Thursday, March 22, 2012

Zippered Wet Bag Tutorial

welcome to my first ever sewing tutorial!  so please, go easy on me if i make a mistake.

* please note that i am self-taught on my kenmore sewing machine that i got for christmas when i was in grade 8, and don't claim to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination!

i'm about to start potty-training my little girl and needed a solution for dealing with away-from-home accidents, so i started a search for a waterproof bag that i can put wet/dirty clothes in and hide discreetly back in my purse.  none of the wet bags i found (though i didn't search long) were the exact size i wanted and i also wanted a pocket on the front.  i've sewn wristlets, clutches, purses and bags before and looked into my memory to combine elements from each to make my own custom wet bag.
it could also be easily used for cloth-diapering and wet bathing suits, too!  or you could switch out the waterproof fabric for more cotton fabric and make a cute little non-waterproof bag instead!

for a bag with the finished measurements 10"x13" with a 5.5" strap and 7"x10" pocket, you will need (shown left to right in photo above):

- two 10"x14" pieces of waterproof liner (i used a vinyl tablecloth because that's what i had lying around but most tutorials suggest PUL, which stands for polyurethane laminated fabric, great for making cloth diapers as well)
- two 10"x14" pieces of cotton fabric for the outside
- one zipper (at least 14")
- one 4"x12" piece of cotton fabric for the handle (if you want one)
- two 8"x11" pieces of cotton fabric for the front pocket (again, if you want one)
- optional: a tag with your own logo to make it look professional ;)

use a 1/4" seam allowance unless noted otherwise.
to do all the cutting, sewing, ironing, photo-taking and note-making took me 2.5 hours from start to finish.

i highly recommend washing and pre-shrinking all fabric ahead of time as this is something that will probably need to be thrown in the wash many times.  you don't want to go through all the work making something only to have it shrink and warp when you wash it for the first time.

i also recommend ironing all of your pieces before you begin, and ironing after each step.  i used to be too lazy to dig my ironing board and iron out from the closet and wouldn't bother until i read somewhere that the difference between a sewing project looking homemade and professional is ironing.  my projects have looked way nicer since i've been making that extra effort!

start by preparing the strap (if you choose to include one, it's just as easily left out).
fold your 4"x12" piece of fabric in half lengthwise and iron to make a crease.  open it back up and fold the edges in to the centre line, ironing again to make them stay.  then fold in half and sew along the open edge (and the closed edge, too, if you want it to look more finished).  you should end up with about a 1"x12" strap, like in the photo above.  set aside for later.

next make your front pocket (if you choose to have one).  i needed mine to fit my plastic graco wet wipe container (measuring 8.5"x4.5"x0.75") that came with my first diaper bag.  as mom's know, accidents always require wet wipes!
take your two 8"x11" pieces of cotton, lay one on top of the other, right sides together.  sew along one of the 11" sides.  open and put right sides out, folded at the new seam, and iron flat.

sew a straight line across the top edge (photo above, on left).
for those of us without a serger machine, do the following: to finish the raw edges so that they won't fray and get little threads on everything you put in this pocket, run a zig-zag stitch along the 3 raw edges.  do this by keeping the raw edge of the fabric in the middle of the foot.  as the needle zig-zags left and right it will go off one edge of the fabric and catch the other edge of the fabric.
the first time i learned this trick i was amazed that you could finish edges this way without a serger machine and i was very excited about it.  it doesn't take much to excite me, apparently...
if you have a serger machine, serge the 3 raw edges.

to form the pocket, iron the 3 serged edges in a 1/4" and pin into place.  fold the top corners in so they don't poke out the top of your pocket.  if you wish for your bottom corners to have an angle, simply fold the bottom corners in toward the middle, iron, and pin into place.  the back should look something like the photo above on the left, and the front should look like the above right.
if you'd like the top edge of your pocket to close with velcro, now's the time to attach it.  sew one side to the back side of the pocket, center your pocket into position on one of your 10"x14" pieces of cotton, and sew the other side of the velcro to the outside of that piece so that they line up.  it would be a major pain to add it after the bag is all put together.

if you'd like to add a tag, now's the time to get it ready.
i made my own: i printed my little birdie logo onto iron-on transfer paper (you can buy it at staples, michaels, or even walmart, i think), cut it out, and ironed it onto a piece of ribbon.  make sure there's enough extra ribbon on both ends so that you can tuck in into a seam or beside a pocket and it will get sewn in and not just slide right out.

pin your pocket in the center of one of your 10"x14" pieces of cotton fabric.  tuck your tag in one side as far as you'd like it to stick out and pin into place.

sew the side and bottom edges of the pocket to the 10"x14" piece with a back-and-forth stitch at the beginning and end to keep it tightly in place, removing your pins as you go.  do not sew the finished top edge!  (sorry - had to say it!)
to sew nice, sharp corners on those bottom angles: when you get to your corner, stop sewing with the needle sticking into the fabric.  left your presser foot, turn your fabric to the new angle (see middle photo), lower your presser foot, and continue sewing.  don't be a hero and keep your machine sewing while trying to manoeuvre the fabric around, your lines will curve and it won't look as nice.  these are things i don't want to assume you all know because at one point i didn't either.

here is where i slid my wet wipe case into the pocket to make sure it fit.  it did.  i did a happy dance.

now it's time to deal with the zipper.  i like to add it now rather than at the end, i find it a whole lot easier.
this part might look wrong at first but just stick with me, it'll work.

we're putting the zipper along the 14" top of the bag.  lay the front piece of 10"x14" cotton (the one with the pocket) right side UP, then your zipper right side DOWN on top with the top edges lined up, and finally your waterproof fabric on top of that, right side DOWN (if there is a right side), top edge lined up.  pin together.  hopefully the pictures above help it make sense.
sew along that top edge, your zipper will probably be your guide in determining how close to the edge you will be sewing.
i find when sewing along this top edge the zipper pull-tab itself really gets in the way, i like to open the zipper half way, sew the first half.  then, stop my needle down in the fabric, lift my presser foot, carefully slide the zipper closed again, and continue sewing the rest of the way.

go ahead and open it up, put wrong sides together with the raw edge of the zipper out.  iron flat.

now to sew the other side.
place second 10"x14" piece of fabric right side UP, then pocket side DOWN on top of that with the undone edge of zipper lined up with bottom piece of fabric.  last, lay your second piece of waterproof fabric right side DOWN, top lined up with zipper and bottom piece of fabric.  pin together, sew together along top edge using that zipper pull-tab trick again.

fold pieces open, with waterproof fabric on back side of the zipper and cotton fabric on front side of zipper (with wrong sides of waterproof fabric and cotton fabric together) like in the photo above.

sew fabric along either side of the front of the zipper so that it all stays flat (it will also help keep the waterproof fabric liner from getting caught in the inside of the zipper).

now unzip the zipper a little over half way.  this will be helpful later when turning your bag right side out.
fold your strap in half and place it on top of the front piece of fabric, raw edges lined up.  pin into place.  i put mine 2" down from the zipper, the top edge lined up with the top edge of my pocket.

now, place right sides of cotton pieces together and right sides of waterproof pieces together with the zipper in the middle.  pin the edges together all the way around.
in the above right photo you can see i folded the zipper towards the cotton fabric side, right sides out.  if i make this again i'll fold it the other way, right sides together (as much as they can be) sandwiched between the waterproof fabric side.  it just ended up a little bunchier than i wanted, that's all.
make marks along bottom edge of waterproof liner, 3" in from edges.  sew all the way around the outside except leave the area between those marks open (see photo below for what it should look like).

trim off any excess fabric around the outside and clip all 4 corners close to the stitching so they aren't bunchy when you turn it right-side out.
reach in throw the hole you left open and turn the whole thing right-side out.  poke the corners out so they're nice and square.

you'll have an opening in the bottom of the waterproof fabric still, so fold the raw edges in and stitch however you'd like along that open edge - straight stitch, zig-zag (like i did in the photo above), hand stitch, whatever.  it'll just be on the inside of the bag so you won't see it.

now tuck the waterproof liner into the inside of the cotton fabric so the zipper is along the top edge, and you're done!

fill your bag with whatever you like, an extra change of clothes, wet-wipes, whatever you'll need.  then, if an accident happens, and accidents always happen, you'll have a fresh set of clothes to change your kiddo into and somewhere waterproof to put the dirty ones.

the strap wasn't really necessary since i'll be keeping this baby in my purse, but it could come in handy if i were carrying it around.  this is where i did a happy dance when i finally tried fitting it into my purse.  like a glove!

an impromptu photo shoot with my daughter was instigated when she followed me to the only source of natural light in our house when i was taking pictures of the final product.  she was very excited to find her wet wipes in the front pocket, and spent some time practicing opening and closing the zipper.  i think she likes it!

and, while on the subject of her upcoming potty training, i also made this super-absorbant, waterproof, washable car seat protector pad for her car seat using this wonderful tutorial at home sweet homebodies. she's a smart cookie.  and yes, that stripe is crooked.  i really should invest in a square instead of winging it all the time, haha!


  1. Hey Katie, great tutorial. You made it really easy to understand. Love the finished result. Thanks to this tutorial I think I can tackle zippers. (they scare me, lol). Loved your excellent work and looks like Molly does too. Great job

    From: Doreen R

  2. Really cute and so smart! I think this was a super clear tutorial - sewing tutorials are so tricky to make! (PS I looove your other bag too!)

  3. I just stumbled upon this post (love your blog, btw!) doing a search for a wet bag using vinyl. I have some vinyl tablecloths that have the flannel-ish type backing on it. I used them to make a changing pad (see: I think I'm going to use the leftovers to make this bag to go with the changing pad! Great tutorial, and thank you so much for posting it!