Leather Tote Bag

So my sister came to visit me a week ago, and we did some sewing–she a circle skirt and I a leather tote.  I have to say she came away the winner since both items went home with her, but I’d do it all again for a few more days together.


Her skirt is sewn from a heavy canvas type of material with a directional print.  In order to keep the print more or less upright, she cut four pieces to form the circle.  This strategy worked out quite well, and with all the fabric and print gathering around, the seams  are hard to spot.

While she utilized my Janome, I was busy on the Consew with leather.




This is the first leather bag I’ve completed!  I’ve been working on my bag making skills, brushing up on some leather techniques, and generally working towards this moment for months now. There’s nothing like tackling a big project to gauge what I’ve learned and what I have yet to learn.




The exterior is cut from a veg-tanned cow hide that I dyed with Eco-Flo water based dye in the color Dark Mahogany.  The interior is an upholstery weight fabric that Jessi picked out at Hancock Fabrics, and the pockets are lined in red cotton.



Working with leather does require some special tools (besides the upholstery weight industrial sewing machine).  I wanted to add metal rivets for strength and visual appeal, and  I had to get the appropriate hole punch, mallet and rivet setter.  As I plan to use them extensively in the future, the extra tools were a worthy investment.  I was very impressed with how sturdy the handles felt after adding the rivets compared to when they were only stitched on.



As far as construction, sewing this bag up wasn’t so much different from a cloth bag until I tried to turn it right side out.  The leather is quite stiff (I’d guess the hide is 4-5oz) and the seam allowances can’t be pressed open.  I literally wrestled with the bag, pushing and pulling for 10-15 minutes just to turn it.  Once it was turned, Jessi and I took turns pushing out the bottom of the bag and working on the seams.  It was at this point that I became tired and frustrated.  There has got to be a better way to do this with leather!  I’ll be experimenting with thinner/softer leathers, smaller seam allowances (I used 1/4 inch S.A.), a beveler and other designs to improve the experience and results.



Another detail that differs from working with cloth is how one finishes the edges of leather.  The handle edges as well as the top of the bag are all cut edges that require some sort of finishing to improve the look and durability of the leather.  I used bee’s wax and a slicker to finish them on this bag.  I like the way this method looks, but it takes a fair amount of time and effort.  The other method I’m aware of is to use Edge Kote, which is simply painted on.  This method sounds easier, but in my experience, it cracks over time (ever had a purse with a handle where the edges are cracked all over?)

All in all, this bag was a lot of fun to make and I’m pleased as punch with the results.  I’m already working on #2 and planning #3.  Have you worked with leather?  Any resources you could recommend for learning leather techniques?

The Oversized Tote

To recover from my rayon dress experience, I made a tote bag.  Easy, quick and perfectly practical–the best kind of sewing project.


I realized I needed a giant tote bag when my husband and I went to Lake Belton.  I didn’t have a tote large enough to hold 2 towels (make that 3 because the dog needs her own!), a water bottle, my phone, wallet, etc, etc.  (I didn’t want to carry my purse and another bag).  I really needed a giant bag to put everything in one place.

So, I whipped up this tote using materials I had in house (except I decided I had to have web handles that I picked up at my local Hancock’s).  I based the size off of two towels folded and stacked, plus a little more room for all my extras.

The exterior fabric is a heavyweight home decor type fabric that was given to me.  I applied fusible interfacing to give it a little more body.  The interior fabric is a quilting cotton.


The straps are attached about 2″ below the bag opening and across the bottom of the bag.  I used a full 3 yards of the webbing material for the straps, bringing the two ends together on the bottom of the bag.

I was debating whether to sew them in place all the way around when my husband noticed that by leaving the straps loose, I could fit a yoga mat under the straps.


I’ve never needed to carry a yoga mat, but I like the option!  It seemed like a practical design feature as well as an excuse to be lazy and leave the handles as they were.

Honestly, I attached the handles last, as an after thought.  I originally planned to make fabric handles and only attach them at the top of the bag.  But I decided a contrasting color as well as the strength of webbing would be better suited to the size of this tote, so I added them on last.  If I make another such tote bag (or if you, dear reader, should like to make one), I would attach the straps to the outer fabric before sewing up the bag.  It would be so much easier to ensure the straps were properly centered on a flat piece of fabric.

I took my tote down to the pool for a photo sesh, and I loaded it up with all the goodies one might take to the pool, lake or beach:  two towels, yoga mat, water bottle, sunscreen, sunglasses, ipad, phone, keys, camera, and room for snacks.

The bag easily accommodated all I needed (plus the yoga mat that I didn’t need!)


An interior pocket would be a nice addition, now that I think about it, to keep my smaller items from getting lost in the bottom of the bag.  But I’m really happy with my new bag, and I can’t wait for the next trip to the pool or lake.  I’m ready now.


Where do you go to cool down on a hot summer day?