Sewing the Professional Tote Bag Pattern
Back in 2013 I sewed my first bag, in a class. At the time I had only sewn very simple things, and I was ready to get serious about sewing. My kids were finally old enough that I could devote some time to a space-devouring project. I wanted to make something practical, and something that would push the boundaries of my skills. I wanted to get more comfortable with my sewing machine. I didn’t have a clear idea of what to make, but I was ready for inspiration.
When I saw this class available at my beloved local sewing machine shop, The Presser Foot, I signed up. I *might* have been in a little bit over my head. While I struggled to get up to speed, I loved every minute. The class was a repeating themed class (bag class!). This one is called The Professional Tote, designed by The Creative Thimble. Here’s a photo of the pattern:
My first discovery
This bag has 10 pockets and some zippers. I remember feeling excited that I would learn how to construct something so elaborate, in my mind, and also useful. The first thing I learned about most of these modern patterns is that *they have no pattern*! I had learned about sewing at my grandmother’s knee, before she was claimed by Alzheimer’s. My grandmother usually drew up her own patterns. However, she did teach me about using store-bought, tissue-paper patterns. Meaning, the kind of pattern you have to cut out and possibly alter, then pin to fabric before cutting the fabric. Naturally, I expected a tissue-paper pattern.
Nope, not this pattern! Other than one paper pattern piece for a pocket, all other parts of this pattern are measurements and visual guides. To cut your pattern pieces, you have to measure and draw the cutting lines right on the fabric. After you cut out your pieces, you then pin labels to each piece. It was a lot of straight lines and similar-looking rectangles. It was very easy to get them mixed up without those labels.
Equipment Learning Curve
For sewing the Professional Tote in class we needed to have all of our fabric and interfacing cut out and ready to sew. I used my tape measure to draw out the dimensions of the various rectangle pieces for the bag. Then I cut each piece out with my good sewing scissors. I tried my best to keep the corners square and everything consistent, with varied success. It took me days to get it all cut out, but I did finish before the start of the first class, thankfully!
I was definitely the youngest and least-experienced sewer in the class. The edges of my fabric weren’t as tidy as everyone else’s, and I marveled at everyone’s perfectly-cut fabric pieces. That’s when the ladies in class introduced me to the large cutting mat, see-through rulers, and rotary cutters. It was a revelation! They showed me how to tidy up the pieces I had already cut. Those tools alone instantly sharpened up the work, because now I could follow crisp, accurate edges when sewing my seams. Previously I would just eyeball a smooth sewing line, like my grandmother had always done (and which she did beautifully), but following a precisely cut edge was easier and ultimately saved time.
The pattern calls for a quilting cotton, which is very light and easy to work with. In the store I had to ask what fabric to use, because I didn’t anything about quilting cotton versus other cotton (quilting cotton is a light, straight-weave fabric). The friendly store folks also directed me to the section of batiks, which are about the same weight. They have a tighter weave and so don’t unravel at the edges so easily. Batiks also have the added beginner benefit of not having a right or wrong side! I chose my fabric, but also wondered how such a thin fabric could make a sturdy tote. The answer is interfacing.
Interfacing is a material used as a second layer of fabric. Sometimes you have just fabric and interfacing, sometimes you have another layer of fabric to sandwich the interfacing in between. Interfacing can be very lightweight or stiff and heavy. It can have a heat-fusible adhesive or none at all. It is used similarly to how batting is used in quilts – to add heft or thickness, or else to add stability and shape. I don’t think I had heard of interfacing before I signed up for this class. This bag uses a medium-weight iron-in interfacing, and I was so impressed at how much body it added to the fabric.
Straps! Pockets! Zippers!
This pattern and this class taught me so much. I learned how to make a folded strap, how to insert zippers, a couple of ways to line a pocket, how to insert magnetic snaps, and how to work with a drop-in lining (which is my very favorite type, I’ve decided, now that I’ve made many more bags). Here are a few pictures of my finished Professional Tote:
Sewing this Professional Tote bag pattern in this class, and the experience of the other ladies taking the class, my instructor, and the process of sewing up the bag all really catapulted me into a new level of sewing. Let me tell you, I was, and still am, so proud of this bag. About a year and half later I made another one for my teen daughter, using different fabric. Overall, this bag probably took around 15 hours to make. I shaved a few hours off that time when I made that second one for my daughter, with the experience under my belt and better tools. This is one of my very favorite bags.