Pattern Review: “Handmade Bags in Natural Fabrics” by Emiko Takahashi

The nice people at Tuttle Publishing very kindly sent me another book to review.9784805313169__93968.1415901658.1280.1280

The book is “Handmade Bags in Natural Fabrics” by Emiko Takahashi, and promises “60 Easy-to-Make Purses, Totes and More”.

The “60 bags” bit needs a bit of clarification.  Now, there are certainly 60 different bags featured in this book.   However, the “60” is a record of the 60 bags Ms. Takahashi sewed from the 31 patterns in this book, which represent 25 different bag styles.

Note: I arrived at the number “31” by counting only the bags which were unique in size and/or shape, excluding bags which are dissimilar only in embellishment. 

See what I mean?


For example, the “Little Fancy Purse in Soft Fabric”, which I made, counts for 9 bags. Each of the nine bags photographed has unique fabric, ties, and embroidery. But those nine bags represent only one pattern.    So while Ms. Takahashi certainly made 60 bags– helpfully numbered throughout the book, there are only, according to Tuttle Publishing’s blurb,  “twenty-five basic bag styles”.

 To further confuse things, only 12 of those 31 bags are paper patterns, as some of the simpler bags are drafted.

To Recap:

60 bags made and advertised; 31 actual bags; 25 bag styles; 12 paper patterns. 

My Project:

Since I’m going into my third week of being ill–I will spare you the gory details– I didn’t want to make anything too difficult. I chose the “Little Fancy Purse in Soft Fabric”, which is numbers 30-38.019

Granted, it wasn’t the most complicated bag, and since it was on one of the two “lessons” pages I had photographs to work with, but I thought the directions were clear. It did say to cut through the seam allowance on only one layer of fabric, when both were necessary.


I also alternated the cuts on the curve so that the bag would lay smoother.

The technique was a little interesting, as the lining was sewn at the same time as the outer fabric. First the book instructed to match the right sides of the fabrics together– all ordinary. Then it said to stack the four layers of fabric with the outer fabric on top, and then to stitch through all the layers. Now, I had put my front fabric on the top of the stack, but when I turn the bag right side out, for some reason that made all the seam allowance be in between the front fabric and the lining, and it is kinda visible. Next time I’ll put the back on top, then the front, and then the linings. That should flip things so that the seam allowances end up in the back.


The book shows everything sewn by hand, but I used the machine. It’s faster, and besides, I hand stitched the casing down. I like that the lining turns into a contrasting casing. It makes for fewer pieces to sew.

Now, let me tell you about the fabric! Chad drew the picture himself!010

(I did the lettering from Chad’s dictation, and the seagrass and the touch of embroidery.)


The finished product:026

And cinched in–


Crazy, isn’t it?

Chad chose the fabrics himself from the stash. The lining is a butterfly print batik. The butterflies are not recognizable in the bit that shows at the top of the bag.


Layout: Book is a wee bit confusing, with the directions not in quite the same order as the bags were given. Numbers 1 through 12 are allright, but things begin getting funny, and not in a good way. The directions are given in this order, with the out-of order numbers in bold:

#1, #2, #3, #4, #5-10, #11, #12, #30-38, #15-16, #13-14, #21, #22, #23-25, #26-29, #39, #40, #41-42, #17-18, #43-44, #45-58, #59, #60.

I haven’t been able to discern a reason for this “order”. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with difficulty.


Here is a sample of an instruction sheet.



I love the detail on how to shank a button.018

The pattern sheet is all in black, but not printed very full. The book helpfully says what side of the pattern sheet to find your pattern on. You’ll have to trace and add your own seam allowances, as is the case with a lot of Japanese pattern books, but it really isn’t difficult on such a small scale. I recommend a 1 cm seam allowance.

Equipment and How-To:

This book includes a section titled “Before You Start”, which is a feature that I like a lot.  I didn’t take a picture of it, but the first part is a numbered picture of everything you’ll need supply-wise; Pincushion, pins, sewing thread and embroidery floss, crochet hooks needle threaders, scissors, fabric chalk, ruler, cord threader, etc.   Except for the Automatic Needle Threader– which I’ve never before heard of– it’s all standard stuff that I guess most sewers would collect after year or two.  She didn’t mention a seam ripper, though.

The second part describes the various types of fusible interfacing and wadding/batting used.  There’s six kinds of interfacing, and two kinds of batting/wadding. I like that beneath each picture and description of the various materials, she has a tiny picture of a project it’s used in.

The third part is titled, “Handles and Straps Used in This Book”, and is great because it shows up close the handles and straps she used, if you were wanting to replicate the look.

The fourth part shows clasps and attachments used– frames, magnets, and a truly impressive lace-edged zipper.

The last part is an explanation of basic sewing terms and some simple directions for hand sewing. Tips for threading a needle, making a knot, matching right sides, thread length, hem stitch, seam finishes, that sort of thing.  The labels for “Bag Stitch” (actually a seam finish) and “French Seam” are reversed, though.

The projects have a good range from practical to decorative.  Mum is fond of these more decorative vase-shaped bags.



I didn’t draft anything from this book, so I can’t tell you about conversions, but both metric and U.S. standard are included.  All the drafted bags are basic rectangles, though, so what’s 3/4th of an inch?

Four of the drafted bags:021024

Overall, this is a cute book. It’s not my favorite sewing book, partly because it could have used a bit better copy editor, and partly because I’m just not that into sewing my own bags.  But it’s entirely sufficient, and has cute projects. I’m not usually needing a handmade bag, but I might make up another bag or two from this book sometime.

All opinions are my own, and I wasn’t paid to have them.


2 thoughts on “Pattern Review: “Handmade Bags in Natural Fabrics” by Emiko Takahashi

  1. I have had the experience with Japanese books adapted into English that there is something lost in translation: order, logic, something is missing. The same books adapted into other European languages often have different page orders to make them easier to follow.

    Great review. 7


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