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How to make a bag out of fabric

Updated on October 12, 2011

These days, the glossier kind of women's magazines are full of designer handbags that cost an arm and a leg - and I don't just mean nudging three figures, but a price tag the size of some people's monthly salary. While many of these bags look beautiful and will last for years, for me personally it's hard to justify spending that sort of money. In fact, such is the economic climate at the moment, that many of us are having to think very carefully before spending any money on clothes and bags.

If you're like me you'd almost rather go without a bag than buy something cheap and nasty. But what to do if you can't afford a good quality handbag or purse? If you've got some basic sewing skills and a bit of imagination, a good solution is to make your own! This hub will hopefully provide you with a few suggestions based on the bags I myself have made at home. There won't be too many detailed instructions, but it will point you in the right direction and maybe spark more ideas.

Here's one I made earlier...
Here's one I made earlier...

How to make a messenger bag

My favourite type of bag is the messenger bag - it has a long strap, so all you have to do is sling it across your body and do up the zip - no need to worry about it slipping off your shoulder every 30 seconds, and considerably less risk of it being grabbed by some random bag snatcher. The bag in the pic is one I made myself from a piece of woollen tapestry. Before you ask, I didn't embroider the tapestry myself - I bought it for 50p at my local church jumble sale! The backing and strap are made from green corduroy bought in a charity shop, and the lining is nylon jersey. (Get used to trawling boot fairs, charity/thrift shops and jumble/rummage sales, because they will be a far cheaper source of material than anywhere else! I also make a habit of buying things like zips and thread in charity shops. Alternatively, you can salvage zips from old cushion covers and clothing.)

On this bag - as with several of my others - I used pieces of soft leather for the corners and the edge, to stop eventual wear and fraying.  Simply cut out four right-angled triangular pieces of leather (with sides about 6 or 7 cm long) and sew them onto the corners of your material, before sewing the material together.  I would also recommend using quite thick corduroy for the backing/strap (it doesn't have to be corduroy though - canvas, denim or velvet would also be fine).  The strap is made from a double thickness of corduroy, sewn together.

A close-up of a corner...
A close-up of a corner...
...and the opening/zip
...and the opening/zip

Knitting bags

While we're on the subject of denim, if you've ever wondered what to do with those old worn-out jeans, why not make them into a bag? The knitting bag in the picture is made from pieces of denim from several pairs of jeans; I've alternated dark and light colours so that the pattern stands out more. If you're doing a chevron patchwork of this kind I would strongly recommend making paper pattern pieces first - get some newspaper and fold it in half so that the fold corresponds to the central vertical "axis" of the bag. Then draw half of the outline of your bag, and cut it out. Unfold it and check the shape - if necessary, fold and cut again. Once you're happy with the overall shape, fold the pattern back in half and cut the paper into chevron pieces. Fix the bits of material onto each piece with pins, and cut them out, leaving about 1.5 cm (half an inch) to fold over. If you've ever done patchwork quilting before, it's exactly the same idea as that. You will then need to sew the bits together by hand. Alternatively you can bypass the folding stage and try machining the bits together.

As with the messenger bag, I used nylon jersey for the lining - although an acetate lining would have been just as good - and D-shaped plastic handles. You can buy handles from your local craft store, or from eBay or Amazon. I also made another knitting bag from the sleeves of a vintage Welsh wool coat. This time I used leather patches at the corners. This particular bag is my favourite and has received several compliments!

© Empress Felicity March 2010

This started life as a coat... and look at it now!
This started life as a coat... and look at it now!


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    • EmpressFelicity profile image

      EmpressFelicity 7 years ago from Kent, England, UK

      Thanks to everyone who's commented since I was last here! Jasmine, I personally would recommend the knitting bag with the D-shaped handles, because it's much easier to sew on the handles than to sew in a zip.

      PS: Merry Christmas.

    • profile image

      jasmine  7 years ago

      i'm a teenager and i just started fashion design class in school. we have already made a lot i learned a lot, but i want to see if i can make a bag by myself cause we have not learned that yet. what do yall think would be easier to make?

    • TamCor profile image

      Tammy Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

      I have looked and looked for the "perfect" bag, but can't find one, so I've decided to make my own. I found your hub when I searched for helpful ideas and hints, and have really enjoyed reading it!

      I have some old barkcloth that I'm using for mine, with the old burgandy satin lining from a vintage coat for the bag lining, lol...

      I'm a bit of a hoarder, myself, haha... :)

      Thanks--This was a great hub!

    • lcbenefield profile image

      lcbenefield 7 years ago from Georgia

      Awesome hub! I am obsessed with making handbags. I crochet them, quilt them, sew them, you name it. I love, love the idea of the leather corners and corduroy for the handle. Thanks for the information.

    • Diane Inside profile image

      Diane Inside 7 years ago

      I love to sew and these bags looke really great, I will definitely give it a try. Thanks for the very informative and interesting hub.

    • BrainSpace profile image

      BrainSpace 7 years ago from North Carolina

      These are really cool bags. I am just getting back into sewing, and working on making some decorative pillows. I look forward to reading your future hubs!

    • EmpressFelicity profile image

      EmpressFelicity 7 years ago from Kent, England, UK

      Thanks to everyone who's commented so far! I must say, I like the idea of using a popcorn box (or its equivalent) as a pattern. Charity/thrift shops are brilliant for finding things like handles - they don't crop up all that often but when they do, they're worth buying 'cos you know they'll come in useful one day. No prizes for guessing that I'm a bit of a hoarder LOL...

    • Scent profile image

      Marie Myers 7 years ago from Berwick, PA

      I think the easiest thing to make out of clothing is bags. I sew mine by hand, no machine. I make small bags which I use a 3-pak popcorn box as my pattern :) Leather corners sound like a great idea.


    • FranyaBlue profile image

      Jacqueline 7 years ago from London, England

      I love making bags out of old clothes.

      Thanks for the ebay tip on where you get your handles from, I never thought to look there. I usually just sew a fabric strap.

      Great hub!

    • electricsky profile image

      electricsky 7 years ago from North Georgia

      They still look hard to make. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Tracy Monroy 7 years ago

      What a great "How-To" hub page! Craft stores offer so much in this area. You can also find great discount fabric stores online like that will even send you some fabric samples for your bag!

    • jayjay40 profile image

      jayjay40 7 years ago from Bristol England

      love these bags, got to try this myself, thanks for sharing

    • FavorsInTheCity profile image

      FavorsInTheCity 7 years ago

      Yes, the corners are always the first thing to wear out on any bags I have made. I never even thought about leather- thanks for the great idea!

    • myownworld profile image

      myownworld 7 years ago from uk

      Oh these are lovely and most unique! I agree, 2nd last one is very pretty! I'd love to give these a try...thank you for the ideas! :)

    • taganisted profile image

      taganisted 7 years ago

      Good idea with the leather corners :)