Choosing the Right Fabric for Bags

Lisa Lam’s A Bag for All Reasons

Fabric selection is an important part of any sewing project, and bags are no different. Generally speaking, fabric falls into two main categories: dress-weight fabric and upholstery-weight fabric. As the names would suggest, we use dress weight for garments and upholstery weight for home décor items. To make bags, however, we can use both types. Dress-weight fabric is usually better suited to bag linings and upholstery-weight fabric is best for bag exteriors, but there are exceptions to this rule. Lisa Lam’s book A Bag for All Reasons features great tips for choosing the perfect fabric for any kind of bag. We’ve included some below:

Cotton/quilt fabric – This fabric is used both in the lining and the exterior of bags. Cotton is available in many different weights, but for bag making try to use mid-weight cotton and up. Quilting fabric is usually made from cotton and comes in a fantastic array of colorful, beautiful and fun prints. You can use cotton for almost any type of bag.

Laminated cloth/oilcloth – Usually used for the exterior of bags, this vinyl-coated fabric comes in fantastic prints and has a tough waterproof surface, making it perfect for swim bags, travel bags and wash bags. Working and stitching with laminated cloth is a bit different from working with woven fabrics.

Canvas/denim – Usually used for the exterior of bags, canvas is available in different weights. Choose the heaviest weight your sewing machine can cope with. Canvas is strong and it has rugged good looks. Be sure to use a jeans needle when sewing with canvas and denim. I think canvas looks best on larger bags such as shoppers, messenger bags, travel bags and beach bags.

Wool/suiting fabric – Usually used for the exterior of bags, wool is fabulous for bag making. Wool is available in different weights, patterns and textures. Its incredible depth of color and its texture make wool a luxurious fabric to work with and use. Wool is hardwearing, but for bag making it usually requires interfacing of some kind. Wool has a more open weave, so a strong dressmaking needle is sufficient. Try using wool for handbags, clutches and messenger bags.

Velvet – This is a luxury fabric that has fabulous depth of color and a strokeable texture. The nicest velvet is made from cotton. Velvet is available in different weights – choose the heaviest weight your sewing machine can cope with. Velvet frays easily, so it’s wise to sew with a wider seam allowance. If your velvet is quite thick or you will be sewing with a few layers, use a jeans needle. Try using velvet for handbags, clutches and special occasion bags. Corduroy is similar to velvet in its uses and material qualities.

Linen – This versatile, hardwearing and natural fabric is available in both dress and home décor weight. The linen that bag makers use is the natural biscuit-colored home décor weight fabric. The color of the undyed cloth with its attractive irregular weave makes it a great foil for embroidery and/or patterned fabrics.

Silk/satin – Used both as the exterior or lining, silks and satins are luxury fabrics that have beautiful looks, texture and movement. Silk looks gorgeous pleated or gathered. Try to stick to heavier weight silk/satin because it’s more durable and easier to sew with, while fine silk and satin are very slippery. Natural dupion silk is sturdy, has a lovely soft sheen and an interesting texture from the small slubs in the fabric. Shimmery satin fabric makes a glamorous lining in an evening bag. Use a fine sewing machine needle when sewing with silk or satin. Try using silk or satin for special occasion bags and purses.

Faux/real suede – Usually used for the exterior of bags, faux suede is similar in nature to velvet. Real suede is dense and harder to sew through than woven faux suede. If you feel that suede is too fragile for your bags, it can be strengthened with interfacing. Be sure to use a leather needle for sewing suede. Try using real suede for smaller special occasion bags and small handbags. Real and faux leather are similar in their uses to suede but have a shiny surface, often requiring a non-stick sewing machine foot.

Read more about A Bag for All Reasons here!


Calypso Tote with Missy Billingsley

Check out our new DVD Calypso Tote with designer Missy Billingsley for more bag inspiration. Missy walks you through everything on this DVD — from the supply list and cutting instructions to strip piecing and finishing!

Sew On, Sew Well, Sew Beautiful,
Cyndi and Amelia

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