What’s great about upcycling is that feeling that you don’t just throw away an older thing, you give it new life and make something new from it. I had a sweater I loved which shrank very mysteriously (no way I grew bigger, no way!). I felt so sorry to throw it away…so I decided to upcycle it into a handbag. Coincidentally, I had a great pair of handles at home and I could start working straightaway.
What took me the bigger part of time I spent on the handbag was the decision how to cut and “assemble” the handbag – which parts should stay on the outside and which to use as lining. The sweater had a clever little string under the breasts and I decided to keep it as a decorative bow on the bag. When I started sewing I hadn’t cleared all the details, however, I had a general idea about what the handbag should look like. The following tutorial is a description of the steps I followed and will serve you as general instructions to upcycle any sweater.
And if you’d like some more ideas for upcycling, check out my Recycle & Upcycle category.
Material and tools I used
- old sweater
- felt interfacing (Ronofix)
- leatherette handles
- felted pen
- sewing machine and matching threads
How to Upcycle a Sweater Into Handbag
At the very beginning I stitched closed the sleeves having the sweater wrong side up. At that time I still wasn’t sure about where I’d cut the sweater but the sleeve opening was so bog that I preferred to close it right at the beginning and not to have to worry about it.
I cut off the sleeves.
This is what it looked like when I turned it right side out.
I turned the neckline part inside to see where I wanted the upper edge to be. Then I pinned and cut it.
Then I folded the sweater (now without the neck) in half and cut it. The upper sweater part will be the outside of the handbag whilst the lower half will be the lining – I’ll work with that later.
So now I’m working with what will later be the outside of the handbag. I turned the sweater wrong side out, placed it on the interfacing and traces it twice (actually a little bigger). I cut what I had traced and I ironed it to both sides of the sweater (to the wrong side, of course). It’s a big plus to choose interfacing with one sticky side because the woven sweater it quite difficult to cut and sew and keep in shape. When it sticks to the interfacing, it will hold its shape. You can also make the handbag completely without interfacing but with it your bag will look much better and be ok much longer.
This is what it looked like right side out. After taking this picture I cut the interfacing to be not more than a few millimeters over the sweater.
Once again I turned it the wrong side out and I stitched the bottom. After that I made the tucks in all four corners. Don’t know how to make tucks? Check out this tutorial.
I turned the handbag right side up and sew on the handles.
Attaching the zipper. I opened the zipper and placed one half with its right side on the right side of the handbag. The zipper teeth should be in the direction of the bottom of the handbag and the edge of the zipper should be aligned with the edge of the handbag. I stitched the zipper half to the edge of the handbag and then I did the same with the other half on the other side of the handbag.
I went over to the bottom part of the sweater which will be the lining. The bottom had two pockets which I wanted to keep as inside pockets of the handbag.
I turned the sweater wrong side out and stitched the sides a bit to make the sweater narrower (the bottom of the sweater was much wider than the top and the lining should be a little bit smaller than the outside). On one side I left an opening of about 10 cm – I used it later to turn the handbag right side out.
I stitched the bottom of the lining and made the tucks.
Now the outside of the handbag being right side out and the lining wrong side out I put the outside of the handbag inside the lining. I aligned the tucks, side seems and upper edges of both parts. I pinned the edges of both parts and then stitched about 1 cm from the edge.
I pulled the handbag and the lining right side out through the opening I left in one of the sides of the lining. Then I stitched the opening with the hidden stitch.
And this is what I got.
I placed the lining inside the handbag and aligned the tucks.
I held the zipper with the fingers of one hand and with the other hand I pulled the outside of the bag and the lining down. I pinned it and stitched it less than half a centimeter below the zipper. If I had left it unstitched, the outside and the lining would roll up and cover the zipper. Then I handstitched the tucks of the outside part and the lining so the lining stays always inside.
Enjoy some more photos and don’t forget to upcycle!
This is what the stitched edge around the zipper looks like. This was the last step, the handbag is done.