How to Repair Leather Handbags

Published August 1, 2018
person wiping down leather purse

When properly cared for, a leather handbag can be stylish and useful for decades. The key to making your favorite purse last a lifetime is repairing damage as soon as possible and cleaning the bag when it gets dirty. Depending on the type of damage, there are several ways to do this.

Dull, Dirty Leather

Before you do any repair, it's a good idea to clean your leather bag thoroughly. This helps you see exactly what you're repairing and puts the leather in good condition to receive any treatments you need to give it.

Things You'll Need

What to Do

  1. Dampen the cloth and wipe down the entire surface of the bag to remove any obvious dirt and dust. Check for stains and other problem areas.
  2. Test the leather cleaner in an inconspicuous area such as the bottom of the bag. If everything looks good, apply the leather cleaner to any stains or especially dirty spots. Use the cloth to rub the cleaner gently into the leather. Do not use dish soap, laundry detergent, or any other household soap.
  3. Dip the cloth in the water and wipe the leather cleaner off. Do this several times to make sure you don't end up with residue from the cleaner.
  4. Allow the handbag to dry.

Cracked or Scratched Leather

scratched leather

Scratches are a part of the normal wear and tear a handbag receives with use, and they can even add a great patina. However, deeper scratches or serious cracks can stop being character marks and become a distraction from the beauty of your bag. There are some tricks to fixing these.

Things You'll Need

What to Do

  1. After cleaning your bag, you can repair many cracks or scratches with a good leather conditioner. You may need to rub several coats into the surface to get the moisturizer into the damaged areas.
  2. Then, for deeper cracks, gently bend the leather to expose the surface of the crack. Dip a toothpick in a small amount of leather glue and apply the glue to the inside surface of the crack or scratch.
  3. Flatten the leather, pressing the edges of the crack together. Use a damp cloth to wipe off any excess glue quickly.
  4. Allow the repair to dry. Then apply another coat of leather conditioner.

Torn Seams or Stitching

hand stitching leather bag

If you're handy with a needle and thread, you can repair torn seams or appliques. Use a special needles and thread that can sew leather to make your repair identical to the original.

Things You'll Need

What to Do

  1. Identify the specific portion of the seam that needs repair. Trim away excess threads before you start.
  2. Thread two needles with about three times as much thread as you will need for the repair. Tie a small knot in the end of each piece of thread.
  3. Starting about half an inch before the torn seam in the part of the seam that is still intact, take one stitch from the underside of the leather up through one of the existing holes. Make sure the knot is hidden on the underside.
  4. In the next existing hole, use the other needle to take a stitch up through the hole, hiding that knot on the underside too. You now have two needles through adjacent holes in the seam.
  5. Bring the first needle down through the second hole. You now have both needles coming from the same hole, one on each side of the seam.
  6. Take a stitch with each needle into the next existing hole. They will switch sides of the seam, sewing the leather on both sides. Continue sewing this double stitch until you have completed the repair.
  7. Knot both pieces of thread on the underside of the seam.

Ripped Lining

Repair lining by hand sewing

In some ways, the lining of your handbag gets more abuse than the exterior. Although no one but you sees this part of your bag, it's much nicer to reach into a bag when the lining is in good shape. You can easily patch tears in the lining with a simple applique.

Things You'll Need

  • Small piece of matching fabric bigger than the tear
  • Iron
  • Needle and thread
  • Scissors
  • Pins

What to Do

  1. Cut the piece of fabric so it's about one inch larger than the tear in all dimensions.
  2. Fold the outside edge of the fabric under to the wrong side, making the fold about 1/4 inch. Use the iron to press it so it won't unfold as you work.
  3. Carefully pin the patch in place. You may only need one or two pins.
  4. Thread the needle and knot the end of the thread.
  5. Starting from the underside of the patch, bring the thread up through the patch. Take a tiny stitch and catch some of the original lining fabric. Slide the needle under the lining fabric and bring it back up through the patch.
  6. Continue working around the patch in this way, checking to make sure the pins are keeping it in place as you work. When you've sewn the entire patch on, knot the thread.

Peeling Leather Edges

Leather bag touch up coloring

Actual peeling on the surface of the leather indicates inferior leather quality and can't effectively be repaired. However, even the best quality leather handbags can have peeling edges on the straps or high wear areas. This is because the finish for these areas has worn off. Areas where there's a lot of flexing are the most vulnerable. You can repair these spots with leather paint. You can also use this method to fix deep scratches in colored leather.

Things You'll Need

  • Leather paint in a color to match the edges of your handbag
  • Small paintbrush

What to Do

  1. After cleaning your bag, remove any loose, peeling paint from the damaged area.
  2. Use the brush to apply a small amount of leather paint to the damaged spot. Allow it to dry.
  3. For strap edges, you'll need to build it up with several coats. You may need as many as five or six, allowing each to dry before applying the next.

Know When to Call a Professional

These methods will allow you to repair a lot of problem areas on your favorite handbag, but there are some types of damage you need a professional to fix. If you have a broken strap, a serious tear that goes all the way through the leather, or a heavily discolored spot, call a leather repair shop near you. These professionals will get your bag looking great again.

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How to Repair Leather Handbags