How to make my patchwork Mary Jane bag
Updated: May 12, 2020
Ok - I know - I'm a bit obsessed by patchwork right now. But given the seeming chaos around us there's something comforting in sewing together little scraps of fabric one after the other and thinking of nothing else for a while!
Whilst this bag is called a ‘knitting bag’ in some circles, I for one think it's far too beautiful and use mine instead as a rather gorgeous bohemian style handbag in the true spirit of make-do and mend! I put a picture of this bag on instagram and immediately had lots of requests for instructions on how to make it - so by popular request - here you are!
This is a machine patchwork project (with a little hand sewing at the end to finish it off), but you could quite as easily make a patchwork bag like this entirely by hand. It just depends on what sort of mood you’re in (and whether you have a sewing machine). Whichever method you choose, you’ll need to track down a pair of handles similar to the ones in the picture. Ebay has lots to choose from. I was really lucky to be sent a pair by my lovely friend Jill McGee - they're the ones used in the bag on the left and measure 17cm along the bottom. It was Jill's kind gift that inspired this project.
The instructions for the bag below are made in proportion to the handles Jan sent me. If you make a bigger bag, like the one on the right, you'll need to use bigger squares, or simply make more of them so that the bag is in proportion to the handles.
NB The opening of these bags is a little tricky to master, but once you’ve done it, you won’t look back and will be making lots of these! Read the instructions from beginning to end before you start. The instructions seem a bit long, but I've tried to hold your hand throughout every step - it's not actually that complicated. Honest! XX
A template – 10 x 10 cm (cut it out of cardboard)
A fabric marker pen
Fabric scraps – fabrics of the same weight and texture work best together
A larger piece of lightweight lining fabric
A sewing machine, pins, scissors, needle and thread
First mark out 18 small squares on the back of your fabric scraps by drawing around the template with the pen. Cut out each square leaving a precise 1cm seam allowance all the way around. Lay out your squares and think carefully about how you want to group them. I like random groupings but I do enjoy seeing how the colours work together too.
Sew together six strips of three squares each matching markings carefully so they all line up accurately. Then sew three strips together to form an accurate patchwork square. You’ll want two of these large squares for your bag, one for the back and one for the front. Iron carefully pressing all the seams at the back open and flat and snipping off any spare threads.
Next cut out two strips of fabric. They want to be the same length as the top of each large square and about 8 cm wide. Sew one strip to the top of each large square, right sides together. Again, press the seams at the back open and flat. That’s the back and front of your bag made.
Top stitch all the seams on the front and back of your bag. You don’t need to top stitch the edges as they’ll be hidden in the seams of the bag.
Now cut out two pieces of lining fabric the same size as the back and front of your bag and lay to one side.
Place right sides of the bag together matching up all the squares. Remember, the strip of fabric is at the top of the bag. Count down one square from each side of the strip and mark with a pin and cut a little notch in the seam there too. That will be the side opening point of your bag. Sew round the edge of the bag from pin to pin (or notch to notch) with a 1cm seam allowance. Reinforce at the opening point with a double line of stitching. It’s worth reinforcing the corners of the bag too. When you’re done, snip the corners of the bag diagonally to remove any excess fabric and trim away any spare threads. Turn the bag the right way out and press it well, really reaching into those corners. Turn inside out again.
Sew the lining in the same way, making sure you mark the opening points accurately so that they match the bag. Turn the right way out and press.
To finish, tuck the lining inside the bag so the right side of the lining faces the right side of the bag. Really push the corners down into place. Carefully match up the side opening points of the bag as well as the four remaining side seams so that the lining fits snugly. Pin each side seam or tack if you prefer. Leave the top of the bag free.
Now, sew each of the four side seams (1cm seam allowance) from the top down, getting as close to the side opening point as you can each time. It will be a bit tricky the closer you get to the opening point but press the fabric as flat as you can with your fingers as you go. Reinforce at the opening point with a second line of stitching if you can.
Turn the bag the right way out pushing the lining right down inside, making sure the corners are nice and neat. Press thoroughly.
If there are any tiny gaps at the side opening points, hand stitch them closed.
Trim the top edges of the bag so they’re nice and even. Sometimes you’ll find you have a spare bit of fabric if your matching hasn’t been perfect (mine very rarely is)!
Tuck the top edges of the bag in on themselves by a couple of cm’s and press, machine stitching in place.
Thread each top edge through a handle spreading out the fabric gathers evenly and pinning in place on the underside.
u Now hand stitch the edge picking up only the lining without going through to the front of the bag. As you do this you’ll have to manipulate the fabric quite a bit to keep it nice and smooth as you work. Remove any pins.
Gorgeous. Well done! Perfect for knitting (if you insist) and everything else besides!
If you'd rather buy one of my bags already made, please check out my shop!