Introduction: Purse From a Sweatshirt

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My mom made a counted cross-stitch picture on a sweatshirt for me many years ago. I haven’t worn the shirt lately, because the sleeves had started to get frayed and the elastic no longer held the sleeves up when I did the dishes. The shirt was also starting to get holes in the back, yet I was unwilling to toss the shirt (I don’t like throwing much away).

Inspired by some other tutorials online about transforming T-shirts into shopping bags and a sweater into a purse, I decided to make a purse from this sweatshirt. I was looking for a larger purse, anyway, so it was a win-win.

You will need:
  • Sweatshirt (any size will do, but a larger shirt will yield more of a tote bag [perhaps a beach tote] and a very small shirt [child’s size] will yield a purse for a child or a clutch
  • Sewing machine
  • Sewing thread
  • Sewing machine needle strong enough to sew through several layers of fabric
  • Scissors
  • Straight pins
  • Optional: anything else you might want to embellish your purse
  • Optional: Velcro, snaps, or some other closure device

Step 1: Fold the Sweatshirt

Picture of Fold the Sweatshirt

Fold the sweatshirt in half to the back. If you are lucky, the design on the front will show in its entirety. (If you want the whole design to show, experiment with the way your purse will look with the shirt folded only partway up the back. You can use pins to hold it together as you look at it and decide.). I cut off the tag on the neckline at this time (many newer sweatshirts don’t have tags to deal with).

Step 2: Pin

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Turn the shirt over and pin along the edge of the shirt, all the way up. I opted to leave the neckline and bottom hem alone. It makes it obvious that the bag was once a sweatshirt, and for me, that is the point. Others may want to hide this fact and cut off the neckline and bottom hem and sew a new hem. You will end up with a purse with three pockets, one created by the back of the shirt, one created by the opening at the neckline, and one created by the opening at the waistline.

Step 3: Sew

Once you are happy with the way your purse will look, sew up the sides, near the edge, on each side. I used a zigzag stitch to make it a bit stronger, and added extra stitching at each end, especially the top, which will take a lot of stress. You can use a matching thread, if you like; I used gray, because that was what I already had available.

Step 4: Fold and Sew the Sleeves

Picture of Fold and Sew the Sleeves

Put the bag face down and take a sleeve and lay the bottom edge of the sleeve along the edge of the bag you just created. Smooth the sleeve down so you have a triangle off to the side of the top of your bag and the rest of the sleeve sticking straight up. Pin into place and lay the other sleeve in the same manner on the opposite side of the bag. This creates two small side pockets for your purse and the sleeves will form the carrying strap. Stitch the edge of the sleeve to the bag on each side.

Step 5: Make the Strap

Picture of Make the Strap

Bring the sleeves up so the wrists are touching and stitch together. I overlapped my sleeves a little and sewed two zigzag lines across for security. This is the carrying strap, and it will bear the weight of the purse and its contents.

Step 6: Optional: Make a Gusset

Picture of Optional: Make a Gusset

I didn’t like the look of the squared off corners at the bottom, so I turned the bag inside out and flatted the bag with the bottom corner points flattened, making the bag look like a triangle. I sewed about an inch and a half in from each bottom corner to make the corners stay inside and to create a gusset. This caused me to lose a bit of my front design, but I’m happier overall with the look. This video (not by me) about making a grocery bag from a T-shirt may show it better; the part about making a gusset runs from about 1:17 to 2:17.

Step 7: Optional: Decorate

Picture of Optional: Decorate

I used one-inch strips from an old T-shirt to make bands around the lower part of the carrying strap. I had some plastic rings left over from another project, so I put two of them on each band. I wrapped the bands around the strap several times and stitched the ends together. This embellishment serves three purposes: 1. It helps the side pockets close a little more, so I don’t lose their contents, 2. The rings allow me to attach keys, grocery loyalty cards, and hand sanitizer, and 3. It is decorative.

Step 8: Optional: Decorate

Picture of Optional: Decorate

Since the back of the shirt had small holes anyway, I decided to play up this fact. I found a piece of fabric left over from another project and cut it a bit smaller than the back of the purse. I turned the purse inside out and pinned the fabric right side to the sweatshirt material (so the right side would show when I made holes in the sweatshirt material) and stitched all the way around the edge. Then I carefully cut slash-holes through the sweatshirt material, taking care not to cut the lining fabric. I’ve seen purses at the mall with a similar embellishment for upwards of $30. I was able to recreate the look with found materials and about 15 minutes of time.

Step 9: Optional: Attach Closures

Attach any closures you might want to your purse. I haven’t put buttons or Velcro on my purse yet, but I may just to make the contents more secure.

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Bio: I work in human services. I stay sane (barely) by making stuff. When I can make stuff from recycled stuff, it's cheap for me ... More »
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