Designing and Making a Living Hinge Laser Cut Handbag

I designed and made my own handbags in the Makerspace! They’re almost entirely laser cut wood (with the help of some living hinges), with some laser cut leather thrown in as well, and I even got to whip out my sewing machine for the first time in a while! I wanted to put together a design that, although done myself, didn’t look “DIY” -esque, but instead more like a designer handbag.

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Tools

Glowforge Laser Cutter
Sewing Machine 
Tailor Scissors

Materials

Glowforge Proofgrade Medium Maple and Cherry Plywood
Chains
Leather Scraps
Thread

Instead of sketching this flat to start, I rolled up a piece of paper and sketched roughly where I needed each component to make the 3-Dimenisonal shape work. I’m using living hinges to give the wood enough bend to roll into the shape I want, with rectangular magnets positioned on either end to hold the bag closed.

I unrolled the paper and recreated my initial design in Adobe Illustrator. I am using a living hinge pattern that I have used before and know works well on 1/8” thick material, and would bend nicely in the orientation I wanted.

I went ahead and immediately cut my first version in 1/8 inch plywood on our Glowforge laser cutter.

I verified that the rectangles I did for the magnets were the right size and rolled the prototype into shape. It was taking quite a bit of pressure to hold its shape so the first change I made was widening the region with the living hinges for more flexibility. In this second iteration I also added holes to later stich in some accent fabric, and engraved a recessed seat for one of the magnets, instead of cutting it because it would be easier to glue later on that way.

Version 2 was almost perfect, but I decided to lengthen the wood on the interior of the bag to give a bit more structure before cutting it on my final piece of maple plywood.

To close up the sides I wanted to go with a sewn lining consisting of a main rectangle of fabric to line easily up with the shape of the wood and pleated accordion-like side pieces that would nicely lay flat, or extend outwards when the bag is opened.

To give the concept a whirl I drew it out with exact dimensions on kraft paper

To make the accordion piece I started with a rectangle identical in size to the opening at the side of the bag.

Then I cut it out and folded it into quarters length wise. I cut along each fold leaving just enough paper to keep things together. Then I could uniformly splay out each strand and tape them down to a fresh section of kraft paper, creating a new shape that, when pleated will fit perfectly into the side of the bag, but also extend nicely.

I cut out this first pattern and assembled it using painter’s tape to test fit it into place.

When making patterns I find starting fresh each time to be the easiest way to go. Also I always write out the dimensions of each side as I go because if I make changed to them once the pattern is folded up and in 3-Dimensions I can easily make changes and do the math to figure out what the new dimension is.

Painter’s tape makes it easy to disassemble the pieces to then rework them with the seam allowance added to each piece.

And then my final lining pattern was done.

I had some scrap denim that I thought could be a cool looking, and really durable lining material.

I prepped each piece and dug out my sewing machine. I actually really love to sew, but admittedly it’s been a while since this machine has seen the light of day.

Between the fact that I was going backwards and the fact that denim stinks to sew, even on a good day, this was pretty clumsy to get through.

Once my machine finally decided to go forwards I was able to get through this much more quickly… but I decided to call it a day because I was reaching the end of my patience for the day.

The good thing was that the next day when I went in with a relatively thinner upholstery fabric instead, I was able to get through it easily.

My machine was still switching between going forwards and backwards on me though, and also had a few stints of changing between stitches all on its own. It’s a digital machine and I’m not really sure what the issue is, but for the time being I just pushed through it.

The lining looked good, but as I was trimming the threads I realized I didn’t really like the print as much as I thought I would on the finished piece… so I dug through what random remnants of fabric I could find around the shop and found some from an old Halloween costume.

I didn’t bother filming much of making the purple silky lining and the faux suede lining because it was kind of redundant but by version 4 I was a pro at sewing this lining pattern.

The next detail to tackle was the leather accents I had put those holes in for. It was pretty easy to design because I more or less could pull it right off of the original pattern for the wood.

Leather laser cuts very well. However, it can scorch so it is important to protect its surface with painter’s tape, or something similar, before cutting. I’m using the Glowforge again for this, and every laser cut element of this handbag.

It made quick work of this and easily gets through, but you’ll notice the heavy scorching in these clips. Luckily because of the tape, it peels right off leaving a flawless finished product that lined up perfectly.

I thought adding a living hinge bow to this could be a fun detail. To do this I found a free pattern to sew a bowtie online and traced it in Illustrator. I pulled the same living hinge pattern from before onto the parts of the bowtie that I wanted bendable and did a few little adjustments. It was simple, but worked out flawlessly with only one draft needed.

I lined my leather up and picked out some gold thread to use for the stitching. I was able to hide my knots on the backside of the leather, which was sandwiched nicely against the wooden bag and out of sight.

This particular thread looked great, but wasn’t nice or easy to work with at all. I would liken it to trying to sew with straw… but with some patience I got both sections of leather sewed on using a running stitch.

I went with CA glue to hold the bow together. When the two parts come together they instant bond, so I thought it would be a convenient way to go since it wasn’t going to be taking much wear and tear. And then I cut a small piece of matching Navy blue leather to wrap around its center.

With two Bags ready to go, it was time to final touches!

I went with a two part epoxy to secure the bar magnets in place and let that sit overnight. To make the bow removable I thought  of the idea of making that a removable magnetic component as well, since there was already a magnet in the right position.

I placed a round earth magnet on top of each bag to identify which side stuck, and that it would be a strong enough bond, and immediately put painter’s tape on the side I wouldn’t be gluing on to avoid accidentally mixing the sides up.

And then I hid the magnet underneath the accent fabric on each wooden bow.

It worked out perfectly.

To attach the lining a used a few carefully placed stiches through the fabric, and then also through the living hinges. I used thread that matched each wood type so it would blend in and not catch the eye. Sort of a pain in the neck of a step, but necessary and it wound up working ok and looking sleek.

I bought coordinating purse chains as an option for each bag from Amazon. Incorporating tabs to clip these into the design would be ideal in the long run, but for now I clipped them to themselves and tucked them into the flap of each bag.

And then they were done!

I love seeing how the same pattern can have such a different look and feel with two different color schemes.

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