Introduction: Leather Sofa to Handbag

About: I'm a professional recycler in Oakland, CA. I play & coach lacrosse and string a lot of sticks. I make most of my own furniture and like to build everything from houses to chicken coops. I make surfboards, …

There's just about nothing more fun than making something entirely new out of old materials. In this case, a friend was tossing out a leather sofa. It had a broken wood support piece underneath and some of the nylon-to-leather seams were separating. But the leather is very good, no flaking off of the finish or cracking of the leather. So I asked if it would be ok to harvest the leather for projects before the carcass went to the curb.

This instructable shows the source, the yield, and the first project I made with the leather - a handbag for my wife.

Step 1: The Donor

At one time, this was a really nice leather sofa. Unfortunately, years of use had taken their toll and the structure was cracked and some seams had come apart. But all I could see was acres of beautiful leather that was still in great condition. Since buying material is really the only significant cost to working with leather, this presented an opportunity to provide stock for many very inexpensive future projects.

I used a seam ripper and a utility knife to remove all the leather. Then I squared up the large pieces and trimmed off the odd corners and the previously-stitched seams. I was left with 8 or 9 pieces about 2' square, plus the back piece which was stiffer. I left the back stitched together (it was originally made from 6 pieces) and got a large section about 2' x 8' still all together. The scrap pile after trimming was pretty small, just a couple of handfuls.

Step 2: Handbag Body

I didn't really have dimensions or even a shape in mind when I started this. My wife doesn't carry very large purses, just big enough for a wallet, keys, phone, and a dozen empty chapsticks. So I sort of just started squaring up edges to see what I'd get out of one of the 2'x2' pieces. I ended up starting by making a cylinder out of one piece, then stood it up and put a couple glue cans inside because they had a nice radius. I widened out the middle a little and traced that onto a piece for the bottom (I wanted it to stand up on its own). Then I added about 3/8" all around so I'd have room to glue & stitch the bottom onto the cylinder.

Step 3: Zipper and Handle

I wanted to use the handle to also fix the ends of the zipper. So I decided to cut the top of the bag into a slight radius, so the zipper ends would curve up naturally. I then made the handle by rolling up one flat strip of leather inside another. I glued and clamped the seam, and then punched and stitched it.

I put the opening end of the zipper in between the 2 strips that make up the handle and stitched it closed, to the end of the bag's opening. Next, I opened the zipper and left it long and unattached to the other end of the handle. When it was open, I glued the zipper inside the bag's edges. Once that was set, I closed the zipper again, cut it to length, and sandwiched it into the other end of the handle, which was stitched into the other end of the bag.

Step 4: Lining

I cut some gray coated nylon to use as a liner. With a sewing machine, I added a small zipped pocket to hold at least some of the chapsticks. Then I measured out the bottom piece to fit inside the bag and glued and sewed the liner cylinder to the liner bottom, much like I'd done with the leather of the bag.

Step 5: Final Assembly

The last part was to stuff the liner in the bag, trim the top edge to match the zipper, and glue it in. Then punch through the leather, the zipper, and the liner and saddle stitch all three together. I have to give props to author Jessyratfink for this Instructable on saddle-stitching. When I decided to try working with leather, that was probably the most important tutorial I found.

The finished bag came out pretty well, my wife loves it! I can't wait to use some more of this beautiful material on future projects... and would have been really sad if it was just getting buried in a landfill somewhere.

Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment if you like! I especially value tips on construction techniques, as I'm still pretty new to this. If you're so inclined, please throw this a vote, its in the Before & After contest. Thanks!

Before and After Contest

Runner Up in the
Before and After Contest