are sewn, turn the whole business right side out...it takes a bit of fiddling, but be patient and you'll get it. Now pull a bit of the lining out again, and sew closed the opening at the bottom that you used to turn the bag.
 Step 18
Now it's time to finish the handle.  Fold it in half and make sure the length is to your liking. If you want to shorten it just cut an inch or two off. To close the raw edge, turn it in about a quarter inch and topstitch along the edge. 

Since I wanted it to be openable (is that a word?) I installed some snaps,  but you could easily use velcro as well. If you don't want to have it open, just make sure you sew both ends of the handle into the bag when you insert them ( step 9)
 Now sit back and admire your work!!!!! It'll be a bit wrinkled from all the fiddling of turning it right side out, but never mind that.

 TADAAAAAA!!!! Now that you know the basics you can experiment with fabrics, interfacings, embellishments etc and make it truly your own style. Make it taller, longer, flatter or more rounded as the mood strikes you :) Happy sewing!


  1. I just wanted to tell you I read a lot of these tutorials and I did not get the whole cutting the square in the corner thing until yours. Doing it from the seam and not the edge will make ALL the difference when I make mine for my hubby for Valentine's Day! THANK YOU!!!!

    1. You are so welcome! I'm glad to be able to help :) I used to get confused by that too lol

  2. Thanks for an awesome tutorial! After reading through it a couple of times, I was able to put together a cute little bag for my niece. I added handles on the sides using polyester webbing, and made two little inside pockets--very fiddly, but it worked.

  3. Such an awesome tutorial....thank you