14 tips to sew great looking bags
Some people ask me why I sew my own things when I can just buy them. I usually answer that I like to express myself creatively, and designing is part of who I am. The truth is that there’s a secret pleasure behind DIY.
If you’ve ever made something that someone complimented, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the pleasure and satisfaction of pronouncing these six words:
“Thank you, I made it myself”
It makes you feel proud to be wearing something that no one else has, and that you made. You feel so happy to show off your beautiful creation. It’s like an energy high.
When I started sewing purses (if that’s what you can call those weird looking things), I preferred to keep them hiding in the closet. I have to admit that I even threw a couple away.
I’m glad to say that I learned from my mistakes, and now I can make bags worth showing to the world (some of them have even gotten compliments, yay!).
Here’s a list of 14 things that will help make your own purse and be proud to take it everywhere you go:
1. Select the right fabric
The type of fabric you choose will depend mostly on the design, but mid to heavy weight fabrics generally work better. They give your bag structure and shape.
If you use flimsy fabrics, your purses will look like a plastic bag. You’ll have to use interfacing or stabilizer to give them support.
I like to use curtain or upholstery fabrics because they’re more resistant and don’t wear out so easily.
Stay away from knits and stretchy fabrics. This may seem kind of obvious, but believe me, I made this mistake more than once when I was starting.
If you’re using a pattern, stick to the suggested fabrics.
2. Choose a pretty lining
Just because it’s on the inside, doesn’t mean that it’s not important. Its main purpose is to give a nice inside look and cover the seams. It also adds some support.
Choose a pretty fabric that matches the outer fabric. Sew the inner pockets to your lining before assembling, it’ll be hard to do it afterwards. Leave the hole for turning at the bottom. This way, your top edge will be nice and clean.
When you make your own purse, you get to decide even on the smallest details.
3. Add a facing
A facing will make your bags look pretty when you open them. It will also give the top edge extra strength.
4. Check your print and fabric direction
Just like with anything else you sew, print and fabric direction are very important in handbags.
When you cut your fabric, imagine that you´re holding the finished purse in your hand. The fabric’s vertical threads (those that are parallel to the selvage) should be parallel to your body on all the pieces.
The exceptions are small things like pockets, ties or maybe lids, in which direction won’t make a big difference. If you’ll make your purse be very small, it won’t matter much either.
5. Apply the interfacing right!
Most bags will need a layer of interfacing. It’s very important to select the best type for your fabric. You can use either fusible or sew in.
Fusible is easier to work with and it should be fused to the main or outer fabric to give it strength. It should also be applied in in the handles, closures and facings.
I usually don’t interface the lining. The only exception is when I want to make a purse that is very rigid. If I add interior pockets, I only interface the part of the lining where the pocket will go.
If your machine has trouble sewing through many layers of fabric, leave the seam allowances without interfacing to reduce bulk.
14 tips to make your own purses
6. Use stabilizer
Some purses will require a layer of stabilizer and one of interfacing. When this is the case, you should clip the stabilizer so that it’s smaller than your main fabric. Otherwise, it’ll be very hard to sew through all those thick layers and your edges will look bulky.
Place the stabilizer on the wrong side of fabric and the interfacing (fusible side down) on top. Press, then turn around and press on the right side to make sure you don’t have air bubbles.
Most patterns will tell you what type of stabilizer to use. If you’re going to make your own purse design, you’ll need to experiment with different weights to see which one works best.
7. Use large seam allowances
Large seam allowances work best for bags, especially when you’re sewing through many thick layers. I use 3/8” on some simple things that have only one or two layers of fabric (like this tote) and 1/2” for more complex bags.
8. Inserting handles, ties or closures
When you’re inserting handles, ties and closures between two layers of fabric, make them stick out a bit past the fabric’s edge. If you place them exactly on the edge, they could easily tear off with the weight.
Hand baste before sewing with the machine to hold them in place. I don’t recommend using pins because they can easily move, and your pieces will end up being crooked.
This step will make your purse be more resistant.
9. Hand baste the hard parts
Pins do a great job at holding two pieces of fabric, but they’re not perfect. They tend to move when you’re passing the machine. There are some parts that will do ok with just a pin, but there are others that will be much easier to sew if you baste them.
This may seem like extra work, but it helps you get things right the first time around. I baste all my zippers and curves. I also baste pieces that will go between two layers of fabric like ties, lids and handles.
10. Press your seams
You should press all your seam allowances after being sewn to help them fall in place. You will also need to press some pockets and edges.
This can be tricky, but a pressing ham will help you get the work done. If you’re serious about making purses, you might want to make a small ham for little pouches.
11. Clip corners and curves
Most purses will have many curves and corners. You should clip them all!
This will help them turn nicely and look clean and finished on the outside. If you forget this step, your fabric will wrinkle when turned inside out. This should be done before topstitching.
12. Topstitch everything
You’ll want your purse to be very resistant, especially if it’s an everyday bag.
Topstitching will add extra strength to your seams and it’ll make them look more professional. Almost every part of your purse needs to be topstitched: zippers, top edges, side seams, bottom seams, handles, pockets, you get the idea…
14 tips to make your own purses
13. Add a base
We tend to carry everything in our purse, house keys, perfume, comb, makeup, hand sanitizer, tissues, you name it. And we expect our poor little bags to carry all that heavy stuff.
They should, that’s their purpose, but we can’t expect a piece of fabric to hold it all. Some purses will need a base to help them out, especially the larger ones.
Cut a piece of plastic or cardboard the same size and shape as your bag’s bottom. Make a cover with your lining and insert in your purse.
14. Practice, practice, practice
Practice makes perfect. To make your own purses like an expert, you’ll need to sew a couple before you get everything right.
If you want to learn more, I suggest you try Design Your Own Handbag. It’s an online class where you’ll learn professional tips every step of the way, from planning your bag’s unique shape and fabrics to adding finishing snaps and straps. You start with a basic handbag shape that can be adapted into an endless variety of styles, including a tote bag, slouchy hobo bag, and curved top bag. Then you’ll pick up more advanced skills such as constructing zipper pockets, creating pleats, and attaching hardware. You get to choose your own process and create a chic, custom bag!