These days, we rather disparagingly call it “snail mail.” And yet, I certainly perk up when I spy a handwritten envelope amongst the pile of bills and circulars. A real letter is a real treat, and brings back lovely memories of a time when communication, although much slower, was also more anticipated and thoughtful. This nostalgia is part and parcel of our Air Mail Shoulder Sling Satchel, which was originally inspired by the vintage-rich Correspondence collection by Tim Holtz for FreeSpirit Fabrics. We created a unique satchel with the feel of a mail carrier’s bag.
Whether you use our same fabric selections or your own, take the time to fussy cut all the pieces – it’s what gives the finished bag such great style, and it really showcases the beautiful details of the fabric. Not only did we carefully fussy cut our exterior panels, there’s also a secret label and pocket on the lining with special motif highlights.
This taller and thinner bag can be carried with the double looping handles or worn cross body with the detachable shoulder strap. It’s very versatile and the soft cotton webbing we used for the handles and straps is the perfect compliment to the fabric’s muted color palette. The shoulder strap is not adjustable, but instead features custom end tabs that allow the wide, comfy strap to reduce down to fit the ¾” swivel hooks. We give our standard measurements, but it’s easy to adjust the length for your best fit. You could even shorten it all the way up to an over-one-shoulder style.
Ours is an equal-opportunity bag, meaning there’s no right or wrong side – no specific front or back. Both sides have interesting features.
One side features a zippered pocket to keep your most precious secret messages. The other side has a hanging D-Ring tab. We used it to attach a dangling beaded leather accent for a bit of boho bling, but you could also use it to clip your keys.
As mentioned above, we loved working with the original Correspondence collection and do provide links below to our selections for both Tim’s fabrics as well as his Eclectic Elements hardware. However, the shape and style of the bag would work well with any number of quilting cotton fabric trios and standard hardware options. The secret is in the fussy cutting and the mixing and matching of motifs to blend small and large, subtle and bold for that perfect finished style. If you’d like to learn more about some of our own secrets for this, check out our Top 10 Sew4Home Designer Tips for Blending Colors and Prints.
A free pattern download is provided below for the rounded base as well as for the shoulder strap’s end tabs and the unique angled exterior pocket.
Our Air Mail Shoulder Sling Satchel finishes at approximately 17” high x 14” wide with a 41” shoulder strap and standard double handles with a 4” drop.
Sewing Tools You Need
Fabric and Other Supplies
NOTE: Our yardage recommendations for the featured Tim Holtz Correspondence fabric includes extra to allow for the specific fussy cutting shown in our sample. The main fabric (In Transit) has a number of wonderful motifs; the specified 2 yard cut allows you to follow our exact cutting suggestions or design your own with a smaller 1 yard cut.
- 1-2 yards of 44″+ wide quilting weight cotton for the exterior front and back panels, the exterior pocket, and the lining pocket and label; we used In Transit from the Correspondence collection by Tim Holtz for Coats
NOTE: As mentioned above, we used a full two yards to get our very specific fussy cuts; 1 yard would be sufficient to still yield some precise cutting of all the elements.
- ½ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight cotton for the top binding, pocket binding, and exterior base accent; we used Postal Stripes from the Correspondence collection by Tim Holtz for Coats
- ⅝ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight cotton for the lining; we used Symmetrical from the Correspondence collection by Tim Holtz for Coats
- 1½ yards of 1” webbing for handles and tabs; we used cotton webbing in natural
- 1¼ yards of 1½” wide webbing for the cross body strap; we used cotton webbing in natural
NOTE: You may need slightly more or less if you change the length of your strap
- ¼ yard of 45”+ wide mid-weight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon Décor Bond
- ½ yard of 45”+ wide fusible batting; we used Pellon Thermolam
- THREE ¾” Swivel Hooks; we used Eclectic Elements Swivel Hooks in Gunmetal
- THREE 1” D-Rings; we used Eclectic Elements D-Rings in Gunmetal
- ONE 9” zipper; we used an Eclectic Elements metal zipper in Navy/Gunmetal
- SEVENTEEN Dritz® Double Cap Rivets in Gunmetal (one package)
- Dritz® Cutting and Setting tools for Double Cap Rivets
- All-purpose thread to match fabric
- 1⅛ yards of ⅛” wide soft leather lacing; optional – for the beaded hanging ties and the zipper pull
- 7-10 beads in at least two colors with center holes large enough to accommodate the leather lacing; optional for the beaded hanging ties – we used red and white pony beads
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Rotary cutter and mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Straight pins
- Seam Sealant, we used Fray Check
- Small hammer to set rivets; we recommend a soft leather mallet or a ball peen hammer
- Heavy metal, stone or wooden block to use as a cutting and hammering surface for the rivets
Getting Started and Pattern Downloads
- DOWNLOAD PATTERN: Download and print out our FOUR Bag Pattern sheets, which have been bundled into one PDF to make the download easier.
IMPORTANT: Each page in the PDF is ONE 8½” x 11″ sheet. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide rule on each page so you can confirm your final printout is to scale
- Cut out each pattern piece along the solid line. The base pattern is two pieces. Using the arrows printed on the pattern pieces, butt together (do not overlap) the two pieces. Tape together to create the full pattern.
- From the fabric for the lining (Symmetrical in our sample), cut the following:
ONE 10” wide x 6½” high rectangle for the interior pocket lining
TWO 15” wide x 18” high rectangles for the main front and back panels – then use the assembled base pattern to round the bottom corners
Using the exterior pocket pattern, cut ONE
Then, cut along the zipper line of the pattern to create two separate lining pieces.
- From the fabric for the top binding, pocket binding, and exterior base accent (Postal Stripes in our sample), cut the following:
NOTE: This stripe fabric was printed on the diagonal; you do not need to cut your pieces on the bias.
TWO 15” x 3” strips for the top binding
TWO 10” x 2” strips for the interior pocket binding
ONE 4½” x 2½” strip for the interior swivel latch loop – we cut our stripe vertically, like a barber pole
Using the top half of the exterior pocket pattern, cut ONE
- From the fabric for the main exterior (In Transit in our sample), fussy cut the following:
TWO 15” x 15″ panels for the front and back exterior
We wanted the main “red airplane” motif as the focal point for one side of our satchel, positioning it in the upper left of the main square. You can measure and draw in cut lines, or make a 15” x 15” template from a semi-transparent paper or tissue then use this as your “window” to find the perfect motif.
To create our exact look, here is our starting 15” x 15” panel for one side…
… and for the second side – on this side, we centered the white airplane in the upper third of the panel, measuring 7½” to each side of the exact center of the plane
Using the bottom half of the exterior pocket pattern, cut ONE – we suggest matching the pocket to the main panel for the best look, while centering to capture part of the white airplane
ONE 10” wide x 6½” high rectangle for the interior pocket – again we carefully positioned a striking motif
Using the Strap Reducer pattern, cut ONE, then use this first piece to align and cut THREE additional pieces
It’s important that all four Strap Reducers match; ours were fussy cut with the red and blue markings along the edges
Cut ¼” all the way around the Small Airplane Stamp motif – this is optional to use as the interior “label”
- From the mid-weight interfacing, cut the following,
Using the two Exterior Pocket pattern pieces, cut ONE piece of interfacing for the top and one for the bottom, cutting along the dotted seam allowance line.
Using the Strap Reducer pattern, cut TWO – again, cut along the dotted seam allowance line
ONE 9” x 6” rectangle for the interior pocket
ONE ¾” x 3½” strip for the interior swivel latch loop
- From the fusible batting, cut TWO 14” x 17” panels, then as you did above with the lining panels, use the base pattern to round the bottom corners of both batting panels.
- From the 1” webbing, cut the following:
TWO 17” lengths for the handles
TWO 5” lengths for the side tabs
ONE 4¾” length for the d-ring tab
- From the 1½” webbing, cut ONE 40” length.
NOTE: As mentioned above, this length results in a finished strap that can be worn in a cross-body style on an average adult. You may wish to cuts yours slightly shorter or longer.
- From the optional ⅛” leather lacing, cut the following:
ONE 30” length for the dangling beaded tails
ONE 7” length for the zipper pull
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Create and place the exterior zipper pocket
- Find the two exterior pieces of the pocket and the two matching interfacing pieces. Place the interfacing on the wrong side of each fabric piece. On the top piece, the interfacing should be centered so there is ¼” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing along the bottom edge and ½” showing along both sides and along the top.
- On the bottom piece, the interfacing should be centered so there is ¼” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing along the top edge and ½” showing along both sides and along the bottom. This positioning (both on the top and the bottom piece) gives you the correct ¼” seam allowance to either side of the zipper teeth. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Find the 9” zipper. Place it right side up on your work surface with the zipper pull to the left.
- Place the interfaced top pocket piece right side down, aligning the ¼” fabric reveal edge along the top edge of the zipper tape. Pin in place.
- Attach a Zipper foot. Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch in place across the entire pocket panel.
NOTE: As with all zipper insertions, when you feel you are approaching the zipper pull, stop with your needle in the down position. Raise the presser foot and twist the layers slightly so you can access the pull to move it out of the way of the presser foot. Once clear, drop the presser foot, re-position the layers, and finish the seam.
- Repeat to pin and then stitch the bottom panel (its ¼” fabric reveal edge) to the remaining free edge of the zipper.
- Press both panels, and their seam allowances, away from the zipper.
- Find the two pocket lining pieces. Press back the center raw edge of each piece ¼”.
- Place the exterior pocket panel right side up and flat on your work surface. Place the lining pieces into position so they are right sides together with the exterior and so all the raw edges align. Pin in place just along the top and the left side, including the diagonal corner.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along the top edge and the left side, including the diagonal corner. Remember to pivot at the corners.
- The bottom and right side remain open.
- Clip the corners. Turn the pocket right side out through the open side/bottom, which means the exterior and the lining are now wrong sides together. Gently push out the corners with a long blunt tool, such as a chopstick, knitting needle or point turner. Re-adjust the ¼” folds of the lining along the zipper teeth if necessary to maintain an even opening, then pin in place.
- Flip over the pocket.
- If need be, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin. Slightly length the stitch.
- Edgestitch along both sides of the zipper through all the layers, staying as close to the inner folded edge as possible. This secures the exterior to the lining through the center of the pocket.
- Find the main panel on which you want to place the pocket. As mentioned above, there is no official front and back to the bag. We wanted our pocket on the side with the large red airplane motif. Place the main panel right side up and flat on your work surface. Place the pocket, also right side up, in the bottom right corner. Align the side and bottom raw edges of the pocket with the side and bottom raw edges of the main panel. Pin in place along the finished edges only – the top and the left side.
- Edgestitch the pocket in place along the finished edges only. Remember to include the diagonal corner and to pivot at the corner points. Open the zipper part way so you can easily stitch across the end of the zipper. We never have trouble stitching across zippers with our Janome studio machines, but if you are worried about the metal ends, stop and hand-walk across the zipper to insure your needle does not hit any of the metal components.
Attach the bottom accent base and fuse the fleece in place
- Find the two bottom accent panels. Place one right sides together along the bottom raw edge of the panel with the pocket sewn in place. You are aligning the top straight edge of the accent panel with the bottom raw edge of the main panel. Pin in place.
- Repeat to pin the remaining accent panel to the bottom of the non-pocket panel.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the fabric. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch each accent base panel in place.
- Press the seam allowance and the panel itself down into position.
- Flip over the main panels so they are wrong side up. Find the two fusible fleece panels, both of which should have rounded corners at the bottom. Center a fleece panel on the wrong side of each main panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the fleece on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
Create and place the lining pocket
- Find all the interior pocket elements: front, lining, interfacing, top binding.
- Center the interfacing on the wrong side of front panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Place the fused front and the plain lining panels right sides together. Pin along the sides and across the bottom. The top remains open and raw.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
- Clip the bottom corners.
- Turn the pocket right side out through the open top. As above with the exterior pocket, use a long, blunt tool to gently push out the corners so they are nice and sharp. Press flat.
- Find the binding strip. Press in both ends ½”. Then fold the strip in half, wrong sides together, and press to set a center crease line.
- Unfold and place the strip along the top raw edge of the pocket, right sides together with the front of the pocket. The folded ends of the strip should be flush with the seamed sides of the pocket. Adjust the folded ends as necessary to make sure they align perfectly. Pin in place.
- Using a ½” seam allowance stitch through both layers across the top of the pocket.
- Press the binding up and away from the pocket front.
- Flip over the pocket so it is now lining side up. Fold down the top raw edge of the binding ½”. This folded edge should sit just above the top raw edge of the pocket.
- Fold the binding down along its original crease line and pin in place.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the binding fabric. Lengthen the stitch.
- Edgestitch across the binding, go slowly and carefully to insure you are catching both the front and back of the binding in this one seam.
- Find one of the two lining panels. Place it right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Place the pocket right side up on the panel. It should be centered side to side and the top of the pocket should sit 5” down from the top raw edge of the lining panel.
- Pin the pocket in place along both sides and across the bottom.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the pocket fabric. Keep a lengthened stitch.
- Edgestitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
NOTE: We kept our pocket as one large opening. You could certainly also add vertical seams to divide the pocket into smaller sections.
- If you are adding the super cool airplane “label” (or any small chosen motif from your own fabric) find it now. You should have cut an extra ¼” all around. Fold back that much on all four sides. Press well.
- Place the label on the same lining panel to which you just attached the pocket. The label should be centered side to side and should sit 1½” down from the top raw edge of the lining panel.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the fabric. Keep a lengthened stitch.
- Edgestitch in place around all four sides, pivoting at the corners.
Assemble front to back: exterior and lining
- Place the two exterior panels right sides together. Pin along both sides and around the curved bottom. The top remains open… it’s a bag! Take the time to make sure the bottom accent panels’ horizontal seams align.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the fabric. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and around curved bottom. Go slowly yet steadily; you are stitching through a lot of layers as you cross over the pocket panel.
- Keep a smooth and even curve around the bottom corners. If you centered the fusible fleece as directed, you can use it as a ½” guide line, stitching right along the edge of, but not on, the fleece.
- Repeat to stitch together the two lining panels.
- Clip the bottom curves on both the exterior and the lining.
- Turn the exterior right side out. Keep the lining wrong side out.
Create the interior swivel latch tab and the exterior d-ring tab
- Find the 2½” x 4½” swivel latch strip, the ¾” x 3½” interfacing strip, and one of the swivel hooks. Fold the fabric strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press to set a center crease line. Unfold so the crease line is visible. Align the interfacing strip along the center crease line, centering it side to side. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Fold in one end and both long sides ½”. The opposite end remains open and raw.
- Fold in half again, wrong sides together, along the original center crease line.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the fabric. Lengthen the stitch.
- Edgestitch across the one folded end and along the side.
- Slip the finished end through the swivel hook and pull it back on itself about ½”. Pin in place.
- Stitch across to secure, following along in the original line of edgestitching.
- Find the 4¾” length of webbing and one of the D-Rings.
- Add a line of seam sealant to both ends of the webbing. Let it dry.
- Slip the webbing through the D-ring and pull the end back on itself about 1½”. Pin in place.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the webbing. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Stitch across to secure.
NOTE: This loop does have a rivet, but all the rivets will be added at the end. Because the loop can be pulled away from the bag, this rivet can be added then as well.
- Pin the swivel hook tab in place against the right side of the lining on the pocket panel side. It should sit 2” in from the side seam. Pin and then baste in place.
- Pin the D-ring tab against the right side of the non-pocket exterior panel. It should sit in the same position, 2” in from the side seam. Pin and then baste in place.
- Slip the lining inside the exterior so the two layers are now wrong sides together. Align the side and bottom seams. Pin together all around the top raw edges. For extra security, you could machine baste around the entire top opening.
Create and place the binding
- Find the two 15” x 3” strips for the binding. Place them right sides together and pin along both 3” sides.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the binding fabric. The stitch length should be normal.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch both sides, creating a loop.
- Press the seam allowances open and flat.
- Turn the loop right side out, then fold in half, wrong sides together. Press to set a center crease line.
- Unfold so the crease line in visible, fold in each raw edge ½”.
- Fold in half again, wrong sides together, along the original crease line to create the final folded binding “cap.”
- Find the bag, which should have the lining on the inside and should have both hanging tabs basted in place (one against the lining – the swivel hook and one against the exterior – the D-ring).
- Slip the binding cap over the top raw edges, aligning the side seams of the binding with the side seams of the bag. Pin in place all around.
- Lengthen the stitch. Edgestitch all the way around the top through all the layers, staying as close to the inner fold as possible. Go slowly and carefully, especially as you cross over the tabs, to be sure you are catching both the front and back of the binding in this one seam.
Create the strap with the reducer tabs at each end
- Find the 40” length of 1½” webbing. Run a line of seam sealant across both cut ends of the webbing. Let it dry.
NOTE: As mentioned above, this is the length we chose. Because this particular strap is not adjustable, use a tape measure or even just a piece of string cut to length to check the length on yourself or the intended wearer. You can certainly cut a shorter or longer length of webbing to get your best fit.
- Find the four strap reducer tabs, the two matching pieces of interfacing, and the two remaining swivel hooks.
- Center a piece of interfacing on the wrong side of two of the tabs so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Layer a fused tab right sides together with each of the two remaining plain tabs. Pin in place, leaving one end open for turning.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the fabric. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch around the three sides on both tabs, following the angles of the shape.
- When complete, trim back the seam allowance to ¼”. Do not trim back the raw end. Clip the corners as well as into the points of the center “Vs” but be careful to not clip into your seam.
- Turn right side out through the open end. Press flat, pressing in the raw end ½”.
- Lengthen the stitch. Edgestitch around the entire perimeter of each tab. This stitching helps keep the sewn edges from rolling and closes the opening used for turning.
- Lay the webbing on top of the tab. The tab should be the same on both sides, but if you feel one side is not as good as the other, place that side up; it will be concealed within the wrap. The cut end of the webbing should sit right at the point where the tab begins to angle in. Pin in place.
- Slide a swivel latch into position at the narrow center point of each tab.
- Wrap the opposite end of the tab up and over the webbing. Align the ends and edges of the folded-over tab and pin in place.
- Starting at where the cut end of the webbing sits between the layers, stitch up one side, across the end, and down the opposite side, ending directly across from where you started. You are stitching right on top of your previous edgestitching. You do not stitch horizontally across the narrow end above the hook; that’s where the rivets will go.
Side tabs, handles, and all the rivets
- Find the two 5” lengths of 1” webbing and the two remaining D-Rings.
- Run a line of seam sealant across the cut ends of both lengths of webbing. Let it dry.
- Slip a length of webbing through each D-ring, pulling the end of the webbing back on itself approximately 1½”. Lightly pin or clip in place.
- The side tabs straddle the bag. In other words, the longer end is against the exterior and the shorter end is against the lining. The loop that holds the d-ring stands up above the bag binding about ½”. Pin in place through all the layers.
- Stitch an approximate 1¼” box stitch through all the layers. The top horizontal seam of the box should fully catch the short side of the webbing on the lining side. Rivets will add the final security.
- Find the two 17” lengths of 1” webbing for the handles. Run a line of seam sealant across the cut ends of both lengths of webbing. Let it dry.
- Form a loop with each length of webbing and position one loop on each side of the bag’s exterior. There should be a 5” spread between the handle ends and the bottom of the webbing should sit 3” down from the top edge of the upper binding. Make sure the two handles match up front to back.
- The illustration below shows all the positioning of the bag’s elements, including all the rivet points.
- Both ends of both handles are stitched in place, through all the layers, with a 1¾” box stitch.
- Find the 17 rivets and the rivet setting tools.
- Use the above illustration as a guide to mark all the rivet points. All our rivet pairs were ¾” apart and centered.
- Cut a hole at each marked point through all the layers.
- Insert the rivet top from the front through to the back.
- Attach the cap at the back.
- Using the tools, hammer to seal and set.
- Repeat at each rivet point. As mentioned above in the supply list, for the best results, use a very hard surface to hammer the rivets into place. We like to use a small block of granite.
NOTE: The steps for riveting are really quite easy, but if you’re brand new to the technique, you may want to review our general tutorial on How to Install Metal Rivets.
- We used real leather lacing for a zipper pull as well as for the decorative beaded dangle. Both are easy to see and understand in the lovely finished sample photos above.
- The 7” length of lacing is simply folded in half. Feed the loop through the zipper pull, insert the tails through the loop, and cinch to secure. It’s just like how you’d attach a gift or price tag. We left our tails free. You could also stitch them together for added security.
- The 30” length of lacing is looped through the tabbed d-ring in the same manner, but first we strung pony beads onto each tail. There are three beads of alternating colors on one tail, and four on the other. Tie a knot below each bead stack to secure. The tails look best when they are adjusted to hang slightly off-set from one another.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Leah Wand