Reverse Engineering A Handbag

May 27, 2009

Post image for Reverse Engineering A Handbag

Designing A Pattern From Scratch

As a rule, when I want to learn how to do something new I learn best by doing. I could read, read and read some more but my learning curve is steeper if I just get my hands dirty and jump in. So last year when I decided to start making handbags I got some advice from my friend Angela, who’s a designer, read a few blogs, dug out my Mom’s old copy of The Vogue Sewing book and then started to make some bags. I kept the shapes simple because I wanted to use them to show my artwork but also becasue I had only taken a seven week course in sewing way back when I was in school and I was easily categorized as a novice. I really only knew how to sew a straight line, a very good straight line but that was about it. Luckily I inherited my Dad’s skill for figuring out how something’s made. That’s an essential skill in turning something 2D to 3D.

And by the way, when I mention ‘reverse engineering‘ something I don’t intend to imply that it’s ok to just knock off other people’s work but it can be a great learning tool to look at an object and figure out how it was built. You can then make advances with the same shapes and techniques and build your own version. Even Michael Kors does it. Look at how he took a a 1970′s bag design by Bobby Breslau bag (for Halston) and made it his own. Well, maybe try to change it a bit more than he did. 

Bobby Breslau bag for Halston c.1970's

Bobby Breslau bag for Halston c.1970's


Michael Kors bag c. 2002

Michael Kors bag c. 2002

Nevertheless, the fisrt step you should take when you are reverse engineering something whether it is a bag or clothes is to build it out of paper and tape. This is simply the best way to make changes to shape and structure quickly. You pinch, fold tuck and tape until you near the shape you want. When it’s beginning to look like the right shape cut out the paper in pattern pieces and see where darts and such will need to be made. Your next step is to build it out of fabric. Use scrap fabric, and a basting stitch. 


I am building four to six new purse bodies for my upcoming show. I’m at the stage now where I am building the first fabric mock-ups. My last season bags were open and didn’t use closures or zippers but this year I wanted to advance my designs and have zippers in them. I’m working on the most difficult of the four bags right now and I am figuring out how to nicely put in the zipper which travels from one side of the bag to the other passing through two boxed corners. An advanced sewer might be able to to deftly install this zipper but I am finding it a challenge. I won’t let any of my work leave my doors until it looks perfect so I will have to practice for a while until it goes in as well as I would like.

Another tip for building your own handbag it to practice installing things like zippers, snaps and buttons to make sure they will sit as you wish them too in your new bag. That way you won’t get all the way through a prototype and find that you don’t like how your zipper works or your magnet placement. It can also help you figure out if you might need to install something before major construction begins or after. Like my zipper; it’s going to look much better if I install it before the rest of the bag is assembled. If any of my readers have any sewing advice for me I would love to hear it. Later this week I’ll be sewing with leather and I’ll share some of that with you as well. Stay tuned.

StumbleUpon It!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

angie 05.27.09 at 12:44 pm

I to learn best by doing; although the reading really does help to get things to start to gel. As for sewing advice, don’t know much about sewing purses in particular, but if you have any general sewing questions or problems, I may be able to help. Have been sewing for over 40 years.

Speaking of doing, your tutorial on repeat patterns really helped me a lot. But I had to just jump in a get my hands dirty. Check out my blog for the results.

admin 05.27.09 at 8:58 pm

Great job Angie! Your prints reminded me of some of my favorite vintage style patterns!

angie 05.28.09 at 9:41 am

Thanks Michelle. I probably should have chosen something easier, but I like those types of patterns, so that is what I started with.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: