A tutorial: pleated make-up bag with covered zip ends

I actually wrote this tutorial in 2009 for Sew Hip magazine. My contract allowed me to publish it elsewhere six months after publication and I'd intended to share it here as a free tutorial, but I somehow never got around to formatting it for my blog. So here we are three years later. I wrote this shortly after I wrote this tutorial for a simple, unpleated make up bag. It improves upon some of the things people had told me they were finding tricky as it has slightly different zip ends, which I think can give a neater finish for someone new to sewing or with a machine that doesn't handle multiple layers well. I hope you like it! Here it is, exactly as it appeared in the magazine.

This make-up case is small enough to fit easily in a handbag, yet big enough to carry all the essentials. The zip has covered ends for a neat finish, but due to the zipper being a little shorter than the actual case means that it doesn’t need to be sewn into the seams of the case – making it the perfect project for anyone who has ever struggled with installing a zip.

Ingredients list:

Fat quarter of outer fabric
Fat quarter of inner fabric for lining
Fat quarter of medium weight iron-on interfacing
Fat quarter of heavy weight soft sew-in interfacing
Zip end cover fabric (I use the same as the outer fabric)
10” zip
Ribbon/cord for zip pull
Zipper foot for your sewing machine
Marker pen with disappearing ink

All seam allowances are 0.6cm / ¼” (this allows those who have them to use a ¼” seam guide).

1. Begin by applying iron-on interfacing to your fabrics where it's required and then cutting the following:

In outer fabric with iron-on interfacing applied cut two pieces - 28cm x 10cm
In lining fabric with iron-on interfacing applied cut two pieces – 22cm x 10cm
In outer fabric cut two pieces - 2.5cm x 4cm
In sew-in interfacing cut two pieces – 28cm x 10cm

2. Sew your sew-in interfacing to your two outer fabric pieces. You can do this by using a very small zigzag stitch around the perimeter of each rectangle. Be sure to stitch very close to the edge, so that you don’t risk this stitching being seen on the finished item.

3. Place your two outer fabrics wrong-side to wrong-side, as you want them to appear on your finished make-up case, making sure any directional pattern print is the same way up. Now peel back the corners at the left-hand end and use your marker pen to make a star on the back of each piece. This will act as a guide for which ends your pleats should be placed at.

4. Now place both these pieces face down on your work surface and mark out the following measurements on each piece of fabric at the end where the star is.
From the edge, very precisely, make a vertical line along the top of your fabric at 2cm (mark this as A), 4cm (mark this as A), 5cm (mark this as B), 7cm (mark this as B), 8cm (mark this as C), 10cm (mark this as C).  Now do exactly the same at the along the bottom edge of your fabric.

5. The lines you’ve created are a guide for creating the pleats. Starting at the top edge, match up the lines that you marked as ‘A’. On the outer fabric side fold the pleat toward the centre of the fabric and pin in place. Now match the B lines together, fold the pleat toward the centre and pin in place. Do the same for the lines marked C, always being careful to fold the pleats in the same direction toward the centre. Repeat this process on both pieces of fabric top and bottom.

6. Now sew across your pleats just a fraction from the edge to secure them in place, carefully removing each pin just before you get to it (the pleats look better left loose, but if you wish for them to sit perfectly at all times, you can put a tiny hand stitch at the vertical centre of each pleat. You will need to sew carefully by hand, avoiding going through the fibres of the upper layer where your stitch would be visible. Or you can machine sew through all the layers, top stitching the folds perfectly in place. I didn't do either of these as the bag is so short that the pleats hold in place fairly well by themselves, however, if you've altered the dimensions to make a bigger or taller bag then you'd certainly probably want to secure the pleats in one of these ways).

7. You can check that both sets of pleats are even by laying them on top of one another. They should look something like this. Once you’re happy, press with an iron to give a crisp finish. Set to one side.

8. Take your zip and pull the zipper to the centre, so that you don’t cut off the zipper pull. Now cut your zip down so that it is 20cm long by taking a little off each end (don’t take it all off one end as your zip covers won’t fit).

9. Now take the small pieces of fabric that you cut for your zip covers. Fold the long side in half. Now fold each end in so that it rests on the fold line that you just made. With these tucked in, fold once again so that the folded edges meet. This should give you a neat casing to tuck your zip end into. Repeat for the other zip end cover. Press both with an iron.

10. Butt the end of your zip inside right up against the back of the little case that you just made and sew in place. Take care to do this neatly as this stitching will show.

11. Now take your lining, outer fabric pieces and zip. Fold each in half across the long edge and mark with disappearing ink top and bottom where the exact centre of the fabric is. It’s really important to be accurate here.

12. Take a lining piece, outer fabric piece and the zip (with the zip pull half open) and, laying your materials on a flat work surface, create the following fabric sandwich from bottom to top:
           Outer fabric facing upwards
           Zipper facing with the teeth downwards
           Lining fabric facing downwards
Line up the top edges perfectly and place a pin going through all three layers at the point where all the centre marks that you made line up. At both ends there should be an equal distance between the end of the zipper and the end of your fabrics (nb. the zipper should be a little shorter than the other fabrics). If it all looks good, then pin along the whole of this top edge.

13. Using your zipper foot sew this seam from end to end. Feel for the zip teeth as you sew and butt the side of your zipper foot up against them. Just before you reach the zip pull, lift your presser foot, pivot the material a little to allow you to pull the zip pull backwards so that it sits where you’ve just been sewing,  pivot the material back into place and then let down the presser foot and continue sewing up to the end of the fabric. 

14. Flip the fabrics over so that they lay wrong side to wrong side and then press with an iron. 

15. Now take the remaining fabrics and create another fabric sandwich:
           Outer fabric facing upwards
           Zipper facing with the teeth downwards 
           Lining fabric facing downwards

16. Again, check that your centre points all line up, but even more importantly this time, you want to check that your pleats line up perfectly too. Once you’ve established that everything looks lovely, then you can repeat steps 13 & 14.

17. Now you’re going to top stitch your fabrics in place, this will stop your lining from ever getting caught in the zipper and will also trap down any bulk that your pleats might be causing at the top. Change your bobbin thread to match your lining fabric. Continue using your zipper foot and be sure to begin your top stitching at the end with the pleats each time, as your zipper foot will glide over the pleats smoothly in this direction, without the risk of it catching in them. 

18. Now check that the top-stitching looks neat on the lining side too. 

19. Pull your zipper so that it is about ¾ open...this is important or you won’t be able to turn it right side out afterwards!

20. Now take the (nearly finished!) make up case and flip the outer fabrics so that they are laying face-to-face and your lining fabrics are laying face-to-face. Peep inside and nudge your zip cover so that it sits in the lining sandwich. Pin around the perimeter. The important thing to bear in mind here is that you don’t want to trap the ends of your zip covers in your stitching, but equally you want to sew near enough to them that there is barely a gap between the zip covers and the side seams on the finished item. Your ¼” seam will allow this to come together perfectly, but do pay attention to this in case you need to accommodate for any inaccuracies that may have cropped up during cutting or pleat-making.  

21. Sew around the perimeter, leaving a 14cm turning hole in the bottom of the lining, making sure that your pleats are nicely lined up where they meet at the bottom.

22. Clip the corners of the outer fabric, being careful not to cut through your stitching.

23. Your pleats should match up nicely at the bottom, and once you’ve gently poked out your zip covers, they should sit neatly. If either of these things doesn’t look quite the way you hoped, then don’t be afraid to unpick your stitches and neaten things up.

24. Now, in co-ordinating thread, turn in the seam allowances in your lining and sew the turning hole closed.

25. Press with an iron.

26. You can make a zip pull using ribbon, co-ordinating fabric, or beads threaded onto some cord.

27. Fill the bag with make up goodies and spend some well deserved time preening in the mirror. The face you see before you is a peacock who had just sewn her very own make-up bag. Stand and admire! (That's a recommendation for my own blog readers...I refrained from advising that particular course of action in the original magazine article). 

And if you use this pattern, I'd love to hear how you got on and I'd love it even more if you have the time to drop a picture of your lovely new make-up bag into my Flickr group here.

Florence x


  1. This is very generous of you Florence! Your explanations are very clear and will give beginners to bag making a lot of confidence to have a try. Thank you so much for sharing all your hard work with your readers.

  2. Yay!!! I have used your previous 'pouch' tutorial with great love and appreciation for a year or so now and wondered how you'd be able to improve on such perfection. Apparently you were able and I can't wait to make a pleated version! Thank you Florence x

  3. Thank you for the tutorial. I have been having trouble with the original tutorial as the zip ends have been disappearing into the corners. I think my interfacing might be too thick. I am excited to give this one a go at the weekend. Thanks again.

    1. Good luck - remember there's no interfacing necessary on the zip covers either. x

  4. Hurray! I do love some Florence Instructions. And this is pretty much how I've been doing zips lately - even on your Slouchy Make-up Bag, although I'm not 100% sure the extra neatness suits that pattern so much. This would make a pretty pencil case too, wouldn't it? Clever you. x

  5. I have a question about zip measurements. When you say a ten inch zip, do you measure it from the length of the tape or just along the teeth? Where I purchase my zips, a labeled 7" zip measures 8 and a bit inches long along the length of a tape but the teeth do measure the 7 inches. I feel there is often confusion about this with people not always talking about the same thing. Especially when the zip has no label on it. Besides, I am not sure if measuring just the teeth is standard or not, or just how my particular shop does it.

  6. I love your makeup bags. Every time I read about them I mean to get right on sewing (I really do!) So perhaps next weekend...

  7. Outstanding work. I can get lots of ideas by this for design purpose.

    pilgrim jewellery


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Florence x