It’s plain to see I’m no leathersmith. This here project is about having a go. I made a bag, my first leather bag – a bag that was inspired by a fearless friend who always jumps in and tries new crafts. Unlike me who worries about being trained or vaguely qualified for any new craft discipline, she just went ahead and made a simple leather bag. And now she has a lovely bag and I found myself wanting one too! Luckily the bags I’ve been coveting lately look a little like something I could make myself: simple, raw edged, leather, utilitarian sacks. So I gave it a go. Oh yeah – I also went to the recent Fabric Store sale and accidentally came home with this white perforated leather. So there was that too.
It turns out sewing leather is tricky but not unmanageable – it just requires a little bit of wrestling as it’s less compliant than cloth fabric. Fortunately I have a friend who’s a shoemaker so I begged for some advice. She told me to use leather needles because they have a cutting edge that makes a hole in the leather (unlike, say, a needle for knit fabrics, which ‘parts’ the fibres rather than piercing them). She also recommended I use a polyester thread, which is better for leather as it’s stronger and won’t break down like cotton. Standard clothing thread is sized at 120 and she suggested I use anything with a lesser number – I found a white thread sized at 40, which got the nod of approval. Yes, a shoemaker is a good friend to have.
For my handles I trekked out to Leffler Leather, which is a bit of an institution here in Melbourne. It’s an overwhelming place for a leather novice – a warehouse full of hides and straps and all kinds of leather paraphernalia – and nothing is priced. Another world really. I wandered around the vast space, patting soft tan hides (and avoiding the scary purple ones) and trying not to get dizzy from that intense leathery smell. I stumbled on a very satisfying bin of leather strap off-cuts which were very cheap so I grabbed a few. I was after white straps, and was directed to the back of the shop where they cut me two to measure – a rather nice handle cutting service.
To start the project I gathered my braves and cut into the leather with a surgical scalpel, which was easy to handle and created nice clean edges. The sewing part was quick – just straight lines and added boxed corners. Attaching the handles was trickier because the leather straps were thicker than I originally had hoped for. My machine coped well, but the stitching on the back isn’t to a standard my meticulous crafting Nan would have liked: she expected the back to present as well as the front… sorry Nan! Despite the secret shame of my interior stitches, the stitched handle is super-sturdy – the distribution of weight along the stitching means there isn’t one central stress point. This is pretty important for my super lightweight perforated leather – what’s the point of making a big old bag if you can’t fill it with stuff without fearing it’s going to tear at the handles?
Like with so many new sewing adventures, I’ve fast discovered that one bag (or two) is simply not enough, and I can vividly see more bags in my future. Pinterest is a bag voyeurs’ delight and I’m still pinning lovely bags on an almost daily basis. I’m keen to try the Genoa Tote soon to be released. And I have all sorts of utilitarian denim sack ideas forming…. As for leatherwork, I’m a little hooked on that as well. And I have just enough leftover perforated white leather to take myself straight back to the 80s with a matching purse, visor or – gasp – singlet. That last one’s a joke. I think.