Sew-Along: Donna Handbag

I spent a fun day in the Swoon Facebook Group sewing a Donna Handbag and posting photos and tips along the way, sort of a last minute sew-along. I promised I’d move it here so it’d have a permanent home. I hope you find it helpful.


Gather all your materials. Here is everything I’m going to use. I forgot to throw my woven interfacing on the pile.


Cut all your fabric pieces. The text on the pattern piece denotes which direction the print should be. If you have a directional fabric, you can add 1/2″ to the “fold” edge of the Bottom Panel, then cut 2 instead of cutting on the fold. Then, simply sew them together at 1/2″ seam allowance.


If you want the print of the Top Panels to match up at the zipper, line the dashed “fold” line up with the center of a part of the print and cut one Top Panel.


Then, flip the pattern piece over, mark the dashed fold line, and match the fold line up at the center of the same print repeated elsewhere, on the same fold of your fabric from the first Top Panel. Cut one Top Panel.


You can see mine below match right up (mostly) when I fold the long straight edge under 1″.


Now I’m cutting Handles. It’s always best to cut on the straight grain. The cross grain has a little more stretch than the straight grain. But, I don’t like using that much fabric, so I almost always cut on the cross grain like this. They are interfaced, so it’s really your call which way you want to cut. Pressing afterwards with steam helps get rid of any curling.


Now to cut the foam interfacing. I use the fullsize fabric pieces already cut to trace instead of cutting on the fold.


Everything is all cut! Except the woven interfacing for the lining. I’ll show you how I do that next.


I lay my fabric pieces wrong side up, cover them with an uncut piece of interfacing, fusible side down, and press. No mess, and it saves time.


Though I do then have to cut all the pieces out of the interfacing.


Since most foam interfacing isn’t fusible, we need to pin it to the exterior pieces and machine baste 1/4″ from the edge all around with a long stitch length. You can instead use Pellon Wonder-Under to fuse the foam to the fabric, it’s a great short cut.


I baste with the fabric side down. The feed dogs evenly feed the fabric on the bottom so I want the thinner, more important side down.


This is what happens when you have to use a screwdriver to change a needle on your machine and you are clumsy. It slips and stabs you 3 times.


Now I have to find a bandaid and glue baste the foam interfacing to the Top Panels. Match the long curved edge so there’s a 1″ gap between the foam and straight long edge.




Press a lining Main Panel in half, wrong sides together to make a vertical centered crease. Lay the Main Panel wrong side up. We need to mark a 6″ wide by 1/2″ tall box that is 2″ from the top edge and centered. I use the markings on the cutting mat to make sure it’s straight and a straight edge to measure 3″ from the center on both sides.


Then, I mark a parallel line 1/2″ below that one, and connect the ends with two vertical lines.


Flip the Main Panel right side up and pin the Zippered Pocket Panel right side down to the Main Panel. It should go past the box (on the wrong side) by 1″ on the top and sides. We know the box is 2″ down, so pin the Zippered Pocket Panel 1″ from the top edge and centered. My Pocket Panel is right side down in the photo below, it’s hard to tell because the wrong side looks just like the right side!


Flip the Main Panel wrong side up and sew right over the marked box with a short stitch length.


When you get to a corner, with the needle down, lift the foot and pivot. Backstitch when you get to where you started.


Flip the Main Panel right side up and check out your stitching.


Now, cut a horizontal centered line in the stitched box, stopping about 1/2″ from the short ends. Then snip from the line to all four corners, being careful not to clip the stitching.


Flip over and pull the Pocket Panel to the wrong side of the Main Panel, through the hole.


Press the Pocket Panel flat against the wrong side. I find it’s easier to hit with a little steam, then roll all 4 sides in between your fingers to get it nice and flat.


You should end up with a pretty perfect rectangular hole.


I spread a very thin line of glue (I love Beacon Fabri-tac) along each long edge of the hole (on the wrong side of the Main Panel) to glue baste the zipper in place.


Center your 6″ zipper over the hole and press the zipper trim down with your fingers. Make sure the zipper pull is right inside the hole.


Flip the Main Panel wrong side up and adjust your zipper as needed so that it is centered and looks good. Hit it quickly with an iron to help set the glue.


Pin the bottom of the Pocket Panel down and with the Main Panel right side up, top stitch (with a longer stitch length) around the rectangle about 1/8″ from the edges of the hole. You may find it helpful to use a zipper foot, but my normal foot is narrow enough to use.


When you get to the zipper pull, with the needle down, lift the presser foot and slide the zipper pull out of the way.


And continue sewing.


Backstitch when you get to where you began, and check out your pretty zipper.


Flip the Main Panel wrong side up and fold the Pocket Panel in half matching the short edges together. The Pocket Panel will be right sides together with a fold at the bottom. Pin the two halves of the Pocket Panel together at the raw edges.


With the Main Panel right side up, start at the bottom fold of the Pocket Panel and sew at a 1/2″ seam allowance up one side, folding the Main Panel out of the way.


Stop 1/2″ from the top edge and with needle down, lift the presser foot, pivot, and sew across the top. Repeat to sew down the other side to the fold.


Flip the Main Panel over and it should look like this when you’re done.


Trim the seam allowances from the Pocket Panel, including the zipper ends.


Your zippered pocket is all done, check it out! Also check out my bandaid from “the stabbing”.




Pin the two exterior Top Panels right sides together along the long straight edge, matching all raw edges.


At a 1″ seam allowance, sew right next to, but not through, the foam interfacing for exactly 1″. Backstitch and stitch again.


Change to a long basting stitch length and continue sewing until you are 1″ from the end.


Switch back to your normal stitch length and continue sewing until the end, backstitch and stitch again.

Flip wrong side up and press the seam allowance open.


Now, we’re ready for the main zipper. I use glue here, but you can use pins, or even scotch tape (it pulls right out of stitching). Spread a very thin line of glue about 3/8″ along each edge of the center seam. Not too close to the seam, or you may see it later.


Start at one end, and place the zipper face down, so the zipper teeth are centered over the seam.


Go a little bit at a time until the entire zipper is down. Press the zipper trim down firmly with your fingers.


Flip Top Panels right side up and give it a good press with steam to help set the glue.


Top stitch down the panel with a longer stitch length, about 1/4″ away from the middle seam to sew the zipper to the Top Panels. You’ll need to stop when you get to the zipper pull.


Repeat to sew down the other side of the seam.


Flip the Top Panels wrong side up and slide the zipper pull down and out of the way so you can finish sewing to the end of the Top Panels.


All we need to do now is remove the machine basting with a seam ripper. Leave the 1″ ends sewn.


Your main zipper is done!


We need to repeat most of these steps to sew the lining Top Panels together. Pin, then sew down the long straight edge at 1″ seam allowance, for 1″, backstitch, then machine baste, and 1″, backstitch again.


Press the seam allowance open.


And simply remove the machine basting between the 1″ stitched ends.




I use glue to baste piping to the exterior Slip Pocket here, but you can pin or even use wonder clips. I apply a very thin line to the very edge of the “U” of the exterior Slip Pocket, right side. Then, match the raw edges of the piping with the raw edges of the “U” and press down. Be careful not to get glue on the actual piping part, just the tape on the other side of the piping stitching.


Hit with an iron to set the glue. Switch to a zipper foot and machine baste the piping to the exterior Slip Pocket right over the existing stitching in the piping.


Flip over and your stitching should be nice and neat on the wrong side.


Pin the lining Slip Pocket to the exterior Slip Pocket only around the “U”, right sides together, matching all raw edges. The piping will be hidden, sandwiched in between the two.


Flip over so the wrong side of the exterior Slip Pocket is up, and still using your zipper foot, sew RIGHT inside the piping basting stitching. In the photo below, I’m sewing to the left of my existing stitching.


Clip into the curves a bit (without cutting the stitching) and flip right side out. Give the Slip Pocket a good press.


Start at the end of the piping, and top stitch right along the piping, about 1/4″ away. Then, pin the exterior to the lining around the raw edges and machine baste around the entire panel at 1/4″ seam allowance.


Boom, finished Slip Pocket!


Pin the Slip Pocket, lining side down, to an exterior Main Panel, right side up, matching the raw edges (pull and tug if you have to).


Machine baste the Slip Pocket to the Main Panel at a 1/4″ seam allowance along all of the matching raw edges.




I am using premade piping so I am not covering how to make it, but there’s a whole tutorial for that elsewhere on this website.

I am using glue here as well. I apply a very thin line about 1/4″ in from the raw edges, and wrap the piping all around, overlapping at the center bottom of the Main Panel.


Note that because I’m using premade, it’s thinner. In order to sew the bag together in the end at 1/2″ seam allowance, I set the piping in from the raw edges so that the existing stitching in the piping is 1/2″ from the raw edges.


Hit the piping with steam to set the glue. Using a zipper foot, machine baste right over the existing stitching in the piping, sewing right over the overlap at the bottom.


You can sort of see how close my basting is in this photo. A tip is to use a bright or dark thread for this step only, later we will need to follow this stitching to sew the bag together so it’ll be helpful to see the thread well. As you can see, I was too lazy to change out my thread.




Fold the Handle piece in half, wrong sides together and matching the long edges, and press.


Open it, and fold each long edge into the crease and press again, still wrong sides together.


Fold in half yet again, matching the two folds, and press.


Repeat to fold and press the Connector piece. You should have one Handle 3/4″ wide and one Connector 3/4″ wide.


Top stitch down each long edge of the Handle about 1/8″ from the edge. I start with the open long edge.


Repeat to top stitch the Connector piece.


Now, fold the Handle in half, matching the two raw ends and cut in half to make two 14″ lengths.

Fold the Connector in half and cut to make two 6″ lengths, then cut each of those in half so you have four 3″ lengths.


Fold a Connector in half, matching the ends and slide a piece of hardware into the fold. Sew across the Connector to secure the hardware in the fold. Start in the middle when sewing so the layers don’t shift.


Repeat to make 3 more Connectors with hardware attached.


Baste a length of piping to both short ends of the exterior Bottom Panel with your zipper foot, just like you did when putting the piping on the Main Panels and Slip Pocket.


(Right around here is when you baste the zipper tabs to the Top Panel but mine got lost, they’re teeny! So I skipped them.)

Pin a short end of the assembled exterior Top Panel to a short end of the Bottom Panel, right sides together.


Flip over so the Bottom Panel is up, and sew right inside the existing stitching from basting the piping to the Bottom Panel. In the photo below, I’m sewing right to the left of the existing stitching.


Press the seam allowance towards the Bottom Panel. Top stitch about 1/4″ from the seam, through the Bottom Panel and seam allowance.


Repeat to sew the remaining short end of the Top Panel to the other short end of the Bottom Panel.


And repeat to press and top stitch through the seam allowance.

The exterior gusset is finished!


Repeat these steps to assemble the lining gusset, but sew at a 5/8″ seam allowance so it ends up just a bit smaller than the exterior.


Press the lining Gusset in half, matching the two side seams together and press to make a top center crease and bottom center crease. Fold the exterior gusset the same to mark the top and bottom centers on both sides. We will use these later to assemble.


Fold an exterior Main Panel in half, right sides together and matching all raw edges to mark the top center within the seam allowance. Measure 2.25″ from the center to the right and the left of the center and mark. Line up the connectors at these marks and glue in place, only use a small amount of glue within the 1/2″ seam allowance (on the piping tape).


Hit with an iron to set the glue and machine baste both connectors in place using a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Repeat for the second exterior Main Panel.

Place one Main Panel on top of the other to make sure the connectors are in the same exact spots.




Make sure all centers are marked on the Main Panels and gussets. Pin an exterior Main Panel to the exterior gusset, matching up the centers first.


Start at the top center, and pin down one side through the gusset. The gusset will be on the bottom/hidden when sewing so this is the side to pin pretty.


Clip about 3/8″ into the curves of the Main Panel if you need to, it’ll help you pin the corners. Pin until the entire Main Panel is attached to this edge of the gusset. Move any “slack” into the bottom corners.


With the Main Panel up, sew right inside the stitching you added when basting the piping to the Main Panel. This is where a different thread color would help immensely. You can see I’m sewing right to the left of the existing stitching. This will get the piping nice and tight.


Flip right side out and see how you did! You may have to go back and fix the corners, or you may get lucky and get it perfect the first try.


Repeat to pin, then sew the remaining exterior Main Panel to the other raw edge of the gusset.

Here’s my finished exterior.


I am repeating these steps to assemble the lining now, but I’m using a 5/8″ seam allowance instead so it’s a bit smaller and fits nicely inside the exterior


Remember to clip into the curves of the Main Panel to make pinning a little easier.


Now we’re ready to finally assemble our bag.


Place the lining, wrong side out, inside the exterior, right side out. Push the corners of the lining into the corners of the exterior to fit it inside.

Pin the opening of the lining and exterior together, matching the edges of the lining up exactly with the edges of the exterior.


You’ll want to use a LOT of pins here. I don’t use glue here, but you can, just make sure it’s set back at least 1/4″ from the folds.


Here’s the fun/scary part. Smash your bag! Get the ends of the opening as flat as you possibly can.


Slide it under your presser foot and start as close to the end of the opening as you can.


With a long stitch length, top stitch right over the existing stitching (that you added when sewing the main zipper).


Go slowly! If you have a sewing machine with adjustable foot pressure, you may adjust the pressure of the presser foot to keep the bag from sliding around.

Sew as far as you can get to the other end, then repeat with the other opening edge. You can see I get pretty close here to the end. This is close enough.

I have a flat bed machine, but if you have a free arm, it’ll help!


If you need to, you can hand stitch the ends closed if you can’t get close enough to the ends with your machine.


All done! Thanks for sewing along with me.


And for size…