How to make carpet bags

carpet image by Ragne Kabanova from

Before easy portability became a bag's highest virtue, travellers used to pack their possessions into heavy trunks that had to be lugged from place to place by porters. The carpet bag, often associated with the Reconstruction era following the American Civil War, actually has a longer history. Lightweight and capable of expanding to accommodate the volume of things inside it, this was the original carry-on bag, made quickly and cheaply from scraps of textile and leather. Today, even though most are no longer made from carpets, carpet bags retain their appeal and practicality -- and are still easy to make.

Choose your textile. Avoid real carpets, which are too thick to pass through home sewing machines. Look for tapestries and home decorating fabrics consisting of a single thickness in motifs similar to those used for carpets.

Launder your fabric to get rid of stiffening agents. The finished bag should be soft and pliable. Wash the fabric in cold water, adding a little bleach if you prefer an antique look. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for drying.

Select or draft a simple pattern. Heed the advice of people who have mastered the specialised craft of bag-making. Get a feel for working with heavier fabrics by starting out with basic bag designs. You won't need a sewing pattern for some designs, only careful measuring. If you prefer to use a pattern, type "bag-making sewing patterns" into a search engine. See the References section for free bag patterns.

Choose your strap or handle preference before cutting the fabric. Options include patterns in which the strap is an extension of the body of the bag (see References section, Shoulder Bag); a length of bias-cut fabric topstitched for added strength; wooden rings attached to the body of the bag with fabric tabs; and leather straps or handles attached with grommets.

Follow instructions for cutting, ironing on the interfacing, and attaching the lining. If your fabric is thin enough, pin the lining and interlining together and cut all at the same time. Otherwise, cut the bag fabric first and use the pieces as templates for cutting the lining and interlining, matching the pattern's notches and markings.

Sew the pieces together. With right sides of the bag fabric together, stitch all the way around, starting and ending at the points specified in your pattern. Notch inner corners and trim seam allowances. Turn the bag inside out and if necessary, flatten the seam by pressing with a cool iron. Hand-finish or topstitch to close the seam's gap.

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