Fabric Handbag

As you know, I will be First Lady of the NSGW in 2017. Sounds pretty fancy, I know, but I won’t have a paid staff or a clothing allowance and it will be a ton of work. DH and I have to plan the annual conference. There will be several ladies (about 12, I think) who will be helping me plan the events for the ladies. It is common practice in this group, as well as good manners, to give thank you gifts. Since there is no shortage of fabric at my house, I thought I would see about making gifts. I may not end up going this route, but it is a good, and fun, first step. Much better than shopping, I think.

I first thought of the Anna Maria Horner Multi-tasker tote, but wasn’t really happy with that choice (too much fabric, hard straps to turn). One AMH MTT once in a while is no problem, but 12 one after another? I might rip my hair out. I put it on the back burner and thought it would be my go to option. Truthfully, though I was still casting around for an idea that really floated my boat.

WSFC Handbag
WSFC Handbag

At the West Seattle Fabric Company, I saw a little tote bag, or fabric handbag, that made me take notice. I thought it would be a better option: smaller, more useful, no difficult straps to turn, good size, nice body (e.g. stands up). They didn’t have a pattern, so we we searched the web and TFQ found a tutorial that we thought would work.

My job, while TFQ went to work one day during my visit, was to figure out whether the tutorial, with the addition of handles, would work or if we would have to modify the tutorial further.

I figured that we would have to modify the size, definitely. Also, in my experience web tutorials aren’t tested as well as some other patterns (though I have used some patterns that were pretty terrible in the directions department), but the shape was right and the size was pretty good. Just to keep those of you off the edge of your chairs: this tutorial turned out to be pretty good in terms of directions.

Supplies and tools

  • Fabric for outside and lining
  • Wonderclips
  • Peltex
  • Sewing machine
  • thread
  • Iron
  • Ironing Board
  • graph paper
  • mechanical pencil
  • drafting ruler
  • rotary cutter
  • rotary ruler
  • Pins
  • Optional: fusible interfacing for handles

The tutorial from the Sometimes Crafter is also very helpful. Note that her basket is square and if you do not make your basket (handbag) square, you cannot use her folding trick for sewing.

When I make a bag, I like to get all the fiddly bits out of the way. When I am on a roll, I don’t want to stop to make handles or pockets or whatever. I want to grab them and add them, thus I changed around the order of how I made the bag from the way the tutorial arranges the steps.

I did, actually, make the pattern first, so you could do that before the fiddly bits.

Make the Handles

Cut two strips 4″x19″ or whatever length you want your handles. I wanted someone to be able to slip her hand under a handle, thus the length. Feel free to adjust the length to suit your needs. You may need to make one or two of these to figure out what works. They are fast so don’t roll your eyes. 😉

Optional: if you want added body for the handles, use some fusible interfacing. Cut the interfacing about 1/4″ smaller than the handles and center the interfacing before you press it to the wrong side of the handles. Choose whatever weight you think is appropriate for your use.

Fold the newly cut strips in half and press.

Open both handles.

Fold the raw edges towards the  center line. Press the new folds only. Press carefully so you don’t press out the center pressed line.


Fold along the center line and press the entire strap.

Fold to center line
Fold to center line

You should have a piece that is 1″ x 4 layers.

Top stitch the open end of the handles with matching thread.

Top stitch the closed end of the handles with matching thread.

Set aside until after you sew the body

Make the Pattern

Get your graph paper.


In the above photo, I just used plain paper and a rotary ruler, because I didn’t have graph paper handy. I would DEFINITELY use graph paper. I used it in the second version and it made the process of pattern making faster and easier.

Your pattern will end up as the shape of a cross. You may have to tape your pattern together, like I did. Here are the sizes to draw out or use the sizes listed in the tutorial :

Basic size of bag is 8″x4″

  • Sides: 4.5″x6.25″
  • Bottom: 4.5″x 8.5″
  • Front: 4.25″ x 8.5″
  • Back: 4.25″ x 8.5″

Seam allowances are 1/4″

The above sizes are from the second version, because I liked the proportions better. Before I commit to 12, I will tweak the dimensions further. Don’t worry! I’ll keep you in the loop. 😉

20130715_115808_wm-1Get your ruler, paper and pencil and draw the rectangles described above.


Cut out your pieces and lay them out.


Layout your pattern so you can get an idea of the size. Carefully tape the pieces together and find fabric that works both in size and design. Nota bene: you may want to hold back the front and back pieces. Read the section below on cutting fabric and decide.

Cut the Fabric
20130715_132332_wm-1I tried to keep the pattern to a size where I could use 1/2 yard of fabric. It was difficult with the size I was trying to make. I have a lot of half yards, so I really wanted that size to work. Some of my seam allowances are a little scant, but it will work if you can work with pieces that are slightly small. This takes practice and careful sewing.

If you don’t want to worry about this, then hold the front and back pieces aside (e.g. don’t tape them to make a cross shaped pattern). Cut out the the long strip that comprises the two sides and bottom.

Now cut out the front and back separately, then sew them to the side/bottom strip to make the cross.

Pin the pattern to the fabric to keep it in place while you cut.

20130715_140802_wm-1Instead of cutting around the pattern, I used a rotary cutter and ruler to cut the same size.  I took out some of the pins to move the pattern aside. I kept some pins in the pattern and fabric so that I could reposition the pattern easily to make the other cuts.

20130715_140744_wm-1Move around the whole cross, trims the corners away per the pattern until you have a cross made out of the fabric. Do the same thing using the lining fabric and the Peltex.

Sew the Body

20130715_151654_wm-1Lay the cross of fabric in front of you right side up. Fold the top of the cross towards the right leg of the cross, lining up the right side of the top leg with the top of the right leg. The angle along the fold will be on the diagonal. Sew 1/4″ seam from the diagonal fold to the raw edge.


Do the same for all four corners (eight edges) until you have a fabric box with the top open.


Pin the lining to the Peltex.

20130715_144927_wmI used Wonderclips and they worked like a charm.

20130715_145119_wm-1Closest to you, near the Wonderclip is the edge of the fabric. Note that the Peltex wasn’t wide enough to cut it out the width of the pattern, but I added a little sliver later and that worked fine.

20130715_150005_wm-1 20130715_150011_wm-1Once the lining and Peltex are sewn you will start to see the shape of the handbag.


After sewing the body together fold the front and back of the bag in halves and then quarters and finger press. Pin the end of each handle, making sure there are no twists, to the quarter finger pressed mark. One handle goes on the front and one on the back.

Put the outside of the bag into the lining with the right sides together. Tuck the handles out of the way and pin in such a way that you leave an opening at least 3″ wide to turn the bag right side out.

The thing will be hard to turn. Don’t yank too much, just poke and pull gently.

After you have turned the bag, pull out the straps and press carefully. Press especially carefully the section that isn’t sewn.

After pressing, sew a double line of stitching to secure the lining to the outside and close up the open edge or use a decorative stitch.


Cute little finished bag. TFQ kept this one  and will use it for knitting projects. The Bonnie and Camille bag is more of a square bag.


The pink diamond bag is the second one I made. It is a little skinnier and longer, e.g. the side is bigger.

Stay tuned for updates to this tutorial.

Author: Jaye

Quiltmaker who enjoys writing and frozen chocolate covered bananas.

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