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.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

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 I left the back stitched together (it was originally made from 6 pieces) and got a large section about 2' x 8' still all together.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



    • Make It Fly Challenge

      Make It Fly Challenge
    • Stone Concrete and Cement Contest

      Stone Concrete and Cement Contest
    • DIY Summer Camp Contest

      DIY Summer Camp Contest

    14 Discussions


    Question 7 months ago

    Any experience flattening salvaged leather? I've seen suggestions of ironing or using alcohol to soften the leather, and I've considered just stacking and weighting it and letting time do the flattening. Thanks for any tips. This is a small piece with wrinkles.

    1 answer

    Reply 7 months ago

    I'm sorry, I don't. The pieces I've used have all been soft enough that wrinkles either didn't matter or weren't permanent. If I had to try, I'd probably use a table, a flat piece of plywood, and heavy things on top. A couple days in a gravity press work for most things!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I've salvaged leather from junk cars, and from my buddy who drank too much beer and forgot his leather jacket in my trunk after a Motorhead show. I upholstered a stool in my shop from that leather jacket, and have used it for over a decade.

    3 replies

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    We grew up together, but I haven't seen him since that night. I waited years until I cut it up, so he had his chance :-)


    Reply 4 years ago

    I need to give my friends more beer!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is an awesome recycling idea!

    You see sooooo many on Kijiji and Craigslist where a cat has torn into the arm of the sofa, and people are either giving them away free or selling them for next to nothing.

    I assume you don't have a sewing machine. Can a sewing machine even go through those thick leather seams?

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you!

    I do have a sewing machine, but it wouldn't go through the leather. Even if it could, I don't think I'd try. The waxed thread, saddle stitched through pre-punched holes is very strong and doesn't take much time or effort. The way a sewing machine's thread doesn't really alternate, but just draws one thread along one side, looping the other thread through all the holes and around the straight one, wouldn't be nearly as strong.

    I agree with your observations of supply - there are dozens of leather sofas and chairs in every city available for harvest!

    Thank you! I've seen these sad old leather sofas but never could quite get my brain around what to do with them. We love recycled furniture, I hope you post more soon!

    2 replies
    BennyOneTwo Paddles Design

    Reply 4 years ago

    Thanks! I'm working on a duffel from the flat, firm pieces from the back...


    4 years ago

    What a thoughtful gift and great idea! Thanks for making me think out side the box.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago

    Thanks doc! I've always got my eye out for leather sofas on bulky waste day now, hopefully others might too!