This summer my family moved from our long-time home in Colorado to a new home in the Midwest. It took us several weeks to begin to explore our new neighborhood, and to slowly step forth into the community around us. It was during this process that I rediscovered the public library.
To be honest, we had not been making much use of the public library in the last few years. I cannot say why, perhaps we had not tried enough to work that into our rhythm. My children are both still quite young, and maybe now was just the perfect time to incorporate regular library visits into our routine.
There is something unmatched in the experience of going to a public space where everyone is striving toward a quietness. Everything slows down. Even my busy two-year-old son seems to understand the change in the atmosphere.
Recently, after reading my daughter her three nighttime books, I reflected on our library books as she fell asleep. Lying in the darkness, listening to her breathing slow down, I thought about how reading our library books at bedtime felt just a little more special than reading one of the many books we have in our own home collection. There is a quality to a library book that hints of its shared purpose. Each page has a worn patina from the many hands that have touched it and reflected on its story. The crinkle of the plastic cover is a sensory reminder to treat the book with care.
We’ve learned many things from our library books. We’ve learned about the quilts that slaves made which had codes hidden in them. We’ve learned a few new poems, and about the passage of time, and about how to overcome our fears. And we have also learned to treat these books with extra care and respect, because they belong not to us but to everyone. What an important lesson, as we move forward into an age where our children will be burdened with the repair of the world which we have not always treated with respect.
In anticipation of many days each month spent going back and forth to the library, I designed this library bag for myself with children’s books in mind. It is wide and deep enough to hold most of the oversized picture books which we bring home by the armload. It also has a little pocket which is perfectly sized for a library card. The pocket is a great place to stash my library receipts so I know when our books are due.
Family Library Bag
1 yard home-dec weight fabric for the exterior and strap
1/2 yard quilting weight cotton for the lining
Scrap of fabric for the pocket
Interfacing, if desired (I like Pellon SF-101)
Magnetic snap or velcro (optional)
Prepare and Cut
Wash, dry, and press all your fabrics before beginning.
From your exterior fabric, cut two panels: 15” wide x 17” tall
and one 5” x 32” piece for the strap
From your lining fabric, cut two panels: 15” wide x 17” tall
From your scrap fabric, cut two pieces for the pocket 5” wide x 6” tall
From your interfacing, if using, cut one piece 5” x 32” for the strap
Create the Body of the Bag
Place your exterior panels right sides together and pin. With a 1/2” seam allowance, sew down one side, across the bottom, and up the other side. Press open your seam allowances, using a seam roll or a tightly rolled towel as needed. Set aside.
Repeat the process for the bag lining, but leave a 5” opening in the center of the bottom for turning.
Begin with your exterior bag piece. Insert your hand inside the bag and open up a bottom corner so the bottom seam and side seam align. Use a pin to secure in place. Mark 2” in from the corner, then use a straightedge to draw a straight across.
Sew along this line, backstitching at both ends. Trim down to 1/2” seam allowance and remove the pin. Repeat on the other corner of the bag.
Repeat the process on both corners of the lining.
Press open your gussets using a seam roll, and set these pieces aside.
Make the Strap
Apply interfacing to strap if you choose. Fold the long strap piece in half lengthwise, right sides together, and sew along the long raw edge with a 1/2” seam allowance, leaving both ends open for turning. Turn right side out.
Place the seam in the center of one side of the strap; this will be the underside of the strap. Press, being careful to direct the seam allowances inside all in the same direction.
Assemble the Bag and Pocket
Turn the exterior piece of the bag right side out. Pin the raw edge of one end of the strap to the top of the bag, centering the strap along the seam allowance. Be sure that the right side of your strap is against the right side of your fabric and that the strap is not twisted, then pin the other raw end of the strap to the other side seam of the bag. Sew the straps to the bag using a 1/4” seam allowance.
With your exterior right side out, and your lining right side in, tuck the exterior inside the lining so right sides are together. Match up seam allowances at the sides with the strap sandwiched between and pin over the straps.
Lay your bag flat. A few inches from the edge of one strap, slide your pocket pieces, wrong sides together, in between the exterior and interior of the bag. Line up one pocket square with the raw edge of the bag exterior top, right side of pocket to right side of bag exterior. Pin in place and stitch with a 1/4” seam allowance. Repeat for the other side (the lining), making sure that your pocket pieces line up across from each other.
Pull the pocket pieces up through the top of your bag, so right sides are facing each other. If you wish to put a closure on your pocket, such as a magnetic snap, do that now. With the pocket pieces together, line up the top of the bag and pin on either side of the pocket. Align the pocket pieces and pin around three sides.
Starting at the top of the pocket, stitch around all three sides with a 1/2” seam allowance, being careful not to cross the line of stitching that connects the pocket piece to the bag.
Now finish pinning all around the top of the bag, leaving the space over the pockets unpinned. Stitch with a 1/2” seam allowance, beginning and ending at the side seam of the pocket.
Finish the Bag
To turn right side out, reach inside the hole in the interior lining, and pull the exterior through. Push the lining down into the bag.
Tidy up any errant threads you may have exposed, then carefully press the top seam.
Use pins to mark the edges of the pocket. Beginning and ending at your pins, topstitch around the top of the bag, backstitching at each end. Then carefully topstitch on the outside edge of the bag along the top of the pocket, being careful to tuck the lining side away from the stitching. Adjust the lining as you go to prevent catching it under the needle. Repeat along the lining side of the pocket.
Finish the bag by handstitching the opening in the lining closed, then press. Fill weekly with fresh library books, and share.
Bernadette Emerson is a co-editor and publisher of Rhythm of the Home magazine. She recently moved with her family from Colorado to the Midwest, where she is looking forward to exploring all that life has to offer.