How to make leather purses & totes

Written by mercedes valladares
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How to make leather purses & totes
Make a leather mini trapezoid purse or tote. (leather image by Andrii Oleksiienko from Fotolia.com)

Designing and making leather purses and totes begins by choosing the type of leather hide or skin for the project. Heavier skins such as hair-on leather, as well as lighter skins such as lamb need different types of tools to cut the leather and assemble the bags. Trims such as handles, linings, purse frames as well as clasps and magnetic snaps are coordinated with the purse's or tote’s outer shell. Draw a rough sketch of a purse, such as a trapezoid, or a medium-sized tote, to act as a road map prior to drafting patterns, cutting project materials or assembling the leather bags.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Pattern paper
  • Purse sketch
  • Drafting pencils
  • Scissors
  • Leather hides
  • Removable tape
  • Leather crafting knife
  • Leather shears
  • Non-stick ruler
  • Poly-cotton thread
  • Leather sewing needle
  • Teflon foot sewing machine attachment
  • Sewing machine
  • Leather trim
  • Leather braid
  • Magnetic snap
  • Leather hole punch
  • Tote sketch
  • Bamboo or wood handles
  • Leather bead floral tape
  • Suede mohair border
  • Embroidered Ultrasuede trim

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Instructions

    Making a Mini Trapezoid Purse

  1. 1

    Draft your leather purse pattern on your pattern paper according to your purse sketch by starting with the width, length and depth dimension, using your drafting pencils. For instance, to make a trapezoid purse, draft a pattern 8 inches in width at the mouth and 9 inches in width at the base of the purse’s front and back panels. Add 7 inches for your height, which will be the distance between the purse’s mouth and base. Your pattern will have a slight triangular shape.

  2. 2

    Draft the trapezoid’s side panel insert pattern by measuring 2 inches in width by 7 inches in height.

  3. 3

    Draft the bottom panel 2 inches in depth by 9 inches in width. The bottom panel will be stitched to the two trapezoid panels. It is important for your bottom panel dimensions to have the exact fit to the purse’s base spec as well as the side panel’s width.

  4. 4

    Cut your pattern pieces with your scissors. You will have two trapezoid panels for the front and back, two side panels and one bottom panel. Keep in mind that the pattern measurements include seam allowance.

  5. 5

    Place your hide on your work surface. Position your pattern pieces on the hide, and use the proper tool to cut out the leather pieces. Use removable tape instead of pins to hold your patterns in place. For example, if you are working with a heavier weight hide, use a leather crafting knife to avoid tears or uneven edges on the raw seam. Use leather cutting shears for lighter weight hides of 113gr. or less. Use a non-stick ruler to avoid the ruler adhering to the skin while you are cutting.

  6. 6

    Change your cotton to a heavier weight thread such as a poly-cotton blend. Change your sewing needle to a leather needle. Change your sewing foot to a sewing machine Teflon foot attachment to ensure the leather slides through the machine while stitching and does not stick; choose a long stitch from your machine’s stitch selector to avoid punctures in the leather.

  7. 7

    Place the wrong sides of the hides facing each other, which is usually the suede side of your leather. depending on the type of skin quality. Stitch your front and back trapezoid panels to your two side panels. The stitched raw seams will be facing out.

  8. 8

    Stitch the bottom panel to the trapezoid body and side panels. Take extra time during stitching to ensure that the side panels are aligned to the bottom panel. It is also important to mitre the corners by stitching diagonally. Reinforce the corners by reverse stitching, which is the process of running the same stitch back and forth several times. Check your sewing machine's manual for the reverse stitch lever or selector.

  9. 9

    Attach leather trim such as a 1-inch width leather braid around the mouth and raw seams of the trapezoid purse, encasing the leather’s raw edges. Keep your trim’s attachment process in mind prior to attaching the braid. For instance, handles with open ends will need a thin leather loop to be sewn to the purse’s raw edge. Insert the loop through the handle’s open end and close the loop by stitching it to the raw edge, holding the handle in place.

  10. 10

    Add a magnetic snap by making a hole with a leather hole punch. Although each snap application differs, generally the top and bottom sections of the snap must lock in place to secure it and finish your mini leather trapezoid purse.

    Making a Tote

  1. 1

    Draft your tote’s pattern according to your tote’s sketch design. For example, for a basic tote for weekend or everyday use, follow an 18-inch length by 12-inch width pattern.

  2. 2

    Draft your side panel insert by making an 18-inch length by 4-inch width pattern.

  3. 3

    Draft your bottom panel by making a 4-inch depth by 12-inch width pattern.

  4. 4

    Draft a leather handle strap by following a 2-inch width by 20-inch length. The leather strap handle is replaceable with bamboo or wood handles.

  5. 5

    Place your hide on your work surface and cut out your fabric parts. See Section 1, Step 5 for cutting tools. You will have a front and back panel, two side panels, and one bottom panel. You will also need to cut two strap panels if you are not incorporating wood handles.

  6. 6

    Position the hides with the wrong sides facing each other, and stitch the front and back panels to the side panels. The raw seam edges will be facing out.

  7. 7

    Attach the bottom panel by repeating Section 1, Step 8.

  8. 8

    Place your two straps with the right sides of the fabric facing out. Stitch the two pieces together. The raw seams will be facing out as well.

  9. 9

    Stitch leather trim such as a 1-inch width leather bead floral tape to the straps’ raw edge by encasing the edge with the leather trim. You can also opt to use a contrast trim such as a decorative suede mohair border or an embroidered Ultrasuede trim. Stitch the finished strap to the tote body. If your sketch includes bamboo or wood handles, you will need to sew the open ends of the handles as in Section 1, Step 9 for attachment.

  10. 10

    Stitch leather trim around the tote’s raw edges at the mouth, side seams and around the bottom panel. This will ensure a smooth seam finish around your leather tote.

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