Thursday, October 23, 2014

How to Make a Cathedral Window Pocket For a Handbag

Today I want to share with you how to make a cathedral window pocket(s) for a bag.  I made this Weekender Bag in round 2 of Sewvivor (which you can read about here), and I have had so many requests for details on how I did it!  I am more than happy to share my instructions with you!  I love the effect that the cathedral windows added to my bag, and I know you will too!

Let me preface this post by saying that this tutorial is just a starting point.  I will walk you through all the planning and math that comes with the construction of your cathedral windows and turning them into a pocket for a handbag, but I will not be writing about HOW to construct them.  That is because I used this amazing tutorial on the Moda Bakeshop by Angela Nash.  Angela gives clear instructions and her tut includes a lot of detailed pictures that make the process so easy!  I don't think I could improve on her directions, so I won't!

Getting Started
One thing that really helps me in the design process is to take notes and draw my vision out on paper.  It is really useful when cutting and piecing so that I don't have to second guess myself and make unnecessary mistakes.  I do this with every project I do, including my quilts!


What is a Cathedral Window?
Before I explain the process of making the cathedral windows, I want to show you what I'm talking about when I say "window".  This is a window . . . 

This next picture is not a window, but a "diamond" that is created when two adjacent windows are made.

Keep that is mind when designing your pocket and figuring out what you want your finished pocket to look like :)

What Size Window Do I Need?

The first thing you will need to decide is how many rows of windows you will want showing on your pocket.  After drawing my design, I settled on three rows.  Next, I measured my pattern for the unfinished height of the pocket.  Mine was about 9" at the tallest point.  I then divided the height by the number of rows I wanted so that I could figure out the finished size of window that I needed.  I lucked out and got a whole number of 3".  If you don't get a whole number, then just round down to the nearest 1/4" measurement.  I'll explain how to make it work with the needed pocket size later (see "What Do I Do Once My Cathedral Window Panel Is Done?" towards the bottom of this post).  

Example:  For instance, if your pocket height is 7" unfinished and you want 3 rows, you divide 7 by 3 and get 2.3333.  Just round that down to 2.25".  The windows are square so you will need them to be 2.25" x 2.25".

How Many Windows Do I Need? 

To figure out how many windows you will need, measure the unfinished length of your pocket from the pattern.  Mine was about 19" at the longest point.  Since I already knew I was going to have windows that were 3" squared, I divided 19 by 3 and got 6.3333.  I rounded that number down to the nearest whole, and got 6.  So, I was going to need 6 windows for each row, or 18 windows per pocket (3 rows of 6).

Example:  So, if your unfinished pocket is 10" long and your finished windows will be 2.25" squared, you will need 4 windows for each row.  You will want 12 windows per pocket (3 rows of 4).

How Much Neutral Fabric Do I Need?

Once you know how many windows your pocket requires, you can plan for how much fabric you will need.  To make a cathedral window, you will need to use A LOT more neutral fabric then you might think.  The neutral fabric is folded several times and pretty much hidden by the fabric that creates the pop of color.  To calculate the "pre-fold" size square of the neutral fabric you will need, multiply your window size by 2 and add 1.5" for your seam allowance.  For my 3" x 3" windows, this number was 7.5".

Example: In the example of a 2.25" x 2.25" window, you will start with a 6" square (2.25 x 2 + 1.5).

I usually generalize the width of fabric (WOF) for any given fabric as 42".  When you know how big your squares need to be cut, you simply divide 42" by that measurement to figure out how many square you can get for each WOF.  So, with my 3" finished windows, I needed to start with 7.5" squares.  42 divided by 7.5 is 5.6, so I can get 5 squares per WOF.  I know I need 18 windows total, so I will need (18) 7.5" squares.  Since I can get 5 per WOF, I will need 4 WOF cuts (18 divided by 5 = 3.6 and I rounded up).  Each WOF cut will be 7.5" long since I need squares, so I will multiply that by 4 WOF cuts and get 30".  I will need a 30" by WOF cut of fabric for one pocket, or round up to 1 yard (36").  I actually did two cathedral window pockets on my bag, so I multiplied the 30" by 2.  I needed 60" x WOF, so 1.75 yards (63").

Example:  For the example with 2.25" square windows, you start with 6" squares.
42"(WOF) / 6" = 7 (squares per WOF)
12 (windows per pocket) / 7 (squares) = 1.7, round up to 2.
2 WOF x 6" = 12"
You need 12" by WOF or 1/3 yard for one pocket

If you are making two cathedral window pockets:
12" x 2 = 24"
You need 24" by WOF or 2/3 yard

*You might want to plan for a few extra inches of neutral fabric in case your cathedral window panel is a little smaller than the size of your unfinished pocket.

How Much Colorful Fabric Do I Need For the Windows/Diamonds?

As long as your finished window size is 5" x 5" or smaller, I would use one charm pack, mini charm, or I suppose you could use scraps!  You just need to make sure you will have enough charms/scrap pieces for the number of windows you need and for the "diamonds" that are in between the windows.  I used one charm pack per pocket.

What Size Should I Cut My Fabric to Fit in My Windows and Diamonds?

When your windows are all sewn together, as directed in Angela's tutorial, you will need to measure each window to figure out what size to cut your fabric.  For my 3" x 3" windows I cut them anywhere from 3" to 3.25".  For the diamonds in between the windows, you will need to cut squares that are half the size of your finished windows.  Since mine were 3", I cut my squares 1.5" x 1.5".

Example:  For a bag that has a 2.25" finished window, cut your squares for the windows between 2.25" to 2.5" depending on its measurements.  For the diamonds in between the windows, you would need to cut your fabric into 1 1/8" x 1 1/8" squares.

Thoughts On Color Selection and Scale of Prints

This is kind of where your creative juices come in.  Think about the color of your main fabric for your bag.  Is is busy?  Is it a neutral print?  What do you want to be the main focus on your bag?

If the cathedral windows are the main star of your bag, I would suggest a print for the main fabric that is small and neutral, like a stripe, dots, or maybe even a low volume.  As far as the scale of the print for your windows goes . . .  since the squares you will be cutting are most likely going to be pretty small, if you use fabrics with large prints, you will not really see the print very well, if at all.  Using fabrics with smaller prints and fussy cutting larger prints may be helpful for you!   If the main fabric is the star and you want the cathedral windows to accentuate them, choose fabrics and prints for your windows that are solids, neutral, or large.

I decided that I wanted my windows to be cool tones of aqua and green since my main bag fabric was a warm red.  Alternatively, I wanted the diamonds in between my windows to be warm tones of orange, white, red, and pink juxtaposed against the cool colors.  I used a different print for each of the windows, but used repeating prints for the diamonds.

This is just food for thought!  Everybody has a different style and fabrics that speak to them.  Be creative and do what makes you happy!

What Do I Do Once My Cathedral Window Panel Is Done?

Your panel should look similar to the above picture once you are done with your sewing.  If your panel is a little bigger than what you need for your pattern, just put the pocket's pattern on top of the windows and make sure to center.  Then cut around the edges and you're good to go!

If your panel is a little smaller than what you need for your pattern, you will need to first square it up.

This is where the extra few inches of neutral fabric may come in handy for you.  After squaring up your panel, measure how much bigger it needs to be to equal the maximum height and length of the pattern's pocket.  I think I needed 2" overall added to the height (1" on top and bottom) and maybe 1" on the sides (1/2" on each side).  I added a little extra just in case, so I just cut my neutral fabric into strips of 1.5" x WOF.  Measure the sides first and cut your strips to that length.  Sew the strips to your panel with right sides together and then press the seam towards the neutral fabric and topstitch.  Measure the top and bottom of your panel and cut your strips accordingly.  Sew the strips on and then press the seam toward the neutral fabric and topstitch.

Then I just put my pattern for the pocket on this panel (that's a lot of p's, sorry), centered it as best I could, and cut around the edges to make the pocket shape.  And voila!  You have a beautiful cathedral window pocket!

On a side note, even though this pocket is pretty thick all by itself, I did chose to follow the pattern's instructions for adding interfacing.  I found it created a smoother effect and had my lining been light, I would not be worried that the windows would show through that side.

I hope this post has been helpful for those of you who would like to tackle this project!  It certainly is not what I would call "hard", but it is time consuming, so don't think you'll have it done in an afternoon.  Just be patient with it and enjoy the beauty of what you are doing.  Please let me know is any of my instructions are not clear or if you have any other questions you would like me to address concerning this bag.   And thank you for showing such an interest in this bag of mine!


  1. Thanks so much for posting this! I must make something with this technique someday.

  2. I adored this the minute you showed a sneak peek of it in the competition. When you did the full reveal it was like lightening striking. It's such a great technique for adding such fabulous detail. Thanks for taking the time to share it all with us - totally bookmarking and coming back to this one!

    1. Thanks, Angie! I had such great feedback on this bag and just HAD to share my process.

  3. That purse is adorable. I'm trying to find directions on how to add cathedral windows to a sweatshirt but when I saw your blog I had to stop and go through all of it. You do a great job with the math that anyone can understand.