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Saturday, 30 July 2016

How to Customize a Found Pattern

Customized Sling Bag by eSheep Designs
It takes planning to customize a pattern!
This past Canada Day, Sew4Home offered up what may turn out to be one of their most popular patterns of the year: the Summer Sling Bag (link at end of post). Something about it instantly drew my attention, despite my normal disinterest in back-packy style bags.

For whatever reason, this project was saying, "Make me, make me, make me..."

Still, before taking the plunge, I took some time to think about what I could change to have the final result accommodate all of my wants and needs in a sling bag.

The last time I undertook this type of project was for a customized tote, which was also based on a Sew4Home freebie. It's not only gratifying to get a unique result from a pattern that is available to everyone, it's a fun and creative challenge to think up the modifications and figure out how to incorporate them.

In fact, it's the next best thing to designing a pattern of your own.

Today — using this sling bag as an example — I will walk through the process of how to change up a found pattern.

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The first requirement for changing a pattern is a no-brainer, but requires patience and self-control. Read the instructions through and ensure that you understand them thoroughly. Yes, this very tedious step is exactly that — very tedious — but ignore it at your own peril. ;-)

After you have an understanding of what the pattern involves, enumerate what you like and don't like. The point being, what you like can often be made even better and what you don't like, you can leave out or change. But without knowing how the original is put together, you won't know the ramifications of doing any of this, hence the importance of the first rule.

Summer Sling Bag by Sew4Home.com
image courtesy of Sew4Home...
So what attracted me to the Summer Sling Bag? The double exterior pockets. (Not that they were perfect, but more on that later.) I don't like to have to reach inside my bag unless it's absolutely necessary. My key case — which holds my credit card — needs to be immediately accessible no matter what bag I use; it's a must. I am not similarly adamant about my cell phone, but having it be handy is a bonus.

By the way, even seemingly insignificant things should be considered and questioned when you're customizing something for your own use. For example, the original instructions call for the zippers on these pockets to be pulled towards the centre of this bag. While I can see how it's nice to have the zipper pulls close to each other when closed, from a practical perspective, I actually prefer them to pull closed to the sides. That way, if I wanted to hang a set of sunglasses (like a couple of the Sew4Home photos show), they would be situated closer to where I can easily reach them while most of the pocket remains zipped shut.

Generally, I liked the way the bag was designed; very stylish. I'm not typically a fan of flaps, but I like the length of this one and how well it conceals the top opening. Overall, the bag just looks attractive.

Have solutions in mind for what you want to change, along with measurements and dimensions.

My first impression was that the strap was overly long (30"), but I wasn't absolutely sure without ever having made it. (And that's a legitimate dilemma in some cases that you might not be able to get around unless you make a muslin.) Therefore, I came up with an idea for an adjustable strap that would incorporate the final remnant of a belt that was used to make my mother's Hot Hues Convertible Crossbody Fooler Bag.

Customized Sling Bag by eSheep Designs
Gathering up all of my supplies...
the belt remnant will be used as part of the bag's strap to make it adjustable.

Recall how I said that the pockets weren't perfect? I didn't like the fact that they don't have a lining. After the zipper is attached to the top and bottom outside pieces of the pocket, the entire assembly is then just sewn directly onto the front of the bag. (Looking inside the pocket, you'll see the exterior fabric, but if you were to peer at the underside of the pocket, you would see the interfacing. Nothing particularly wrong there; no raw edges show, but it's just a personal preference at this stage of my game to avoid that sort of "unfinished" look.)

I immediately knew how to make the pockets so that they would have fabric showing on the underside. Working from the original measurements of the pocket pieces, I was able to arrive at the fabric requirements to make this change.

Finally, since I am going to use a quilting cotton on the exterior instead of the recommended canvas, I need to adjust the interfacing requirements.

Use what you know (and what you have).

Making modifications to an existing pattern is not the best time to try new techniques. (Says the person who used decorative grommets for the first time on her customized tote bag.) It's best to stick with what you know to avoid unpleasant surprises. For example, I was originally going to add a zippered pocket into the centre seam on the back of the bag but ultimately decided against it as I didn't want to be juggling too many balls.

To continue on the topic of pockets, however, I definitely wanted one for my car key fob. It's a proximity thingie that never needs to be handled, so having a dedicated pocket for it is ideal. I decided to put this on the underside of the flap. While the location (and its shape) may be a bit abnormal, adding a basic zippered pocket is hardly difficult.

The part about using what you have, well, it's not a must but it's way easier — and much less time-consuming — to plan around what you have in your stash than to go out and look for supplies.

Customized Sling Bag by eSheep Designs
I knew this silvery cord would come in handy someday!

In my case, I bought this "blingy" cord a while back for $1.49, with no purpose in mind. This bag is the perfect use for it. The plain black zippers are part of an eBay purchase (ten for $2.18 CDN); the metal ones were from my mother's sewing kit. The ring was salvaged from an old purse. The cord lock was from a package of two at a discount store for $1.00. Finally, I also had a package of 14 grommets in my stash that was purchased last summer for 99¢.

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Have fun changing things up! Remember, this is all about stretching your creativity. As long as you're going to customize, add some things are going to make your project pop. It's not all about functionality.

In that vein, the Summer Sling is a stylish bag, but I wanted more visual interest and a touch of bling. The suggestion to place the fabric sideways for the two pockets was not enough contrast for me; I wanted a different fabric altogether. If you check out the drawing in my sketch book, you'll see that a second fabric was planned for the pockets, for the upper and lower strap sections that will be attached to my belt remnant, and to add a stripe down the centre of the flap (that would then be attached to a decorative ring).

Customized Sling Bag by eSheep Designs
My two fabric choices for this project... both Robert Kaufman creations.

As for a bit of bling, the belt has silver-toned hardware to match the cord, the metal zippers and the decorative ring. The grommets (and there are a lot of them) are also silver. At the other end of the spectrum, both of my fabrics (RK's Oriental Traditions, 14211 and 14213) have gold metallic accents in them.

For ease of use and hanging up, I will add a simple loop along the top seam. (I have a table purse hook that I normally use to keep my handbags off the floor and have been vexed by my bucket bag having too long of a strap to use it!)

Document every step above!

Don't leave anything to memory. Sketch out your changes on paper and double check the measurements of anything that you plan to add. I also like to draw up a basic cutting plan for the fabric to ensure that I have enough.

Write down what you'll have to do differently from the original, and in what order. For instance, I added new elements to both sides of the flap. Those changes obviously had to be done before the flap itself could be sewn up.

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That about does it for the process of changing up a found pattern. It takes patience and pre-planning, particularly if the project is more complex like this one (compared to a tote bag), but the results are worth it if it turns into something more likely to suit your needs. Like I said, I would normally never carry such a bag, but this is now something that I will take on vacation with me this summer.

Wanna see it? :-)

Customized Summer Sling Bag by eSheep Designs
My customized version of Sew4Home's Summer Sling Bag!

Check out the Summer Sling Bag here if you're interested in making one of your own.

Customized Summer Sling Bag by eSheep Designs
Side view...

By the way, I highly recommend Sew4Home's free tutorials and patterns. Many of them result in creations that completely blow a lot of paid patterns out of the water. Instructions are clear and very well documented with photos. (Although oddly, I found the instruction for installing the flap on this sling bag a bit confusing and the close-up photo did not help much. There was also a graphic meant to provide the dimensions for cutting up the main exterior piece that was peculiarly done, in my humble opinion. It showed the cutting lines in terms of a progressive distance from the left side of the fabric instead of just how wide each piece is. In case you're similarly confused by the picture, here are the specific piece by piece dimensions.)

Customized Summer Sling Bag by eSheep Designs
Back view of my sling bag after being all "blinged out"...

A little while after I finished the bag, I rounded up some additional bling for it... in the above picture, you can see another teeny tiny purse (a heart shaped one specifically designed for the smaller frame size that I had), a couple of my zippiest zipper pulls and an initial charm that I've had since "forever". (Unfortunately, the cord is not going to last long... after one use, the silver netting that surrounds the black core has come apart in some areas from being pulled through the grommets. I applied some Mod Podge to it as a reinforcement and it should do me for the summer, but it certainly won't be a long term solution.)

Come back next week and I will go into further detail about how I did what I did with this bag.

In the meantime, do you have any hints, tips, or words of advice to add to the above? What have you learned from experience that you can share?


  1. Excellent tips, Rochelle! I'm not so good at reading the whole before I begin a project, unless I'm pattern testing, of course:-) Documenting is not my strong point, either, but one I really should be more thorough about. I LOVE your new bag!!!

  2. Rochelle I love your version of the Summer Sling! As I was making my Summer Sling, I did note some things I would have changed too. I agree the outside pockets were weird with the interfacing on the one side and not lined. If I put things in and out of those zippered pockets a lot, I was afraid I might wear away the interfacing or the fusible part might come loose, so yes I wish I had lined over the interfacing on those. The adjustable strap is a great idea too, because we all aren't the same size and the strap can be too long or short depending on your body size and shape. Love how you added the ring on the flap. I think I would have added some fleece on my flap too as it's kind of wimpy without it. If I wanted the sling to stand up on it's own, I would have used a foam stabilizer too. This is a floppy bag (maybe a little stiffer if you use canvas or something similar). I also would have added some fleece in the strap too. I did add a couple of pockets inside the bag lining too. I make bags and make some changes that I know I would like, but it's usually after the bag is made that if I want to make it again, I will change a lot more as I can really see what changes need to be made then.


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