Transform Broken Measuring Tape to Coin Purse




Introduction: Transform Broken Measuring Tape to Coin Purse

About: Enthusiastic hiker, quilter and creator with a passion for making the most of every situation and finding the best and easiest way to do anything!

My parents never threw away anything, including this broken tape measure I found with my Dad's tools. I decided to find a way to use the parts of the tape that weren't broken, and discovered that 2 pieces from a metal measuring tape make a great bag closure. This closure works best on a small bag or coin purse with a top between about 3" - 5" wide.

From broke to bespoke - keep reading to learn how to make your own custom bag from a broken tape measure!

Step 1: Gather Materials

You will need these materials:

  1. pieces from a broken measuring tape
  2. piece of outer fabric
  3. piece of lining fabric that coordinates with outer fabric
  4. small piece of batting, interfacing or flannel. Leftover remnants should work for all the fabric pieces as the amounts needed are small.

The following tools will also be helpful to have for this project:

  1. scissors (if you don't have items 2, 3 and 4 below, just use scissors to do your cutting)
  2. rotary cutter
  3. ruler
  4. cutting mat
  5. sewing machine and thread
  6. iron

Step 2: Prepare Tape

Secure the end of your measuring tape before starting to cut off pieces. Otherwise you run the risk of the entire tape retracting back into its case, with no way of extracting it!

I secured the end with a binder clip (not trusting the lock on this very old tape), and immediately cut off the entire 16' of tape from the holder. Discard any broken sections of tape.

Then I cut two 4" pieces of tape, and covered the cut edges with 2 small pieces of duct tape to smooth them off.

A helpful reader of this instructable has suggested that because the tape is steel and somewhat brittle, it's easier to get a clean cut by folding the tape and breaking it by pressing down on the fold with needle nose pliers, rather than cutting with scissors. I have tried this and think that this is an excellent suggestion, and will use this technique from now on. The one downside is that it takes a bit of practice to figure out how to get the tape to break in the precise spot you want it to - you need to make sure that both pieces of tape are the same length.

These 2 tape pieces will form the closure mechanism for the top of the bag. In general, they should be cut 3/4" smaller than the width of your bag fabric. Cutting the metal tape will dull your scissors, so don't use your best scissors to cut the tape! As a precaution, I also suggest wearing glasses or safety glasses while cutting or breaking the tape, as the cut edges are sharp and there is a small risk that a piece could go flying when you cut it.

Step 3: Cut Fabric, Lining and Interfacing

  • Cut the outer fabric piece 4 3/4" wide by 8" long. (Tape pieces were cut 3/4" less than this width, i.e. 4").
  • Cut an interfacing or batting piece or piece of flannel the same size. I found some leftover interfacing that was fusible on one side, and fused it to the wrong side of the outer fabric piece to strengthen it.
  • Cut a piece of lining fabric the same width, but 4" longer than the outer fabric - so 4 3/4" wide by 12" long.

The lining fabric will be folded over the front and will form the casing, so pick a fabric that coordinates well with the main outer fabric.

You can change these measurements to suit your needs. I found that the smallest possible size to work with was fabric that is 3 1/4" wide, with 2 1/2" pieces of tape. Anything smaller is hard to turn inside out. Bags that are wider than about 5" are hard to open and close with one hand, but the closure will still work with wider widths.

Step 4: Sew Casing for Tape

Place the lining, wrong side up, on your ironing board.

Center the outer bag fabric (with interfacing or batting underneath) on top of the lining with the right side of fabric facing up. If using an iron-on interfacing, iron it to the wrong side of the outer fabric before putting it on top of lining.

Position the fabric so that 2" of the lining extends at the top and bottom of the outer fabric.

Fold each 2" extended piece of lining in half so that the raw edge of the lining meets the raw edge of the outer fabric (see photos) and iron in place.

Fold the lining fabric again over itself, and iron in place. This folded lining piece now sits on top of the main bag fabric. You now have 1" of folded lining fabric, with no raw edges exposed, which will become the casing. Clip or pin in place.

Sew very close to each edge of the exposed lining fabric to form the casing. My measuring tape was 3/4" wide, so I sewed very close to each edge of the 1" casing which then fit snugly over the tape. You need to ensure the opening is at least the width of your tape. You can make your casing wider if you don't want to sew as closely to the edge of the casing. Keep stitches fairly close together for all the stitching on this project.

Step 5: Sew First Side Seam

Fold fabric in half, with the lining on the outside and the fold at the bottom of the bag.

Pin or clip seam before sewing, making sure that the top edges are even.

Sew the side seam with a 1/4" seam, but start your seam about half an inch below the top of the bag, and backstitch to the top edge, then stitch forward to the end, and backstitch again to secure the seam. Clip thread close to seam.

By starting half an inch below the top, you avoid having loose thread ends at the top of the bag, and help to keep the top looking neat.

Step 6: Insert Tape

Insert the tape in both channels that were formed by the casing at the top of your bag.

After experimenting with all possible arrangements, I found that the closure works the best if you insert the tape so that the convex sides are facing outwards - this will usually be the side without the numbers on the tape. See the photos. In the sample shown, the patterned navy blue fabric is the outer side of the bag, and the convex side of the tape is facing outwards. The concave side of the tape, with the markings on it, is facing inwards, towards the lining which is solid light blue. (If you get this backwards, the bag will still close but will be a bit stiffer and will make a very audible snap noise every time you open and close it.)

Step 7: Sew Second Side Seam and Zigag Seams

Again, start your seam about half an inch below the top of the bag, and backstitch to the top edge, then stitch forward to the end, and backstitch again to secure the seam. Make sure the tape is pushed as far as possible towards the already-sewn side seam, so it doesn't get in the way when you stitch this seam.

You may want to trim the edge of both seams at this point, so the edges are even and neat and only 1/8" wide.

Now zigzag over the raw edge of both seams, starting about half an inch below the top of the bag, and starting with 3 or 4 short straight stitches to secure the thread, then backstich to the top edge of the bag, then go forward to the end of the bag, then backstitch to secure the seam and finish with 3 or 4 short straight stitches to secure it.

I used a very tight zigzag stitch (sometimes called a satin stitch) at the top of the bag to create a neat finish and ensure there would be no loose thread or raw edges visible.

If you want a flat bag, you are now finished - turn the bag right side out and enjoy! Your bag opens easily with one hand by pressing on each end, and snaps shut when you release the pressure.

Step 8: If Desired, Box the Bottom of the Bag

If you want a bag that is more 3D than 2D and that will sit up on its own, you can "box" the bottom of the bag.

There are two methods for doing this:

  1. The easiest method, shown in the first photo above, is to fold the bottom of the bag, with the side seam centred over the bottom edge of the bag, to form a triangle at each of the 2 bottom corners. Sew this triangle in, approximately 1/2", or more if you want a deeper triangle. Finish by zigzagging the seam and cutting off excess fabric.
  2. The more complex method, shown in the next 7 photos, which can produce a more even and balanced "box" at the bottom of the bag, is to measure in a specific amount (in the sample shown, it is 3/4") from the bottom and the side of the bag. Mark these lines and cut out these squares from the corners. Then mark the bottom edge of the bag with a felt pen or other marker, and line up this bottom edge line with the side seam, and sew the raw edges together. Finish by zigzagging the seam.

Step 9: Turn Bag Right Side Out and Examine "box" at Base

The more deeply you sew in the bottom corners, the wider the base of your bag will be. This photo shows 2 bags, one with a shallower box and one with a deeper box. The deeper box was made with a 3/4" square cut out from each corner.

If you want a deeper box (i.e. a wider base to your bag), you can turn the bag inside out and sew again, folding in more of the bottom before stitching.

Step 10: Enjoy Your Bag and Make More!

These bags are so quick and easy to make, and can be made in an large variety of shapes and sizes, so it's fun to experiment and make more.

This snap bag can be many things:

  • a coin purse
  • a card case for business cards or credit cards
  • a small wallet
  • a jewelry pouch

You can customize the size of the bag to use it for:

  • eyeglasses
  • safety pins
  • sewing notions - clips, bobbins, etc.
  • hardware - screws, bolts, washers, etc.

With my 16' broken measuring tape, I have enough tape to make the closures for many bags.

For an eyeglass case, cut the outer fabric 4" X 14"; lining fabric 4" X 18"; and tape pieces to 3 1/4" wide. (Larger if your glasses are extra large). Use batting or thick fabric to protect the eyeglasses. For the eyeglass case in the last photo above (with the pink band at the top) I used quilt batting and quilted it to both the outer fabric and lining. Or use a pre-quilted fabric, or a thick upholstery fabric for the outer fabric.

I hope you enjoyed this instructable and I look forward to seeing what you make with your broken measuring tape! As you can tell, I love making bags and you will find more of my bag instructables on my member page at



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    35 Discussions

    Brilliant! I have been looking for eyeglasses holders and this is the just the pattern! The one I have makes the "snap" noise, so this will be perfect! Thanks.!

    1 reply

    You're welcome! I'm sure you noted in Step 6 that the convex sides of the tape should be facing the outside of the case in order to avoid the audible "snap" noise. It would be great to see your eyeglass holders once you've finished them!

    Rather than cutting the tape with your scissors, try simply folding it where you want it cut. It should break fairly cleanly. Holding it with needle nose pliers where you want it to break might be a good idea. Tape measures are made from hardened spring steel, which breaks quite readily (this is often what happens to tape measures for them to end up in the project bin) This also makes them horrible for scissor edges! Similarly, mitering the corners can be done by gripping the corner with pliers and snapping it off. Sandpaper will clean up any rough edges or sharp corners.

    1 reply

    This is brilliant! I tried your technique and found it much easier to fold and break, rather than cut the tape. It's really great to have this online community to share information and tips - thank you very much! I have revised the instructable to include your suggested method.

    Very nice! You could even turn the top edges into a mermaid tail. :)

    1 reply

    That's a good idea re: the mermaid tail. There are lots of decorative or whimsical variations that we could try with this basic concept. I hope that if you make this you will post a picture. Thanks!


    Tip 3 months ago

    Rather than rounding the tape edges all you would need to do is snip of the sharp corners by only a few mm this will keep,the ends nice and straight but also remove the problem of sharp pointed parts once you have done this just use an emery board to smoth of the cut edge and that will stop them from over time cutting through the duct tape and fabric.

    I love this tutorial have voted and I have 3 tapes that are in this shape and as I have found a way to pull my tap measure apart so I can use the whole tape plus the special spring that’s part of the tape for the same purpose of the tape :-) but two of my tapes are earmarked for my cutting table once I have routered the groves that they will sit in and insuring that they line up perfectly I will then cover them in resin so the table is smoth and flat again and no dust traps :-D this will aid in fabric cutting and much more. What is left over once I have done the table will be added to the pile of cut up tape to make coin purses for the family for Christmas :-D

    Thanks for sharing :-) :-)

    1 reply

    Thank you for your excellent suggestions. I like the idea of sanding the edges of the tape to dull them.

    And I think your cutting table will look great with the tape measures inlaid in them and covered with resin - great idea!

    I was able to extract the retracted tape from my broken tape measure by undoing one small screw. Being very careful to not let the tape spoing out unsafely...

    1 reply

    Great! I didn't know it was possible to extract the tape once it all rolled back inside its case. Now all you have to do is make a bag!

    What a GREAT idea! Harbor Freight always has a "GET FOR FREE" section and they have tape measures, so I will definitely make this. Thanks for sharing!

    3 replies

    That's great! I would love to see a photo of your finished product!

    Will do! I can see even making an eye glass case. I will have to think that one out! :)

    This technique is great for eyeglass cases and it is easy! You just make the bag longer. I've revised the instructable to include the measurements for an eyeglass case in the last step. If you are making the case for large glasses or sunglasses you may need to make it a big larger, but these dimensions will work for regular glasses. Good luck and please post the photo of your finished product!

    I had one of these about fifty years ago. The two spring pieces were connected by two little hinges riveted into holes through the steel tape at each end, preventing any protruding sharp corners, and allowing it to easily pop open when the ends were squeezed.

    1 reply

    My 13yo granddaughter is saving for her class trip next year and she needs to raise money. I have the equipment and lots of fabrics and she can make these to sell. I think this will be a great way to add to the money she'll need and won't require much adult supervision. I'll be her first customer because these are so practical. Thanks for a great idea.

    1 reply

    Thanks, I'm glad you liked the instructable. These will be good items to make for a fundraiser. Just make sure that your granddaughter is careful when cutting the metal measuring tape - she should wear glasses or safety glasses when doing this cutting - if metal bits go flying, they are very sharp! BTW, if you are using a heavy fabric (e.g. upholstery remnants) for the outside of the bag, you don't need to interface them.

    You might consider rounding the corners of the tape measure when you cut your segments. I know you have duct tape covering the edges but they can be really sharp and I would imagine after extended use those corners could cut/tear the tape and fabric.

    1 reply

    Thanks. That's a good suggestion. If I did this, I would want to make sure to cut the tape edge straight first, and then round just the corners. It's important that the tape edges remain straight, not curved, as the edge is where the pressure is when you push on the sides of the bag, and you want to spread that pressure over as large an area as possible. The pressure is really on that straight edge, not on the tape corners, but rounding the corners after cutting the edges straight would be an extra precaution and reduce the risk of the corners poking out and cutting the fabric. However, I would want to be very careful and wear safety classes if I was trying to cut off little pieces to round the corners.