Picking projects above your skill level? Guilty. I bought this Marimekko fabric from The Finnish Place a while back with the intention of sewing some cosmetics bags and perhaps a make-up brush roll with it. I absolutely love this classic print, it’s something that always makes me feel good to look at. (Yes, fabric has the power to make me happy.)
While I realize you can wash cotton, the way my make-up tends to explode means i’d need to wash a cotton make-up bag weekly, and frankly I don’t have that kind of dedication. I love the whole clear bag trend that’s floating around the web/Instagram, but also thought it would be nice to have a pop of colour – enter this creation. Only issue was, aside from not being terribly proficient on a sewing machine to begin with, i’d never worked with vinyl or bias binding before. That’s what Google is for though, right? “How to sew with vinyl,” “how to sew zipper on vinyl,” “how to retain sanity while sewing with vinyl.” That last one actually led me to a helpful article…I found this tutorial on Make It & Love It, and this YouTube interview from self-proclaimed oilcloth addict Kelly McCants which gave me the motivation to get started.
I used a size 14 universal needle, 100% poly thread, put scotch tape on my presser foot and throat plate to reduce ‘stickiness’, and said a little prayer. Although I found this project extremely tedious, i’m happy I gave it a whirl and i’m sure each time I sew with vinyl i’ll find new tricks and techniques to make it easier.
My favourite part about sewing with vinyl is that you don’t need to finish the edges, and the finished project looks pretty darn cool. The reason I tweeted mid project “If you value your sanity, avoid sewing with clear vinyl…” is because I found it hard to see when your cutting and pinning (duh), hard to pin together, and hard to keep from sliding around and/or sticking (I have no idea how something can both slippery AND sticky). If you’ve sewed with vinyl before or have heard of any tips, please let me know!
Below i’ve outlined the steps I took to make this bag, and how I attempted to overcome the aforementioned challenges of sewing with vinyl. I’m not quite confident enough to call it a tutorial, as i’m not sure if this is the ‘right’ way to do things, but then again I think it could be helpful for others to see what I did. One thing that sometimes frustrates me about tutorials is that the project is made to look so, well, easy. Then you try, and by step three nothings lying right and you’re thinking “well what the heck have I done, i’ve followed the instructions and hers looks magazine ready while mine looks like it was sewn by a toddler, i’ll never be able to get mine looking that good” – and that’s really discouraging!
I guess I just appreciate when other people are honest about the whole experience, what worked, what didn’t, not just a pretty end picture. So by sharing this somewhat mess of a how-to, maybe it’ll give you some ideas, maybe it’ll teach you what not to do, or maybe it’ll give you the confidence to tackle a new material yourself – regardless, i’d say that’s progress.
First, you have to decide what size you want your bag to be. I wanted the finished measurements to be 12″ by 8″. I decided to work with a half-inch seam allowance so I could work with nice easy numbers, so all the fabric pieces I cut out were 13″ by 9″. You’ll notice I cut out 3 pieces of vinyl, because the back side of the pouch has the printed fabric square between two pieces of clear vinyl. Again, i’m really not sure if this is the right way to do things. I’ve heard of iron on vinyl before, but I can’t find it in Canada, and of course oilcloth is usually the fabric of choice for cosmetic bags…but I really wanted to use this fabric, and where there’s a will there’s a way. Apologies in advance if this leaves you feeling more confused, I tried to include as many pictures as possible but i’m not sure how good I was at explaining all the steps.
Supplies (left to right)
- (3) pieces clear vinyl 13″ by 9″
- (2) pieces printed fabric 13″ by 9″
- (1) 12″ zipper
- 1 package double fold bias tape
- A handful of paperclips
- Matching 100& polyester thread
- Glass of wine (recommended)
Since it’s quite hard to see this stuff, and I wasn’t sure how to mark it (probably should have tried chalk?) I found using a rotary cutter, self-healing cutting mat and 0-weights the easiest way to measure and cut. The o-weights keep the vinyl from sliding around, and the squares on the mat helped me measure and cut in a straight line. I always find the clear ruler really helpful as well (I honestly think these clear rulers are godsends for those of us who routinely under-mark our fabric before we cut it).
I used a size 14 universal needle for this project. I changed my stitch length from the standard 2.5 to 3.0 (but I would play around with your machine and scrap fabric first), and I put clear scotch tape on the bottom of my presser foot and throat plate to provide a smooth surface for the vinyl to slide along.
Step One: Sew the Zipper
To sew the zipper, sandwich the zipper between two layers of vinyl, lining up the top edges and holding everything in place with paper clips. This is for the back side of the bag that the fabric will go between. I approached this the same way you’d sew a zippered pouch with a lining – if you want to see what I mean go to this zippered pouch tutorial on Make It & Love It, because heaven knows you can’t see what’s going on here with all the clear on clear. From here on out, i’m going to refer to the back side as the side with 2 layers of vinyl that the fabric square will be encased in, and the front side and the side with 1 layer of vinyl that will be the see-through side of the bag.
For me, this is where the fun and frequent cursing began. Although I didn’t have any problems with the vinyl sticking (thanks to the scotch tape) I found the vinyl slid away from me as I sewed, so the top layer of vinyl was sliding to the left making my seam allowance non-existant by the end of the zipper seam and my edges all crooked. I’m not quite sure how to stop this from happening, advice? The paperclips are nice in the sense you can keep sliding them along as you sew, but maybe that was part of the problem? Maybe I should have used clips instead?
Next, I pinned and sewed the third piece of vinyl to the other side of the zipper (the front side of the bag). You can see from the pictures below that the vinyl really slid around and almost stretched as I was sewing it, so my edges were no longer neatly lined up. Even if the vinyl was shifting around and I couldn’t keep the edges flush, I decided to pick my battles and focus on making sure the seam stayed relatively straight so that the finished project would lay well.
Step Two: Square the Edges (aka correct mistakes from step one)
Since my edges were all wonky now, I pinned both the front and back side and trimmed everything so that the edges were flush again. I was very careful to make sure I was keeping the edges square, so that my bag remained a rectangle and didn’t morph into some funky parallelogram. I also tried to make all the seam allowances even. This helped make sure that any seams going forward were still straight(ish) and that perhaps when people saw the finished project they’d see minimal evidence of these early struggles 😉
Step Three: Sew Fabric Square
With right sides together and your half-inch seam allowance, sew printed fabric together, leaving a small opening to turn right-side-out. Press and topstitch opening.
Step Four: Sew Pocket for Fabric Square
Next, I sewed the two layers of the back side together to start sewing the 12″ by 8″ ‘pocket’ that would encase my pretty fabric square and keep it clean. I started at a top edge of the zipper and sewed two of the three sides before I slid the fabric square in, so as to minimize bulk. I did find it tricky to sew the pocket the right size, and I didn’t realize before I started that the fabric wouldn’t go right to the seam, so there’d be a little bit of white space around the outside of the pocket (you can kind of see what I mean in the bottom right picture).
Once I slid the fabric square in, and turned the corner to start sewing the final side, everything stopped sliding nicely and I found myself saying, “What fresh hell is this?!” I guess now that I was working with more layers of fabric (even though I was still only sewing through 2 layers), the project wasn’t gliding through nicely anymore and my machine was just stitching in place. Here’s where I found putting some tissue paper on either side of the project helped everything slide nicely again. Best part is you can just rip it off afterwards (i’ve heard wax paper is good to). Here’s what it looked like after I sewed the back side and before I sewed the back and front sides together.
Step Five: Sew Bias Tape Around Edges
Instead of sewing it inside out and then flipping it right side out like in this tutorial I already mentioned, I decided to sew it right side out, meaning my seams would be exposed. Now although vinyl doesn’t fray so you won’t really have to do anything with the seams, I thought it looked unfinished to have the seams exposed (especially where the zipper was attached), so I decided to sew a bias tape that matched the zipper all around the outside. I actually tried this pouch the way mentioned in that tutorial, but I found the result was bulky because vinyl is so much stiffer than normal fabric, so when you turn it inside out it didn’t give clean edges.
If you’ve never sewn with bias tape before like me, check out this tutorial on Made which is really helpful. Full disclosure, I didn’t find this really helpful tutorial until after the fact, so I definitely messed this part up a lot and didn’t do the corners correctly. I also found it hard to keep an even amount of the bias tape on the front and back side. I would definitely use extra wide double fold bias tape next time, as you can see the bias tape wasn’t thick enough so in some spots theres clear space between the bias tape and the fabric square, or you can see the stitches which doesn’t look very nice 🙁
I also wasn’t sure how to properly finish the bias tape around the top edges by the zipper, so I totally improvised that (as you can see in the first pictures) and it doesn’t look super professional either. I do think this method of finishing the edges would have turned out a lot better if I had a) read that tutorial first and learned how to do it properly and b) used a wider bias tape.
You know what they say, hindsight is 20/20.
At the end of the day, i’m pretty happy with this and will definitely be trying to improve upon this idea in the future. No, it doesn’t look great if you examine the seams closely, but overall I like the look and style of it and it’s taught me a lot of do’s and don’ts. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? So rather than feeling frustrated like I did while I was working through this project, I now feel really encouraged and motivated to tackle vinyl again – i’ll mark that down as a success in my books.