I checked out a great book from the library this week called Simply Sublime Bags: 30 No-Sew, Low-Sew Projects by Jodi Kahn. I actually enjoy sewing and have no aversion to hauling my machine out for the smallest of projects, so the promise of no-sew bags wasn't really what attracted me to this book. No, the thing I loved about it is that Ms. Kahn makes beautiful bags out of ordinary objects that everyone has lying around the house: zip-up pillow covers, placemats, shower curtains, etc. I was especially enthralled by a keyhole clutch she made out of a piece of heavyweight houndstooth fabric. Although I did not have any fabric that would make an interesting bag, I did have an old houndstooth silk camisole (too short-waisted to wear, but too cheap to pass up at the thrift store) that would make a beautiful purse. To avoid sewing in most of her projects, and to stabilize her chosen fabrics, Ms. Kahn uses a lot of duct tape. I unfortunately never seem to have any duct tape on hand, and I'm less than confident in my ability to use it as a stabilizer without making a big, reflective, self-adhesive mess. My silk camisole would need to be stabilized with something, though, so I started to dig through my sewing basket.
I found some polyester interfacing, but it was not iron-on, so I decided to use spray adhesive to adhere it to my fabric. First, I needed to turn my shirt into a single, flat piece of fabric. I turned the camisole inside-out and machine stitched across the bottom of the shirt, attaching the bottom of the front side to the bottom of the back side. Then I used scissors to cut open the side seam on each side, from armpit to the bottom of the shirt. I spread the shirt open, now with my first stitched seam along the bottom running through the middle of my piece of fabric. I had some black linen material on hand and decided to use it as a lining for my purse. I cut rectangles two rectangles of about 16" by 20" out of the interfacing. Iron-on interfacing would make the next step much easier, but I didn't have any, so I took my fabric, spray-adhesive, and interfacing and headed outside. It's important to use spray-adhesive in a well ventilated area, so I always do my spraying outside. I coated the back of my fabric and the rectangle of interfacing, allowing both surfaces to dry for several seconds. Spraying both surfaces to be adhered will create a permanent bond, so be sure that you line everything up exactly how you want it before you allow the surfaces to make contact! I repeated the process for my linen lining and, presto: stabilized fabric ready to be cut and sewn. I used Ms. Kahn's directions for cutting the shape of the purse, which allowed for a roomier, flat-bottomed purse. For specifics on cutting the fabric and constructing the purse, I highly recommend taking a look at Simply Sublime Bags. To make the process easier, however, you could simply fold your fabric in half and stitch up each side for an open-topped purse. If you cut a slightly longer rectangle, say 24"-30", you could fold the bottom third of the fabric up (as you would with a business letter) and stitch along the sides, then turn it rightside-out, leaving the final third as a flap for closing the purse.
I added keyhole handles to my clutch, like Ms. Kahn's. I used her process for cutting the keyholes, although I changed the dimensions slightly (mine were about 1.25" by 3.5"). I was very careful to position the handle openings in the lining with the openings in the outer fabric. I pressed the flaps created by cutting to handles to the back side of the fabric (and the back side of the lining); that way when the outer fabric and lining are put together, the handle flaps will be hidden, sandwiched between the layers.
I also really wanted the top edges of my purse to be rather rigid and hold their shape and I thought a lot about how to achieve this effect. I didn't really want to buy any supplies for this project, keeping with the thrifty spirit of using an old shirt for a purse. I thought the stir sticks that hardware stores give you when you buy paint would be great: lightweight but rigid. I was not too enthusiastic, however, about the prospect of driving to The Home Depot in rush hour traffic to try to shmooz the paint guy into giving me two wooden stirrers. I was thinking about strips of heavy cardboard and strips cut from plastic detergent bottles (both of which would have worked) when I noticed that a construction crew was remodeling a townhouse by my building. From the construction waste, I scavenged a long strip of plastic, a piece of those annoying vertical track blinds that are found in hospital rooms. Score! What is it they say about one man's trash? I cut four strips (two for each side) 3/4" wide and long enough to span the top of my bag. I rolled over the top of the lining and stitched along each side to create a pocket for my strips.
To finish, I flipped my houndstooth fabric pouch rightside-out (taking care to push out the corners at the bottom) and tucked the lining pouch inside it. I lined up the keyholes on either side and topstitched around each handle, keeping as close to the edge as possible. Then I topstitched along each side of the top edge of the purse, being careful not to break a needle on my plastic strips. The interfacing worked like a charm and the rescued-from-the-dumpster plastic strips really help keep that cute, mod shape to the purse. This project could easily be simplified by eliminating the handles and using heavier fabric or iron-on interfacing. Be creative and enjoy!