Customize Handmade Bags with Applique

I’m a sucker for bag and purse patterns. If they feature appliqué hexagons or are made with a fun, contemporary fabric, so much the better.

My Pretty Little Tote Bag with
hexagon appliqués.

The Pretty Little Tote Bag I made for Modern Patchwork 2012 is simple enough, and you can jazz up the basic linen background with cheerful hexagon appliqués a narrow strip of the same or coordinating fabric on the outside pocket. I made this purse using fused applique and left the edges raw, but you could hand appliqué the motifs or use a machine appliqué stitch if you prefer.

1. Make template for your hexagons out of heavy paper or cardstock.

2. Trace the hexagon template onto the paper side of a sheet of fusible web 4 times and cut out just beyond the drawn lines.

3. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, fuse to the wrong side of the print fabric. Cut out the fabric hexagons and fuse them to the front of your bag fabric in a pleasing pattern, being sure to stay clear of the seam allowances. Topstitch around the edges of the hexagons.

Appliqué is something former Stitch magazine editor Trisha Waddell advocates for adding a punch to purses. You can “add motifs from your favorite fabrics with appliqué or get fancy with reverse appliqué for a fun embellishment,” she says.

Here are some of Trisha’s other tips for customizing bag sewing patterns:

Combine old with new – Mix and match fabric from vintage linens, handles, and hardware from a classic handbag or appliqué cutout motifs from vintage clothes and home décor fabrics to add a unique accent to your new tote.

Focus on the fabric – Make a simple tote special by using an unusual fabric. Take that small amount of specialty fabric you picked up during your travels or at a remnant sale and make it into an outstanding bag. The fabric will be all the decoration you need.


Applique Linen Drawstring Handbag by
Carol Zentgraf, featured in
Best of Stitch: Bags to Sew.

Creative contrasts

– Play with contrasts by using a different fabric for the lining, the handles (both sides), and pockets.

Playful piecing – Patchwork and fabric piecing are great ways to add a graphic element to your bag, plus you use up some of your stash as well!

Stitch it up – Machine and hand embroidery can add interesting texture and line on a simple bag in no time. Use contrasting thread for greater effect. And don’t forget the handles!

You can try these tricks on your own handmade bag patterns, or order a copy of Best of Stitch: Bags to Sew, by Tricia Waddell.

P.S. Do you make handmade bags? What is your favorite style of bag or motif? Share with everyone in the comments section below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Appliqué, Hand Embroidery, Quilting Daily Blog