Purse Week: U Shaped Purse Handle Tutorial

Today I'm sharing a fun purse tutorial as part of A Lemon Squeezy Home's Purse Week! Hello and welcome to any new readers heading over from Christie's great blog. Some of you might remember the bag I entered into the contest last year. This year, Christie invited me to guest blog and I'm excited to participate and show you guys what I came up with. I'll be showing you how to add u shaped handles to just about any bag you plan on making as well as showing you how to make the bag in the photos above and directly below.

U shaped handles come in all styles, materials, and colors. You can usually find them at places like Hobby Lobby and Joann as well as on Etsy. I happened to have these pretty amber colored plastic handles in my stash just waiting for a project! I really like the simple clean lines of these handles - they seem to have a bit of a retro vibe, don't they?

Here are a few bags I've made in the past where I used u shaped handles instead of the fabric ones the patterns called for:

left: Buttercup Bag Pattern                                                               right: Lots of Pockets Tote Patttern

I'll begin by showing you how to sew in u shaped handles in place of fabric handles using a bag pattern of your choice. You'll need your completed outer bag pieces (interfaced, etc) and your u shaped handles.

First, you'll need to create fabric tabs to put through the slots in the bottom of the handles to attach them to your bag.  Measure the width of the slots in your handles-sizes will vary. You may not get an exact measurement but you'll just want to make sure it's narrow enough to fit. Multiply the number you got x4 and that will be the width of your fabric tabs. I used a length of 3 inches; you may want yours shorter/longer. I wanted tabs 3" long so I cut one long strip of fabric 12" long by 2.5" wide. Fold the strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides touching. Press. Unfold and then fold in both sides to meet at the crease and press. Fold the strip in half and press. Finally, stitch along both edges.  Cut into 4 equal pieces. {hard to see in the photo below but the 4th step is a topstitched tab}

Next, you're going attach a tab to each side of both handles. Just slide a tab into a slot on the handle and even up the ends. I baste the ends of the tabs together so they'll stay in place. 

I like to add the handles to the outer purse pieces before sewing them together. It's easier to find the center of the bag front and back when you can lay the fabric down on a flat surface. Place the ends of the tabs even with the top of your bag piece. Using a ruler, make sure that the inner edges of the tabs are equidistant from the center mark on your fabric.  Pin the tabs onto the fabric and sew in place. Repeat with the other handle and outer bag piece. From there you can continue along with the instructions of your bag pattern. You'll sew together your outer bag pieces, sew together your lining pieces, and then sew the two together along the top of the bag.  That's it!

Tutorial for the bag shown at the beginning of this post:

***Read through the entire tutorial before beginning. Things will make more sense that way :)

I did a little experimenting and created a bag with the u shaped handles attached to a piped pocket on one side and on the other skipped the pocket part and attached the handle between two pieces of my outer bag fabric. You can make a bag with a pocket on both sides or skip the outer pockets all together. This bag was sort of a "make it work" project where I made adjustments as I went along. Hopefully my steps will make sense!

I used the dimensions below for cutting my fabric, however; you can easily make your bag taller, shorter, wider, narrower by adjusting these dimensions. 

Supplies you'll need:
  • fabric for your outer bag {I used and recommend home dec weight fabric}
  • interlining fabric {I used white denim but canvas would work as well}
  • fusible interfacing
  • lining fabric {I used quilt weight fabric}
  • magnetic snaps {1 set for the main bag closure, 1 for the outer pocket}
  • smalls scraps of fusible interfacing and batting, fleece, etc
  • piping {1 pack is plenty if you're buying, otherwise you'll need about 1 yard}
  • u shaped handles
  • thread, scissors, ruler, water soluble fabric pen, etc
Amounts of fabric needed and what you'll cut depends on how you want to configure your bag. . . outer pockets on both sides, pocket on just one side {like my bag}, or no outer pockets.

*1/2 inch seam allowances used unless otherwise specified

Bag Lining: 

Cut 2 pieces 11" x 17" from lining fabric
Cut 2 pieces 11" x 17" from fusible interfacing
Fuse the interfacing to the lining pieces according to manufacturer directions

Outer bag piece with pocket {x2 if you want both sides of your bag to have an outer pocket}:

Outer Bag Piece:
Cut 1 from main fabric 11" x 17" 
Cut 1 from interlining 11" x 17"   

Cut 1 from main fabric 9.5" x 17"
Cut 1 from lining fabric 9.5" x 17"
Piece of piping at least 17" long

Outer Bag Piece - No Pocket:

Cut 1 from main fabric 9.5" x 17"
Cut 1 from main fabric 2.25" x 17
Cut 1 from interlining 11" x 17"
Piece of piping at least 17" long

Layer your one of your outer bag fabric pieces with a corresponding piece of interlining making sure they are even. Fold them in half with short ends touching. Using your ruler and fabric pen, draw a square 2.5" x 2.5" in the bottom corner of the open side. Cut the square out.  You will do this for both outer pieces/interlining, both interfaced lining pieces, and all pocket pieces. You'll end up with pieces that look the second photo down.

On your lining pieces, find the center and make a mark about an inch down. This will help you add your magnetic snaps later.

Now, sew your lining pieces together along both sides and the bottom. You'll need to leave a large opening {big enough to get the handles through} along the bottom to turn your bag right side out later on. Don't sew along those square cut outs just yet.

Fold the cut out corners so that they line up as below. Sew across them using a 1/2" seam allowance. Set lining aside.

To make a "non-pocket" outer bag piece, grab your 2 main fabric pieces {9.5" x 17" /  2.25" x 17"}, 1 interlining piece {11" x 17"}, a handle with tabs attached, and your piping. Take your larger fabric piece and baste the piping across the top-raw edge of piping lined up with raw edge of fabric. Find the center of this piece and sew on your handle as instructed at the beginning of this tutorial. Lay the smaller fabric piece on top, right sides touching, and pin in place. Sew all layers together as close to the piping as possible. I use my zipper foot for basting/sewing on piping. Unfold the bag piece and press flat. Topstitch underneath the piping.

Baste the completed bag piece onto the interlining across the top, sides, and bottom.

You'll end up with this:

At this point, you can either create another piece like the one above or you can make a piece with an outer pocket. . . 

To create the pocket piece, place the main fabric pocket piece right side up and then baste the piping across the top. Next, as above, center your handle and sew the tabs to the fabric. Then place your pocket lining piece right side down and sew across the top of the pocket as close to the piping as you can. Flip the lining over to the back of the pocket and press. Topstitch under the piping. 

Take your outer bag piece and baste the interlining to the back of it. Place it right side up. Lay the pocket piece you just created on top and baste it to the outer bag piece at the sides only. The square cut outs should line up. Since the bottom of the bag will be boxed, you'll want to stitch across the pocket lining/outer bag piece to keep items in the pocket from sliding into the bottom of the bag. Simply lift up the bottom of the outer pocket piece and use your ruler to draw a line across the pocket lining at the level  of the top of the square cut outs. Stitch across that line. This will connect the pocket lining with the outer bag/interlining piece. Check out the photo below for clarification.

You can now add a magnetic snap to the pocket. I placed the top of one half of the snap about 1/2" down from the top of the pocket {lining side}. I used the mark I drew earlier to make sure my snap was centered. Since the pocket lining is not interfaced, I suggest fusing a small scrap of interfacing onto the lining where the snap will go. Then insert the snap according to package directions. I then added the other half of the snap to the main bag piece. Now you can baste across the bottom of the entire bag piece.

You should now have 2 outer bag pieces. Sew them together the same way you did the lining. You may need to do a bit of trimming across the top of your bag pieces to get them to match up perfectly.  Once you have your outer bag complete, place it {right side out} inside of the inside out lining. Tuck the handles down into the bag and make sure the side seams and top edges of the bag line up. Pin together and sew around the top of the bag. Turn the bag right side out through the hole you left in the lining. Press the top of the bag flat and topstitch close to the top edge of the bag. Using the marks you drew on the lining, insert your magnetic snaps about 1/2" from the top edge of the bag. Use your fingers or a chopstick, etc to push out the boxed corners of the bag. Smooth the lining into place. Sew closed the turning hole. 

*Tip: If you're working with lots of thick layers of fabric, when sewing the boxed corners, stitch across the thickest part -where the seams match up- first, and then sew across the rest of the corner. Also, if you have a walking foot, use it! This will help the layers from shifting.

I added one last step to finish up my bag. I pleated the sides of the bag simply by folding the sides inward about 1.5" and pressing them flat. Totally optional but I just liked the way it looked. Also, I haven't tried this but adding a piece of thick cardboard, Timtex, etc onto the inside bottom of the bag would be a great way to add even more structure to this bag.

Ok! That wraps up my Purse Week tutorial! So glad to be a part of it and I hope you enjoyed my crazy long and most likely typo-filled tutorial. I tend to write my tutorials term paper style. . . as in the night before they're due! What can I say, I work best under pressure ;) If you notice something that doesn't quite make sense, let me know and I'll fix it right up. As always, thanks for stopping by and saying hello.

fabrics used:

outer bag: heath in navy blue / alexander henry
lining, piping, handle tabs: fairgrounds modern texture yellow / ds quilts collection - joann

*Please keep in mind that the purse tutorial is for personal/charity/gift use only. Thanks!


  1. oooo, I love this bag, thanks for the tutorial. I can't wait to make one!

  2. Cute bag! I was eyeing that heath fabric for a project recently, and I love how it looks for this bag. Thanks for the instructions on attaching u-shaped handles. I'm going to have to try this out.

  3. Love this bag--I love the piping details. It looks so professional. Thanks so much for guest posting!!! Have a great rest of your week!

  4. I have a ridiculous amount of the handles I am excited to make this bag, I also love the fabric you used, looks great.

  5. so nice vanessa. THat fabric is great and I like the handles!

  6. it's awesome! what a cute bag, the handles really make it unique.

  7. Muchisimas gracias es un bolso precioso, gracias por el tutorial

  8. That is totally adorable and I love the handles on this bag. I'll be giving it a try. I better get me some handles too :)

  9. I am trying to think of my new bag's handle design. You just give me an idea! I love it very much! Thank you very much!

  10. Where is that fabric from? Love it!

  11. Lovely bag and great tutorial. Where did you get the fabric from? Thanks xo

  12. Hi! The blue fabric is Heath by Alexander Henry. . . there is both home dec weight (which I used) and quilt weight. The yellow is a Denyse Schmidt print that you can find at Joanns. I'll go back and add this info to the post!

  13. ZESE is focused towards Perfection, Quality and building up a bond between the garment manufacturers and the end users, in the one world of Textiles.

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  14. Thank you so much for this tutorial. The instructions and photos are very clear and easy to understand and the bag is so professional looking. Can't wait to give it a go. Best wishes.

  15. I just found you from Pinterest!!! I am so glad I did and I am going to share you on my blog. I have been making handmade painted totes and I LOVE how you attached the U-shaped handles! Can I borrow the idea for my totes? Your site is awesome!

    1. Rasz - Welcome :) Sure - feel free to use the tutorial for your totes! Thanks!

  16. Thanks for the great tutorial! I linked to this post today at www.soyouthinkyourecrafty.com on a purse link. Beautiful work! Heidi

  17. What I use to add more structure to the bag bottom is actually sold as a package of 4 cutting 'boards' at Wal-Mart. Size is 11.5" X 15" and it is a heavy plastic but not too hard to cut. There are 4 colours in the package because they are meant to be used for different foods. I cover the piece a sleeve of lining fabric.

  18. I'd like to hear from someone who completed this purse. Images and final product look great, but instructions elude me.

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  20. I've searched a long time for the perfect bag ! This is the one ! Many thx !!
    Love from Belgium :D

  21. Thank you for this! It's clear, it's easy and it's got great pictures to help out! I'm very grateful for what you've done here.