Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Love-hate relationship

Zipped closed
I made this bag. It's the "Bionic Gear Bag" (pattern available on Craftsy). I cannot remember where I first saw mention of the bag, but it looked super practical. As I accumulate stuff, and especially stuff for my growing collection of knitting machines, I could really see the benefit of being able to put all the tools and little bits for all my machines into one bag that would allow them to stay organized yet be easily accessible.

As usual, the stash coughed up every bit of fabric, interfacing, batting and the zippers needed to put this together. I made it from quilting cotton on the outside and a mystery light twill fabric for the inside pockets. I can't see the advantage of a busy interior for a bag that's being used to store lots of small items. Neutral seemed better, although some of the fabric combinations possible with quilting cottons are pretty cute. I chose some random zippers from my extensive collection.

Loaded for sewing
So the bag is terrific. As advertised, when unzipped it stands up very nicely all by itself with its "tray" at the front for the stuff you need at the moment. The pockets (4 zippered pockets and 4 open compartments of different sizes) don't flop closed and are also very easy to access. When you zip it closed, everything is nice and compact and secure. There is no need to be worried about things falling out or getting out of their compartments, even if the bag gets turned upside down.

Loaded for machine knitting
It's big enough (approximately 10" or 25cm side to side and 4.5" or 11cm deep) to hold all kinds of things (like my Kai shears or all the rulers and scale sets from my knitting machines). It is sturdy enough to hold substantial items.

So what's not to like?

Well, it's the pattern.

Downloaded PDF patterns by indie designers are a great idea but they require no expertise in pattern writing, and no discipline re keeping the document short yet complete.

This PDF has 82 pages! It isn't a pattern, it's a novella.

In fairness "only" 37 of these pages relate to the bag shown in my photos. The other 45 (!) are devoted to the task of explaining how to construct a little zippered pouch. I haven't yet managed to work up the psychic energy to assess how a little zippered pouch could possibly be such a complicated project.

There is one (1) page out of the 37 that describes the pieces and materials, and one (1) page that has an actual pattern piece on it, which you can photocopy and use. The rest of the document contains pages with many words that fail miserably, in my opinion, to accurately and completely describe the task at hand, and a number of photographs that are not all that clear (busy fabric, awkwardly cropped/posed and unlabelled) so do not actually help all that much.

There is not a single drawing of this bag in the 37 pages. Not a single schematic, cross section or other graphic that would allow you to avoid reading the many many many pages of many many many words. Nothing to give you an actual overview, either of the thing you are making or of the document.

And so much extraneous verbiage is on offer! I absolutely do not need to know about the designer's pet peeves or favourite sewing notions. I don't want to be asked if I am "gettin' excited yet" after I complete a sewing task.

And really, what is the point of a "tip" about prewashing that starts:
Personally, I never do it. (Oh, did I say that out loud?!?!) But that said, while working on the "fox" themed example for this one, omg, I wish I had. It shrunk terribly when I just misted it to press it. I watched it shrivel before my very eyes. Note to self: maybe stay away from this brand of cotton in the future! 
Get an editor!

I am not the first person to point out that this pattern is (to put it mildly) not well written. In fact it's so bad that someone (not the designer) posted YouTube videos "translating" the pattern so it can be understood. There are some videos on the designer's website but they are not helpful. Like the pattern, they contain too much detail (how to find the centre of a piece by folding it in half and placing a pin - wow), and not enough actual information.

If, unlike me, you don't mind watching about 2 hours of video so you can work out how to make the thing you bought a pattern for, go ahead. Here's the link to Part I of the Sewalong. I watched enough of it so I could understand the gist of what I was supposed to be doing in putting together the pieces for the innards of the bag (the zipper pockets and compartments assembly). After that I was able to wing it with occasional searches of the PDF.

In short this pattern caused considerable frustration. But I love the finished bag. I may even make another one.


  1. You have just experienced the pattern equivalent of uptalk.

    Do we need to *like* the writer of a pattern? No, we just need clear and concise directions.

    BTW, very nice bag. I would have bought the pattern because I'd love to have a bag like this. But you scared me away.

  2. Love your version with the plain inside.
    I do have this pattern and all you describe is the exact reason I have still not made it. Just can't get past the way of writing, though I managed to find out which page was the most importantšŸ˜‰

  3. I agree with you entirely. I also found the videos too long, overly complicated and could not sit it out to the end. I am however, girding my loins to make another one as I like the first so ,u h, but hope I can do it without much reference to the instructions. A useful addendum to the pattern would be a bullet point style resume of how to put the bag together.
    I understand from the BIonic Gear Bag Facebook page that the author has been going through difficult times. I hope her situation improves.

  4. How frustrating! Nice bag though

  5. Thanks for the much appreciated warning. When I saw your photo of the bag, I thought, I need to make that---then I read about the 5,000 pages of instructions (or lack thereof) with no illustrations, and said, "NO THANKS."

  6. I remember looking at this pattern and thinking the bag looks so useful! I found this tutorial, I do not speak her langage but just the visual got a very clear overview of what to do in half an hour!

    1. Oh, I just realized, it is not the same bag because there is 1 less zipper pouch and not tray in the front, but my bet would be it is sewn in a similar fashion? sorry! My comment might be more confusing than anything...

    2. CosmicCaro - I wasn’t at all confused. The tutorial in link you provided 110% helped me better visualize the project even if they aren’t exactly the same bag. Thank you!

  7. IMHO - Perhaps it is an idea to start by congratulating the designer on what appears to be a very clever design. No doubt her intention with the instructions was to cater to the lowest common denominator - the beginning sewist, rather than all of you very experienced ladies.

    1. I am afraid you misunderstand me. The problem is not that the instructions are too basic and designed for someone with less experience. The ONLY reason I could successfully make this bag is that I have lots of experience and could proceed despite the instructions.

    2. This pattern was a larger knockoff of another bag. There was a lot of harsh words between the designers and a lawsuit. I made this bag 4 times simutaniously because I knew I'd never make it again. Had it not been for those videos, they would not of gotten made.

  8. LOL! It sounds like she needs more than an editor. It's a great bag but I am not sure I have the patience to wade through all that excess verbiage.

  9. Looks like a very convenient bag to have. I love bags with compartments.

  10. What a useful bag to have! It seems strange that the same focused mind that conceived and achieved such a complicated design could not pull itself together to explain the process. The bag leaves off what is not useful but the words don't. Strange.

  11. I have Pinned this bag, and now I will not waste my time. Thanks for the warning! I always search out the designer's free pattern and review the quality of instruction before I buy.

    The history of poorly written patterns is long- remember that Vanity Press pattern industry? When we went to trade and consumer shows a bought patterns or mail ordered them from magazines? The only difference in this modern age is there is no "filter" of expense to produce.

    That said, there are some fantastic independent designers out there. Thank goodness for our online community and people taking time to review patterns.

  12. I love this bag! Bought the pattern. Then, HOLY SCHMOLY 82 #$%@ PAGES!!! Then the 'written uptalk". Dear heavens. I couldn't stand it and couldn't bring myself to slog through it. Good on ya for getting through all that, and the plain interior is genius. My friend also made this bag and it's cute as heck. Still.

    Perhaps I just need a nice tall adult beverage to give me strength. :)

    1. I so need to know if you watch "The Curse of Oak Island", because that's the metal detector's favorite phrase! And, if you do watch it, perhaps we could add a Bobby Dazzler to the Top Pocket!!

      If you don't watch, this will make no sense! Lol

  13. Well said, Kay. I plan to make this bag, but found the instructions, despite the verbiage, lacking in clarity. I felt maddened by the style of writing - far too much information about some things and far too little about a few things that I did want to know. And I too consider myself an experienced and competent sewer (though not as good as you!).

    There was a paragraph advising us not to print out the pattern as there were bound to be typos! Get some sensible testers and proof readers!

    And I felt that the order of sewing the lining and its zip compartments could have been improved. I shall try a different order and see if the result is less unwieldy.

  14. Thank you for writing this post, I thought it was just me. I had a massive rant to my sewing group when I started on the epic saga of instructions. I quickly found the videos, and after making one bag decided on a simpler (less-trimming and faffing about) method.
    A few things I did:
    1. Cut the fusible slightly bigger than the pieces, fuse to fabric then cut the fabric out. I used a lightweight woven fusible and found it suitable.
    2. Not bothered with centering the pocket zips since the length specified is not available in metric. Before you start construction, simply stitch across both the zip ends at the correct length (over the teeth if it is too long), and always line up one of the stitched ends (eg head or tail end) with the edge of the fabric. This eliminates the need to trim both ends of zips to just one end, and does not need any fabric trimming done. You'll still need to centre the outside zip.
    3. Add ¼" seam allowances on each side of the fold lines in the side pattern piece - this eliminates the insanity of 'easing' of the side piece onto the bag and makes construction simpler and faster. I made a new side pattern. It is longer than the original by 2" ( 4 x ¼"x2) and it fits.
    4. When sewing the side folds in place, stop (and back stitch) ¼" from the bottom - this makes sewing the bottom on much easier to manipulate, as the fold ends can be flattened rather than flipped forward or back.

    Hope this helps. 12 bags with more to come. 1 zippered pouch with no desire to make more.

    1. Thank you so much for this! I had the same problems as Everyone else and wrote an extensive review on my own blog. This was three plus years ago during all the drama and I never was able to find the tutorial videos. I have recently thought I'd make another one and went looking to see what info is out there today. The helpful videos made by someone else that folks refer to (I've never seen them) have been taken down and Sally is charging to see her own tutorials on her new website. For a pattern that I've already paid her (dearly) for. I have no idea what this clipping into the sides is about but the extra 1/4" seam allowances sound's brilliant!

  15. Oh, I made the same bag and I absolutely love it! Now I'm trying to gather up the courage to make another. I was able to get through the pages of instructions but attaching the interior to the side gave me fits. It just doesn't work without a lot of forcing. Later I watched the you tube video and realized I should have just clipped into the pocket section before attaching it to the sides. I've sewn for many years, but not this type of bag, so I was just trying to follow the instructions, where there is no mention of clipping. Anyway, yes, terrible instructions, great bag.

  16. I agree with the comments of everyone. I bought the sew together bag pattern first but wanted something bigger so I bought the BGB pattern. I was impressed by the STB pattern but the BGB pattern gave me some problems. Like you all say the pattern is hard to follow and not impressive with the wordy instructions. I also was in luck as I found the you tube tutorials that were available at the time I made my bag but now they have been taken down do to conflict between the two parties. What a shame. I will not promote that type of censorship and therefore will not promote the BGB bag. There are plenty of tutorials on the web for the sew together bag on pinterest and with some modifications I have been able to enlarge that bag and it fits my needs perfectly. One additional note: I will not pay for tutorials for a pattern that I have already paid for.

  17. This lady Ruby Yeh (not English) constructs/sews a bag very similar. Enjoy. Extrapolating is not difficult to include the construction of the 'tray' which is really just a longer pocket in front of the first zippered pockets. She doesn't use any special tools or any other sewing feet. She doesn't press either. Zips through like a pro (she probably is). Her machine sews fast so the video is less than an hour. It would be fun to understand what she is saying. She gets tickled here and there.

  18. I too bought the BGB pattern. It was way too wordy and did not make sense. My sewing store offered a class on the pattern. She rushed through everything. Yes, I got it done but it was not fun. The pattern maker offered a streaming class for $9.00. That made up for my bad BGB experience. I now enjoy making the bag

  19. I bought the video tutorials through PayPal and it shows j have paid for them, yet they are not available under my login. I emailed her, but have had no reply. I was so excited to make this bag, but if I have to buy a pattern for $12 and the video tutorials for $29, it gets to be really financially prohibitive unless you made a butt ton.

    I really hope she emails me soon.

  20. I am so glad others found this “pattern” as awful as I did. I also bought the download video in the hopes of simplifying the instructions. I watched all 17 hours of an unedited sew along. At one point twenty minutes were spent on part of the bag where even I could see it was not going to work. Part way through the video someone had a better suggestion which meant a change in instructions. This is not in the “book” sorry I meant pattern. I hate the rods which are supposed to help keep the shape but actually only restrict access to the pockets and their contents.
    In short by the end it was touch and go whether it or I would fly through the window.
    I swore I would never make it again but the devil in me says I must but my way which will be infinitely simpler. Look at Yoan Sewing Studio on YouTube. Easy instructions and can be adapted from the jelly roll strips to yardage very easily.
    Glad that rant is over.