Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Love the look of corded bag handles, but intimidated by the idea of tight sewing alongside a bulky cord with minuscule seam allowances? Here's how you can make them without any of those unpleasantness (all you need is a regular presser foot!).
While making the Basket Tote for this year’s Mother’s Day gift for my mother, I wanted to make corded bag handles to replace the padded straps in the original tutorial by Sew Can She. I really like the rounded look of corded handles, but also dreaded the making process because most of the tutorials I found online called for specialty sewing machine foot, particularly, the narrow zipper foot, in order to get really close to the cord when sewing close the fabric that wraps around the cord.
Having no such narrow zipper foot (and frankly, not liking the idea of sewing next to a thick cord with such minuscule seam allowance), I tried the following different method and am thankful it worked very nicely (and it doesn't even require a zipper foot at all - just a regular presser foot!).
This tutorial works for any cord size and type. You may do away with the fusible felt, but make sure the fabric you use is durable (or interfaced) because it will be subject to a fair bit of stretch to achieve that tight wrap around the cord. Although, I won’t recommend doing away with it, as fusible felt makes the handles more comfortable due to its cushioning effect.
For the basket tote shown in the opening image, I had used this cord:
STEP 1: Calculate Strips' Cutting Dimensions
First, calculate the circumference of your cord by multiplying its diameter by pi. If you are uncomfortable with calculations, simply go to any online circumference calculator (Google “circumference calculator”) and type in your cord’s diameter or radius. Here’s a good calculator.
Add 70% to this circumference to get the width of your fusible felt strip. Add to this width another 2 cm to get the width of your fabric strips. Length of the strips depends on your desired handle length. Whatever your desired length, add about 3 cm to it for finishing its raw ends later.
The strips can be cut on grain or on the bias – it doesn’t matter. Although, cutting on the bias might mean you have seams (from joining bias strips) showing on the final handles.
Note: Accuracy in calculating, cutting and later, sewing, is important because we are aiming for a snug wrap around the cord. Too loose – the handle will not look nice. Too tight – you won’t be able to insert the cord in Step 5.
Tip: If you are not confident with your measurements, cut short strips of fabric, fusible felt, and cord. Then use them to sew a mock-up using the following steps. Adjust measurements if necessary, then proceed to make actual-length strips.
STEP 2: Cut Strips and Apply Fusible Felt
With the dimensions calculated in Step 1, cut two strips of fabrics and one strip of fusible felt. Then, iron fusible felt onto the wrong side of one of the fabric strips. Make sure to centre the fusible felt such there is 1 cm clearance from each long edge of the fabric strip (this clearance will be the seam allowance for Step 3).
STEP 3: Sew Strips Together and Turn Them Inside Out
Pin strips right sides together and sew along both long edges by simply running the stitches just adjacent to the fusible felt (without actually stitching on the felt).
You now have a long and flat tube. Turn this tube inside out. The proper tool for this step is called a loop turner. I didn’t have one, though it was in my wish list. So, I managed with a long stainless-steel ruler.
After turning, give the tube a good press of the iron.
STEP 4: Create Cord’s Tunnel
Mark on both ends where you want the handle to start flattening as it attaches to the bag.
Then, fold it lengthwise such that the seams from Step 3 meet. Edge stitch with seam allowance of about 2 mm along this edge where the seams meet. Do not sew beyond the markings where the handle should start flattening onto the bag later. Reinforce the stitches at the start and end by back-stitching a few times.
Step 5: Insert Cord
Use a bodkin to insert the cord through the tunnel created by one of the fabric strips and the fusible felt.
Note: Some force may be required to pull the cord through. As such, it is strongly suggested that you use a bodkin instead of a safety pin.
STEP 6: Cut Cord and Sew Close the Ends
Cut the cord such that it ends about 1 inch shorter at each open end of the handle. Fold the tube’s raw edges about 0.5 cm into the tube, finger press, and edge stitch to create closed ends of the handles.
You have now completed one corded handle. Repeat to make the other one and you will then have a pair, ready to be attached to your handmade bag!
For more details on the basket tote seen in the above images, go to this post.