Well, I have finished another sewing project.  Actually, it was finished a couple weeks ago……but I needed some distance to try to write about my experience objectively.

I decided to try out Amy Butler’s Weekender Travel Bag pattern.  wtb_pattern_cover_med             weekender_collage

My goal was to make a bag as a store sample for my fabric store employer.  Now I already knew that I wasn’t a real fan of Amy Butler’s fabric designs.  They just aren’t to my taste and remind me of my Grandma.  That being said, I really do like some of her bag designs.  They are great tailored looking little pieces reminiscent of vintage luggage.  In more current fabrics, I think they can be pretty fabulous. 

I chose a really nice Alexander Henry fabric, a decorator weight oxford cloth cotton in the black Michi Kanji design.  Timtex, hevyweight pellon, Upholstery weight zipper-by-the-yard in black, black thread, quilting template plastic, and a set of silver bag feet completed the necessary supplies.  I gave my bag a finished looke with a red handkerchief and a red tasseled zipper pull.  Here is the finished look!

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I am extremely happy with the finished look of the bag.  But the process was far from easy.  I have always been under the impression that Amy Butler really catered to the newer sewist.  Any newer sewer attempting this pattern would be hard pressed to get anything usable from the pattern.

My first major complaint is the instructions.  They are written in a very “folksy” conversational style that ends up being really wordy.  Too wordy for me to follow, and I am the queen of superfluous information…..just ask my english teachers.  Patterns are one area where “less is more” in the instructions.  The critical information was so buried in the paragraphs of writing that I made mistakes more than once.  The process of putting together this bag would have been much quicker and easier had the instructions been edited more carefully, and the repetitive information been eliminated.  I don’t need to be told 4 times to slow down while sewing over pins in order not to break my sewing machine needles.  My other major complaint with the instructions is that instead of listing all the prep work for cutting out the pieces was spread out through the body of the instructions.  There was a lot of cutting out to be done on this project.  The bag is fully lined and additionally all the major pieces have stabilizing layer added.  It took me nearly 3 hours to get the entire bag cut out, and to cut out the bias strips to make the cording.  It was really annoying to get halfway into the making of the bag to find out that buried in the instructions are the dimensions of another piece to cut out that, which was mentioned no where else previously.

My next major complaint is the lack of instructions for pressing and trimming seams.  Any sewist worth their salt will tell you that if you aren’t spending at least as much time at the ironing board as you are at the sewing machine something is wrong.  This bag needed lots of pressing to get the crisp tailored finish shown on the pattern envelope.   It was certainly difficult pressing as well.  I broke out my tailors ham to work the curves, my clapper to help flatten some areas out, and my seam roll.  I had the bag completely assembled and sitting on my ironing board with my iron down in the bag, pressing.  I had my ham stuffed under my arm trying to hold it in place to get the curves to lay right……By no means was this mentioned anywhere in the pattern instructions.  Also, receiving little mention was clipping the seams!  What a major error, considereing that at times I was stitching through a layer of piping, 4 layers of decorator weight cotton, two layers of Timtex, and 2 layers of pellon interfacing!  Trimming out the bulk around the curves really helped get everything together, and then look good during the finishing process.

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Complaint number three is the cost of the materials.  To do this bag justice, I ended up spending about $60 bucks.  That was half off the retail cost of all the materials….Doing the math that adds up to over $120.00  I could buy a really nice bag for that amount!  The newer sewist taking on this project could really end up in a pickle with a lot of wasted money if they don’t finish this project.  I was really tempted to toss this project…..but really felt like I had to finish it for work.

You really do need a heavy duty sewing machine to do this bag justice.  I have a Bernina 830 mechanical machine.  Its about 30 years old and sews like a champ.  I broke out my denim needles, and changed them 3 different times, to keep a good sharp one in the machine at all times.  I just don’t think some of the newer lighter weight machines would handle the bulk of this project.  I had to resort to large binder clips instead of pins will sewing on the piping!

The piping itself was another issue.  The pattern calls for 1.5 inch bias strips to wrap around the .25 inch cording for the piping.  That ended up being very narrow.  I had a difficult time with it, and had to re-do a lot of my piping application to get a consistent look.

My last complaint is really very minor, all things considered.  I really think this bag needs bag feet.  The pattern didn’t call for them, but knowing that I really do plan to use this bag a lot, I wanted to add a little more protection to the bottom of the bag to avoid scuffing and wear and tear.  A set of four bag feet cost me a couple bucks, and I think they are well worth it.

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What Amy Butler did right:

Her yardage requirements were extremely accurate.

It’s a really neat looking design.

She mentions centering directional prints and needing extra fabric to make the most of printed motifs.

She does have tips for sewing on bulky fabric.

She does a nice job of defining unfamiliar sewing terms for the newer sewist.

She did a fairly good job of using products that are readily available for the home sewer to use.  The only exception was trying to find a 30″ closed bottom zipper.  I settled for zipper by the yard.

The finished product looks like the picture on the envelope.

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My best advice to anyone who wants to make up this pattern is to make sure your sewing machine is up to the challenge, read the instructions several times over and highlight the important stuff, be prepared to press a lot and trim a lot, and most of all bring your patience.  If you are a beginner find yourself a sewing buddy with lots of bag making experience, or try an easier pattern.

The project itself was rewarding because it was so difficult.  It became a personal challenge to finish the bag and make it look good enough to hang in my store with my name on it!  I did learn a lot about bag making, making and working with bias piping, and being patient.

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