A 1940’s Faux-Alligator Leather Purse

I have now made a few hats (see here , here, and here), and found them so much easier than expected, so next I’ve experimented making a purse. My vintage purses do get used but are too old and nice for daily wear and tear, so my natural recourse was to make my own. This purse was easy to make on little fabric and therefore easily replaceable…I’ll just make another! Yet, because I made it myself, I know it’s sturdy and should last through more wear than I would want a vintage purse to endure – an authentic vintage accessory with newly made, personalized benefits!


You can see my purse being used and co-ordinated with an outfit in this post of my entry for Emily’s Vintage Visions “Fall Color Photo Contest”.


FABRIC:  It is a fake-leather with an “alligator skin” finish. The lining fabric is a basic black cotton broadcloth. The bottom panel circle is supported by tarlatan.

NOTIONS:  None were needed to buy…this purse was made from what was on hand.

PATTERN:  The pattern is a free download which can be found at “Sew Vera Venus” on her “Free Patterns and Tutorials” page.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My purse took a handful of hours spent on two afternoons for a total of about 6 hours. It was finished on October 7, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  What insides? The lining covers all.

TOTAL COST:  Well, I bought the fake-leather from Wal-mart. It was 60 inch width, for a price of $8 a yard. I only bought ¾ of a yard (about $6), and I used only half of a half of what I had to make my purse. The lining came from scraps on hand, and tarlatan is something I always have on hand now, too, so my total cost was insanely cheap – about $1.50.


Everything about my new purse just tickles me…I’m so pleased with everything about how it turned out. The finished size proportions are perfect for me – it’s large enough to hold my wallet and favorite basic items but still small enough to not be an awkward bulky box, overwhelming my outfit. The handle is convenient, easy-to-hold, and just long looped enough to sit on my shoulder (not preferred, but thankfully an option if I really need it). Best of all, this purse is an extremely economical fabric needy pattern, in other words you don’t need much at all to make it – two small trapezoid squares, two small long rectangles, and a tiny circle. It’s so basic, simple, and absolutely amazing.

When enlarging the pattern on the photocopy machine, I actually enlarged the pattern an extra 10% more than directed just for good measure. It seems that many vintage purses are generally too small for my taste, but until I made this purse, I sort of resigned myself to that fact. Unless you want a pouch, satchel, or cross-body style, which does keep items as compartmentalized to my taste, that’s how handbag styles were during the 1940’s…on the small side. I don’t think women carried as much as women do nowadays and it wasn’t the same things that were in purses 70 years ago, anyway. This purse that I made is my perfectly pleasing in between size.


I did find the instructions for assembly a bit too crafty oriented. I practically disregarded instructions and made my purse by true sewing construction methods. For example, the ties are instructed to be made by turning cutting one tie from the fashion material with the other “raw” side as a grosgrain ribbon. They say to turn the edges of the fashion material in and basically cover those raw edges with the ribbon by gluing the two together. Now, I cut two of each tie from the fashion material (my faux leather) and sewed the two together, right sides in, just like regular ties for belts or garment sewing. Then the ties I made were turned inside out (this was hard considering the thickness and stiffness of my material), with the edges rolled out and top-stitched down. My Hubby thinks that constructing the purse using sewing methods makes this purse look much more finished and professional. Gluing the straps together makes it obvious to the sight of others how it was put together, whereas making them like ties, with the raw edges inside, is mysteriously and smoothly put together. Besides these reasons, constructing from a crafty approach provides a finished purse that will not hold up as well for as long as a time – gluing edges cannot be stable as covered, stitched edges.100_6251a-comp

I also have a beef about how the circular bottom is gets constructed according to the instructions. They tell you to make this sort of pocket inside the bottom where you can slide in your chosen means of stability, such as a round of plastic or cardboard, before adding in the lining to close it all up. Really? After making my 1940 velvet hat, and after looking at other authentic purse patterns, adding tarlatan (or some sort of horsehair interfacing/stiff muslin) to the bottom circle is the best and clearly more authentically 40’s option. Tarlatan is easy to sew and work with, doesn’t add much extra thickness, is washable, but keeps a crisp, flexible stiffness perfect for the purse bottom. Tarlatan is mostly to be found in art supply stores nowadays.


My purse is actually the first of my projects where people who compliment me on it do not believe me when I say that I made it. I have to explain myself a few different ways (such as “Yes, I started with fabric and a pattern”), or I get looked at like I’m crazy, or I’m just disregarded, but nobody yet has easily accepted the fact I made my purse. This says something that I like about the right way to make this purse pattern.

100_6389-compSewing with this fake-leather was wonderful and so much easier than expected. I am impressed my 1980’s Brother machine handled it like cutting through butter (it’s those all metal parts and the “thick fabric” setting). I did use pins to help keep the pieces together, I just kept the pins in the seam allowance area (which was ½ inch, for your F.Y.I.). My purse was entirely sewn by machine, excepting the little decorative tab which goes across the front crisscrossed ties. The tab was sewn down by hand.

Custom sized pockets are sewn onto the lining inside at the back panel (the one with the fold over top and longer strap). I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a one month newbie to an android smartphone (not exactly my decision), but this large and skinny brick doesn’t fit well now in smaller purses. Thus, I made sure to have a pocket which would fit my two high-priority modern “needs” – my phone and my lipstick. I took an extra button placket piece from another project and applied it to my purse lining before sewing it, making sure to leave enough room along the edges and bottom for the seam allowance. Oh, the irony of a pocket for a smartphone going into a vintage purse…I love it!


Adding in the lining was the most complicated part, but it was fun. You place the finished lining back to back with the finished bag, mirror image style, and sew along the arched box top flap and partly into the front straight edge. Make sure to get a sharp edge where the flap edge and the front straight edge meets – this is where the top folds over and without a nice corner you might end up with too much of a gap. I snipped the curves, trimmed the seam down, and turned the lining inside the purse to top stitch the edges down. This step is like magic…I said to myself, “Cool! One step and where did the seams go?!” The front straight edge seam allowances where tuned in and double top-stitched down for stability.

100_6288-compStaggering the lining at the bottom helped the lining hang like a second skin, with no major difference between the two layers. On the side seams of the main body towards the top edge I made the seam allowance the same as the faux-leather (in order to sew them together) but down towards the bottom I went up a ¼ inch. On the bottom of the lining, the circle had a ¾ inch seam allowance while the joining main body had a seam allowance of 5/8 inch. Sounds weird, probably, but it really works well, and I must have some super technical spot in my head for it to make me so pleased.

Besides my changes in construction and personalization touches, this really is a great pattern, so deceptively perfect for beginners to purse-making like myself. Purses and hats might feel intimidating (they do for me), but I find approaching them from a sewing perspective helps. After all, they get sewn together just the same as garments…they just turn out really special and you end up “wearing” on yourself them differently than clothes 🙂pin combo pic-comp

To instantly glam up this purse, it’s as easy as adding on a pin or a shoe clip to the front tab, like the pattern shows. Here I tried a shoe clip and a vintage pin. I can also see a flower corsage going on the front, too, maybe with a purse made from another material other than faux leather.

Now, I love perusing through pictures of patterns…hey, what vintage sewer doesn’t?! Most especially I love the ingenuity of World War II era 1940’s purse designs, whether made already (vintage originals) or at the simple pattern stage. I notice that many of the ways the purses are shaped and close on themselves are strikingly similar to oriental designs and origami folds. Seeing their creative methods of closing sends fireworks of ideas and inspiration ideas in my head.

40s purses combo #1262mcall & 1945 Vogue #3029Granted there isn’t enough time in anyone’s life for them to make everything for themselves, just know that if you can sew, you can make a purse too! Purses are pricey nowadays, and rarely have everything I like (size, pockets, color, and material) in one item. No more – there isn’t any reason to feel compelled to drop a whole lotta dough on a purse if you can make your own just how you like it! My next goal is to make a green faux alligator skin purse to replace one that fell apart on me. Keep watching my blog for more unusual sewn accessories.

A Compliment by Contrast – My Leather and Chiffon Dress

Many times I have special vision when sighting a rather disappointing pattern envelope cover.  Somehow I can see past the wrong fabric or trims or styling that was chosen.  Maybe I can see the creative potential of patterns because I love being artistic and thinking outside the box…who knows.

Nevertheless, this leather and chiffon dress was definitely one of those surprising, creative, out-of-the-box projects which turned out to be wonderful staple I turn to wear frequently.  It feels so nice to have a quite distinctive modern dress when I’m not in vintage wear.  To make my ‘complimenting contrast’ dress even more associated to Sew Weekly, I took my inspiration from an amazing contributor to Sew Weekly, Kazz Pell of Australia.  She recently stopped blogging, so I’d like to dedicate this post to her and to everyone else who proudly loves to wear one’s own art.

100_2926aTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  One yard of faux leather fabric for the neckline and sleeve trim.  Four yards of polyester sheer printed chiffon were bought for the outer dress.  The chiffon is a very loose weave animal-style print with black, grey, light blue, and white colors.  White rayon challis is the under dress, lining the sheer chiffon.

NOTIONS:  I had everything on hand, but I didn’t need anything out of the ordinary, anyway: black thread, white thread, sharps machine needles, interfacing, and white bias tape.100_1302

PATTERN:  Simplicity 2891, year 2008, without the pattern’s sleeves or bust ties and lengthened by about 12 inches into a dress length.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was finished on March 9, 2013, after not much time to complete, maybe 8 hours, 10 at the most.

THE INSIDES:  Except for the sleeve seams, which are covered in bias tape, all other seams are French seams.  Of course the hems aren’t French, just tiny 1/8 and 1/4 inch seams.  The neckline has self-fabric facings, so the inside is as cleanly finished as what you see from the outside.

TOTAL COST:  All fabrics were picked out and bought back in early 2012, so I don’t exactly remember all the totals.  I believe my dress probably cost $30, more or less.

Compared to the tacky, outdated top sewn up and modeled on the pattern envelope front, my finished dress is, I feel, a tremendous improvement which gives Simplicity 2891 some of its due justice.  Nevertheless, compared to Kazz’s original “Bamboo Banga Dress”, my dress is just a poor, toned down version of a knock-off.   This was what I was comfortable with and came up with using my own style of ingenuity.  I do, however, owe my leather and chiffon dress to Kazz, in the way that her artistic taste and sewing abilities are so awesome, she inspired me to try a mix of fabrics completely new to me and explore my creativity, too.  That’s the best thing about the sewing blogger world – we inspire and encourage each other to grow and learn!

100_2932a    Kazz gave me the wonderful idea to double up the printed chiffon to create an off-inked appearance like when the layers of printed colors are miss-matched.  Thus,  I had to buy double the amount called for in the pattern, and extra, as well, to lengthen the tunic into a dress.  Buying double was a bit more costly than I wanted, especially when combined with the faux leather fabric and the rayon challis under-dress.  I did not want to wait until the perfect fabric was gone before I decided to go buy it!  My idea needed to be sewn together in real life, not just in my head, and I’m glad to be able to enjoy wearing this dress.  Discount coupons were used on the material to help my dress be totally worth every penny!

100_2933a     Like I had said above, I lengthened the tunic by about 1 foot (12 inches) to make it a decent tunic dress for my taste, and this took some redrawing of the bottom half of the pattern.  I also did my usual drastic grading between sizes (such as here and here) to make sure I didn’t end up with an over-sized, ill fitting sack for my sewing time and trouble.  The center front gathers (under the neckline placket) were left as they were on the pattern, even though I considered taking out an inch or so to avoid any possible silly bust fluffiness that sometimes happens with such a design element.  Now, remember, I had to cut out 3 tunic pieces – 2 from the chiffon and 1 of the rayon – so I was glad to have the main body pattern be two very simple and easy, slightly shaped squares which get cut on the fold.  There was minimal marking to make, also.  I only chalked on the rayon under dress, and used thread to mark on the chiffon.

It was just a tiny bit challenging to work with all three of those fabric layers together while making my tunic dress.   The two layers of chiffon were stay-stitched to the rayon under layer so I could finish the neck, its gathers, and the neckline placket.  Next, I tacked the armholes together to sew on the petal sleeves that I drafted for my dress (I’ll address more about the sleeves in a bit).  I was kinda being too much of a perfectionist when trying to smooth out and match the two chiffon layers when it came to doing the bottom hemline, but I pinned while my dress was hanging free from a hanger.  A few days (just a few) were taken up just putting off doing the hem, so I could look at my hem pinning job and smooth it out again just to re-pin and overall uselessly obsess.  In the end, I tacked the hem together with a loose stitch so I could finish the chiffon hem in a tiny 1/8 inch hem then try to perfect and match up the rayon under dress hem.100_1641

In lieu of a label (like what’s on store bought RTW clothes), I kept a selvedge edge label along the vertical side seam, right at about the hip/upper thigh, on the chiffon fabric of my dress.  It plainly displays, in rather subtle, but obvious words for those who know, “Exclusively for Hancock Fabrics”.  That store don’t carry already made clothes, people!  There isn’t any thing better than advertising my favorite fabric store to others.  I really tend to prefer the Hancock Fabrics exclusive fabrics…they tend to have the best hand, print design, and value out of all the other fantastic items they carry.  I will have to include this selvedge label method again.

At first, I was nervous about working with the faux leather, after reading Kazz’ point about her small stitching line being similar to a line of perforations, giving a slight doubt as to whether or not the dress will hold together well.  Mindful of her experience with real leather, I sewed on the faux leather with a long straight stitch line, and was careful to get things right the first time (so I wouldn’t have to unpick and leave holes).  Adding interfacing to the back of the faux leather was tricky and almost impossible, but I wanted the neckline stabilized, so I made it stay (somehow) in the end.  A Teflon (walking) sewing machine foot wasn’t needed, or even any wax paper, since the faux leather had a slightly brushed, softer finish with shiny patches, like a sort of snakeskin.  I made sure to use a new sharp needle in my machine because an old needle might not glide through a tougher fabric as precisely.  Yahoo!  My first experiment with an ‘inexpensive and easy-care alternative’ to leather turning out so nicely has given me more confidence to attempt a try at working with the real thing in the future.  Another one of my  sewing hurdles was passed and conquered.100_1324

I just could not bear the thought, or even the idea, or doing the sleeves that are shown to go with the pattern.  Ugh!  I knew I didn’t want a sleeveless option, either.  My dress seemed to me to need an added interest…sleeves which would perk up the design by being different but without getting distracting from the simplicity of a tunic dress.  Thus, it occurred to me to use yet another new technique on my dress – petal sleeves.  I have been wanting to do this type of sleeve on an outfit of mine for quite awhile (since 2011).  All this time I had bookmarked a web page which gives an excellent tutorial on how to adapt your favorite classic cap sleeve pattern piece into a re-drafted petal sleeve.  The step by step petal sleeve tutorial can be found by clicking here (@ My Sparkle blog) and it is full of pictures, very clear, and quite easy.  I used the basic cap sleeve pattern piece from a past made project of mine, a McCall’s 6433 “Red Flame” knit sweater dress. I had already fixed this sleeve piece so it would fit my larger upper arm, so I traced it out onto some leftover paper from a torn trash bag, then got to work adapting it into a petal sleeve pattern cut out of wax paper (since I could see through it) and marked with a sharpie pen!  I was just trying to be smartly economical with whatever was on hand.100_2929     The petal sleeves are everything I hoped they would be, both for the balance of my dress’ image and for a wonderfully comfy fit.  The two overlapping sleeve pieces allow for full freedom of movement, which I can always use because of my thick upper arms.  However, at the same time, someone with thin arms would also love petal sleeves as well because of the way they fold over (like a flower) to fit you so beautifully when not opened up by movement of the arm.  Petal sleeves were on the dresses of my bridesmaids in our wedding, and I thought they were so pretty then…but now I’ve made my own!  Strips of the faux leather were cut out, folded over and added to the edges of my dress’ petal sleeves to highlight the crossover pieces and finish off the hem edges nicely.

Faux leather on the sleeve edges gives a great finishing contrast to my dress in more ways than one.  Leather is seen as something tough and masculine and durable, thus to use it to bring out the beauty of a sleeve, made out of the sewing world’s most delicate and feminine fabrics (chiffon), named after the most fleeting beauty of a flower (its petals), provides an amazing and curious irony about my dress that I find very appealing.  Maybe the reason why I love this contrast of fabric, image, and ideal has to do with me: deep down there is a small wild part of me that enjoys an equally small part of the punk music listening/motorcycle babe/modern feminism crowd.  As an example, it’s a shame you really can’t see in our pictures the fishnet stockings I wore on my legs and my chain jewelry worn to match my dress in the above photos.  I did try to “dress up” my dress in a toned down, classy way, as you can see in our other picture here (at right) showing me100_1314 sporting pearls at my neck with a suede belt and strappy flat shoes.  There is more than one way to wear this dress, but the hip and funky way, like what Kazz sports, is definitely my favorite with this leather and chiffon project.

Inspiration comes in all shapes, colors, places, and media.  Kazz Pell’s blog and her participation in Sew Weekly showcased her talent and let others, like myself, look and read with a hope for catching a bit of that inventive spark.  Let something inspire you and make it your own – be it an old family photo, a painting or even a song.  The world needs creative people like us!