Apologies for my latest to this party, but day jobs have rather overwhelmed both Nikki and I in the last couple of weeks.  I do have a reward though, for all those patiently waiting, so read on to the end to find out what it is!

Nikki and I ‘met’ online when I discovered the online sewing community through Sew Mama Sew Giveaway Day 3 years ago.  I didn’t win her prize, but I stuck around anyway, after all, she is a fellow bag maker!  This is actually her second book, and covers all kinds of tips and tricks to make professional looking bags – I saw a lot of people flipping through it at Market, so hopefully you can find it on a shelf near you now.  Occasionally in her blog posts there’s a glimpse into what has lead Nikki to the point she’s at now, so rather shamelessly I decided I’d just be nosy and interview her so I could find out more.

You knit and make clothes as well as bags, what made you focus on bag making?

I’ve been obsessed with sewing since I was a pre-schooler, and learned to use a sewing machine around the same time as I was learning to read and write.  It’s a part of me.

I studied to be a Fashion Designer, and worked in that field for several years, but was always frustrated by the lack of sculptural and creative possibilities in mainstream garment production.  I moved into the area of accessories – hats and bags, and a brief foray into boutique/art home furnishings.  The ability to make abstract shapes as functional objects grabbed me, and I specialised in this area.

As an adult, I’ve worked professionally in leatherwork (making bags and purses) and have returned to knitting and crochet as a hobby.  I’ve also developed an obsession with knitting machines, a niggly desire to make more quilts, and have a deep yearning to learn more about felting, machine embroidery and all sorts of textile dyeing techniques.

From the book launch in Melbourne

Wow, sewing since pre-school?  Who taught you?

My beginnings were at the knee of my eldest sister, who left home when I started school, and showed me how to use the sewing machine so that I could continue sewing in her absence.  I was then self-taught, using books and magazines as resources.  By the time I was at high school, I was making all of my own clothes. I was formally trained at RMIT (Fashion degree) and then worked in various parts of the fashion and crafts industries in Australia, England and Ireland.  I’ve been teaching for over 10 years, and in that time, new products and resources are emerging all of the time.  I constantly experiment with new techniques and I’m still learning.

Original Lahti Flight Bag from the book

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Everywhere.  I see design lines and shapes and embellishments and textures everywhere.  I use Pinterest these days, to record some of the visuals I see online, but mostly things get stored in the over-stuffed, unsorted filing system in my brain.

Original Convertible Tote/Backpack from the book

One of the limitations I find with quilts is that you can’t really go to town on all the different kinds of fabric available, but bag making opens up many more options, what are your favourites?

I like natural fibres – cotton, linen, wool, silk…  I love their tactile qualities they tend to do what they’re told when they’re being sewn.  I’ve worked with all sorts of non-conventional materials (billboard fabric, metal, rubber, rip-stop nylon) to make all sorts of strange things, and often the finished effect is worth the pain or difficulty in manipulating them around the sewing machine….. although I’ll never put foam rubber through my overlocker again.

Original Barcelona Satchel from the book

You teach both local classes, and now at the Fashion College in Melbourne, do you have any advice for beginners?

Don’t expect perfection or judge your work against that of people with more experience.  We all had to start somewhere, and we’ve all made mistakes that teach us the best way to do things next time.  I always assure beginners that the biggest difference between them and people with more sewing experience, is the attitude toward unpicking.  The more experience we have with sewing, the more accepting we are of the fact that we’ll make mistakes that need unpicking… we don’t see it as failure, just part of the process.

Shopping tote from the book

Any final tips?

Tip 1: Use quality interfacings.  Good quality fabric can be spoiled by cheap interfacing and cheap fabric can be improved with the right interfacing.

Tip 2: Get to know your sewing machine and all its feet and accessories.  There is often a gadget to make a task simpler, but you’ll never know unless you read the manual and experiment with what the machine can do.

Tip 3: Fabric gluesticks and fusible tape can often do the work of pins, only much better than pins can do it.  You can stick things together exactly where they need to be sewn, and then focus on sewing neatly.

Drawstring bag from the book

Onto the goodies:

Oh I do love someone that loves their glue stick as much as I do!  Anyway, I promised you a reward earlier for sticking with us, and here it is.  You can win a copy of the Better Bag Maker (hard copy in the US, digital version for the rest of the world)

Here’s what you have to do:

  1. Leave a comment telling me one thing that you wish you could do better in bag making, or even why you’re too scared to start!

Optional extras:

  1. Pop over to Nikki’s blog and follow her, or tell me if you already do
  2. Follow me, or tell me if you already do

Think that should do it for now, entries close at midnight on Friday 4th July BST, and the winner will be announced next Saturday.