Finished: Boxcar Tote

Nota bene: Clearly, I have to make sure I have two extra days worth of posts ready to publish before I go on a trip. I returned on Wednesday night from Phoenix, but have been so busy the past two days that I didn’t finish either this post or the ColorPlay postI had planned to post Thursday and Friday. The ColorPlay post will show up eventually and you have something to look forward to reading.

Boxcar Tote Complete
Boxcar Tote Complete

The Boxcar Tote is finished. I bought this pattern from Hawthorne Threads and was pretty excited about the size and shape.

It is a good grocery bag size, though I do think it might be better used as more of a beach bag, carrying swimsuits and towels rather than heavy gallons of milk. It doesn’t have any cell phone pockets or key leashes, so those might be additions to consider later.

Boxcar Tote inside detail
Boxcar Tote inside detail

The finished product has two pockets on the outside, one on each side and four pockets on the inside. The pattern pieces were the same, but I divided the inside pockets into two. They might be a little too slim to be useful, but a tablet or clipboard could fit very well.

The white background cactus fabric is a Hawthorne Threads designed fabric. I chose the various cactus motifs because the friends for which it was made now live in Tucson.

Frankly, I am not happy with the outcome. I found the pattern to be well written enough. It is straightforward and clear. I think my inexperience with Decor Bond as well as using a machine with a small throat were both the main parts of my challenges. I almost never give up on  a project, but putting the top trim and handles on almost made me give up the whole enterprise. The only reason I didn’t was because I had bought the cactus fabric especially for my friends.

I really like the shape and size of the Boxcar Tote and thought this was a bag that I might want to make as gifts multiple times. I made a huge effort to follow the directions exactly, so I could really get a feel for the pattern. I did get the feeling that the designer may not have much experience with pattern designing for bags. I am not sure why (except for the construction of the bottom), but that was my impression. I do want to try it again with Soft & Stable.

I had several problems:

  • Construction of main part of bag
  • Decor Bond interfacing
  • Construction of handles
  • application of handles
  • application of binding

First, the construction of the main bag was in 5 pieces. This means that the bottom was separate. This is an awkward way to construct a bag IMO, because I never feel like the corners are very secure. When I turned the lining right side out I saw severe strain on the corners so I reinforced the stitching again.

If I make this bag again, I might try to cut the two sides and the bottom piece out as one. I would have to figure out a way to differentiate the bottom from the sides, but that might help with my construction issues.

Reinforcing the stitching was really hard because I was using my small machine. I really like this machine as it is a workhorse and has a great stitch, but the throat is really small. Since the bag parts were already together, I had no choice but to struggle through trying to cram it through the harp. The Decor Bond isn’t very flexible in the scrunching up kind of way, so it was a huge challenge and my stitching, frankly, sucked.

I didn’t think much about the Decor Bond when I started. I was excited to try a new interfacing and even more excited when I realized how stiff it was. I knew that the bag would stand up quite well using this interfacing.

The first problem I had with Decor Bond was that after fusing it to my fabric, it refused to stay in place. It didn’t come away from the fabric, but kind of wrinkled up the fabric fused to it as I continued to put the bag together. As I said above, the Decor Bond isn’t very flexible in the scrunching up kind of way. This means that as I had the whole bag put together, topstitching the top binding was nearly impossible. I had to keep stopping and starting and moving the bag slightly. There is very little give so I realized that the shape of the Decor Bond is the shape you will end up with.

As I progressed on the bag, I also realized that I would be sewing through multiple layers of the Decor Bond. Fortunately, my machine was ok going through it, but getting the layers under the needle was the problem. A really big problem. Even when I got the pieces under the needle, they would shift and move and really make it hard for me to sew. Part of this was also the inflexibility of the interfacing.

I don’t want to imply that this interfacing is hard like a tabletop. It did bend and flex, but not, as I said, in a scrunching up sort of way. This also caused the machine to stop feeding and stitch in place when the pieces hit the wall and got stuck.

Boxcar Tote Handles
Boxcar Tote Handles

Using the Decor Bond for the handles was a bad idea IMO. Again, I am not an expert Decor Bond user, but they took me about an hour and many tools to turn.

Yes, just to turn!

The Decor Bond was so thick and in such a small space that the turning was more difficult than any other time I have turned handles.

In the photo, left, you can see the wrinklyness of the fabric fused to the Decor Bond that I described above. Yes, I followed the directions.

The good part is that the handles are sturdy.

The worst parts were the application of the handles to the bag and the top stitching of the binding to the edge.

Boxcar Tote handle detail
Boxcar Tote handle detail

The pattern showed placement and the standard box/ X-cross configuration of stitching. I could not maneuver the bag enough to get a straight stitch straight across the part of the handle to be sewn to the bag. Part of it was that my machine harp is small and the other part was the that Decor Bond was not very foldable. So, the top stitching on of the handles looks really crappy. 🙁

My final shame is the binding. I am not a huge fan of binding the tops of bags. It is a lot of work and doesn’t always look good if you are trying to stitch it on after the bag is assembled. Part of my problem was that the two sections (Outside bag and lining) were equally stiff and the tops didn’t line up. I had to force them to line up and it was not a good outcome for the bag. I meant to use a larger seam allowance for the lining and forgot. I could have trimmed the top of the lining, but was afraid. I should have done it.

To be fair to the designer, Alexis Abegg of Greenbee Patterns, I looked up some websites that talked about the pattern. The Crafty Planner is also a visual and verbal learner, like me. Her version looks fantastic. I do think she used something else besides Decor Bond, perhaps Soft & Stable.

Nisha Williams made the tote from a kit and wrote about it on the Craftsy blog. I was relieved to see that she had the same sort of challenges with the handles that I had.

I searched the Greenbee blog and did not find any information on this tote. There is no word cloud, so I couldn’t click on totes or bags or anything and try and find it from there. 🙁 The On Holiday Bag they share in their most recent post (2-17-2017) has the same general shape and the same sort of handles.

The recipient loved it, which was great. I really hope it doesn’t fall apart.

Author: JayeL

Quiltmaker who enjoys writing and frozen chocolate covered bananas.

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