Ok, so I got inspired by the magazine purse thread (http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=6530.0
), but was unable to find iron-on vinyl anywhere nearby. I mused aloud in that thread about mac-tac (self-adhesive plastic) and wondered if it might make a purse strong enough to use... Well, I figured there's no better way to find out than by trying one myself, so here's my experiment. You can see that I used a different technique to make the bag itself, something more akin to a paper lunchbag than a sewn purse --- I'm pretty sure that the plastic wouldn't hold too well if I tried to sew through it.
paper (I used kraft mailing paper, because it was cheap and this was an experiment --- but you can get gorgeous wrapping paper by the sheet at stationery stores)
mac-tac, or other clear self-adhesive plastic
a box (or book or other rectangular object) about the size you want your finished project to be
Cut two sheets of mac-tac and one sheet of paper to size. To figure out what "to size" ought to be, lay your box out on the paper along one edge, then turn it over until you've measured out how much you'll need to cover all four sides, then add a couple of inches extra for overlap. Then, to the height of the box, add about an inch at the top (thnk seam allowance), and enough at the bottom to ALMOST cover the width of box.
Carefully, cover first one side and then the other of the paper with the two sheets of mac-tac. (Peel back the lining paper just a bit, align the mac-tac with the top edge of the paper, and then gently peel back a bit at a time while smoothing out any wrinkles...
With the right side facing down, fold over about an inch to make what will be the top edge of the bag. (Paper obviously won't fray like fabric, but the double thickness will give it added strength and rigidity.) Cut a strip of mac-tac to use as tape to hold this down. (You could just use tape, but the mac-tac sticks well to itself and is more durable than the scotch tape I had on hand!)
Wrap the paper around the box, so that there will be enough overhang at the bottom to cover.
Seal the joining with another strip of mac-tac "tape". (I like the brown kraft-paper look, and I think it'd be cute to make this look like a lunchbag by trimming the paper at this join with pinking shears, but I didn't have any on hand.) Cut the "tape" long enough to wrap an inch or so around to the inside of the bag, for extra strength.
Now, turn the box on end, and cover the bottom of the box as though you were wrapping a present: push the short sides in first, and crease the folds neatly, then fold one long side in, and then the other.
Cover the entire bottom of the box with another strip of mac-tac, cut to size (basically, a wider strip of the "tape" you've been using all along). Slide the box out, and crease all the folds by pinching then between your fingernails, so they have a nice sharp edge.
To make the handle, cut a strip of paper and a matching strip of mac-tac to twice the width you want the handle to be. Cover the paper with the mac-tac, and then fold the edges into the middle (right side out) so there's a seam running up the middle of the handle. With more "tape", securely cover the seam on the handle, so your fingers won't get pinched by the paper while you're carrying it.
Slide one end of the handle into the bag, and secure with strips of "tape" on both the inside and the outside of the bag.
Adjust the handle to the length you want it, and secure the other end the same way you did the first.
I've been carrying little things around the house in this all day, to test for strength; so far, the mac-tac has held well. I'll report back if there are any major issues once I've been using it for a while! I know that the paper/mac-tac combination will be prone to wrinkling, but I think that might add more character over time.
Let me know what you think of my little experiment!