Having looked at various hardware for the past few weeks (see parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 here), it’s time to look at the tools you can use with them. Note that you do not have to buy every single thing here in order to make bags, just buy what you need as and when you need it, or you might develop an unhealthy obsession with eBay/Etsy and a tendency to avoid your bank manager. I’m going to assume that you have a sewing machine, thread and an iron with ironing board at your disposal.
Let’s start with the basics. If you’ve been sewing for a while, there’s a good chance that you already have some or all of these on your work table:
In the photo above we have the following:
A. 45mm Rotary Cutter – this is the most commonly sold size of rotary cutter. They come with a variety of grips, this is Olfa’s Deluxe Grip, where the trigger is squeezed to release the blade, and can be locked open (or closed) if required. I prefer rotary cutters in partnership with pattern weights to cut bag shapes as I get smoother cuts and the fabric doesn’t shift around as I cut it which it tends to do a bit for me with scissors and pinned patterns. At our recent bag camp there was a split between the scissor and rotary cutter users – there’s no right or wrong, just use what works best for you.
B. 28mm Rotary Cutter – this is one of the smaller cutters and is useful for small, tight curves as it handles them better than the larger cutters.
C. Fabric Shears – for those that prefer scissors, fabric shears are the tool of choice. I keep a pair on hand in case I have to cut through something particularly thick that the rotary cutter can’t handle.
D. Microtip Scissors – these look a little peculiar in comparison to what you might normally think of as scissors due to their squeeze action to cut. They have sharp tips and are particularly useful when it comes to clipping curves/points and also into the corners of welt/inset zip pockets.
E. Scissors – regular embroidery type scissors are handy to have around when working with materials that can fray or unravel as inevitably at the end of the make you have a rather hairy inner bag! I try to leave trimming off the extra threads until I’ve finished handling a particular area, otherwise you end up in constant trim mode and they can unravel/fray more. They’re also useful for thread trimming at the ends of seams. I also use the very small pair to cut slits for pronged hardware such as magnetic snaps.
F. Snips – these are useful for trimming thread ends and for cutting threads at the end of a seam if you don’t have a built in thread cutter in your machine. I have to admit to never having bought a pair of snips, but the ones that you get free in magazines can be useful, especially if you’re taking some hand work on a plane as the blades fit within airline regulations (check your airline before flying to be sure)
G. Paper Scissors – useful for cutting out paper patterns. Make sure it’s very clear which ones are for paper so that anyone visiting your sewing area doesn’t use your best fabric shears to cut up bits for their latest art project or to open their latest box from Amazon!
H. Seam Ripper – these are the tools that no-one ever wants to have to use, but sometimes needs must! I prefer the Seam Fix rippers as they have a rubberised end which can pick up the wee bits of thread that get left on the fabric, and they’re a good size to fit in the hand.
I. Measuring Tape – these are useful for checking everything from the length of a strap to the width of a pleat. the nice thing is that you often get them free with magazines so you can build up little collections around your workplace.
J. Pattern Weights – these are used to hold pattern pieces in place on the fabric as you cut round them with a rotary cutter. You can buy premade ones, or make your own from all sorts of items as long as they have a bit of weight to them. The pattern for these pyramid ones is available here <insert link>
K. Pins – these are used to hold bits of fabric together (note, do not use them on leather or laminates as you’ll never get the hole out!) Pins come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but my favourite are the glass headed quilting pins by Clover as they’re nice and long and can be ironed over if needed, such as when creating pleats.
L. Wonderclips – these are used to hold things together where pins are not appropriate, such as thick layers of bag, or on materials such as leather or laminates. Originally made by Clover, there are now no end of Wonderclip-alikes on the market. In some cases you get what you pay for, but I would suggest that with whatever manufacturer you choose you don’t leave them stretched open for long periods of time because the little piece of sprung metal that clamps them onto things will eventually lose the will to clamp.
M. Jumbo Wonderclips – these are, as the name suggests, the supersized version of the humble Wonderclip. Because they have a much longer reach, they are particularly useful to hold things in place that are rather awkward to get to. They will also clamp much thicker layers of fabric together, although you might start to question whether your sewing machine will be able to tackle that kind of thickness.
N. Chaco Liner – this is a marking tool that dispenses a chalk line by rolling it along the fabric. There are a number of different colour options, some of which will show up better on certain colours, such as black, than others. The chalk can be brushed off, if needed, after the fact.
O. Frixion Pens – these are not actually designed for sewing, but due to their ability to disappear with friction (aka heat), they have been adopted by sewers who find they can remove them with an iron. Note that these are actually a chemical and can come back in extreme cold (don’t freeze your bags kids) and can leave a mark on certain fabrics – I’ve found that this does wash out on quilts, but you might not want to wash your bag, so if you need to mark the visible side of the fabric do a small test first.
P. Sewline Pencil – these use ceramic leads to make marks on fabrics (you may remember these from the science labs at school). They have a rubber at the other end which can be used to erase the lines if needed.
In the photo above we have the following other useful bits and pieces:
Q. Jean-A-Ma-Jig/Hump Jumper – these are used to help your machine to get over thick seams without balking at the extra fabric. I will do a video soon on how to use one, but they’re really useful wee tools if you can get your hands on one. Some machines come with one included in their toolkit, so if you have something roughly resembling this shape that you never quite worked out the use for, you may already have one.
R. Purple Thang – this comes with a whole host of uses listed, but I actually use it just as a stilletto to guide fabric through and hold it in place at the ends of seams, especially curved ones.
S. Seam Gauge – different patterns have different seam alloances, so it’s handy to have a way of measuring and checking that you’re using the right one.
T. Easy Hem – this product by Dritz is incredibly useful for things such as measuring and pressing turnovers and pleats. Because the tool is metal, you can actually press on top of it once you have aligned the fabric to the relevant measurement line. The clean edge makes for nice sharp creases, especially useful for making expandable/bellows pockets.
U. Fraycheck – this is useful for running around cut raw edges such as slits where pronged hardware will be inserted, or holes where hardware with cutouts will go. There are several companies that make things along the lines of Fraycheck, but after some experimenting, Prym is my favourite brand.
V. Bodkins – these are used to thread things through narrow channels. There are 2 different ones, the one with a clamping action is used with things such as flat elastic or heayier rope, while the one with the threaded end is used with thinner rope or ribbon.
W. Turning Tools – these are used to turn fabric tubes, such as for straps. There are a couple of companies that make these sets, but this is the Prym version.
X. Haemostats – these tools, generally found in a surgical theatre, are particularly useful for gripping things to pull through tight turning spaces where the turning tools won’t work, such as little coin purses. They are also useful for pulling needles through particularly thick bits of fabric when buring ends.
Y. Glue Pen – this can be useful for places where pins and wonderclips cannot reach or be used, such as attaching a handle to the the centre of a faux leather bag flap.
Z. Cover Button Tool – as the name suggests, these are used un conjunction with cover buttons to help to get the fabric securely wrapped round the btton. This particular C Hemline will cover the smallest 5 sizes of buttons that they make.
In the photo above we have the following other useful bits and pieces:
AA. Self Healing Cutting Mat – these are used with rotary cuters to ensure you are not carving chunks out of your table. This is actually much smaller than my usual cutting mat, but this size is good for wee pouches if you don’t want to drag a big one out. My usual size is an A1 mat that I often pick up at my local art shop during Fresher season (when they put them on sale for about £17 to attract the sutdents in). These are normally used with rotary cutters and I actually have a couple of little ones that I use with hole punches which I picked up back in my scrapbooking days when eyelets were in. You probably want to keep the hole punch one separate because those holes tend to be quite deep cuts and they’re not so good at self healing, meaning you end up with a bit of a bumpy cutting mat.
AB. Quilting Rulers – these are sold as quilting rulers, but they work very well with a rotary cutter when you need to cut a straight edge for a bag, and I’ll often lay them over a straight edge on a pattern piece rather than free-hand it.
AC. Corner Rounding Ruler – made in the same way as quilting rulers, you can find these in the same section in shops, where available. This particular one is made by Creative Grids, and has 3 different radiuses to create different degrees of rounding.
AD. Hot Iron Cleaner – this is very useful if you happen to end up getting a bit of fusible interfacing gunk on your iron. It’s the best I’ve found for cleaning my iron in general too.
AE. Pressing Cloth – this is useful when applying fusible interfacing. For the cloth one I soak it in water before using, while the plastic type one (from Lakeland) allows me to use the iron with materials that I can’t apply direct heat to.