Vinyl Handbag / Beach Bag

I’ve just completed this vinyl (pleather, naugha hyde, PVC etc) hand bag / carry bag for my daughter.   The build was reasonably straight forward and the pattern will give you a reason to dust off some of that math learning that you don’t get to use.

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There is a persistent notion out there, that gifts that you make yourself are more meaningful and preferable to those that you simply buy from the shop.  While I have grave doubts about just how desirable home made gifts are, from the viewpoint of the receiver, all of my family have suffered the joyful experience of one or more of my hand made creations.

This is a simple carry bag and I was going for a beach bag kind of feel.  However, not knowing what it might eventually be used for, I have kept it on the small side.  You wouldn’t fit a beach towel in there, but it would be ideal for your purse, sunnies, sun block and the usual handbag bits and pieces.  There are no fancy internal pockets but it is lined to make it easy to clean out, when your bottle of tanning lotion springs a leak.  The finished bag is 300mm tall and 200mm in diameter.  The body is made from strips of vinyl in complementary colours.  The lining is a single sheet of vinyl, sewn to its own circular base.  The bag has a nylon webbing strap with snap buckles and there is a drawstring to hold the top more or less closed.

Start out by cutting out the pieces:

Two circles for the outer and lining bases … mine were 200mm diameter plus a 12mm seam allowance, so 224mm diameter total.

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One rectangular piece for your liner.  Mine was 654mm x 312mm.

Six strips to make up the outside.  I used strips in complementary colours but contrasting colours would have given it a more ‘beachy’ feel.  I just didn’t have enough pieces in bright colours.  The strips were cut 120mm wide and 337mm long.

You need to decide ahead of time, what colours you will place together in your design, as well as which panels will hold the buckles.  The buckle strap material needs to be the same or a complementary colour to the panels on which they’re sewn.  After deciding on my design and the layout, I numbered each long edge of each strip 1-12, so that I would know which way they went together.

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Two strips to form the straps that hold the buckles to the bag body.  Mine were 50mm X160mm, giving finished tabs of 25mmX80mm.

You will also need a suitable strap and buckles as well as a suitable drawstring.  I used a shoelace for the drawstring, metal eyelets and 25mm nylon webbing for the strap with snap buckles that I bought online.

Make the liner first.  Sew the side seam, good sides together and then sew one of the circular bases in, with the good side facing up.

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Next, make up the buckle straps by folding your pieces lengthwise, so that the seam is formed in the middle of what will become the back.  Run two rows of stitching up the strap to hold the folds closed.

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.Place the buckle parts onto the straps and then sew the straps onto their respective panels.  I sewed mine so that the top of the straps would be roughly level with the finished top of the bag (i.e. with the tops of the straps about 20mm below the top edge of the panel piece).  You will make life far easier for yourself and it won’t alter the function of the strap at all, if you mount your straps about 25mm lower than I did.  I had an awful time sewing my final top seams because the straps got in my way!

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Install eyelets into each panel.  You want two eyelets, one each side of your buckle strap on each of the buckle panels and a single eyelet in the centre of each other panel … so 8 eyelets in total.The eyelets should be placed at a height equivalent to the centre of the sewing that is holding your buckle straps.  I used metal eyelets with an internal diameter of about 3mm ….. just enough for a shoe lace.  Larger eyelets would be fine and would probably be more visually pleasing.  I forgot to photograph the panels with the eyelets installed but the placement is obvious from the other photos.

Sew your panels together, good sides together and using a 6mm seam allowance.  Be sure and pay attention to the edge numbering, so as to ensure a pleasing distribution of colour.  Then sew in the base using a 6mm seam allowance.  You might recall that when I told you to cut out your two circles, I indicated a 12mm seam allowance.  However, the outside of your bag must be slightly larger than the liner and that slight reduction in seam allowance will provide the necessary ‘ease’.

Bear in mind that you are working with a material that is rather thick, but which has a certain amount of stretch and shrinkage.  If your materials are like mine, not all of the panels will be made from the same weight of material.  There is a trick to ensuring that your finished outer will go together correctly.  This is what I did.  I marked the outside base piece into 12 equal slices.  Take a line through the centre of your circle.  Make another at right angles to the first.  And then divide each quarter into three segments … just like the numbers on a clock face.   You can now align every other line on your base piece with a seam from your side pieces.

Here is my outer bag sewn together and ‘dry fitted’  with its parts added and inner liner temporarily in place.  Note that you need to thread in your drawstring at this point and tie it off so that it can’t retract inside the bag later.

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If you are happy with the fit so far, remove the liner and strap and turn the top edge in about 6mm and run a line of stitches around it to hold it so.

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Reinsert the liner and fold your outer top down over the liner’s top edge and sew two lines of stitching to hold the two parts together.  If you took my advice about fitting your strap buckles a little lower than I did, you will be a very happy camper now.

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So here we are with our outer and liner sewn together, strap reattached and we’re done.

This was an enjoyable project to make, mostly because it is what I think of as a ‘free form’.  Not following someone else’s pattern or design.  So you are free to make it up as you go along, change your design as it progresses and even make a few mistakes that help us all to learn..  You can make this any way you like.  It doesn’t have to be made of vertical panels and could simply be a solid piece of material.  It doesn’t need to be made from vinyl.  In fact, an excellent alternative would be to make the bag from rubber-backed curtain material.  You could just skip the lining altogether.  It could then be made larger and the actual stitching would be a great deal easier.

The only math involved was to calculate the width of the side pieces, based on the circumference of the circular base  (Pi X D plus seam allowances).

If you do choose to work in vinyl I would offer a few observations that might be helpful.  I sewed this project on a Singer model 103 Treadle machine.  Any decent sewing machine will cope with sewing vinyl but this project does involve sewing through several layers.  Nevertheless, any older Singer or similar machine will cope with this task, as will any modern machine of decent quality.  I used a size 18 leather point needle and #40, bonded nylon thread.  Apart from the few straight seams in this project, most of the sewing was done, turning the machine’s balance wheel by hand … not treadling.  An older machine with a spoked balance wheel is ideal for this kind of work.

Sewing across seams will provide a challenge for any machine.  One helpful technique that works well for me, is to pound the seams flat with a rubber mallet, prior to sewing.  Other techniques that will prove enormously helpful when working with heavier materials like vinyl or leather :-   Use an office stapler to temporarily hold your projects together.  Obviously, avoid making holes where they will show in your finished item but staples are the bomb as an alternative to the cloth sewer’s pins.  Double sided tape is also excellent for temporarily holding vinyl and leather together long enough to get it stitched.  Don’t rely on it for any permanent bond though.  Vinyl is far more forgiving than many would have you believe.  If you do happen to make a line of stitches that you must subsequently remove, it really isn’t likely to weaken your project.  And a careful blast from a hair dryer will help to close up any telltale needle holes.

Well I hope this project will prove of some interest..  Where I’ve provided details, I only offer them as a guide to explain what I did.  I don’t think it’s much fun, slavishly following someone else’s design.  Way more fun to just make it up as you go along.  That’s where exclusive designs are born!

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I hope this one might inspire you to have a go yourself and to perhaps try some alternative materials and techniques.


Andrew Caddle  2015-12-19


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Thank you, Andrew.




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