When I attended Sewing Summit in 2012, I learned the value of traveling handmade. I was traveling with my mom, and while we were still in the airport, we met other Sewing Summit attendees because my mom and several others were carrying the Weekender bags they had made for the occasion. It was a really nice moment, and I knew then and there that I wanted to travel handmade myself at some point.
Fast forward to 2015. I got it in my head that I needed to make a bag to take to QuiltCon. The Weekender was out of the question, since I’ve only ever sewn with zippers once before, and I’ve heard that pattern was difficult. For my first travel bag, I wanted something simple and easy that I could make with quilted panels instead of interfacing. I stumbled across Noodlehead’s free Cargo Duffle pattern and convinced my mom to sew one with me at one of our monthly sewing days. Boy, am I glad I had a sewing buddy for this one!
Since I am a travel handmade noob, I simplified the pattern even more by using quilting cotton for the lining instead of canvas, and by omitting the pockets. I am happy with both those decisions.
My mom and I started working on our bags separately so that we could finish them together. I spent time that Friday night choosing my fabric and texting with my mom. At first, I thought about using some of my Cotton + Steel stash, but it wasn’t speaking to me for this project. I pulled out my treasured Lizzy House hoard and chose a print from her Constellations line, as well as coordinating Butterflies, Jewels and Pearl Bracelets.
On Saturday, my husband took our daughter to the zoo so that I could work on my bag. That day, I quilted the front and back panels and the bottom gusset and made the handles. Since my mom was ahead of me, I benefited from her experience and cut my panels 1” bigger to allow for shrinkage, which I highly recommend. I didn’t interface the handles because I wanted to keep it simple. I really enjoyed the machine quilting and it was quite satisfying to use up some of my batting scraps. In addition, I made four strips of WOF binding. The pattern doesn’t specify exactly how much binding to make, so I guessed based on the required yardage. That was as far as I could get without help, since I wanted my mom at my side when I attempted the zipper.
On Sunday, my daughter and I headed to Grammy and Grandpa’s house for our sewing day. My zipper isn’t 100% perfect because my daughter sat on my lap and “helped” me sew that part. But with my mom’s guidance, I was able to do it well enough. When it came time to sew the gussets to the bag front and back panels, that was when the sewing rage set in.
In retrospect, the problem was that this step essentially forces a square peg (the panels) into a round hole (the loop of gussets). After sewing the gusset loop to the top and bottom of the front panel, I couldn’t figure out how to sew the panel sides to the gusset loop. I stopped to reread the pattern, read the extra tips blog post, and the sew along. The only help to be found was the following: “Next, sew each side, just pull and align the raw edge of the sides.” Just pull? I was so frustrated I was close to tears. I pulled this way and that and couldn’t get it to a point where I was comfortable sewing it. In the end, I figured out my own tip: after you’ve sewn the gusset loop to the top and bottom of a panel, clip the gusset to the dots on the panel where the sewing stops. Then you can pull the gusset 90 degrees to meet the side of the panel. After using that trick to finish connecting the panels to the gussets, I flipped the whole over and sewed around the corners again, to reinforce them.
At that point, I was still mad, but it was easy enough to finish the inside seams with the binding I had made the day before. In roughly 36 hours, I had sewn my first usable travel bag. I didn’t enjoy the process, but I love the finished bag. It’s a nice size for a carry-on, and the handles are that in-between length that works equally well for carrying by hand or slinging over your shoulder. This bag is floppy and soft and I’m okay with that.
Will I make this pattern again? Perhaps. If I do, I would add some interfacing to make it more durable, include the pockets, and perhaps line the bag instead of finishing it with binding. I would also do the zipper differently, since I’m not happy with the way the ends of the zipper have gaps between them and the bag. Part of me would like to give this pattern another chance, because I’ve always been a fan of Noodlehead. This pattern is certainly doable, but I think it assumes a higher skill level or more experience with bag making than I have. If you’d like to read about another Cargo Duffle, check out my mom’s bag here. Thank goodness for sewing buddies!