My mother had a handbag with pretty round handles that fascinated me as a child. They were like giant bracelets – smooth, continuous circles that held the body of the bag. If I were to see it now, that purse would probably seem quite average, but when you’re little, there are certain things which remain almost magical in your memory. Our Round Handle Pleated Handbag is a modern take on this nostalgic style. The upper pleats allow a smooth curve to form along the bottom. And by selecting an extra-large motif with a bold splash of color, it’s a striking fashion statement. You may just be creating a magical memory in the eyes of someone you know.
Vintage round handle bags were often spring and summer accessories in woven straw, crocheted yarn or macrame cording. There is something inherently “happy” about this type of bag. Perhaps it’s because the shape itself almost looks like a smile. Maybe round and smooth just seems more cheerful than square and sharp. We’re simply glad to have a new bag to show off… how about you?!
Our exterior fabric is a home décor cotton/linen blend. We loved the slightly distressed finish of the design. You want to look for a fabric option that has more substance than a traditional quilting cotton, but enough drape to allow the soft pleats along the top. Like Goldilocks, not too soft and not too stiff… just right is the goal. If shopping in-store, you can even take the time to finger pleat the fabric to experiment with how well it drapes. The lining is a standard quilting weight cotton in a coordinated solid.
The linen content in our sample fabric did mean we had to adjust some of our construction steps to account for rather aggressive raveling. Your fabric selection might be easier to control, allowing you to skip some of the seam sealant steps. We used a layer of lightweight woven fusible interfacing on both the exterior and lining layers. A woven substrate was chosen over a nov-woven for its ability to smoothly pleat. These are not the crisp, knife edge pleats you might be used to; you want soft folds that gently expand down to the bottom of the bag, allowing that pretty semi-circle curve.
You will be working with thick layers during this project, especially at the top of the bag where the pleats are formed. We worked through several prototypes with our seamstress team to find the easiest option for a range of skill levels. We strongly recommend engaging your machine’s built-in fabric feeding system (we use the AcuFeed™ Flex system on our Janome studio models) or attaching a Walking or Even Feed foot. Go slowly and carefully, using a new needle and a slightly lengthened stitch.
All of our instructions are based on our sample handles, which were 7½” in outside diameter, ¼” thick, and perfectly round. The cuts, patterns, and templates should still work should you find handles up to about ½” larger or smaller, but much more variation than that, and the curves and tab loops are unlikely to fit together quite right. Our handles were purchased at a local Joann Fabric, but the size is a common one in wood, bamboo, and acrylic.
The depth of the bag finishes at about 10”. This slightly smaller size is important to creating that pretty teardrop sweep of the bag. As a bag gets deeper and or wider, its shape stretches out and becomes less defined. This design is all about soft curves.
Our Round Handle Pleated Handbag finishes at approximately 20” wide at the widest point near the bottom and 8½” across the top opening. It is about 10” deep. And, as described above, the round handles are 7½” in outside diameter.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing machine and standard presser foot
- Walking or Even Feed foot; optional but helpful for the thick layers generated by the pleating; you can also choose our option of engaging you machine’s built-in fabric feeding system; we love the AcuFeed™ Flex system on many of our Janome models
- 90/14 denim/jeans needle; we always recommend starting each new project with a new needle, but with the thick layers in this project, it is especially important
Fabric and Other Supplies
- ½ - 1 yard of 54”+ mid-weight home décor cotton/linen or similar for the exterior; we used 55” Covington Multi-Purpose Décor in Charcoal Zoe
NOTE: As mentioned above, in order to get the best look to the pleating, look for a fabric option that has some substance but still maintains a good drape. We recommend a precise fussy cut for the best finished look, which is why the yardage is shown as a range. The minimum required at 54” is just half a yard, however, our motif was quite large and we used an entire yard in order to get matching cuts front to back.
- ¾ yard of 44”+ quilting weight cotton in a coordinating solid for the lining; we used 44” Kona cotton in Khaki
- 1¼ yard of 20”+ lightweight fusible interfacing; we used 20” Pellon Shape-Flex
NOTE: We do recommend a woven fusible, like Shape-Flex over a non-woven
- TWO 7½” round purse handles; we used wooden handles from Everything Mary – the exact dimensions, which also affect the size of the tabs, were: outside diameter: 7½”, inside diameter: 6¾”, thickness: ¼” — your handle dimensions could vary slightly, but in order for the patterns and templates to come out correctly, it’s best to stay as close to our sample sizing as possible. No more than a ½” variation larger or smaller is recommended.
- All purpose thread to match exterior and lining fabrics
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors and/or rotary cutter and mat
- Pinking shears; optional for finishing seam allowances
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle
- Seam sealant, optional for handle loops if your fabric frays easily
Getting Started and Pattern/Template Downloads
- Download the Pattern Binder: print out the ONE pattern piece (Handle Loop) and the TWO templates (Corner Template and Pleat Guide), which have been bundled into one PDF to make the download easier.
IMPORTANT: Each of the two pages within this PDF is ONE 8½" x 11" sheet. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide rule on each page so you can confirm your final printout is to scale.
- Cut out the Handle Loop pattern piece and the Corner Template along the solid line.
- Cut out the three sections that make up the Pleat Guide along the solid line, then, using the arrow notches as a guide, butt together the three pieces (do not overlap) and tape together to create the full-size template.
- From the lining fabric, cut TWO 23” x 11” rectangles.
- From the exterior fabric, fussy cut TWO 23” wide x 11” high rectangles.
- We cut the lining panels first and then used one of the panels as a pattern to plan our best exterior fussy cut.
- You could try this or cut a 23” x 11” rectangle from paper to use as a pattern for fussy cutting.
- From the exterior fabric, use the Handle Loop pattern to cut TEN.
- From the lightweight interfacing, cut FOUR 22” x 10” rectangles.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Fusing and rounding the corners
- Find the two exterior panels, the two lining panels, and the four interfacing panels.
- Center an interfacing panel on the wrong side of each exterior panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Repeat to center and fuse the interfacing on the wrong side of the lining panels.
- Find the corner template.
- Pin the template in place at each bottom corner of each exterior panel and trim around the curve.
- Remember that on one corner the template will be right side up and on the opposite corner it will be right side down.
- Transfer the marking dot from the template to the fabric at each corner.
- Repeat to pin, trim, and mark each corner on the fused lining panels.
Create the exterior and lining “tubes”
- Place the interfaced exterior panels right sides together. Pin along both sides from the top corner around the bottom corner curve, stopping at the marked dot.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch each side from upper corner to bottom marked dot.
- Repeat to stitch together the lining layers in the same manner.
- Generously clip both bottom corner curves in the sewn exterior…
- … and the sewn lining. You now have two “tubes” – each should be completely open along the top and open in the center (between the marked dots) along the bottom.
Assemble the tubes to prepare for pleating
- With the exterior tube wrong side out and the lining tube right side out, slip the lining inside the exterior so the exterior and lining are now right sides together.
- Carefully align the side seams and pin together the layers all around the top.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch all around the top.
- Press open the seam allowance, steaming so it is nice and crisp.
- Pull the lining up and away, which you can do because the bottom is open, so you are just working with the exterior layers.
- We pinked the seam allowance on our exterior fabric as it had a strong tendency to ravel. You can choose another type of seam finish, or if you feel raveling will not be an issue, you can skip this step altogether.
- With the lining still pushed out of the way, pin together the bottom opening of the exterior layers from marked dot to marked dot. The layers are, of course, still right sides together.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch together.
- With the bottom exterior seam closed, continue gently pulling up on the lining, bringing it out and around the exterior so the two layers are now wrong sides together, right sides out. Remember, you can do this because although the bottom seam of the exterior is closed, the bottom of the lining is still open between the marked dots. Just go slowly and carefully as you pull the lining over the exterior and down into position. Both layers are right side out, and the bag itself is lining side facing out. The upper seam along the top of the bag should be straight all around. Press that upper edge flat.
- Find the pleating template. It’s easiest to keep everything straight if you can print the template in color. If you don’t have access to a color printer, you might want to take the time to trace over the lines with colored markers.
- Find the exact center points along the top edge of the bag: center back and center front. Mark both points with a pin. Align the center point of the pleating template with the center pin point on one side. You can pleat either the front or the back first – it doesn’t matter.
- Place marking pins at the top and bottom of each solid line on the pleating template.
- You could certainly draw in lines to follow with a fabric pen or pencil if you are brand new to pleating and worried about your accuracy. Our fabric was quite colorful so it was hard to find one marking color that would stand out, so we went with pins for marking.
- The illustration below helps show you a full view of how the template should align as well as how the tabs will eventually be positioned.
- Remove the template so all your marks are clearly visible.
- Starting from one side and working your way into the middle, fold right sides together (exterior sides together) – creating a small tuck, aligning the marking pins for the solid black line with the marking pins for the solid red line. Pin in place at the top and 2” down at the bottom.
- Thread the machine with thread to best match the lining in the top and to best match the exterior in the bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch.
- Stitch from the top down to the bottom mark – a short 2” seam.
- This stitching will be visible inside the finished bag, so you want your stitching to be even and neat. If possible, use a lock stitch to both start and end the seam. If this is not an option on your model, leave the thread tails long and knot to secure, trimming the tails as close a possible. To emphasize, each pleat uses just ONE 2” seam from the upper edge to the bottom 2” marking point.
- Do one pleat at a time, folding and stitching in the same manner and moving from one outer side into the center.You are matching the black line to the red line of each pleat on the guide. If starting right on the edge of something is a challenge for your machine, you can stitch from the bottom up to the top.
- As you can see on the template, the direction of the pleats go toward the center from either side, which means they will meet together at the center. The “aerial view" in the photo below shows you how the pleats come from each side to meet in the middle.
- When the pleating for the first side is done, repeat to pleat the second side in the same manner. Be careful and precise with your marking and stitching. It’s important that the front and back pleating aligns or the bag won’t hang correctly from the handles.
- When both the front and back panels are pleated, once again pull the lining away from the exterior. You need it just far enough away to allow you to place the raw edges of the still-unsewn bottom opening right sides together. Pin in place, leaving an approximate 5” - 6” opening. Yep, you are simply narrowing the opening, not completely closing it.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the lining in both the top and bobbin. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch from the original marked bottom corner points to the new 5” - 6” opening. Stitch one side, then stop and lock. Re-position and stitch the other side, stop and lock.
- Turn the entire bag right side out through the 5”- 6” opening. This takes a little bit of pushing and pulling, but be gentle as your upper pleats are not yet topstitched in place.
- Once right side out, push the bottom of the lining back down into the exterior. Align the side seams and flatten the pleats. Press well.
- But wait, there’s still a 5” - 6 “ opening down there. Yep. Gently pull out the bottom of the lining. Re-press the raw edges if necessary to make sure the opening aligns with the sewn seam. Pin closed.
- Hand stitch the opening closed.
- Push the lining back down into place, and press well once again.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the exterior in the top and to best match the lining in the bobbin. Increase the stitch length for a basting stitch.
- Make triple-sure your pleats are pressed well, are all flat, and are all facing the proper direction.
- Baste all the way around the top of the bag with a ½” seam allowance. This basting is mandatory. For extra security, you can baste around once more ¼” from the top.
Creating and attaching the tabs
- Find the ten handle loops.
- For each loop, press back both long sides and one end ½”. If you are working with a directional print, the finished end is the “top” end that will wrap around the handle to be secured against the lining.
- Fold in half, aligning the folded edges.
- Pin in place along the folded edges.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin. Slightly increase the stitch length. Edgestitch along both sides of the handle loop. One end is completely raw and flat. The opposite end is tucked in but is not edgestitched closed. Repeat for each of the ten loops.
- Find the bag, which should be right side out, and the round handles.
- There should be at least one line of machine basting all around the top of the bag at ½”.
- Place five loops across the pleating on both the front and the back. The raw end of each loop should be flush with the top finished edge of the bag. The finished (tucked-in) end is hanging straight down.
- Pin one loop at the exact center. Pin a loop over each outermost pleat, centered over the pleat’s seam. The final two loops are centered over the pleats equidistance from the center loop and the outer loop. Refer to the drawing above to confirm placement.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the exterior in the top and to best match the lining in the bobbin. Keep the slightly lengthened stitch.
- Using the ½” basting line as your guide, stitch across each loop. We recommend stitching across and then backstitching all the way across for the best security.
- Trim back the sewn end to ¼”.
- If your fabric is prone to raveling as ours was, apply a line of seam sealant and allow it to dry.
- Bring up each loop, folding it right along its seam. Pin in this upright position, making sure each loop is straight and perpendicular to the top of the bag. Pin each loop in this upright position.
- With the machine still threaded with thread to best match the exterior in the top and to best match the lining in the bobbin, and with the stitch still slightly lengthened, topstitch all the way around the bag ¼” from the top finished edge of the bag. If you used two lines of machine basting in the previous steps, you can use this second line of basting as your guide line. We simply used our AcuFeed™ Flex presser foot as our guide.
- Go slowly and evenly all the way around the bag. Starting and stoping at a side seam is the best way to conceal the overlap of the seam.
- Find one of the handles. Bring each loop around the handle, pinning the finished/tucked-in end of the loop against the inside of the bag. The spacing should match the sewn loops on the front of the bag.
- This end of the loop should be aligned with that original ½” basting line.
- Pin one handle in place first and then pin the second in place, taking the time to make sure the loops line up front to back.
- Thread a hand sewing needle and stitch each loop in place against the lining. Stitch along the bottom first, which also closes the tucked-in end.
- Then, stitch up along each side, ending at the ¼” topstitching seam.
- Remove any visible basting stitches.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Prototype Testing: Debbie Guild