Over the summer, Gwen Wathne emailed me to say she was working on an oilcloth pannier based on my original tutorial, but that she’d made some changes to it, and did I want her to write about it for my blog?
Of course I did!
I’m very, very excited to present this guest tutorial. Her version is beautiful, and has some really smart design features, like a magnetic clasp and straps that go all the way under to give extra support to the easily-torn oilcloth. She also uses actual pannier hardware to attach it to her rack.
She claims this is her first real sewing project, but when I look at the photos I can hardly believe that, it turned out so magnificently! It’s definitely an inspiration to anyone who thinks they lack a crafty thumb.
In the original tutorial, I lay out some tips for sewing with oilcloth, and resources for finding materials—so feel free to refer back to it if you have any questions. If you still don’t find your answers, leave your questions and comments below!
How to make an oilcloth cycling pannier
by Gwen Wathne
I consider myself to be quite new to the whole sewing/craft thing in general but I have always been quite excited about trying new things. I am definitely one of those people who find it more interesting to start a project than to finish, but I do always make a point of completing a project, as I am also adverse to waste of any kind, especially things that waste my time.
I don’t know if it has to do with events in my life in the last few years, or just a result of getting more confident as the years go on, but I find myself increasingly looking at things and thinking ‘I can make that myself’. I was raised helping my dad out with DIY and have always been very practical, but other than the obligatory cushions I made in home economics at the age of 10 and 11 I haven’t really touched a sewing machine.
I did a very bad attempt at knitting as well in school but it didn’t go very well. Then one day about 5 years ago it struck me that maybe it was because the teachers simply taught me right-handed knitting, and that’s why I couldn’t do it, I am a ‘lefty’ and proud, but it does make some things more awkward. So I did some research on the internet and found quite a few resources about left-handed knitting. I taught myself the basic stitches, and with some guidance from my aunt, embarked upon one project after the other.
I figured that if I can teach myself to knit there isn’t any reason why I couldn’t also make said piece of furniture/clothing/accessory.
And so the pannier project began. I vaguely remember seeing handmade panniers/handlebar bags for sale on the internet, but I truly got hooked during a trip to Finland last summer, when the inflight magazine featured a ‘homegrown’ designer who was making bags out of old sails. This got me thinking and doing extensive online searches. I found many tips, and all sorts of bags/baskets, several of which are listed in Jessie’s original pannier tutorial, but I wanted something ‘proper.’ A friend of mine has one of the Basil bags and there is no doubt that the bag being created in my head was based on that bag.
I found lots of different types of bags for sale, but I really wanted to make my own, not just for cost, but also because of the challenge.
I used the measurements featured in the Bicitoro tutorial as a guide, but I also took my friend’s Basil bag and worked out my own dimensions for the design I came up with, after a bit of brainstorming with my very talented friend, Peggy.
I spent quite a bit of time sourcing the type of pattern that I wanted, and in the end I got some beautiful oilcloth from Viva La Frida. (That’s a UK site with an awesome selection. In the US, check out St. Theresa Textiles, which is where I’ve gotten my oilcloth from. -JK)
My friend with the Basil bag mentioned that she sometimes found the handles of her bag flapping about and would have to tie them together, so I decided to buy a magnetic bag clasp.
I also decided that I wanted ‘bag feet’. At the time I had no idea what they were called and spent a lot of time internet searching before finding what I was looking for. I ended up getting these, which I think worked out really well, and they prevent the bag from directly touching the ground every time I put it down.
(You can find bag/purse feet at your local megacraftopolis—here’s a tutorial from Lazy Girl Designs about how to install them. -JK)
Before I started making the oilcloth bag, I followed my friend’s advice to try testing my pattern with less expensive fabric, this being my first sewing project and all. I used some basic linen cloth and made a bag using the design that I had created. The bag has since become very useful for me to keep all the different bits of oilcloth and bag-making accessories that I accumulated all in one place.
For the linen bag I had only used a cheap plastic zip and sewn straight through it, but I decided that for the pannier I wanted a more solid metal zip that also matched the magnetic clasp and the bag feet. I hadn’t been able to find the right zip length that I wanted for my bag. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but soon realised that I would not be able to sew through the metal zip as I had done with the plastic bag. More internet searching followed, and I came across this video on how to shorten metal zips. More time on the internet to find the right type of zipper stop and I made my first attempt at shortening a zipper. The end didn’t look too pretty but that part is inside the bag, so it doesn’t really matter.
Prior to starting the pannier I had come across this lovely fabric in a remnants bin. When I bought it I didn’t know what I would use it for, but figured it would serve some purpose. I later decided that I would be a beautiful liner for pannier. It looks great! The downside is that it is a curtain or upholstery fabric and was super tricky to work with. The fabric is very slippery and the ends fray very easily.
Cutting and assembling
So after I had bought all the different bits and pieces, it was time to start working on the bag. I discovered that it was really easy to draw on the reverse side of the oilcloth, and also very easy to cut, as the fabric is so stiff. I started off by cutting out the straps, as well as the front, back and bottom panels as one adjoining piece
I had some scrap fabric that I decided to glue to the inside of the main bag panels to give it a bit more rigidity, using normal craft glue. It definitely made a bit difference.
As a side note, when I received the oilcloth it came with a note that the fabric would crease easily but that the creases would come out quickly, especially in warm conditions. As Scotland does not tend to be very warm (this summer has been a pleasant exception) I found it quite handy that I did the majority of my work in winter, as I would frequently hang different parts of the bag out on the radiators to remove the creases.
For the straps, I cut out strips of fabric that were double the width I wanted (plus 1 cm seam allowance). Due to the delicate nature of the oilcloth (in terms of tearing), I cut the straps as long as I could, given the fabric I had, and I ensured that the straps went all the way under the bag, so that the weight of the bag would be supported from underneath, rather than pulling from stitches on the side of the bag.
I folded the strips in two, down the middle and also turned in about 5 mm from each edge all along both edges of the strip. I used clips to force it into shape. Cue more time on the heaters.
As with the main piece of the bag, I glued some liner to the inside of the straps, making sure the liner was about 1 cm narrower than the oilcloth, so that the lining was not also being folded over, this would have made it even tougher to sew through
From the lining fabric I cut a piece the same size as the oilcloth that I was planning to use for the front, bottom and back of the bag. I found this great tutorial on making an internal zipper pocket for a bag. It’s really well explained and I think it would have worked really well with any other fabric than the one I had. I forgot to take pictures of this, but the tutorial is well illustrated. Nevertheless I managed to make a decent inner pocket.
Once that was done it was time to sew on the straps. Because of the way that I had folded over the straps (effectively creating 4 layers of oilcloth to sew through) in addition to the bag and the backing, the older machine that I had inherited did not cope with this. My friend very kindly let me use her very shiny (and no doubt expensive) new machine to sew on the straps, and it did this with ease!
For the top zipper panel, I decided not to use binding tape like in the original tutorial. Instead, I sewed the zipper in between the lining and the oilcloth. Put your oilcloth and lining fabrics together with right sides facing, and the zip sandwiched between them.
Once they have been sewn together, both pieces are folded over 180 degrees. The second photo shows how the outside of the bag will look when I have flipped the oilcloth over, but not the lining, and the third photo shows when both have been flipped over.
This does take a bit of concentration to make sure you don’t get one of the panel pieces on the wrong way (I think I did do this for the lining the first time, and as much as I tried to get it right the second time round I didn’t manage, but no one sees that side of the lining in the bag anyway).
You may notice that in the third photo the oilcloth has a gold pattern. Inspired by the Bicitoro tutorial I had originally decided to use two colors for the bag, but the more time I spent working on this, the less I liked it. Therefore, after all the sewing and assembling, I undid the zip and side panels and redid them in black and white. I still love the gold and white, but will use it for something else, maybe the oilcloth tool roll.
Here’s the finished zip panel. I used the clips for the fabric to keep its shape, as the oilcloth automatically wants to unfold again. This also came in handy when sewing the sides panels onto the zip panels.
Winters in Scandinavia are long and dark, and when I was growing up in Norway, I remember heading to school one evening with my winter coat to get a reflective strip sewn onto the sleeve. I therefore figured Norway would be the right place to get some effective but discreet reflective strips for the side panels. The photos with and without flash shows just how good it is. Also note that I used the same method of flipping over the fabric to sew the side panels to the zip panel.
I put the reflective strip on each of the side panels as well, so I can be seen no matter what side of the bike I attach the bag to.
While I had been gathering all my supplies, I found an abandoned ‘for sale’ sign on the street. As this was the same type of material as the coroplast election sign used in the Bicitoro post, I took it home to use as the stabilizer piece.
Ideally, I would have liked to have the stabilizer pieces all one piece, but I was restricted by the size of the for sale sign, so I cut out two identical pieces, both pieces big enough to support the side and line the bottom of the bag.
(I decided to cut the supporting panel with the ridging going lengthways through the stabilizer piece, as I figured this would be the most sturdy, when fixing the hooks to the bag. This was to ensure there was proper support for heavier things in the bag, without putting extra strain on the bag where the hooks are attached. In order to make sure the stabilizer piece would bend properly without breaking, I cut through one side of the panelling only, in between two ridges.
Now the tricky part was making the holes in the oilcloth to match up with holes in the bottom support panel, to thread the bag feet through. While I cut two support panels to fit both on the side and bottom of the bag, I wanted to make sure that the side panel where I would attach the bag was the same stabilizer piece through which I secured the bag feet. I put one foot in each corner of the bag, about 5 cm from the edge and each side of the bag. Once I put the feet in place, the oilcloth was secured to the support panel.
From this photo you may notice that the feet don’t seem centered in relation to the straps at the bottom of the bag. During many adjustments and readjustments, and going between apartments, the straps were sewn on slightly wrong. However, after I’d sewn one strap in place, I attached the second strap by making sure that the top of the strap (where I’d hold the bag, and where the magnet is) fit neatly inside the first strap, so that does at least fit.
Once the oilcloth and support panel were secure it was time to attach the hooks so that I could hang the bag onto my bike. This whole idea came about because after I had seen pannier spares from my great local bike shop. I managed to get the lower rail and hook, as well as the top rail and hooks in one of the sales!
Cue more measuring and adjusting to make sure that I placed both the upper and lower hooks correctly so that I could hook the bag onto the bike rack. The most difficult bit was finding the right size of bolts for the bottom hook (which for some reason was sold without). I needed them to go through the hook and also the thickness of the support panel, with enough left for me to be able to fit on the washer, but without leaving too much sticking out to rub against the lining of the bag. I tried two different lengths but got there in the end.
After all the extras were attached, it was time to start assembling. I started by placing the main lining over the big piece of oilcloth/stabilizer panel (the side and zipper panels already had the lining sewn on).
Afterwards I assembled the bag, being careful to ensure the lining matched up with the edge of the oilcloth, first with the clips as shown in the photo, then I gradually added the binding tape. You’ll notice again that this is with the gold side panels; yes I got that far before changing my mind.
The second photo shows the bag fully assembled and hooked onto the bike, with only the clips holding it together. It was reassuring to see that I had designed a very sturdy bag.
Now for the moment of truth, actually sewing the different pieces together. With a lot of frustration I managed to sew one side properly with the machine. I also managed to do one other side, but with the angle and twisting the bag to feed it through the machine, this is when the super slippery lining really became troublesome.
I ended up undoing and re-stitching several times before giving up, and worst of all, all that time that I had spent carefully assembling the bag, strategically placing the clips to keep the lining, the oilcloth, and the binding in place was completely undone when I tried to feed the whole thing through the machine, with big hooks in the back. These hooks were probably the biggest problem, as with those and the rigid structure from the support panels, I couldn’t get the edges into the machine properly. If I’d known this from the start, I would have just skipped this very frustrating step, and gone directly to sewing by hand, as that is what I had to do in the end.
I reassembled the bag and binding, with strategically placed clips and found a seat by the window. Luckily by this point it was summer, and one advantage of living so far north is that for a few months we do have sunshine until 10PM, lots of prime sewing time. I doubled up the thread and carefully started stitching all the way around the bag. It was slow at first, but I eventually got into a rhythm and with a few tv shows to keep me company, it wasn’t too bad.
I am very pleased with the end result, even if the bag is not completely perfect. I have learnt a lot along the way, but the bag is sturdy, sits very securely on my bike and functions great for shopping or as a second handbag. The best part is I have had several compliments from checkout staff in different shops about how great it looks, even a “wow” on one of the bag’s first outings. Here are the photos of the final product; I think it looks even better in black and white!