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Making the BACK-TO-SCHOOL bag!

by Pam Voth

For most of my life, I have experienced back to school. As a little kid, it meant that my mom would be sewing me a new dress, often matching my big sister’s until I think she probably objected…strongly. Then my experience changed to taking my summer job money and buying myself supplies and clothes and a backpack. Off to university, I drove to Brock University and lived at home. Finally, I became a teacher and then a principal… where back to school took on a whole new meaning with support for students and then staff in getting their new school year off on the right foot.

This is a side view of the completed bag sitting in the garden in front of some yellow flowers. The main bag is made of apple fabric, you can see the yellow worm straps and one pocket, the black zipper and a little bit of the red bottom of the bag.

The completed back-to-school bag

Now, I usually head out for a long breakfast with some retired friends and celebrate our less stressful September start. I never, however, forget the flutter of preparing to return to the grind of the first day, so I ease the transition for my friend with a back-to-school bag and some tools for a survival kit.

My friend was the recipient of my first ever quilt – the baby quilt I talked about in my April 2020 post and she’ll be heading back to school for the first-time post-maternity leave this September. I remember going back after being home with my boys and it was hard but, I was pleasantly surprised at how resilient my boys were and how we fell into a nice routine as a family.

The apple fabric is spread out underneath the solid red for the bottom of the bag and worm print yellow fabric for the straps and pockets. The pineapple printed fabric is on top of the very realistic apple print fabric. The apples in the fabric show the leaves, as well as some of the apples cut in half so you can see the seeds.

Fabric for my back-to-school bag

Choosing fabric for a quilting or sewing project never gets old. This time, I chose The Convert-Able by Tammy Tadd Designs.

As I like to adapt projects, I’m adding a few inches to it and creating an insert out of outdoor upholstery fabric. I’m thinking it will be handy as a lunch bag with the insert easily removed to be washed. I chose some fun apropos fabrics – apples, bookworms, red and black solids, as well as a fun pineapple upholstery fabric for the insert (my friend teaches kindergarten). I had chosen a pile of fabrics and my quilting group helped me sort out which fit best and worked with the pattern (one member of my quilting group has already made this bag, so I’m including a picture of her version in this blog post).

 The purse is pictured from two angles, showing the dark green quilted main bag with the the dark green pocket and the lighter green patterned straps and snap. The bottom of the bag is the lighter green motif.

My quilting mentor, Margaret’s version of the bag.

I adapted the bag when cutting to make it 4″ bigger. The bag is designed to have an inner removable pouch which will be perfect for a lunch bag. There are pockets on the outside of the bag (for cellphone and keys). The outer bag is apples and its inner lining is black. The pockets and handles for the outside are the yellow worm fabric with the base of the bag in red. The inner removable pouch is a pineapple pattern.

The bag is sitting on the stone path. You can see the apple pattern at the end of the bag and the red bottom of the bag. You can see the strap and pocket on the right side of the bag and a bit of the strap on the left side of the bag. You can see the pineapples on the inner pocket of the bag.

The completed bag from the end with the inner bag visible.

I have decided to add a zipper to the outer bag instead of snaps. I learned to add zippers by sewing many, many, many zipper pouches. The more I practice new things, the more confident I become and the more I’m able to adapt. I have learned that if my adaptation is a flop, there’s always a stitch ripper or an extra piece of fabric. Quilting is a forgiving hobby…just keep your sense of humor and stay humble.

I decided to draw on more traditional quilting for this bag. After I pinned the outer (apple) and inner (black) fabric together with batting in between, I drew diagonal lines to make rhombus shapes on the bag. I used an erasable pen that irons off after the lines are machine quilted. This quilting seemed quite a bit easier than my last few quilts – the Dresden plate and the animals on the baby quilts were a lot more challenging. I like to jump back and forth between difficult and easy projects. Next month, I’m considering heading back to paper piecing which I love but, find very challenging! Stay tuned for that!

This is a picture of the apple fabric with the lines drawn in a dark color to form rhombus shapes across the fabric. You can see a safety pin in the left-hand corner of the fabric.

The lines are drawn on the apple fabric, ready to quilt.

When you become more confident as a quilter, you can understand and adapt patterns more easily. Quilting is a walk your own path type of hobby. You take what you learned and go where the fabric leads you. Never fail to try something new, especially because you know you have mentors right there, in your corner).

I skipped ahead to make the straps for the bag. I have never created straps this way before, but I didn’t hesitate – carpe diem and the quilting opportunity. I cut the straps 4” longer but, I did not add any width. I fused a 1” piece of medium weight interfacing to the middle of wrong side of the strap, add a piece of batting and then folded the right side of the strap in and pressed. I then pressed a ¼” seam allowance on the left side and then pressed that over – ready to sew a seam down the middle to finish the straps.  I decided to quilt some diagonals on them straps to finish them off. ‘Have faith’ is my motto because with a little faith in yourself and positive thinking – the world is your oyster.

The straps are pictured showing the seam that is sewn down the middle to hold the straps together. The seam is shown from the top and bottom side of the strap – the top side does not show the edge of the fabric that was turned under to hide the raw edge of the seam (it is on the right). The back of the strap shows how the raw edge was turned under and then the seam was sewn to hold the strap together.

Straps sewn together down the middle

The yellow worm-patterned straps are lying on top of the apple fabric. The straps are quilted with zigzags and white thread from to bottom and the apple fabric is quilted with black thread in diagonals to great rhombus shapes.

Quilting on the straps and apple fabric

For my next trick, I added the bottom of the bag which required centering thick felt and the red bag bottom onto the quilted apples… pinning in place and then sewing a straight seam down the middle to secure it. The sides of the red are folded under the felt and then left unsewn to attach the pockets and the straps.

The light green rectangle of felt is being centered on the red bottom of the bag. You can see a ½” border on all sides of the felt that will be folded in or sewn into the bag to make the bottom.

Centering the felt onto the bottom of the bag.

The pockets and straps went on the bag without a hitch. I love the little worms on the fabric and the straps – I even managed to get the worms on the pockets crawling the right way up on both sides. The folded edges that are on each side of the red bottom of the bag are sewn along the edge to hold the pockets ad straps in place.

This picture shows the yellow worm-patterned pockets ad straps pinned onto the bag with the bottom edge of the pocket (raw edge) tucked under the folder edge of the bottom of the bag. You can clearly see the rhombus pattern in black thread that has bee stitched onto the apple fabric.

Pockets and straps pinned and ready to be sewn onto the bag.

I have decided to use a zipper instead of a snap and so, I added zipper tabs and then sewed the zipper in along the top edge and then folded the right sides together and sewed in the other side of the zipper.

This picture shows the outside of the quilted bag, including one yellow pocket and handle and part of the red bottom of the bag. The black zipper is in place at the top of the bag with the zipper tabs attached, ready to be sewn on.

Zipper ready to be sewn onto the bag

After I sewed up the sides, I needed to make the bottom of the purse flat. This proved to be the challenge – I misread or didn’t follow the directions properly and so, I ended up ripping it all out and ‘making it work’ – which, in the end it did. Everything turned out (after some ripping and stitching) and the project is basically complete.

I was reminded again that quilting can be humbling and whenever you get a little cocky, make sure your problem-solving skills and your stitch ripper are handy.

This photo is taken from the end of the bag and shows the inside lining of the apple bag which is black, you can see the side seam and the corner seam for the bottom of the bag. The outside of the bag is visible (the apple fabric and the yellow pockets) and you can see the zipper.

Inside black lining of the bag with the zipper.

I added an inner bag so it can be used as a lunch bag with the inner pouch washable made from exterior patio cushion fabric. To sew it, it was just like a pillow, with some medium interfacing in between to make it stiffer, and folded right side up – top stitched on the top and bottom and the sides top-stitched together.

The left-hand picture shows the pineapple insert bag opened, sitting outside in the garden with the apple outside bag in the background. In the second picture, on the right, shows the bag opened with the pineapple insert inside. The pineapple fabric has a blue background with the pineapples facing various directions all over it

The inside pineapple bag

My alterations have made it the perfect size for a lunch bag. I do want to try the whole project again because I have just thought of another friend who could use a back-to-school boost. It would give me the chance to practice re-making the bottom of the bag because, if you ask any mentor, if you’re humbled by a project, then make sure you never give up and keep at it until you’re feeling still humble, but, more confident.

Now, all this to fill the bags with a back-to-school survival kit – hand sanitizer, masks, munchies, hair bands, tissues, tea, granola bars and whatever else will make the transition easier. Seek to brighten the lives of those in your circle.

 The finished quilted bag is sitting on the porch filled with hand sanitizer, wet ones, granola bars, tissues, mints, highlighters and more, all ready for my friend for her first day of school. You can see hand sanitizer and wet ones in the outside yellow pockets, the handles of the bag are visible – all in the yellow worm fabric. The red bottom of the bag is visible, as well as a little bit of the inner bag’s pineapple fabric.

Finished back-to-school bag filled with survival kit for the first day of school.

I’m starting to think about colder weather and more time inside for quilting. I have two projects to talk about in my next blog – paper piecing bird placemats with napkins and the beginning of my sampler king-sized quilt. My quilting group took a little masked trip to Lens Mills and I purchased fabric to start my bedroom quilt, you’ll watch it happen one square at a time over the next several months. I’m so excited about this one and I owe my mentors a deep debt of gratitude first, for offering their insight into fabric choices and for giving me the confidence to do this. I’m a quilter, who knew this would add so much richness to my life both in friendship and in fulfillment. Until October, stay positive and keep quilting.


1 comment

Mary Richardson October 11, 2020 - 12:11 pm

You must have been an awesome teacher because your comments are so sensible and bring a sense of calm to your project. Thanks se much, Happy Thanksgiving from Nova Scotia. Stay safe


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