Sewing for a Fifth Grader!!

5thgrade-bagoutfit1Holy moly, what is going on with time?? I used to crow about my time management skills, but I’ve got nothing to crow about now. So summer is officially over, and K is a fifth grader! In the Seattle public school system, the new year begins the Wednesday after Labor Day (except for kindergartners — they start a few days later). K’s been nervous.

About a month ago, she asked me to make her a school bag. This caused me to do a double-take because she doesn’t ask me to make her stuff anymore. When asked why, she said, “Last year all my friends kept asking me if you made my backpack and I didn’t like saying no. I love your bags, and my friends were so impressed with the ones you’ve made.” Well. I thought the backpack we purchased from Fred Meyer was lovely, but if peer pressure is the key to feeling handmade pride, I suppose I’ll have to take it. So I made her a bag.


Actually, I made three bags. What you see is the main messenger bag on the left, and a lunch bag on the right.

5thgrade-bagoutfit14I also made a “binder case” as she calls it because…I’m still a little unclear on the reasoning, but she insisted and it wasn’t too difficult, so a binder case materialized. I just made up the pattern as I went along, making sure that it would fit the binder and also still slip into the messenger bag. She’s demonstrating the magnetic snaps of the case up there.

For the main messenger bag, I used A Happy Stitch’s excellent pattern. Melissa, you are a genius! It’s the perfect size and easily accommodates her binder case and a hot pink pencil pouch (not handmade).


I used a laminated cotton (or an oil cloth? What are these things? Why do I not save the selvage??) for the outer fabric which K chose herself, and the lining is quilting cotton I’ve had for an eternity, which I also used as binding for the lunch bag raw edges.


And then there is the lunch bag. I added fusible fleece for a little bit of insulation, and again, I made this pattern up based on the height of that purple unicorn water bottle that’s peeking out up there. I referenced the instructions for the travel case in Anna‘s book, Handmade Style, and added the straps. It was tricky using the slippery fabric for the lining as well as the outer fabric, but in the end, it all worked out.

So she can carry her multiple bags like this:


Or like this:


There’s a happy bag lady on the premises. Whew, that was well worth the effort. The one off-putting part of the process was when I discovered this:


Can you see it? That curlicue thing? It’s a piece of hair stuck between the laminate and fabric. I thought it was thread at first, but no. It adds a decidedly human element to the textile. Ew, was my first reaction, but then I thought, you know what? Someone worked hard at laminating this. Good try! K said, “I’m glad you didn’t accidentally use that part for the lunch bag.” Just in case that makes it sounds as though I used it for the other bags, I did not use that section of the fabric at all.


And before you ask, I didn’t make a first day of school outfit. For the first time ever, K picked out an ensemble from a store. Her dream retail destination? Target. In fact, she’s wearing Target from head-to-toe.


She was over the moon excited. It’s funny, she’s never really asked whether she can get store-bought clothes because I think she assumed I wouldn’t let her. Since I’m in the throes of finishing up book #3, I stopped kidding myself and gave up on trying to make her clothes in time for the first day of school. It was never my intention to make all her clothes for the rest of her life and I don’t have a fervent anti-fast-fashion mission. The goal was to see if I could make all her clothes for a year, and without my realizing it, it had stretched out to four years. Sure, I support the values that come with making things by hand, but I also appreciate a good retail sale. It struck me that by not allowing K to choose her own clothes, I might be causing some weird complex in her.

I found it interesting that when presented with racks and racks of tween clothing, she didn’t go crazy and pick out a zillion options, but was quite decisive and economical. The rule: one outfit, which meant either a top, bottom and outerwear or a dress and outerwear. She knew she most likely wanted skinny jeans, but beelined for a dress just to try (it was a white, lacy number that surprised me). For the top, she selected three options. The white one she ultimately chose, a black sweatshirt with “Girl Power” stenciled on it, and a purple t-shirt. For the jacket, she plucked the knit denim zip-up that you see and a grey one that was similar in style. She also bought the headband with her own money.


It was a very satisfying shopping trip. Afterwards, she sighed happily, hugged and thanked me about a million times, and then…we moved on. Soon the white shirt will get stained. She’ll outgrow the skinny jeans. But I think it was an eye-opening exercise for her. She had fun perusing the available options, but she didn’t actually like as many of the clothes as she thought she would.

Anyway. Fifth grade!!! I wonder what it will be like? Fingers crossed that her first day of school (today) is a good one.


Alright, I’m still in the midst of deadlines, but will be back sometime next week. I have more sewing to share from weeks and weeks ago!

20 thoughts on “Sewing for a Fifth Grader!!

  1. Loved reading this post, which makes me realise that I have missed your posts Sanae. I am super and hugely impressed with the bags. I have had bag requests in the past, somehow they terrify me, and I have tried (successfully so far) to deflect those requests.I loved the laminate you chose and particularly love the binder bag. Might have to try that one.
    Reading about your shopping expedition was very very interesting. I know EXACTLY what you mean by the–I don’t want to give her a weird complex….part. I think of this often, give in more readily now to a once in a while desire for store bought. But so far, I am discovering that like K my daughter is also not going crazy in shops.

    1. Yay! I love it when people can relate! It sounds like you’ve found a nice balance between handmade and store-bought, Asmita! And thank you for the kind words 🙂 — I keep punting blogging for the ever-increasing projects that seem to crop up and I’m re-evaluating all the things that I do right now.

  2. GO K!!! She just looks so wonderful–I know she is going to have a good year. And your bags are just so great. If that is a Sandi Henderson fabric, I used it in a quilt (non laminated) several years ago.

    1. Thank you, Greta! I think this IS a Sandi Henderson fabric! K originally wanted a laminate fabric with cherry blossoms, then she saw the keys and immediately changed her mind. 🙂

  3. I love how you documented this transition, with K requesting a handmade item and also choosing her own clothing! I definitely had some complexes as a kid/teen, about what my family could or could not buy – not about handmade vs. store-bought, but around price and quality, because my parents were so very thrifty. It’s been a revelation for me to give myself permission to buy or make one perfect thing. And your bags turned out fantastically!

    1. Oh, I could go on for YEARS about all the complexes I had surrounding clothes as a kid/teen (then again, that’s what I AM doing, ha!). So happy that you’re giving yourself permission to purchase and make things that you truly want, Morgan. Our culture seems to often steer us away from that, don’t you think?

  4. Ah, my heart is bursting! I’m so thrilled with how your messenger bag turned out and I LOVE all your adaptation bags! You are such a brilliant mama! Thanks for the pattern love, it feels spectacular to see it out in the wild!

    1. Your bag pattern is AWESOME, Melissa! K absolutely adores her messenger bag, and it’s been getting lots of compliments! Thank you!!

  5. What a wonderful post!! And though it’s totally cliche to say this, I can’t believe how quickly they grow up!!! I love the bags you made her, and I think it’s so sweet that she asked you to make them. Though I miss your clothes sewing posts (but hey, you will still sew for yourself, right??), I think it is great that you are allowing her to make her own choices , which I’m sure you did even while you were sewing for her, in shopping together. She’s such a lucky girl to have you as her mom. It’s clear that she is a kind, thoughtful, and super cool girl.

    1. Thanks Emi! Isn’t it amazing how fast these kids transform from toddlers to almost-adults? K is going through a major growth spurt right now and so many things are changing at once, it’s dizzying. And yes, she is pretty spectacular :-).

  6. Lovely post!
    That suite of bags is a wonderful sight to behold! What a lucky girl K is to have such a talented Mama! I like them a lot!
    And K looks lovely in her first day of school outfil.Hope school continues to be something she enjoys for many years to come.
    Thanks for sharing the excitement with us!

    1. Thank you Jenny! We’re wrapping up the second week of school and though there have been some ups and downs, overall fifth grade seems to be a positive experience so far. Her class is very sweet and at first she had some trepidations about her teachers, but now she’s comfortable with them. The bags are getting tons of use!!

  7. By sewing for her for four years she will always be more discerning in her clothing shopping. I would not be surprised to see her pick up needle and thread some day and make stunning pieces for herself.
    Great jobs on the bags! They look so professional!

    1. What an excellent point, Em, I sure hope she IS more discerning because of the handmade experience. I definitely still want to keep sewing for her, but in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or create a sense of entitlement (I mean, it’s rather remarkable that she gets to specify exactly what she wants, right?). Hmmmmm….how to do that?

    1. The lunch bag has been super useful! At first it seemed a little too big, but it’s turned out to be great for all the extra stuff she seems to accumulate during the school day that won’t fit into her messenger bag (trinkets from friends, art projects, etc). Thanks Janice!

    1. First day of school went swimmingly! Though we’ve had some minor challenges in the last few days, she’s learning how to deal with them, which is the important part, right? I’m actually shocked that I was able to make the bags in short order (and without much guidance)! Thanks Annelieke!

  8. What a super listener you are as a mom to a tween. Good for you to give her the opportunity to exercise her choices ( shopping at Target as well as designing her own bags) I can tell you are on the road to a successful transition to teen-hood without too much in the power struggle arena. Enjoy the year ahead!

    1. Aw, thanks Karen! According to K, I rarely listen to her, but I try ;-). I’m bracing myself for the teen years — we’re already seeing some hormonal shifts happening in her, and it makes me gulp to think of what teenage-hood is going to be like. It’s a bit of toggling back and forth to figure out how to nurture independence, sense of self, acceptance and all that good stuff!

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