We had a problem…

The diaper bag that we bought used for our first baby is officially wearing out after 2.5 years.  I was never in love with it.  I got it for $15, so I can’t complain too much.  It was a Baby Innovations Square Slouch bag.  Frankly, it didn’t meet our specific family needs.  So when the seams started splitting in the lining, I was excited to be in the market for a new diaper bag.  I made the mistake of ordering an inexpensive bag from Walmart.  Don’t do it, people.  It’s just not worth it.  I was surprised at just how cheap the materials used were.  I got the feeling that if I used it for a month, I’d be back at square one, looking for another bag.  I returned it and decided that since I don’t have the $65-$120 it costs to buy a nice, sturdy, somewhat fashionable bag, I would just make one myself.

While looking for a pattern, I wanted 3 things:

1.  Fashionable
I didn’t want it to look like a typical, clunky, boxy diaper bag.  Something sleek, curved, hopefully with some nice hardware.  I wanted it to to look professional, not ‘homemade’.  (It is a little embarrassing to me every time someone asks, “Oh, did you make that yourself?”  Because to me that says that somehow my workmanship must be lacking.  Handmade is fine.  Homemade = Bad).

2.  Functional
The shape of our previous diaper bag was just not great for us.  It was large, which is good for us.  We cloth diaper, and cloth is bulky.  As much as I would love to be one of those minimalistic moms who only carries around a diaper clutch, that is just not going to work out for us.  We needed something big, but the Square Slouch bag was… well… square.  This meant that I had to dig through layers of diapers and burp cloths, spit upon baby clothes, etc. to find the things I needed in it.  Before we had our first baby, I had no idea what to look for in a diaper bag.  If it had lots of pockets, that was good, right?  By this time I knew that we need a large, long, shallow bag so that almost everything in the bag was visible immediately upon opening, and I wouldn’t have to nestle things in at every diaper change.

3.  Light
The Square Slouch bag was made out of a heavy pleather fabric, and it made me feel like I was doing weight training every time I took it anywhere.  I needed something lighter weight and easier to carry around while trying to hold a 4 month old and making sure my 2 year old isn’t running in front of traffic.

The Solution

I always look for sewing patterns first on Etsy.  I like being able to print them off myself and not having to worry if my toddler attacks it with a pair of scissors.  I also like knowing that my hard-earned money is going to support an indy designer instead of a big box corporation.  ChrisWDesigns has patterns for really nice looking bags.  I hesitate to use the word ‘cute’, because that brings to mind zebra print, maribou feathers and the like.  That is NOT what I was looking for, and not at all what she designs.

The Olivia pattern looked the best for what I was doing, and was the largest.  The instructions said that this pattern would be a good challenge for an advanced bag maker.  Uh oh!  I had never made a bag in my life, and only started sewing in earnest less than 2 years ago.  But the description promised thorough pictorial instructions.  So I decided to just go for it.

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Her instructions are really great!  While some points felt really awkward, I think that’s just the nature of bag making.  It took FOREVER.  She was not joking when she said it was time consuming.  I was basically neglecting all housework and sewing every spare second for over a week.  (I do have 2 tiny humans in my house, and watch a third part-time.  So when I say “Every spare second,” there really aren’t that many to spare).  I certainly don’t feel that I’m an advanced sewer.  If you are on the more advanced side of intermediate and are ready for a challenge, you can definitely make this bag.

I didn’t feel confident making changes to a bag pattern when I’d never made one.  I was pretty sure the designer knew what she was doing, and I didn’t.  But now that I’ve made one…

Things that I would change next time to better suit my own purposes:

Side elastic pockets
These need to be a bit larger to really accommodate a regular sized baby bottle. We do have some little Medela baby shot glasses that fit in there just fine.  I just put a nipple on the top, and it’s what my baby girl prefers anyhow.  But if I were trying to fit almost any other bottle in there, it wouldn’t work.  These pockets will work for pacifiers, diaper cream, small toys, etc.  Which is fine, since this is not specifically a diaper bag pattern.  You can see the mini bottle on the side here.

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Back zipper pocket
I would also make this bigger, maybe big enough to put a changing pad in.

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Snap-in wet bag
This is not a deal breaker for me, but my husband is pretty adamant that if I designed my own pattern, it needs to have a snap-in wet bag area.  I would probably nix the inside zipper pocket and install it there.

Larger
As I said, this is not a real diaper bag pattern, so I can’t really complain.  People carrying handbags around aren’t typically needing to carry enough stuff to survive the impending zombie apocalypse, which is what I feel like I am doing every time I leave the house.  The length is great.  I just might make it a hint taller and wider if I were to do it again.  But it will work for us anyway!  And after sewing for what felt like 20 hours, (and was certainly more than 12…) I am absolutely not re-doing this.  This is what it looks like packed for a typical outing.  (I always pack for about half a day).

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Contrasting pieces
I think it would be really eye appealing to have some of the bag pieces be in a contrasting, or accent color.  (Pieces like the handles, facing, zipper gusset, decorative top panel, pocket strap pieces, side pockets, and strap tabs).  I would probably make them with interfaced solid colored quilter’s cotton.

Darker Fabric
This was my own fault.  I love this fabric.  However, as I was sewing it I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I’ll cry the first time something gets spilled on it.  Dirt smudges and stains are just too obvious on white, and for a diaper bag, I should have taken that into account.

If you make it, be sure to…

Pay attention to the direction of your fabric while cutting.
Thankfully, mine was right almost every time, despite the fact that I paid no attention whatsoever.  The gusset piece was the only one that was cut incorrectly, and I didn’t have enough fabric to cut another.  It would be easiest to get a home decor fabric that is non-directional, really.

Use a long-pull zipper if you can get your hands on one.
I couldn’t, because the best sewing supply place in my area is Walmart.  (Sad times.)  To order them online you have to order so many that it just wasn’t worth it to me.  So I went ahead and just made a cute tag to label her bag (which I would need anyway if I don’t want nursery workers putting stickers on my bag, which would leave tacky adhesive!  Yuck!) and just attached it with a key ring on the zipper.

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Use the correct interfacing.
There was actually a little issue with the suggested quantity on the pattern.  I have contacted the designer, who thanked me for pointing it out and is fixing it, because she is awesome.  It originally didn’t say how wide the piece needed to be, just how long.  I had to improvise slightly, and ended up using some muslin.  It worked out on most pieces, but I actually had to recut the side pocket lining pieces, because they were so thick with the muslin interfacing that my machine flatly refused to sew them, even with a denim needle.  I would suggest getting 2-3  1-1/4 yd. pieces of 20″ wide interfacing, if that is what is available to you.  I will also add that if saving time is more important to you than money, go ahead and fuse an entire piece of interfacing to your lining and then cut pieces that will be interfaced, rather than spending all of the extra time cutting double pieces and THEN fusing.  (You need to read through the pattern well to figure out which ones.  You would not want to do this with your gusset piece).

Additionally…
Since, as previously stated, this is not an actual diaper bag pattern, there is not really a pattern for a changing pad, or accommodation in the bag for one.  I actually kind of wanted a plain cotton quilted one anyhow; something I could throw into the wash.  I looked online and entertained the idea of sewing one.  Then I remembered that I have some quilted placemats laying around.  You probably wouldn’t want to buy them new to use, because they’d be pricey ($7-$8 a piece).  I bought them on super sale when I was working the home department in Dillards.  While I loved them, I didn’t have enough of them.  Also, we’re not really placemat people…  But they will be fantastic for laying my sweet girl on to change, and then just to throw into the diaper pail when I empty the wet bag.  So I don’t have to cut them up for another project, I don’t have to throw them away, and I don’t have to sew a changing mat!  Win/win/win.

In the end, everything I set out to find is in this bag.  It is beautiful.  It is functional, and it is almost as light completely packed as my old one was while empty.

I would recommend this pattern to anyone.

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