Sunday, April 15, 2012

adventures in sewing: victorian drawstring purse

At the end of this month I will be going to the Steampunk Empire Symposium in Cincinnati, OH.  As a result I have been trying to get as many smaller sewing projects done as possible to finish parts of my outfits 

One thing I desperately needed was a purse that looked Victorian and could hold both my cell phone and my camera, as I do not have a smart phone and so must carry around both objects.  Also, the exchange of calling cards is a suggestion at this convention, so it would be nice to have a decently-sized reticule to hold my own supply of cards as well as any that I may receive.

As far as purses and Victorians go, I know next to nothing.  The little information I've gleaned from my researches in the past seem to indicate that purses were not very popular until the early 1800s.  Before that women's clothing had deep, detachable pockets in the folds of their skirts  While I haven't found any scholarly material to explain why the purse came about in the 19th century, I would guess that one reason may be the fact that female Regency* fashion just couldn't provide the deep pockets necessary for women to carry around handkerchiefs or money (*thanks to SkeleDuck for reminding me what the fashion of the early 19th century was called).  I have also heard that the rise of the middle class in the Victorian era necessitated some sort of handbag that could carry the objects females needed in their outing activities, whatever these objects might be, although the source for that material is uncertain at the moment.

But for my sewing project I just needed a basic idea for a very basic and practical purse that wouldn't clash with the outfits I plan to wear to the con.  Most Victorian purses seem to be made of elaborate beadwork (making beaded purses being one of the many things middle class women made to pass their leisure hours) but I do not have the knowledge, time, or patience for such a purse, as gorgeous as they look:

image source:

There are plenty of other purse designs, but I settled on one that I figured would be easiest to make- a drawstring purse.  

I chose a purple satin material for the purse.  Any beading or lace or other decorative work can be done on the purse later, but for now I just wanted to nail the actual purse down.  

First I drew a 6x26 inch rectangle from the material.  Folding the material in half width-wise with the right side together, I sewed the ends across from the fold together using a 1/4 inc seam

Using a compass and my tailor chalk, I drew an 8 inch diameter circle on the wrong side of the pattern.    I pinned it the entire 26 inch side of the rectangular piece around the circular piece:

Then I sewed the pieces together.  

Next I folded over the edge of the purse and sewed it, creating a 1/2 inch seam across most of the purse.  I did leave two gaps to make two openings for the string part of this drawstring piece to go through.

Making the openings for the drawstring was an awkward manner.  Not having any creative ideas as to how to solve the problem of making holes in my purse without causing it to fray, I just cut  two slits in the folded edge and folded those back as far as I could and then reinforced the cut areas on the top and bottom of the cut (not on the left or right, as that would have defeated the purpose of having these holes in the purse) with overlock stitches.  Some websites recommended that one use the button template to make these holes, but I couldn't understand the directions for the life of me.  

Then I pinned a safety pin to my satin ribbon that was to serve as my drawstring and strung it through:

I sewed the ends of the ribbon together, worked the sewed ends back into the cloth, pulled the ribbons out of both holes in my folded edge, and voila! the drawstring purse came forth:

Not the best drawstring purse ever made, but more than suitable for its intended purposes.  And there is plenty of material left over for me to try my hand at another one in the future if I so choose.  Overall I am satisfied, if not thrilled, with my handiwork.

As a bonus, here's me with my cousin's completed Sponge Bob Squarepants surgical cap which was mentioned in yesterday's post.  This I am thrilled about, mostly because I was using really bad instructions and ended up throwing away the instructions to rely totally on my imagination and the pieces I already had cut and sewn to piece together what I think it actually a pretty darn awesome creation:


  1. Looks nice. If you make another one in the future, you might want to interface (and then line) the bag, since I imagine the weight of the camera and phone is going to be significant enough to cause the bag to sag a little.

    Another solution for the openings is to over the edge with bias tape (you'd probably want to make your own here). You'd fold over or finish the ends, sew them on, and then have them just slightly kiss (not overlap) wherever you want the drawstring/ribbon to come out.

    I couldn't tell if you've finished the edges from the pictures, but beware that satin loves to ravel.

    Sorry, don't mean to sound bossy. :)

    1. YES satin dose. Made my own wedding dress out of polyster silk and same thing. Be careful. Seams CAN come apart and you'll lose you phone and camera!

  2. You'd think 18th C fashions would accommodate those pockets (it's mentioned a lot in cases of shoplifting back then), so I'm assuming it's Regency fashions that prohibited pockets?

  3. @ Pixel Pixie- You're not being bossy at all. On the contray you're being very helpful. :)

    Yes, the edges are finished on the folded edge, so hopefully I won't find much unraveling going on. An interface would be a terrific idea, one I will try to employ for a second purse.

    I will try your recommendation for the openings. Sounds like it's worth a shot. Thanks for the advice!

    @ SkeleDuck- The wording was confusing. I did mean Regency fashions not being able to accomodate pockets. I've corrected it in the post. Thanks!

  4. hm i have some red one with roses around i think... or maybe i sold on ebay when i needed some money...

    but hey yours does look quite nice! and for the beadwork... you could just carry some beads and that small bag around when youre on the bus or train and so finish step by step? :-)