SIX Ways to Create a Stand Out Bag Exterior!


if you’re in the process of working out the details of the bag you want to submit to the 2018 Road 2 California Bag Challenge, then it’s pretty good bet that you’ll be interested in figuring out a way to make YOUR bag stand our from all the rest of the entries, right? And in this post, I’m going to show you SIX ways to create a “stand out” bag exterior!


Whether it’s a simple monogram or an elaborate digitized design, embroidery is a wonderful way to create a one-of-a-kind exterior whether you have a large expanse to fill or just a small corner to fill. In most cases however, one would generally need a specialized sewing machine to achieve a look such as this!

And just so you know, I have zero skill in embroidery. The embroidery featured on this Boho Baguette was done by the incomparable Susa Glenn.


Whether you create your own unique design or feature a portion of favorite fabric, applique is an effective way to draw attention to certain design features of your bag.

I like to fuse my design motifs in place first with Wonder Under and then satin-stitch the raw edges for a finished look

In the case of this Quattro (at left) I appliqued the entire front pouch area prior to making the bag. I’m a long-time Lord of the Rings fan and this was my tribute to my favorite trilogy series.

 LARGE Prints

Even though bags are small projects, they are often the perfect vehicle for very large prints. The fabric I used for this DittyRoo for example, had a repeat of over 48 inches!

I for one LOVE using large prints on my bag samples. I find it to be a terrific way to draw attention to particular design elements of my bags.

Here’s a tip for you– I recommend first making a tracing paper copy of your pattern piece so you can see that you’ve placed the design item item you want to feature perfectly prior to cutting your fabric. While it’s true that can utilizing a large print can be a bit of a “fabric waster”, the satisfying result you achieve can make it worthwhile!

Unique Fabric Combos

Sometimes it pays to “Go BIG!”. Off-beat fabric combinations can result in an exterior that “sings”!

Is it risky? Yes, and sometimes it works out better than other times but it’s fun to do and the result can be quite striking as with this Wrapsody or this Quattro below.

And here’s an insider’s tip for you– When you’re selecting your fabrics, remember that black & white prints are a perfect neutral, and beyond that…. They add pizzazz without competing with the overall look!

And here’s another hint
This rule of thumb also applies when selecting zippers! To add interest without clashing, we always suggest going with a black and white print zipper to add interest to your exterior without commanding center stage!

Fussy Cutting

This method of embellishment is a particular favorite of mine! I LOVE the challenge of getting my pieces all lined up so that print has one continuous look!

The drawbacks? This technique can be both time AND “fabric-consuming”, but the result can be SO satisfying as it was with this Walkabout, at left!

My advice? Make tracing paper copies of all the pattern pieces you’ll be matching and choose your print carefully. Some prints are inherently easier to match than others (plaids can be a good place to start) and a smaller repeat tends to be much less wasteful.

And let the buyer beware: The prints produced with today’s modern digital methods are much more consistent between repeats & thus easier to match. Although I love using African & other ethnic prints produced by hand, the repeats can be quite inconsistent and more complicated to use!

Special Piecing

I also enjoy piecing my way to a unique look for my bag exterior! The best part? You don’t have to be perfect to get great results (which is ideal for beginners, or if you want a satisfying result without investing a huge amount of time into theprocess), and the results are totally impressive!

I generally only apply the piecing to a small section (or focal point) of the bag, but the effect can be quite impressive.

Embellishing purse exteriors is fun and easy with “Kat” Tricks!

Once again, fabric selection is of utmost importance. In general, a smaller print, or a print that fits within each of the triangular segments of this new design is optimum.

This technique works best on bags with a flat, open focal area, such as the Triple Play at left. We have even included the pattern pieces required to accomplish this look in the Triple Play pattern as well as a few others such as the HipBag Hybrid and the Cosmo Convertible.

For other designs, the additional pattern pieces are available as a free download on our website, like for the Baggalista at left.

We have even more free resources (known as “Kat Tricks”) available HERE on our website, and for those who are interested in a more in-depth study of these techniques and many others, you might want to check out our eBook.

And now…. it’s YOUR turn!

I’m hoping our discussion of embellishing techniques for bags will inspire MANY of you to consider entering the 2018 Road to California Bag Challenge! And just to provide a little extra incentive, we’re giving away

a $40 shopping spree to ONE LUCKY READER!!!

The winner will be chosen at random on Saturday morning, June 10th from amongst the readers who take the time to thoughtfully answer the following question in the space provided below!!!

What’s YOUR favorite way to embellish YOUR projects?

Congratulations to Mary Collins! YOU are the winner of this giveaway!

Thanks to EVERYONE who took part! We’ll do it again SOON!


The On the Road Challenge is sponsored by Road to California and Soft and Stable®. The challenge will open June 15, 2017. That is when the official rules, regulations, and conditions along with the entry form will be available online at Road to California and’s websites.

This post is part of the “On the Road” Bag Challenge blog hop. To see previous and upcoming posts in this series, we recommend visiting the starting blog to find links. Click here to see the full list.

While there is no limit to the number of entries a person may submit, there is a fee per entry: $10 for an online entry and $15 if the entry is mailed in. All entry packets must be received by October 1, 2017. Winning entries and additional entries selected for display will be notified by December 1, 2017.

Check out the best sewing pins with me on Pinterest, join our Facebook discussions, get your daily sewing fix and behind the scenes scoops on Instagram, and be the 1st to know about new patterns, discount codes and sample sales by signing up for our monthly newsletter.


47 Comments So Far, You're Next!

  1. One of my all time favorite bags I made didn’t come from a pattern – I was an experiment using a pair of old blue jeans and a recycled leather skirt. It was the perfect size and had just the right amount of pockets. I made it 5 years ago and I still take it out for a spin on occasion and still get lots of compliments on it.

    • I love upcycling materials! 🙂 And if you still use it after all this time I bet it was a beautiful finish! 🙂

  2. Kathleen Steidl

    I love to use different fabrics and have fun with color. I believe it has made me a more creative person

  3. I LOVE embroidery and pop up effects. They really make the project pop!! Bright colored fabrics… you just can’t go wrong!

  4. I love colors. So much! Lol. I’m always watching for fabric that makes me smile!!

  5. I haven’t tried this yet, but I just got a beautiful stencil and some Shiva Paintstix. I’m going to use this on canvas to make a panel for a bag. I also like using my machine’s decorative stitches. Thanks for the fun!

  6. I love handpainting my designs along with unique fabrics. Anushka bags are awesome!

  7. I love to do embroidery but my favorite way is to look through my stash (who minds looking through your stash over and over, not me!) and placing fabrics together to find a unique combination, one that I have not seen before. It might be colors that don’t typically go together or patterns that usually do not, but I give it a try and I end up with a bag that receives tons of compliments. I simply think outside the fabric box and I have a lot of success! Thank you for letting me share!

  8. Barbee Walker

    I have used nearly all of your ideas when making a bag. I don’t used a pattern, yet try to do something unique to each bag I make. I put pockets across both sides of the interior of each bag. I am rarely seen without one of my handmade bag creations.

  9. Deena Shepard

    I use both embroidery and fussy cutting when trying to match the bag or tote to the person I am creating it for. Also have had fun making panels from favorite t-shirts that are too small or too damaged to continue wearing.

  10. Shannon Maciejewski

    I am a quilter as well, and I made a Bellagio and an Apropos where I started with plain fabric and quilted it with thermofleece on the back, and then used the quilted fabric as my exterior fabric. I did a little very simple hand embroidery on the Bellagio too. The Apropos won 6th place in a sewing competition at the American Sewing Expo a few years ago!

  11. I like to use piping on the outside of my bags. It sets off the sections and colors nicely. But my most favorite thing that I do with all my bags is to put loads of pockets on the inside. It helps to keep me organized!!

  12. Carol Harshbarger

    this is a great contest , I like to machine embroidery on bags and fancy zipper pulls on the Boho Baguett pattern , i have made over 20 of them.

  13. I love to embellish my bags with lace and ribbons. I just love adding a little or a lot. just something to make it stand out. And I love the orange bag with the bee on it, that you have pictured here. Love Love Love that bag. I must have it, haha

  14. I absolutely love the embroidered bag. Sunflowers always call me.

  15. Marcy Papariello

    I love the idea of adding embroidery to the bag! Making purses and machine embroidery….two of my favorite things!

  16. I love hand embroidery and often like to add it to a project. I have a large selection of colors of floss so that I usually have the color that I need if I decide on a whim to add embroidery. Sometimes I add small beads as well.

  17. I’m so new to creating bags and get soooo much inspiration from your StudioKat designs. I like bright, bold colors and patterns and adding funky buttons, pins, and vintage jewelry!

  18. I think my favorite embellishment is piping.

  19. I love to add machine embroidery to bags, to give them that special touch. I also like to pick out what I call happy fabric, it just makes you smile.

  20. I really enjoy your patterns. They easily adapt to use embellishments.

  21. Lucinda Craig

    I love to embroider. I like free standing lace and 3d designs. I would also like to experiment and combine the embroidery with paint crayons.

  22. I love to use bold, bright colors. I also buy backpacks, garment bags, and purses at thrift stores to salvage the hardware. I find some very interesting hardware this way.

  23. My favorite bag is the bohon bag, orange with sun flowers. I like to add machine embroidery every where I can with my sewing. I love making my own hand bags for myself, family and friends.

  24. It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to make a bag but the sunflower bag has inspired me!!!! I don’t have a machine that does Embroidery. But I’d figure out a way using some of the beautiful batiks mom left me and appliqué.

  25. Love all the bags! I have the sunflower embroidery CD by Susa Glenn but not the layout for the bag but I think I can wing it. It’s near the top of my to do list!

  26. I like to do embroidery on bags.

  27. Mary Jane Hendrickson

    One of my favorite techniques is embroidery. I also like using unusual fabrics.

  28. I have yet to make a purse. These designs inspire me to give it a try!

  29. Dorothy Gerard

    I love to make bags. Especially enjoy using ribbons such as Renaissance Ribbons. Often purchase a length of ribbon, then choose fabrics that will make the ribbon be a standout.

  30. I love finding or making unique buttons for my bags. I have my aunt’s and my husband’s grandmother’s button collections.

  31. Heat bond piecing with satin stitch to finish let’s you create any dasign

  32. I know many of you are familiar with the Handbag of the Month contest. I often enter a Quattro design, my favorite pattern. I’m sure many of you have noticed I love to use single fold bias tape and finish the accent piece on the side pockets and the bag opening with the bias tape by first sewing it from the inside then folding it over in half and finishing by top stitching on the outside. It gives the bag a smooth crisp finished look and it makes your patterns really pop!

  33. I love bag bling, like tassels, rivets, metal labels etc..that I buy from EMMALINE BAGS.COM

  34. All the bags are just beautiful, love all the colors. Thanks for sharing. Love them all

  35. Carol Harshbarger

    embellish with embroidery beads fancy zippers with cut zipper pulls and fancy fabrics love the patterns

  36. I love unusual prints–that’s why I love seeing your samples!

  37. I collect unusual buttons and neck slides I find when shopping to use as zipper pull decorations or hand tags on the fronts

  38. Embroidery, needlefelting, beads and buttons!

  39. Thank you so much! I am excited to use my $40 winnings at Studio Kat!!!

  40. I just ordered the Walkabout Wallet pattern and kit for my prize. SOOOO excited to try it! Thanks again, and I’m ready to buy the new pattern pattern when it comes out!