Flat-bottomed bags, you make the tarot world go ’round (yeah) ;)
This is essentially a tutorial for a drawstring pouch with a twist which – oh wow, a drawstring pouch, so advanced – but there’s always room for one more and I like to (over) share. This is one of the ways in which I construct my bags; the other way is almost identical, except that the final “hole” is on the inside, not the top edge. Like everything I do, this is replete with notes and tips and witty asides, making it more of a treatise than a tutorial. Hopefully once you’ve reached the end you will have a bag that looks something like this.
YOU WILL NEED:
- Fabric for the shell, lining and collar of the bag (I choose to make these out of contrasting fabrics, which is why there are 4 pieces pictured.)
- Cord or ribbon to make the tie of the bag; a minimum of 3 feet
- Thread to match your fabric choices, although a close match is not critical. The only place it really matters is for topstitching.
- 2 safety pins for preservation of your sanity
- Binding, lace, tulle, buttons, beads, pendants, flowers etc. for frillifying
Why make a lined bag? Because:
a. It gives the decks a little extra protection and a pretty place to sleep. Yay! Decks will love you.
b. It makes you look all talented and professional-like. Yay! People will admire you.
c. It is a blatant excuse to indulge in buying fun things like silk in bright colours. Yay! Colours!
d. Lining hides a world of sewing ills. You can go to town with hand-sewing, ugly seams, patching when you cut a little too deeply and no one will ever know. Yay! Lazeffeciency.
e. All of the above, naturally.
How large should the bag be? This is completely up to you. You can custom-fit each bag to the deck it’s being made for, or you can decide on a standard one-size-fits-most and make a whole lot at a time. For me it’s more of an artistic expression than a purpose-driven exercise, so I’ve decided on a set of measurements that will fit even the largest of decks I’ve encountered. But if you want a bag to fit a specific deck, remember these points:
- The buttonhole principle: A deck of cards is a 3-dimensional object, so if you only use the deck’s dimensions measured straight across, the finished bag will be too small. To obtain the correct dimensions, measure around the deck to obtain its true girth (girth… ::snicker::)
- Wiggle-Room & Breathing Space: Add space to both the width and height of the bag to easily insert and extract the deck from its happy home and allow the bag to close. Cozy is okay, constricting is not (stretch fabrics are another story, as are fetish decks that might be into that sort of thing).
- Seam Allowance: Forget this at your peril; there’s nothing quite like finishing a masterpiece only to find out that you’ve shot yourself in the foot. The more ravelly the fabric, the more allowance you should… allow. You can always trim the excess off, but it’s impossible to add more without making a mess. I work with a scant 6mm (2/8″-ish) allowance because I live on the edge and refuse to learn from past mistakes. NOTE: the measurements above do not include seam allowance.
 With right sides facing, stitch the collars to the main sections for both shell and lining. I choose to use a stitch length of 1mm, even though it takes a little longer to sew. Most times, I’ll be using fine, temperamental fabric. A small stitch length helps to prevent fraying into the stitch line, as the stitches are too small to allow the fibres to escape. Less fraying = more durability. Just beware that unpicking those tiny stitches will provoke homicidal/suicidal thoughts (depending on how early it is in the AM), especially if it’s black thread on black velvet. Weigh up the pros and cons for yourself.
 NB!! PRESSING: Pressing is the snooty sewing word for ironing-between-steps and it is the secret to a neat, professional-looking end product. No amount of ironing after the fact will ever achieve the smooth, crisp edges that pressing during construction can. Trust me, for the love of all that is good in this world – trust me. It might seem like a lot of extra work or a waste of time, but if it’s pain you’re after, just run the hot iron over you hand rather than trying to flatten things out once it’s all sewn together.
If you can, press before finishing the seam edges off. Too vigorous and enthusiastic pressing will cause the seam edges to make (sometimes) permanent marks in the fabric, especially the moody stuff like taffeta. Ask me about my wedding skirt that was “professionally” laundered and pressed into extinction by “specialty” dry cleaners… Velvet also needs a little extra care so that the pile isn’t crushed. Always press velvet gently on the wrong side using another piece of velvet (right side up) as a base. The piles will interlock and support each other.
You can press the seam open now or after Step 3. After Step 3 makes more sense, but I’m not going to change the diagram at this stage :)
 With right sides facing, stitch the main sections of the bags together at the bottom for both shell and lining.
 Press all seams open and finish all raw seam edges to prevent fraying. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Pinking shears/Zigzag scissors – this would be my first suggestion as it finishes the edges sufficiently (they will all be enclosed by the lining) without adding extra bulk, especially to fine fabrics. Not everybody has pinking shears, so…
- Overlocking/Serging – a great choice, especially for bitchy fabrics that come undone if you even * think* about cutting them (I’m looking at you, tissue lamé. Lame in name, lame in nature…) this is a very secure finishing method and only adds a little bulk if you use a narrow setting. Again, not everyone has a serger so…
- Heat-sealing – finally, en excuse to play with fire! The edges of synthetic fabrics can be heat-sealed by running them carefully through a flame (or by using a heat gun if you have one) causing a (hopefully) controlled melt. Please test on a scrap first! Some fabrics melt way too quickly and constrict into nothingness and you risk destroying the entire piece. NOTE: this will not work on natural fibres like silk! You’ll be left with a pile of ash and a stinky house.
- Zig-zag stitching – in the absence of fancy tools and latent pyromania, you can always rely on the good ol’ zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine. Test on a scrap to find the optimum stitch width and length. Some fine fabrics will pull together when a single layer is zz-d; don’t worry about this as it will all be hidden when the bag is lined.
NOTE: If you’re going to be doing any sort of embellishing on the bag, finish it before moving onto the next step. You can do it before you start sewing or any time up to Step 4, but once you’ve sewn the side seams it’s going to be really awkward and frustrating to manouevre within the small space of the bag. If you’ll be attaching something relatively heavy or doing dense handwork on fine fabric, be sure to interface for stability. For our purposes, this can be as simple as doubling-up the fabric in this spot.
[5a] With right sides facing, stitch the side seams together for both shell and lining, making sure to:
- Align the collar-main seam lines ie. the centre of the seams where the collar and main sections are joined should be lined up on top of each other. If you have been accurate in measuring, cutting and sewing up to this point, then aligning the tops of the bags should bring everything else into place. Things are rarely perfect though, so check.
- Sew the lining sides from top to bottom, but leave a gap in the shell to thread the cord through later. I choose to start this at the seam line of the collar and main sections and carry it a 1/2″ into the main section.
- Triple-stitch the stress points ie. where sewing ends and begins again at the gap (see zoomed section) for strength. To triple-stitch, sew as normal up to the end of the sewing line, then backstitch/reverse for 3-5 stitches (depending on stitch length), then sew forward for 3-5 stitches again.
[5b] Cut on the sewing line at the base corners of the bag, stopping at the side seam (if you get a little over eager here and cut into the side seam, don’t fret; we’ll be trimming these corners later). This will allow the side seams to lie flat when you press them, which you do now. Then finish the seam edges as before.
WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS:
Godammit! I screwed up the numbering. Oh well. Carry on.
 This is the part where it gets a little hard to explain and it might sound complicated, but it’s not. My best advice is to have the fabric in your hands when you do this and let the fabric show you where it wants to go.
So. Holding the bag upside down, pinch the front in one hand and the back in the other. Pull your hands apart, causing the side seams to move inwards towards each other. Now pinch one of the bottom corners and wiggle the fabric, sliding it over itself to bring it to a triangular point, aligning the side seam with the bottom seam. Flatten and even-out the bottom layer of fabric so that the bottom seam is lying exactly on top of the side seam (the opposite side of the bag will be a bunchy mess – don’t worry about that).
You can make sure that the seams are exactly aligned – and keep them that way – by inserting a pin straight down through the seam line, making sure it comes out on the other side through the opposite seam line. Do this 3 or 4 times to hold the layers together, then pin horizontally as usual and remove the vertical pins. I probably should have mentioned this in the first Step 5a… Oh yeah, you should read the instructions fully before embarking on a project ;)
[6a] With the seams aligned and pinned in place, decide how wide you want the bottom of your bag to be; I like 1.25″. The wider you make it, the narrower the bag becomes at the base and vice versa. Mark this stitch line, perpendicular to the bottom seam.
[6b] Stitch. Trim the excess – this removes bulk and will ensure neat corners when the bag is assembled.
[6c] Finish off the trimmed edge. Again, it makes more sense to finish, then trim. And I thought I had myself soooo together…
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:
The hardest part is over and you should now have two (faux) flat-bottomed bags. Look at you, you’re so smart! Not to mention accomplished; you probably deserve cake or chocolate or something at this point. Go get some; I’ll wait.
Did you wash your hands? Okay, then you’re ready to turn the shell inside out – or rather, outside in – so that the right sides are facing out. Depending on the weight of your fabric, you might want to press the bottom corners. Do this gently, using the tip of the iron only and be careful not to scorch the fabric. The lining corners don’t need to be pressed; they are correct as they are.
 Insert the lining into the shell. Making sure the top edges are even, align the side seams of the lining and shell as previously explained and pin into place. Pin around the top edge as well (tip: insert pins perpendicularly to the sewing line). Have another bite of cake or chocolate or something. Giggle because I said “insert”. Twice.
Because this is the easy, cheaty version of lining a bag, you are left with an unfinished top edge. This can be rectified in a few ways:
[8a] Overlock/serge using the rolled hem setting or zig-zag the edges using a very short stitch length. If zz-ing, I recommend going once around using a slightly narrower stitch width and slightly longer stitch length to catch most of the edge fuzzies. Then – without cutting the thread or removing the fabric from the machine – stitch around again using a wider, shorter stitch length to completely bind the edge.
If the fabric is very prone to fraying, be sure to use a wide enough zig zag that it doesn’t just cause the edge to unravel. Again, practising on a scrap before deciding how you will finish the edge is a good idea.
[8b] Binding the edge is an excellent choice for a really neat finish, especially for heavy-fray fabrics. I recommend bias binding, but plain ribbon can be used as well. Fold the binding over the top edge, encasing both the shell and lining and slowly stitch in place. For most fabrics, a stitch length of 2.5 – 3 will suffice, but frayers will need a 1.5 – 2 to keep the binding in place. (Tip: bias-binding comes in different widths.)
You can bind in a matching or contrasting colour, depending on the effect you want to create. Bias binding even comes in lamé, for extra tarot tackiness (which I heartily endorse).
A variation on this is self-binding. Cut the shell collar longer so that when the lining is inserted into the shell, the shell raw edge sticks out above the lining. Fold the shell raw edge over once (+/- 2/8″) towards the inside and stitch in place if desired. Fold over again towards the inside, encasing the lining raw edge and stitch in place. You can also reverse the effect by making the lining longer so that the finished edge creates a contrast on the outside of the bag.
[8c] The raw edges of the shell and lining can be folded over, towards each other, to create a self-enclosed finish. Simply pin together and stitch into place.
[8d] (Not pictured, because I just thought of it.) You can use the fraying effect to your advantage to create a fringed edge. Decide how long you would like your fringe, then stitch that far in from the raw edge. Use a small stitch setting (1) and stitch 2-3 rows closely together. Use a pin to coax the weft threads out, leaving a warp fringe. This works especially well on taffeta, dupioni silk and other fabrics with a plain weave.
THREADING THE CORD:
This method makes a double drawstring closure, which I find to be a more secure version than the single drawstring, which tends to loosen by itself over time especially when using slippery fabrics. A double drawstring can also be wrapped around itself and tied in a knot for extra staying power.
[9a] You can do things the hard way, or you can do them the easy/lazeffecient way. To make threading the cord the latter, start by pulling the lining out from the inside of the bag. This will reduce friction when threading and speed things up *immensely*.
[9b] Cut two pieces of cord/ribbon/what-have-you, each one long enough to wrap around the bag and leave two ends at least 3″ long. If you plan on decorating the ends, make them as long as needed plus a little extra for tying knots (which eat up a surprising amount of length). Same rules apply here: you can always cut things shorter, but adding is a bitch.
Fold each length of cord in half and secure the ends in a loose knot for now. Thread the folded edge of the cord into the bag through one of the holes in the side seam, through to the other and out the other hole. Use a safety pin to create a stopper so that this folded edge doesn’t get pulled back out of the bag. Repeat with the other length of cord from the opposite side.
Stuff the lining back into the bag and smooth it down from the top edge so that it lies flat inside. You can leave the bag as is at this point, or you can stitch a channel to keep the cord in place. Pull the two cords gently until they lie taut and flat; if using ribbon, make sure it isn’t twisted. Pin in place, inserting pins perpendicular to the way the cord lies and making sure the cords are close together so you don’t sew through them! Stitch a channel as shown in the diagram.
Et voila! Your beautiful tarot bag is finished and ready to be occupied, just like that. Lucky deck! Now go make another one, because the rest are sure to be jealous :D