For me, sewing bags is akin to a meditation or a spiritual practice... Something about hand sewing thousands of identical, delicate stitches... like carving or quilting a perfect sphere, only using the softest leather fabric and sinew thread... It blew me away the first time I successfully sewed one (in 1985) and it still gets me today. And, the truth be told, with the right materials and a some instruction, constructing one's own yummy, inexpensive and stylin' footbags is damn easy! And what a rush to kick those choice products crafted by your own hands!
Years ago, hanging on the fringes of the footbag world championships, teaching kids and uncles and photographers to sew bags, a footbag maker approached me concerned I was "spoiling" the market by "breeding competition". Later, during those (lean) years as an itinerant footbag salesman, I too pondered whether to patent and "protect" my (Dogsack) designs. Today, I have a different philosophy. If someone wants to make bags and they have the willingness to put in the time and the humility to ask for help, I believe they deserve all the tips, patterns and advice they can get. Besides, more sack makers can only raise the quality and artistry of the product, bring more grassroots attention to the sport and further accelerate this exciting footbag phenomenon!
...Are you willing to carry this knowledge in the same spirit, passing it freely to all who ask and sharing the footbag ethic of cooperation with kids and rank beginners as well as "big shred" warriors... If so we'll show ya how they're made!
Today there are many different sewers making some amazing custom as well as mass produced footbags and many, many more who've dabbled. How many people actually make bags? I personally know about three dozen serious sack sewers. No doubt the real number is in up in the hundreds or thousands... If you know someone who makes bags, especially cool and unique bags, contact me. Also, if you are interested in being part of an on-line discussion group on the topic of footbag design and sewing please Email Daniel.
1. Thread your needle with a piece of split sinew 3 ft long, double the thread and tie both ends into a beefy (triple) knot at the bottom.
2. Lay two pieces one on top of the other (the sides you like facing inward) and begin sewing one seam with an (in and out) "running" stitch.
3. At the corner add tension to your seam giving it that distinctive "wiggly" look and add piece number three with all (3) corners touching. Sew down the next seam (as pictured).
4. Continue adding equal tension as you sew each seam and at the next corner add the fourth and final piece.
5. Now that the four pieces are attached, continue assembling the sack and sewing up the (6) seams. Remember, every corner should be the junction of three different panels.
6. After your 4th or 5th seam, you will come to a dead end. Don't panic. When you do, use the head of the needle to loop under several stitches already in place and "hitchhike" your way back to the place that remains undone. Start and sew approx. 1/2 of the final seam and then flip the bag right side out.
7. From the outside, the final seam is closed differently. I call it a "blind" stitch because later, when you pull it closed, you won't see the thread. First, bring the needle up and out through the lip of leather where the thread is lying, "escaping" it to the outside surface. (From now on, all sewing will be done from the outside. Ie: you won't put the point of the needle inside the hole again). Now cross over to the opposite lip and pierce (from above) and exit the same piece with one, small bite. Cross back to the other side and do the same. Repeat back and forth until there remains about one fingerwidth of opening (see picture).
8. Fill bag to taste. If you can't locate plastic, lentils, pearl barley, popcorn or rice works for starts (watch chipmonks!). Continue the blind stitch using up remaining space all the way into the final corner. When there remains only one stitch left, plant it so your needle exits using up nearly all remaining space. Manicure the final seam and pull and adjust your final tension. Construct a bombproof knot directly at ground zero, cut your thread. Now carefully tuck the knot into the seam directly under the placement of the last stitch. If the placement and tension of the final stitch are done correctly, the knot will disappear entirely into the interior of the finished ball. With practice you can magically and indecipherably close every bag.
Bark twice here to enter...
"...I've made a few dozen footbags and they came out ok. But, what I really want is to take it to the next level. I want to make some really professional looking sacks!"
The key factors are: (uniformity) of tension throughout the bag, number of stitches per side and depth of "bite" or how far from the edge you place each stitch. These things will change for different materials and kind of bag being sewn. If I am making a soft facile 32 freestyle bag I sew two whole (in and out) stitches per side of pentagon and pull "significant" tension. The resulting bag is "juice"-like in it's "puffed out" appearance and slightly "spring loaded" feel, however perfectly round (due to careful uniformity of tension throughout). If I were making a four or twelve panel deerskin or ultrasuede bag I would apply less tension, bigger stitches and allow the thickness of the material to help close the seam. Remember, seams can be dense. Watch they don't get too thick lest they create unevenness or distortion of the sphere.
"How do you get your bags so perfectly round looking and beautiful?"
On the vitally important question of UNIFORM TENSION. Here's a cool secret. If you tie off and restart your thread for every "flower" or unit of sewing as many fine sewers do, then this doesn't apply. However, if you sew bags (like I do) with one, long, continuous thread approach... Carefully eye and examine the birthed and unbirthed product before closing for lapses of tension. If you notice any, you can carefully exploit the extra thread at the end of the sewing task to "hitch hike" around to, loop gently into, and apply micro quantities of needed extra tension bringing the finished bag as close to uniform as possible.
Try sewing 12 pentagons as your first multi-panel footbag...
Once you've mastered the technique, go for the 32 panel (12 pents and 20 hexes) or soccer ball style footbag!
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