Hello! This month’s Minerva make falls into the accessories category - I’ve made a bag. A tote bag using the Madrid pattern from the Seamwork magazine (Colette Patterns online magazine which is available for free, however when you subscribe you get the patterns too.) Issue 1 had an informative article about making bags which gives lots of tips and answers some of those questions that I'd had.

I have already made a Madrid Tote out of some oilcloth, very appropriate for one who sews and I used it as a practice ground in advance of going a bit more courageous for my Minerva make. Having found out how easy it is to install a magnetic clasp, add ready made handles & generally get a feel for how the Tote is designed to be sewn, I embraced PLEATHER and faux snakeskin using these pretty incredible coordinating materials. I asked Vicki at Minerva for a heap of samples to make my choice as for my Minerva make, I wanted to go for a contrast with piping. It was fun choosing, there are so many options, but burgundy with black piping & handles seemed to work for me and this funky snakeskin goes so perfectly with the burgundy pleather- I could not resist!! Get samples, it's really worth it when you are ordering online.

And lining? I was mooching around the very inexpensive poplins for something snappy, & where there is an opportunity for a surprise, I feel obliged to take it ….yes, kitties! Minerva sells quite a range of bag making supplies, including the magnetic clasps and ready made handles, which again can be overwhelming if you haven't used them before – but my choice was based on a simple colour scheme which narrowed down my options, plus having already sewn with the ready made handles in my previous tote, I kind of knew what I would be getting.

The Madrid Tote is just a simple tote – I am sure you could make it up yourself with some appropriately sized rectangles. It has a two tone outer and lining with an interior pocket for phone/ keys etc. Having also made Handmade Jane's tote, you could also use that as a starting point, buying ready made handles and playing around with the dimensions. Jane's tote also involves “3Ding” the corners of your bag to give it some depth, as does the Madrid.

Anyway, How did the sewing go? Well I made two interior pockets and added a zip to one of them to make it much more secure for keys.

The plain burgundy is true pleather, something I had never sewn before, so I was looking forward to using my leather needles that came with my machine when it was new, er, about 20 years ago! The faux snakeskin however is more of a fluid fabric, & reading the Seamwork article on sewing with different materials including pleather, it seems that leather needles should not be used with non leather (or pleather) – so the actual sewing mileage of my leather needles did not actually amount to much this time as I swapped back to a normal needle when sewing any seams that involved the snakeskin. And as for the snakeskin, due to it being very much thinner than the pleather, and for general good practice, I interfaced it before sewing with fusible interfacing. I didn't think the pleather needed it.

Of course, the big thing sewing pleather is that you don't really want to make a mistake as you are puncturing holes in the material. This is where a lot of my fear came from!

I took some photos of sewing the piping - it's faux leather and feels really nice. I just sewed it with a zip foot, as you would normally sew piping.

Once the piped seam is completed & your front & back are whole you have to topstitch above the piping – I used topstitch thread. I am still not the best at using topstitching thread, but I always only use top stitching thread in the needle, and normal thread in the bobbin. It's probably best to play around with your tension too, as I got a whole load of “messy string” underneath where the top thread was too loose.

Are you wary of inserting a magnetic clasp? Don't be. It's easy & really elevates your finished bag, making it look so smart & much easier to use than a press stud or button. (And easier to install). The packet has good enough diagrams, and check out this tutorial from Craftapple- this is for a cotton/fabric bag, but for pleather it's not going to fray – I followed the advice in the Seamwork instructions to use fabric glue around the cuts you make to reinforce them – no buttonholes required in my case.

The handles are sewn on by hand, and I learnt from the last time I made this bag to attach the handles well below the seamline of the upper bag. These handles are sturdy things & are awkward to manipulate out of the way when it comes to sewing the top seam – lining to snakeskin. When I decided on where to attach the handles, I played around with how much I could move the handles around out of the way to get to that top seam – remember your machine foot needs to get in there too, then there is the top stitching.

So that's the pleather tote, and I have been using it a few times around & about. To work – great for carrying around the essentials plus notebooks, lunch & even a pair of shoes! And in the evening it was a great way to transport a birthday present for a friend. And another friend entirely covets it. Part of me wants to give it to her, or make another one.

The yardages suggested by the Seamwork pattern do allow for some remnants- I am not sure if there is enough to make another bag, but I could see some funky matching purse / wallet or make up bag…..now my fear of pleather has been banished!