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Saturday, 17 October 2015

Customizing a Free Messenger Bag Pattern

Multi Purpose Messenger Bag by eSheep Designs
My new "briefcase"...
Much as I liked the idea of using my flight bag for work, it lacked certain amenities that I wanted in a work bag.

So when I felt the itch to start another sewing project — and with the possibility of joining in on the Purse Palooza festivities — it occurred to me to create a horizontal version of the flight bag: i.e., a messenger.

Yeah, I know... not entirely inspired. Not only have I never really been a fan of the style, but there are seemingly free messenger bag patterns galore (see Google proof here).

But I must admit, it is functional for work purposes. The challenge was, if I was going to make one, it would have to suit my specific needs.

Since I had enough of the Robert Kaufman fabric left over from the flight bag to accommodate the back and front flap of a typical messenger style bag, I thought, why not make a matching bag? So I started hunting for suitable patterns from which to build my own. Given how I intended to use contrasting fabrics, I wanted a style that had a partial flap; i.e., not one that covered the entire front of the bag.

However — and maybe this was a perverse requirement — I wanted to find a pattern that wasn't as widely "known" as the ones that show up on that Google search.

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Turns out that the Robert Kaufman site has a freebie messenger bag pattern that I was able to use as a foundation for my project. It's called the Dubstepper (a word whose meaning was/is totally beyond me) and was created by Ann Kelle, who designs fabric for RK.
Ann Kelle Dubstepper for Robert Kaufman
Ann Kelle's Dubstepper...
(image courtesy of robertkaufman.com)

It is meant as a media bag and calls for a lot of Peltex, much of which I left out in my version. I figured that a combination of Decor Bond and fusible fleece would more than suffice, although I did add Peltex all around the gusset to provide support. (As to this pattern meeting the requirement of being less well known, I could not actually find any pics of completed projects using it, so I guess I succeeded in finding something somewhat obscure!)

The extent of my customizations and changes?

My bag is slightly bigger; I reduced the seam allowance in most places and changed up the dimensions (and then almost screwed myself in the process, but more on that later). I did away with some unnecessary hardware by omitting the two rings used for the handle tabs by attaching the grab handle directly to the top of the flap. To make up for that "lost bling factor" — LOL — I used the same twist lock closure that I used on the flight bag to close the flap, rather than two (otherwise unseen) magnetic snaps.

 Multi Purpose Messenger Bag by eSheep Designs
The detachable strap is from my Flight Bag...

I also decided to place the full width zippered pocket along the back side of the bag instead of hiding it underneath the flap.

Multi Purpose Messenger Bag by eSheep Designs
I think the full width zippered pocket is more practical on the outside than under the flap...

Oh, and then I also added this very zippy zipper pull...

Multi Purpose Messenger Bag by eSheep Designs
This is one of many zipper pulls I got on eBay recently for cheap, cheap, cheap...

Under the flap, I added a set of three slip pockets, one of which is pleated.

Multi Purpose Messenger Bag by eSheep Designs
A full-width set of slip pockets are under the flap...

For the interior, I put in a water bottle support strap (!) and added a set of multi-height slip pockets reminiscent of an upside down version of my wave purse organizer. (I omitted a basic zippered pocket as I didn't have a need for one in this particular bag.)

Multi Purpose Messenger Bag by eSheep Designs
Interior with varying height pockets and water bottle support strap...

It's kind of hard to see the interior pocket structure, particularly with this fabric, so here's a picture of the lining panel by itself with the pockets attached.

Multi Purpose Messenger Bag by eSheep Designs
A "wave" of a different kind...

Oh, and to make up for lousy weather through the early/middle part of September, Mother Nature is giving us a decent October. It was 25 degrees outside when I took this. Here you can see a partial side view of the bag, with the contrast strap tabs.

 Multi Purpose Messenger Bag by eSheep Designs
The yellow leaves indicate fall is here, but the weather is great for one more day...

No project goes absolutely smoothly (of course) so let me share my challenges with this one. Recall that I said I almost screwed myself by changing the dimensions? You know how people say to "measure twice and cut once"? Well, the saying can just as well be measure one hundred times and cut once and it wouldn't have made a difference in this case. The problem is, if you have the wrong measurement in your head, it really doesn't matter how many times you measure!

Long story short, I wanted to make sure that the pattern would be in one continuous run, so I queued up the fabric that I needed for the front flap, and the top and bottom zippered pocket panels on the back and cut one single piece for all three, to be divided later. In theory, this is good planning, since they are the same width.

Now, the height of the flap is 12 inches. For some reason, it stuck in my brain that the width was 12 inches.

You guessed it: I ended up with a long strip of fabric that was [two inches] too narrow. Yikes!

Consider also that this was left over fabric from my flight bag, so I had no way to "do over". Double yikes!

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Check out my review here...

In one of those, "if you can't fix it, feature it" moments, I cut the piece in half lengthwise and stitched a 3" strip of the black contrast fabric in between each half. So while you may have thought that the black stripe down the middle was planned, it was ultimately just a happy accident!

Oh, and back to the topic of ensuring a continuous pattern on the fabric, I unfortunately got "turned around and upside down" when I cut the curved corners on the flap. Hence, the pattern does not match at the top seam where the flap meets the back. Argh!

Finally, there is this item:

Bent needle
This is quite a bent needle, is it not??

Topstitching around the top edge of the bag gave me fits, particularly around the back of the flap. I spent about an hour unpicking my first attempt and then when I was within five inches of the finish line on the second try — and I was doing a lot of manual hand cranking at this time — I heard that tell-tale "thunk" of needle against plate. It usually happens that I can replace a needle before it breaks, but this one obviously gave up. Not that I can blame it!

Multi Purpose Messenger Bag and Betz White Flight Bag by eSheep Designs
Comparing sizes... if I placed he flight bag on its side, it would be slightly higher than the messenger,
but the widths would be pretty much the same...

As for this project, I am mostly happy with how it turned out and it will definitely get used. Changes I would make after having used it? I would add a strip of Peltex or even some full-width plastic underneath the handle. When the bag is heavy, carrying it by the handle is not optimal in its current state.

For those interested in how long this took me, I did all the prep work (cut fabric and interface) Monday afternoon and started some simple sewing that evening. As I've said before, I don't tend to work straight through uninterrupted on sewing projects, so it's hard for me to calculate total hours worked. The majority of the external construction was completed Tuesday afternoon and evening, the bag was finished on Wednesday evening and I used it for the first time on Thursday! Remember that I had to address my "oopsie" challenges and did not have to make myself a strap, so take that into consideration.

By the way, the original Dubstepper pattern is classified as an "experienced intermediate" level project, likely as a result of all the interfacing that must be manhandled. If you're interested for yet another free messenger bag pattern, why not try it out?


  1. Well Rochelle your bag turned out great looking in spite of all of your challenges. I tend to sew like you do too and not continuously sew. I do my projects in steps and it takes a few days to finish. I think that helps because it gives me a chance to think about things, especially if I am having trouble with something.

  2. I also sew like you do, Rochelle. All of my sewing is done in time pockets. I'm really impressed by the changes you made and your ability to get all the details down to explain them to someone else. It would literally take me hours to figure out the positioning of the twist lock. Your bag looks great--and the black strip down the center is a stroke of genius (yes, really.)

    Q4U: Do you use screw-in rivets for your handles? I ask because I'm interested in trying some, but I'm not sure how they would really do. I'd like to know your opinion on them!


  3. I love all your modifications, the bag is so pretty and super functional! A total makeover for Dubstepper. Now I want to make one too. :)


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