Practical Sewing: Duffel Bag Repair/The Perils of False Economy

Well, this isn’t an exciting post about a fabulous new project or a new technique learned, but it is exciting if practical things interest you. I’ve been pretty busy lately, so I haven’t had time to sew until last weekend. My first project: fixing a duffel bag that belongs to my boyfriend.

The duffel bag was seriously broken- one seam had burst, which is annoying but easy to fix, and most of the handle/binding straps had fallen off. The handles/straps are made out of one piece of fabric that is attached under the bag and on the sides to add structure and strength, with gaps for the handle. So, all in all a pretty standard duffel bag construction. It’s the sort of simple, utilitarian travel bag that my partner likes.

It was easy to fix- just sew up the seam and follow the stitching lines to re-attach the handle. I used the triple stitch on my machine for extra strength, did two to three lines of stitching, and added extra reinforcement to the handle attachment areas. Now we’ll see if the areas that haven’t broken yet are going to break the next time the bag gets used, since I didn’t feel like reinforcing every seam.

Looking at the bag, it was easy to see why it broke the first time it got used- The fabric itself is a cheap, thin polyester or nylon that obviously is much too weak be used for a very large duffel bag. And the stitching is terrible- there are only 5 stitches per inch in a thin, weak thread! No wonder it didn’t even last one use. How could something that is obviously shoddy NOT break almost immediately?

OK, now onto a little diatribe about false economy. Not to be a nag, but I pointed out that the bag was obviously cheap, and if if you buy cheap stuff from places like Walmart (the scourge of America and other countries) it is clearly going to break. If you spend $15 on a large duffel bag, or any piece of sizable luggage, you have to be realistic and realize that any luggage that cheap is going to break immediately.  It would be faster to just go ahead and throw your money into the trash can. So, save your money for a while and buy a better quality bag that you won’t have to replace immediately. Or, buy used! I love my local Goodwill- sure, a lot of the stuff people donate is worn out and should really be in the trash. But, a lot of the stuff is in good condition! And, since its older and not the cheap made-in-China stuff we have in stores now, the quality is much, much better than new stuff. Sometimes used is just a better buy.

As a side note, my partner claims he got the bag at Academy and that it wasn’t cheap. Ha ha, I’m not buying it- Wal Mart has the bag on their website, while Academy does not. Ug. If you buy the cheapest thing you can find in a durable good, you’re just throwing money down the drain. Sure, he saved money by not having to replace the bag- but only because I was willing to spend hours fixing it!

Zip-o-riffic Pillow, or Zipper Hell

I went into this project so bright-eyed and hopeful; yes, other people complained about zippers, and some people build their project repertoires around projects without zippers. But, surely things would be different for me!  I would just follow directions and be careful, and surely everything would turn out all right! Zippers could not be that hard; other people must not be persistent or brave enough!

I was flushed with my successes so far- no, my work was not perfect, and my last pillow was a lot smaller than  the book said it should be.  But, I do not expect perfection, at least not right away, and was thrilled with my work so far. I was  looking forward to learning a new, useful skill (zipper installation) that would open up a wider variety of projects, likes skirts, dresses, and pants.

I bravely changed the presser foot- I think this was the first time I had done this, and it was a lot easier than I had expected- and got started. True, I was unable to find a diagram about how exactly the zipper is positioned in relation to the zipper foot, but I just tried to figure it out.  It was immediately apparent that my machine does not like sewing anything remotely thick, such as fabric next to a zipper.  OK, I reasoned, nothing is perfect, just coax the machine into doing what is was designed to do. But, I ended up breaking two needles!

Zippered throw pillow
Zip-o-riffic pillow with the Zipper from Hell

As far as I can tell, I followed the zipper directions. I managed to baste the zipper on and get one side of the zipper fully sewn on before slinking away in horror.

After this project, I looked askance at my sewing machine for a week, and was wary of starting a too-hard project, or any project at all. I’m going to come back to learning how to sew zippers after doing the rest of the two-spool projects. I don’t know what I am doing wrong- I might have to put out a craigslist ad asking for help, or find a class on zippers.  For my next project, I am going to make a sewing machine cozy from  Sew Everything Workshop. I am fully committed to learning zippers- they make so many more types of projects possible- but am taking a break from them right now.

Grade: Incomplete


I was at the fabric store yesterday (I got some purple moleskin for the Cuddle Up Cardigan and some pink satin for Tender is the Nightie from “Sew Everything Workshop” by Diana Rupp). Both fabrics were on sale, yay!) when a woman asked me if I sew. She is a longtime sewer who had just discovered the profusion of make-your-own dress form guides online. She was very excited about this discovery, since making your own dress form based on your own body lets you do the real customization you want- customizing based on your body, so you look your best! Basically, you put on some old clothes, have a friend wrap you in duct tape, cut off the duct tape, then stuff and mount the resulting dress form. Brilliant!

She also said that she feels like more and more people are starting to sew. This gave me a chance to say that Wrong and I decided to start sewing as a way to rebel against the decline in clothing quality.

By next year, my sewing skills will have improved enough for me to make a costume for the dog. I'm thinking some sort of European baron.
Yes! She said that she thinks clothing quality has declined, too, and also said that women’s clothing used to be mostly permapres- yes, like the permanent press setting on your washing machine- but nowadays permapress is used mostly on men’s clothing. Permapress helps prevent wrinkling. She feels that since clothing styles move through cycles, permapress is due for a comeback.

It’s nice to feel vindicated by learning that other people are disappointed by the poor quality clothes manufacturers are putting out now, and to feel like Wrong and I are part of a larger movement of people who are just learning to sew.

As a side note, since Halloween is coming up fast and people are very busy making costumes, the store was crazy- at least a third of the thread was out of stock, the fabric cutting area had dozens of bolts waiting to be put away, and it was pretty crowded. I couldn’t even come close to finding matching purple thread for my cardigan, and buying black lace for my night-gown was impossible. Oh well, I am going to do black contrast stitching on the cardigan, and try for some black lace at a different store.

Complaint Time: San Diego and LAX Airports, what do you have against outlets?

Vigiotti Ursulina in red patent leather
Calm down. Just think about cute shoes and everything will be fine. Vigiotti Ursulina from

I was recently traveling through the San Diego commuter terminal (Lindbergh Field) and LAX.  I arrived ridiculously early to the airport, since I know that if anything can go wrong, it will.  I brought my computer so I could get some work done while I was waiting  for my flight. I’m not sure what the people at the airport have against outlets, but they have it bad.  The main terminal is kind of fantastic free wi-fi, lots of outlets, and even little desk areas for people to work at- but the commuter terminal seems to only have two or three in the entire place, and I would have had to crawl over people to get to them. Judging by the dingy rectangles on the walls, it even looks like a few outlets have been covered over.  WHY?

Outlets in the dining area: 0. Gah. (I had a beer- if the plane is going to go down, I’d like to have just a little alcohol in me).  I also had a “gourmet” pretzel.  By gourmet, I guess they mean 2/3rd burnt and terrible.  A great way to control calories).

Onto LAX, which is just terrible and run-down, and hardly has any outlets. It looks like it is a small regional airport that in some out-of-the-way place, not one of the biggest airports in the country.  Come on LA, get it together, try to have a tiny bit of pride in your appearance.