In early January, I received an email about testing a new pattern for Radiant Home Studios. Funny story though, I read the email as I’d been chosen to test the pattern, so I responded saying “Yes, I’d love to! Thanks for choosing me!” I then received a response from Sara, the designer saying, more or less, “Um, thanks for your interest, but who are you?” Turns out that back in the day, I had signed up to be on an email list for those interested in future pattern testing. Once you get one of those emails, you then “apply” by expressing your interest and going from there. In my case, Sara asked for my ‘credentials’ (sewing experience, photos, Instagram feed), and after that it was all good. I expressed apologies about being such a noob first though.
I’d made the Retro Rucksack from Radiant Home Studio before, so I was familiar with her pattern style. I was drawn to the style of this tote bag, and it looked like a good, sturdy size. I’m also part of a birthday swap group, which means we make each other gifts for our birthdays, so I’m always on the lookout for new patterns so that I can make my swap mates something new, and yes, maybe even exclusive. But mostly I like getting the pattern and looking it over, editing, and providing feedback. It’s nice to have a reason to sew something, and while pattern testing is not usually a paying gig, Sarah did provide us with some goodies at the end that were much appreciated.
*Boring warning: all my photos are going to look basically the same. They were all taken in January, in the snow, before it was mailed off. Not a lot of backdrop options.
As I mentioned above, this is a good sized, sturdy bag. By that I mean it is HUGE. It would definitely be easy to scale it down when printing, but the finished size as drafted is very roomy and would be great for an overnight bag, beach tote, or a library tote. The pattern calls for fusible fleece or Craft Fuse (Pellon 808), as is typical for Sarah’s patterns, but I had neither so I substituted fusible foam. I also like how the foam gives it more shape. And, if you’ve ever worked with Craft Fuse, you know that it wrinkles and wrinkles and….wrinkles. Bleh. I used vinyl for my side gussets and handles, so that gives the bag extra structure as well. A bonus for this pattern is that you can use most any weight of fabric; vinyl, canvas, home decor, or quilting cotton.
As far as reading the pattern, it is well written and fairly easy to understand. It does call for some hardware, such as rivets and a d-ring, but these are more for looks and can easily be omitted. There are a few things that I like about this pattern, such as there is no turning at the end, (the lining is placed inside the exterior and then they are attached using a facing piece), and the handles are stitched onto the exterior pretty easily. They don’t have to be inserted anywhere tricky. Because I was short on vinyl, I actually made my straps shorter than suggested, but I prefer them like that. It allows the bag to be carried more snugly under the arm, or carried at arms length without dragging on the ground.
One thing that can be confusing is knowing which pieces need to be cut from your exterior fabrics. The instructions guide you to cut certain pieces from ‘exterior’ or ‘contrasting’, but it’s not immediately clear which pieces go where in the final product, so you need to pay attention here. I really had to stop and think about which pocket was which so that I could plan out the look I wanted. I definitely suggest reading through the pattern a few times, making a mock-up with some scratch paper and colored pencils, or using small fabric scraps to mock up a mini bag first.
There were a couple of steps that I skipped as well, mostly due to my time constraints. I wanted to get the bag done withing the testing schedule parameters, but I also planned to mail it to one of my birthday swap group members, so I needed to get it done. Normally when I make straps, I fold my long raw edges to meet each other, and then fold the raw edges again to meet that center crease I just made. The pattern has you sew the right sides together and then turn it right side out. This is mostly so you can create a strap that has a slight contrast on the long edges.
One of the very last steps of the process is to stitch the lining bottom to the exterior bottom before turning. This ensures that the lining stays in place and matches snugly at the bottom seams. I’d never done this before and was somewhat confused, since it looked like some tricky machine maneuvering, so I skipped it. I decided that the lining would be fine, since I hadn’t done this the past and my lining looked alright. I’ve since used this technique on another project, and now I have to admit that I really like this tip. It makes a huge difference! I will definitely do this in the future when I have a similar pattern.
So the funny part at the end of this pattern testing story is that I made this bag for a friend. She likes teal, so I was super excited when I found this Africa style wax-print when we were out of town (and my husband sat in the car for an hour while I fabric shopped. With the dogs). Anyway, I couldn’t share photos on Instagram or Facebook beforehand because I didn’t want her to see, and I needed to wait for the pattern to be released. Well imagine my surprise when the pattern release day came, and my birthday buddy posts a picture of the Penfield Tote that she had tested! What are the odds that we’d both be testing this pattern? Apparently very small! I told her that I hoped she needed two bags! Click here if you want to see both of our bags; Margareth’s is towards the top.
Pattern: Penfield Pocket Tote
Fabric: African style wax print from a store whose name I forgot in Hamilton, ON