Purse Palooza Bag Review

Sara of Sew Sweetness kindly asked me to participate in her Purse Palooza, as I have mentioned. Today is my day. Find my review on the Sew Sweetness blog TODAY! Go leave a comment so Sara knows how popular I am. 😉

A Day in the Park Backpack
A Day in the Park Backpack

I decided to, finally, make and review A Day in the Park Backpack Tote by Liesl Gibson. It is a few years old and I was relieved to see the pattern is still available at the Oliver+S website. I was pretty excited when I bought the pattern and I didn’t want you to get excited and then not be able to buy it. Also, it is about time I made it.

One of the reasons I bought the pattern in the first place is that I liked the verticality of this bag. Vertical bags are good for commuting as they don’t hit people when you walk up the stairs from the train. The size ended up being good-not so large that I would hurt my shoulder, but a nice size for commuting with a snack, a book, and a few odds and ends. Lunch wouldn’t fit unless it was bills in your wallet. 😉

First off, the look of this pattern reminded me of the Vogue and McCall’s patterns we buy to make clothes. I am not surprised as Liesl Gibson designs children’s clothes. I don’t think she has created many bags or small accessories.

The pattern is in a paper envelope with newsprint instructions. The pattern pieces are printed on tissue-type paper. I am always a little scared of the tissue paper patterns as I am afraid they will rip and be useless. I find it interesting how pattern expectations (plastic envelope with folded 8.5″ sheets inside) have changed since I bought this pattern.

Sara suggested a couple of ideas to get the review started. I don’t have any problem finding things to say, but I thought these were good ideas, so I will include them. Sara asked:

  1. What fabric/supplies were needed to make the bag?
  2. What did you think of the illustrations and instructions?
  3. Did you make any modifications to the pattern?
  4. What Difficulty Level did you think this pattern was at?

Fabric and Supplies

There is a complete fabric and supply list that includes 11 items. You will use all of them if you make the bag as directed. I didn’t find this to be a bag you can decide to make at 11pm on Saturday night and finish to take to brunch with friends on Sunday morning. There are some specialty hardware items that I don’t keep around. I made a special trip to Britex to purchase most of them and Britex is not open at 11pm on Saturday night. 😉 I am sure they are also available online.

I found it difficult to find the O rings required for the pattern. I ended up buying two key rings that were on sale at Joann just in case. After visiting 3 stores and multiple online sites, I ended up using them. They were a little small so make sure you buy O rings on the large end of the spectrum described on the package instructions.

O Ring Option
O Ring Option

I found this package in the beading aisle at Michael’s, which was another option. I didn’t really want to buy 20 O rings, though. I don’t plan on making 10 of these bags.

In the finishing process, DH was helping me with the rivets. I told him about the O ring problem and he suggested a hardware store. He said Home Depot and Lowe’s are more home improvement and don’t have much hardware, but a real old fashioned type hardware store where you can buy individual pieces of metal thingy-ma-bobs might be a good source. I’ll have to check it out. I have heard of other quiltmakers finding supplies at hardware stores, but I never think of it.

Additional Supplies I Used

  • Aurifil 2250, a red, for the top stitching.
  • Free Spirit/Joel Dewberry Notting Hill Midnight Poppies (this is home dec weight)
  • Soft & Stable (instead of the canvas for the interfacing)
  • Good Morning by Me and My Sister for Moda (same fabric I used in the Star Sampler) for the lining
  • Pellon #100R Vinyl Fuse for the base
  • Shape Flex fusible interfacing
  • Saral paper to transfer markings from pattern to fabric. You might need two colors if you use a light and a dark. I wrote a post about Saral Paper that gives more information.


My first thought about the directions were that they were long and confusing. I always think that, though, because it is hard for me to read through the directions of something and understand what they mean until I start working through the steps. I am much better at figuring things out or being shown techniques BUT the former strategy doesn’t work for bags and the latter wasn’t available.

In the end, I thought there were a few things that could have been improved on the directions, but, in general, the directions were good.

There is a nice little chart that tells what to cut out of which fabric. In the chart, they list Primary Fabric, Contrast Fabric, Lining, Canvas. One immediate problem was that I didn’t know what pieces of the bag were going to be made out of which fabric. The section titled “Materials Needed” cleared that up a bit, but I was still unsure how the canvas (used for stabilizer) would be used until I read much further down the directions. I would have liked more of an explanation of the whys and wherefores of the fabric/supplies choices as well as a list of possible substitutes. For example, I would have liked to have known why the designer chose canvas rather than another kind of stabilizer. Look and feel? Weight? Availability? Cost?

It occurred to me that the pattern might not have been appropriate places for the whys I needed, so I went to Flickr and searched for “A Day in the Park” backpack. I found a Flickr group of these bags. You can get a good idea of the placement from the random photos and the photos in the group. I got a better idea of what pieces belonged in which fabrics. Hooray for Flickr! Nota bene: Please note that I said a better idea not that I knew exactly. There was some variation in the way pieces and fabrics were referenced, or, at least, in the way I understood them to be referenced. I would like to see the different supplies referred to in the same way on all of the pieces, the chart, the supply list and the instructions.

I didn’t find much on the Oliver+S blog through web searches, but there was a post about why she created the pattern (sewing class). I did see that shops who are teaching classes could, at the time (don’t know about now), purchase packs of the hardware along with the pattern. While that would not have worked for me, I could have called to see if the packs were available for purchase by non-wholesale customers.

I also saw one forum post, which had some helpful information about making the straps. I didn’t explore to see if there were more posts.

Joel Dewberry Notting Hill Pristine Poppy (midnight)
Joel Dewberry Notting Hill Pristine Poppy (midnight)

Once I decided which fabric to use (Joel Dewberry Notting Hill Midnight Poppies, home dec weight), and after I washed it, I got started on the cutting. The cutting was a bit daunting, like the Petrillo Bag, simply because there are a lot of pieces involved. [Nota bene: when I cut out the second one, I cut the main fabric, then the lining and stabilizer fabrics that went with that main fabric piece and the cutting seemed less daunting.] I persevered and found the chart of how much of each fabric, etc. to cut to be very helpful. I was able to use it as a check to ensure I had enough of everything cut properly.

Making the Petrillo Bag was still fresh in my mind, so I decided use some of the supplies from that project. Since I didn’t have the canvas and don’t like floopy bags, I decided to use Soft & Stable instead of the canvas. I knew I was taking a risk. I usually like to make things as per the instructions the first time through, then start making changes if I make the bag again. I have enough bag making experience and I wasn’t doing anything completely crazy, so I decided it wouldn’t be completely crazy to use Soft & Stable.

The other thing I did was use iron-on vinyl for the base. I have been wanting to do it for the bottom of bags for awhile and this was a good opportunity. Pam did it first and gave me courage. The Base pieces on the A Day in the Park Backpack tote were small, so it was a good test. They came out pretty well, but, mid-process, the vinyl was stickier than I expected. I used Pellon #100R Vinyl Fuse. I used an applique pressing sheet on my ironing board and the vinyl release paper on the top. If I had been able to find my second applique’ pressing sheet, I would have used that on top. Nothing came off on my iron. Remember to cut the Base piece a little large, apply the vinyl, then trim the fabric with vinyl to the size of the pattern. This will avoid any issues with shrinkage.

I lined all of my lining pieces with Shape Flex fusible interfacing,to help prevent floop. Floop is bad on the lining also, because it means that the inside pockets aren’t strong enough to hold your stuff, and pens, etc can flip out of your bag. I felt that having iron-on interfacing would work fine and give the pieces some added body. It also saved me time and used a product I already had on hand.

I also didn’t want to baste all of the pieces I needed to cut. I used the WonderClips to help prevent the need to baste. They are too thick to sew over, but keep all the layers together with no problem.

I don’t think the main fabric really needed interfacing since I was using home dec weight fabric, but I put it on anyway. I haven’t used a lot of home dec fabric, so I was not 100% confident. As I said, there is very little out on the web about this pattern so I didn’t have a lot of information and experience to choose from when looking at what other people did. FreeSpirit and Joel Dewberry both replied to my question about washing the home dec fabric, which was GREAT!


I thought the instructions were detailed enough. The way the pattern is written makes it clear that there is a certain level of knowledge expected. I would make several bags, including something as complicated as the Petrillo Bag before tackling this bag. In the blog post I referenced above, this pattern is designated as an advanced beginner pattern. I think that is optimistic. Not to discourage beginners, but there are a lot of steps, a lot of supplies, including a zipper, and sewing through many, many layers. I’ll defer to Liesl Gibson, but would categorize this pattern as Intermediate.

The instructions were a little hard to follow. I think they needed a bit more testing by random makers with a variety of intermediate to advanced experience. The more I got done, the easier it was to navigate through the pattern, but the designer should revise it for consistency with terminology and add some additional explanation, especially at the beginning.

Inside A Day in the Park Backpack Tote
Inside A Day in the Park Backpack Tote

The instructions didn’t say how to put in a zipper (I don’t necessarily think they should), so make sure you know how to do that before starting the bag. Instead of making a zipper pocket, you could make two of the lining panels with the appliqued pocket. I do think that the directions for the appliqued pocket don’t tell the maker how to apply it in a nice way. The finishing isn’t very nice looking and I went around the pocket twice to make sure that it stayed on, if I put something heavy in it.

The fabric I used for the interior wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice again. I like it, but it frays. Definitely use a light colored fabric for the inside of your bags when making your own. A light colored lining makes it much easier to find things in the bottom of your bag. I am using a black on white for the second version.

Finished A Day in the Park Backpack Tote
Finished A Day in the Park Backpack Tote

I am pleased with how the bag came out.

Things I Liked

  • No errors in the pattern
  • Shape of bag
  • The directions on how to make the zipper pocket. It came out really well

If I Made this Bag Again

  • I would try it with the canvas as the stabilizer
  • I would eliminate the facing and magnetic closure at the top and add a flap instead
  • I would add a larger pocket, such as a file folder pocket on the back
  • I would add a messenger bag type strap and not make the backpack straps
  • I would use a slightly larger seam allowance on the lining as cutting it per the instructions make it a bit large for the size of the outside of the bag. Alternatively, I could cut the pieces a little bit smaller
  • Leave a larger opening in the lining to turn the bag, especially if I used the Soft & Stable again. The Soft & Stable takes up more space and was kind of a problem to turn using the opening size indicated in the pattern
  • The lining bottom is made of two pieces sewed in the middle. I would try to cut one entire piece rather than two pieces. It is the lining, so who really cares, but I think it would look better and be one less step

Modifications to Materials

  • Iron-on interfacing (Shape Flex) instead of basting on interfacing
  • Soft & Stable instead of canvas
  • WonderClips instead of basting

I have already started a new version of this bag with the modifications described above. I am not very far along, so stay tuned.

Thanks to Sara for inviting me to join Purse Palooza. I really appreciated the opportunity to make a bag that had been on my list for awhile and write about it. Check out the other bags that will be shown in the next two weeks.