Retired middle schoool teacher, Jennifer Cliche, has been sewing for over 50 years. She learned to sew as a child, and enjoyed making a lot of her own clothes as a teen, but as happens to many, once she started to work and have kids, she just didn’t have time. Since she retired, she has been able to go back to her first love – sewing clothes – and has been taking a patternmaking course so she can learn to make her own designs that, most importantly, fit really well. Jennifer really loves the cheerful colours and prints of the Mexican oilcloth. With the beach weather we are having now on the West Coast, she decided to make some swimming/beach bags for her sisters using this sturdy, waterproof, wipeable material. She was happy to share her sewing experience and provide some helpful hints on how to sew this vintage fabric.
Although Mexican oilcloth (really a combination of PVC with a bit of cotton and polyester for strength) can be a bit daunting to sew with at first, after watching a few videos on techniques for sewing Mexican oilcloth (I’ll just call it oilcloth from now on, although real oilcloth is a different beast altogether…) and experimenting on a few different projects, I felt comfortable in tackling this fabric for a simple project. I chose a design that is pretty easy to make, and allows infinite variations on the basic theme. The measurements can be varied according to the purpose of the bag.
Please note – sewing oilcloth is easier if you use a Teflon (see below) or walking foot since the PVC tends to be “sticky”. If you don’t have one of those, try sticking a piece of tape to the bottom of your foot. (sewing machine foot, that is!)
The entire bag is based on preparing one big rectangle. This photo is the rectangle I used for the lining. The outer layer is the same size and shape, but I pieced it and added pockets and straps before starting to shape the bag body.
After a few mishaps, I learned to think carefully about which steps need to be done in which order. Meaning that after I decided on the final size of the bag, I actually started by making the pockets first.
After cutting out the pocket, I turned under the top edge and used a hard, flat edge tool to press it flat before topstitching it.
Oilcloth does not lie flat if you just turn an edge under, and of course you can’t iron it, so I learned to “press” and top stitch ALL the seams I made where it was important for an area to be flat. Because you can’t pin oilcloth (any holes you make are there forever!), I use little clips to hold edges in place for sewing, and a longer-than-usual stitch length (say, 3 – 4) to avoid perforating and weakening the seam line.
One of the fun things about oilcloth is that it doesn’t fray, so it’s really easy to appliqué. I had fun cutting out cherries from my main fabric and applying them to the pockets.
I used tape to hold the appliqué in place (and learned to fold one end of the tape under so there was something to grab on to when removing the tape… I have learned, to my dismay, that if you don’t do this it is VERY DIFFICULT to fully remove the tape!!).
Because strength at the appliqué stitching isn’t as vital as in a seam, it helps to shorten the stitch length for going around the small, sharp curves in the appliqué.
With the pockets finished, I centered them between the webbing straps, and sewed them to the main fabric, using clips at the edges and tape in the centre to hold everything in place.
BODY OF BAG:
I wanted a line of black and white between the top and bottom sections of fabric, so I cut a strip of black and white stripes 2” wide, drew a line down the middle on the back side of it (just use pencil on the back – easy and very handy!) and sewed it where I wanted the top of the strip, then folded it down so its bottom edge lined up with the rest.
Then I sewed that top piece together with the black and white check material being used for the bottom of the bag, pressed the seam allowance down, and topstitched it. I repeated with the other side, and now the large rectangle was ready to fold in half, and sew down the edges to form a simple bag.
Although it’s a bit tricky at first, it’s worth the effort to top stitch those side seams, both the outer bag, and the lining, so that the lining fits snugly and firmly inside the exterior bag.
To make the squared base, I opened out the side of the bag, still wrong side out, so that the side seam lay down flat and in the exact centre of the point at the end.
I used a quilting ruler to make sure everything was aligned as perfectly as possible. It turns out that if it’s not done fairly carefully, the finished bag will always sag to one side… guess how I know that?!
I sewed across the top of the “triangle point” so the seam was the length that I wanted for the width of the bag base.
I turned the bag body right side out, then followed the same process for the lining, after adding one patch pocket on the inside. I sewed the two side seams, added the seam in the bottom corner to give it a flat bottom, then tucked the whole thing inside the main bag body, wrong sides together.
I clipped the two top edges (outer and inner bags) together, and added a little hook on a piece of twill tape to the inside top edge (for attaching keys), which gets stitched/attached along with the binding.
BINDING AND ZIPPER CLOSURE:
I laid a strip of black and white stripes, right sides together, along the outside top edge, and sewed all three layers together (bag body, lining, and binding, and catching the end of the key-hook tape), then flipped the edge of the binding over the top and to the inside. To finish, I stitched-in-the-ditch from the right side.
I decided to be fancy and add a zipper to close the top, so I started by putting a tab on the end of the zipper (easier to grab). I cut a rectangle, folded the long edges in, put the zipper end between those folded edges, and folded it in half down over the zipper end.
I then used the fancy-looking-but-very-simple technique of cutting two 4”-wide strips, and folding them in half, then enclosing the zipper tape between the edges and topstitching, leaving the tab and some extra tail at the back end so it’s easier to grab. I then attached those strips just inside the top of the bag, catching them at the same time as stitching-in-the-ditch to finish the binding.
If you’d like to make a bag like this, but would prefer to start with something much simpler, talk to Penny at Gala Fabrics – she has a pattern for a very simple bag like this, so you can practice your skills.
And for something REALLY simple, just cut out a 12” X 18” square to make placemats (pinking shears make a fun edge). Sew two pieces wrong side together to make them reversible.
I hope you’ll try using this fun material! You can check out all the prints available here.
by Jennifer Cliche