Tip number 1 - choosing the right pattern:
For those of you who are more creative and braver than me, you can just start from scratch and make your own patterns (or even just make it up as you go) But when I started I really wanted to use a pattern. There are lots out there. Here are some great links for bag patterns, some free, some pay-to-download PDF's (some of the free ones don't always have the clearest instructions)
PAY TO DOWNLOAD
As well as having some fab patterns, this is also one of the cutest blogs: flossieteacakes.blogspot.com
Choose something simple - my first bag was a really simple bucket bag. No pockets, no catches. Once you've done one you soon start to want to make your own design touches.
But, if I was to make one tip I would recommend The Bag Making Bible by Lisa Lam. It has the clearest instructions and simplest patterns I've come across. Great for beginners and teaches you many of the basic techniques.
Tip number 2 - some basic essential kit
My sewing kit has grown over the last 12 months quite considerably (but not as much of my fabric stash!). There are a few things I would recommend:
Good quality scissors - the best you can afford! I use Fiskars. The really cheap ones just don't last and careful cutting out makes things sooooooo much easier when it comes to assembling!
A rotary cutter and ruler - a familiar tool for quilters, but if you're trying to cut lengths of material for straps and handles then the quality of the finish really is improved by the quality of the cutting. Rotary cutters makes cutting straight edges really easy.
Sewing machine - kind of obvious and essential. But it doesn't need to be fancy. Mine is a very basic machine (about £100 I think - although mine is on 'permanent' loan from my mother!) and I only seem to use 2 different stitches. Something which has a high-lift foot and can go through lots of layers of fabric is far more important than lots of fancy gadgetry!
Tip number 3 - Don't get hung up on inter-facing
There's a whole world of interfacings and fleeces out there. But basically interfacing makes the fabric stiffer - wadding or fleece gives it volume. Fleece can make a simple bag look much better - but can be the most costly part of making a bag!
When I first started I spent ages looking for the right materials and bought expensive interfacings online so I could stick to the pattern requirements. But now I mostly buy whatever is available in my local haberdashery - and it's far cheaper. Experiment! The key thing is not to put a stiff facing on a thin fabric and vice versa. If I have a thin fabric I want to make much stiffer I usually put my wadding or fleece next to the fabric and then the interfacing behind it. Fusible fleece is best - but sew-in does a good enough job on most bags!
Tip number 4 - A steam iron is essential (my husband would say preferably 2!)
It's the steam that does the work on making your interfacings and fleeces stick - so you need a good steam iron. No matter how careful I am I always seem to end up with glue on the iron. Which is a real problem when hubbie irons the collars on his work shirts. I would definitely recommend keeping your bag making iron separate to your everyday iron.
I've just bought this cute little crafters iron - I haven't used it yet and I certainly wouldn't consider it essential - but i'm hoping it will make ironing the linings much easier.
I'm sure there are lots more tips to share, but that should get you started. If anyone has any good tips to add then please post them in your comments.
Fabric buying can be addictive.....