Introduction: Suede Purse

About: Woodworker and maker in Central Illinois.

My mom wanted a suede purse of a style of one she liked online. So I did my best to replicate it. I used a tan suede from Tandy Leather (officially, "toast") for the main body and fringe, then a white pigskin for the liner. I did the liner the way you would do a liner with cloth. I'm not sure if that was the right choice, or if I should have done it a different way. It seems okay. Complete list of materials:

  • Tandy toast suede
  • White pigskin
  • brass decorative rapid rivets
  • 3/8" grommets
  • 1/2" brass D ring
  • 1/2" brass clip
  • 7" zipper
  • White waxed thread for the stitches you can see
  • Any other color waxed thread for hidden stitches

The tools I like to use are:

  • Rotary cutter
  • rapid rivet setter
  • hole punch
  • 3/8" hole punch for the grommets
  • 1/2" hole punch
  • grommet setter
  • transparent ruler
  • 48" ruler
  • Saddle stitching needles
  • Cutting surface (I use a piece of thin plywood, so as not to damage the floor, because my space is limited)
  • Stitching chisels
  • Double sided tape
  • Measuring square
  • Patience
  • leather shears
  • x-acto knife
  • Stitiching pony (diy)

Here is the actual bag I'm trying to imitate. I used only these pictures as my guide, though they were nice enough to include lots of great angles.

Step 1: Plans

I did my plans on Illustrator then made it on some poster paper. The only part I really needed to print out was the bottom, because the rest were just rectangles that I could measure out. I cut two layers for the bottom (11.25" x 6.25"). Once the rectangles were cut out I traced on my bottom pattern with an awl, which doesn't mark suede well, so do your best. I also cut out a piece of stiffener to sandwhich in there to give the bottom a little structure. I ended up cutting about 1/8" off that using dividers set to 1/8" and scribing a line around the piece. For the stiffener, you can use dedicated stiffener material, thin plywood, or even a thicker piece of leather. Or you can leave it out to give the bag a flatter feel.

Then, I cut two bigger rectangles for the body (16" x 11.25"), two medium rectangles for the fringe (16" x 8.75" -note that I ended up making 2 8" x 8.75" rectangles for one fringe because of the material, and I think I cut it down some), I made dimensions I thought would work based on what I thought looked good. I ended up adjusting it later. Basically, it has a square with heavily rounded corners for the bottom, 2 of what I called top cuffs (16" x 8 5/8"), 2 thing rectangles for the tops (16" x 3.25"), two pull fringes (8" x 3.25"). My mom wanted a strap that could go over her head, so she wanted 47" straps, so I cut 4 3/4" straps to 51". For the draw cord I cut 2 straps of 1/4" to 45" long, which was too long but it was hard to estimate. Another 1/4" strap about 12" long. Finally, there were two 1/2" strips 6 inches long. These will attach the pull fringe to the draw cord. You'll need some other scraps for various things.

For the liner, I cut 11.25" x 6.25" for the bottom, 2 rectangles for the body (16" x 11.25"), and a pocket 14" x 9.25" and cell phone pocket that was tailored to my mom's phone plus 3/4" on each side and 3/4" on the bottom.

UPDATE: I'm attaching my Illustrator file, but note that I made several changes on the fly, so these should be guidelines only.

Step 2: Liner

One one liner panel I first cut a slot for the zipper and a corresponding slot on the pocket. The pocket should be grain side in, so you should line them up flesh side to flesh side, then fold the pocket in half from the bottom up. I lined it up so that the pocket was within 1/4" of the bottom and centered. Now you can unfold the piece and lay both rectangles down and measure for the zipper. Try to make the slot small enough so that only the metal part of the zipper is exposed. Only cut the pocket zipper access slot on the top of the piece.

I used an x-acto knife and shears to cut out the access slots. Then I used the stitching chisel to punch sewing holes up both sides and across the top of the folded pocket. To attach, I turned the liner panel over and used double sided tape to stick the zipper down, then turned it face up to get the alignment right. More double sided tape to attach the zipper to the pocket. Then I used stitching chisels and cut holes through all three layers (panel, zipper tape, and pocket). Then I saddle stitched around to attach zipper and pocket to the panel. That done, I stitched the pocket on three sides (up both sides and across the top). I actually found a video on how to do a pocket and emulated that, but cut down the sewing because if you're using cloth it's easier to do two rows of stitches than it is for leather.

On the other panel, I attached the cell phone pocket. My trick here is to make holes on the pocket, then center it and push the left and right edges in a bit before attaching with tape. Now poke through the holes on the pocket into the panel only on the sides. I sew the two sides, then I use the awl to poke through the bottom holes into the panel, which sort of bunches it up on the bottom as I sew. This gives me a pocket that sticks out a little. Maybe that's overkill. You can decide.

All that done, I laid the pieces face to face and punched holes along both sides and the bottom. Then I sewed the sides and attached the bottom using the awl to punch the holes in the bottom panel. I had to do a bit of bunching to get everything to work. I started by lining up the seams on the panels with the middle of the bottom and sewed from there around from both directions. So four total lines of stitching. This ensured that I kept everything even and the bottom stayed center. I think I even had one stitch lining up the middle of the long side of the bottom with the middles of the panels. I used binder clips to hold things in place. Point is, take your time, work carefully.

Now you have a liner stitched on the outside. If you look inside, the stitches are all invisible, which was the point of doing the liner this way. We'll do a similar thing on the outside, but then turn the bag inside out to hide the stitches.

Step 3: Fringes

For the pulls, I measured down 1 1/2" from a short end. Then cut the tassels at about 1/4" using the clear ruler to guide my rotary knife, all the way across. That done, I rolled the tassel and wrapped the strip over it so it looked good and hid the loose end of the tassel. I punched holes through and put the rivets in place to test everything.

Once satisfied it looked okay, I trimmed a point onto the strip and threaded a D-ring onto the strip, then attached tho rivets and set them. Those tassels may be too long, I don't know. Adjust to taste, I suppose. On the original, there was some decorative stitching along the edge of the strip that holds the D-ring, but I decided not to bother.

For the other fringes, the first thing I did was lay everything out and make sure I had the look I wanted. The assembly for the front panel goes like so: lay out the main panel on a flat surface and smooth it down. Now the first fringe goes on so that it overhangs the bottom of the panel slightly, maybe 1/4". Now the top cuff covers that and overhangs the top panel. I made it so that the top cuff covered 6.25" of the panel and the rest was overhang. Next comes the second layer of fringe. The bottom should line up with the bottom of the first fringe. Finally comes the top. It should line up with the top of the panel. Trim the fringe rectangles to the final width you want, leaving about 1/4 sewing allowance. Now you can cut the fringe.

I measured down 1/4" and cut the fringes to that point. You can't really mark suede very well, but do your best. I stopped a little short and finished each fringe with shears in most cases. The trickiest part here is to lay your piece very flat on your cutting surface and make sure you don't have to move it. Moving fringe and getting everything to lay flat again is a huge pain. This gave me 2 fringe panels (really, three, but 2 of them were each 1/2 fringe).

Step 4: The Bottom

I used some domed rivets to make feet on the bottom panel, and for that I had to thicken the bottom, which is partly why I have two layers of bottom material. Put the better bottom side down. The other will be hidden. I centered the stiffener and the bottom layer (which I trimmed to match the stiffener), then punched holes where the feet would go. Then I applied glue to the layers, sandwiched them together and attached the rivets. It doesn't need to be a perfect glue bond. Just enough to keep things out of the way. The bigger bottom panel will be what you sew, which is why it needs to be a bit bigger than the rest.

Step 5: Straps

Okay, now we're getting to the stitching. The straps take the longest, the rest comes together pretty quickly. I did two layer straps to give them some substance. First, to keep them together, I glued them with leather cement. it stays very flexible (I tested on some scrap first to confirm). I carefully glued the layers together with a brush, then when they were dry, I punched holes 1/8" in and saddle stitch down each side for both straps. Then I saddle stitched away. I ended up doing some cleaning and tidying on the edges with shears.

For the drawstring and the key holder, I laminated the 1/4 strips with glue, then added a single stitch line down the middle.

Step 6: Assembly

I relied heavily on double sided tape during this step. First I did the front panel. Like we did when laying out the fringes before we cut them, lay the bottom fringe first (this is where I used the two fringe halves). This takes some time. Since you already measure and tested everything in the fringes step, it should work just right. Make sure the top of the fringe is parallel to the top of the panel. Now I flipped the fringe top down and used 1/4" double-sided tape to tape it down. Next I used tape to attached the cuff. Only tape the bottom. Again, keep checking that the pieces are square to the sides of the panel and parallel to the top and bottom. Next the 2nd layer of fringe taped down (keep checking and double checking). Finally, the top taped down only on the bottom part.

Do the back panel the same way, but without fringe (unless you want to add fringe). Check alignment (I keep saying this because I messed it up). Check against both the right and left sides of the back to make sure it is lined up.

Once you are 100% sure everything lines up, slide your cutting board under the panels and pound in holes 1/8" up from the bottom of the cuff and the bottom of the top for both panels. Now sew those into place.

Next I did stitching holes along the sides and bottom of both panels. I kept checking that the holes would pretty much line up, but suede is forgiving in this respect. You can lay them face to face and pound through all layers if you want to be 100% sure, but I found I couldn't get things to stay put when I did that.

The bottom hole placement doesn't matter as much since you'll be using the awl, like we did for the liner bottom.

For the top, don't make the mistake I did. Punch holes only through the top of the top and the rest do with an awl. The top cuff will eventually get folded in and stitched into place, but you'll never get things to line up if you try to punch them all at once.

Now place the panels face in. Stitch the sides. Stitch on the bottom using the same techniques as the liner. Note that you should attach it so that the stiffener and second layer are facing out. Now turn the whole thing inside out.

We're getting there.

Step 7: Grommets and Straps in Place

These were the trickiest part of the operation. You want the 3/8" grommet holes to go through the middle of the cuff and main panel and maybe liner. You want the bigger holes to go through the top and the part of the cuff that folds over. How did I manage this? Not very well. But basically use a clear ruler and really double check your placement before punching holes.

The straps attach to the inside of the front and back panel, then thread through the top of the cuff that folds over. I attached them with rivets. You could also sew them in. To make the pass-through holes I used a hole punch to punch holes on either side of where the strap will go, and then an x-acto knife and shears to connect the two holes. If you have an oblong punch that will work too. I also had to trim some clearance rectangles into the liner to allow for the straps. Basically I just put the liner in and trimmed around the straps to where the thread-through holes were. It all gets covered up anyway by the cuff. I just really took my time here and visualized how I wanted it to go before committing to a course of action.

Once I was really satisfied, I attached the grommets, then used the grommets as guides to punch the bigger holes on the top and the cuff.

Finally, I inserted the liner, folded the cuff in and stitched on through everything using the holes as guides and a sharp awl. I constantly had to check that I was getting the liner layer, because you want that sewn in at this step. The top of the main panel is less important, as it isn't going anywhere. I stitched through the straps when I came to them, to secure them in place a little more. Next to one strap, I stitched in a strip for the key holder, which was the same stuff I used for the drawstring, but with a brass clip on one end. Basically just thread the strip through the eye of the clip, then sew it closed. I finished with a small scrap wrapped around it to hid the end of the strip. Then I placed it, figured out the length I wanted, and stitched it in with the rest of it.

When viewed from the top, you should see the edge of the top piece and a folded over cuff and that's it. Without that cuff you'd have three to four edges showing. It also acts to cover up where you stitched in your liner. I think it looks more tidy.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

One thing I did to finish this off was to sew around the grommets through all layers. This should help seal in the liner and keep everything neat and tidy. You don't have to do this. I just used a stitching chisel to go around each grommet and stitched.

Now thread the draw string so that it goes in the middle left front grommet, then out then in, all the way around. I wrapped a piece of scrap and stitched it in place to act as a keeper to keep the draw string from loosening, then attached each end to a tassel D-ring by inserting, folding over, and stitching it closed, then trimming the ends. Then wrapped those ends with a scrap to hide them. I made them the length so that when completely open, the tassels are as far up as they can go.

That's basically the bag done.

Step 9: Final Thoughts and Errata

Because I didn't line up both edges of the panels, I got a mismatch that caused the panel to do what you see in the above picture and caused the eyelets on the back to be angled weird. This was just my own lack of triple checking, so do be careful to measure from multiple angles. A quarter inch off on each will really show in the end. But besides that, it works and looks nice and my mom will love it, so that's cool.

You could add a name tag on it, perhaps embossed with the recipients name. If you do that I'd attached it to te top before sewing the cuff and liner in place. You'll notice the original also has a tag thing that attaches to the handle. Go for it if you want, but I skipped it. The top cuff really adds some nice stability to the top. The white liner should make items inside easy to see. That's about it. Happy making!