Quiet Friday: Handwoven Handbags

Is there such a thing as too many handbags, pocketbooks, tote bags, and purses? Of course not. Naturally, my favorite handbags are made from handwoven fabric. Linings made from remnants, handwoven bands used for shoulder straps, hidden zippers, and, of course pockets–these are the details that other people will seldom notice. Yet these are the details that make me smile every time I use one of these bags.

Handwoven handbags - with 1 minute video.

Nineteen handwoven handbags. Various sizes, fibers, styles, and purposes. And colors. Lots of colors!

…You know that box of handwoven bits and pieces? Those weavings from the end of the warp, and the “scraps” from various projects? Hmm… looks like I might need to make another handbag or two.

Here is my collection of handwoven handbags, divided into a few categories. Plus, a short video just for the fun of it!

Rigid Heddle Loom

Handbags from fabric woven on a rigid heddle loom.

Wool, novelty chenille yarn, crochet cotton, and narrow fabric strips are used for weft in these bags. Buttons are from my grandma’s button jar. The small rag-weave pocketbook has a permanent home in my daily handbag. The fabric for these bags was woven on my Beka 32″ rigid heddle loom.

Handwoven fabric for handbags from the rigid heddle loom.

Linings are from remnants of other sewing projects. Bag handles were woven on my inkle loom.

Travel Finds

Handwoven handbags from international travels.

Trips to The Philippines yielded interesting woven goods by artisans there. The green stripe tote bag is woven from native plant material, and the teal and burgundy purse is a beautiful example of ikat weaving. The colorful weft-faced woven shoulder bag and the purple bag with lovely weft-float patterning came from travel to Chile.

Project Carriers

Handwoven project bags.

Large tote bag, woven with 1/4″ fabric strips for weft, carries my “show and tell” when I go to my weaving study group. It’s known as the “Mary Poppins Bag.” Rag-rug bag in the center has straps, woven on the band loom, that were woven into the bag. This bag carries my portable tapestry weaving. The rag rug bag on the right carries my one-and-only crochet project.

Special Use

Handwoven handbags.

Linen bag has beads woven into the fabric. It is lined with satin. Rag-weave purse is simply a flat piece folded in half, with lining and pockets added to the inside. The blue bag is wool, woven in a weft-cord technique. The fabric was partially fulled to produce the ribbed texture.

Handwoven lining in a handwoven purse.

Lining for this bag is made from extra fabric after weaving cotton/linen fabric for cushions, and the pocket is a remnant from a two-block twill tencel scarf.

Daily Use Favorites

Favorite handwoven handbags! Karen Isenhower

Representing some of my “firsts.” The brown and blue small shoulder bag is from one of my first cottolin towel projects. This is what I did when the last piece was too short to use for a towel. The green and turquoise clutch has remnants of my first ever handwoven towel, my first rosepath rag rug, and my first big rep weave project! The blue shoulder bag is the bag I use every day. It’s a remnant from the baby wrap I wove for my daughter’s first baby. It’s lined with a remnant from an Easter dress I made for her when she was a little girl.

May you carry your handiwork with you.

Happy weaving,


  • Mary Kay Stahley says:

    I would love to know where to get patterns to make a bag. Have yardage and really want to turn it into a purse

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mary Kay, I have found a few good commercial patterns for an assortment of bags.

      I used McCall’s 3894 to make the large tote bag. (I did break several sewing machine needles when sewing the very thick corners.)
      And I used Simplicity 2201 for the green and teal clutch. Other patterns that I have not used yet are Simplicity 9949 and Simplicity 2274. All of the patterns have multiples sizes and shapes of bags. There are probably some more good patterns out there now. I’ve had these for several years. I enjoy browsing the pattern books at the fabric store.

      For some of the bags, I folded and played with the fabric to make up a simple design.

      For the shoulder bag that I currently use all the time, made from the baby wrap remnant, I purchased a bag at the store that I thought would work well with handwoven fabric. I took it home and ripped out all the seams to deconstruct it. Then I had the basic shapes, which I reconfigured to exactly what I wanted. I made a practice bag first out of denim before using the handwoven cloth to make the final bag.

      I hope that gives you some ideas!

  • D'Anne Craft says:

    It was so much fun to see all your beautiful bags, Karen! Nineteen is certainly not enough!! Hope you keep making more and sharing them with us. You have a wonderful sense of color!

  • Cindy Bills says:

    Hi, Karen,
    You had the icon to share to Facebook, so I shared this post with my Rigid Heddle Adventure group. They’ve been talking a lot lately about creating bags. Thanks for the post!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Cindy, That’s wonderful! The rigid heddle loom is perfect for making fabric for bags because it’s so easy to use a variety of fibers in the warp and in the weft. It’s a fun adventure!

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Angela Roberts says:

    Truly an inspiration, as always
    Thank you Karen

  • Kantilal Doobal says:

    Please quote me a Magazine for which I wish to submit and an article dealing with woolen durrie weaving.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kantilal, Thank you for asking.

      I don’t know a magazine that has an article about woolen durrie weaving. “Väv” magazine sometimes has articles about different types of rug weaving, and “Handwoven” magazine sometimes has articles about rag rug weaving. The March/April 2017 issue of “Handwoven” has instructions for a “Swedish Rosepath Rag Rug” that I designed.


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It Is What It Is

A closer sett (30 epi instead of 24 epi) would have produced a firmer fabric, more suitable for bag-making. But, as Steve would say,

It is what it is.

I did make one very pretty bag, lined with blue satin. But because of the airy weave, I was not enthused about making three more bags. The fabric itself is stunning; it’s just not bag fabric. When things do not turn out the way we envision, it feels confusing and unsettling.

Handwoven linen and beads fancy bag and iridescent wrap.

Two-toned beaded linen wrap and beaded linen bag. The fabric is woven with 16/1 linen, warp and weft, in a traditional Swedish three-treadle weave structure.

I invested much time, attention, and resources into this unique iridescent cloth that has little glass beads woven into it (click HERE to see it on the loom)… Now what? In my unsettled thoughts I struggled to find a good solution.

And then…In a playful moment, I threw the cloth over my shoulders and looked in the mirror. Ahhh, pretty! Then I wrapped it around my neck like a scarf. Ohhh, nice! Being 100% linen, it is a little stiff, but putting it through the gentle cycle of the washer has softened it. Wearing it will soften it even more.

In times of uncertainty, we may think we missed the creator’s plan. Be on the lookout, though, for his nearness. The part of the plan that we do not see until we are smack dab in the middle of it is the part where his nearness is revealed.

May you find solutions to your biggest challenges.

Creatively speaking,


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Choose Your Lining

In choosing a fabric to line these linen bags I am making, I find that the color of the lining makes a difference in the outcome. Different lining colors change how the linen looks. I decided on a blue satin lining that is similar in shade to the blue of the linen warp. Other colors seem to compete with the iridescence of the handwoven cloth. Once again, what is on the inside matters, and influences what is seen on the outside. The same can be said for people, right?

Creating bags with handwoven linen, with beads woven in.

Linen fabric with beads woven in, ready to be made into satin-lined bags. Small striped sample from the end of the warp will be made into a small clutch purse.

Faith in the master weaver is the lining that shows through the fabric of one’s life. A stance of faith creates an inner calm that carries you through every storm and every celebration. It is the color that shines through.

May you calmly face your next challenge.

Peace to you,

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End of Warp Reminders

Whenever I cut new cloth off the loom I am reminded of how much I have. I feel extremely fortunate to get to do what I enjoy–weave! At the same time, I know there are many people in great need. Is it possible to establish a rhythm of giving? I want to be aware of the needs around me, caring enough to make a difference.

Iridescent linen fabric just off the loom!

Linen fabric, just off the loom. I was hoping this fabric would be iridescent; and it is!

What if…, every time I come to the end of a warp, I intentionally help someone in a tangible way? Since I weave one warp after another, this could be a routine reminder to put kindness into action.

I did that today. This linen warp came to an end, and I took my cello to play for Sam, a precious elderly gentleman who doesn’t have much to look forward to in the here-and-now. I wish I could tell you I planned the visit to coincide with the weaving, but I didn’t. The warp happened to be at the end, and I had already made plans for the cello visit. But it did make me think…

What ideas do you have for establishing a rhythm of providing for others in need?

May you continually experience the joy of giving.



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What Color Is It?

It is obvious where I changed the weft color, leaving a distinct line from one color to the next. I am intrigued, though, by the subtle color differences that appear within a single weft color section. It is amazing to see how different the color looks just by changing my angle of view. Blue, with a touch of pink? Or, deep red-purple? You would think I am describing two different cloths. When we view each other’s ideas with understanding, it helps us show mutual respect, even when we see things differently.

Linen fabric for bags.

Linen fabric for bags, with narrow strip of beads. Green weft and magenta weft produce two different colors of bags.

Sadly, it is easy to put down or belittle others. I, like many, have strong viewpoints about right and wrong; but if I use words as weapons, I destroy the very fabric I want to protect.

An understanding mindset gives you the willingness to listen to another viewpoint, and it helps you hold your tongue. It doesn’t mean we always have to agree. As hard as I try, I may never be able to see the colors you describe in your cloth. I may even try to convince you to see it my way. But hopefully, we will both seek to understand each other.

May you have an opportunity to practice understanding.


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