Tutorial: How to make a simple zippered bag

Greetings squirrels! It’s getting to that time of year where you rascally types begin excavating our mulch, hiding away your treasures to tide you over for the long, cold winter. This year, I thought I’d provide a quick tutorial to make a simple, zippered pouch – PERFECT for stashing scrounged walnuts. Please consider making these bags and leaving my mulch alone. I’ll even let you use my sewing machine.

Oh, and this post is ALSO for Amy, Jaime, Becky and Jessica. As promised! But helpful for squirrels such as yourselves as well… here’s what we’ll be making today.

To start with, you’ll need materials. This pouch measures roughly 8″ wide by 7.5″ tall, but can be made in ANY size. Here are my materials:

  • (2) 9″ x 15″ pieces of fabric. They don’t have to be different colors, I just like ‘em that way! One is for the inside, one for the outside.
  • A zipper foot
  • Trim (if desired) – I gussied mine up with some grosgrain ribbon, but it’s not necessary!
  • (1) zipper – the zipper should be at LEAST 9″ long, but preferably 12″ (or more.) Zippers are easier to put on if you have extra length to work with, as you can trim to fit and avoid having to sew around that pesky metal zipper pull. Mine is unreasonably long, as it was the only green zipper in my stash last night when I took pictures! Note how it doesn’t quite match!
  • Not pictured, but necessary: thread, sewing machine, scissors
  • Not pictured, not really necessary: serger, Fray Check, Steam A Seam

Totally optional: Adding decorative trim

I love the look of the saddle stitched grosgrain ribbon with toile, and thought it would be fun to add it to this bag! Just cut two pieces of trim the length of your fabric and place, all centered-like on the fabric piece that will make the outside of your bag. I used the gridlines on my cutting mat to help place the ribbon – see how they’re centered on the 2nd gridline in on each side (marked in pink)?

Note, if you decide to do this, you’ll have to check and recheck to have the trim ‘match up’ at the zipper – I didn’t check at all and mine is WAY off!

Next, secure your ribbons in place. Pins are fine, but I don’t really like how they make big ‘bumps’ where you put ‘em in, so I used steam a seam, which is a double sided fusible tape – basically, I ironed my ribbon on! Steam a Seam is supposed to be permanent, but I am a distrustful sort, so I stitched as well.

Head on over to your machine and stitch ! When I add ribbon as trim I like to stitch down both sides of the ribbon so they edges aren’t waving all over the place. Since the ribbon I’m using already HAS contrast stitching, I just used a straight stitch in black thread close to the edge. If it was plain ribbon, then this is a perfect chance to play with contrasting thread and decorative stitches!

You’re done! Nicely trimmed! Let’s go attach the zipper!

Attaching the first edge of the zipper

This process can feel a bit counter-intuitive the first time you make a big – just follow along closely!

Place your ‘outside’ fabric face up and then line up your zipper tape as shown, matching the ‘top’ edge of the zipper tape to the ‘top’ edge of the bag fabric. The zipper pull should face down/towards the bag fabric. If you’re working with a zipper that’s longer than your bag fabric, just leg it hang off both edges of the fabric, any which way. If your zipper matches the width of the bag fabric perfectly, then center carefully.

Now lay your lining fabric face down over the outer fabric, sandwiching the zipper between the two layers of fabric. Match the upper edges of all three layers (shown in pink) and line up the two pieces of material along all edges.

Pin, being careful to not rumple the fabric too much.

Here’s how it looks on the other side.

Head on over to your machine and put your zipper foot on. With the way I had everything oriented, I wanted my needle to the left side of the zipper foot (the side with the pink arrow.) Remember, the ‘order’ when you use a zipper foot is zipper-needle-foot (as opposed to zipper-foot-needle!)

Sew everything together, with the zipper foot sliding on top of the zipper. I’ve marked (roughly) in pink where the zipper is under the fabric. Note – do NOT sew over pins the way I am doing. That is very bad for your machine. Mine too. I was being very, very naughty in this photo!

Sew slowly and carefully, holding everything taut and smooth as you go. If your top layer starts to shift and wrinkle, stop sewing and turn the handwheel until the needle is all the way IN the fabric. Then lift your presser foot, smooth things out, lower your presser foot and start sewing again. You’ll get the hang of it!

Voila! One side sewn on! You can (sort of) see in this photo how close the stitching is to the zipper. Too close and the zipper won’t work. Too far and it won’t be super secure – and it’ll look a bit weird. But you really have lots of wiggle room in this project! The pink marks show the center of the zipper.

OK! Now it’s time to topstitch! Fold your fabric away from the zipper so that the wrong sides are together. If you’re using a thicker fabric, you might want to stick a few pins in it to keep it under control. Note – check to make sure your zipper was put in the right way – the pull should be on the same side as your outer fabric. If it isn’t, well, you’re bag is going to look a bit different than you planned. Or else you have some ripping to do!

Back to the machine for topstitching! I usually keep the zipper foot on for this part and will have to switch the needle to be on the RIGHT side (where the arrow is.) If I’m doing straight topstitching, I like to use the side of the zipper foot as my ‘guide’ and just keep that lined up with the fold of the fabric. This makes for a nice, close edgestitch! I’ve also used decorative stitches here – even a simple zig zag stitch looks fun! If you decide to do that, change back to your universal presser foot, as you might break a needle if you don’t.

Attaching the SECOND edge of the zipper…

This is where it gets a bit confusing, you bushy tailed nut loving rodents. I swear, it DOES work, even if it looks goofy!!

Lay your bag with your zipper pull and outer fabric facing up. Just like in this picture – the free edge of the zipper will be at the very top.

Now bring the bottom edge of the outer fabric up to that free edge of the zipper (where the pink/line is) and secure with pins. The green arrow is showing the side of the zipper tape that you already attached to the bag. If you did a decorative trim like I did, peek inside to make sure that the trim is ‘lined up’ on each side of the zipper.

Flip the project over so the lining fabric is facing up and then bring the bottom edge of the lining fabric up and line up with the top edge of the zipper tape. Pin. Now you have a nice little fabric and zipper tape sandwich, with the zipper tape being the filling.

This is what it looks like from the side… see how there’s a ‘loop’ of lining fabric on the left, and a loop of the outer fabric on the right? Perfect!

If you lay back down and look between the fabric ‘loops’, you’ll see the zipper tape where the pink arrow is pointing.

Back to the machine – make sure the needle’s on the left side of the foot and stitch just as you did for the other side of the zipper tape. Again, I’ve marked in pink roughly where the zipper is under all that toile!

Stitched!

Now turn the fabric so that it looks like a bag with unstitched sides – you know, so your outer fabric is facing out and your lining fabric is on the inside. Undo the zipper and prepare to topstitch on this side!

Move your foot so that the needle is on the right side of the foot and topstitch just like you did on the other side.

Done!

Stitching up the sides

Next we’ll finish up the sides. Turn your bag right side out and zip up. Decide where you’d like your zipper to line up on the finished bag – I like mine about a third of the way down. It can go anywhere, but I’d avoid putting RIGHT on the top of the bag. You can see how goofy my trim looks, since I didn’t even check to see if it was lined up!!

The next step is VERY IMPORTANT!! Unzip the zipper about halfway. If you don’t, you’ll sew your whole bag shut and your pull will be on the wrong side of the side seams!

Turn inside out and arrange so the zipper is where you’d decided to put it. If you’re using a directional print (like me) peek inside to make sure the zipper is towards the ‘top’ rather than the bottom. That’s easiest to see if you look at the fabric directly below the zipper – all my people’s head’s are pointing towards the zipper. Good.

Line up the unzippered side so the teeth are sitting right next to each other without overlapping and secure with pins.

Stick a couple more pins in each side to keep everything in place, then head back to the machine.

Switch back to your universal presser foot and stitch the sides shut – I use a half inch seam allowance. When going over the zipper, just go nice and slow – I like to back stitch a time or two to reinforce. As long as you’re using a plastic zipper, you shouldn’t have any problems sewing over the teeth. If you’re using a shorter zipper, watch out for the little metal bits at the end of the zipper – you can see what I’m talking about all the way to the right in this photo. If your zipper has metal teeth, go over the zipper VERY slowly using your handwheel insteal of the foot pedal and if the needle hits metal stop and shift things around or sew around that spot. If you really need to avoid hitting a teeny piece of metal – like a zipper tooth – try adjusting the stitch length for a stitch or two so that the needle comes down in a different spot.

Once you’ve stitched both sides, you can trim the zipper tape with a regular pair of scissors – it cuts very easily! You can actually trim it at any point but since it’s super easy to accidentally pull the zipper pull all the way once trimmed, I leave everything in place until the sides are stitched, providing a thread ‘stop.’ If your ends don’t line up very well, go ahead and trim those up as well so everything looks even – pinking shears are a good choice for this part!

I ran mine through my serger with the blade disengaged to give it a nice, finished look.

A walnut-stashing-pouch for winter!

Done! Inside:

And outside!!

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