Make Your Own Vinyl/Leather Look Handbag Straps - A Tutorial

2/25/2012 11:06:00 PM

How awesome do these faux leather vinyl handbag straps look?
The Emmaline Bag with 1" handbag straps.

If you want to make some great leather look straps from vinyl that don't show raw edges and messy threads, keep on reading because I can show you how.  They are super easy to make and they turn out so good.  I must say, I'm loving them.  Recently, I took one of my bags down to the local quilting shop and the ladies working there marveled over my handles and thought they were real leather.  If it sounds like I'm tooting my own horn here, I apologize, but I guess I am!  If you need a bag to try them out on, you can put these straps to use on my new ePattern, The Emmaline Bag, available in the shop HERE.
The Emmaline Bag with 1.5" handbag straps.

A few months ago I was making a handbag from a pattern that called for premade leather straps, and after looking around, I found that they were either really cheap looking, really expensive or available only by order and had a huge wait for delivery.  Now I am a really impatient person, so waiting for a strap delivery when I wanted to make my bag RIGHT NOW wasn't going to work.  So I went down to my local Spotlight (fabric and craft store) and found some gorgeous soft, leather look, vinyl called Utopia and away I went.  They didn't turn out great at first, because I had to figure out how to hide those raw edges without having to turn them inside out, and I didn't want any thread ends or back-stitching showing.  You can't have thick seam allowances either, but eventually, through trial and error,  I worked it out and was really happy with the results.

Finding the right vinyl is key, because with the wrong stuff you won't have that great leather look and it will be really hard to sew.  Remember, you aren't making a seat for the wave runner or your husband's snowmobile, this vinyl needs to be soft, pliable, and pretty thin.  Stay away from the marine grade!  I found mine in the upholstery section and it came in 60" widths. The back of it looks like soft woven jean in grey. It's not thin like you would make a tacky pleather 80's shirt or pants out of either and it doesn't look like plastic. (I get mine at the Online Fabric Store!)

There are a couple of other supplies you need; you can't just go crazy with the pleather yet.  Get yourself a teflon foot, they come for all makes of machines, and there are universal ones too.  If you can't find a teflon foot, you can use some scotch tape under your regular foot to help make it slide across the fabric.  Also, leather needles are a must.  I have sewed through my vinyl with a normal needle, but only with normal thread.  If you want some great topstitching, you will need some heavy duty or upholstery thread (I use Gutterman's Upholstery Thread) in both the top and the bobbin, so for this you will need the leather needle.  I haven't experimented with other threads yet, but I have heard you can use a heavier quilting cotton as well.  Also, You will need to get yourself some rings to match the size of handle you are making.  I use shiny nickel O-rings or alloy nickel rectangular rings.  I'm kind of in love with the rectangle ones at the moment.  UPDATE!: You can purchase your handbag hardware in our shop HERE!

A word about tension:  Tension is very important for these to turn out good.  The vinyl material and heavy duty thread will definitely require you to make adjustments.  Before you start on the project, sew on doubled and quadrupled vinyl with your required needle and thread and adjust your tension until the stitches look good on both the front and back.  I usually end up using a 6 or 7.
Click photos to enlarge

Let's get started:

Teflon Presser Foot
Upholsery/heavy duty thread
Rotary Cutter/mat/ruler
binder clips, paper clips, or other clips
leather needles
vinyl (PVC, faux leather) - I get mine from OFS!
O-Rings or Rectangular Rings
Fabric tabs to go on rings.
large upholstery needle

I am going to show you how to make a pair of 16" handles.  For this you will need to cut 2 strips of vinyl that are double the length you want plus 1/2" seam allowance.  So for this, cut 2 strips that are 2 inches wide x 32.5 inches long.  This will give you handles 1 inch wide, but if you want handles that are 1.5 inches wide, cut your strip 3 inches wide.

We will be using rings that are on fabric tabs as they are easier to sew into the handbag than vinyl ones.  I use both methods, but for this tutorial we'll use fabric.  So please prepare your rings with fabric tabs on them already.  These can be added on the rings after, if you choose.  

1.  Using a pen, draw a line down the exact center of the length of the strips.   

2.  Thread your rings onto the strips, 2 rings per bag strap.  Make sure your straps are not twisted. Important!

3.  Bring ends together, right sides together.  If desired, clip together with clips or plastic covered saftety pins.  (You can't use regular pins in vinyl because it will leave permanent holes) I have drawn on a 1/4" seam allowance (sewing line) for you to refer to, but normally I don't draw the line or clip the ends together, but I am wild like that.

4.  Sew across ends using a 1/4" seam.  Don't bother back-stitching. 

5.  Open up seam and flatten with fingers. Starting on one side, sew down opened seam allowance using a 1/8" seam.

6.  When you get to the end, turn (with the needle down), sew across end of seam allowance, and then come back down the other side.

7.  Sew across the other end.  Clip threads.  This is how it will look from the other side.  (Using a long stitch)

8.  Fold one edge to the drawn pen line and clip in place.  You don't need to clip the whole strap, just enough to get the foot under with no problems.  Using a long stitch (between 3 and 5, I use 4.5), stitch very close to the edge, (about 1/8 inch or less) all around the strap loop.  You will have to slide your two floating rings out of the way as you sew.

 9.  This close up is to show the guides I am using.  I like to line my fabric edge up on the inside edge of the little metal opening that the feed dogs come out of because it is slightly less than 1/8", but the 1/8" mark works good too.  You could put a piece of tape down to use as a guide if you need to.  It is VERY important that this stitching is as straight as possible, and VERY accurate.  You will be stitching over this later and it has to be straight!  Go slow, folding the raw edge to the pen line as you go.  Putt, Putt, fold, Putt, Putt, fold.

10.  When you start to get close to your starting point, STOP a few inches before you get there and put the needle down, and find your thread ends from your starting point.  Grab the thread end that is on the top (side with raw edges of fabric), and pull the thread slightly.  This will pull a small loop of the bobbin thread up.  Use a seam ripper or large needle to pull up that loop, bringing the bobbin thread to the top side.

11.  Tie off the threads together using a double knot and trim ends.  This will be hidden later so you don't need to trim them too short.  Continue sewing until you reach the point where you started.  Snip threads and repeat Step 10 with these thread ends too.  Bringing the both of the threads to this side will finish them off without having an unsightly, messy back-stitch that shows on your finished strap. 

12.  On the other edge, fold raw edge to meet the other at the middle, repeat sewing along edge for this side.   REMEMBER to stop before you sew over your start point and pull the bobbin threads up and tie off, and then after finishing, pull up that thread and tie off too.  Sew as straight and even as you possibly can.

13.  After you have tied off your ends, flip the whole strap over and line up your foot so your stitching will be about 1/8" over, you will stitch a second row of stitching here for decoration (optional).  I use the 1/4" mark on my base plate for a guide.  You could also try it 1/4" away from your previous seam on a wider strap.  Do what you like!

14.  Important!  As you are coming up to where you started stitching, stop sewing and pull your top thread to the back side and tie off to the bobbin thread.  Then, when you meet the mark where you started, tie off those threads in the same manor.  Make sure it's at the back!

15.  Repeat this process for the other side.

16.  Your loop should now look like this.  Now we have to put the strap together in the middle with the raw edges hidden inside.
17.  Flatten the loop down on itself, tucking any thread ends in between the layers.  I make sure the spot where the strip was joined in a seam is exactly where you will be stitching across the strap.  That sounds confusing, but this is how you do it.  Measure about 1.25" - 1.5" from where the strap folds over the ring to the first seam line that goes across the strap (where the two pins are).  In step 19, you are going to stitch over the top stitching line you did in step 5.  Clip the strap in place so this doesn't slide.  The pins are gently stuck in the edges so you can see where to stop and start your stitches.

18.  At the other end, do the same thing.  Measure the same distance from the fold at the end as you used for the other side, I used 1.25". Put a pin in on both edges to mark the measurement.  Alternatively, you could us a chalk line.  Clip it together so it doesn't slide. The pins are markers to show you where to turn when top stitching, they are not holding anything together.
19.  Flip the strap over so the seam from Step 5 is on the bottom. Place the strap under the presser foot with the strap placed sideways.  Your needle will be poised to sew in the middle of the strap, exactly over the top stitching line you created in Step 5 (you can also see this in Step 24).  Starting in the middle, sew right along the line of stitching already going across the strap, to the stitching line that is on the outer edge.  Even though the stitching line is on the bottom side, you will know where it is because if the pins you put in to mark it. Stop at the edge stitching with your needle down.

20.  With your needle down, lift the presser foot and turn strap so you can sew along the edge.  You will sew through both straps using the same long stitch you used before, exactly over the stitching line that runs along the outer edge.


21.  Make sure your edges meet perfectly, use your fingers to keep the edges butted together.  Sew through both sides at the same time. Your stitches might not line up perfectly on the back side, but don't worry to much about it.  After do it a time or two, they will be perfect.

22.  Stop when you get to the pin that is placed 1.25" from the end.  Put your needle down at the pin (remove pin so you don't sew over it).

23.  With needle down, lift presser foot, turn strap sideways and get ready to sew across to the other side.  TRICK!  If you start sewing, and your pressure foot is hanging off the back of this strap, your needle will hit your presser foot and damage them both.  If your sewing machine doesn't have a fancy setting to prevent this, all you need to do is place a plastic needle case lid (as shown) under the back of the foot and over the feed dogs.  Just take the lid off the needles and slide it under.  As you sew, it will slide back out of the way and fall off the machine.  It works awesome!

24.   A few inches before you get to your starting point, you can pull your top thread to the back by pulling the bobbin thread, and then pulling on the loop of top thread that pops through to the back. I don't always do this.

25.   When you get to the spot where you started, drop the needle, lift the presser foot, turn, and get ready to stitch across to the middle.  Don't forget to place the needle case lid under the back of your foot!  When you cut your threads, leave your thread long enough to thread on a needle.

26.  Use a very large, sharp needle (I like a curved upholstery needle, it is perfect) to pull your thread ends into the middle between the open ends that loop around the ring.  Tie off all 4 threads firmly.  If you are worried about them coming undone, you could always put a dab of craft glue over the knots.  The knots should be hidden inside the vinyl loop.   No thread ends showing!

27.  Your strap is done and you are ready to sew your fabric tabs onto your handbag or tote in your usual way.  I like to make sure that the side with the seam will be on the "wrong side" of the straps when being held, so make sure the seam is up  when fastening to the bag exterior.

You are done!  You can also experiment with vinyl tabs (as shown in the very first picture of this post).   This is done the same way, but when you sew the strap to your handbag exterior, you will need to use a heavy needle. 

Experiment with different widths, vinyl colors, thread colors and stitching widths.  I think I would like to do a black strap with brown stitching very soon!

I hope you love making your own handbag straps.  If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to email me, I would be glad to help.

If you have found this tutorial helpful in the slightest way, please follow my blog by either GFC, Blog-lovin, Email or signing up for my Newsletter on the right side bar.   And... please share your finished bags with me in the Emmaline Bags Flickr Group.  I love to see your finished Emmaline inspired projects! 

Thank you for looking, 

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The contents of this blog, including text, original photos and ideas are the sole property of the author. If you intend to use my text or images, please link back to this blog and give credit to Emmaline Bags & Patterns. A notification email would be greatly appreciated too! Please do not ever republish an entire post, any tutorials, or post photos of my family. Thank you, Janelle

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