Introduction: Leather Tote Bag From Recycled Materials
This bag began as a leather skirt and a belt from the thrift store. It is almost 19 inches wide (48 cm) by about 14 inches high (36 cm). The handle/strap is about 38 inches long (96 cm). It is big enough to carry a laptop and several notebooks, your knitting project in process, etc.
Leather "mini" skirt or similar material of your choice, refer to dimensions above. The skirt I used was lined with a satin-like material. If yours is not lined and you want a lined bag, you will need fabric/material to cut a lining of the same dimensions. A large pillowcase would probably be big enough, for example.
The handle was a woven-web-style belt with D-rings buckle (removed). If you plan to carry anything heavy/fragile, be _sure_ you have something strong and non-stretchy for the handle.
Inner pockets are optional and made from other recycled garments or fabric scraps/remnants. Also used: a short zipper, several larger vintage buttons, a carabiner clip or key-ring, about 1.5 yards of ribbon or trim (136 cm), one 12-inch circle of plastic canvas or something similar to stiffen the bag somewhat, cord or ribbon for tie (see instructions), sewing thread, seam ripper or _very_ sharp small scissors.
I used a sewing machine for some of the steps, but the project could be entirely hand-sewn. You will need a heavy-duty needle.
Step 1: Adapt the Skirt. Mark for Seams.
The skirt is upside down when the bag is complete, with the waistline becoming the bottom of the bag. The hem of the skirt becomes the top opening of the completed tote.
Rip out waist seam. Remove waistband or facing, as appropriate.You can leave any zipper in place or remove and sew placket shut. Right-sides together, with lining out of the way, lay skirt flat, smooth out, draw line where you will sew the bottom shut. I drew around a bowl for the curve at each side. If you use pins, try to pin mostly in the part you will cut off. Stitch and trim. Clip curves as needed. Stitch again, close to first stitching. Turn right-side out. Stitch together waistline edge of lining to form bottom of bag inside.
OPTIONAL: if you need to make a lining, use the bag at this point as a pattern. Cut two pieces about the same shape. Don't forget to add at least 3/8 of an inch (1 cm) for seam allowances. Pin right-sides together. Sew lining pieces together to make a bag, turn under narrow hem at top and stitch. Pin/baste lining to bag.
Step 2: Reinforce Top Edge of Bag.
I reinforced the top edge of the bag (where the lining joined the leather hem) with ribbons. I used scraps, so half the bag has khaki trim and half has black-and-white herringbone. I hand-stitched, but you might be able to use your sewing machine. Stitch both edges of the ribbon. Be sure you attach the lining, if it is loose anywhere.
Step 3: Stiffen Bag With Plastic Canvas (optional).
The leather in the skirt I used was soft and draped with a lovely hand, but I wanted a firmer bag. You might not need this step, if yours is already rigid enough.
I turned the bag inside out and stitched the plastic canvas circle to the lining at the top edge. Then I added pockets (next step.) After the pockets were in place, I finished sewing the canvas to the lining.
Step 4: Add Pockets, As Desired.
On the opposite side from the canvas, I stitched a back pocket cut from recycled jeans. I took a pocket (cut from an old grey and white cord skirt) and added a recycled orange zipper to that. (The contrast is easy to see, inside the bag.) Also, I made a rectangular pocket from some khaki pants. I stitched both of those to the plastic canvas, then finished sewing the canvas to the lining.
Step 5: Add the Handle.
Very, very securely, sew the ends of the strap webbing to the bag. You will want to sew through all thicknesses.
Step 6: How About a Key Fob?
I made a strip of hemmed fabric from the cord skirt and added a clip for my key-ring. I sewed that on where one end of the strap was attached.
Step 7: Keep Your Drink Secure.
I often carry a water bottle in my bag, I added a drink "koozie" from a concert event (attached with a hemmed fabric strap/hinge) at the base of the other end of the strap.
Step 8: Vintage Buttons to Fasten.
Sometimes, I don't want my bag to open on the fly. If you want super-secure, you can always add a zipper closure or a couple of very big snaps (press studs). But I find the string-and-buttons method works just fine.
On the front of the bag, sew a stack of large buttons with a _very_ deep shank. Maybe stick a pencil under them when you sew, to allow for enough slack that you can wrap it several times with thread to form the shank. TIP: I used a small piece snipped from a drinking straw as a spacer, and sewed the thread shank inside of that.
To the back of the bag, at the top edge, sew on a ribbon, or some cord (I braided some crochet cotton) with a bead or button at the end. To close the bag, just wind the cord around the buttons "stem" and unwind to open.