Washable paper bags

I had seen both Sew Andrew and Blanca make wallets from washable paper and was really inspired to do the same, so managed to find some blue washable paper, which of course sat in the drawer for some time as I didn’t get round to making anything. Then I visited the Heathcote Cultural Precinct here in Perth with my friend Claire, a printmaking artist who has a studio there, and we saw a washable paper tote for sale in the shop. We were immediately smitten and did a deal where I would make her a bag and she would make me a book.

I played about with some regular brown paper that I waxed, just to check on size and construction technique

Then I dug out my blue paper and did a working sample.

I used the cream leather harvested from the sofa I found on the verge for the handles.

I learned quite quickly that it is almost impossible to sew the handles on with straight lines, hence the zigging and zagging.

I used scraps of the cream leather to reinforce the top of the seams. Basically, a simple tote which is perfect for summer. I showed Claire and asked her what colour she would like and she said tan with black handles, which is such a smart combination.

I ordered tan, black and slate grey washable paper and made a couple of samples. I wanted to get the size and shape right, and also work out the colour of the handles.

I played about with the cream leather, trying both leather paint and dye. In order to use either the surface of the leather has to be stripped, but I didn’t like the chemicals that are recommended for the task. The leather also was a bit grubby, so I decided to soak it in a warm washing soda bath and then scrub it with a floor scrubbing brush. The photo below shows the difference this makes, but it is quite hard work. The scrubbing removes both the dirt and the surface treatment, taking the leather from cream to white. I then dried the leather in the shade. This is important so it doesn’t go stiff.

I cut a number of handles (that sofa is the gift that keeps on giving) and started experimenting, deciding that the dye worked better than the paint, which can chip, but didn’t look or feel as nice, and a doubled handle stitched down the length felt the most comfortable. I used the leather rolling foot on my machine which made the sewing so much easier. The bag below has painted leather handles.

The black bag below became a gift for my friend Tania. I sewed all the seams and then turned the bag inside out so that they were hidden. This is much harder than you might think as the paper is quite rigid.

I had been able to show Claire both the blue and the black bags and she chose the shape of the black one and gave me the handle length she wanted, which, coincidentally, was exactly the length of Tania’s.

Claire’s bag is the one at the back left, and has a turnover at the top. I used the inside out method for this one, but then decided to try a different technique when I made the next two; I sewed the seams on the outside. You can see that the edges are a bit different, so I’m not sure if I’ll go back to the hidden way or not.

Of the other two, one was for me and the other as a gift for my friend, Suzanne. I gave her a choice and she chose the other tan one, so I have kept the black one.

These other two have recycled zips in them as I knew that Suzanne would like a zip in hers. I sewed the first bag with the zip and sewed the handles on last, but didn’t like the fact that I could see my stitching on the inside of the bag, so I cut a few scraps of the paper and glued them over my sewing.

Although the paper strips hide the crimes so to speak, I wasn’t really happy about the fact that I had to do this, so devised a different construction method whereby I sewed the handles on first, sewed the zip gusset onto each side and finally did the side seams. This is a much easier way of managing things and you can see that the inside is much neater. I added leather thonging as zip pulls and, apart from the zips, these bags are completely compostable.

Apart from the paper strips hiding my stitching, the bags look fairly identical.

Claire sent me this photo of her with her bag packed with her printmaking accoutrements, which I did appreciate getting.

I said at the beginning of the post that Claire and I did a deal, where I made her a bag and she made me a book. Well, when we met for the official handover I received a lovely selection of items made with Claire’s marbled paper: a coptic bound book, some cards, bookmarks, and gift tags, all in a lovely bag. The bookmarks are already in service, the book is earmarked for some planning activities and I know I shall struggle to give away those cards and tags!

We’ve all been using our totes. I am planning another one as a gift, perhaps from the slate grey, but I am very tempted by the tan and black as well. The only problem I have with these bags is that they don’t have pockets, and I like to have a pocket for my phone and keys as they tend to get lost in the general chaos that is the bottom of my bag. I am thinking about putting a pocket in the next one as the stitching is surprisingly strong. I used cotton thread and a really fine, sharp needle for the bag itself and a leather needle to sew on the handles.

Just a note about this paper – this is the material that is often used for the label on the back of jeans. It can withstand a lot of washing in the washing machine, and the paper came with washing instructions. It crinkles more after washing, but can be ironed back to its flat state. I rather like the crinkles and am looking forward to bashing mine around a bit. Next time I make one I might wash the paper first, just to see how it goes. Stay tuned for an update in the not too distant future.


7 thoughts on “Washable paper bags

  1. Such a nice creative work. It is good to have creativity in these hard Corona times, now that personal contacts are so difficult. I had also taken a step into bagmaking and am in those techniques still a novice, but love what I reached sofar. Yours are a stimulus to develop new skills. Thank you for sharing

  2. I had never considered sewing paper but these look really good so I need to reconsider. Well done on encouraging me down even more rabbit holes πŸ˜‚

  3. These look great Sue. It can be a bit stiff to work with, but I found if you keep it very slightly damp, it’s easier to work with. Also, it gets a little bit softer after each wash if you can be bothered with 3 or 4 pre washes πŸ˜…

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