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What's in the Bag?

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Maybe you have a closet full of purses, overnight bags, backpacks and grocery bags. Have you ever thought about how these bags are made? Basic tote bags and some similar grocery bags are usually cotton and about the same size as a plastic grocery sack. That makes sense because they are fast and cheap to produce, can be washed over and over, and hold about the same amount as what you would expect from a plastic bag but with less waste.

What about purses and other more structured bags? These bags usually have some kind of hidden stabilizer added between the layers of textiles to give the bag shape or make it sturdier. If you don't use a stabilizer when creating a bag, it will be flimsy and shapeless (which is sometimes OK!), and the bag will wear out faster with regular use. When properly stabilized, bags will have a defined shape, last longer and be sturdy enough to carry more weight than an un-stabilized bag.

The big question when creating bags is: What kind of stabilizer should I use? For many people this leads to two schools of thought. The first is that many layers of a thin stabilizer are better, but for some, a single layer (or two) of a heavier stabilizer works much better, as sewing many layers together can require a lots of patience and practice. To figure out the best way to strengthen a bag, first decide what function(s) you want the bag to perform. Does the bag need to protect fragile stuff like a laptop, or are you making a stiff clutch purse that needs to maintain a certain shape? What features (multiple sections, extra pockets, zippers, etc.) do you want the bag to possess? Should the bag stand up on its own, or do you want a floppy padded bag? Once you have answered these questions you can decide on a stabilizer option.

Types of Common Stabilizers

  • Sew-in or heat-fusible interfacing or interlining: It's easy to find and comes in many weights and brands.
  • Polyester boning: It's easy to find, comes in various widths, colors and strengths, and it's flexible and offers versatility of shape.
  • Cardboard or plastic canvas: This is best for flat-bottomed bags or bags that need to stand up.
  • Fleece, canvas, duck: These make good padding but can be hard to sew through several layers.
  • Buckrum (often used in millinery): This material is flexible and sturdy but can be difficult to use if you are not familiar it.

For a rundown of the pros and cons of some different types of stabilizers used to create bags, this is a great resource Instructions for Interfacing on Bags.

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