If you’ve been searching for a beginner-friendly leather sewing adventure that won’t have you tangled up in threads and seams, you’ve come to the right place. Get ready to unleash your inner creativity, because today we’re tackling a project that’s as practical as it is stylish: the ever-so-versatile tote bag. So, grab your sewing tools, rev up those sewing machines, and let’s get ready to stitch our way to tote bag triumph!

You’ll need a bit of patience and some basic tools and materials to get started. But fear not, even if you are a complete beginner, I’m here to provide you with a detailed step-by-step guide, and give a few tips to make the process easier. Let’s get stitching!

Why a tote bag is the greatest beginner sewing project

The magic of a tote bag lies in its simplicity, both in terms of design and construction. With a basic rectangular shape and no complicated details like zippers, buttons, or intricate pockets, it allows beginners to focus on learning essential sewing skills without feeling overwhelmed.

Not only do tote bags come together quickly, but they also offer a great opportunity for beginners to practice sewing straight seams and working with different types of fabrics. Plus, tote bags are quite versatile, making them a practical project choice that anyone can use and enjoy in their daily life.

Lastly, there’s ample room for creativity, even in a simple tote bag design. As you gain confidence in your sewing abilities, you can start to experiment with different sizes, fabrics, and embellishments, making each tote bag uniquely yours.

Tools and Materials Needed

  1. Leather: Choose a soft, supple leather that’s about 2-3 oz (0.8-1.2 mm) thick. You’ll need around 3 sq. ft. for a standard-sized tote bag.
  2. Sewing machine: A heavy-duty machine capable of handling leather, such as the Singer Heavy Duty 4423 or Janome HD3000.
  3. Leather sewing machine needles: Size 90/14 or 100/16.
  4. Heavy-duty polyester or nylon thread.
  5. Rotary cutter or sharp scissors.
  6. Cutting mat (optional)
  7. Metal ruler
  8. Leather adhesive (optional)
  9. Leather hole punch (optional)
  10. Leather edge paint (optional)
  11. Pins or binder clips.
  12. A large sheet of paper for your pattern.
leather sewing tools

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Create the pattern:

Draw a rectangle on a large sheet of paper, measuring 18 inches wide and 16 inches tall. This will be the main body of your tote bag. Then, draw two rectangles for the straps, each 1 inch wide and 25 inches long.

making a leather tote bag

2. Cut the leather pieces:

Place the leather on the cutting mat, lay the pattern pieces on top, and use the rotary cutter or sharp scissors to carefully cut them out. You’ll need two main body pieces and two strap pieces. You can also sew a tote bag using one large piece of fabric folded in half, which will create the bottom seam for you and leave just the side seams to sew. In that case cut one large rectangular piece (just double the length, it needs to be 18″ x 32″)

3. Prepare the sewing machine:

Thread the sewing machine with heavy-duty polyester or nylon thread and install the leather sewing machine needle. As I said earlier, the best machine for sewing leather is a heavy-duty model that designed to handle thick materials with ease and precision. You can take a look at some of the leather sewing machines that I’d recommend.

4. Sew the side seams:

Place the two main body pieces together with the right sides facing each other. Use binder clips or pins to hold them in place, and sew along the two side edges using a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Remember to backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam.

sewing a side seam

5. Sew the bottom seam:

Keep the bag inside out, and sew along the bottom edge with a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Don’t forget to backstitch! You don’t need to do this step if you are sewing a bag from one piece of leather.

6. Box the corners:

To create a flat bottom for your tote bag, pinch the bottom corners so that the side seam and bottom seam (or fold) line up, forming a triangle. Measure 1.5 inches from the tip of the triangle and draw a line across it. Sew along the line and trim the excess leather, leaving a 1/4-inch seam allowance.

boxing the corners

7. Prepare the straps:

Fold the long edges of each strap piece towards the center, overlapping them by about 1/8 inch. You can use leather adhesive to help hold the edges in place if needed. Sew along both long edges of each strap, about 1/8 inch from the edge.

8. Attach the straps:

Mark the strap placement on the right side of the bag, about 4 inches from each side seam. Use a leather hole punch to create holes at the strap ends, and attach them to the bag using the sewing machine. Be sure to sew a rectangle with an “X” in the middle to secure the straps properly.

9. Finishing touches:

Turn the bag right side out and smooth the seams. If you want, you can paint the edges of the leather with leather edge paint for a more polished look.

If you want to take a look at how the whole process looks like before you start working on your own tote bag, take a look at this video. The video is by Josue Leonardo, incredibly talented designer and leather craftsmen behind the Taza Leather brand.There is no voiceover and no instructions, but you’ll get a gorgeous display of how a simple and timeless leather tote bag is made:

A few pro-tips for sewing leather

  • When sewing leather, go slow and avoid making too many holes, as they won’t “heal” like fabric. If you need to remove stitches, be extra careful not to damage the leather.
  • Use binder clips or mini clamps instead of pins to hold the leather together, as pins can leave permanent holes in the leather.
  • Test your sewing machine settings on a scrap piece of leather before sewing the actual bag.
  • To help the sewing machine glide smoothly over the leather, place a strip of tissue paper or tear-away stabilizer between the leather and the sewing machine presser foot.
  • Keep your leather hydrated and protected by applying a leather conditioner or wax, but always test it on a small, inconspicuous area first.

Whether you’re a seasoned stitcher or just dipping your toes into the wonderful world of sewing, tote bags offer the perfect project to hone your skills, explore new materials, and create something you can proudly use every day. So, keep stitching, keep experimenting, and most importantly, have a blast along the way!

If you need some inspiration, here is a Pinterest Board I have made with leather tote bag ideas I loved. Go check it out, get inspired, and get to work. Don’t be shy to send the pics of your finished masterpiece. Happy sewing!