The Bag Making Bible (a review) and Sister’s handbag making-off

I’ve often found that the handbags and backpacks they sell in shops are far from what I want, need and like. I had it first when I wanted to buy a backpack for my laptop from work which I had to carry everyday. I got one of those messenger bags at work that just killed my back and then a trolley that was threatening to brake on the cobbled stones of Brussels. I finally bought a horrible light-weight backpack that had also waist and chest straps and it did its work wonderfully, if you look over the fact that it was hideous, red and black and much bigger than my needs. If you look in any shop, no laptop backpack will have these additional straps. So I was set: I wanted to design and make my own backpack: useful, practical, beautiful, and with tons of pockets. I looked over the internet and I found several drafts about it but nothing that could guide a newbie like me to a safe harbour without pulling my hairs out.

And then Koen got me this book for my birthday and a new handbag design world opened before my eyes. I started to go through it again and again, understanding all those new concepts and techniques. I was fascinated.

It’s written by Lisa Lam, author of the website U-handbag, which I had already used in the past to make a little purse. The site has great tutorials and patterns and it’s worth a visit.

The book is structured around 8 different models of handbags, from the very basic tote to more elaborated designs. It uses this structure to explain the needed materials and techniques. You will learn how to achieve that “semi-rigid” look and feel, and how to add those little details that make a handmade handbag look very professional. But the good part is that you are not limited to those eight designs, because each technique is carefully explained and many tips are scattered over the book about how to do things and why to do them in a specific way, so you will be able to make in no time your own designs.

I soon found that checking the pictures and reading the explanations was not enough. The best way of assessing this book was in fact using it.

After thinking for some time and knowing that my poor sewing machine was not the best for this kind of work, I finally decided to make The Organized Office Bag but in a smaller scale while I was at my mother’s place. This handbag is meant to carry a laptop and all you need at the office, but I wanted something smaller. A handbag that you could carry everyday while walking with a toddler or going to work. Something for your keys, cellphone, pens a some more little items.

With this book I learned what kinds of fabric, interlining and interfaces were best to use and how to design and place professional looking pockets.

Something I was a bit afraid of was the shoulder strap. I almost wanted to avoid making it and I thought of buying an already made one, but I couldn’t find any shop where they were selling it in Vigo.

At the end it was not difficult and I enjoyed learning how to get comfy and puffy straps. The problem came when I wanted to sew all those layers together. The strap itself was fine, but when I wanted to fold and sew the ends, even my mother’s machine had troubles. One of the sides I had to do it by hand. I think the next step will be investing in a new good sewing machine (I accept recommendations).

The result was impressive, at least for somebody who never did something like this. Wow, a beautiful, comfortable and sturdy handbag! Following the instructions on the book and getting something like this!:

The only issue I had with the book was trying to understand some of the photos, since the shot was sometimes too close and it was difficult to imagine the global picture, but nothing that at the end I couldn’t figure it out by myself. And we must also understand that adding more pictures and explanations will only make the book more expensive and less portable.

In conclusion I would give this book a 9.5 out of 10. It is really a must have for those who like sewing, for those who like handbags, for those who like to make personalized items and for those who love handmade stuff. Thumbs up for Lisa Lam and her wonderful book!


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