DIY leather tote bag

Whoops, I Made a Leather Tote Bag!

A few days ago I went to a nearby fabric store to buy a zipper for a skirt I’m working on, and accidentally wound up with a leather tote bag later that evening!

DIY leather tote bag

Which reminds me a bit of this comic by Drew Mokris:

Cartoon by Drew Mokris of Used with permission.
Cartoon by Drew Mokris of Used with permission.

Whoops, I made a leather bag! (But not with chopsticks.)

DIY leather tote bag

I am totally stoked about this bag for a bunch of reasons:

  • It was SO EASY to make. (I referred to various tutorials including these ones by Sew Be It and Sew Bon.) It took just a few hours including some hand-stitching to reinforce the seams.
  • I had been inexplicably using big, ugly, reusable grocery bags to schlep my shoes, lunch, etc. to and from work and this is the perfect, more upscale alternative.
  • It was CHEAP! Total cost for materials was $22 plus tax for a leather bag. I found a good-sized piece of dove-grey leather for $20 and two strips of teal blue leather for 50 cents each. Leather sewing needles cost $2. (All purchased at Designer Fabrics on Queen Street West in Toronto.)
  • I’m feeling excited to make more….I can experiment with colour blocking depending on the size and colour of leather pieces available, and I think this would make a great Christmas present for my girlfriends.

DIY leather tote bag

Here are some tips for sewing leather that I found helpful:

  • Use leather sewing machine needles
  • No need to back-stitch at the beginning or end of seams. Just leave long threads, use a hand-sewing needle to pull the threads through an existing stitch-hole to the inside of the bag, and tie the threads off. (I honestly don’t know why back-stitching is frowned upon; it’s just something I read in various blogs, none of which said why…so maybe I’m just perpetuating a myth here. If you’re in the know on these things, please advise!)
  • Don’t pin leather, as pins will leave permanent holes. Use paperclips or clothes pegs. Some folks recommend using double-sided tape but this sounds like a terrible idea — it’s already hard enough for the needle to get through the leather without adding a layer of stickiness to the mix.
  • Don’t iron the leather. To get your seams to lie flat, use a rubber mallet to hammer the seam flat. You can then use leather glue to stick down the seam allowances if you wish. (I didn’t bother sticking down my seam allowances, but I can see where this might bother some sewists.)
  • You may need to ease off the pressure of your presser foot if you find it is sticking to the leather. Some people recommend using a Teflon foot, or putting some Teflon plumbing tape on the bottom of the presser foot to allow it to glide more smoothly over the leather. I didn’t have any problems with the presser foot sticking, luckily.
  • Some sewing machines cannot handle sewing over thick layers of leather (the bottom side seams of a tote bag are particularly tricky where there are 4 layers to sew). My machine did it, but I turned the wheel by hand instead of using the foot pedal, went *very* slowly, and lifted the presser foot a bit as needed. I still had some skipped stitches, so I reinforced these seams by hand-sewing into the existing holes left by the sewing machine.

DIY leather tote bag

In the photo above you can see that the straps are single layer, which allows the wrong side of the leather to show. On some DIY tutorials I read, they recommended sewing 2 layers together to form the straps before attaching them to the bag. I didn’t do this because I was worried about piling up too many layers of leather, but in retrospect it probably wouldn’t have been a problem. However I really don’t mind the two-tone look of the straps and they seem quite sturdy.

DIY leather tote bag

And speaking of whoops I knitted a scarf, I’m wearing the Medusa Loop Scarf I knitted last year. It’s a huge loop with smaller loops branching off here and there. It’s a fun accessory and a quick knit. I’m afraid you can’t really see what it’s all about in this photo but you can check out the awesome photos and get the pattern on the Medusa Loop Scarf pattern page on Ravelry.

Medusa loop scarf

Thanks for stopping by!

14 thoughts on “Whoops, I Made a Leather Tote Bag!

  1. I wonder if the logic behind avoiding backstitching is that it might weaken the leather to have too many holes? If you went over and over a small area, you might actually wind up with a big hole there.

    Anyway, I love the bag! I love that you can use all kinds of luxurious (read: expensive) materials for bags because you only need a small piece–one of the many fun things about making them. And it does feel great to upgrade to a fabulous bag you made yourself. Great job and it sounds like you learned a lot, always a cool thing!


    1. Yes, I think you’re probably right. Every stitch puts a hole in the leather so if you go over a seam too many times you could perforate it so much it might rip. Thanks so much for your comment and your compliments!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yay! Thank you for this post! I’ve got plans for a leather clutch that i’ve been delaying making, so this was just the boost I needed!


  3. Lovely bag and hilarious cartoon. I want to try the color blocking option or maybe sew a seam down the center to add some extra top stitching. I think my biggest “accidental” project was a running jacket because I just got so excited seeing wicking fabric in the store that I just had to do something with it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh well done! I am a bit of a leather fanatic since my hubby actually took up working with it. I’ve made a few clutch bags, a belt and I’m currently making sandals (!!). I drafted a tote a while ago, but I’ve yet to get to it. In regards the backstitching – it’s not done as when you stitch backwards you may not stitch through the same holes as when going forward. This means you may have a series of needle holes close together which create what is known as a perforated seam. Think of the times you’ve used one of those notepads with the line of holes that allow you to tear off. Not so great on leather! Such a great bag and so much better than reusable grocery bags 🙂


      1. Sounds great!! I will have to choose a less rush day 🙂 You know how we can get lost in the fabric store..hahaha. I will connect. Thanks Lori.


  5. Just found your post as a link from your beautiful Pattern Review bag contest entry!! This *is* a great idea for girlfriend gifts, thanks! lol BTW, you can also use a walking or roller foot for help with leather, and pop a strip of tissue paper under the leather as you sew to make it move through your machine easier. Also, I’ve seen retail handbags with grosgrain on the wrong side of leather handles to finish them off (covers any folded edges), and think they’d probably prevent the leather from stretching over time. Just topstitch along each edge. Now, off to explore the rest of your blog… 🙂


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