Saturday, August 9, 2014

Civil War bag

For "Butler" at Peninsula Players Theatre, I needed a small bag stuffed with supplies for one of the actors. Usually, with a period play like this I would have to do a lot of research to get a good idea of what the bag may have looked like. Fortunately, with a Civil War play, a lot of the research has already been done and is easily accessible on sites used by Civil War reenactors. I was able to easily locate several images of white canvas "haversacks," and several sites that sold reproductions and even listed dimensions. I chose this one to base my bag on

I found some cut up pieces of an old drop cloth lying around the shop, which turned out to be the perfect fabric. I cut a 16" square for the front, a 22" piece for the back, and a long thin strip which I sewed in half for the strap.
I used a safety pin to slowly turn the strap inside out to hide the loose edges. 
Then I pinned the front and back together, cut the angles on the two bottom corners and stitched around the outside. 
Before turning the bag right-side out, I snipped the corners on the bottom so the seam would be flat and not bunchy.
I turned the bag right-side-out, cut a curve into the top edge of the back piece (the flap) then turned under the edge 1/2" and stitched it in place.
The costume shop manager was able to give me a bit of a broken belt to use for the bag closure. I cut off a piece about 6" long and stitched the end to the flap of the bag.
As a side note, I was a little worried about breaking the needle on the sewing machine by trying to stitch through the thick leather of the belt. As I have done before in these situations, I still used the machine, but I turned the wheel by hand as opposed to using the electric pedal. It takes a little longer, but allows me to control the needle a bit more so it doesn't get forced through somewhere it doesn't want to go. I still get the nice, strong even stitches of the sewing machine,, but don't risk breaking a machine that was not intended for such industrial materials.
I took another bit of the belt, about 4" long, and stitched it to the base of the bag, as a loop to hold the strap. I found a small buckle in our stock and stitched that on as well (that one I did by hand).
Here is a look at the finished closure. 
The final step was to sew on the strap. In hindsight, it would have been MUCH easier if I had thought the project through before starting, and had attached the handles to the back of the bag before sewing the front and back of the bag together. I was still able to get a good stitch line down both edges of the strap, on both sides of the bag, but it required lots of twisting and pulling the stretching of fabric to get my needle where it needed to be without accidentally catching some bit of fabric I didn't want under my needle.
Here is the strap nicely stitched in place. 
Here is the finished bag. 
And here is the finished bag loaded with supplies and ready to go into rehearsal. 
Total, the project took about 2 hours and was a very satisfying productive break between some larger projects. 

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