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Project Fourteen: My Perfect Shoulder Bag (with tutorial)

February 10, 2011

I don’t usually blow my own trumpet, but this bag has got to be the best thing I have ever made, or at least the item I am most proud of and most pleased with. And to top it all off, very little went wrong during production, so there was no swearing, sweat or tears.

I have been planning this bag for ages, as I cycle to work every day and desperately needed a bag that could go across my body, fit A4 paper and still have room for lots of other things. I’d seen a few bags that would be suitable, but thought it would be more fun to design and sew my own bag rather than just buy one.

I wanted my bag to have lots of structure, and not be a floppy fabric mess, so I interfaced both the outer and lining fabric with the stiffest interfacing John Lewis sells, and then I got very resourceful and cut up an old plastic file to go along the bottom and sides, giving a nice stiff structure and a bag that holds its’ shape even when full of all my stuff. As you can see below, there is plenty of room for my filofax, my latest novel (the third in Steig Larsson’s Millenium trilogy) and a pad of A4 paper. There’s also a handy phone pocket.


I love this bag, and have been using it non stop since I made it on sunday (which, incidentally, only took four hours).ย  It even has a zip pocket along the back of the bag. Because I didn’t find any tutorials online for my perfect bag, I designed it myself and will attempt to explain what I did in the tutorial below. I hope it makes sense.

Tutorial for my Perfect Shoulder Bag


I used two patterns of cotton fabric for my bag, a simple flowery pattern for the outside and a red and white striped fabric for the lining and the strap. You could make the whole thing using the same fabric, but I like a contrasting lining. It is up to you what fabric combinations you use.

All measurements include a quarter-inch seam allowance. If you need a bigger seam allowance just include it in your measurements.

  • 1 piece of outer fabric measuring 17″ by 25.5″. This will form the main body of your outer bag
  • 1 piece of lining fabric measuring 17″ by 25.5″
  • 2 pieces of heavy interfacing, measuring 16″ by 24.5″
  • 1 piece of outer fabric measuring 14″ by 12.5″ for the flap
  • 1 piece of inner fabric measuring 14″ by 12.5″ for the inner flap
  • 2 pieces of heavy interfacing measuring 13″ by 11.5″
  • 1 piece of fabric measuring 43″ by 4″ for the strap (feel free to increase the width of the strap, next time I’m going to make mine wider as it is a bit thin)
  • 1 piece of interfacing measuring 42″ by 3″ for the strap
  • 2 small pieces of fabric a little bit larger than your phone for the phone pocket
  • 1 piece of fabric measuring 12 by 10″ for the inner zip pocket
  • 1 magnetic snap
  • matching thread
  • optional: a length of ribbon measuring 15″, coordinating with your fabrics
  • a stiff plastic file or other source of plastic to give your bag structure. Don’t use cardboard, if it gets wet your bag will turn into a soggy mess.
  • 1 zip measuring at least 12″ long.

Step One

Iron all the interfacing onto the fabric. I always cut my interfacing slightly smaller than the fabric it is going on to reduce seam bulkiness. You should have both the outer and lining fabric of the main body interfaced, as well as both flap pieces and the strap piece.

Step Two:

Make the strap. Fold the strap in half, along the long edges, with right sides together. Sew both sides together along the long edge.ย  Turn the strap right side out, I use a very large safety-pin for this job! Once it is the right way out, you may need to fiddle around a bit to make sure the seam is nice and neat and right at the edge. Press the strap and topstitch along both long sides. Set aside.




Step three:

The next few steps talk you through making the zip pocket for the back of the bag (If you’re intimidated by zips feel free to omit these steps and head straight to step six, the zip pocket isn’t crucial to the finished bag). I need to point out now that I made a major mistake when constructing this, and forgot which way my pocket fabric needed to be, with the result that my pocket fabric is inside out now! Please ignore the fact that the photos all show me blatantly working on the right side of the fabric, and make sure you work on the wrong side of your fabric! You live and learn…

Take your inner zip pocket fabric, and line it up so the wrong side is facing you, with the 12″ edge horizontal. Measure 1″ down from the top and draw a rectangle 10″ by 3/4″ on the fabric.

Now take your main outer piece of fabric and line up the pocket fabric on top of it, right sides together, so that the top of the rectangle you’ve drawn is 2.5″ from the top of your main fabric piece and the pocket fabric is equally positioned between the two vertical edges of the main fabric.

Pin the pocket fabric to the main fabric and then sew all along the rectangle you have drawn.


Once you have sewn around the rectangle, you need to draw another line down the middle, ending at each narrow edge with a triangle. That doesn’t make much sense but hopefully the photos will! Once you’ve drawn it, you need to cut along these lines. I use my seam ripper to start me off and then get the scissors out.


Once you have cut your flap open, push the pocket fabric through the opening, manipulate the seams so that you have a neat rectangle and then press.

Step Four:

Now sew your zip closed and then position it under the main outer fabric so that it shows through the rectangle slot. Pin in place if you need to, I find it easier just to hold it in place and guide it along with my fingers to keep it in position under the fabric as I sew it all together. When you are attaching your zip, remember to make sure the zip pull is visible through the opening, and therefore slightly open!



Step Five:

Once your zip is safely in place and sewn all around all four edges of the rectangular opening, you can quickly assemble and sew up the pocket. Turn the piece of fabric over so that the pocket fabric and underside of the zip are facing you. Trim off any excess zip. Fold the bottom long edge of pocket fabric up to the top edge of pocket fabric (not the main bag fabric). Pin the two layers of pocket fabric together and sew along both side edges and the top edge to make the pocket. Make sure you do this without sewing into the main bag fabric. This should not be a problem as there should be enough space around the zip to sew the pocket up. I used dark red thread so you can see my stitches on my pocket fabric in the photo below:

Phew, well done if you have got this far, I hope it all made sense, I find it very difficult describing what I do in words. Believe it or not we have done the most time-consuming steps now, and the rest of the bag won’t take long to make.

Step Six:

If you want a pocket for your mobile phone, you ned to measure your mobile and cut out two pieces of fabric a little over half an inch wider than your phone and about the same length. With right sides together, sew around the two pieces of fabric, leaving two inches along one edge to turn the pocket right side out. Once you have turned the pocket right sides out, press and then topstitch. Now take your main inner lining fabric and position your pocket about 4″ down and 5-6″ across from the left hand top corner, on the right side of the lining fabric. Pin and sew along the two sides and edge to attach the pocket to the lining fabric.


A perfect fit!

Step Seven:

If you are embellishing your flap with ribbon, now is the time to sew it on. Position your ribbon where you want it across the outside flap fabric and then pin and sew in place along all edges. I also sew my label on at this stage, sewing it on top of the ribbon, in the centre of the flap.

Step Eight:

Making your flap. Take both your outer and lining flap pieces and with right sides together, pin in place and then using something round (I used an egg cup) draw a curve round the bottom corners. sew around the bottom and both sides, following your curved line for a nice rounded corner. Leave the top of the flap open and turn your flap right way round, smooth out the rounded corners, press and then topstitch the three hemmed edges. Attach one end of your magnetic clasp to the centre bottom of the inner flap, about 1.5″ above the seam.

Step Nine:

assemble your outer bag. Take your outer bag fabric and fold it in half, right sides together, bringing the short edges together. Pin in place and sew up both edges, with the usual quarter-inch seam allowance. Once you’ve sewn up both edges, you need to make the base of your bag. This involves what I think of as ‘fabric origami’. Keeping your bag inside out, fold the corners into triangles, with the seam running vertically down the middle, and then measure 4″ across. Draw a line to mark the fabric. Do this for both corners.

Sew across each line and then trim off the fabric corners. You should now have a base to your outer bag that is 4 inches wide. Note: the photo above shows my lining fabric, not my outer bag fabric.

Step Ten:

Make the bag lining following exactly the same procedure as in step nine, but using the lining fabric piece.

Step Eleven:

Press down a half-inch hem along the top of both the outer fabric bag and the lining fabric bag, folding the fabric to the wrong side for both.

Step Twelve:

If you want to use stiff plastic to help give your bag support, now is the time to do it. Find an old plastic file or other source of stiff but cuttable plastic, and cut out three pieces:

  • 2 pieces measuring 4″ by 9″ for the sides
  • 1 piece measuring 4″ by 13″ for the bottom

Turn the outer main bag right side out and place the bottom piece of plastic at the bottom of the bag. I did toy with the idea of securing it to the bottom somehow, but in the end didn’t bother, as it didn’t seem like it would move anywhere else easily.

In order to keep the two side panels of plastic in place along the sides of the bag, I made two little straps by sewing some scrap strips of fabric to the inside side panels of the bag lining, and then slotted the plastic pieces through these fabric straps.


Step Thirteen:

Pin your strap to the outer bag, pinning each end of the strap to the inside of the outer fabric bag, about one inch down, and centering the strap with the bag seam so it is lined up in the middle. Baste both ends of the strap to the outer bag once they are pinned in place.

Step Fourteen:

Line up the flap of your bag to the centre of the outer bag, along the back edge (where the zip pocket is), and position it where you are happy with it. I think about 1.5″ ended up being inside the bag. Now you can find out where the other end of your magnetic clasp needs to be positioned. I do this by attaching it to the other end of the clasp on the flap, folding the flap down as it will be when the bag is complete and closed, and then mark on my outer bag where the magnetic clasp needs to be. Attach your clasp to the front of your bag.

Baste the flap to the outer bag fabric, making sure you keep the pressed hem of the outer bag folded over.

Step fifteen:

Now for the fun, and final, part. Place your inner bag (which should be still right sides together) inside the outer bag, making sure your flap and strap are outside and out of the way. Line up the outer bag with the lining, so the corners are together and the seams are lined up. Make sure both pressed hems line up perfectly, you may need to do a bit of adjusting at this point, but hopefully it all fits together nicely. Now pin all around your bag, securing the outer bag to the lining, and starting at one strap, topstitch all along the top of the bag, sewing the lining to the main bag.

The above picture shows the lining inside the main bag, but before I had attached the flap (I was just making sure the lining fit when I took this photo).

Be careful when you’re sewing along the edge that the flap is on, make sure you have pinned it so that the lining and the main bag are lined up exactly along the hemmed edges (with the flap in between them). Once you have sewn all around the bag, attaching the lining to your bag, you’re done! Phew, what a long tutorial. I hope it is of help to someone else out there.

Now sit back, have a cup of tea and some chocolate, and enjoy your handiwork. Eat your heart out Cath Kidston ๐Ÿ˜‰



13 Comments leave one →
  1. Pipplin permalink
    February 11, 2011 11:09 pm

    You are so very clever! I love the fabric choice. Where is the floral one from?
    I am jealous! The bag I’m seeing for a long while is a change bag!
    Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog. Sadly that is not my front door- gutted!

    • February 12, 2011 8:42 am

      Thank you Pipplin, the floral fabric is a Clarke and Clarke fabric that I bought in an independent fabric shop in Cambridge. I wish I had a front door like the one in your photo!

  2. February 14, 2011 11:00 pm

    Great bag! Fabulous tutorial too..

  3. February 21, 2011 2:13 pm

    This is awesome! I must try this.

    Though I’ll add – I had a similar dilemma with the straps when making an apron. The fabric I was using – velveteen – was thickish and turning it inside out like you’ve shown was very difficult. A dressmaker friend of mine told me about a better way of doing it without having to force the sewn fabric the right way round – just fold both raw edges inwards far enough to be pinned and sewn, so the stitching goes through four layers. The resulting strap was a lot stronger than the one I’d spent two hours forcing the right way out.

    • February 21, 2011 4:32 pm

      That is a good tip, makes perfect sense now you’ve mentioned it, I should have tohught of that! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. June 22, 2011 5:13 pm

    im going to make myself on of these… tomorrow

    im going to use oilcloth for the exterior, do you think that would work? I shall put photos etc on my blog – thank you for yet more inspiration ๐Ÿ™‚

    • June 23, 2011 7:24 am

      It should work, I have never sewn with oilcloth, so if you do it you will be the one inspiring me to give it a go! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. June 23, 2011 8:21 am

    right then I shall get to it then!!

  6. Rosie permalink
    May 15, 2014 10:34 am

    Came across this on Pinterest. Thanks for such a clear tutorial. Can you remember the total amounts of fabric you used ?

  7. TwinLizzy permalink
    March 27, 2017 8:27 pm

    Thanks for this, clear instructions and it’s looking really good so far. I’m excited to see it finished! Just about to do the zip pocket, and I am wondering if the zip should actually be set in from the 10″ edge, rather than the 12″ edge?


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