Last week I had my first official sewing lesson from my mom! We made a t-shirt purse, something she loves to make. It was a lot of steps but surprisingly easy and a lot of fun. Mom is a great teacher, so I don’t know if I will be able to recreate her directions here as well as she would be able to, but I’m going to try. We took photos all along the way, so if nothing else, you can see how a t-shirt and a button up can become a cute purse. And a fun note about my purse, the t-shirt is one that I used to wear and the button up is one Nicole used to wear, which I think makes the purse extra special.
By the way, I still can’t believe I actually made a purse.
First off, you’re going to need some things. A t-shirt and a button up (bigger is better on the button up), scissors, interfacing, a zipper, a rotary cutter and that rotary cutter ruler thingy. I would say the rotary cutter isn’t an absolute necessity if you don’t have one but it made things so much easier.
First things first – cut up that t-shirt! Don’t worry about the size you want your final bag at this point, just keep it as big as possible. Cut the sleeves off first and set them aside – we’re going to use them later to make some pockets inside the purse. Then cut along the sides of the shirt, separating front and back. Then cut off the neck. If your design is really close to the neck be careful to leave all the room you’ve got so you’ll have room above the image to put on the zipper. I had to be super careful with the back image since it was so close to the top. But your own t-shirt design will dictate how you need to cut everything apart.
Now you have to do a little measuring to figure out where to cut off the bottom of your shirt on the front and back. You want to decide how tall your bag is going to be right now. You also want to decide how deep your bag will be. We went with two inches on the depth of the bag. So for the front and back, you want to cut the number of the depth in half and add that amount to the height of the bag. Then you add enough seam allowance for the top and the bottom of the bag. I think we added another inch, so a half inch for the top and bottom.
So for example, if your bag is going to be ten inches tall, and you want a depth of two inches like we did, you’re going to add an inch for the depth (depth cut in half) then a half inch for the top seam allowance and a half inch for a bottom seam allowance, making twelve inches the height you’re going to cut both the back and the front of your bag. Make sure you measure from the bottom of the neck on both the front and back because above that is unusable shoulder stuff. Phew, that was a lot to pack in there. Hope it made sense! I thought this was one of the trickiest part and all we did was cut off the bottom part of the t-shirt!
Next part – cut two pieces of interfacing the same height as that number we just decided on so they’ll match the front and back of the t-shirt pieces we just cut. We’re pressing this onto our t-shirt pieces next.
Okay, now take your t-shirt pieces and interfacing to the ironing board. Trim one edge of the interfacing so it’s just the width from sleeve to sleeve, since the rest of the side is unusable (see photo.) Also this will keep you from sticking interfacing to the ironing board. I didn’t know anything about interfacing when we did this, so I’ll tell you what I learned. First off, you press and don’t iron. Also interfacing has two sides, one side that’s going to stick to whatever it’s on when it gets hot so you want to make sure that is the side that’s against the t-shirt. Our interfacing had a shiny and a non-shiny side but Mom said some are a little different. Obvious stuff, but I didn’t know so I thought I’d share.
Since we’re using a t-shirt that is stretchy and has a design that probably shouldn’t be ironed, it’s better to lay the t-shirt piece design-side down and lay the interfacing on top and press that way instead of pressing on the t-shirt side. This will keep it from getting wrinkly and weird and also keep you from transferring the design onto your iron, a few things you definitely don’t want.
On to the lining! You just need to cut two pieces that are approximately the same size as your t-shirt pieces. You don’t have to be exact, we’re going to trim everything up in the next step. Just make sure they’re the same length and wide enough. Our button-up was big, so we were able to get all of it from the back. I would recommend using a big button-up so you can do the same. It made it super easy.
Now stack up all four of our pieces, two t-shirt pieces with interfacing and two lining pieces, and cut them all at the same time to the final size for the purse. This is where the rotary cutter and that ruler thing makes things super easy. This is also where you’re going to decide on the width of your purse. We just made it as wide as the t-shirt would let us. Mom says the t-shirts speak to her and tell her what size purse they want to be. Which makes sense, because depending on the design on your t-shirt, you will be limited on how tall and wide the purse can be.
Now, Mom insists that all purses and bags need pockets on the inside. The sleeves already have a hem on one side, so they’re perfect for turning into pockets. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, you just decide on a pocket size and cut up the sleeve, leaving about a quarter inch along the sides and bottom which you’re going to turn under. The top of the pocket will be the hem of the sleeve.
Now we finally do some sewing. Turn your quarter inch under and press it along the sides and bottom of the pocket. Then pin it to one of the lining pieces, positioning it where you want it to be inside the purse but making sure it isn’t too far to the bottom or top or it will end up in the seams of the purse when it’s all sewn together. And then just sew that thing on there. Easy enough.
I skipped some pictures here, but next thing is sewing together the lining, right sides together, around the sides and bottom, but leaving a hole at the bottom maybe six inches wide or so right in the middle. You’re going to pull the purse through the hole when it’s all finished. Sounds weird, but it will all make sense. Be sure to back stitch on either side of that hole you leave so it can handle the stress of pulling the rest of the purse through.
After that, sew together the t-shirt pieces, also right sides together, all along the sides and the bottom. This one doesn’t need a hole left in the bottom, just sew away.
Now it’s time to square off the bottom of the bag. You’re going to do this on both the lining and the outside of the bag the exact same way. I’m not sure I can explain this properly so that it is crystal clear, but I’ll try. Hopefully the first photo will help it make sense. Turn the bag so that the bottom and side seams are lined up, stacked on top of each other, then measure across from the corner of the bag. For a two-inch deep bag, which is what we made, you want exactly an inch on both sides of the seam. Using a ruler, draw a line that is perpendicular to the seam and sew across that line. Then, as shown in the second photo, cut off the excess. When you sew this you want the seam allowance to be turned the opposite way on opposite sides of what you’re sewing, as you can see in the bottom picture. I hope that all made sense.
Next up, we’re making purse straps. Ours were 24 inches long which is a good length if you want the straps to go comfortably over your shoulder. These can be made from leftover lining fabric or the t-shirt, whichever makes sense to you and whichever you have enough fabric left from. So the length is whatever you want, but the width of material you need for a one-inch strap is going to be four inches. If you want a wider strap, just take the width you want times four. We cut two pieces from the button-up that were 24 inches long and four inches wide, just to give you a more specific example. Then interface each of these pieces the same as we did the t-shirt pieces. Then fold in half lengthwise and press, unfold, and fold each side into the middle and press. Fold the whole thing in half again and press. You should have something like you see at the top of the first photo above.
Next top stitch on both sides of the strap like in the second photo above. Once all your top stitching is done, stack the straps together and trim them so they’re exactly the same size.
Next you tack down the straps where you want them onto the outside of the purse. We positioned them by folding the purse in half and marking the middle, then marking three inches from that spot on each side as the marks to set the straps. Your positioning may be different depending on the size of your purse. These will get sewn over again so you’re really just getting them there in position. And just a note, be careful not to twist the strap when you put it on.
Once the straps are in place, sew the zipper onto the outside of the bag right sides together with the bag. Be sure you don’t let the straps move around when you do this, which I did, or the straps stick out in funny directions, which one of mine does. Stop about a half inch from the seam on each side. After that, you sew the lining onto the bag by putting it inside the bag and sewing around. I don’t have good directions for this because I there was a lot of pointing and adjusting from Mom so in my memory it is a miracle that all of this ended up together.
Once the zipper is on and your lining is attached, you pull the whole thing out through the hole you left in the bottom of the lining. Once you’ve done this and marveled at your beautiful bag, pull your lining back out of the bag and stitch that hole closed. It should naturally want to turn under and be pretty easy to sew. Your stitches are going to show but that’s okay, this is going to be in the very bottom of your bag and covered by all the fun stuff you’re going to put inside it.
The very last thing you do is top stitch around the top of the bag just below the zipper. This is an important step and one I didn’t want to do until Mom explained why. It is so your lining fabric doesn’t get caught in the zipper. Makes sense.
And there you have it! All the secrets revealed of Mom’s famous t-shirt bag. I hope this tutorial was helpful. If you have any questions though, please feel free to comment and if I can’t answer I’ll ask Mom. :)