Bag Exterior fabrics
1 Home decorating fabrics
To make bags you need a sturdy fabric which looks good. The home decorating fabrics available in the upholstery section of the fabric store, the ones used for making upholstery covers and draperies, fit these criteria very well – they are naturally thick heavyweight fabrics, with enough structure for an upright bag.
You can get away without interfacing these fabrics and still get a not-so-slouchy bag. But still, though they are thick it is better to use interfacing on even these thick fabrics to make them stiff enough for making stand up bags. If you want to interface you can do so with a Firm interfacing or fusible fleece. Some upholstery fabric do fray at the edges and that have to be taken care of with a serger.
Obviously, the number one choice for bag making because of the elegant looks but the reason why many people do not use it is because it is more expensive and it is also a little tricky to sew leather.
You can buy cowhides in heavy or medium weights for making bags- buy small sizes for making it affordable. Lambskin is a finer variety of leather than cowhide but more expensive. Other options are pigskin and snakeskin, bison leather
3 Synthetic Leather & Synthetic suede
Synthetic leather is also called Faux leather – it is actually Polyurethane (PU) with the look of original leather. It is so much more inexpensive than leather. Faux leather is water resistant and easy to maintain.
Rexine is a common generic term used to describe synthetic leather – though Rexine is a trademarked name of the artificial leather produced by a UK company called Rexine Ltd. You can learn more about Faux leather here.
Synthetic suede looks just like the original suede and is more expensive than synthetic leather. Microsuede is a microfiber fabric which looks just like suede but can be washed.
Bonded leather is leather made with ground real leather scraps which is then spread on a polyurethane backing – it can look really like leather without being expensive. Some will call it recycled leather or eco-friendly leather because of the way it is made, compared to real leather.
Washable paper is a leather and fabric alternative that is tear resistant, water resistant – that looks very much like leather, especially when it washed giving it a vintage leather look. The strength may be compromised by holes made by pins, too small stitches, washing with detergent etc.
Vinyl is one of the most used fabrics in commercial bag making. Clear vinyl is, as the name says, clear and see through – it can be used to make clear beach bags, cosmetic bags etc; Flannel backed vinyl fabric is another very commonly used bag material. It is even used without lining – the vinyl fabric is naturally glossy. Lightweight and wipe-clean care are its advantages.
People can get confused with vinyl and fake leather – if it has a woven fabric backing you will know it is vinyl and not faux leather.
Related post: How to sew with Vinyl.
5 Outdoor fabric
Outdoor fabrics are all very sturdy, resists abrasion, and sometimes waterproof. They last a long time because of their durability. 1000 denier Cordura Nylon is regularly used to make backpack bags, totes, etc. Sunbrella is another fabric used for making backpacks, beachbags, tote bags. You can find more branded synthetic fabrics here.
These are usually synthetic fabrics that melt in high heat so care has to be taken not to expose them to high heat from iron etc. You can use this for making the bottom of the bags as the sturdy material will not wear easily.
Related Post: Waterproof and water resistant fabrics here.
Cork is a material used as an alternative to leather – it is made from the bark of the cork oak tree. It is eco-friendly and very soft, pliable and can be sewn easily with any sewing machine. Leather can be damaged with water, while cork is washable. It is hypoallergenic, scratch-proof and stain-resistant. And whatever stain is there, it can be wiped away easily.
Unlike faux leather, it doesn’t get damaged easily and doesn’t crack or peel, even when you fold it. It is durable and easily maintainable. You can also get away with not interfacing it, if you wish so. It is also less expensive than leather. The only problem is its unavailability in all places.
Canvas is a thick plain weave cotton or linen material, very much suitable for making bags. The options among canvas are cotton woven canvas and synthetic canvas. Duck canvas, with tightly woven yarn is the most suitable canvas for bag making.
You can also try slub canvas, laminated cotton canvas, and coated nylon canvas (waterproof canvas). The waterproof wax canvas looks really nice for making bags.
Canvas is quite stiff and you may not need any interfacing. But any bag will look better with some interfacing.
Wool is a sturdy material and quite good to make bags with.
9 Medium weight natural fabrics
Cotton fabric (Dressmaking/quilting variety), linen, silk, satin, dressmaking denim etc can be used to make bags, provided they are given backing with proper interfacing. Peau de soie is used for making pretty purses. Other pretty fabrics like satin, silk brocade, crepe, moire velvet are also used.
Use iron-on interfacing on the back to make them sturdy enough to make bags with. The interfacing fabric is ironed on the reverse side of the fabric to stiffen it. Ultra firm fusible interfacing can be used. A fleece layer can be included as extra backing.
Some people also use a liquid starch spray on the face of the fabric to further make it stiff. You need all the stiffness you can get for your bag fabric for good looking bags.
Quilted cotton fabric
When you quilt thin cotton, they take on the stiffness you need for making bags. Quilted cotton fabric is a beautiful bag making fabric. You can use pre-quilted fabric or make quilted fabric with cotton fabric.
The process to make quilted fabric is quite simple – Use simple quilting/dressmaking cotton fabric for this. You also need a batting and a backing fabric. You can also skip the backing fabric and use the lining fabric to cover the back.
First Interface the cotton fabric. Then starch the exterior fabric by spraying the fabric with liquid starch spray. Sandwich fleece or foam or batting between the exterior fabric and backing fabric and quilt away. Use this quilted fabric like your regular fabric to make your bag.
10 Neoprene rubber
This synthetic rubber is one of the best materials for making toiletry bags and beach bags – it is soft to touch and waterproof. Add a waterproof lining and you have a watertight bag.
You can use fusible interfacing or sew in interfacing which is thick like canvas; You can also use 1/4″ high quality foam sheets to give sturdiness to the bag. Know more about different types of interfacing here.
What is the best fabric for lining a bag?
If you have old bed sheets that is a good lining for the bags you make for yourself. Or fabric from old clothes, fabric scraps from other sewing projects.
But if you are making and selling bags you need high-quality lining. You can use cotton fabric as a lining or synthetic fabrics like polyester/nylon. Thin cotton may need to be interfaced. Twill fabric or duck canvas can be used without interfacing. Some prefer waterproof fabrics like Cordura for lining their bags.
Generally you can choose a neutral color inside as lining – cream, tan, pale grey or beige are good as colors for lining – these colors go well with most bag exterior fabric colors. Know more about lining fabric here.