Friday 1 November 2019

Free Pattern Friday: Orton Bag

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes a women's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those who plan to get their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

As I mentioned, I like to try and alternate the free pattern reviews between those designed for adults, and those for kids. However, I currently have a list as long as my arm of things I want to make myself that don't use a free pattern. And it seems pointless and unsustainable to shoe-horn in a free pattern project just to keep up with my blog post schedule. However, what I did reallllyyyyy need was a new bag. A massive shopper style bag specifically.

For over a year, I have been sharing an allotment plot with my friend Zoe (you can follow our exploits on IG, @twozoesoneallotment, if you wish). She the one looking awesome rocking her camouflage bag. When we took it over, it was a total overgrown nightmare. These days, two thirds of it remain an overgrown nightmare, however, the final third has actually has actually been providing us with a surprising amount of food. One of the rubbish things about our plot is that it doesn't have any structure (a shed or greenhouse or what have you) that we can store tools and stuff in. We have a fork and spade hidden in the undergrowth for use when we're there, plus a couple of old milk cartons we use for watering. But everything else needs to be taken down with us each time. My usual supermarket carrier bag that contained my gardening gloves and hand tools, plus a kiddie watering can and plastic spade that Frankie uses to 'help' when he comes down with me, recently died. I thought that a large fabric bag that I don't mind getting mucky would be a more sustainable option than another plastic bag. Enter: the Merchant & Mills Orton bag pattern. Massive thanks to them for sharing this pattern for free.

(image source: Merchant & Mills)

Pattern type: 

This unlined, oversized shopper consists of just three pieces: main body, facing and handle. M&M have used this pattern to showcase their stunning linens and oilskins, plus shown that leather straps and rivets can be used for the handles instead of fabric. It's designed to be worn on the shoulder, and the pattern itself is given as a series of measurements that can be drawn directly onto fabric, as opposed to pattern pieces that need to be printed out, stuck together and cut out. I, personally, appreciate the last fact as it's obviously going to be better, ecologically speaking, to side-step the printed paper element that is usually a part of sewing projects.  

Fabric info:

The Orton bag pattern is going to work best in a woven fabric with no stretch content, but I'd say that your options regarding type and weight beyond that are pretty open, depending on the look and use you have planned. M&M have used oilskin and linen for their samples and I've used some random ripstop fabric from my stash for mine, however you could use basically anything, from tweed to shirting. Just 75cm of 143cm minimum-width fabric is required, so a hunt through your leftovers is likely to unearth something that could become an Orton. This bag would make a great showcase for a small length of gorgeous denim or upholstery fabric, or you could go for something lightweight to make a shopper that can be folded up and kept inside your regular bag.


This really was a very simple and fun make, and would be a wonderful project for beginners to undertake to come away with a really useful item. And if you are a more experienced sewer who knows that really you *could* work out how to make your own shopper, it's nice to just be told how big to cut your shapes and how to piece them together! I love the oversized dimensions of this bag: ours are big enough that we can take our gloves and hand tools down to the allotment, then bring quite a lot of harvested produce back home.  

My only complaint is with the construction method of the handles. You are instructed to stitch the rectangles into tubes, right sides together, then turn them through and press. If you are using fabric that is thicker than a lightweight cotton, I'd recommend instead that you press the rectangles so the raw edges of the long sides touch along the centre (like bias binding) and top stitching down the two long edges, to avoid the headache of turning through a narrow tube of fabric.

Customisation ideas:

  • Follow M&Ms lead with contrast leather/leather-look handles. They have used leather straps that are sold for this purpose, however you could get a similar look by repurposing a secondhand belt
  • If you are using a fabric that has distinctly different sides (like denim), you could use the reverse for the handles and/or the facings. If the denim has a cool selvedge, you could construct the handles to utilise that
  • Go crazy and add patch pockets, with zip closures perhaps. The pockets could be attached to the inside or the outside, and you could make the dimensions of them custom for your needs (for the the size of your phone, etc)
  • I just got a screen printing kit for my birthday, and I'm sure excited to experiment printing some designs onto fabric that could then become bags 

Would I make it again?

Yep! I've got some light-ish weight, printed cotton that I plan to make a shopping bag from that I can stuff in my back pack when I go to the supermarket or our local zero waste, bulk-buy shop. This pattern/project is also a really nice, speedy project to make a useful gift for a friend that would showcase some lovely fabric, so I'll keep in it mind for that also.

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