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Sewing Lesson: How to add Leather Straps to a Handbag

When sewing your own handbag, you have several options when it comes to handles. Most handbag patterns feature sewn handles, but if you’d like a more professional finish on your bag, you can also use purchased leather handles. Let me show you how to add leather straps to an existing handbag pattern.

blue and red handbag with leather handles

I designed my March Bag pattern a couple of years ago and I think that it’s still one of my favorites.  

The bag pattern gives you three options for handles for your tote bag. A purchased leather handle, a purchased bamboo handle, or sewn handles. I want to give you one more option for bag handles as well.

The bag in this project is created from a lightweight canvas. It’s a heavier weight than normal quilting cotton but not as heavy as upholstery canvas fabric.

It has a gorgeous drape and texture.  The weight of it is perfect for handbags.

Normally when I make handbags, I make the handles. This time I was feeling a bit lazy and wondered if I couldn’t just use leather instead.

So I took a little trip to a local leather store and found these great belt blanks. They are long strips of leather meant to be used for stamping belts/bracelets etc.  One of them was only $8, and I was able to get both handles out of it!!

How to add leather straps to a handmade bag

Attaching the handles to the bag was easy. You just need a few tools, and if you’re a scrapbooker like me, you probably already have what you need.

Let me just say, I know there is a LOT more that I could do with those leather handles, including sealing them, stamping them, and finishing the edges. I didn’t do any of those things, the idea was just a simple handle. The leather will change colors with time and use, but I actually like that.


  • Leather strap long enough to make two handles (look in the belt section of the leather store, I purchased belt blanks )
  • Awl or Cropadile to punch holes in the leather
  • Rivets the same size as the width of your leather strap – can be hammer set or screw together.
  • Hammer
  • Scraps of plastic canvas

Step One: Reinforce the Fabric

Adding leather handles to a handbag

The first thing you’re going to need to do is to reinforce the point that the handles attach to the purse. To do this, I use plastic canvas.  If you are sewing the March Bag pattern, you will want to complete the entire bag but not make any handles. You will skip the last step of hand stitching down the bag band lining.

adding leather handles to a handbag

After you have marked where you want the handles to go on the bag, slip the plastic canvas into the bag band lining and pin it in place (It’s not sewn down yet so you can do this easily).

Step Two: Prep the Leather

leather handbag handles

After you have cut your leather to the desired length (buy some scissors at the leather store to cut the straps, don’t ruin your good sewing scissors) punch two holes in the end of the strap. One at 1/2” up from the bottom and one 1” above that.

To punch the holes in the leather, I used my cropadile (see, scrapbook supplies!) If you don’t have one of those, you can get an inexpensive awl at the leather store to punch the holes.


Step Three: Punch Holes in Handbag

Use the cropadile again and punch two holes in your handbag. You’ll punch through all the layers of fabric and the plastic canvas.

March Bag Pattern

Line up the holes on the handbag with the holes on the straps and insert a rivet.  Using a hammer and the instructions on the package, set your rivets.

If you do not want to set your rivets with a hammer, you can also purchase screw in rivets. Personally, I prefer the screw-together rivets as they are more sturdy and easier to install.

That’s it!  So easy, right? This is the first time I’ve used leather, and I’m very excited to learn more about working with it. I’ll be sure to share with you what I find out as I go.

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  1. Thanks for the great idea of the leather handles. I have been wanting to add leather handles to some of my bags but I never thought of using my Cropadile to punch holes in both! I will have to try it.

  2. This is fab! I just tried the leather strap thing for the first time and had some trouble with the rivets. I was only able to find 5/16″ at Michael’s, so I used those. I’m thinking I may just need to have my husband help me hammer them together, but I had the hardest time getting them to set. Is there a size you would recommend? Any particular sources? I have several belts I bought on clearance and am dying to make more! 🙂

    1. Hey Elena!
      I used the rivet set at Joann’s but I noticed at the leather store that they had a bunch. That’s where I went to get the belt for the handles… The guy that worked at my store was very helpful… I’d maybe ask them what the recommend. One thing I noticed is to use a smaller hammer instead of a big one, I don’t think it takes a lot of force to set them.

      So nice to meet you at the Sewing Summit!

  3. I’m a newbie, so please pardon my ignorance. My question is do you prewash your fabrics when you make your totes?

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  7. You might also try Chicago screws if having trouble with the rivets. Similar but removable if needed at a later date. They come in all kinds of tykes and made for applications like purses!

  8. Hi Melissa, love your tutorial of the leather handles. I made some tote bags, but never used leather hadles. It does look nice on bags. Thanks! As for the plastic canvas, where do u get them? Thanks!

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