"finish as desired"
Several months ago I purchased the Stowe Bag pattern, a design collaboration between Fringe Association and Grainline Studio. I hesitated because 1) I own a couple of books on making bags already, and 2) I have made plenty of tote bags and project bags without a pattern at all and most have turned out just fine. Still, everything I saw on social media and read online about the Stowe Bag was so gushy and effusive that eventually I caved and got it.
I'm a big fan of both the Fringe blog and Grainline's patterns in general, but this bag pattern was a big disappointment to me. I've made one and started another, but I don't know if I'll be able to finish it.
Let's start with the one I finished. I made this months ago - I think it was over the summer - and I never got around to blogging about it. I made the smaller size out of fabric pilfered from my mom's stash (thanks, mom!!) and I quite enjoy the contrasting black and white prints against that pale blue lining.
I wanted this bag to have some body, so I lined the whole thing and even added interfacing, though that was probably overkill. As you can see in these suboptimal iPhone photos, the bag pretty much stands up on its own.
Now, there are aspects of the design that I like. The pockets? Those are nice, though I don't really need instructions for inserting rectangular pockets into a bag. Those handles that fold over themselves with the bias binding? Very clever. I quite like that detail.
This first bag turned out all right, and I use it quite a bit. In fact, I have a stack of garter stitch chenille washcloths in there that I started after the election.
But I have serious issues with the instructions. One minor detail is the option to make the bag more three-dimensional by sewing across the bottom corners (you can see I did that in the bottom right of picture above). It's not hard to do, but for some reason I found the instructions on that to be really confusing.
The bigger issue, though, is that unless you get creative, you'll end up with raw edges on the inside of the bag, and I find that unacceptable for something that will ostensibly see a lot of use. I don't think I'm giving away any big secrets here when I tell you that first you sew the pockets to the inside of the bag, and then you sew the bottom and sides together. Regarding those side and bottom seams, which are exposed on the inside, you are simply told: "finish as desired."
Finishing seams wasn't an issue on the black and white bag because I lined it, so everything was hidden inside. The bottom is a little bunchy with all those layers of fabric, though, and one of the selling points of this bag is supposedly that it folds up nicely when you're not using it. I wanted to make another one without lining so it would be more compact and flexible.
I ran into trouble at the "finish as desired" part of the instructions where you sew the sides and bottom. There are many, many ways to finish seams. I've got a little experience in three of those methods:
I thought French seams would be too bulky with the added fabric of the pockets, especially at the top of the pocket where the edges are turned under twice. I tried flat-felled seams but the bulk was still an issue and anyway, I couldn't sew all the way down to the corner. I tried serging along the bottom seam as a last-ditch effort, but by then I knew the project would be a lost cause. And my serger isn't great, so I only use it as a last resort.
"Finish as desired." I'll tell you what I desire: finished seams that don't look like a dog chewed on the fabric as it went through the sewing machine.
The problem is the corners where everything comes together. I don't know how to make that look neat.
It's possible I'm being unfair. It's possible I could find a better way to deal with those raw edges, but the only two other methods that come to mind are using a zigzag stitch, which would eventually fray, or a Hong Kong finish, which wouldn't solve the problem of bulk at the corners. In fact, that would probably be even worse because of adding more fabric to the seams.
I almost threw the whole thing in the trash, but changed my mind at the last moment. Maybe if I find another method I can pick out all the stitches and salvage it. For now, though, I've put it in Time Out.
It only adds to my frustration of feeling overworked and more than a little stressed about the holidays (we're traveling a lot and have left some of the planning and gift-buying WAY last minute, which was a mistake). I wanted to spend a little time today making something nice, and instead I have something that looks like it might have been my first sewing project. I feel like I wasted my time, especially since this is the second Stowe Bag I've attempted and I should have known better.
If, if, I make another Stowe bag, I'm definitely going to line it. It adds bulk, but at least solves the problem of raw edges. I don't have a problem with a lined bag. Not at all! In fact, it's a fun way to use coordinating fabrics. Bonus: if you don't like the pocket stitching showing on the outside of the bag (I'm not wild about it myself), you can hide that in the lining.
Overall, I'd say the Stowe Bag is a nice concept, but the vague instructions are obviously an issue for me. GL patterns are known for being clear and complete, so to run into these problems was a disappointing surprise.