I can't believe it's been six months since I've done any serious sewing.
My girlfriend Julienne with transverse meylitis has been bugging me for quite some time to make her a new wheelchair bag. Now that I'm not glued to the bench in Judge Fidler's courtroom anymore, I had no excuse.
I've made her several bags for her two chairs over the years, usually out of a heavy tapestry fabric. The bags I've made for her have been multi-purpose. They act as a small handbag and also as a place to keep her water bottle. My construction of these bags has evolved over the years, but one thing that hasn't changed is the fact that they go through a ton of wear and tear. I've repaired almost every bag at least once before I make her a new one.
When her children were still young, she needed zippers on the bags to keep their little hands out. I usually had to hand sew these in. Later we tried velcro but because it can wear out quickly we eventually settled on the magnetic snaps.
When designing a wheelchair bag, you have to think about function from a sightless person's point of view because when they reach or feel for something in their bag, it's all behind them. Oftentimes they can't turn around completely to "look" inside the bag.
Although I had recently made a wheelchair bag in December for a new client, it was made from tapestry and did not include a water bottle carrier.
About three weeks ago, I stopped by Julienne's house to talk to her about what she wanted for her next bag as well as to take measurements for a new bag for her husband's chair. We talked about the wear and tear issue and I suggested that maybe we should make this next bag not from upholstery fabric, but based on my Market Bag design: stiff canvas glue-bonded to cotton. I have Market Bags I've made for myself five years ago that are still standing up to the wear and tear. I thought this might be the answer to making her bags last longer.
When designing a wheelchair bag, you have to accept the fact that each bag will be different because all wheelchairs are not alike and not everyone needs the same thing. Julienne needs to be able to reach around to her bag, but it also needs to have easy access, hold it's shape and not add too much weight to the chair. Another concern Julienne had was the fact that the lighter shade of fabrics we've used in the past showed the dirt so she wanted to choose a darker fabric this time. (I chose not to put my label on the bag this time for this reason.)
I brought Julienne a large selection of black based fabrics to choose from. She picked two prints for two bags, and her husband picked a neutral print for his bag.
This bag would have two outside pocket overlays, a water bottle carrier able to hold a bottle with an 11" diameter, two inner pockets on the back side, three magnetic snap closures and D-ring holders. The size of the bag is based on my medium handbags. The base of the bag is made from two rectangular pieces 14" wide by 12" high. The bottom of the bag will be 4" deep. Her husband's bag will be wider (larger chair) and much shorter.
My Market Bag Line is a unique, hand bonding process that glues heavy, stiff canvas to a beautiful cotton print. Once the cotton is adhered to the canvas, you have a fabric that is almost as stiff as a lightweight piece of cardboard. The disadvantages of adhering two fabrics with glue sheets is the finished product is difficult to iron down seams and turn right side out.
Since I had not made one of these bags in so long, I was almost in uncharted waters as I tried to remember which step came first after cutting out and gluing the base of the bag. I realized that before I could even sew on the overlay pockets (that was quite a chore getting the tiny pocket fabric to be a perfect overlay to the print below it) I had to construct the water bottle holder.
The water bottle holder was designed to hold a specific size drink cup that Julienne uses when she's driving. It's 11 inches in diameter. I found a large bottle close to that size and determined how long the fabric piece needed to be to hold the carrier. I then calculated the spacing on the strapping that holds the bottom of the bottle, and sewed the three straps to the carrier piece. After that I sewed the strapping to the base of the bag and then the side of the carrier that goes underneath the bigger overlay pocket. Every seam is triple sewn.
Once the water carrier was constructed I could place the left side of the carrier fabric underneath the overlay pocket and sew the pocket pieces onto the base of the bag.
The next step is placing the front bag-base piece and the back-side piece right sides together; pressure mark, fold over and iron press the top edge of the bag then triple sew the side and bottom seams. Once the two sides have been sewn together then the seams have to be pressed open. The bottom square of the bag is then marked, 4" wide, and triple sewn.
The bag is then ready to turn right side out and the inside corner flaps glued down.
Once the bag is at this stage, I'm home free. Before the liner is made I install the magnetic snaps. Making the liner is no different than any other bag; the liner is custom fit to the bag. The inside pockets are made first, pinned then sewn to the liner piece. The sides of the liner are sewn together, the corner flaps measured, sewn and then sewn to the bottom of the liner. The liner is then fit into the inside of the bag so it will hang perfectly. After the liner is in the straps with D-rings are sewn into the top sides.
Here is the finished bag hanging on Julienne's chair.
Julienne at her office, where she sells wheelchair accessible vehicles.