How to fix a handbag

Handbags, rucksack, four handbags
Fashion handbags and backpacks/rucksacks on grey background

Finding the right handbag can be a difficult business, so it’s no wonder we grow fond of them. They can cost a lot of money and many people treat them as collectors’ items. So it’s a real shame if they end up having to be thrown away as a result of minor damage. The good news is that it’s possible to fix the most common kinds of handbag damage at home, at a minimal cost.

Broken straps

There are two kinds of breaks that commonly occur in handbag straps: breaks at the base, where the strap joins the body of the bag; and breaks partway along the strap, often where it rubs against the shoulder or another item.

Light fabric handbags often break at the base because the strap hasn’t been properly attached. With this kind of fabric, it’s difficult for the strap to bear the full weight of the bag, especially if you routinely carry a lot of stuff. If it has simply been stitched to the side of the body of the bag, with an inch or two of overlap, it will often fray and pull loose.

You can’t simply stitch a strap like this back into place because the fabric will already be stressed and it will just pull away again, often within days. What you need to do is to take off the whole strap and find a replacement. Simply obtain a piece of similar complementary fabric and roll it into a tube to make a basic strap. Pad it with filler fluff (available from most sewing stores) if you want to give it some extra shape and resilience.

Rather than attaching the old strap where the new one was, run it along the inside of the bag. This will give it a lot more strength. Because, when it comes under strain, that same weight will be bearing down on the lower portion of the strap and holding it in place, you won’t get the same problem with it pulling loose.

Where a strap is broken partway along, you’ll need to cut out any stressed part (where fibres have pulled apart or leather is scuffed) and stitch it back together. For best effect, don’t try to stitch through four layers but peel away more of the lower layer on the top piece and more of the upper layer on the bottom piece so that you can overlap them. This will also help to disguise the damage.

Don’t use a leather needle on a handbag, as this sort of leather is far too delicate. Use a fine needle and sew by hand, using two rows of very small stitches. Secure your knots using a small amount of clear nail varnish, which will stop them from fraying.

Broken fastenings

One of the most common problems handbags suffer from is broken fastenings. If you have a clip fastener on your handbag you can usually fix it using pliers, but be careful how you do this. Wrap the clip in a soft cloth before you apply the pliers, so as not to damage it. Try to estimate which way you will need to move it and how far. Repeated bending can weaken the metal and make it snap off.

If the clip on your favourite handbag is damaged beyond repair, don’t despair. The easiest way to get a new one is to find a similarly sized bag in a charity shop and remove its clip. Clips are easy to fit. The trick is to use a bit of adhesive to secure your stitching and cover the finished work, on the inside of the bag, with a strip of ribbon or leather, which will give it extra resilience.

To fit a new zip closure to a handbag, don’t simply try to sew a zip to the existing inner lip of fabric. Instead, take two ribbons of thick fabric, each about an inch in width, and sew them onto these lips using a blanket stitch. This is most easily done by hand. You can then fold these outwards and attach your new zip to them using your sewing machine. When you’re done, simply push the finished closure inwards and the edges of the bag should fold over it.

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