Bulky seams. The bugbear of bag makers everywhere. Even if you’re lucky enough to sew through all of the layers, how do you stop those unsightly visible stitches from sneaking through to the right side, peering at you in silent judgement?
Sewing through many layers is difficult at the best of times, but with bags it’s even worse. It’s not just layers, it’s bulk. You usually have fabric, interfacing and fleece/foam all sewn together to produce the gorgeous work of art you see on the pattern cover page. Clearly it’s achieved through witchcraft, magic, or a genie granting three wishes though, because there is absolutely no way it’s possible to do that with a standard, domestic sewing machine, right? Wrong.
Here are a few tips to help you beat your bulky seam demons:
- Use a walking foot. This will help you feed the layers evenly through your machine.
- Switch to a universal needle size 12 or 14, or the equivalent for your machine.
- When sewing the seam gently squeeze the layers together between your fingers to temporarily flatten the seam.
- You can also reduce bulk further by hammering the seam. This is exactly as it sounds. Place some scrap fabric over the seam, to protect it, and ensure all hardware is clear of the strike zone. Then gently whack it with a rubber mallet. It works a treat and is brilliant for stress relief if your bag has been particularly troublesome.
Once you have sewn the seam, you may find yourself faced with an even greater terror…visible stitches.
These little bundles of joyless wonder can quickly turn you from confident artist, to blubbering mess. They are easily remedied, however, with these simple tips:
- Due to the bulk, it can be tempting to use a much longer stitch length than is needed. You only need to lengthen the stitch slightly. I like to use a stitch length of approximately 2.5mm – 3mm (3mm – 3.5mm for top stitching). You may need to experiment to find the length that best works for you.
- After sewing the initial seam sew a second line approximately 1/8” from the original, within the seam allowance. This will help reduce the bulk and take some stress away from the original seam. In the photo below, the original seam is shown in black while the secondary bulk-defying seam is shown in red.
- Trim the seam allowance to 1/4”, after sewing.
- If necessary, you can further reduce bulk by trimming the fleece/foam to 1/8” while keeping the fabric at 1/4”. Take care not to cut through your stitches or fabric though.
- Closely match the thread colour to your fabric colour. This will help hide any stitches that do still like to peek out and say hello. The photo below shows the difference between the repaired horizontal seam and the stitches still visible in the vertical seams.
Now go and rescue your princess from the sewing project naughty corner and slay those bulky demons once and for all!