Stitching Tutorial

I thought it would be a good idea to offer a tutorial about how to make a footbag. Keep in mind, this is merely how I do it. If you follow one of my links to Modified, you will read about many other stitchers with their own slightly unique way of making a bag. Its largely the same process, but little technicalities make one stitcher different from another. For this tutorial, I’ll make a standard 32-panel footbag.

So, to start off with, you need some materials. When making your first footbag, I’d recommend just cutting up some old clothes or just use some fabric that your mom (if she’s the crafty type) has laying around. I would guess that any fabric you use will be woven, which is fine to start, but is a little harder to work with since it unravels a bit one you cut out your shapes. If you get into it and want to make a better bag, then you’ll be looking to invest in some Ultrasuede Light, also known as facile. This stuff is nice, it’ll make you want to never go back to woven materials!

Other than fabric, you’ll need a needle, some thread, and also some filler. Any needle will work, but I try to use the smallest diameter needle that can still be threaded so that the holes left behind are small. My idea is that smaller holes won’t loosen up and tear as fast as bigger ones, making for a longer footbag lifetime. For the thread, anything works at first, but stronger is better. I use extra strong button & carpet thread, but other people have been known to use dental floss, it’s up to you. Filler can be anything to start out with as well. This is a primary topic among the footbag community, and I would recommend going to modified.in to read more about all the varieties and their benefits. I started out using sand because I could walk out my front door and sieve a handfull of it.

In summary, if this is your first bag, make it as cheap as possible so you can just get the process down. If you stick with it, then move on to better materials.

Once you have your materials, you need to get a pattern. I sew primarily 32-panel bags, but start out with a 12-panel or something. This is a good place to go to find some patterns. If you want to make a 32-panel bag, this is a nifty thing that creates two shapes based on what dimensions you insert. It takes a little time to get the right sizes, but start out with your pentagons  being .75 to 1.0 inches and your hexagons slightly longer. The ratio is a matter of preference as to how you want the bag to look. For instance soccer balls have this ratio at 100% because their hexagons have all sides being equal length. Most footbags have a ratio of 30-60% I would guess. Keep in mind that a bigger ratio will make your bag bigger as well. Like I said, it takes some experimenting to get everything just right.

Once you have your pattern, all you have to do is transpose them onto your fabric so that you can cut them out. Do this by getting your pattern onto something stiff like card-stock or something. Cut it out, and then trace it onto your fabric. If you find a pattern you really like and you’ll use over and over, make a stencil out of some thin plastic (notebook covers work well). Having a stencil makes tracing your patterns quite a bit faster. For a 32-panel bag, you need 12 pentagons and 20 hexagons. Keep in mind here what side you want to be facing out on the finished bag because you will be tracing on the “inside” surface. In my picture below, the side I have drawn on is the side that will be the inside of the bag. Once you trace them, cut them out!

Once you have your pieces cut, you are ready to start stitching.When doing a 32-panel bag, the best strategy is to sew all the edges of a pentagon, and then move onto another pentagon and do the same thing. So to start, grab a pentagon and a hexagon and line up the long edges of each and push needle from the hexagon to the pentagon. The starting position should be maybe 5 mm or so from one of the apexes of the pentagon. This means that you will push the needle through the hexagon so that it comes out in the apex of the pentagon. Confusing? Take a look at this picture to make things a little more clear:

You can see the tail of the knot where I started. The sewing is a basic in-and-out stitch, starting and ending on the hexagon side.How many stitches you put in depends on what you want the bag for. If you want it done quick, do 2 stitches. I think the standard is probably 3. If you are wanting to use sand, it might be a good idea to get 5, or even 6 stitches in there. Anyway, for a 3-stitch bag go “in and out” 3 times. This will then put you on the hexagon side. From here get another hexagon and sew the short edges of the already sewn hexagon and the new hexagon together. Do this by simply going from the sewn hexagon to the new hexagon, making sure the edges line up. In the picture above, you can see the last stitch attaching the two hexagons. Once you have the next hexagon on there, the process starts all over. Line up the edges, sew the edge, attach another hexagon.

However, there is another step after you have sewn to hexagons together. You have to tighten the thread, thus producing what is called “gather”. How much gather you have is another personal preference, but keep in mind that how much gather you have decides the length of each side and thus the overall size of your bag. Generally speaking, more gather means a smaller¬† and more “rolly” bag while less gather makes a bigger and more “loose and floppy” bag. So now the process is, (1) line up the edges (2) sew the edge (3) attach the next hexagon, makeing sure their edges line up (4) gather (5) repeat. Here is a photo of three sides sewn and gathered with the next hexagon ready to go:Also, pay attention to which piece needs to be sewn next. Sometimes you need a new piece, sometimes you sew already sewn pieces. Just use another 32-panel bag to look at to determine which piece goes where. This photo might help as well:

Like I said, go around sewing pentagon to pentagon. You have a choice of sewing one pentagon, tying off, cutting the thread, and then starting another one, or you can sew two pentagons with a single string. To do this, all you have to do is add one more stitch between two hexagons once you have gone all the way around the pentagon. This will put you in the same starting position on a hexagon, ready for a new pentagon:

Continue sewing up a storm and soon you’ll be down to your last pentagon. Here, you want to sew the first four edges, but the just before your first stitch on the 5th side, tie a double overhand knot. This will prevent the rest of the edges from getting stretched out when you flip the bag inside out. Then, with the knot tied, start sewing the last side but keep all of the stitches very loose. I leave loops in each stitch at this point. You’re doing this so that you can turn the bag inside out through this last seam. Take a look:

Once you have this edge loosely stitched, you’re ready turn the bag inside-out. I like to use a pen to get the process started, and then just use my fingers and sort of “roll” it inside-out by pushing the “inside” down and pulling the “outside”out. That sounded confusing, so here’s a mid-way picture:

After you have the bag completely right-side out, you’re ready to fill. Just make a cone out of an index card or something, and dump however much filler you want in through the hole you just used to turn the bag inside-out. For ideas on filler, go to modified.in, or just use whatever you have laying around.

Now you’re ready to close up that last stitch! All you have to do is tighten one stitch at a time while pushing the fabric down into the hole. However, when you turn your bag inside-out, the needle will probably be coming out of the center of the hole. Instead, run the needle out through the side it’s coming from by passing it under the last stitch. This will make it so that the thread is coming out from in between two hexagons. More photos for clarification:

Now tighten that last stitch and you’re ready to get the remainder of the thread on the inside of the bag. To do this, first adjust the gather of the last stitch, and then tie a double overhand knot as close to the bag as possible. Then take the needle and push it into the hole where the thread is coming out. Next, push the needle through a seam between two hexagons, making sure not to puncture the fabric, but to actually go through the seam.

Now just pull the needle all the way through the bag along with the thread. The idea is that you will pull the knot you tied on the outside of the bag in to the inside. Sometimes the knot goes in easy, other times is takes some pushing and coaxing. Once you get the knot on the inside, sometimes you’ll get a satisfying little pop, pull the thread tight, and snip it close to the bag. Once you roll the bag around, the loose end of the thread gets sucked into the bag, and you’re left with a bag that has no outside seams. Pretty cool!

So I guess that should do it. There are probably little holes in my descriptions, or they might be confusing, but you should be able to figure everything out if you look closely and visualize everything. And if you find something that makes it easier or better, leave me a comment, and I’ll try to incorporate them into my bags!

Good luck and happy stitching!


3 Comments on “Stitching Tutorial”

  1. Paul Austin says:

    The pics are good and so are the explanations. Thank you for your quality work.

  2. Johnny Sarah says:

    Great walk through. this helped immensely and i’m planning on starting my own stitch real soon. Btw i just put in an order for 2 bags from Umbrella and i can’t wait to receive them!!!!

  3. clayton smith says:

    great tutorial i just finished my first bag. i did a 12 panel and its pretty small, so I’m hoping the 32 will be a bit bigger.


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