This is a fast and fun way to make striped tote bag handles, keychain lanyards, belts, pet leashes, dress straps, etc. It’s more visually interesting than a solid-colored strip of fabric, and it gives you a very durable strap that has the look of a piped edge.
By the way, this bag was actually made from the same fabric I used to demonstrate How to Sew Perfect Circles Without Marking or Tracing! It’s a fun technique that is quick and easy to do. After you DIY some striped tote bag handles, grab a thumbtack and some tape and learn how to sew easy circles!
For this project, I’m using dark blue denim and a nice thick cotton toile. The straps are not interfaced at all (although the rest of the bag is), but if you are using a thinner fabric for your straps then you should consider adding some body and durability by using a fusible interfacing.
You only need two strips of fabric per strap, one wider than the other. The wider fabric will form the outer stripes, and the narrower fabric will form the inner stripe. My strips of fabric are 24″ long, and 3.5″ wide (for the denim), and 2″ wide (for the toile). I used a 5/8″ seam allowance, and my finished strap is 1.5″ wide. You may prefer a thinner or thicker finished strap than I do, or you may want a longer strap for a crossbody or shoulder bag. You can tweak the measurements to suit your project, but make sure that the strip of fabric for the outer stripes is considerably wider than the one for the center stripe.
If you are making adjustable-length straps, you will also need O-rings or D-rings to attach your straps to the bag, and you need to add a slider. Even if your straps aren’t going to be adjustable, O-rings look awesome on any bag. They work with almost any style, and they also let the straps move, swing, and fold out of the way more easily than they would if the straps were attached directly to the fabric of the bag. Ideally, the hardware you choose should be a little wider than your finished strap, so that the strap doesn’t have to wrinkle and bunch up in order to fit inside the hardware.
Line up the fabric strips, right sides together, so that the long edges are aligned with each other. When you sew two contrasting fabrics together, you should always match your thread to the darker of the two fabrics, so I have navy blue thread in my machine. I’m going to sew with the toile up, so that you can see the seams better.
Sew (I used a 5/8″ seam allowance) all the way down the long edge, backstitching at the beginning and end to lock your stitches. We will be putting some stress on the seams in a minute when we turn the strap right-side out, and we want to make sure they stay secure.
Now match the other two long edges with each other. You will have some extra fabric from the wider strip, but that’s okay! Just keep it out of the way as you sew the second seam.
It’s a good idea to sew directionally, and in this case that means the end you started at is still the end you start at, and the top fabric is still the top fabric. So keep everything oriented the same way, but put your seam allowance to the left of the needle the second time.
Directional sewing isn’t the most important thing in the world, but I’ll explain the purpose really briefly. You know how sometimes the feed dogs can pull the bottom fabric through the machine a little bit faster than the top fabric? If you sewed up one side of the strap and then down the other, your strap could end up a little bit twisted. Since straps tend to be long and thin, AND we are adding a stripe, that kind of twisting can get pretty noticeable. So it’s best to sew each seam starting at the same end, with the same fabric on top both times. And in order to do that, you need to put the seam allowance to the right of the needle when you sew one seam, and to the left of the needle when you sew the other seam. If your sewing machine doesn’t have seam allowance width markings to the left of the needle, then you can add one really quickly with a piece of painter’s tape. (For a demonstration of the painter’s tape seam width marking and a bunch of other handy tips, check out my 17 painter’s tape hacks to make your sewing and crafting easier!)
Now that you have sewn both seams, you will end up with a shape that looks like this.
You can just whip the strap right-side out and be done with it, but you will get better, smoother, more professional-looking results if you take a minute to press your seams. I know pressing seams isn’t very exciting stuff, in fact ironing is one of my LEAST favorite things to do! (Ironing hasn’t been quite as bad since I got my Rowenta iron… it heats up faster and has a really serious burst of steam that makes the task quicker.) But I recommend taking the time to press the seams, because it will make a huge difference here.
First, press each seam allowance flat. (By the way, that’s my DIY Ironing Pad Made with a Mylar Emergency Blanket, and if you like the idea, you can check out the tutorial to make one of your own!)
Flatten the strap, with the narrower stripe centered on top. Press one set of seam allowances over the center stripe, then the other. Take a look at the pictures to get a good idea of how everything should be laying. There should be plenty of room for the seam allowances to lie flat on top of each other. If not, you can trim them down a little.
If you used different widths of fabric strips than I did, it might work better to press your seams open, or towards the wider strip of fabric. But remember that the wider strip will have folds in it, and you don’t want to fold your seam allowances.
You can trim your seam allowances narrower, if that works better for your strap. Whether you zigzag over the edges, use pinking shears, use fray check, or leave them raw is up to you and the fabric you used.
Now you need to turn the strap right-side out. There are many ways of doing this; you can use a bodkin if you have one, or pin a large safety pin to one edge and work it through.
I have a safety pin to get things started, and then I’m using my hemostats (aka craft forceps) to grab the pin and pull it through to save myself some time.
Imagine if tweezers, pliers, and clamps all had a baby: you’d have a pair of hemostats! They’re incredibly useful for all kinds of sewing and crafting tasks, like stuffing soft toys, tying tricky knots, or getting a handle on tiny beads and wires. I’m pretty sure I’ve used them for everything except performing surgery, lol.
Now make sure the middle stripe is centered, and give the piece a final press. That’s it! You’re ready to attach it to your bag, make it into a lanyard, add a pretty belt buckle like this, make a pet leash, or use it to make straps for a top or dress.
If you are sewing the strap directly to your tote bag, you can just fold the raw edge under and attach it to the tote by sewing a shape that looks like an X inside a square.
I wanted to use some silver rings to attach the handles to the bag, partly because I like the metal look, and partly because they carried on the circle theme. So I poked the raw edges of the strap to the inside, like this:
And then I used long bar tacks (close, wide zigzag stitches) to attach the straps around the rings. This was because you will be able to see the wrong side of the strap very clearly when the handles are folded out of the way, and I wanted the finished ends to look nice and tidy. You can hardly even see the bar tacks in the picture!
Here are a couple of other tote bag ideas for inspiration:
Spring-gate O-rings are rings that open and close easily, and they’re a great way to attach interchangeable tote bag straps. You can have a plain strap for work and a blingy one for evenings, or swap out straps so that you can use the same bag as a crossbody bag or a handbag.
Or, swap out the O-rings themselves when you need gold or silver hardware to complement your outfit. You can also use a spring-gate O-ring to attach your key ring to your purse. (No more losing your keys inside your purse!) Or, use them to attach interchangeable embellishments to the purse, such as different-colored tassels that match your outfits.
A casual, open-top tote like mine doesn’t need a clasp, but you may prefer to have a flap or zipper to keep everything contained. If you’re looking for a closure, take a minute to check out some of the beautiful clasps out there. There are a lot of fantastic styles, such as these butterfly-shaped ones, adorable birds, flowers, and even bees and cats! Most clasps attach with prongs or screws, just like purse feet, so they aren’t difficult to install and can really add a ton of personality.
And finally, if you like the look, you can add feet to your purse. They aren’t expensive or difficult to attach: some of them attach with prongs, like brads, and some of them screw together. There are lots of color, shape, and size options to match whatever look you’re going for.
That’s it, I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and picked up some ideas for your next project!
Well done 🤩