Colette Patterns Cooper: Vulpes familiaris

Fox.  Fox fox fox.

Fox. Fox fox fox.

Otherwise known as “The sewing project that shortened my telomeres” (see: Blackburn Lab research such as this) or “This is why you shouldn’t start sewing leather without checking your sewing machine’s capabilities.” But hey, rational thought hasn’t stopped me previously! I now have an adorable backpack. The pattern itself is well designed, easy to understand and construct, though I did find the extra “Cooper Companion” to be useful when I didn’t want to brain.

I had been thinking about making a new carrier for Petra (my Asus laptop) over the last couple months. My current bag is a Speck bag from my dad, which just barely fits my laptop, her charger, a mouse, and a few papers. I do really like the Speck, but if I wanted to bring anything else (such as lunch, a lot of papers, a book, a knitting project), I would have to bring another bag along. Which is what I had been doing, but I have to admit wrangling two bags and an umbrella was getting old. I still have affection for my “Carry ALL THE THINGS” REI-esque backpack, but I thought it was overkill for my postdoc position since I’m not hustling between classes anymore. Also, I tend to stuff things in there and forget about them. (At least it was granola bars and not fruit.)

Fast forward to a month ago when Colette Patterns announced a new pattern: Cooper, a pattern that could be adapted for a messenger bag, backpack, and satchel. I liked Cooper’s clean design that looked effortlessly customizable and that did not seem too bulky. And hey, they were having a sewalong contest, which was devilishly convenient. I spent a bit of time crudely mocking up ideas in Photoshop.

Right side are bag images from Pansy Maiden, the collaborators with Colette pattenrs

Project brainstorming. Right side are bag images from Pansy Maiden, who designed Cooper with Colette patterns. I liked how their bags hold umbrellas



…and I could incorporate a doodled fox motif that I’d been wanting to reuse… I drew it a faux-mon style (Japanese crest and terrible pun) for a Goth Loli outfit. I realize that I’m going to pigeonhole myself for the following photo. Don’t laugh. Too hard.
In my defense, it was a cute outfit.

In my defense, it was a cute outfit.


Ahem, anyway, I chose the grey/crimson version because it was versatile, more cheerful than black, I tend to wear a lot of red/grey, and my winter boots are the same shade of matte grey and red. I wanted this pack to last a long time, so I picked up grey suede and all the hardware at the MacPherson Leather Company in Seattle’s international district (with help from Art for both dim sum and deciding on leather/fabric), except for the slide bars, which I picked up at Seattle Fabrics

So….due to Thanksgiving and 3 weeks of marathon experiments due to capricious cells (why, S. cerevisiae, why?!)….I didn’t actually start sewing the actual backpack until Wednesday night, with the deadline being that Friday. Thank glob Sarai extended it until Sunday. I did cut out all the pieces and made a muslin for this pattern in the previous weeks because I had specifics things I wanted:
1.) Fit laptop and keep secure (Drafted a box pocket with bonus side pockets for laptop cord.)
2.) Would be nice to have shoulder straps that fit me. And a place for a sternum strap that doesn’t smoosh the boobs.
3.) Uh, where is the fox pattern going to go? And what size? (7 inch diameter, middle front.)

And everything would have been fine if I hadn’t chosen a thick suede. I thought I could just marathon sew it with the Lord of the Rings extended edition trilogy in the background. The lining construction took most of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” and I was feeling good because there were some tricky seams in the lining that weren’t going to be in the outer body.

Lining, inside out.  You can see the laptop 'box' pocket (?) and the side pockets I added.

Lining, inside out. You can see the laptop ‘box pocket (?) and the side pockets I added.

Another picture of the lining.  The front side has the regular pocket, which is perfect for paperbacks and  my ebook reader.

Another picture of the lining. I’m terribly happy with how the laptop pocket turned out. Not shown: the front side has the regular pocket, which is perfect for paperbacks and my ebook reader.


And then I started sewing the suede, having to break out Art’s grandmother’s sewing machine to do so. Ah, a legendary Singer Zig Zag, rumored to sew through 7 layers of heavy jean canvas! …Except that means hand cranking. (Math, I hope I didn’t get tendonitis from the dozen hour of hand turning the wheel.) And I had never used this machine before. Let me tell you, it’ll raise your blood pressure to troubleshoot a new sewing machine and sewing leather when on a timeline.
Duel-wielding sewing machines?  On the left is my Dressmaker, which I picked up in 2009 from Craiglist.  On the right is the Singer 503a, a really nice vintage gal.

Duel-wielding sewing machines? On the left is my beloved 80s Dressmaker, which I picked up in 2009 from Craiglist. On the right is the Singer 503a, a really nice vintage gal. Nope, I don’t have a serger.


There’s actually quite a bit of reinforcement under the surface. I read somewhere that leather stretches, so I underlined each suede piece with upholstery fabric. I also underlined the …lining… side with the laptop pocket since I think that will experience some considerable duress. The front D-rings were a concern for me and I fretted over how to reinforce the front strap to deal with this stress point. My solution was to make an additional D-ring fabric loop that would go underneath the main body strap, allowing force exerted on the D-ring to be focused on the under loop. Additionally, the main body straps themselves are fabric tubes since I was anticipating more exposure. Then I reinforced this stress point with a rivet. (The rivets I bought were too big to use two, so I used just one rivet per strap.)
D-ring solution?

D-ring solution?


Speaking of which, I had some difficulty punching holes for rivets in the multiple layers of suede/fabric. After experimentation, here is what I came up with:
1.) Hammer a nail into the site where you want a rivet. Does not have to go through all layers. Uh, remove nail.
2.) Use awl to enlarge the rivet site. I found that it was still hard to punch through all the layers, so I positioned the awl and fabric/leather over the hole in my grommet setter. Having a hole in a flat surface helps keep the layers from shifting. Using a rubber mallet, hammer the awl through all layers until the hole is big enough..

So…anyway, apologies for the teal deer. User error and swearing aside, I am quite pleased with my new backpack. =)

Back of the backpack

Bhis picture is exciting to me because the straps have D-rings for a sternum strap at a comfortable position! Bag straps always slip off from my sloping shoulders, so I usually use a sternum strap…except they’re usually too low for, uh, we who have two X chromosomes.


Under the flap, yay zippered pocket, an idea from chris_bliss6

Under the flap, yay zippered pocket, an idea from chris_bliss6: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisbliss/11122583203/


I stuffed my laptop and "Molecular Biology of the Cell: 4th edition" (my heftiest textbook) in there and there was still some wiggle room.  I liked the idea of a velcro strap securing my laptop, keeping it safe and also aligned to the back so it's easier to carry.  Also, it's impossible to see here, but see my laptop cord has its own pocket. =)

I stuffed my laptop and “Molecular Biology of the Cell: 4th edition” (my heftiest textbook) in there and there was still some wiggle room. I liked the idea of a velcro strap securing my laptop, keeping it safe and also aligned to the back so it’s easier to carry. Also, it’s impossible to see here, but see my laptop cord has its own pocket. =)


Buckled backpack straps are reinforced with grommets leftover from my corset making.

Buckled backpack straps are reinforced with grommets leftover from my corset making.


 Used swivel snap clips in lieu of magnets because (A) I wanted fasteners that would stay closed with my absentminded tendency to collide with stationary objects and (B) I'm wary about magnets near my hard drive.  The Google says magnetic snaps should be fine.  I"m just paranoid.

Used swivel snap clips in lieu of magnets because (A) I wanted fasteners that would stay closed with my absentminded tendency to collide with stationary objects and (B) I’m wary about magnets near my hard drive. The Google says magnetic snaps should be fine. I’m just paranoid.


Hammer time!  Did you know that when you sew leather, you deaden (flatten) the seams with a hammer instead of ironing?  I think I work up the neighbors.  Eh, it was 10AM.  Top is the deaded seam, the bottom seam is unhammered.

Hammer time! Did you know that when you sew leather, you deaden (flatten) the seams with a hammer instead of ironing? I think I woke up the neighbors. (Eh, it was 10AM. Acceptable.) Top is the deadened seam, the bottom seam is unhammered.


Fox applique: Marine vinyl was used for the fox/black and then stitched onto upholstery suede to form a sort of patch.  You can see the enlarged doodle and the cutout I traced for the actual piece.  Oh yes, and lot of tape to hold it in place when I stitched to the suede.

Fox applique: Marine vinyl was used for the fox/black and then stitched onto upholstery suede to form a sort of patch. The black line is satin stitch and I used “Fray check” on the edge. You can see the enlarged doodle and the cutout I traced for the actual piece. Oh yes, and lot of tape to hold it in place when I stitched to the suede.

Sorry, lots of griping about sewing the suede, but not for the actual pattern!

Looks innocent, but this seam (top, see tape) took me an hour to sew. Yay, sewing with leather with no experience!

Looks innocent, but this seam (top, see tape) took me an hour to sew. Yay, sewing with leather with no experience!


This is why sewing seams would take hours: the thread would snap randomly.  (well, and having to hand turn the crank)  Rather than punching a lot of new holes, I tried to salvage the stitches by tying lot of little secure knots.  Most knots were quintuple tied.

This is why sewing seams would take hours: the thread would snap randomly. (well, and having to hand turn the crank) Rather than punching a lot of new holes, I tried to salvage the stitches by tying lot of little secure knots. Most knots were quintuple tied. As a result, this hideous stitch line took me 1.5 hours.

I tried a lot of things: different sizes of leather needles (I had 90, 100, and 110), different threads, different thread tensions, turning very slowly…no consistent pattern. I did notice that it was the most problematic when going from 2 layers of leather to 1 layer of leather and visa versa. I’ll chalk it up to user error.


This is a terrible depiction of an incorrectly threaded Singer 503a.  However, incorrectly threading it this way gave me way better tension for sewing suede.

This is a terrible depiction of an incorrectly threaded Singer 503a. However, incorrectly threading it this way gave me way better tension for sewing suede.


Final list of movies run during this project: Lord of the Rings Trilogy (extended Edition. watched Fellowship 2X through, had to take a break for the Battle of Pelennor Fields, especially since my favorite scene in the trilogy is Eowyn versus the Witch-King of Angmar), Singing in the Rain, Pride & Prejudice (Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth), Beauty and the Beast, Up, and finished withed Lawrence of Arabia, in memory of Peter O’Toole who passed away today. (He is one of my favorite actors.)
I recall one book I have describing Peter O'Toole as "preternaturally handsome." Quite so.

Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia.” “Nothing is written.” Cheers.


Just because.

Just because.

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2 thoughts on “Colette Patterns Cooper: Vulpes familiaris

  1. What a lovely job you’ve done with this bag. It’s very similar to what I’ve had in mind to do, as well. Thanks for sharing your experiences with these materials.

    Debbie…(0;
    <

    • Hi Debbie! Aw, thanks so much! Sewing the the suede was frustrating, I’ll admit, but I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. Best of luck with your sewing!

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