Tutorial: How to make an adjustable shoulder strap

It's all about the zippers bagMy all-time favourite strap to have on a bag is an adjustable shoulder strap. They give your handmade bags a very professional look and while they may seem daunting to make at first glance, once you know what to do they’re actually very easy to make.

Materials:

Handmade bag to attach the strap to.

Fabric to make the strap or a store bought strap. I have no idea what the correct English term is for that product but in Dutch it is called “tassenband”.

supplies adjustable shoulder strap1 slider. I recommend using a 1.5’’ (3.75 cm) or 2’’ (5 cm) wide slider because anything smaller means that the straps will be a real pain to turn right side out. Sliders come in different colours and materials. I prefer to use metal ones but you can also get plastic ones, like the one in the picture. Sometimes the centre bar of the slider can move a little bit.

2 D-rings, the same size as the slider. These can be D-shaped, rectangular or even O-rings. You can also get D-rings that have a musketon attached to them so you can make a removable shoulder strap. If you decide to use those you will still need to attach regular D-rings to the bag so you have something to attach the musketons to.

For my “it’s all about the zippers” bag I used a 1.5’’ slider and D-rings. The outside of the strap was made with the fashion fabric and the inside (the side that touches the body) was made with the lining fabric. Both fabrics were interfaced, the fashion fabric with a very lightweight woven fusible and the lining fabric with a medium weight woven fusible. I usually interface my straps but if you use a sturdy fabric for both sides, such as denim, it is not always necessary.

Method

An important part of making your strap look professional is to get the width of the strap spot on. If it is too narrow the slider will be able to move sideways on the strap and the slider will move too easily up and down the strap resulting in a less secure strap. It will also look wrong. If it is too wide, the strap will bunch up in the slider and it will be difficult to move it up and down the strap. On a good strap the slider has a little bit of sideways movement (really just a tiny little bit), it doesn’t bunch up inside the slider and the slider moves up and down the strap relatively easy. To make sure that your strap will be spot on I highly recommend that you first make some small samples to test what fabric width and seam allowance will give you the best result. My slider was 1.5’’ wide and I cut my fabric straps 2 1/8’’ (5.3 cm) wide and sewed with a ¼’’ (6 mm) seam allowance to get the perfect fit. It might be different for your fabric so test this! You may have to play a bit with the seam allowance, for example by moving the position of the needle a bit to the left or to the right. Investing the time to do this will most likely prevent major disappointment later on, so don’t say I didn’t warn you! If you intend to interface your strap you should also do this with your sample.

shoulderstrap_samples

Step 1: Sewing the fabric strap is usually the last thing I do when I make a bag. Make sure that you have attached your D-rings to the bag at some point during the construction stage. On the bag I used for this tutorial I attached the D-rings with a fabric tab to the front and back of the bag. The fabric tab was made by sewing a rectangle of the black canvas and black Kona cotton right sides together, leaving a gap on one of the long sides to turn right side out. The tab was then sewn to the front and back pieces with 2 crosses (see step 12 on how to sew a cross) with the straight part of the D-ring in between.  Another method is to make a fabric loop and insert this with the D-ring in between the fashion fabric and lining when these are sewn together at the top of the bag. The fabric loop is constructed the same way as the strap but the short ends can be left open.

adjustable shoulder strap

Left: D-ring attached with fabric tab. Right: D-ring attached with fabric loop.

Step 2: Decide how long your strap should be. What I usually do is hold the bag where I want it to rest as I carry it, pretend my tape measure is the strap and measure the distance from one D-ring to the other. Then add at least 8’’ (20 cm) to that measurement but feel free to be more generous. For narrow bags the strap usually has to be a bit longer than for wider bags. For my bag I cut my fabric strips a little over 56’’ (140 cm) long; this was basically the width of the piece of red fabric. If your fabric isn’t wide enough to cut a strip that is long enough for your strap it is perfectly all right to piece the strap. I do recommend that you do this the same way two pieces of bias tape are sewn together (with a 45 degree angle) to avoid bulk in the strap. I’ve shown how to do this in this tutorial.

Step 3: Cut your fabric strips on the straight of grain and interface if desired. I cut my interfacing ¼’’ (6 mm) narrower than my fabric to reduce bulk in the finished strap.

adjustable shoulder strap

Step 3

Step 4: Pin the two pieces of fabric right sides together and sew around all edges. Leave a gap at the centre of one of the long edges for turning right side out and backstitch at the beginning and end.

adjustable shoulderstrap

Step 4

Step 5: Trim the corners but don’t get too close to the stitching.

adjustable shoulder strap

Step 5

Step 6: Press the seam open. I suppose this step isn’t strictly speaking necessary but I find that I get a much neater finish on the strap if I take the time to do this. I place the strap on my ironing board and fold the seam allowance of the top fabric over to press. I do this to both sides.

adjustable shoulder strap

Step 6

Step 7: Turn the strap right side out through the gap. This can be a bit of a struggle, I usually go and watch some television while I do this. The corners can be a bit tricky to get nice and square (I never manage exactly square to be honest) and you can use a chopstick or something similar to give them a gentle poke.

Step 8: Roll the seam between your fingers to help it lie flat. Press the strap flat using your iron. I always press with the outside fabric up first. Press the edges of the gap you left for turning to the inside so that you can no longer see where the gap is located.

adjustable shoulder strap

Step 8

Step 9: Topstitch around all edges. It is important to make sure that your topstitching is close enough to the fabric edge to catch the seam allowance. This guarantees that the gap that you left for turning ends up closed. If you are using 2 differently coloured fabrics, change the bobbin thread so that it matches the inside fabric.

Step 10: Now we’re onto the fun part: weaving the strap around the D-rings and slider. I always do a test run before I start sewing to make sure that everything will end up as planned. To do this pin the ends in place instead of sewing while folding the strap.

Step 11: A slider usually has a front and a back. Place it on the table with the front side facing down. Thread one end of the fabric strap around the centre bar of the slider with the outside fabric facing down as well.

adjustable shoulder strap

Step 11

Step 12: Fold the end of the fabric strip back over itself so that the inside fabric touches the inside fabric. Pin in place, and sew a cross to secure the end. If you changed your bobbin thread for the topstitching in step 9 you should change it back to match the outside fabric. The slider is now encased in the strap. The slider doesn’t need a lot of room but it should be able to move somewhat.

adjustable shoulder strap

Step 12

Step 13: Decide on which side you want the slider to end up. I wanted mine on the back of the bag. Take the strap end that is not attached to the slider and thread it through the D-ring on the side you want the slider to end up. The outside fabric should face the bag and you should insert the strap from the top. Fold the strap back up over the D-ring and thread it through the slider.

Adjustable shoulder strap

Step 13

Step 14: Now the free end of the strap should be wrapped around the other D-ring. Insert the strap through the D-ring from the bottom, fold it back down over the D-ring, pin in place, check you didn’t accidently twist the strap and sew a cross to secure.

Adjustable shoulder strap

Step 14

Step 15: Adjust the strap to your preferred length and you are done!

Have I convinced you to give this type of strap a try on your next bag? I’d love to see your bag if you give this method a try!

UFO busting: It’s all about the zippers

It's all about the zippers bagThe starting point for this bag was my huge stash of zippers. I wanted to create a bag that had zippers as the main feature and all of the zippers in the bag should be functional. After much deliberating I finally came up with a combination of red zippers, black canvas and red cotton fabric that matched the zippers. I must have changed my mind at least a dozen times on the exact design of the bag and which parts should be red and which should be black. This is why it took me more than a year to complete it. My original plan featured much more red fabric on the outside but as I was constructing it I found that it detracted from the zippers. In the end I even had to buy more black fabric because I didn’t have enough left to make the strap that was originally supposed to be completely red. On the inside I added a grey zipper and some grey quilting cotton for the lining of the pockets and I also used it to cover up a stupid cutting mistake.

It's all about the zippers bag

Front (left) and back of bag.

The fashion fabric and lining are both interfaced with medium weight woven fusible interfacing. It gives the bag a lot of structure and as a result it can stand upright on its own and I quite like that.

140221_bag_topThe finished dimensions (l x w x h) are 20 x 7 x 35 cm (8” x 2 4/5” x 14”). It opens with a top zipper.

The front features 3 small zipper pockets and the back one large zipper pocket. (I love pockets!)

The lining has a zipper pocket on one side and a divided patch pocket on the other side. These are great for holding my phone, wallet and keys.

pockets in bag lining

Lining pulled to the outside.

The adjustable shoulder strap is attached asymmetrically to the front and back. I really like this detail because it is a bit quirky. The D-rings that hold the strap are attached to the bag via fabric tabs. I took some pictures during the construction of the shoulder strap so a tutorial on how to make an adjustable strap is coming soon!

Adjustable shoulder strapThis bag is very much me and I suspect that I will use it often. If I want to bring a book or a newspaper on the train I can easily fit it in this bag. In my old bag I can only fit a small paperback. During the year it took me to construct it I often thought that it would have been nice if this bag had already been finished when my other bags were too small or way too big for what I wanted to take with me. I am happy this UFO is finally busted and I call the result a great success!

it's all about the zippers

Free pattern: Foundation paper pieced star

Yesterday I entertained myself by designing and sewing a foundation paper pieced star. I suppose I could have used an existing pattern since there are probably at least a dozen patterns available similar to what I made but designing the block is half the fun. The 12×12” (30×30 cm) star is created by sewing together four 6×6’’ (15×15 cm) blocks, 44 pieces in total, so it’s not overly complicated to construct. I should probably practise a bit more though as not all of my points and matches are as sharp as they’re supposed to be…

140215_StarI_1The real problems were caused by my printer however. I created the block in Illustrator and you would think that a 6×6’’ square drawn with the “draw a square” function, or whatever it is called, would be exactly square when printed. It wasn’t. It was slightly off and resembles a trapezoid. I’m pretty sure it was caused by the printer because I held my quilting ruler up to my computer screen and the square looked pretty square in the PDF on the screen. I tried some different printing settings and then decided to just start sewing and fudge if necessary as it wasn’t off by that much (1/16’’ at most). It drove me nuts though and I wasted quite a bit of time trying to get things to print right. (Edit: I did print the pattern on a different printer and it was exactly square, so I suspect my own printer is inaccurate.)

StarI blockSince I already had the pattern in digital format I thought I might as well share it. I am convinced the pattern should be square when printed on a printer that isn’t mine but if someone would like to check this for me that would be great and relieve me of that tiny piece of doubt nagging at the back of my mind. On the left you can see what the pattern looks like and if you want to download the PDF you can click here. The pattern is for personal use only and does not contain any paper piecing instructions because I am assuming you already know how to paper piece if you want to use the pattern. Below I’ve put the cutting scheme I used for my fabric pieces to save you time calculating this yourself.

StarI block_cutting schemeNow all that’s left to do is decide what to do with this block now that it is pieced together. Make several more and turn it into a quilt or add a border and make another pillow?

Some thoughts on gift making

I love making gifts for the people I care about. Nearly every time I get an invitation for a wedding or a housewarming or hear a baby is expected I get excited and think “oooh, I’ll make a gift!”. Sadly though, my creative time is limited and if I made a gift for every single occasion I don’t think there would be any time left to make anything else. As a result, I have to make choices and often the choice is made for me because I simply run out of time (planning these gifts and starting way ahead of time is not my strongest point). That gets me in a whole different spot of trouble because now I suddenly have to think about what to buy. Of course I didn’t give that any thought since I was going to make something and thus spend all my time thinking about what I was going to make and how I was going to do that.

Last week was no exception. I had a housewarming this weekend and decided weeks ago that I was going to make something (like I always do). But what to make? Hmm, since it is a housewarming I suppose it would be nice if the gift is somehow house-related. An apron, maybe? It is a bit of an obvious gift and I think most people already own at least one. For example, we have 3 and I didn’t make or buy any of those myself so chances are she already has one. A pillow? Could be nice, but I’m not sure whether she changed her décor during the move and what if I pick completely wrong colours?

Then I suddenly realise the housewarming is this weekend so I am running out of time (again!). On top of that I have a busy week at work, work several long days and am tired. Crafting doesn’t really happen when I am tired. Still, I stubbornly think I’ll manage to squeeze out a gift at some point, not sure when though. And what, that too.

Some of the options that crossed my mind the last couple of days:

  • Fabric bunting, it can be really festive to decorate your home with bunting for a birthday. Not sure though if someone living on her own is going to use it. Probably better to save this idea for families with young children.
  • A cherrystone pillow! That is really warm and cosy when it is cold outside. Problem, how on earth am I going to get my hands on cherrystones to fill a pillow and still have enough time left to actually make one? Might be a good idea for a future gift however!
  • Ooh, I know! A set of fabric napkins! That is really nice to have when you have some people over for dinner. And I can use the rolled hem feature on my overlock machine! That should make it a fast make too! And then I discovered that it is advised that you use fray-check or something to secure the thread ends. The only store I know in Leiden that might have stocked something like that closed its doors last weekend. Perhaps I should make sure to get some fray-check for future napkin endeavours.
  • I could of course make fabric napkins with mitered corners. But, do I really want to make 24 perfect mitered corners when I am tired? Not really, but perhaps I could make a set of 4 instead of 6? But that is still 16 corners, don’t think so, I’ll probably give up after napkin #1.

This time I was smart enough to admit a day before the party that it just wasn’t going to happen (I don’t really want to know how often I’ve had to rush on the day itself to get a gift). I went ahead and bought a set of nice, thick, soft, organic cotton kitchen towels in a lovely green colour that I think my friend likes as well.

Am I learning from all this? I sure hope so, it’s about time I get realistic about what I can actually achieve in the time and energy I have available. So, for now I have decided to only attempt to make gifts for newborn babies because that is something I really enjoy doing (probably until their numbers rise to ridiculous figures at which point I’ll have to get realistic again). For other occasions I am first going to see what I can buy. If I’ve already bought something I won’t be tempted to think I can still make something and waste a lot of time thinking about projects I never end up making in the process. I’ve already given at least one handmade gift to most of the important people in my life anyway. I will continue to make gifts but I’ll just be more selective in choosing the occasion.

After buying the gift for the housewarming on Friday I blissfully watched the men’s 5k speedskating on Saturday, which couldn’t have gone better for the Dutch team. Today I watched the women’s 3k speedskating which also went very well and finished a quilt top (also a gift by the way…).

Does anyone recognise these gift making dilemma’s? How do you prioritise ?

UFO Busting: Self-drafted A-line skirt

I proudly present what may very well be the best fitting skirt I have ever had. I made the pattern following (most of the) instructions from Craftsy’s “Design and sew an a-line skirt” class. The fit of this skirt is so much better than any RTW skirt I have been able to find. The main reason I hardly ever used to wear a skirt is that I simply didn’t have any good fitting ones. Usually, when I tried on a RTW skirt it was either way too large at the waist or way too tight at the hip. Now I want to make lots more!

Denim A-line skirt

This quite simple skirt turned into an UFO because I probably used inaccurate measurements when I drafted my first pattern months ago. My muslin looked hideous. I decided to toss it and start from scratch. This time, I marked the exact location of my waist, hip and desired hem line on my body so that I would be sure to measure in the right location and also have accurate waist-hip and waist-hemline measurements.

I still had to tweak the side seam between waist and hip quite a bit in my muslin because the difference between those two measurements is quite large due to my pear shape. Perhaps I could get it to fit even better in that region in a next version but for now I’m very pleased with how it looks.

A-line skirt with inset pocketInstead of making a very basic skirt I wanted something a bit more special, so I added a facing, cut up the front and back to do some colour blocking and added inset pockets. How to draft this type of pocket isn’t included in the class but I very much prefer this pocket over the options provided in the class. For example, I detest inseam pockets. Seriously, they always gape and then stand out a little bit from your body and since they’re usually located in the hip region of a skirt or dress they draw extra attention to your hips. I think it is safe to assume that over 90% of Western women does not want to draw extra attention to her hips. So, my advice is to avoid inseam pockets like the plague. It’s not difficult to add inset pockets to an existing pattern, although with hindsight I should probably have made mine a little deeper.

Facing

For the skirt fabric I used pieces of cut up old jeans. I have collected a selection of old worn jeans that I occasionally cut up into pieces and use to make stuff. When I pulled out my stash I discovered I had 14(!) pairs that I hadn’t yet cut into, which, even to me, seems like a somewhat ridiculous amount. Most worn jeans still have areas where the fabric is in very good condition, most often the back of the lower part of the leg. You want to avoid using parts that are clearly worn and the knees. Most denim nowadays contains some spandex and the knees in old jeans have usually become stretched out and baggy. For this skirt I used fabric from 5 different pairs and I really like how they work together. For the facing and pocket lining I used a floral cotton. The facing is interfaced with medium weight woven interfacing.

denim A-line skirtSome of you may have been wondering when I was ever going to post a project for which I used my new overlocker and coverstitch machine. Right now! I finished the seam allowances with a 3-thread overlock stitch and I think the inside now looks very nice and it was so much faster than what I used to do before. The hem was finished with a 2 needle coverstitch and I also really like how that turned out.

Left: details of 3-thread overlock stitch. Right: 2-needle coverstitch on hem.

Left: details of 3-thread overlock stitch. Right: 2-needle coverstitch on hem.

Largest revelations during the skirt drafting stage:

  • I do not need darts in the skirt front (which is actually a very good thing because it reduces the number of darts to sew by a whopping 50%!). Instead I lowered the top of the skirt a little bit at the centre front to ensure that the top of the whole skirt would be parallel to the floor.
  • Pinning a back dart on yourself while simultaneously trying to look in a mirror to see what you are doing puts you at serious risk of a strain injury.
  • My back darts needed to be quite a bit longer than I originally thought they should be.

140201_A-lineskirt4I did find this Craftsy class useful but I thought the teacher was a bit too happy. If you want to learn how to draft a simple skirt it is a good option though and if you start out with the right measurements you’ll most likely end up with a very nice fitting skirt. However, would I buy a skirt drafting class today I would most likely get the “Pattern making basics: The skirt sloper” class as that one seems to be much more versatile. I might still get it, I really want to learn more about pattern drafting, I thoroughly enjoy the process and dress making is even more fun when your finished garments actually fit well.