Hey y’all – today I’ve got a leather tote bag tutorial for you. But as I show you how I sewed this, there are going to be some illustrations popped in. You see, this project is a case of do as I say, not as I did. Though I love the finished results, the actual making of this bag was an exercise in frustration. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the order of construction that would be best to use, and when I finally settled on one it was, sadly, the wrong one. I ended up halfway through, with great photos of the WRONG way to go about this. So I seam ripped and then resewed and didn’t have pretty pictures, but hey, my mistake is your gain.
Believe it or not, this tutorial is mostly a variation of the Carry It All Tote tutorial. In fact, I’m going to refer you over to that tutorial to cut out and construct the lining for the bag. See, I had been carrying that tote bag around as a purse every since I made it. But since I never intended it as a purse, there were a couple problems. One was that since the bag fabric is so lightweight, it was easy for things to fall out of the bag if I stashed in on the car seat, for example. And with 4 pockets around the bottom, it’s great for conferences, but not so great when I’m only carrying keys and a phone in the other pockets and having to search all 4 of them to find said keys and phone. And finally, if I needed to go hands free and keep it from slipping off my shoulder, I couldn’t really do that. So this bag solves all those issues.
Ok, so inside constructed exactly like the Carry Everything Tote, as mentioned. And you can go ahead and do all those steps for the lining; you don’t even need to leave the hole in the bottom seam because we won’t be turning it through.
Before we talk about sewing the outside, some tips for sewing leather.
A few tips on working with leather:
Since we will be leaving our edges unfinished, it is important to cut smoothly. Use sharp scissors and long strokes, or better yet a rotary cutter. Mark pattern pieces with pen or marker on the wrong side of the hide.
Don’t pin. Pin marks will be permanent. Use wonder clips, binder clips or paper clips to hold pieces together if necessary. Sewing spray adhesive (affiliate link) can also be helpful. Use leather needles and heavy duty thread.
I started with a piece of leather with the dimensions below.
I also cut 1 outer pocket of blue leather that was 8 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches tall. To line that pocket I cut a piece of lining fabric that was 1/2″ wider all around than the leather. Then I pressed each edge of the lining 1/2″ to the wrong side. I placed the lining and leather wrong sides together and topstitched the top edge.
Then I made 1/2″ by 1/2″ cutouts of the bottom corners.
I pinched the cutouts right sides together and sewed across to give the pocket a little depth.
Because the blue accent leather I was working with was pretty thick, there was no way I was going to be able to sew around the corners once I placed the pocket. So I sewed the center vertical line dividing the pocket in two, backstitching at each end, then I sewed 3 lines around the edges to secure the sides of the pockets, skipping the corners. I don’t put anything tiny in those pockets, and with the stiff leather I knew they’d be fine and not gape away from the back. I’ve been carrying the back around for two weeks now, and the pockets are working fine.
Next, the accent leather patches. I cut 2 patches, about 4 inches wide and 8 inches tall, curving the edge. I placed these 1/2″ away from the bottom corners. I did this again because the blue leather is thick, and I didn’t want to catch it in the side seams and make those more difficult to sew. I used sewing spray adhesive (affiliate link) to hold them in place while I topstitched them on. (remember, you can’t use pins on leather because they leave holes).
I made the straps by cutting two strips of leather 7/8″ wide and sewing them with wrong sides together. My long strap is 46 inches long because that’s the longest piece I could cut on my leather hide, but if there’s any way you can piece a longer strap, do it, say about 52″. This fits me backpack style but there’s no slack and I have pretty narrow shoulders.
With an exacto knife, I cut slits in the leather for the long strap to pass through. The slits are 1″ wide, 1 1/4″ down from the top edge of the leather, and 3 inches in from the side edges.
Next, you’ll need to sew 1″ buttonholes on the top of the bag lining. However, since you’ve already sewn the side seams, your buttonholes only need to be 2 1/2″ in from the side seam. They also need to be 1 3/4″ down from the top edge of the fabric. After the buttonholes are stitched, press the top edge of the lining 1/2″ to the wrong side all the way around.
Turn the lining wrong side out and place it wrong sides together with the leather, matching up the buttonholes with the slits in the leather. Run your long strap through the slits and buttonholes, then back through the other buttonhole and slit. Stitch the bottoms of the strap near the center of the bag, about 3 inches up from the bottom of the patches.
For the next few steps you’ll have the lining hanging awkwardly off the bag, but believe me it’s better than the alternative. I had somehow convinced myself that I could sew up the side seams of the bag and then squish all that leather under my needle to attach this strap. That probably would have worked had I been dealing with only fabric, but the bulk of leather meant I was crazy in that thinking. I ended up seam ripping the side seams in order to attach this strap.
Okay, now go ahead and sew your side seams on the leather.
Next, fold the corners to make the box bottom of the bag and stitch across. The reason I did cutouts here instead of boxing the corners like the lining was again to reduce bulk. Turn the leather part of the bag right side out.
Place your other strap. Mine was 7/8″ by 26″ long so I had a little bit of leather to play with. If you made your long strap 52″, you’ll want this strap to be at least 28″ in length so you have room to adjust. Adjust the strap and make certain that when it gets sewn on it’s going to be the same length above the edge of the purse as the long strap ended up being. If the straps aren’t the same length, one will always be falling off your shoulder. There should be at least 1″ of strap below the edge of the top of the leather too, so that it will be secure when you attach the lining. I used paper clips to hold my strap in place until I could stitch it.
Finally, place the lining inside the bag, wrong sides together. Match the side seams and top edges, with the raw edge of the lining folded in and sandwiching the short strap between the leather and the lining. Topstitch around the top of the bag to secure the lining and the strap.
And you’re done!