Lining a Bag – II

Last week, I started to explain how I line my knitted and felted bags, and explained how to put bases into them and feet on them. This week, let’s start on the actual linings.


Sometimes the shape of the bag defines how it will be lined. I prefer bags to have a closed top – usually a zipper – but the top black edging on the Noro Hujitsu shrank more than the bag itself. (It’s knit of a different yarn.) It’ll be a bear to get a zippered top flap to look good, so it’s going to be an open-topped tote bag.

The simplest way to line a bag is with the fewest seams, IMO. I cut one big rectangle of the lining that will make the sides of the interior, then another smaller rectangle for the base. Since anything knitted square won’t necessarily be square after felting, we need to be a bit flexible in lining the bag.

The best place to measure the interior width (the long side of that big rectangle) is right inside the top edge of the felted bag. This is where the lining will join the bag, so it’s the one place that the measurement needs to be accurate. Take a measuring tape and, marking your starting point, measure around the interior of the bag top, ensuring that the felted wool is flat and so is the measuring tape. You’ll need to do it in increments. Write down the final number. To use 5/8″ seam allowances, add 1.25″ to that number and circle it. In my case, that’s 38″ + 1.25″ = 39.25″. This is the width of the big rectangle.

Now measure the height of your bag. It’s best to do this at the outside corners. Check all four because they might be different. On this Noro bag, for example, the depth ranged from 12″ to 13″. Not a square bag. šŸ™‚ I prefer to have the lining pool in the bottom of the bag, rather than be tugged high, so I always take the larger number. 13″ + 1.25″ = 14.25″, which is the depth of my big rectangle.

The base is often a squishy number, as it might be bigger or smaller than the opening at the top of the bag. In this case, it’s a bit smaller. The seamed big rectangle will be 38″ around, so the size of the small rectangle (not counting the seam allowance) should be the same. I measured the insert and with a little wiggle, my small rectangle will finish at 12.5″ x 5.5″. That’ll make it 38″ around, not counting the seam allowance. I need to cut it including the seam allowance though – I’ll cut a rectangle (12.5″ + 1.25″) 13.75″ by (5.5″ + 1.25″) 6.75″. It’s important to cut these rectangles on the square of the grain. (The iron is your friend here.)

Sipalu bag knitted and felted by Deborah Cooke

Now, I could just sew that vertical seam, insert the base rectangle, sew the upper edge to the bag and be done. I want more. I always want an interior pocket – for my keys, maybe, or my phone. The Sipalu bag is really deep and a bit narrow, so I definitely want more pockets. Things are going to disappear in the bottom of that bag and never be seen again, so I’ll plan ahead.

Sew in the pockets before finishing the lining


The easiest pocket is a rectangle sewn to the inside of the lining. You know I’m not going to do this the very easiest way, though!

Let’s have a pocket with a bit of style.

Here’s my phone and I’ve cut two pieces of fabric for the pocket to hold the phone, which are the same size. That’s because I’m going to line the pocket to make it more sturdy. The two fabrics have their wrong sides together.

Here’s how that pocket will work out: keeping the two fabrics together, I turned down 1/” inch at the top, then turned down another inch – that seals the raw edges inside the top seam. Next, I’ll stitch that down along the lower edge.

Back to the iron again, to press down the outer edges on the other three sides of the pocket. Then I stitched it down to the bag lining – I chose a spot that will fall on the back edge of the bag, pretty close to the top so I can grab the phone easily.

Pink3<<<<< The finished pocket looks like this:

But on the Noro tote, I’d like my pocket to be zippered. I also want it centered on one of the long sides. To find this location, put the big rectangle flat on the table. Place one ruler along the seam line. (There’s one on the right.) Put the another ruler at the edge of the long side – in this case, 12.5″ from the seam line. I could measure my pocket and do calculations, but I generally just eyeball it. Using a striped lining makes it easier to cut a pocket that will line up with the bag. In this case, I positioned the zipper in the middle of the space, then cut my pocket the width of the zipper.

Pocket1The easiest solution would be to cut another rectangle of the striped fabric for the top of the zipper, but I want a contrasting border on mine, so I can easily find the zipper in all those stripes. Again, this isn’t high accuracy. I cut two strips of contrasting fabric the same width as the pocket and about 3″ deep. I folded them in half lengthwise and pressed them. They’re on the right. Because this striped fabric is a little lighter (and less sturdy) I decided to fully line the pocket. So I cut a bigger rectangle of that contrast fabric. Pocket2This is where those two contrast strips will go – one on either side of the zipper. Pocket3To ensure that there are no raw edges of fabric inside the pocket, I sewed the folded edge of both of those facing pieces to the zipper tab. For the lower one, the raw edges were turned to the inside and then sewn around the striped pocket. All the raw edges are sandwiched inside there.

At the top, the raw edges are still open. Pocket4I lined up the zippered front of the pocket with the lining and trimmed the lining to match. Pocket5Then I flipped the pocket over and pressed all the seam allowances to the back. Once that was done, I top-stitched the pocket in place on the bag lining. Pocket6Inside, there are no raw edges and the pocket is a bit stiffer, because this batik is like Kevlar. You can see that the zipper tape is visible on the inside. I could have made facings and hidden it away, too, but this application is faster and zipper tapes don’t fray anyway. Pocket7

Next, assemble the lining, as we’ve discussed. Sew that vertical seam in the big rectangle, then fit the small rectangle into place in the base. The easiest way to pin it is to start with that seam. Pin one corner of the base into it. I usually put a pin on the diagonal, catching a little pinch at the pivot point of the corner through both layers. Now, fold the big rectangle in half to find the opposite corner of the bag. Pin that corner the same way. From there it’s easy to pin the perimeter and mark the other two corners.

I NEVER clip the main lining at the corners to ease the seam, because that just creates a place for the lining to fray. As a result, I sometimes get some gathering in the corners. This isn’t a huge deal IMO – the only thing that will see the corners of the lining in the bottom of my bag are those mints from restaurants that I toss into my bag and forget. Sew a second seam 1/8″ away from the first one (and in the seam allowance), just to reinforce it.

Ironing time. Give the lining a good press, because once it’s in the bag, you’ll never iron it again. Press down the top seam allowance. The raw edges will be in that magic space between the lining and the bag that no one will ever see.

I always sew in my bag linings by hand, because I don’t want the machine stitches to show on the outside of the felted bag. Pin the bag in place around the perimeter. Use a buttonhole twist thread – that’s the thick one – and sew it in. The stitches don’t have to be teeny, but they shouldn’t be huge either. You don’t want to do this again. You could also sew it in by machine. Your bag makes it your choice.

Next week, we’ll line the straps of the Sipalu messenger bag, and put a zipper flap in the top of it.

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