Today’s post is brought to you by Klum House, an online store for makers that sells patterns and bag making kits in streamlined, simple designs with beautiful, high quality tools and materials. Klum House reached out to me recently to help launch their new and improved Oberlin tote bag release, and my initial instinct was to (graciously) say no, only because I have a lot on my plate right now with traveling back and forth between LA and Vancouver for work and wasn’t sure if I would be able to get it done in time without stressing out. But then I clicked on the link to their site and saw their beautiful designs and I changed my mind, lol! I am a sucker for a well designed bag, and I love that their kits include waxed canvas (a personal fav textile) in addition to simple yet sophisticated prints. The bags all look very high quality and remind me of something you could purchase at J Crew (for about twice the price, lol).
Klum House sent me my Oberlin kit and I was immediately impressed by the packaging once it arrived. Of course you aren’t supposed to judge a book by it’s cover but sometimes it’s hard not to! Instead of the traditional flat packing into a box or thick envelope, this kit comes rolled up in a packing tube, which is brilliant- it keeps the waxed canvas free from the creases and wrinkles that would set in if it was folded up in a box and allows you to develop that coveted rich patina more organically.
Inside the tube were the pieces of rolled up waxed canvas and a few small packages holding all the notions and findings needed to complete the bag: zippers, leather straps, metal snaps, rivets, D-ring, etc. The only things it didn’t come with were the hole punch and rivet setter, but they sell those items on the website for makers to purchase along with their kits which is great (IMO I think these tools are a must-have for enthusiastic makers- I use my hole punch, anvil and rivet setter for all kinds of things- jeans, shoes, toys, bags, wallets, you name it!)
I will warn you that there are many terrific color and fabric combos to choose from, so if you aren’t great at making these kinds of decisions, give yourself plenty of time to peruse their gallery and absorb all the options! Thankfully the designers have great taste and have put together a lot of classic, fun color schemes that go well together, so you can’t really go wrong! I ended up choosing a slate gray main bag with marigold colored accent pockets and zippers and blonde leather accompanying straps and zipper pulls, and I am super happy with my choice. As I sewed the bag up, little marks and creases and folds started to settle into the fabric which I thought was so fun- it’s like you’re fast-forwarding through the aging process of the bag, so by the time it was complete it already looked well-worn and loved, like a favorite denim jacket.
Klumhouse has recently expanded the design options for this bag, so while the original is just the tote with a zippered pouch on the inside, you now have the option to add a lining and a top zipper closure for the bag, both of which I decided to incorporate into my make. I started my bag in the morning and finished it that same afternoon, so I was pretty on par with the suggested production time of about 4-6 hours. The skill level is described as ‘Confident Beginner’ and that seemed accurate, too (although reading comprehension skills aren’t factored into the skill level, which I will get into later, ha!)
Here is what I loved about making the Oberlin:
- The pattern pieces for the kit are pre-cut and they even marked the notches and hole punch dots!!! Lot’s of sewists would agree that the most laborious part of a sewing project is cutting out all the pieces and marking the notches, so the fact that this step is already done for you allows you to dive right into the bag making and quickly see your progress. But the PDF instructions still include all the measurement information for the pattern pieces so you can easily make the bag again with your own fabric.
- The waxed canvas I have used in the past has been much thicker, which isn’t a bad thing depending on what you’re making, but it can get very bulky and require careful navigation under your sewing machine’s foot. The waxed canvas used in these kits is thinner but still durable and high quality, and it is a dream to sew!
- With the exception of the lining and zipper closure add-ons, the instructions were terrific- easy to follow, great illustrations, and smart bag-sewing techniques. I particularly loved the way the bottom of the bag is sewn. I’ve made a lot of bags in my life and in my opinion, this part right here can make or break the flow of construction. Some bags have a separate rectangular bottom that gets sewn to the walls of the bag, kind of like a cube, and others are designed similarly but with curved edges instead of right angles. Either way, I usually hate them. Trying to get extremely sharp corners out of thick fabric at the intersection of so many seams usually just ends up looking messy, as does trying to get the curved bottoms perfectly aligned while sewing it on the sewing machine- in my experience it takes a lot of physical manipulation and arm and finger strength to pull it off on a regular home-sewing machine. This design employs a totally different technique that I found exceptionally easy to complete and nice to look at. Instead of trying to sew three corners together, you fold the square edge down and then open it into an even triangle and sew across it so that when it opens up, it settles into a soft, four cornered bottom with only one seam. Probably hard to understand what I am describing if you haven’t done it before, but trust me- it’s a beautiful technique and I might never go back to the other methods I learned!
- As mentioned, the kit included notches and marks on all the fabric so you don’t have to make them yourself, but they also include hole punches on all the leather pieces- the only thing I needed to use the hole punch for was the fabric.
- Because you can’t put a hot iron to waxed canvas to press the seams (it will melt off the wax from the fabric and gunk up your iron), they suggest you just press any folds or seams down with your fingers and use something like a point-turner to flatten the edge out crisply. I used a smooth rock from my collection of pattern weights to “press” the seams and it worked a treat! It was fun to breeze through all the “pressing” so fast, which definitely contributed to how quickly this bag came together.
Here is what I found tricky about making the bag:
- Because the expansion instructions came after the initial design of the bag, two additional PDF’s are included for creating the lining and the zipper closure, and I really hope that at some point they are able to incorporate everything into one file, with instructions to “skip ahead” to a future step if you don’t want to do one or both of the design add-ons. As it stands, I had to flip back and forth on my device between all three instruction booklets, which got a little confusing, and while the expansion packs referenced the main instruction book, I don’t recall them referencing each other at all, so I got slowed down making sure that what I was doing for the lining wasn’t going to get in the way of what I was doing for the zipper closure, and vice versa.
- I’m not sure how, but I fudged up the instructions in regards to placing the snap closure on the bag. For this part, I followed the instructions for the main bag but when I switched over to the zipper closure instructions, they didn’t seem to add up. In some illustrations it looks like the snap is on the fabric of the zipper closure but the instructions I followed seemed like it was telling me to put the snaps on the main bag panel.
I have since gone back to try and figure out where I messed up but I didn’t have much luck without the actual deconstructed bag placed open in front of me. Not sure if this was a mistake on my end or vagueness within the instructions, so just pay attention to this part if you’re making the zipper closure! Since mine didn’t look right when the bag was closed (the bag’s top had to fold in on itself for the snaps to adhere) I decided to take them out and place them on the zipper panels like in the illustration, but of course that meant I was left with some tiny holes and creases where the old clasp used to be. So I pulled out the handy piece of “scrap” fabric that was included in the kit (they thought of just about everything!) and sewed it over the area so that my mistake was covered up). I’m sure I could have done something perhaps more functional or visually interesting than a simple rectangle, but, whatever- it works, and now I have a pop of red on my bag!
- *edit*: As described in detail below, I had some trouble figuring out how the bag’s lining would match up with the outer shell, as there seemed to be a big discrepancy between the sizes of the outer and lining panels. Klum House reached out to me to clarify the instructions for this part of the bag, and graciously filmed a whole video for me to explain exactly how it was supposed to look! Hahaha, so sweet of them! Apparently a lot of of people were confused about this part of the instructions, so they have re-written the instructions for the lining to clarify them for makers, which is awesome. I absolutely understood what they were explaining in the video they sent me and I’m sure that will be translated well in the new instructions (the extra fabric in the main panel is supposed to be taken up by the top hem of the bag, which is a smart feature of the construction) but I think my misunderstanding came in when I was trying to include both the zippered closure and the lining in my make, so just pay close attention if you’re adding both expansions and don’t try and fly through the construction quickly the way I did. I was trying to complete my bag before I had to leave LA, which is my own fault, lol! I have left my original review intact on this blog post, so please keep in mind when reading below! Thanks!
The only thing I actively disliked about the bag’s design was the size of the bag’s lining. I provided my own fabric for the lining, cut out the proper dimensions, and commenced to sewing the lining to the bag, but as soon as the seam was done and I examined my work, I saw that there was about a 5-ish inch gap between the bottom of the outer bag and the bottom of the lining.
- Thinking I had made a mistake, I went and rechecked the measurements, and sure enough, the main panel fabric is cut at 39″ and the lining at 29″. I’m guessing that this is so there is less stress on the outer shell of the bag and all the stress of the bag’s contents can be concentrated within the lining, but it just didn’t work for me. For one thing, the difference in depth between the lining and the bag means that whenever you set the bag down somewhere and there is enough stuff inside of it, it will make the top of the bag cave in (cause it has to make up for the difference between the lengths of the outer shell and the lining at the bottom). This is definitely a personal preference, but depending on what it’s made of, I prefer for a bag to retain its’ shape and silhouette whether it’s hanging on my shoulder or sitting on a table. Secondly, it cut the capacity of the bag down by 5″, which seemed silly for a bag that I was initially drawn to because of how deep it was. Thirdly, it just didn’t seem necessary to me; again, I have made a lot of bags in my sewing career and I have never sewed one up that had this much of a difference between the lining and outer shell. In fact, many of the designs I have made have no difference between the outer and inner bags’ sizes at all, but some have had a small difference, maybe within an inch or so. I have never had any issues with the outer shell bagging out or bursting out at the seams because it had to take too much of the load of the bag’s contents, so maybe this bag’s design has a different reasoning for it than what I can come up with. Either way, it was a very easy fix- I unpicked the lining and cut out another panel, but this time I cut it out at a depth of about 3 inches smaller than the main panel, and it looks and feels much better- now I have lots of room in this deep bag, and when I set it down, it continues to stand tall and retain its’ shape, even if there is stuff in it to make it heavy.
I love how cute this bag came out, but I like using it even more- I don’t have a lot of totes with this much room inside of it and the outside pockets are AWESOME, easily my favorite design feature. Because they are on the outside they are super accessible but not super deep, so I can find what I am looking for very easily, and best of all there are 4 of them! Perfect for all the quick things I need to grab from my bag, like chapstick, my phone or a shopping list, without having to reach deep down inside the bigger part of the bag to fish them out.
I’ve said before that I am a huge fan of sewing kits for people who are newer to the craft and still learning about fabric and tools and techniques- it takes away the frustration of being on that learning curve when you have all the appropriate things you need to complete a project right in front of you. But this is a kit that I think would be a lot of fun for seasoned sewists for the exact same reason- sometimes we want a break from garment sewing or from thinking too hard and having to troubleshoot fit or fabric issues. The Oberlin is a relatively quick, definitely fun sew, with a whole assortment of gorgeous kits to choose from, and I think it makes a great gift for yourself or someone else who loves to make, no matter how experienced a sewist you are.
The Oberlin officially launches on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 and is in pre-sale now, with all kits automatically at 15% off. If you order after the launch on Wednesday you can use the discount code OBERLINREFRESH for a continued 15% off the kits, but the discount will expire a week later on September 18. Get in while the gettin’s good and click here to order your own Oberlin kit!
Thanks so much to Klum House for gifting me the Oberlin kit in exchange for an honest review! I’m thrilled to have been introduced to their company and excited to try out more of their kits!