Here is a simple tutorial I have designed for a woven “plaited” handbag made with flat braid. Any type of non-fraying, flat-surfaced medium may be used, such as leather, suede, upholstery webbing, vinyl stripping, or straw plaiting to name a few. You may cut your own slats for weaving or purchase pre-cut ones by the roll. The shape and size of the woven handbag will depend on the scale of the slats you use. For the weaving, the wider you can cut the strips, the wider the size of the bag; and the longer you can make each strip, the more height (length) you with achieve to the bag. You will have to work with what you have available yet the style of weave is up to you. The uniqueness of this design is that no two bags are alike, as a wide variety of patterns can be made by changing the size, colour, or by placement of a certain style of weave.
Dimensions: 16″ high / 15″ wide / 2″ deep with a 42″ [1.1 m] shoulder strap. [40.5 cm x 38 cm x 5 cm]
Construction Method: Plaiting – this method may be recognized by noting the checkerwork: two elements are woven over and under each other at right angles, resembling a checkerboard pattern.
You will need:
- 24 yds. [22 m] of flat braid, 1” wide [25 mm]
- 6 yds [5.5 m] of flat braid, ½” wide [12 mm]
- 1/2 yd. [0.5 m] of upholstery fabric, 54” wide [ 137 cm]
- 1/2 yd. [0.5 m] of lining fabric, 45” wide [115 cm]
- 1/2 yd.[0.5 m] of fusible interfacing, 45” wide [115 cm]
- 1 handbag zipper with O-ring pull
- india stay tape, ¼” wide [6 mm]
- alligator clips or clothespins
- kraft paper
For the prototype, 12 yards each of black and white flat braid was used to show the over-under action of the weaving. Coloured weavers can add visual interest to the weave, as well as the placement of the weavers to create a pattern in the weave. Choosing a single colour for the plaiting is equally elegant.
Cut 20 strips of flat braid for the total weave; 10 slats and 10 weavers. Make them about 1” wide and 42” long. [25 mm x 107 cm]
For the shoulder strap, cut 4 lengths of narrow flat braid, about 54” long [137 cm].
For the bag opening, cut 2 solid panels with interfacing (front and back) following the pattern.
For the interior lining, cut 2 pieces equal to the height and width of the finished bag. Additional pieces may be cut for patch pockets and other compartments.
Design Note: If you are cutting your own weavers, use a metal yardstick and a rotary cutter (with a new sharp blade), and cut long, narrow strips for the slats.
Whether trued or free-form, the bag design will need a bag opening with a closure to attach to the woven section. The woven section of the bag will need to be completed first before the bag’s top pattern can be drafted to determine the parameters needed. For the bag closure, I am using a handbag zipper. At each end of the zipper, I will attach the 2-inch wide braided shoulder strap.
click on image to magnify
To draft the pattern, measure flat across the width of the woven bag section minus twice the width of the shoulder strap. This is the length of the zipper needed.
Draw a rectangle on kraft paper to equal the zipper length plus the shoulder strap width across and two-thirds of the zipper length, up and down (you may wish it increase/decrease this vertical measurement to suit your own design). From the top corners of the rectangle, measure down one-eighth of the zipper length and square a line across the paper. On this line, measure half of the shoulder strap width from the sides of the rectangle. Join these points to the centerline at the bottom edge of the rectangle with a straight line.
Add seam allowance to all sides; label it CUT 2X FACE UP.
PREPARATION & ASSEMBLY
BRAIDING THE SHOULDER STRAP
Using the 4-strand braiding method, braid 4 lengths of narrow flat braid (½” wide [12 mm]) following the diagram below. Stitch across the ends of the braided strap to secure. Set aside.
WEAVING THE BODY OF THE BAG
Weave the flat-braid strips over-and-under one another (plaiting) using 10 strips of the same colour across and 10 strips of the same colour, up and down.
Keep the weave tight, squared (90º) and centred. If you have to join strips to get the desired length, do so with a scant 1/4-inch seam. When weaving, hide the seam by positioning it under a corresponding perpendicular slat in the weave, if possible.
Once the base is woven, make a keeper row with thin string using the twining technique. This will keep the base centred and fixed (the string will be removed later in the assembly). You need enough string to go around the base a little more than twice. Take the length of string and fold it in half.
Start in the center of the weave and lace the loop end of the string around a flat-braid slat. For right-handed people, work the doubled string from left to right. Both end-pieces of string are sitting above the surface of the woven base. Take the string length most to your left and twist it under the next strip to your right. Now the string length that was to the right is now on your left. Both strands of string stay above the surface. Take the string on your most left and twist it under the next strip of braid to your right and repeat until you get to the corner of the base. Keep the string tight, bring it close to the weaving. Once you get to the corner, wrap that bottom string length around the corner good and tight. The remaining strand of string gets twisted under the slat going the opposite direction at the corner. Keep it tight. Once you are around the corner rotate the entire base 90 degrees. Continue wrapping the string from left to right as before, keeping the string strands always above the woven base. At the corner, bring the bottom string length around the corner and keep it tight and take the top thread and wrap it under the perpendicular strip. Continue working the string most left under the next slat on the right. Each will create a half twist of the string. Keep the base squared. When you have gone around the base, tie the ends through the beginning loop and tie off. If you had to join strips to get the desired length for your weavers, adjust the slats horizontally and vertically to hide the join under a flat-braid slat wherever necessary.
Now that the keeper row is in place, turn the base 45 degrees and fold the lower point of the base to the upper point of the base with face side up. You are now ready to start a 3-dimensional weave.
At corners of the base on the left and right, begin to weave the flat-braid strips from front to back on each side. Use alligator clips or clothespins to hold the strips while weaving. While the weaving remains a simple under-over operation, now you are weaving one flat-braid strip from the ‘front’ with one strip from the ‘back’, which is a little more complex. Pay attention that you do not twist or mis-align the flat-braid slats. As always, keep the weaving tight and build the sides of the weave, alternating back and forth. Use alligator clips to hold the intertwining slats in place. Continue the weaving until you can go no further. Repeat this process on the opposite side of the woven base.
Baste across the ends of the flat-braids to hold the 3-D weave. You now have the “body” of the handbag. Carefully snip the string and remove the keeper row.
Along the top edge of the woven section, you can use a stay-tape to stabilize the woven edge and prevent the weave from stretching. You can square up the top edge of the bag and cut away the excess, or you may want to follow the shape of the top edge as I did to “keep” as much of the completed plaiting as possible. In this case, the bag sides are built up yet at the center of the front and back sections, it dips because I have run out of weavers. In many cases, you can premeditate a conceptual plan yet be prepared to be flexible to “allow” the design to develop as you style the weave pattern.
Measure the dimensions of your plaiting and draft the solid portion of the handbag (zippered opening).
MAKING THE BAG TOP OPENING
Iron fusible interfacing to the back of the upholstery fabric, following manufacturer’s directions, to stabilize the front and back panels of the bag opening. Cut out the desired shape from the pattern.
Turn under the top edge of the front and back panels and press along the fold.
Attach the bag zipper. On the interfaced static solid portion of the bag opening, center the zipper FACE UP. Using a zipper foot, topstitch the panels to the zipper.
Next, attach the shoulder strap. Place the ends of the shoulder strap across the ends of the zipper and stitch across the width of the strap. Carefully clip the fabric at a 45º angle between the shoulder strap and the front and back section (see diagram), stop at the outer edge of the shoulder strap.
At this point, bring the front and back sections, with FACE SIDES together, to sew up the gussets (side seams). Stitch up side seams and open flat. Fold the side seams back onto the zipper end with the strapping sandwiched between the two layers to create the gusset. Sew across the ends to mitre the corner and secure the shoulder strap in place.
To complete the bag, attach the top section to the woven base. Open the zipper and turn bag opening wrong-side-out. With FACE SIDES together, align and match the raw edges of the solid panel with the woven edge and stitch together, easing wherever needed. Turn right-side-out when completed and topstitch along the seamline.
For the interior of the handbag, you will need a strong fabric to support the contents of the bag. Suitability for a given purpose is my rational for using laminated or bonded fabrics for linings in my handbag designs. The woven section of the bag will not be strong enough to hold contents securely, so a reinforced lining is necessary. Some fabric choices are percale, faille, or moiré, which are tightly woven, then bond them with fusible interfacing. This special treatment gives the interior bag lining its strength and durability, while taking the strain off the plaiting.
For this design, I have chosen the drop-in lining method as it’s the easiest to make. Basically, you are making it separately from the outside of the bag. These lining pieces are more or less square grids with the bottom corners cut out. This gives a lining the same size and shape as the body of the bag before being inserted into the bag cavity and attached to the opening. You may decide to add interior pockets to the lining interior for security and organization, as I did.
For the lining, iron a light-weight interfacing to the back of the lining material. Mark out two rectangles equal to the height and width of the finished bag. Add seam allowance. Cut each of the bonded fabric pieces out.
For the lining pockets, cut 2 rectangles equal to 2 times its width, for the length with seam allowance.
Fold each patch pocket piece, with FACE side together, to form a square. Stitch on all open sides, leaving a small opening to turn out the fabric. Turn right-side-out and press square pocket flat. Slipstitch opening closed. Align each patch pocket to center of lining piece and secure in place by topstitch along sides and bottom of the square, then sew up the middle to create compartments.
Turn under the seam allowance along the top edge of the lining pieces and press flat. With FACE sides together, match and align the perimeter edges of the lining and stitch the sides and bottom. Insert the lining into the cavity of the bag and slipstitch the top edge of the lining to the back of the zipper tape at the opening of the bag.