Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Review: Making Vintage Bags

Handbags inspire many sewers--especially those of us who don't do a lot of tailoring. When I was an exchange student in Costa Rica, my host sister asked me to help her sew a school bag. We didn't have a pattern, but it isn't all that difficult to make a tote bag with a flap--good thing, because my Spanish was far from perfect! It turned out well though. It was hot pink with bright green straps and huge green button on the flap. Her Dad made a thin wooden panel for the bottom and she was golden.


Since then I've found making handbags satisfying. They are small and less intimidating to make than a tailored dress, and they make great gifts. I've donated many bags that I've made to charity auctions--especially those in support of house rabbits and cats. Oddly though I have never made myself a fancy bag! Somehow it is easier to think of the perfect bag for someone else.


There are a lot of wonderful books out there for people who want to make handbags. My favorite is Making Vintage Handbags: 20 Original Sewing Patterns for Vintage Bags and Purses by Emma Brennan. This book was published by the Guild of Master Craftsman Publications in 2005, so you would expect it to be well done.

What I like most about this book is the detailed, illustrated instructions. The first chapter provides fantastic instructions on bag construction, such as insetting zippers, making soft and hard handles, and using linings. Some of these things may sound basic, but they are well illustrated and when you follow their guidance, you get superb results.

In addition to the basics, there are detailed, easy to follow, step by step instructions on constructing each pattern. The clear photos make this a particularly good resource for learning about bag construction in general. What you learn in constructing one bag is easy to translate to other bag patterns.


Being an archeologist, I have to admit to also being very partial to the wonderful range of historically inspired handbag styles in this book, but I don't limit myself to reproducing the pattern in the book.

For example, here is the 1940s inspired "Patricia" made up similarly to the book, in denim, and in an asian brocade with a frog closure replacing the bow.

Both of the following bags I made using the "Grace" pattern and fabric and trimming found in the upholstery section of my local fabric store.

Finally here is a bag I was inspired to make based on what I learned in this book, but altering the Grace pattern to make it larger and adding a clasp closure.

This fantastic book is still in stock on Amazon, but, as with most craft books, it probably won't be republished once it sells out. If you are looking for a good reference book, on handbag construction, I highly recommend getting it while you still can!


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