Leather Love-Part Two: Making A Leather Purse

May 5, 2017 , In: Beadwork, Tutorials

The lengthy subtitle of this post is-‘Creating a backdrop for the bead embroidery piece that is TOO big for a necklace’ ! That’s how my whole idea for making these smaller leather purses came about. If you saw my post from last month- ‘Leather Love-Part One’, you will recall the smaller gray leather purse embellished with the mermaid bead embroidered piece. Sometimes when I am doing bead embroidery the pieces keep growing and growing until they become HUGE statement necklaces which is fine once in a while. But not everybody wants to wear a ginormous necklace, at least not everyday. Soooo, with that in mind, I figured I could still keep beading my large pieces and make a home for them on a leather purse.

Leather, Tools & Supplies

Supplies needed: I have included an assortment. By no means are they all mandatory I just wanted to offer up a variety of options

Leather :(you can read about different types of leather for purses here)


Eyelet Setting Tool

Cutting tools: heavy duty scissors, rotary cutter or xacto knife/craft knife; hole punches; optional-thonging chisels

Cutting mat & ruler

Hammers: wooden mallet, rubber or rawhide mallet, and I use my 1 lb. brass hammer for setting eyelets

Hardware: 2 piece rivets, 2 piece eyelets, metal rings, magnetic purse closure

Needles:leather/gloving, large eye darning and general/all purpose extra large needles

Lacing/Threads: waxed linen, heavy duty nylon or cotton threads, KO beading thread or Fireline; deerskin lacing, suede lacing; artificial sinew

Needles & Threads

I let my beaded piece determine the size purse I want to make. Then I choose an appropriate sized piece of leather. I try to use whole pieces, meaning I would prefer to use a strip of leather 8″ wide and 30″ long that I can just fold up and stitch the sides rather than having to sew the flap onto the purse. I used both methods when making these 2 purses. The blue purse has the flap sewn on and the brown purse is a full piece of leather.

Purse stitched on machine with flap stitched to back panel

Purse using one continuous piece of leather and hand stitched side seams

Step One: Decide on the size/shape purse you want then cut your leather on the cutting mat using a good heavy ruler or t-square. I prefer using an xacto blade for cutting, some people prefer a rotary cutter. Just make sure your blades are fresh when using either one.

Using heavy ruler and xacto knife to cut leather on cutting mat

Step Two: Determine whether you want to stitch using your machine or hand stitch. The blue purse is stitched on my regular sewing machine, the brown purse by hand. When sewing by machine I use a heavy duty rayon thread and a needle specifically designed for leather. Regular machine needles are not going to work unless you are using faux leather.

For the blue, I placed right sides together and stitched side seams using a longer stitch than with fabric and left a narrow seam allowance so there wouldn’t be so much bulk inside. Turned it right side out and stitched on the flap. When making this one, I left the back side of the purse 1/2″ longer along the top to have my seam allowance for the flap. Leather is not as flexible or pliable as fabric so when you turn the purse right side out you may need to use a wooden mallet to lightly hammer the side seams so they lie flatter. The flap didn’t want to fold over properly so I laid the purse over my bench block with the seam opened up and used the wooden mallet to tap down the length of the seam. This is similar to pressing open seams when you are making a garment. It really helps the flap fold over easier and looks more polished.

Stitching Seams with Machine- A Handy Tip: When stitching heavy fabric or leather using a Jean-a-ma-jig IS a Huge help! It ensures that the presser foot is firmly down so you can begin stitching. The plastic piece will kick out once you have stitched far enough down the seam that the leather itself is firmly under the presser foot.

Flattening out seams with leather placed on bench block using a hammer. Note the extended end of leather is for stitching the flap to.

The brown leather purse was sewn by hand (see photo at top or below) and is much easier when you have a full length of leather. If your leather is a heavy thickness and doesn’t want to fold over easily, take your awl & score it where you want it to fold over, using a ruler as your guide. You may need to go over the area several times to make a slight indentation so the leather can bend. Once I had the purse folded like I wanted, I used the thonging chisel to create the holes for stitching.  I chose waxed linen thread to do an overhand stitch, starting at the top and going down. Then I came back to the top which creates a cross stitch. I didn’t need to use a leather needle for this since I had pre-made the holes. I just used a large darning needle.

You could also use hole punches to create your holes for stitching, depending on what you plan to stitch with- waxed linen or deerskin/suede lacing. Use whatever tool works best for getting your choice of thread through the leather. Personally, I use the hole punches for lacing and the thonging chisel for waxed linen or sinew. Speaking of hole punches…as you can see in the photos I have the standard rotary hole punch that I bought when I first started working with leather. It’s okay, it works and it’s inexpensive. BUT… I love my round drive punches. You can check them out here. I have 7 sizes-ranging from 2mm to 8mm and I love them!  Tip: I never use a metal hammer with these as I don’t want to damage them. I use my wooden mallet but rubber or rawhide is also okay. Always protect your work surface when using drive punches-I use a piece of wood with a scrap piece of heavy vegetable tanned leather over the wood to use for my hole punching area. I would not recommend using your cutting mat for this!  I failed to photograph using the thonging chisel. So here’s my wooden block with leather that I use when I cut holes.

Wood and leather scrap for punching holes. Notice the holes vs the dashes? Thonging chisels make the dashes. Thonging chisel sets comes with different cutting tips. They also have single and triple tips. Tip: To keep the holes spaced evenly use a triple cutting tip & after making your first set of holes insert the chisel into the last hole you just created.

Step Three: Once your side seams are stitched you can attach the rings for your shoulder strap. I let the type of seam determine which method I use to attach straps. The blue purse has a small strap of leather riveted to the side to hold the metal ring. The brown has an eyelet set to hook the metal ring through the purse. I only put the eyelet in the back piece of leather. Either method is easy to do. There are numerous videos on YouTube if you want to know how to set eyelets or rivets. Bascially just use your appropriate sized hole punch, place the eyelet or rivet in the hole. Use either eyelet setter  for eyelets or just a wooden mallet to firmly attach your rivet.

Attaching Metal Rings For Straps.

An additional step you can take but is not necessary–adding a magnetic clasp. I didn’t use one on the blue purse but used one on the brown. I used a round 2-piece magnetic snap. This has to be done BEFORE you add your beaded piece. Determine placement & mark with a pen, then slice the leather with your xacto blade. Pop the clasps in and fold the metal tabs down.

Purse Showing Magnetic Clasp

Step Four: Attaching your strap. You could recycle an old belt or old purse strap or create your own. I braided deerskin lacing the length I wanted and just tied it to the rings for the blue purse (see above photo). I used suede lacing and created a simple crocheted chain for the brown purse. I was stumped as to how I wanted to attach the bulky crocheted chain strap so I let it sit around for a while. I finally decided I wanted to try to create my own end caps using bullet casings. A friend of mine gave me a big bag of empty casings and I have been wanting to do something with them. Turns out, once I cut them down to size it was the perfect diameter for my bulky crocheted suede strap. I also decided to etch them (I will create a tutorial on cutting, drilling holes and etching brass bullet casings in the future!) After my end caps were ready I attached wire (see photo), place a dab of E6000 glue inside to make sure it holds up, threaded the wire through the end and attached it to the metal ring on the purse.

Inserting Suede Crocheted Straps Into End Caps & Attaching To Metal Rings

Step Five: Now we’re ready to embellish! It is possible to bead directly onto the leather IF the leather is thin and you have the patience of a saint. I much prefer to bead onto a substrate like Stiff Stuff and then attach it. Determine placement of your beaded piece, place a small amount of E6000 in the middle area of the back of your beaded piece (see photo below left) then glue down on the flap of your purse. Let it dry overnight, then stitch it down to reinforce the bead embroidery. I generally use KO bead thread but decided to experiment with Fireline for the brown purse-again, use a leather or glover’s needle (far right photo below).Tack down the beaded piece and make sure the stitches are hidden in the beaded background. If the piece is really large and heavy you may want to stitch around the piece twice or make very small tacking stitches. I created the mermaid purse 2 years ago and haven’t had any issues with the beading separating from the leather, although it isn’t an everyday purse- it’s my ‘special, going out on-the-town’ purse! If you are patient and feel it necessary you could always add a row of beading around the bead embroidered piece once it has been attached to the leather.

Gluing & Stitching Down Your Beaded Piece

Now you have a pretty purse embellished with  bead embroidery. And an excuse to create really large bead embroidered pieces!  I encourage you to try this, it really is fairly simple.  If you have any questions about any of these steps  please contact me or leave a message here on the blog.

Stay tuned for a little tutorial on etching brass bullet casings some time in the future;-)



Cathy Spivey Mendola

Cathy Spivey Mendola has been creative her entire life. After a short career in the medical profession she became a stay-at-home mom which allowed her to dabble in various arts and crafts. Many years and mediums later she has finally found her passion-bead embroidered jewelry. When she needs a break from jewelry she creates bead embellished art quilts and wall hangings.
    • jewelsofsayuri
    • May 5, 2017

    you can use the needle meant for heavy denim and nylon thread to sew leather. but its always easier to scyve the seam allowance before sewing. You can use a thick metal blade to thin the leather at the edges (like you peel a vegetable)

    • Thank you for reminding me about that! I did use a skiver when I made the leather shoes I showed in the previous post. I don’t have one of those nifty little tools yet but the leather I used for the purses wasn’t quite as thick or stiff as the shoe leather. I haven’t tried my heavy duty denim needles for leather but I will certainly give it a try when my leather needles break.

        • jewelsofsayuri
        • May 5, 2017

        In case of thinner leathers you can use a dremel with an abrasive sanding attachment to remove some of the layers. It might be a little uneven and you’ll have to stretch and tape the leather before you sand.

        • What a great idea! Hadn’t thought about using my dremel for this purpose. Thanks for the tips.

  1. Reply

    What a great idea! Perfect way to show-case those drop-dead beautiful embroidery pieces. Large statement jewelry isn’t for everyone, but who wouldn’t want one of these small bags!!!?

  2. Reply

    Heavens – I think i have a chisel for holes in my ceramic tool box – its a great mark maker. You make it look easy. I want to try!

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