Probably my favorite appliance in the whole house is my vintage black rotary phone. It is fully functional, has the most amazing ring ever, and is a definite conversation piece at home. Adults wax nostalgic when they see it and kids are delighted and amazed that it’s even a phone. I love it.
Jo and I were brainstorming a while ago about these old phones and wondering if we could upcycle one into something new and functional. I’m not exactly sure how we ended up there, but we decided it would make a great starting point for a charming, retro purse. Sound too crazy to work? Well, take a look… what do you think?
So chic, right? If you want to make your own, keep on reading, because I’ve got a full tutorial for you!
First, let me assure you that I did not damage my working telephone. Instead, I sought out parts from another phone that didn’t work. You can find vintage rotary phones on eBay. Save yourself some money and buy one that doesn’t work, because the only parts you’ll need to make this purse are the handset, cord, and dial mechanism. You’ll also need a 6″ x 3″ clasp for the purse closure. I got mine from Etsy.
To go along with all these parts, we’ve got a free downloadable Rotary Phone Purse Template that will help you cut the pieces you’ll need for this purse. Go ahead and print all 6 pages onto regular white paper.
The first four pages are for the main shell of the purse. Cut out each piece.
Following the guidance on the template pieces, line up the edges and secure with a piece of tape to create one large pattern piece.
For the outer shell of your purse, we recommend you choose a really sturdy fabric. I used a fairly stiff, black vinyl that had a white fuzzy back. You want something with enough body so that the purse will hold its shape. You also want something that will not fray on the cut edges. Use the template you just assembled to cut out a piece of the vinyl for your outer shell.
Then line the template up with the vinyl again and trace (DO NOT CUT!) the center circle onto the vinyl.
Use the template one more time to cut another piece out of a coordinating fabric for your purse lining. I used a houndstooth-print satin. You do not need to draw the circle on the lining piece.
Next, cut out your two circle templates and use them to outline shapes on cardboard. I suggest that you not use corrugated cardboard here, and choose chipboard or other stiff cardboard that won’t bend easily.
Cut the circles out and take a moment to label them #1 and #2 (match them up with the numbers on the patterns) so that you won’t get them mixed up later. They may look identical, but one is slightly larger than the other so we want to keep them straight!
Before you start assembling, do a quick check to make sure your pieces are going to work together. Put your clasp on the top edge of the vinyl and make sure that the edges line up. The sides of the fabric will flare out wider than the clasp, but that’s required to give the purse a big enough opening to be usable. Also take circle #1 and put it on top of the dial mechanism. It should fit right into place and rest on the edge without falling down to the table.
Grab your hot glue gun and put a line of glue on the back of the vinyl, all around the circle you drew, about 1/2″ on the outside. Then press cardboard circle #1 in place, lining up the inside of the cardboard with the circle drawn on the fabric.
Put a self-healing cutting mat on your table and and use a craft knife to cut lines from the edges to the center of the circle, every 3/4″ or so, until you end up with a sort of starburst series of cuts.
Fold each point of your star back and glue down with some hot glue. When it is cooled, use scissors to trim off the excess vinyl from each point.
Stick the dial mechanism into the hole you just created, and flip the whole piece over. The dial should fit very snug and tight. Press down with your fingers all the way around to be sure you have a good fit.
Flip the piece back over and put a really thick ring of hot glue on the cardboard circle, all the way around. Grab cardboard circle #2 and lay it on top.
Press the two cardboard circles together really well and make sure they are stuck together all the way around. This is what’s going to keep the dial from falling out of the hole, so you want to make sure you’ve got it good and secure. Pinch and press and let the glue cool completely before continuing.
Fold the outer shell fabric up, right sides together, and line up the top edge. Use the sewing machine to sew up each side, from the point at the bottom right up to the top of the notch on the side.
Now grab one of the bottom corners of the bag and pinch it into a triangle. Flatten it so that the seam runs right down the middle.
Measure 3″ from the point and mark a line. Sew a row of stitches across the piece at the mark.
Repeat for the other corner, so that you end up with a nice flat bottom on your bag.
Trim the excess off of each point.
Hey, it’s coming right along! Unfortunately, the bag is inside out at this point. And even more unfortunately, it’s going to be an absolute bear to flip right side out again, especially if you used a really stiff vinyl. Stick with it, though, and be patient. The dial WILL fit through the hole, you just need to move slowly and carefully so that you don’t rip any of your seams.
When you’ve finally got it flipped (and rewarded yourself accordingly for completing such a feat) you’ll see that the shell of the bag is pretty much done!
Grab your lining fabric, fold it so that the right sides are together, and sew up the sides just like you did for the vinyl. Then flip it inside out so that the pretty side of the fabric is on the outside.
Cut a piece of cardboard to 9-1/4″ x 2-1/4″ and stick it down inside the lining.
Arrange the cardboard in the lining bag and hold it so that it’s flat on the bottom. You’ll see that each side has a point of fabric sticking out that looks a lot like the points you formed in the vinyl earlier.
Hold one of the points in place and use your sewing machine to tack it down with about an inch of stitches, making sure to go right through the cardboard. This may seem weird, but this is going to help us secure the bottom of the lining to the bottom of the bag in a minute, so trust me. Repeat for the other side.
Flip the lining inside out (so that the pretty side of the fabric is on the inside), revealing the cardboard on the bottom.
Put a bunch of hot glue on the bottom of the cardboard, then quickly and carefully shove it down into the vinyl shell of the purse.
Line up the cardboard on the bottom as well as you can, and use your hand to press it down in place. Like I said before, this will keep the bottom of the lining on the bottom of the bag, so that it doesn’t come out with your wallet every time! When you’ve got it secure, you’ll see that the top edges of the lining should line up with the top edges of the vinyl.
Those top edges don’t really want to stay together, though, especially if you used a really lightweight or silky lining material. To make it easier to work with, put a tiny bit of hot glue around the edge of the vinyl and press the lining in place. This will really help a LOT when it comes time to add the clasp.
The shell is attached to the clasp using glue, believe it or not. In particular, I used Gutermann glue, which is an amazing fabric glue that seems to be the standard choice among crafters who make purses. It sure did the job for us! Remembering that a little goes a long way, put some glue all down the channel of just ONE side of the clasp.
Then gather up all that patience you used earlier when flipping the shell inside out because you’re going to need it again. Carefully work the edges of the purse shell up into the glued side of the clasp, optionally using clothespins to help you hold it in place. I also found that a half of a clothespin made a great tool for pushing the fabric up into the channel.
When you’ve got one side of the purse in the clasp, let it dry completely before attempting to do the other side. I learned this lesson the hard way! It’s very frustrating if you rush it and everything falls apart on you. When both sides are finished, you should have a nice puckered shell.
I’m amazed by how well this glue holds and by how cute the purse looks with the clasp on!
All that’s left is to add the handle, which is probably the most clever part of this bag. Start by unscrewing the caps on each end of the phone handset and feed a piece of thin black ribbon through the center hole on each cap.
Tie a knot in the ribbon and then pull it down tight.
Once you have a ribbon through each cap, you can screw them back onto the handset.
To attach the handset to the phone, feed one of the ribbons under the hinge on the clasp and pull it back out to the side. With the purse and handset on the table, pull the ribbon until you have the length exactly how you want it for your purse handle, then tie it in a good knot.
Trim the excess ribbon and repeat the process on the other side.
Take the phone cord and hold it up to the purse to see how long a piece you will need to reach from the handset to the hinge, and cut two pieces that length (regular scissors will do the job).
Then feed each coil of cord onto one of the ribbons by looping the end around and turning it until it corkscrews its way onto the ribbon, hiding it from view.
And just like that, you’ve got yourself a retro purse made from a vintage rotary phone!
My favorite part is the fact that the dial still works. I get nostalgic every time I hear the familiar sound it makes when I dial a number.
Just try and walk down the street with this purse in your hand and not get a comment or two!