Behind every great handmade bag is usually a precise concoction of interfacings and stabilizers. Basically this is the ‘guts’ of the bag that the user doesn’t see, but what gives the bag that polished and professional finish. It can feel incredibly complex, even quite overwhelming, if you’re new to bag making, however I promise that it really is quite simple as long as you have the knowledge, and a well-written pattern, to guide you. So, let’s begin.
First up in the bag-making concoction is interfacing. This is basically the first line of defence for a handmade bag in that it provides a layer of durability and resilience for the fabric you have chosen to make your bag out of. Given most thinner fabrics such as quilting cotton (my favourite for bags) are not specifically designed for bag making, adding interfacing to the wrong side of the fabric will help extend the lifetime of the fabric and therefore your bag.
Typically, interfacing is made in one of two ways, woven and non-woven, and can greatly affect the finish of your bag. Woven interfacings are my preferred type of interfacing and, much like quilting cotton and other woven fabrics, will give your bag a more polished look simply because once fused to the back of your bag fabric, the said bag fabric will still have the flexibility and movement like it did prior to fusing the interfacing. However, woven interfacings typically cost more than non-woven interfacings. Non-woven interfacing is usually cheaper, however it is also very sensitive to heat and if attached incorrectly, will often result in a stiff or and/wrinkly finish to the bag which can be very disappointing.
Choosing an interfacing is the first critical part of the bag-making process, especially when using fabrics such as quilting cotton, broadcloth, polycotton, silk, satin, spandex, lycra and other ‘thin’ fabrics. Thicker fabrics such as cork, vinyl and leather etc. typically won’t need interfacing as they are already inherently durable (when compared to thin fabrics). If in doubt, I recommend using the interfacing that is suggested in your pattern (at least the first time you make a new pattern), and then adjust for future makes. After experimenting with a few different types and brands, you will quickly learn which ones you prefer, for both ease of use and the final result as well.
Here at Andrie Designs, almost all of our patterns recommend a light-medium weight fusible woven interfacing such as Legacy Shapeflex L-SF101 (the Australian equivalent of the well-known American product Pellon Shapeflex SF101). Many Spotlight stores carry the Legacy range, however you can also purchase the equivalent of this product online from retailers such as Betty Box Pleat and Voodoo Rabbit Fabric. Your local quilting store may also have an equivalent as well.
Next up in the bag-making concoction are stabilizers. These are basically the second line of defence in that they determine how structured, or not, your handmade bag will be. It’s important to note that in many patterns and stores, these will also be referred to as interfacings (just to confuse you of course!), however I prefer to call them stabilizers as, in my mind, they are what stabilise the bag and are quite different to the interfacings described above in both application and finish. Again, given most thinner fabrics such as quilting cotton etc. are not specifically designed for bag making, and therefore not designed to ‘stand up’ or hold any sort of shape on their own, the addition of a suitable stabilizer will help give your bag the professional finish you desire.
Stabilizers are typically categorized as one of two types – either a fleece or a foam. Within these two categories, they can come in many shapes and forms. The fleece category includes products such as wadding, batting, bag batting, quilt batting and bag wadding etc. A fleece stabilizer will give your bag a small amount of structure and ‘padding’, without making it too bulky or super stiff, and is therefore perfect for those patterns designed to be more slouchy and casual in appearance. On the flip side, the alternative to fleece is a foam stabilizer and again, there are several products available including By Annie’s Soft and Stable, Matilda’s Own foam, headliner foam and upholstery foam etc. Using foam will give your bag significantly more structure and, in most cases, allow it to stand upright even when you’re not holding or supporting it.
Choosing a stabilizer is the second critical part of the bag-making process, as it will ultimately determine how much structure your handmade bag will have (or not). Again if in doubt, I recommend using the stabilizer that is suggested in your pattern for the first make, and adjusting for future makes as required.
Here at Andrie Designs, every one of our patterns has a recommended stabilizer based on the primary reason and purpose of the design. For bags designed to be slouchier in finish such as the S & S Tote pattern, the Vilene H640 fusible fleece stabilizer is recommended. For bags designed to be more structured and hold their shape at all times such as the Stand Up & Tote Notice pattern, the By Annie’s Soft and Stable Foam is recommended. Many local quilting stores carry the Matilda’s Own range of interfacings and stabilizers, however you can also purchase these products from Betty Box Pleat and Voodoo Rabbit Fabric as well.
To add further products to the mix, there is a handful of what I like to call ‘specialty stabilizers’ that, truth be told, don’t get used anywhere near as much as the regular interfacings and stabilizers mentioned above, but still play their part when needed.
Specialty stabilizers are unique products, such as the Legacy #71F firm fusible stabilizer, that play a specific role or function such as providing reinforcement for bag hardware or extra support in specific areas of a bag (i.e. the bag base). Most patterns should specify what you need, and where it is to be used, though you may have to read through the instructions to find exactly where it is used in the bag. As always, I recommend using the specialty stabilizers that are suggested in the pattern for the first make, and adjusting as desired for future makes.
Where to from here?
Once you’ve made a few handmade bags, you will quickly discover which interfacings and stabilizers you prefer, for both ease of use and the finish they provide. Despite the apparent complexity of it all, it really can be quite simple if you work through the following steps –
- Decide if the fabrics chosen for the bag require interfacing (as a general rule, quilting cotton and other thin fabrics = YES, thicker fabrics such as cork and vinyl = NO),
- Choose how structured you would like your bag to be, using the pattern recommendation as a guideline, and decide on a fleece or foam to suit,
- Add any specialty stabilizers as recommended by the pattern and then get sewing!
I hope this information is helpful and that it clears up any uncertainties you may have about interfacings and stabilisers! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below, or send an email through via the Contact page, and we’ll do our best to help!