Do-It-Yourself Evening Bag

Next weekend Hubby and I are going to Vegas, and I need an evening bag to match some of the Vegas-y outfits I plan to wear. I could have purchased a similar bag at the neighborhood mall, and for less than 30 bucks, saving myself the whole day of time that it took me to make this bag, but now where would the fun be in that?

I strongly recommend to anyone who is really into handbags to try making one. Most of us don’t work with our hands enough. We sit in an office in front of a computer 9 to 5 and believe that using our cognitive abilities, applying our college degrees in American letters or some-other-study-ology is the only worthwhile intellectual excursion. But there is an inimatable happiness in making something from scratch, especially something practical that you’ll be using yourself. And if you’re a handbags freak like me, start with handbags. One ought to have some basic understanding of how our favorite possessions are made.

For beginners, a clutch would be easiest, like the one I’ve made here. The materials cost about $12 buying from Joann Fabrics, though that is not a place I recommend buying from. I am not a fan of that store, but it’s the closest one to home, sadly, so there it is.

I knew what kind of fabric I wanted going into the store–something very shiny and louder than the usual me, but still “me.” Something that expressed Vegas. There was also a particular dress I had in mind that this clutch/evening bag would be paired with.

If you’ve never made your own handbag but want to, first conceive your design, then in your mind, deconstruct it into its basic shapes. These will become your pattern. Cut the pattern out of cardboard and trace it onto the material for your bag, and then onto a second material that will be the interior lining. See the above photos of the patterns I cut out and started sewing together.  Note: A ruler and calculator may be handy.

There are tons of how-tos online, but there’s really no need for them. Just stop and use your brain a bit. You’ll figure it out.

Also, I’m not a fan of homemade knock-offs. It’s…just don’t do it. Instead, actually design your own. This is not to say you can’t design a bag inspired by one of your favorite brands. Rather than outright copy a Betsey Johnson clutch just because you like the big bows, for example, take the big bow concept to create a design that is uniquely yours. 

Your first design need not be all a la Versace or Alexander McQueenish. Heck, I love simple. A big ole rectangle and zipper is just perfect. Add beadwork, interwoven ribbons, a little silver-tone or gold-tone hardware, or a braided handle for details and suddenly your big ole rectangle bag may look quite couture. 

The Vegas evening bag took me a whole day because my sewing machine decided to crap out. Then while I stitched by hand, the cat thought the needle and thread were his toys, and kept trying to bite off my thread. And yeah, that’s an old episode of Drop Dead Diva that I’m watching on my laptop while I sew. What a great chick-flick show that cutely distorts the practice of law! Love it.

After finishing the base of the bag, I started getting fancy and contemplated the big rose look, which seems to be popular right now, cover the entire front of the bag with roses for a very textured design, or the other extreme– total simplicity with only a pin from my jewelry box. I decided neither idea worked for the dress I wanted to pair this bag with.

Generally, sew the bag together inside out so that the seams don’t show. I used a red cotton fabric that cost $0.99 for my interior lining. I don’t need pockets in the lining because I always carry around a purse organizer, so the purse organizer would keep my things in place.

Plus, this is a one-weekend-use evening bag…for Vegas. As long as it fit Hubby’s cigarettes, lighter, a slim wallet, my phone, and tube of lipstick, I’d be good to go.

I wanted the bag to take on some semblance of independent shape, so I lined it with cardboard batting, which was just an old folder and layers of magazine pages I cut up. Reuse and recycle!

Note in the right photo above that the side edge puckered a bit. That freaked me out at first and I thought, oh no, I’m going to have to cut all those seams and redo it. Miraculously, ironing it out a bit took care of the problem. Plus, this bag isn’t for anybody else but me, so I accepted the imperfection and moved on.

As I sewed it together (inside out), I kept wondering how I’d turn it back out again with all that cardboard and magazine-page batting. Inside out, it’s a very punk-rocker-chic bag (see above left), and I’m about as far from punk-rocker-chic as one could get, so what in the heck would I do with the punk-rocker-chic bag in the event I couldn’t turn the bag out again? Don’t get me wrong, by the way, I love punk-rocker-chic on other people; I just can’t pull it off myself. In any case, I was able to turn it back out. Phew!

The clutch is 11 in. x 5.5 in., a good size, with a 7 in. handle drop. Zipper top with a magnetic snap closure on the flap, and a 35-inch silver-tone chain that I doubled up for a shorter handle, since I thought the double chain had a niftier look to it. Works as a clutch, or I can use it with the double chain handle. Fits all my essentials and then some for our Vegas trip next weekend. Yay!

The photographs make the material look like black with white polka dots. No, no. This thing is ultra-sparkly, catching and refracting light in a totally Vegas way!  I have this extravagant and detailed pin made of Swarovski crystals that I might attach to that flap, but don’t know yet. I kind of like it simple the way it is.

I hope this post demonstrates the ease and feasibility of making your own handbag, especially an evening clutch. As white collar paper-pushing professionals, we rarely get to see the fruits of our labor. Our job is little more than air-conditioned, well-dressed assembly line monotony. Working with your hands to sew every stitch, using pliers to put on a magnetic snap button and cutting chains is truly a catharsis of all the tensions and pressure that builds up from the 9 to 5. Way better and way more satisfying than happy hour. It’s Shop Class as Soulcraft for the fashionista! =)


2011.05.22. Also be sure to check out “Do-It-Yourself Beaded Gemstone Statement Necklaces.”

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