If you're going to put in the time and effort to make yourself a bag, you want it to be strong and hold up over time. Here's how to make sure your next bag is in it for the long haul.
1. Use heavy-duty fabrics
Strong fabrics result in a strong bag. Makes sense, yes? But how can you tell which fabrics are stronger than others? Choosing based on the fiber alone is not enough to ensure durability.
For example, take cotton. Cotton can be woven into feather-weight cotton lawn, but it also can be woven to create the strongest of denim. But even denim probably isn't the strongest fiber you can pick. If you're okay with moving away from natural materials, look for something like a cotton and polyester blend — synthetics are stronger than natural fibers.
2. Choose strong hardware
Cheap, thin metal will bend under pressure, so it's absolutely worth spending the extra bucks on quality hardware for your bag. Added bonus: the high-quality stuff looks uber professional. People are going to ask you where you bought that bag, so be prepared to brag a little.
3. Consider coated fabrics
If you're worried your fabric isn't strong enough, bring out the big guns: coated fabrics. Laminated cottons, oilcloth and fabrics treated with water resistant coatings (think wax) will not only be stronger than fabrics without a coating, but they'll also help repel water.
4. For extra sturdy bags, use leather or vinyl
Still worried about your fabric wearing out over time? There's one last category to consider. Both leather and vinyl are incredibly strong options and if treated well, will last a lifetime.
A word to the wise: Be sure to do your research on leather weights and finishes. Much like with cotton, leather's durability can vary. Goat leathers are buttery soft and thin, and will make for a very soft and unstructured bag. But thick cow hide will be significantly stronger and will last longer.
Note that when working with these materials, you really want to think carefully about your pattern and exactly how the seams will be sewn; most light-weight home sewing machines won't be able to handle seams of multiple layers of leather.
5. Pick a heavy interfacing
Interfacing is a must when sewing bags. If your fabric can adhere to a fusible interfacing, you're golden. Just apply heavy fusible interfacing directly onto the fabric to strengthen it.
If fusible isn't working out for you, use a sew-in interfacing between the layers of the outer and lining fabrics to beef up the thickness.
You can also find sturdy, stiff interfacings for the bottom of a bag to create a firm, stable base, perfect for bags that will hit the road with you.
6. Use thick thread
Heavy-duty or coated fabrics won't do the job if the thread holding it all together is weak. So choose heavy thread, and think about the fiber content too. I love sewing with cotton, but because it's a natural fiber, it's gonna break under stress long before a synthetic thread like polyester will.
7. Reinforce your stitching and seams
The key to creating something strong is to identify potential weak points before things fall apart. On bags, the point where the handle or strap connects to the bag may need a little extra love. Instead of just sewing a simple row of stitching, reinforce the point with a square and X through the center for tons of strength. Want to take it one step further? Rivet that baby on.
The seams at the bottom of your bag also take a beating. Consider using flat fell seams, bound seams and French seams here — they all have multiple rows of stitching and will create stronger product. A lining, also sewn with reinforced seams, can double up the protection.
8. Sew with strong needles
Don't forget that if you're sewing through lots of thick fabrics and interfaced layers, you need a heavyweight needle to stand up to the job. A lightweight needle will almost certainly break, so don't even go there. Stitching leather? Look for specially made leather needles with a wedge point end meant to pierce through leather, vinyl and coated fabrics.