Paris, Barcelona, and a New Shoulder Bag

Eiffel Tower

This last April my wife and I took a trip to Paris and Barcelona, something for which we have been planning and saving for a long time. In preparation for our trip, I wanted to make a bag that was water resistant. We heard that Paris can be rainy in the Spring, and we needed a way to protect a camera, and a place to stash all of the essentials for long days spent exploring. I also wanted a bag that was made with travel in mind. For me that means some outside pockets that are easy to access, and that inside the bag, there are enough pockets and sleeves to keep things organized.

Cordura messenger bag, front

For the outer shell and lining, I used 1000 denier Cordura nylon. It has a canvas-like weave on the front, and a urethane coating on the back side that helps keep water out. This stuff is extremely durable and is resistant to tearing and abrasion. Various versions and weights of this fabric have been used for outdoor and military gear for years. This is the first time I’ve used all synthetic materials. Normally I’m all about natural fibers (and still am), but I wanted to try something new. Plus, the fabric was a nice birthday gift from my mom, so why not!

Top of Eiffel Tower

The new bag made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower! We were actually the very first people to the top of the tower that morning and had the whole upper level to ourselves for a little while. I was lucky to snag a couple of tickets in advance that had a time slot on them, which allowed us to skip the lines. I highly recommend this way of visiting the tower. You have to commit to a time slot 90 days in advance, and be willing to stay up really late or get up really early if you don’t live near Paris, as the tickets are limited and go on sale at 8:00 am Paris time. But it was well worth getting to skip the two-hour plus lines that quickly formed. Buy them directly from the Eiffel Tower website and not a tour company that charges a premium.

Paris street

This was the street we stayed on in Paris, and it was pretty much everything I imagined it would be. Narrow, with lots of shops and interesting places to eat.

Paris, shoulder bag

Me, awkwardly posing against a wall outside an amazing place that served chocolat chaud. This wasn’t like any hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It was really thick and tasted like a melted chocolate bar. The whipped cream was so thick it was practically butter. By the way, if it looks like I was wearing the same thing in every picture, I pretty much was. We were gone 13 days and I like to pack light. That means one pair of jeans. These jeans.

Louvre sunset

Paris, the city of love and lights.

Eiffel Tower at night

Between a “real camera” and my iPhone, I think I have a gazillion photos of the Eiffel Tower. Day time, night time, it begs to be photographed.

Cordura messenger bag, side

Back to the bag. Even though there is an over-the-top closure like a traditional messenger bag, I also wanted a zipper top to keep things from sliding out, and for a little extra security. Since the top of the bag is built in as extra height added to the side panels and end pieces, I needed a way to hold down the triangle flaps created by forming the “gusseted” top. On each end of the bag where the main zipper stops, I sewed in some really strong magnets to hold these flaps down. I could have stitched the flaps down, but wanted the option of lifting them up to make packing easier.

The magnets I used are actually too strong, and were very difficult to sew. They stuck to the bed of my machine and the feed dogs would not advance the fabric. I would probably change this aspect of the design for future bags.

Quite often people form the gusset and sew these triangle flaps with the bag inside out. As a result, the flaps are hidden on the inside. Leaving them on the outside, however, allowed me to make the zipper two to three inches longer. This creates a bigger opening facilitating packing and finding objects inside the bag.

Fabric shopping, Montmartre

No visit to Paris would be complete without a trip to the fabric shops in Montmartre. There were quite a few shops clustered in this area with lots of fun fabrics. I wish I had had extra space in my suitcase to bring some home. Thanks to Milène at Micoton for all of her great fabric and site seeing suggestions in Paris.

Paris, Montmartre

There were seemingly an infinite number of streets, alleys, hills, shops, and cafes to explore. More than enough for a lifetime of visits. I truly can’t wait to go back. After five days in Paris, we packed our bags and caught the high speed train to Barcelona.

Cordura messenger bag, back

While the bag is primarily meant to be worn as a shoulder bag, because we were frequently climbing up in to trains and down into metro stations, and often had to carry our suitcases as well, I wanted the option to wear the bag like a backpack so it wouldn’t flop around if my hands were full. The back panel is made with a 1/4″ layer of closed cell foam sandwiched between the lining and exterior for structure and comfort. I also made two shoulder straps and sewed some extra webbing loops on the back/bottom corners of the bag. I can quickly attach a second strap with carabiners and wear it as a back pack if I want to.

Barcelona, La Rambla

On to Barcelona. This is the famous La Rambla street, which was always packed with people. I was happy for my zipper top bag as this street is well known for its pickpockets. Luckily we had no issues at all in terms of safety or security. Both cities, Paris and Barcelona seem very safe, even at night.

Barcelona, shoulder bag

I used seat belt webbing for the shoulder strap, which was new to me. It was actually very easy to work with, and is quite comfortable to wear. This photo was taken outside the Montjuic Castle in Barcelona, which overlooked a huge port and shipping area.

Barcelona at night

The Magic Fountain of Montjuic. This fountain lights up and does a lights, music, water show in the evenings. It was pretty spectacular, but I also like this view of the city with the fountains off.

Barcelona at night

Directly behind the fountain show was this building, The National Art Museum of Catalonia. It also lights up during the fountain show. I love the guy with his arms raised to the sky, and the silhouettes of all the people gathered on the steps.

Barcelona street

Similar to Paris, the old part of Barcelona was full of shops and tiny narrow streets to explore.

Cordura messenger bag, front

The inside of the bag has four zipper pockets in varying sizes. One that fits 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets of paper or a magazine, one that fits passports, and two others for a first aid kit, snacks, and flashlight. The open pockets on the ends are designed to hold a water bottle or umbrella.

Cordura messenger bag, open

One thing I learned with this project is to try and use a light colored fabric for linings in the future. In low light, finding small things down in the corners of the bag can be a little difficult since I am basically staring down into a black hole. Maybe a lighter colored lining would help with this.

Barcelona, Sagrada Familia

Some of the architecture in Barcelona is indescribable. Gaudi’s famous masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia. It is unlike any basilica I’ve ever seen. Construction began in 1882 and is still going strong. It won’t be finished until 2026.

Barcelona, Casa Mila

Gaudi’s Casa Mila, or La Pedrera.

Barcelona, shoulder bag

Overall, I am happy with the way this shoulder bag turned out. It was the perfect companion (other than my wife of course!) for running around the streets of Paris and Barcelona for two weeks. We were in and out of planes, trains, and a few automobiles, and I was really able to test the design out. There aren’t too many things I would change.

The dimensions are a little on the big side, but I looked at the size as sort of a compromise. It might be a little big as an ideal day bag, but the extra size allowed me to get away with only having a small carry-on size suitcase for the whole two weeks away from home. So in that sense, it had two purposes – just small enough that it can be carried around all day, but big enough to pack things that didn’t fit in my suitcase.

Barcelona Park Guell

Gaudi’s Park Guell. If I could travel for a living, I would. Can’t wait to get out on the next adventure!

24 Responses to “Paris, Barcelona, and a New Shoulder Bag”

  1. Alex in California — June 18, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

    A magnificent posting.   I think you have created a new type of blog –  travel and a sewing to suit the country.  I’d read that all day!

  2. Alex in California — June 18, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

    You’re a treat to look at but I would have loved to see a photo of the Mrs. 

  3. Taylor — June 18, 2015 @ 3:26 pm

    Thanks Alex! I’m hoping to incorporate more travel as it relates to what I’m making and working on.

  4. Novita — June 18, 2015 @ 5:44 pm

    Sounds like you had an awesome time together!
    Thank you for all the details pictures and tips about the bag. This looks like something that my husband would love! I finally got an industrial sewing machine so I’m very excited to try all sorts of project 🙂

  5. Peter in Seattle — June 18, 2015 @ 7:17 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed how you combine the bag construction with a travelogue. Thanks for sharing your wonderful vacation, your talents as a writer and photographer, and your design and construction skills with us. Your blog is a favorite of mine.

  6. Krentu — June 18, 2015 @ 10:25 pm

    Amazing post! I like how you wove the lines of travel and sewing. I like your bag so much and can’t wait the pattern.
    Really beautiful photos as well! Paris is one of my dream destinations but I am afraid that I would get overwhelmed there as there is so much to see :))

  7. SamiBamBam — June 18, 2015 @ 11:48 pm

    What a great post, and your bag looks really nice.  Can you show a pic of it as a backpack. I have made messenger/backpack hybrids before, and I’ve had a hard time making them feel comfortable and I did my straps differently.  I would love to see how yours works.  Thanks! 

  8. Taylor — June 19, 2015 @ 10:14 am

    New sewing machines are always fun! I love seeing all of your pictures in and around Tokyo. My wife and I want to visit Japan on our next trip. I’m not sure when, at least a year from now, but Tokyo is at the top of our list.

  9. Taylor — June 19, 2015 @ 10:15 am

    Thanks Peter!

  10. Taylor — June 19, 2015 @ 10:25 am

    Thanks! I don’t think I have a pic of it as a backpack. While I’ve used it that way, and like the option, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a true “hybrid,” as the backpack functionality is really meant to be temporary for this bag. You are right, it can be difficult to make the straps feel comfortable both ways.

    I simply attach a second 2″ strap through extra webbing loops sewn into the side seams of the bag using carabiners. You can see the loops in one of the pictures. The loops are sewn in at an angle for comfort. Then I use the regular strap without any modifications. It is also sewn in at an angle for comfort.

  11. Taylor — June 19, 2015 @ 10:33 am

    Thank you! I have to get my first backpack pattern released before this one 🙂 but eventually hope to release some type of messenger bag pattern as well. Paris is overwhelming, but in a good way.

  12. Renee — June 19, 2015 @ 10:39 am

    Fabulous bag. Great photos.

  13. Jordan — June 19, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

    These are some amazing pictures! I’ve never been to Paris, but this is definitely making me want to go. Also, that bag looks great! Love the blue!

  14. Kathryn — June 20, 2015 @ 12:56 am

    Your bag looks great! Very practical for travelling but stylish too. Your photos of Paris and Barcelona make me long to go back, they’re both such beautiful cities with so much to exlplore. Yes please to more travel/sewing combined posts, this is great!

  15. Lesley — June 21, 2015 @ 5:07 pm

    Have you made this bag pattern available yet? I checked your shop, but perhaps you’re not releasing it as a pattern? I’m about to travel to the UK in October and I’m up for a new travel bag.
    I also wondered if you might share those Parisian fabric shops? I checked the hotlink to the french blog, but I’m not a french speaker – boo hoo!

  16. Taylor — June 22, 2015 @ 4:36 pm

    I have not released this pattern yet. Still working on releasing my first backpack pattern. I don’t remember the specific names of those fabric shops, but if you simply Google “Montmartre fabric shops” lots of information will come up in the search results. Many of them were clustered right next to each other.

  17. Reyna Lay — June 23, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

    The bag is great! I would love to make one of those for my travels and especially for my husband who is in the military and is always traveling. Great job Taylor! btw, your trip looks like it was amazing! I’m definitely a bit jealous! We hope to go to Paris for our 1o year anniversary in a year and a half. *fingers crossed*

    Also, is there an email that I could send you some info on my new creative podcast? I’d love to interview you for a segment of the show! You can listen to the first few episodes on iTunes, just search The Reyna Lay Designs Podcast. Or check it out on my site: reynalay.com

    -Reyna

  18. Taylor — June 25, 2015 @ 3:21 pm

    Thanks Reyna! My email is taylor (at) taylortailor (d0t) com.

  19. Leigh Ann — June 27, 2015 @ 11:48 pm

    So glad you had a nice time.  I love both of those cities.  Funny about the Eiffel tower–it seems to photo bomb in pictures.  I would be trying to photograph something else, and boom, there it always was, somewhere in the photo.  But then it’s so BIG.  So no wonder.  I second the advice about “skip the line” tickets.  It’s the only way to go.  (Though I felt  bit of a jerk trundling right past all those people standing in that long line. But I did get over it, lol.)

    I really like reading about your bags.  They’re all pretty awesome.

  20. Ginger — July 2, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

    What a beautiful bag! I love the color! Did you need to use a special needle to sew through the nylon?

    I’m so glad you had a good trip- Paris is so wonderful! I haven’t been to Barcelona, though, so I really enjoyed your photos.

  21. Taylor — July 6, 2015 @ 10:28 am

    Thanks Ginger! I used a size 18 needle on my industrial machine. Basically the same needle I use for denim. The Nylon was actually pretty easy to sew through.

  22. Win — July 8, 2015 @ 9:37 am

    Very cool!! Perhaps next time consider hand stitching the magnets in?  I like that idea, I think with that type of fabric you will need the magnet strength to keep the flaps down.  Only other thing to consider is if you are using a computer in the bag, you might not want it to be near some strong magnets!

  23. Micoton — July 28, 2015 @ 9:44 am

    Thank you a lot for notify my name, I’m really glad you enjoyed your trip in Paris!
    I loved sharing my favourite address for fabric shopping and for the non-French speaking, I can tell you that the Montmartre neighbourhood is the most famous place where you can find lot of fabric shop, with a really nice view on the top of the hill. But you have also several other shops that deserve to be known : Eurotissus, Atelier Brunette, France Duval Stalla, La Droguerie (you will find addresses on Google 😉 ).

    And your bag seems to be very useful and practical : I love it ! (and will try to make a similar … when I will finish the backpack I wanted to sew a lot of months ago !)

    Ps : sorry for my bad english..!

  24. Rebecca — August 11, 2015 @ 3:26 pm

    Taylor- this bag is great! i’m on the hunt right now for a convertible tote/backpack for the fall, and this would be just right! I’m also obsessed right now with making all of my bags bike pannier friendly, so let me know if I can work with you on an add-a-pannier-hook hack. 🙂 

    thanks for sharing your photos and process!
    Rebecca

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