Sewing Project

Bags of Ideas

make your own bags to add a finishing touch to your new outfitA beautiful bag is probably the most important accessory to complete an outfit. Making your own means you can have any number to co-ordinate with your creations! Wendy Gardiner provides some handy tips on handbag making.

Making your own means you can have a bag that reflects your own individual style. Whether you want something classic or flamboyant, small and compact or large and commodious – create your own and achieve just the right look.

Bags are actually easier to make than many people think and indeed, much of the equipment needed will already be available to you in your workroom. You can use remnants of fashion fabrics and soft furnishings as well as special buttons, deconstructed jewellery and more.

Fabric choice

A summer bag in striking fabric (Lisa Lam, Sewing World July 07)

Choose a fabric that suits the type of bag you wish to make. For a robust shopper, choose cotton chintz, denim, leather, suede etc. For evening purses, pretty satins and silks, taffetas and metallic fabrics can be used whilst for a fun and funky bag, consider faux fur, suede and animal prints.


A good lining is essential if you want the bag to look professional and last! It also gives a neat finish to the bag, and of course hides all the inner seams. Again the choice of lining fabric will depend on the bag being made. Use a wipe clean fabric for totes and shoppers, and soft satin for special occasion bags.

HANDY HINT: Use a lighter colour lining if you want to be able to see what’s inside the bag more easily – dark linings conceal items making them hard to locate without turning everything out!


Your imagination is the only limitation! Use jewels, trims, sequins, beads, belt buckles and fringes to add a glamorous touch.


Nowadays there are so many great ready-made handles available. These are attached to the bag by fabric loops or metal rings that are stitched in place. Again, they can add detail and colour to the overall effect (see Suppliers Directory for some sources).

Alternatively, make fabric handles in the same fabric or contrast fabric. To stiffen them use heavy interfacing and parallel rows of stitching down the length of the handle or strap.

Attach them to the bag at least 2.5 cm (1”) below the top edge and stitch a square shape, preferably with a cross in the middle for extra security.

HANDY HINT: Look in charity shops for bags with handles that you like and recycle them.


Choose from buttons, magnetic clasps, zips or simply a flap. Make sure you add support such as interfacing behind the closure if using buttons or magnetic clasps to add strength to the fabric.

If using a zip, select either a matching colour, or contrasting one to provide a feature. You can also get zips with clear sides, glitzy teeth or colourful teeth. Remember if using a zip, you often turn the bag through to right side through the zip opening, so once inserted, open zipper!

HANDY HINT: An open ended zip is the most practical choice as it is easier to sew either side to front and back bag pieces before joining bags at sides.

Sewing tips

Co-ordinate fabrics with bag accessories, feet and magnetic clasp (Lisa Lam, September Sewing World 07)1. Use a thread and needle size to suit the fabric being stitched. Neaten all seam allowances and press open.

2. Clip corners vigorously to help push out neatly. Add some fray check to the raw edges to prevent undue fraying when you’ve clipped close to stitches.

3. Use interfacing to give support to the main fabric and hence the bag. It is particularly important when sewing with soft or lightweight fabric. Use sew-in interfacings on pile fabrics or those with special finish as trying to press and adhere the fusibles can ruin the main fabric surface texture. Use dark interfacings on dark fabrics and light on light fabrics.

4. For boxy shaped bags with a bag, consider a bag base insert. This can be a plastic grid (available from or even thick cardboard. Also consider using bag feet (available from u-handbag or coats crafts UK stockists) to protect the bottom of the bag.

5. When sewing leather, suede or metallic fabrics avoid pin holes by only pinning within the seam allowances or using paper clips instead. Use a coated presser foot (usually Teflon) or a walking foot to ensure fabrics feed evenly without sticking and use a leather needle which has a wedge shaped point.

6. If sewing long pile fabrics such as fur or velvet, use a walking foot to feed fabrics evenly. Trim the pile from within the seam allowance to reduce bulk in the seams. Once turned through, use a needle to tease out the fur from the seam, which effectively covers the seam stitching.

Further resources

Bags with Paper and Stitch, Isobel Hall, published by Batsford under Anova Books, ISBN: 9780713490343
Handmade Bags by Terence Terry, published by A & C Black, ISBN: 071366262X
Making Vintage Bags by Emma Brennan, published GMC Publications, ISBN: 9781861085023
Making Vinyl, Plastic and Rubber Handbags by Ellen Goldstein-Lynch, Nicole Malone and Sarah Mullins. Published by GMC Publications. ISBN: 9781861085023
Bag components
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