How to Instantly Upgrade Any Tote Bag with This DIY Sewn Leather Handle Tutorial

By Brittni • Updated on 01/02/2016

How to instantly upgrade any tote bag with this DIY sewn leather handle tutorial (click through for the step by step instructions on Paper & Stitch)

A while back I bought this giant shopping tote that I’m willing to bet you’ve seen before. Why? Because it’s from, it’s color blocked, and it’s only $9! So, it is pretty much calling all of our names from sun up to sun down. Right?

I mean, when I saw that it was less than ten bucks, it basically flew itself to the register for checkout. Admittedly, I wasn’t super into the nylon handles, but that was the ONLY drawback. So, I brought it home and got to thinking about how to change up the handles to make it perfect (for me anyway). And in the end, decided to go with short leather straps.

DIY Leather Handle Tote Bag

How to instantly upgrade any tote bag with this DIY sewn leather handle tutorial (click through for the step by step instructions on Paper & Stitch)

I bought the leather on Amazon because I’m lazy and don’t want to have to drive 30 minutes to the nearest craft store. But you can purchase a similar strap locally as well.

This 3/4 inch vegetable tanned leather is the exact one I bought (brace yourself, it’s a horrible photo, but the leather is great in person, I promise). The full length was under $13 and I used less than half of it for the straps (about $5 worth), which brings the total cost of this DIY to $14!

DIY Leather Handle Shopping Tote for Under $15


– tote bag
3/4 inch wide leather strap
– seam ripper
– upholstery thread
– size 18/110 sewing machine needle (jean & denim)
– heavy duty or industrial sewing machine (capable of sewing leather)

Quick Notes: If you plan to carry heavy items regularly, then you’ll likely want to use cowhide straps for extra strength. Thick leather can be harder to sew, though. So, depending on how thick your leather is, it can take a bit of horsepower to get through it.

The type of sewing machine that you would need to use depends on the thickness of your leather. We used a Bernina 5 Series sewing machine and it was able to get through the leather. But, before beginning, be sure to test your sewing machine on a scrap piece of the leather to see how it goes.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started…


How to sew leather handles onto a tote bag

1. Using the seam ripper, remove the nylon handles from the tote.

How to sew leather handles onto a tote bag

2. Measure and cut the length of leather strap desired.

How to sew leather handles onto a tote bag

How to sew leather handles onto a tote bag

3. Sew the handles in place. Back-tack several stitches at the beginning and end of all seams. This is important so that the stitches do not unravel.

Also, we sewed three parallel lines to attach each handle as a design element. Alternatively, you can sew a rectangle or an X, both of which are often used. Just be sure that the top and bottom of your stitch design are symmetrical so as to not cause uneven strain on the stitches, which may cause a stitch to break.

DIY Leather Handle Tote Bag for Under $15

Sewing DIY // how to easily sew leather handles onto any tote

This would be a fun project to try with one of the extra tote bags you have lying around the house (if you’re like me, you have a huge pile of them). And it’s a great way to replace broken bag straps too, if one of your favorite bags has kicked the bucket in the handle department.

DIY leather handle tote

DIY Leather Handle Shopping Tote for Under $15

How to easily sew leather handles onto any tote (click through for the full tutorial on Paper & Stitch)

Sewing by Linda Jednaszewski
Concept, styling and photography by Brittni Mehlhoff

Think you’ll give this DIY a try? What other ways have you upcycled a basic tote?

16 comments | Click here to reply

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I have been looking for a project to make to thank the nursing staff at my mom’s long-term care unit for the great care she receives. As it is a small unit, there are about 40 staff, give or take a few. I have the fabrics chosen and plan to embroider “Josie’s Earth Angels “. The idea of heavy duty leather handles for these hardworking individuals seems perfect. Thanks for the guidance.


Absolutely, Jelica. Agree on taking a second look at what you already have.


Great post! I love all the little ways that we can freshen up things we already own. No need to make big purchases – we just need to take a second look at an item we already love. It’s all in the details 🙂


Thanks so much Honey & Gazelle. Happy to hear you like it.


The bag looks so much prettier with the new straps! The tan really goes well with the colour blocks on the bag (:


Thanks Malissa. Let me know if you give it a try. Would love to see what you create.


This is the perfect little addition! I really need to do this with some of my bags!!


I love that color combo too, Sarah!


What a beautiful tote — my favorite color combo too!

x Sarah


Awesome Natalie. Glad you found me!


LOVE this idea, Brittni! I’ll definitely be giving this a try real soon. I could always use another tote bag 😉

So glad I found your blog!

Natalie | Natalie Was Here


That is a WAY better title for this post, Erica. I might need to hire you. 🙂


this should have been called “how to make tote bag straps last forever” hahaha! all my straps break, now they wont!xx

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