The Bothered Owl

Alex and Sarah's crafty corner of cyberspace

How to Make a Reversible Bag November 11, 2009

Filed under: Tutorials — thebotheredowl @ 10:39 pm
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I’ve been promising for ages to write a tute for this but for various reasons it just hasn’t happened. We had a massive sewing frenzy the other week and I took loads of pictures, and now I finally have a quiet moment to sit down and add words to them.

So, here we go.

StepOne: Choose and Cut Your Fabrics

You need to decide on shape, size and colours. I’ve been doing a lot of patchwork bags lately and my favourite shape for these is a square or rectangle as it makes doing stripwork nice and simple.

If you’re planning on using a mixture of fabric, say in  a patchwork or stripwork style, make sure you place them next to each other and really look at them.


Have a good rifle through your stash, what you find may surprise you. You can even use up craps and leftovers from making other projects such as skirts.

Check that colours and patterns are harmonious together bcause the last thing you want is a riotously clashing bag. Unless you like that sort of thing.

Personally I don’t, so I generally lay the fabrics out together and move them around to see how they look laid out in a cariety of ways – dark to light, maybe with the strongest/boldest colour in the centre etc.  Oonly once I am happy with how the fabrics look together will I start cutting out.

You’ll need to choose lining fabric too – unless you’re going for an uber simple unlined shopper style. I really like calico for lining bags. The pale colour makes it easy to find your stuff inside the finished bag, it’s lightweight and it’s sturday which is important.

Next, think about sizing. Do you want an enormous sack of a bag or are you after a simple little tote? You need to be certain before you start cutting that you will have enough fabric for things like bag handles. Loop handles, like the ones I’ve been making lately tend to be between 10 and 15 cms wide and somewhere around 60 – 65 cms long. Remember, they need to be able to fit over your shoulder or arm comfortably. You don’t want to cut off circulation in the aid of having a nice bag.

Having taken all these factors into consideration, chop away. You need to cut two exterior pieces and two interior pieces, all the same size and shape. You will also need two handles. I generally don’t line the handles.

You should also consider using some fusible (iron on) or sew in interfacing. This stuff is amazing. It plumps up your bags like you wouldn’t believe and gives them a really rich texture. If you’re sewing with lightweight fabric such as cotton, you want a light to medium weight interfacing.

Cut two pieces of interfacing the same size as your exterior pieces. You can put interfacing in the handle if you like but it makes it a right bugger to turn right side out.

Step Two: Sew the handles

Take your handle strips and press them nice and flat before you start sewing.


Nice flat strips, ready for sewing.

Then with right sides together, fold the strip in half lengthways down the centre and press to get a nice neat crease. Then sew the long sides together using a straight stitch. NB: don’t sew the short ends together, we’ll take care of those later.

When you’re done, turn it inside out and press it. It will look like this:

Sew the edge using a straight stitch. You could do this by hand but for this project the machine really is better.IMG_2132IMG_2133

Repeat for the second handle.


And look at that, like magic two beautifully made, ironed bag handles, ready to be lovingly wrapped over your arm. Now you just have to make a bag to go with them…

Step Three: Prepare the bag shells for sewing

Match up the lining and exterior pieces. Check sizes, trim excess fabric and make sure the shapes match up.

This is the point where you iron in your interfacing.

Now I cannot stress this strongly enough: be extremely careful when ironing your interfacing that you do not iron the glue onto your iron or ironing board.

Interfacing is wonderful stuff but it will destroy your iron if you get it wrong. It has a right side (smooth/dull) and a wrong side (rough/shiny). The wrong side is covered with dots of glue.

Place the gluey side on the back of your exterior piece and follow the instructions for whichever brand of interfacing you’re using. Most of them will require around 8 seconds of heat and a bit of steam to set the glue. Don’t swoosh the iron about, just use a bit of pressure. The pressure and heat will melt the glue and ensure the interfacing sticks nicely to your fabric.

Now you’re ready to start sewing everything together.

Step Four: Pin and sew the bag top and handles.

Take one exterior piece, one interior piece and one bag handle.

Lay the interior piece down on a flat surface with the right side (the side you want people to see) facing up. Mark out where you want the ends of your bag handle to be and lay your handle out like so:


Then complete your fabric sandwich by laying your exterior piece on top, right side facing down, and pin it in place thusly:


Pinning the strap. Fabric sandwich!


You can see the three layers of the fabric sandwich here, with the strap snug and secure in the centre.

Sew across the top of the bag  from one side to the other. As you sew you are capturing your bag handle in the seam, so when you turn it right sides out you will just have a lovely smooth organic looking join.

I strongly suggest sewing back and forwards over the handles a few times,  just to make sure they are really secure.

Now repeat this process for the other side of the bag.

Turn both pieces out  flat and check that your seams are nice and straight.

Step Five: Sew the main seams and finish the bag.

Now that you have sewn the handles and the top of the bag, it’s time to sew the main seams of the bag.

Take one of your complete bag pieces and spread it out on a flat surface like this:


Right side facing UP, remember. Unless you want to make a deconstructed bag, with all the seams showing.

Note that you want the right side facing up and the handle tucked away neatly in the centre, so you don’t catch it in the seams.

Now take the other bag piece and lay it on top, right side facing down. Make sure that the seams where you sewed the handles in place are matching or your bag is going to look wonky.


Match up your seams neatly. Very important or your bag will look slightly out of kilter once it's done.

Pin those seams in place, like in the picture.


This time, the wrong side is facing up. Now PIN, PIN, PIN!

Now work out your seam allowances. Remember that this bag is intended to be reversible, so you need the lining and the exterior shell to be totally interchangeable. The last thing you want is to have one bag shell turn out to be way smaller/bigger than the other. So measure carefully and place your pins where you want the stitching to be.

Leave a gap at the bottom of the interior shell for turning the bag the right way out. You probably need to leave a space of 5 – 10 cms to be able to turn the bag comfortably without stretching the stitches close to the opening. Again, you probably want to place pins to mark this opening because if you sew this shut, it’s a pain in the wotsits.


The vertical pins mark out where the gap should be left to turn your bag inside out.

Once it’s pinned and you’re happy with all your measurements, start sewing. I normally begin at one side of the bottom opening and work my way around the outside in one continuous line of stitching. Because it’s a rectangular/square bag, you can turn the corner fairly easily and smoothly to keep an unbroken line of stitches.

Do this by sewing up to your marker.


Sew to your marker or edge of fabric.

Leave the needle inside the fabric. Rais the presser foot and pivot the fabric, lining up the next side of the bag without removing the needle from the fabric.


See how the needle is still in the fabric? It acts as a pivot and makes sure there's no gap between stitches. You're basically turning at a right angle.

Lower the presser foot and continue sewing.


See how you've turned the corner?


Now you just continue sewing down the other side. Easy peasy!

At the beginning and end of your seam, don’t forget to do a little bit of backwards and forwards stitching. It strengthens the seam and makes it a little harder for your stitches to unravel.

Once you have completed your seam, use the gap you left at the bottom to turn the bag right sides out.


Looks vaguely like some kind of animal husbandry.

Check that the two halves of the bag fit together neatly, one inside the other. If not you will need to unpick the seam and sew it again. It’s worth doing because otherwise the finish on your bag will be poor.

Once the fit is right, turn it inside out again and clip any excess fabric from the seams to give a nice smooth line. Then turn it right side out again and close up the gap at the bottom. As usual, I recommend using blind stitch because it makes a largely invisible seam which is ideal for a bag intended to be reversible.

And there you go, a lovely reversible bag.


Now stuff it with your belongings and prance around feeling clever and glamorous. Or just take it to the market and use it to carry your veggies home.

If you want to make things more complicated you can always add a pocket or a magnetic closure, buttons and so forth. But if you add closures or buttons, be aware it will no longer be reversible. Also be aware that you need to be extremely careful with magnets around kids as they can do lots of damage if swallowed.

I hope this tute is useful, if you do make something from it maybe you could leave us a comment or send us a photo of what you make!

ETA: It’s taken me an extra week to write this, as every time I tried to upload the original photos I took the computer refused to let me. I wept tears of rage and fury, it was a pitiful display. But finally, FINALLY, it’s done!


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