The Better Bag Maker – book review

Review of the book Better Bag Maker. Basically, if you sew bags or want ti - you NEED this book!This is a review of The Better Bag Maker by Nicole Mallalieu. What a great book – as a regular bag maker with a number of books on the subject this book compliments my mini library perfectly has has become the star on my shelf.

It’s subtitled “An Illustrated Handbook of Handbag Design”  and I would whole-heartedly agree with that.  If you would like to be able to design your own bags, this book is just jam-packed full of information you need to be successful and create great bags.

The Better Bag Maker

A short introduction gives us an insight in to the author and their desire to teach through the book. Her aim is to make you a better bag maker.  The book starts with chapters on tools, materials, key skills and bag making techniques, before moving onto 10 projects to teach key bag making techniques, step by step.

The chapter on tools and materials is invaluable – it covers different types of sewing feet to help you deal with bulky seams. Although familiar with using my walking foot for this I became distracted by my sewing machine manufacturer’s website – surely they make a denim foot for my machine?! The chapter on interfacing is very helpful with a useful reference chart for different types of interfacing, fusible fleece etc.

Moving onto key skills – This chapter covers how to choose interfacing, fuse interfacing, tips on reducing bulk in seams, how to keep the ends neat, and lastly stitching sharp edges and smooth curves. Personally I have learnt so much from this chapter alone. It had never crossed my mind to remove interfacing from the seam allowance once the seam is stitched, Nicole gives three different methods for doing this.

Bag Making Techniques – as you would expect this is cleary written with good diagrams, several types of pockets are demonstrated including a divided zipper pocket that I’ve not seen before. Plus bag bases, and zippered gussetts. The section on how to create a zippered pocket in the lining is facinating and I’ve got to try it soon.  Love the idea of creating a super-neat opening with a facing.

Zipper facing

As you would expect from and expert like Nicolle, there are great instructions, illustrations or photos for all of the techniques you learn.

The 10 projects

The ten projects – these are stylish fun bags you will want to make. Many are photographed with a model which helps give a sense of scale.

Selection of bags

The first project ” Basic Bag” covers a slip pocket, handles, facing and inserting a lining – perfect for a beginner or for those wishing to hone their skills with her tips and hints. Suggestions are made to take this bag to the next level if you are seasoned bag maker.

Basic Bag Maker

The projects quickly build in complexity by project four “The Avignon Traveller” you are sewing an overhanging zipper closure on a structured bag with feet.

Avignon Bag

By the end of the book you are sewing a bag which has convertible straps that can be moved and adjusted to make a backpack or a long- or short-strapped shoulder bag, the Toronto Convertible Tote-Backpack

“It has a drawstring and a magnetic closure, which allows the shape of the bag to convert from square to triangular. It’s adaptable, comfortable, and the sort of bag you’ll carry everywhere with you. This project includes a lot of functional design details. For instance, a gusseted, zipped pocket on the front of the bag is fully lined and bound, and there is an exposed zipper on the back of the bag (a secure exterior pocket if the bag is worn as a backpack).” Wow – I would love to have the skills to make this bag, and with this book I soon will have!

Toronto Convertible Tote-Backpack

This book is truly inspirational – if only I was retired and could work though every project!! It makes a brilliant gift for experienced bag makers and aspiring beginners.

Better bag maker bags

How to get the 10 projects and all these new bag-making skills

You can buy this book as a physical book or an e-book download at:

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I’m Vicky from vickymyerscreations. I learnt to sew through school, and was blessed as a child to have adults who nurtured my creativity. I love sewing, for others and for myself, and exploring other textile related crafts. See more on twitter, facebook and pinterest.

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10 Responses to The Better Bag Maker – book review

  1. Linda MacLellan says:

    I really like some of the techniques in this book – I don’t know why I didn’t think of them myself!! But, I am having a problem with the instruction or the zippered pockets. Page 35, instruction 1 and 2 are very confusing. If anyone has photos, videos or more clear instruction, please post it.

    • Rosemarie says:

      Linda…did you ever figure this out? I am totally stumped! HELP!

      • Linda MacLellan says:

        Hi Rosemarie – yes I did figure out the problem. I applied the zipper facing on the pocket piece instead of the lining piece. I love love love this book and have made 6 of the bags so far and with each one of them have learned something new and have improved the techniques.
        I hope this helps and happy seeing!

        • Rosemarie says:

          Linda -Thanks for the response…just to clarify..should the zipper facing (and therefore the zipper) be put on the pocket piece and not the pocket lining? Right now, I have the zipper installed on the lining piece and I think from what you said, that is incorrect. I have two ibizia bags in process ..And to this point..look great! I don’t want to ruin them now. Many thanks for your prompt reply!

          • Linda MacLellan says:

            No – the zipper and zipper facing are applied to the lining – not the pocket piece. I was going to message you again to clarify that. Dreamed about it last night and knew I didn’t make it clear.

          • Linda MacLellan says:

            Hi Rosemarie – I have a comment to make about the Ibiza bag. The instructions for the Exposed Zipper (page 37) says to place the facing within 3″ of the top of the lining. I found this was too low and would suggest putting it at 2″ from the top of the lining. It may just be a personal preference, but when I finished my bag I made a note in my book to go for 2″ on my next one.
            My original question about the zipper was posted when I was making the Basic Bag and it didn’t have the exposed zipper – it had the basic zippered pocket (page 31) so that’s why I was a little confused with my original response to you.
            Good luck – and post a picture of your bags!

  2. Condo says:

    I have the book and a few concerns with it. I started with the basic bag. The cutting directions say cut pieces 1, 2, 3, 6, etc. in the sewing directions they call the pieces bag sides, bottom, etc. instead of using pattern numbers. I missed the pocket direction because there were directions in a lower corner and referred you back to page xxx. I didn’t notice it until I’d passed the step.
    IMO the pattern pieces should be printed so you don’t have to trace them. Square or rectangular pieces could be listed as cut 2 pieces this size by that size instead of tracing patterns. I can’t comment on the slashing technique because I haven’t used it.
    I realize this is a skill building book which starts easy and works to more difficult techniques but having to page back and forth between bag directions, pocket instructions, zipper insertions, etc is frustrating.
    The edge stitching creates a nice crisp line on faced pieces.
    I will go back to this book to learn more techniques but right now I’m sewing volume for a craft sale, I can’t devote the amount of time required for going back and forth for various steps in construction. The people who saw the basic bag all thought it was a grocery tote. It’s too much work for a simple tote IMO.
    Love the Seoul bag and will make it one day.

  3. Robin Kohler says:

    I love Nicole’s book! I have made the Basic, the Seoul, and the Galapagos bags so far, and they look very professional. The techniques section, and the instructions for changing the pattern pieces into different sizes of bags are wonderful, as are the directions for removing excess bulk from the seams. The variety of pockets, which can be mixed, matched, or eliminated, also are impressive. I highly recommend!

  4. Gina B. says:

    I have the book and I have made the Seoul handbag – not the easiest of the lot! I had to writer her for help. She recommended starting with the basic bag and if I were to do it again, I would do that.

What do you think?