There are a number of different ways you can make a handle for a bag, as opposed to buying ready-made handles. It looks good to have handles or shoulder straps in matching / co-ordinating fabrics. I mostly make my bags from medium weight cotton and I like to use the same fabrics when making the handles.
This is the most common method that I use:
Cut two lengths of fabric to suitable size (this will depend on your overall bag size). The width I use most often is about 14cm – 16cm, which will give a finished width of around 3cm – 4cm. The length is really up to personal preference – for a handbag or tote style bag the length could be about 45cm – 50cm. For handles that you want to be able to put over your shoulder you could choose a length around 60cm – 80cm. Measure what handle drop you’d like, ie: measure from your shoulder to where you want the top of the bag to sit, double this measurement and add a few extra cm’s for seam allowances. This will give you the overall length of fabric required.
If you’d like to add more strength or a little bit of padding, cut matching lengths of either fusible interfacing or sew-in interlining (medium to heavy weight), with a width which is slightly less than a quarter of the fabric width.
Iron the handle fabric and then fold in half lengthways, wrong sides together. Press and open out, so wrong side facing up. Align the interlining piece to centre crease. If using fusible interfacing, press to adhere to fabric.
Fold bottom long edge of handle fabric to centre crease, so interlining is now enclosed underneath that half, press.
Fold top long edge of fabric over to centre crease so that the long raw edges now meet.
Press, then fold in half lengthways again so that folded long edges are aligned, pin in place.
Topstitch along both long sides, with a 3mm – 5mm seam allowance. Repeat with other handle.
You’ll now have two completed handles to use in your bag making project. The short ends of the handles have been left raw as they will be enclosed inside the seam allowances at the top of the bag (more on how to do this is shown in my pdf sewing patterns).
If you will be attaching the handles directly onto the outer bag, then ensure you cut any interfacing / interlining a little shorter than fabric length so that you have a gap of about 1cm at either short end. Fold over 1cm of handle fabric, at short ends, before you do the lengthways folds. This way you’ll end up with neat folded edges at all sides and topstitch the short ends as well as the long sides of the handle once all folded up. The handles will now be ready to stitch directly to your bag.