Red Leather. Read that out loud three times fast. (Go ahead… I’ll wait) Hard to do isn’t it? Now try Red Faux Leather. Much easier, isn’t it? Not only is it easier to say, faux leather is much easier to sew with than the real thing. We really enjoyed designing and creating this elegant handbag project out of soft and supple red faux leather. It’s a perfect crossover tote – clean and casual enough for the office, but still posh and pretty, and in a manageable size, so it works perfectly for a night on the town.
A real leather bag would have the seams glued open, hammered flat and top stitched. Because the majority of faux leather is wonderfully soft, you can skip the glue and hammer and go straight to topstitching. Sew slowly, carefully and evenly; this detail is what makes the faux leather look like the genuine article.
Continuing our faux focus, we chose faux tortoise shell retangular handles. Look online or in store at your favorite fabric or craft retailer for handle options. Etsy is also a good option for bag handles and hardware.
We added a magnetic snap at the top to keep our designer bag securely shut.
Take a read through our tutorial on Sewing With Faux Leather for more details about working with this specialty fabric. For our handbag, we felt the three most important things to remember were: 1) choose a Teflon® or Ultra Glide type of foot for the topstitching detail, 2) use clips not pins to hold your layers together, and 3) double stitch the seams – this bag’s seams need to hold up under stress, but when you fold out your seam allowances and topstitch, all the stress is now placed directly on the threads holding the seam together; two lines of stitching are better than one.
The finished size of the bag is approximately 13″ wide x 9″ high, excluding the purchased handles.
Sewing Tools You Need
Fabric and Other Supplies
- ½ yard of 54″+ wide faux leather fabric for the the bag exterior
- ½ yard of 45″+ wide décor weight fabric for the the bag lining
NOTE: Our bag is designed to be soft and supple; if you want a stiffer bag that can stand on its own, add some fusible batting or interfacing to the back of the faux leather.
- All purpose thread in colors to best match both fabrics
- All purpose thread in a color a shade darker than your faux leather for topstitching
- Plastic handbag handles: we originally used 5″ x 3″ rectangle Clover Designer Bag Handles in Black Cherry
- ONE magnetic snap closure
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pencil
- Seam gauge
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Straight pins for cotton sateen
- Binder or quilt clips for faux leather
- From the fabric for the bag exterior (Red Calf Faux Leather in our sample), cut the following:
TWO 11½”high x 17″ wide rectangles for bag body
TWO 5″ high x 4″ wide rectangles for handles
- From the fabric for the bag lining (Innocent Crush Sateen in our sample), fussy cut the following:
TWO 11½” high x 17″ wide rectangles for bag body
TWO 5″ high x 4″ wide rectangles for handles
TWO 11″ high x 8½” wide rectangles for the pockets
NOTE: If you use a directional print as we did with our pretty stripe, it should run horizontally.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Create the inside pockets
- Find the two 11″ x 8½” pocket pieces.
- Fold each piece in half, right sides together, making each 5½” x 8½”.
- Pin along both sides of each piece.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch both sides of each piece. Clip the bottom corners.
- Turn right side out. Gently push out the corners so they are nice and sharp. A chopstick, long knitting needle or point turner works well for this. Press flat.
Mark the lining for the pocket and the bottom corners
- Lay one of the 11½” x 17″ lining pieces right side down on your work surface.
- Find the center point across the width (8½” from each raw edge). Using your fabric pen, draw a vertical line at this center point. Make a notch at the center top.
- Measure ½” from each raw edge and draw a line. So you have four intersecting lines, like a frame.
- Measure 1½” up from the bottom ½” drawn line and draw a parallel horizontal line (2″ up from the bottom raw edge).
- Measure 4″ up from this line you just drew and draw another parallel horizontal line, but this one is only 7½” in length and that 7½” inches is centered side to side on the center line. This is guide line for the bottom of the pocket.
- At each bottom corner, use your see-through ruler to make two squares. One 2″ x 2″ square, and inside that, one 1½” x 1½” square. Then, draw a diagonal line connecting the inside corners point to point.
- Repeat to make all these same markings on the other 11½” x 17″ lining piece.
Stitch the pockets in place
- Locate the 7½” drawn guide line on one of your marked-up lining pieces that represents the bottom of the pocket.
- Using a contrasting thread, run a line of stitching along this drawn line. This will allow you an accurate guide line to follow when working from the right side of the lining fabric.
- Flip the lining to the right side.
- Alight the raw edges of one pocket along the sewn guide line. Pin in place.
- Re-thread your machine with thread to match your fabric.Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch straight across to attach the bottom of the pocket. We stitched across the bottom twice for better security.
- When done stitching, clip back the corners at a diagonal.
- Flip the pocket up into position, using the stitched seam as your fold point. This encases the raw edge of the bottom seam inside the pocket. Edgestitch along both sides. Again, we double-stitched our seam and back-tacked as well at the top of each side. This is a stress point for the pocket and it’s smart to secure the seam well.
- Repeat to attach the remaining pocket in position on the remaining lining piece.
NOTE: We added a final vertical seam bisecting each of our pocket panels so we had two smaller pockets on each side rather than one large pocket. This is optional. You could leave the pocket wide or you could make additional vertical dividing seams to create even narrower pockets.
Assemble the lining and box the bottom corners
- Place the two lining pieces with the sewn pockets right sides together, aligning all raw edges and sandwiching the pockets in between the layers. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch both sides and across the bottom, stopping the seams (and back-tacking) at the drawn points of the small inside squares at each corner.
- Cut out each corner along the inside drawn lines and cut up along the diagonal corner line.
- Using both hands, pinch and pull apart one bottom corner. Precisely match the two seams front to back. Pin in place.
- Stitch across on the drawn line.
NOTE: If you are new to boxing corners, we have a general tutorial covering two standard methods as well as formulas to figure sizing.
- Repeat for the opposite corner.
- Set the finished lining aside.
Make the handle tabs
- Find the two 5″ x 4″ lining pieces and the two 5″ x 4″ faux leather pieces.
- Pair them up, lining to leather, right sides together. Pin in place along the 5″ sides.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along the 5″ sides.
- Turn right side out and press.
- If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the faux leather in the top and the lining in the bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch. Attach an Ultra Glide foot or similar is possible
- Topstitch approximately ¼” from the each sewn edge.
- Set the handle tabs aside.
Assemble the bag exterior
- Find the two 11½” x 17″ faux leather pieces.
- Place them right sides together, matching all the raw edges. Clip in place.
- Re-thread if necessary with thread to best match the faux leather in the top and bobbin. Re-set the stitch length to normal. We continued to use the Ultra Glide foot.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch both 11½” sides. Stitch a second time to secure the seam line.
- Press the seams open from the back. Turn the sewn piece right side out.
- Re-thread your machine with the slightly darker topstitching thread in the top and bobbin. Again, we continued to use the Ultra Glide foot.
- Re-set to the slightly lengthened stitch topstitch ¼” to the left and the right of each seam. These will become the decorative center seams of the finished bag so be very careful to keep your topstitching straight.
NOTE: When sewing with faux leather, you need this type of foot, a roller foot or you’ll need to insert a piece of wax paper between the faux leather and your regular foot. If you are new to sewing with faux leather, learn about this and other techniques in our tutorial on the subject.
- Turn the exterior wrong side out again and match up the topstitched seams so they are in the center front and center back and there is a folded edge along what will be each side of the bag. Clip together the bottom of the bag.
- Using your fabric pen, create corner markings similar to those you did on the lining. Draw one horizontal line ½” up from and parallel with the bottom of the bag. Then draw two rectangles in each corner. The outer rectangle should be 2″ high x 1½” wide. The inner rectangle should be 1½” high x 1″ wide. Draw a diagonal line connecting the two inside corners. You are working with rectangles rather than the squares you used above when boxing the corners in the lining, because you do not have a ½” side seam – just a folded edge.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch across the bottom of the bag, following the ½” drawn line, and stopping at the drawn line of the inner rectangle. Back tack well at the beginning and end of the seam. As you did above, stitch a second time to secure the seam line.
- Cut out the inner rectangle and clip up along the drawn diagonal line.
NOTE: Save these little squares of faux leather; we’ll use them in just a bit to reinforce the magnetic clasp.
- Turn the bag right side out, and run a line of topstitching ¼” to either side of the bottom seam, just like you did with the center seams.
- Turn the bag wrong side out again, and box each corner, following the same steps as you did with the lining’s corners.
- Turn the bag right side out and push out your pretty boxed corners.
Attaching the handles
- Find the two handle tabs. Center one over each front and back seam.
- The faux leather side of the handle tab should be against the faux leather exterior of the bag (right sides together). One raw edge of the handle tab should be aligned with the top raw edge of the bag, the other raw edge of the handle tab should be hanging down.
- Clip in place.
- Stitch to secure approximately ¼” from the upper raw edges.
Inserting the magnetic clasp
- Find the lining.
- Press under the top raw edge of the lining ½” all around, creating a nice folded edge around the entire finished lining piece.
- Remember those little leather pieces you cut out of the corners? Find the two of them. You’ll use these to reinforce the magnetic clasps.
- Using the notch you cut at the center top of each lining piece… way back at the beginning. Slip a small square of leather under the folded edge of the lining at the front and the back and center it at this notch.
- Clip in place. Stitch in place around all four sides.
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, insert one half of the clasp through all the layers at each center point.
NOTE: If you are new to using magnetic clasps, we have a full tutorial you can refer to prior to starting
Finishing the bag
- Turn the lining wrong side out and slip it inside the bag so the lining and the bag are wrong sides together.
- Align the magnetic clasps on the lining with the center front and back seams of the bag.
- Fold down the top raw edge of the bag ½” all the way around to match the folded top of the lining. Use clips to hold the lining to the bag.
- The handle tabs are hanging free.
- Find the plastic bag handles and slip one onto each handle tab. If your handles have a right side and wrong side, check to be sure the wrong side is facing in when you slip them in place.
- Wrap each handle tab over and slip the raw end down between the lining and the bag. The bottom of the plastic handle should sit just above the top folded edges of the bag.
- Reposition the clips to securely hold all the layers in place and topstitch all around the top opening of the bag approximately ¼” from the folded edges, attaching the lining to the bag and securing the handle tabs in position. Make sure your machine is still threaded with the darker topstitching thread, your stitch is still slightly lengthened and you are still using an Ultra Glide foot or similar.
- The top of the bag has a pleat at each side. To create these pleats, push the side in 1½”. You’ve made a little “Z” fold and have three “pinch points.”
- At each “pinch point” stitch a tiny horizontal seam to hold the pinch in place. Just a couple stitches or about ¼” is plenty. Sew your pinch point exactly in line with the topstitching seam and it will be barely noticeable. It’s like a little bar tack at each point.
Optional bottom-of-the-bag insert
- If you’d like your bag to have a bit more structure along the bottom, you can add a fabric-covered insert to the bottom of the bag.
- Cut a 2¾” x 12¾” piece of stiff cardboard or thin plastic.
- Cut one piece from the lining fabric 4″ x 28″.
- Fold the lining fabric in half, right sides together, to form a long tube.
- Pin, and stitch together, using a ½” seam allowance, along both sides. The bottom end is the fold and the top end is raw and open.
- Clip the corners and turn right side out.
- Slip the cardboard or plastic into the tube.
- Fold in the raw edges of the open end.
- Topstitch the opening closed.
- Slip the insert into the bag to form and stabilize the bottom.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation: Kathy Andrews, What Sew Ever