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Shearling Genoa

Posted: Oct 10 2016

It’s suppose to be spring here and it has been raining and freezing ridiculousness. But maybe I have made the best winter bag ever which makes up for a vitamin D deficiency, right? Every day of shivery chill I’ll be able to relish this fluffy being.
Genoa Tote Sewing Pattern

Here’s my latest Genoa. This bag is an invitation for experimentation. It’s already easy to make and there’s no fitting required. 
Genoa Tote Sewing Pattern.

It all began when I found a shearling jacket at my new favourite op shop on the discount rack out the front. This op shop is community run and the prices can be a bit random to say the least, it really depends on which volunteer has done the tags that week. I could see this gem had been under valued. The jacket was 90’s shearling sport coat, suede outer, lamb fur inner. Best gunmetal grey ever. The styling had some minimal norm core appeal but tried it on and it was a definitive no. Apart from a weird sticker stain on the front bust, the shape was bit too ugly.  After a quick circuit of the store and it came to me.
G-E-N-O-A, Ten dollars later is was mine.
Genoa Tote Sewing Pattern

Is sheep skin with the fur on, it can be long or clipped like Ugg boots . From an Adult or lamb. This shearling is very soft and I suspect from lamb skins. It probably not a thing I would seek out as a new textile to work with but as I am completely happy to work with re-fashioned shearling.

After some furious unpicking the couch became a nest of fur and threads. I steamed each piece flat and was left with this. 

Shearling Laid or  Genoa Tote sewing pattern

So I had enough experience with leather to know this could be a pain to sew. But I have also been extremely frustrated with my lack of studio time  (lack of making) and really want to have the bag, not the perfect bag. This was going to require loosening the shackles and not going into a time wasting vortex of over thinking it.  
I really wanted a the Large Genoa Tote (the pattern comes in S, M & L)  and wasn’t sure until I had cut out one side that I’d have enough for two sides, a bit of luck got me through rather than excellent planning.  
The colour inconsistencies were passable but the fur textures were extreme and really were going to look like a dogs breakfast without some visual structure, pulling it together.  Some pieces are fuzzy and thick and other tight and ringlet like. I stitched two very different pieces together to see if there would be enough difference to get a strong line, once I had established a definite yes, I then set about planning a proper patch work bag. 

Shearling Variations Test seam

Short and Curlies, this is the test piece to see if a clear enough line would appear between the different types of fur.

I have been loving the art of ‘Hilma af Klint’ of late and have been interested in circles and triangles and their recurrence in spiritual symbology.

The Dove, Noi. by Hilma af Klimt.
The Dove, Noi. Hilma af Klint.


The Swan No. 17. Hilma af Klint
The Swan No. 17. Hilma af Klint.

I knew that my gunmetal, grey beast would appear more like brutalist architecture rather than the feminine of ‘Hilda Klimt's’ work. 

House of Parliament, Bangladesh. Architects Muzharul Islam and Louis Kahn.
The exterior an interior of, The Parliament of Bangladesh, Muzharul Islam and Louis Kahn.
The Parliament of Bangladesh, Muzharul Islam and Louis Kahn

I divided the pieces into two piles smoother and curlier. Making sure they were evenly distributed in volume and I could do some patterning.  I was really trying to not over work it and get mathematical about the process, I could sense and abyss of analysis coming and really want to avoid that. They came out fairly evenly but there was a fair bit of in-between textures and that actually gives me the keys to work the pattern loosely.

I opened the Genoa pattern up and wondered if I could do it all on patternmaking card and soon ditched that for the computer, so  much faster. I generated a slightly different front and back, to avoid intersecting seams. I was really anxious about four points coming together. I did some shading works and contemplated symmetry then gave up and just generated the shapes as pattern pieces. 

Genoa Tote, sewing pattern, PDF. working illustrations for patchwork version.
Working illustrations for patchwork Genoa.

I went to cut out the first half circle and soon realised not one piece was big enough, doh. Took a deep breath and chopped it into quarters. Putting the very thing I had re-designed many style lines to avoid right bang in the centre of the bag a  fourway cluster of joins! Followed by randomly picking pieces from either pile of short or curly till it looked right enough. Soon both sides were cut.

Cutting the Genoa Tote, Patch work version.

I don’t love sewing leather.  I’ll do it for the love of the outcome but it irritates me. 
Had a thick needle not a leather type just a standard size 18. Leather needles come with mini blades down the side of the shank to help it slice through the hide. It makes a big difference using these and getting your thread to flow nicely whilst sewing. This type or shearling was soft and easy to puncture with a standard needle. The cut pieces changed shape in my hand as I was working with them and the fur was making it all slide around under my sewing foot. 
I added a rolling foot (not walking, I don’t have one) and some tissue for underneath so my suede side didn’t stick to the metal plate as it was sewed. It was still sticking to the foot so I increased the stitch length and added foot pressure, to try and get a better grip on the roller. With the stitch length to the max, it was starting to look normal now. A walking foot would have tackled this much better...next time.
I decided against overlapping the seams opposed to sewing them right sides together, It just didn’t look smoother to justify the extra work involved. Nor was clipping the hair off my seam allowances was going to make it that much easier so I didn’t bother. The fur compressed really well. It was the spongey-ness a of the skin that was giving me grief. 
 I trimmed some really stretchy bits back as I went and I kept going until one side was complete and then steamed it and laid it over the pattern and trimmed it back to the pattern shape one last time. The skins were almost drapey and the seams thick and it looked lumpy and floppy. I cursed myself wondering why I hadn’t stabilised it all with buckram before sewing.
So I went back and plucked out all my pattern pieces, trimmed of the seam allowances cut out buckram and retrospectively  pressed buckram into each section centre, trimming and chastising myself as I went. I was too annoyed to take a photo at this stage.
So for side two I had the buckram pre-cut and pre-fused on each piece now feeling confident and thinking it was all going to be dandy now.
Buckram; is a cotton interfacing that can be sewn or fused with heat. It's thick and is great for bag and hat making. We use it in the Lucent Visor also. It has a few other brand names and sometimes can be found in the drapery section as it's used for pinch pleat curtains. It's super handy to have around.
Buckram interfacing Genoa Tote sewing pattern Final seam  Genoa Tote

But actually sewing the non-fused pieces was easier. The buckram got caught in my stitching and the allowances still grew although the stabilised centres didn’t. So stabilising after construction was actually more effective and my punitive thoughts completely unnecessary. Even if was a backwards way of getting the results. If I tackle another light shearling piece again I will blockfuse with a heavy weight, knit interfacing before cutting the pattern pieces out.

Lining had to come from the stash because the stash is too big.  I found a navy / charcoal hand dyed linen, it is raggy in texture but indestructible. Probably could have used something with more guts like a calico weight, cotton. The stash busting won. I am also in denial about the actual colour of the fabric which a this point I am telling myself is dark charcoal because that what I intended to dye it but it turned out navy.
I can see colour really well I have done those tests that come up on Facebook and the results say I can see them all. But I decided it was charcoal and darkest charcoal thread was ok…It’s navy with black top-stitching. It just goes to show you the power of wilful thinking. I’m moving on because it looks fine and I am making, not perfecting. 

I also have a large amount of zips in the stash gifted from an old work place and these zips are primo 'Riri' zips, which are really hard to get in Australia. They are so fine even the sound they make when being used is at a soothing pitch. I have a black tarnished, 18 cm, zip and the damn thing is open ended. WHY.

Getting zips in my location isn’t that easy.  So I decide to do a concealed lap on the zip to cover to ending. I do have a matching tarnished key clip strap.  I backed the Key Clip Keeper in buckram to make it tougher for my hefty keys. 

The body is done, soft scrunchy but tough linen, insides.
Genoa Tote Sewing Pattern Insides


I have some kangaroo skins that I bought back when the big kid was baby with the intention of making handbags. Two black one white and another the best yellow ever. 
Kangaroo hides are I am happy to say the lowest impacting hides you can get. They are generally used for whip making (eww) because the skin it so strong they can be cut into lacing and it won’t break. They are vege tanned which a chromium free, better environmentally and for the wearer as chromium is carcinogenic. Kangaroo hides aren’t great for garment making because they are often scarred as they are wild animals who like to fight. The leather has a lovely feel and is very tough. They are not farmed animals and are often culled to control over-population and environmental degradation.
I initially got Blogless Anna to cut me some from my yellow hide the grey and yellow were great together, after making the bag body and seeing how strong the geometry was began to feel like yellow might be over doing it. I dreamt about a natural bone coloured hide and then when for black. Because I had it and it would look great and not compete with all the design already going on. Cutting them was really easy and I made my holes with a sharp awl.
The perfect yellow handles are being saved for my next Genoa. The summer edition whenever that may come.

We now have Genoa Handle Kits available here.


Yellow Kangaroo Genoa Tote Handles
Is there a yellow better than this?

The Black hide is thin and malleable papery but won’t stretch or warp unlike other skin types.  I was a bit concerned about it not appearing strong enough even though it is so strong. But went with, it functions above an beyond it’s requirements and it thinness will be a play on the extreme texture going on here.
Getting the rivets through the fur was more fiddly than hard. I just had to find them, and that took a while. I did a test run to make sure the rivet were long enough, they were. The shearling tore on my test piece after giving the handle a test yank. I was grateful for backing the shearling on my bag with buckram. This completely stabilised the rivet holes.
It's all done now. The kids are lining up for theirs and I sense the gift giving season approaching. I'm going set myself up a production line for some bulk production and get the kids to start sewing. 
Genoa you are a pattern that won't be getting folded up any time soon.



  • Posted by Liz on March 20, 2017

    Beautiful bag and wonderful desighn/architecture, well done you! The kangaroo skins sound brilliant, but we don’t have many of them running wild to cull in the UK. I turned a shearling waistcoat into several pairs of boot slippers for the grandchildren which worked out more economical than uggs and more fun once i had glued the children to the floor to make the patterns. I make lots of totes to raise funds for various charities, so will keep an eye out for old leather coats etc.

  • Posted by jane on October 20, 2016

    Wow! This is amazing! Love the patchwork…such a great second chance for the coat.

  • Posted by Rosie on October 14, 2016

    Fascinating read! I love projects you can live in, that can keep you interested and challenged for a long time. Love your art references, the finished product speaks volumes & is just fabulous. I think I’ll be making a tote soon…

  • Posted by Bella on October 10, 2016

    What a great bag and an equally great post! Loved reading all about your process and the ups and downs. I’m really looking forward to tackling the Genoa, lovely Anna sent me some handles in the mail so I’m all set. Thanks for the inspiration.

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