How to make a purse out of nearly anything

Looking for the perfect accessory to complement any outfit? Purses can help you pull off any look from playful to glamorous, businesslike to glitzy. And the good news is outfitting your purse wardrobe doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You can make a purse out of almost anything to add a unique spin to all your outfits.

How to make a purse out of nearly anything

Some of the best purses are containers that may be already floating around your house. Consider the humble lunchbox. Maybe you still have one in your closet from when you were a kid, or from when your kids were carrying their lunches in the colorful metal or plastic boxes. These purses are built to be durable and will bring a smile to everyone’s face who sees the classic (or not-so-classic) characters on the side of your box. Try a lunchbox as an accessory when going to an 80s theme party or when dressing a little retro. It’s definitely not an everyday look.

While raiding your closets you might find other small containers that would work short-term as a purse, such as a small basket with handles (think Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz) a beach tote, or an old backpack (who says a purse really has to be a purse?). If it can hold things and be carried easily, don’t discount it as the perfect bag to complement some outfit (even if it’s just for a trip to the beach or a Halloween costume).

For more everyday purses, consider the myriad of fabrics you could make your own purse out of. From a folded or tied bandana (like a hobo sack) to glittery sequined fabric or even paper, anything can be made into a container with the right attitude. Be adventurous and remember that wearing a wild fabric as a purse is a lot easier than wearing that same wild fabric as a shirt or dress. If you find yourself drawn to the fabric in the store that you would never wear, go ahead and buy some and make it into a fun purse you can use to accent your wild side.

On the most basic level, a purse could just be a piece of fabric surrounding your stuff and tied in a knot much like that old hobby handbag. While this could be cute and funny with certain outfits (or if you’re going to a Sadie Hawkins dance) it isn’t really very practical. If you’re going to make your own purse you need a handle (or two) for easy opening and closing.

Purse handles can be found in a variety of materials, from metal to wood, bamboo to plastic. You can probably find a selection at your local craft store, or there are many places online that sell them. They come in leather and Lucite, plain colored or leopard print. You can find round handles, horseshoes, ovals, and squares, some with slits or openings through which to slide the fabric and some just with an opening for your hand or arm to slip through.

You can also find handles in knitting kits that will include instructions for knitting a purse (or you can knit a purse with a knitted strap just by decreasing stitches when you have finished knitting the main part of the bag until you only have six or so stitches left, then stitch a strap as long as you would like, cast off and sew the end of the strap onto the other side of the purse).

When looking for a piece of fabric to make into a purse, look for something that compliments the handle you want to use and buy enough to make a purse of a size that will make sense with the type of handle you have (don’t use a huge round bamboo handle for a small clutch purse, for example). The durability of the fabric is not necessarily an issue, though if you are making a purse that you will use every day you will of course want to choose a fabric that will hold up to daily use. But if you are making purses just for fun to go with a particular outfit, use whimsical fabric, and don’t worry if it’s not very durable fabric tends to be cheap and you can just buy some more and replace the purse using the same handles.

To make really good-looking purses by hand, you need a small number of sewing skills. A sewing machine would make it very simple, but if you don’t have one it can be done by hand, or you may not even need to sew at all. If you’re using a finished piece of fabric, such as a bandanna, a kitchen or hand towel, or a napkin that already has finished edges, you can just slide the fabric through the slot or wrap it around the handle (depending on what type of handle you have) and tie the corners in knots to keep the fabric from sliding off the handle. It’s an instant, cheap purse made in less than a minute.

While using already finished fabric gives you a lot of options (think also about purchased scarves and used linens that may have a stain on one side but look really good on the other) you’ll want to explore the fabric shop for many other materials, colors, and textures. To sew a purse, cut a piece of fabric to the size you want and fold the fabric in half, right sides together (what will be the outside of the purse is facing in and the inside is facing out). Pin the sides if you like, and sew by hand or machine down the sides that will be the sides and bottom of the purse.

You can sew these seams straight to make a purse shaped like a sack or you can sew a curve (draw it on the backside of the fabric with chalk or a washable fabric marker first if you don’t think you can sew it straight) for a different look. Fold down an even amount of fabric all the way around the top of the bag and sew that seam so you are just going through two layers at a time and keeping the bag open.

You can line the bag with a contrasting or complementing fabric if you like, doing exactly the same thing. Leave the inner layer inside out (because the outside will be the inside of the purse) and carefully tack the lining to the seams of the purse. You don’t want this stitching to show through on the bag so be careful just to catch the threads within the seam allowance. This type of sewing is best done by hand.

To attach the bag to the handle, make small pieces of fabric that can be looped around the handle and sewn to the bag. You can use the same fabric as the outside of the lining of the bag or something else entirely. You could even use pretty ribbon, leather strips, or another piece of fabric sewn to the bag but tied around the handle. If you choose this option you can have many more bags than you have handles because they will still be interchangeable.

Once you get started making your own purses you will want to make a purse out of every kind of fabric you come across. Soon you’ll have a different purse for every outfit you own and you’ll get to express your creativity and have fun at the same time.

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