Monday, November 6, 2017

Sewing Hack - Inspired by Margaret Knight

Sewing Hack - Thanks to Margaret Knight -- 

If you haven't ever heard of Margaret Knight, it would not surprise me -- many have not.  Men of European origin tend to dominate the history books when it comes to inventors, but Margaret Knight is one that should be in those history books - front and center.  Some of her inventions were created when she was still a child - as young as 12, After the Civil war she created a machine that folded and glued a flat bottomed paper bag.  Until she figured out a folding pattern to create a flat bottom all sacks were envelope style.  The invention was very well received but a man attempted to steal her idea and even attempted to steal her patent.  Margaret took the villain to court AND WON.  She received her patent in 1871.   You can find out some basics about Knight from these two books:
Kulling, Monica.  In the Bag!: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up.  Illustrated by David Parkins. Tundra, 2011.
McCully, Emily Arnold.  Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor.  Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2006.
And if you want more check out Famous Women Inventors: Margaret Knight. Online at

So how does Margaret Knight fit into this sewing hack.  It's really quite simple.  A few weeks ago I went to a blow-out sale at a quilt shop and found some banners (on sale) featuring Laura - and The Little House on the Prairie.  The shop had a bag made up using part of the banner as the featured masthead for the top of the bag.  I thought it was very clever and thinking that I surely needed the pattern I purchased one for $10 -- turns out it was a waste of money as in the meantime - before I got the bag started I went to a 2 hour workshop to learn how to make a gift bag.  Lo and behold - no pattern necessary as all one needs to do is cut into one of Margaret Knight's flat bottomed sacks - and the pattern is right there. (and besides the pattern I purchased really did not have a pattern per se), just provided dimensions for the various strips.  If you have sewn at all it  is fairly easy.  Take a look at the following pictures and if you are having trouble figuring it out ... take a look at this 2015 video from Sew Very Easy: DIY: Fabric Gift Bags. 
The technique for the bag is the same.  Smaller bags are easier to handle than the larger ones but be creative and inventive in terms of the fabric you use.  I discussed the making of a smaller bag at a blog entry at - < >
This is the banner (I bought two) and the pattern from the quilt shop that I purchased.  It is from "Pink Sand Beach Designs" - the company has several variations on the patterns for putting the fabric together.  In my opinion most people will not need the pattern.  But if you have not ever sewn it may be a safety net for you.

A large grocery bag was actually the very same size as the one described in the pattern.  The only thing the pattern did was to give the dimensions.  This one ends up being 20 inches wide and as tall as you want it.  Straps are 31 inches.

I used the banner - cut it apart for the top and bottom - reversing the top banner so it would be the right side up on the back side of the outside of the bag.  Once I had the top and the very bottom (or what would be the top of the bag's back side) I began to piece together strips of fabric- in the picture the strips look work of wonky but that  is more my photography rather than the sewing.  The hexagon patterned material is actually cut from a vintage quilt that was never finished.  The pieces were hand stitched and created a lovely focal piece for this patterned bag.

Once the outside construction was pieced and sewn together I clipped the fabric to a piece of soft and stable.  This piece came as a 20 inch wide piece so I only had to square up my fabric and cut the correct length.  Notice the white section on the left side of the photo here.  That white portion will be cut out as that section is what is sewn together to create the flat bottom.

Simply cut out the unneeded stablizer to make a notch in the "bottom"
section of the fabric pattern.

Top stitch the finished fabric piece to the stabilizer.  Stitch inside (narrower) what would normally be the seam line.  Then use the top stitched layer as a template to cut the lining from the inside material.  I used another banner.  I did not worry about which way anything was inside as it would not really be read but rather just provide a glimpse of the pioneer fabric.  While the lining is still flat sew any pockets or zippers that you wish to have inside the bag.  Then stitch down the sides of the outside of the bag, and across the top - joining the outside and the lining.  Be sure to leave an open seam to turn the bag.  Before seaming the top put in the handles - I made mine out of the fabric left from the first banner.  I was able to get the handles and a large ipad pocket for inside the bag from the parts not used for the outside of the bag.  The video referenced above will explain how the sides and bottom are joined together. Sew Very Easy: DIY: Fabric Gift Bags.

The placket for the zipper so that the bag stays closed.  This was sewn in before the sewing of the sides was completed.  The placket was 2 inches shorter than the bag on each end to allow for the seams.  Since the bag's bottom was 5 inches the packet for the zipper was also 5 inches total in width.

The finished Little House on the Prairie bag.  The bag is actually the same width top and bottom.  My photography just makes it keystone and look narrower at the bottom - not so.  I will be making more bags - using patterns created using a paper bag - thanks Margaret Knight.

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