Creating Leather Straps and Handles

In this last lesson I'm going show you some techniques for creating leather straps and handles, and how to apply those techniques to your bag design. You'll have the option to turn it into a purse with several strap styles, or create a shoulder harness that will turn two of the smaller bags into underarm holsters. I'll show you how to measure to get the right strap length for your own body, and how to turn those measurements into a pattern.

In this lesson I'll be using:

  • x-acto knife
  • awl
  • stitching chisels
  • mallet
  • quartz slab and poundo board
  • cutting mat
  • cutting wheel
  • rotary punch
  • stitching pony
  • double sided tape
  • metal and clear plastic ruler
  • cloth tape measure
  • oak tag for making mock-ups
  • pencil and paper or computer and printer
  • strong sharp scissors
  • rapid rivets
  • snaps and snap setter
  • one 1" buckle
  • one O-ring
  • thick waxed thread
  • thin and thick leather for double and single layer straps
  • rope for the core of a round handle
  • your finished bag or purse

  • Single Layer Shoulder Straps

    Making single layer shoulder straps is a lot like making single layer belts, you need to use leather that is thick and strong enough that it won't stretch or break under the weight of your bag. You should choose a leather that is at least 6-9 oz and not stretchy.

    To create a shoulder strap for a bag, first decide what style of strap you want to create. Do you want it to be adjustable or fixed length? Buckle, snap or rivet attachment? It's usually good to maintain continuity between the style of your bag and the style of the strap. Shoulder straps should be between 5/8" and 1 1/2" wide, depending on the size and proportions of the bag. Straps with a continuous width of more than 1 1/2" will tend to fall off your shoulder.

    Straps should attach securely to your bag in at least two places. In this case you need to create a strap with ends that will fit through the 1" D rings we've already attached to our larger bag (or the 3/4" D rings on our smaller bag). To get the length of the strap for a bag, you can look at bags you already wear and measure their strap length, or just take a cloth measuring tape and drape it over your shoulder to find the right length. A strap length that allows the bag to sit around the hip is a good standard length. In my case this is 40".

    To make a strap with an adjustable length, I created a strap with a consistent 1" width, and added a buckle on one side. It's best to put the buckle near one end of the strap because if it ends up sitting on your shoulder or back it will be uncomfortable. In order to add the buckle, the strap needs to be two separate parts. I decided to put my buckle 10" up the strap, so the short end of the strap is 10" + 2" on each end for attachment, 14" total. The long end of the strap is 30" + 4" for buckle adjustment on one end, and 2" for attachment on the other end, 36" total.

    I used a cutting wheel and a metal ruler to cut long strap pieces and then trimmed them to the right length.

    Punch some holes in one end of the long strap, I punched 8 holes spaced 1" apart, then attach a 1" center bar buckle to one end of the short strap.

    Now attach the other end of the short and long straps to the D rings on the bag. You could rivet them on for a permanent attachment, or decide to add snaps so they will be removable.

    Think about which side of your body you are more likely to wear a purse, for me this is the right side, so I attached the long strap to that side of the purse so the buckle will face backward when I have the bag over my shoulder.

    Double Layer Shoulder Straps

    Double layer shoulder straps are basically made the same way we made the double layer belt in the last lesson. Two layers of thinner leather are sewn together to create a reinforced strap with grain on both sides. To create the pattern, just follow the same measurements you used to create a single layer shoulder strap, but laminate two layers of thinner leather to create each strap.

    Round Handles or Straps

    A round handle or strap adds a nice look to a leather or canvas bag and also makes a thin strap stronger. Round handles are often made in pairs which are attached to each side of a bag with an open top. You could also make a single long round strap and attach it to the larger bag design we've created.

    This kind of strap or handle is made by sewing a piece of leather around a core made out of a rope or cord. To attach the handle, you need to create shaped ends on the strap that will be sewn or riveted directly onto the bag, or onto a ring. Designing the shape of these ends can add a distinct style to your design.

    To create a round strap or handle, first decide how long you want it to be. Cut a section of your rope core this length, then measure the circumference of the rope with a tape measure, in my case it is 1 1/8".

    Trace a rectangular outline onto leather 1 1/8" wide and about 4 inches longer than the rope on each side for the strap ends). Cut out the strap, leaving 1/2" seam allowance on each long side. Punch sewing holes along the side lines starting 3 1/4" in from each end.

    Use some double sided tape to stick your rope core down the center of the strip on the flesh side.

    Now take a needle and thread and sew the leather together around the rope using a saddle stitch.

    When you've finished stitching, trim the edge of the seam, leaving a 1/8" - 1/4" seam allowance.

    Shape the ends to your liking, keeping in mind how you plan to attach them. You could leave them straight and rivet them around the rings of a bag, or if you wanted to sew them directly to the bag, you might give them more of a diamond shape like this, and then punch sewing holes through them and the bag.

    Turn Your Small Bag Into a Shoulder Harness

    The last strap variation I am going to show you is a double shoulder harness that will attach two of the smaller bags under your arms. Harness bags like these are great for festivals, concerts and other adventures where you want your hands free.

    To create this harness, we are going to make 4 straps that all meet at a ring at the top of your back, wrap around your shoulders, and snap onto the D rings of the pouches under your arms.

    To get the approximate length of the straps, I took one of my small leather bags and held it against my side under my arm sitting just above the hip where it seemed like it would be comfortable to wear. Then I had a friend use a cloth tape measure to measure from the middle of my upper back over my shoulder to the D ring on the front of the bag (17"), and from the same place on my back to the D ring on the back of the bag (10").

    I marked these measurements on my sketch and then mocked up 4 straps in oak tag that fit these dimensions to check if they were correct. I tried on the mock up and made some slight adjustments so the bags were sitting where I wanted them to sit. I also marked where the front strap crossed the shoulder and underarm.

    I drafted my strap patterns in Illustrator, adding some thickness to the front straps over the shoulder to make them more comfortable, but making sure they narrowed again before the underarm. Then I cut the straps out of my thick black strap leather.

    I used a large O ring in the back of the harness to connect my 4 straps, looping them around the ring and riveting them. I used snaps on the other ends of the straps so they could be looped around the D rings of the small bags to attach them.

    You could come up with a lot of variations on this style. You could use a thinner leather and make double layer straps, or straps with more interesting shape. You could use buckles instead of snaps, or attach small grommets and lace up the back instead of using an O ring. You could also add straps across the front of the chest for additional security and a different style.

    You're Done!!

    By adding a strap or belt of your choice, you've finished creating your own custom bag! If you've turned your bag into a purse, it will be a great size for holding your essentials, and a shoulder harness or hip belt gives you a convenient way to carry small items while still keeping your hands free. I've been wearing my hip belt around the studio so I can carry my phone and listen to podcasts while I make even more leather projects!

    Whatever version you've created, I'm sure you've found a way to make something awesome and unique that works for you. Feel free to post a picture here of what you've come up with so we can bask in the glory of your creative brilliance :)

    In the next lesson we'll talk about where your newfound leather skills can take you next.


    Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

    Nice work! You've completed the class project