Harris Tweed Handbag

My handbag finally gave up on me after three years of daily use. The handles had been fraying for months, the lining had torn, the out fabric was wearing thin, but I still carried it with me every day. When the handle broke away from the bag, there was no way I could keep using it. I had to accept that it had come to the end of its life.

The good thing about losing a handbag is getting a new one, and I had been looking forward to owning a handbag that wasn’t falling to pieces. As my old bag died at the end of January, there were still sales in the stores, so we went to have a look. I didn’t like any of the bags I saw at the shopping centre, they were mostly made from plastic and covered in gold fixings, not to my taste at all. I knew I could make something for myself that I would like a lot better, and it would also be much cheaper.

I had an ample supply of organic cotton for lining bags, but the rest of my fabric stash wasn’t sparking my inspiration, so I headed for pinterest and browsed handbags. I fancied a clutch bag, and I saw a few that were quite nice in tweed fabrics. I searched for tweed on google and many of the links were about Harris tweed. I had heard of this before but didn’t know what it was.

Harris tweed is the only fabric protected by its own law, the Harris tweed act of parliament. It is handwoven by self employed weavers in their homes on the isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. It must be made in accordance with traditional methods to be approved as Harris tweed. It is 100% wool, and it’s very durable. It sounded perfect for me, I like natural fibres, craftsmanship and supporting small businesses. I found a section on the Harris tweed website linking to small producers, and had a look.

I found Butt of Lewis textiles which sells Harris tweed for just £16 per metre including shipping, which was less than the price of most of the plastic handbags I had seen in the shops. I just needed to pick a colour. I’m not keen on the tartan patterns, but the bright pink and purple tweeds they offer were tempting. I headed back to Pinterest to browse more bags while I considered which colour to order. I noticed that the bags I liked best were not the brightly coloured ones, but grey or brown herringbone tweed. Butt of Lewis had a brown herringbone tweed, so I ordered a metre of it.

Harris tweed
The Harris tweed I chose.

When my tweed arrived in the mail a couple of days later, I was pleasantly surprised. I had expected that the tweed would be rough and scratchy, and quite stiff. When I opened the package, I found a soft, flexible, blanket like fabric that was not scratchy or stiff in any way. My plans for a clutch bag went out the window and I decided that a slouchy shoulderbag would be a better fit for the fabric.

By this point, I had thrown away my old handbag and was using a Sainsburys carrier bag to carry my belongings around in, so I didn’t have anything to use as a size reference when cutting my new bag pieces. I don’t sew bags using a pattern any more, I just cut the fabric to the appropriate size and sew it together, but I usually have an idea of how big I want it to be before I start cutting. I couldn’t visualise how big a handbag should be, so I took a deep breath and hoped for the best as I cut through the fabric.

The only things I knew for sure when I was cutting the pieces out was that I wanted a pleated top to give plenty of room inside the bag, and I fancied corners at the bottom rather than my usual round bottomed bags. I wanted the main fabric to continue inside the top of the bag rather than having the lining on show. I needed a small pocket for my phone, and I like bags with two handles rather than one.

I bravely cut out pieces that felt about the right shape and size, and by sheer coincidence everything lined up really well with the herringbone pattern running the right way through each piece. I have less than a quarter of the metre left which I plan to use to make a matching purse. I cut the lining pieces too and began to sew.

I started out with the straps as they were the easiest to sew. I searched for a tutorial for a single welt pocket as I have never sewn one before. I found a few, but this one from Pattern Runway seemed like the neatest method and that is the one I followed. My pocket is quite wide so it gapes a bit more than I’d have liked, but it is the perfect fit for my phone, which I used as a size reference whilst cutting and sewing.

I used the herringbone pattern to line up the pleats for the top of the bag and tacked them in place. This was much easier than measuring them out as I have done in the past with plain fabrics. I stitched the outer pieces of the bag together. The lining needed to match the shape of the pleats, so I ruched the top of each piece. I sewed the lining pieces together, leaving a gap to turn the bag the right way out.

There was just one row of stitching left, attaching the lining to the outer piece of the bag, and the handles needed to be sewn in at the same time. At this point, my mind went a little blank and I began attaching the handles with the bag and lining the wrong way out. Luckily I noticed my mistake before I had done any damage, and unpicked a bit of stitching to start over. I finished attaching the pieces together the correct way out, turned the bag out through the hole and marvelled at how well it had turned out. I hand stitched the lining hole and tried the bag on.

The pocket and lining on the inside of the bag.
The pocket and lining on the inside of the bag.

My last handbag was a little on the small side, and only just had room for my everyday essentials. The new bag was much bigger, and even with everything I usually carry it seems almost empty. This will probably lead to me carting around more than I did before. The larger size is offset by shorter handles, so the bag itself sits further up under my arm. The phone pocket is perfect, it’s snug enough that I’m not worried about my phone falling out if I put the bag down at the wrong angle, but it’s easy to get the phone in and out quickly, and much better than it getting lost in the depths of the bag.

The best thing about the bag is the fabric itself. The tweed is so warm and soft, it’s lovely to carry. Although it’s super soft and comfy, it feels very strong and thick, so I’m sure it will be durable. I love the brown and cream colour of the tweed, and I love that it is speckled with green and orange fibres so each stripe is slightly different. I love that it’s hand crafted, both by me and by the weaver. I’m so glad I didn’t find anything I liked in the January sales, because I love my new handbag.

My new handbag.
My new handbag.

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