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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tutorial: Fabulous Fall Handbag

My mom is a big fan of Talbots. On a recent trip there, she showed me this bag, which she really likes and was thinking about purchasing. We looked at it for quite a while and after discussing it she decided not to buy it. In our minds there were two problems with it...Number one: For what it is, it is very expensive...Number two: It's made of felt, and although I'm a big fan of felt, she wanted to use the purse as an every day bag and it just didn't look like it would stand up to that much wear. We were envisioning it dented and pilled and it didn't have the same allure in that state.

Always up for a creative challenge, I decided to use the Talbots bag as inspiration. So this is my version, a similar tote style, with a bit more flair and durability. And, so that you can try your hand at creating your own, here's the longest tutorial I have attempted to date. Fasten your seat belts...

Here's what you'll need:

  • An exterior fabric of your choice - I used a medium weight wool suiting (see measurements in step 1).
  • Vinyl - I used the highest quality upholstery vinyl available at Joann's, it looks and feels like a lightweight leather (see measurements in step 1). At $35 a yard it's not cheap, but you don't need much for this project. I bought a 10" strip and with a 40% off coupon, it only cost me about $6.
  • Lining fabric - (see measurements in step 1).
  • Muslin - (see measurements in step 1).
  • Peltex 1-side fusible interfacing - (see measurements in step 1).
  • 2 cover button kits (1.5")
  • Felt to cover the buttons
  • Topstiching thread in a coordinating color
  • Regular thread in coordinating color(s)
  • Hand sewing needle
  • Scissors
  • Straight pins (not pictured)
  • Binder clips (not pictured)
  • Rotary cutter, plexi glass ruler, and mat (optional, but it will make the cutting much easier!)
  • Sewing machine with walking foot (not pictured)

*Unless otherwise state, a walking foot is recommended for all sewing steps.
*Unless otherwise stated, all seam allowances are one half inch.

    Step 1: Cut your fabric pieces in the following dimensions:

    Exterior Fabric
    Upper Front and Back (2) - 12.5" x 16"
    Upper Sides (2) - 6" x 12.5"

    Lower Front and Back (2) - 5" x 16"
    Lower Sides (2) - 5" x 6"
    Bottom (1) - 6" x 16"
    Handles (2) - 2" x 24" (you can make them longer if you want)

    Lining Fabric
    Front and Back (2) - 16" x 15.5"
    Sides (2) - 6" x 15.5"
    Bottom (1) - 6" x 16"
    Pocket (optional) - any size you want

    Front and Back (2) - 16" x 16.5"
    Bottom (1) - 6" x 16"

    Front and Back (2) - 14.25" x 14.5"
    Bottom (1) - 4.5" x 14.5"

    Step 2: Sew the upper front and back exterior fabric pieces to the lower front and back vinyl pieces along the 16" edge. Since you can't use pins on vinyl, binder clips work well to hold the fabric and vinyl in place, just remove them as you approach them with the needle. Once the pieces are stitched together, topstitch along the vinyl (on the right side of the fabric), just below the seam. I used my stitch-in the ditch foot for this and adjusted the needle position to the side. This allowed me to guide the fabric through in a perfectly straight line.

    Step 3: Sew the upper side exterior fabric pieces to the lower side vinyl pieces along the 6" edge. Once the pieces are stitched together, topstitch along the vinyl (on the right side of the fabric), just below the seam, just as you did in step one.

    Step 4: Iron the peltex front and back pieces onto the muslin front and back pieces. Position them so that they are .75" from the sides and bottom of the muslin, the top of the muslin should extend 1.5" beyond the top of the peltex when it is in its proper position. To help with proper positioning, you can draw lines on the muslin that are .75" in from the sides and bottom.

    Step 5: Iron the peltex bottom piece onto the muslin bottom piece. Position it so that it is .75" from all sides of the muslin.

    Step 6: Stitch the peltex to the muslin (bottom, front, and back pieces). There is no need to be orderly about this, this step just ensures that the peltex stays adhered to the muslin and doesn't flop around in your finished purse.

    Step 7: Lay the muslin/peltex front and back pieces on top of the front and back pieces you stitched together in step 2. Orient the muslin/peltex pieces so that the peltex side is down facing the wrong sides of the front and back pieces. Make sure the edge of the muslin/peltex piece with the 1.5" of extra muslin is at the top.

    Step 8: Stitch the front and back exterior pieces to the front and back muslin/peltex pieces by sewing around the edges with a .25" seam allowance.

    Step 9: Repeat steps 7 and 8 with the bottom muslin/peltex piece and the bottom vinyl piece.

    Step 10: Time to make the handles!...Fold the edges of the handle pieces in toward the center so that they meet, then fold them in half down the center so that the raw edges are completely enclosed in the fold. Use binder clips to hold the folds in place. Place the folded handle under your walking foot and adjust the needle position so that you can sew close to the double folded edge. I found that it worked best to place my handle piece over to the side of the walking foot so that it was fully under one "toe." This allowed it to feed through smoothly. Stitch all the way down the length of the handle. I used my topstitching thread for this. Because you will be stitching through 4 layers of vinyl, I found that it worked best to only use the topstitching thread on the upper spool of my machine and use regular thread in the bobbin. You may also find it helpful to use a "denim" machine needle for this step.

    Step 11: Adjust your machine/handle placement so that you can stitch down the other side of the handle, creating two parallel lines of stitching.

    Step 12: Repeat steps 10-11 with the second handle piece.

    Step 13: Position the ends of the handles so that they are 3.5" in from the side and 3.5" down from the top of the purse front and back pieces. Stitch them in place by sewing a small square with an "X" through it at the ends of each handle (don't make the square too big, because you want the stitches to be covered when you sew on the buttons). I back tacked the square and the "X" for extra durability.

    Step 14: Follow the instructions on your cover button kits to cover the four buttons with felt.

    Step 15: Hand stitch the buttons at the bases of each handle on the front and back pieces of the purse. Sew them on through all layers, including the peltex.

    Step 16: Place one of the side pieces and the bottom piece right sides together with the 6" edges matching up. Use binder clips to hold them in place. Beginning and ending .5" from the edge, stitch the two pieces together with a .5" seam allowance. Repeat with the other side piece.

    Step 17: Take one of the front/back pieces and, with right sides together, line up the 16" bottom edge with one of the 16" edges of the bottom piece. Use binder clips to hold them in place. Sew them together with a .5" seam allowance. Make sure to bend the side pieces out of the way so that the bottom corners of them don't get caught in your stitches.

    Step 18: Repeat step 17 with the other front/back piece.

    Step 19: Using pins for the fabric section and binder clips for the vinyl section, pin a long edge of one of the side pieces to the adjacent edge of the front/back piece. Stitch them together with a .5" seam allowance. Repeat with all four corners until you have formed an inside out bag. I found that it worked best to first sew the sides together at the seams between the fabric and the vinyl. This ensured that the top of the vinyl matched up at the corner seams.

    Step 20: Check all four bottom corners to make sure that they are fully joined and do not have any holes where the three pieces of fabric come together. If you find a hole, re-sew the seams near the corner as necessary.

    Step 21: Clip any extra fabric from each of the four corners to reduce bulk.

    Step 22: Turn your bag right side out.

    Step 23: Repeat steps 16-21 with the lining fabric pieces (use pins instead of binder clips). If you choose to add a pocket, sew it onto one of the front/back pieces before beginning step 17.

    Step 24: Trim the excess seam allowance from the top three inches of the exterior fabric at the four corner seams. The top of the exterior fabric is going to be folded down over the lining and stitched in place, so this helps to reduce bulk.

    Step 25: Place the lining fabric inside of the exterior of the bag. The lining and the exterior should have their wrong sides together (ie. when you look into the bag you should see the right side of the lining fabric).

    Step 26: Fold the edge of the exterior fabric under .25" and then fold the folded edge over the top of the lining fabric so that it overlaps by 1". Use binder clips or pins to hold the folded edge in place.

    Step 27: Stitch the folded exterior fabric edge to the lining, all the way around the perimeter of the bag opening. Because of the thickness of the multiple layers of fabric, I was not able to sew this step with my sewing machine (if you use thinner fabrics you might be able to). Instead, I hand stitched the exterior fold to the lining using a ladder stitch.

    Step 28: Almost done!...Pull the lining out of the bag so that it is out of the way. To create crisp corner edges on your bag, fold each corner edge along the seam and stitch 1/8" from the seam, down the length of the bag. Start stitching one inch below the top of the peltex and stop stitching when you reach the vinyl. Repeat with all four corner edge seams. Because of the thickness of the fabric, I found that it worked best to use a zipper foot for this step.

    Step 29: Put the lining back into the bag. Press the top edge of the bag. While the top edge is still warm, fold in the sides of the bag creating a "V" shape. Allow the bag to cool while the edges are folded in. This step helps to shape the bag so that the sides fold inward rather than billowing out.

    Step 30: Go pick out the perfect outfit to wear with your beautiful new handbag!


    1. Rebekah, I worked with Andrew when he was at Wheaton so that's why I'm stalking your blog...I must say this is amazing! My daughter is forever bringing me projects that she has thought up for us to sew (you can see some on her blog http://someonesgottapay.wordpress.com) but none of mine turn out so well. Awesome instructions too - I have followed some pretty bad ones. I might have to give this a try - in the summer when things slow down in Admissions! Thanks so much for sharing.

    2. Your creation is a much better looking bag than the one from Talbot's. Great job with the tutorial.

    3. Love this bag! Can't wait to try it!

    4. Gorgeous! And well-explained. Do you recommend the walking foot for all sewing, not just knits? I just can't seem to make the investment... And what kind of sewing machine do you have? I don't think mine could go through all that vinyl and wool et al. But maybe with a walking foot?...

    5. Thanks, Taryn! I actually just got my walking foot last week (thanks to some birthday money from my grandma!). My machine is a Bernina. This was the first project I completed with the walking foot and I definitely noticed a difference when sewing through multiple layers of fabric...the layers fed through the machine much more evenly. If you like to make projects that require you to sew through multiple layers of fabric (handbags, quilts, etc.),I would definitely recommend a walking foot...if not, I think you'll be fine without one. (As a side note, the booklet that came with the foot says that it is also helpful for fabrics that tend to stick like vinyl, leather, plastic coated, etc.)

      If you're worried about your machine getting through the layers, you could also try using a denim needle which might help. Although, I seemed to have more of a problem with the height of the foot on my machine and how many layers of fabric I could squeeze under it, rather than with the strength of the machine to sew through them.

    6. Rebekah, I am not a seamstress so I can't make this, but I like creative things too, and I love looking. It is truly amazing that you can make that. I'm excited to have found your blog thanks to Andrew posting it on fb. I will put it on my Google reader :)
      I hope you guys are enjoying Cali

    7. Thanks so much, Jamie! We're doing well out here in CA...hopefully we'll get a chance to see you guys on one of our visits to PA. Hope you are well!

    8. Wow. This is really intense compared to all the other DIY stuff I've made. Thanks for the challenge! I hope to be at this level sometime in the next few months!

    9. Thanks so much for sharing.
      Aliete Couto

    10. what a gorgeous bag and amazing tutorial! can't wait to try this out.

    11. I wish I could sew so I could make this. It's gorgeous!

    12. Thank you so much for sharing this tutorial! I made a bag from your instructions yesterday. It turned out so cute! I love it. I never would have tried sewing on vinyl if I didn't run across your blog. Thanks again!

    13. Julie, I'm so excited to hear that your bag came out well! If you get a chance to snap a photo, I would love to see it! (Rebekah[at]twinkleandtwine.com)

    14. I love your tutorial and bag!! So cute! I was wondering if you think it would be possible to add a zipper closure across the top opening. I like it when my purses close so everything doesn't come spilling out! I was thinking maybe a separating zipper that spans about 3/4 the opening, stopping on each side before the ends curve in. Do you think that would be possible?

    15. Hope to make this soon. I just bought some thin leather I think would work perfectly.

    16. Rebekah your hand bag tutorial is great. You really explain everything well. I love the pictures that guide me through the making of the bag. I am a professional crafter with more than (25) years experience behind me and I have never tried to create a hand bag. However; after seeing this I am going to give this a try. Thanks so much and keep up the good work. Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

    17. Hi Kristy! I think your idea about adding a zipper would work. You might need to add some fabric to either size of the zipper to add a little width and make it easier to attach. I think you should be able to attach it between the lining and the exterior fabric, that way it will also be sunken down a little below the upper edges of the bag. As an alternative, it would also be really easy to add a magnetic closure snap. I'd love to know how it turns out!

      Laura...The thin leather sounds like a great idea!

      Carrol...Thanks so much for your kind comments, I'm so glad that my tutorial has inspired you to give bag making a try!

    18. I am definitely going to make this one! Love the fabric you used.

    19. Thanks for your insights! I've done the magnetic closures on a lot of other bags and they work pretty well but I think the zipper would work really well with fabric on the sides and sandwiched in between the lining and exterior! I'll add it to my long list of bags! I've been making them for a while and I must say this bag is one of the nicest looking (non gaudy) bags I've seen! I'd rather make bags that people think I bought than ones you can immediately tell are homemade! Thanks again!

    20. EXCELLENT tutorial. You are definitely clever. Thank you.

    21. Gorgeous!  You make it look easy.

    22. Thanks so much for your sweet comment!

    23. Diffently want to try making. Wondering about adding thin pocket in center for a place to put a iPad? Thanks

    24. so beautiful... not so easy, but beautiful!! :)

    25. christina@feltlikesmiling.comJune 2, 2013 at 9:53 PM

      This is fabulous! You have inspired me to try and make my own bag. It is something I have wanted to try but have always put it in the to hard basket. Thanks for the great tutorial :-)

    26. Thank you! Your mother must have been so happy with this fabulous gift! I would buy this one, for sure! I am trying to do something similar. Thanks for the tutorial.

    27. I love, love, love this! I am a Talbots addict, and this inspires me to try to make my own as well.

      Kate Spade, eat your heart out.

      Thanks so much for this tutorial - you are awesome. :-)

    28. Well written instructions... I have some old upholstery which I want to use. It would have been helpful to have measurements in metric... I am not the only European looking for such a pattern, I'm sure.
      I also love talbots stuff, but the customs duties here in Germany are rather exorbitant, making the purchase way too expensive.


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