Saturday, December 15, 2012

Vera Bradley Bag Tutorial

I love Vera Bradley products, but I don't like how expensive they are. A few years ago, my mom gave me a Vera Bradley bag to use when I was interviewing for teaching jobs. This fall, when I found some adorable Mary Englebreit fabric on sale, I knew I had to make my mom something with it. I decided to try my hand at making my own Vera Bradely-style bag for her, using the one she gave me as a model.

My Vera Bradley bag has an adorable owl pattern.
The fabric for my mom's bag has cherries,
which reminds me of the old "Cherry Cafe" play kitchen
we had in our basement growing up.
Vera Bradley bags are always quilted. I had some leftover fleece to use for batting from the applique bird quilt I finished this summer. I cut the fleece first, then my fabric. I decided to make my mom's bag a little bigger than my own because, well, what woman can't use a little more room in her purse?

After cutting the fleece and fabric to size, I layered my back, batting, and front pieces together and pinned them in place. Then I sewed the layers together, following the convenient diagonal lines on the cherry fabric.

As I quilted, the layers shifted a little. This is another reason to cut your materials a little larger than your model; you may have to trim the edges as you go.

The purse my mom gave me has pockets of various sized on the inside. These are nice for holding your phone, pens, sunglasses, etc.

To make the pockets, I cut two corresponding pieces of fabric about half the height of the purse. I sewed them together along the top edge (inside out) so that (right-side out) the inner and outer fabric of the pocket would be presentable. I pinned my pocket to the inside face of one of my quilted pieces. Now it was time to sew the two sides of the purse together.

I'm used to sewing purses inside out so that all the seams are hidden behind the lining. But, following my model bag, I sewed the two quilted pieces together right-side out. Then, I turned the bag inside out and sewed the seam inside itself. This is the hardest step to describe. Hopefully, so you can see what I mean from the pictures below.

When you turn the bag right-side out again, the seam is hidden as it should be. Inside, you see a tiny roll of fabric along the inside side seams. I honestly didn't even notice this about my own bag until I was trying to imitate it. I would have thought that the roll would be annoying, but it's (insert British accent here) quite brillant actually.

When I turned the bag right-side out I was so bummed to see that one of my side seams had shifted so that the fabric pattern didn't flow. I am not a perfectionist, I am not a perfectionist, I am not a perfectionist...gah! That erks me so bad! I considered seam ripping, but ultimately decided against fixing it. After all, imperfections are what make homemade gifts endearing. Plus, my mom would be happy to see the product of all those pep-talks growing up. She used to keep me from beating myself up over little mistakes.

Looking at the nice, squared bottom of the bag, I could see that I had never constructed a base like this before (large frame above). I did my best to imitate what I saw, and I'm proud of the result. First, turned the bag inside out. Then, I bent the bottom corners of the bag inward to create a blunt edge (first and second small frames above). I pinned the corner down and saw that all the layers of fabric were really bulky (third frame). So, I simply trimmed off the excess bulk (fourth frame). Flipping the bag right-side out showed that I accomplished a very similar look to my model (fifth frame).

My Vera Bradley bag had a hard insert on the bottom so that the purse would maintain its shape. I made my insert out of a used pocket folder. I folded the stiff paper into thirds and sewed fabric around it so that one side would look really nice.

Laid at the bottom of the bottom of the bag, my insert covers the seams and messy bulky corners that I had to trim down. I love how it maintains the shape of the bottom of the bag.

Finally, I was ready for some finishing touches. I ironed long strips of fabric to make straps and to cover the open top edge of the bag.

Before I sewed the edging around the top, I tucked the straps underneath the inside face of the purse and pinned it in place. Then, I ran two seams all around the top edging, which also secured the straps in place.

And there you have it! A do-it-yourself Vera Bradley bag!

And since I'm not one to waste fabric, I got a new tablecoth out of the leftovers!


  1. How thoughtful...I'm sure your mom will be thrilled with her new bag!

  2. that's awesome. you are talented!

  3. Cherie Freding KruegerMay 1, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    I Love it! I have been wanting to make a Very Bradley type bag--you have inspired me!! I'm sure your mom will love it, too! I agree that making it just a bit larger may have been a good idea. In that style bag, it is nice to be able to have it large enough to be able to stick a book inside it, and maybe a small bag or two if used for small errands when shopping, etc. Well done!!

  4. I like your bag. It looks very nice!
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Nice job on your tutorial. The french seam (side seams) are very handy once you get used to them. The bottom was a new adventure for me but it works out if you go with the flow and dont try to over analyze things.

    Domestic machine users may need to plan ahead as it is easy to build up more material at the seams than your machine can handle. My big industrial singer 42-5 didnt mind the 4 layers of quilting at the bottom of mine (inner pocket, outer pocket, quilted straps (4 layers), bottom panel)

    Happy day

  6. Great job both creating and explaining how you did everything. Thanks for taking time to post this.