Get a Handle on Your Totes

I love sewing bags and totes. And here's why:

The leather handles make this bag
a workhorse–and they're comfortable, too.
With the pre-punched holes, it was easy to
handstitched these on. I used six-stranded
embroidery floss in the same color as the leather.
These leather handles will give this roomy
tote an ultra-long life.

1. They usually don't take too much fabric so you can either splurge on fabulous fabric or find something in your collection that works.

2. They always fit.

3. If I stay focused, I can finish in a day. Unfocused, I may need two days.

4. No matter what the pattern, it's easy to add more pockets–even zippered pockets.

5. Most bag and tote patterns allow for adding personal details–ribbon, funky hardware, hand embroidery.

The only thing that I, personally, don't like are fabric straps. My bags get a workout. They are used–some might say abused. They get tossed in the back seat of the car, stuffed with too many library books, and end up carrying sewing projects, lunches, and the ever-expanding array of electronic devices I need to conduct my life.

My bags don't get coddled, and I find that fabric straps look worn and sad long before the bag.

So here's what I do. (And if I know the Sew Daily crowd, you'll have some great ideas to add to this list!)

1. Buy leather (real or faux) handles at a craft store. My current Schlep-It-All-To-The-Office-Bag has purchased handles-and this bag is getting close to celebrating its fifth birthday!

2. If you can find some leather scraps, it's easy enough to make bag straps. I made this black strap by folding over a strip of leather and stitching it down using a wide ribbon to hide the seam. (Like the metal rings? I found them at the hardware store for $1.29 each!)

3. Start looking at yard sales and your local Goodwill or other charitable resale shop. Look at the handbags–but only pay attention to the straps. Cut the straps off and toss the bag. You'll get some great deals.

For other inspiring bag and tote ideas, the 2011 Stitch magazine digital collection is now on sale–four issues, each with more than 30 projects!

Ok, Sew Daily crowd—how do you handle your handles? Let us know!


Happy stitching!

Other sewing topics you may enjoy:


Bags, Hand Sewing

15 thoughts on “Get a Handle on Your Totes

  1. Fantastic idea about using ‘saved’ handles!! I have quite a few bags that I’ve kept (I’m a hoarder!!) but don’t use anymore. Hmmmm…where’s that sharp knife? (I’ll also check out the charity shops.)

  2. I have been making bags for years now, and I always reinforce my straps. I prefer straps that are contained in the top seam of the bag as I find that they last longer (and don’t wear out my fancy bag fabric).
    I make a lot of handles/straps from upcycled suede items. Suede washes well (please pre-wash) and then your whole bag is washable too. You can use all of your thrifted suede item (make some cool buttons!), or mayble you will have some for another project.
    I do want to say that I find it a bit environmentally irresponsible to recommend cutting straps from bags and then ‘tossing the bag’. That way, I’ve just ruined somethiing that someone else might use AND added to landfill.

  3. I have recycled the handles for sure, but I also adopted my husband’s old leather jackets for several uses including handles and restyles into bags of leather and also for leather trims. Another way to get these is at garage sales and thrift stores.

  4. I, too, enjoy making totes.
    If they are to be used for library books and heavy duty I use strips
    of webbing running the full length of the bag – either inside or
    outside – and extending to make handles. The webbing comes
    in several widths. This way the weight is carried by the webbing
    and not the fabric.
    Hope this helps someone. Margaret

  5. To sew leather instead of using a denim sew machine needle purchase a leather sewing machine needle. You can use ordinary thread and because this needle is designed special to sew leather there are no problems and the item can be sewn easily. The needle is designed to be spiral and enters the leather with ease. Of course use caution and sew more slowly
    Thank you and good luck and have fun

  6. Belts make a very sturdy bag handle – you can either cut the ends off and use the middle for short handles, or just cut the belt in half for a shoulder bag and use the buckle to lengthen or shorten the handle, or simply as a design element. A hammer and awl (sharp, pokey tool that looks like a screwdriver with a sharp point) can easily make holes for sewing it on.

  7. I don’t like handles as i feel more secure with a strap that can be slipped over my head and worn across the body. more hands for other things. I have a book called “BarbarA Randle’s more Crazy Quilting with attitude”. It is a book on making all kinds of bags with wonderful instructions on making great sturdy handles/straps and terrific instructions on making sturdy shaped bags. I love making handbags. They are original and I can add all of the organizational pockets I want to the inside and outside. Thanks for the article. Judy M

  8. I use belts i buy at Goodwill. I use lesther belts cuz of the great buckles, but u can also find grest chain belts and other kinds. I use sew a D Ring to the bag and rivet the belt to the D Ring.

  9. I search for belts at tag sales and find that they can be adapted easily for unique bag handles. With a little creativity they can be altered to make one of a kind handles for purses.


  10. I too prefer straps sewn into the body of the bag. I just don’t see how hand sewing is going to be sturdy enough for handles. I love making bags; I prefer shoulder straps, interfaced with DecorBond or Timtex, and I never have a problem with my straps.