I made this leather bag because I love how leather looks and feels but I've only ever done small and simple leather work before. I really wanted something I could use day to day. I based my design off of this instructable. This was a pretty big undertaking, which for me was an issue because there was a time constraint, but that would be the most overwhelming part. The skills and process can seem arduous but mostly it's just time-consuming. The end product is wonderfully useful and looks great. I am very proud of my work and am very excited to share my process. If you are interested, there is this instructable class to help you with the basics.
Step 1: Gathering Materials
- leather (for my specific design at least 1 1/2 shoulder pieces, I used 7-8 oz weight (similar to this) but you could go lighter, the sewing will be easier)
- waxed thread
- neatsfoot oil
- brass rings
- sewing needles
- leather punches (rake punch)
- box cutter
- super glue
- clamps (various sizes)
- measuring tape
- eye dropper
Step 2: Planning and Prototype
For my own purposes, I made a 1/2 scale prototype out of an old pair of jeans, I did this to make sure all my pieces lined up and make sure it looked how I wanted. In the end, I decided not to have the small front pocket, this step helped in that decision. I just hand sewed this, it took probably an hour and a half in total. A key part of making the pattern is calculating the area of all your parts so you know how much leather you'll need, for my backpack I roughly estimated that I would need over 7 sq feet, adding a cushion for the scraps and sides you cant use out of your leather. I ended up buying 2 full shoulders but have about 1/2 of one left over.
Step 3: Mapping and Cutting Out Pieces
Once I added the finishing touches to the pattern I mapped out the parts of the pack onto my first piece of leather, using the leather as efficiently as possibly I had all my edges against each other (as you can see in the photos above). drawing them out took more time than I thought it would, you need to be very precise with your corners and make sure all your lines are as straight as possible. I used chalk to make my initial marks along carpenters square and then refined them with a pencil (might take a few passes to get the mark dark enough) so I'd have a thin line to follow while cutting. You can also cut along the side of the ruler or square.
Step 4: Experimenting and Practicing
At this point, I took some time to evaluate the choices that would affect how my final product looked, the holes I punched, the stitch I used, different kinds of thread (all waxed), and most importantly, how the oil I had would change the leather. I used pure Neatsfoot oil from a local feed store that also carries leather care products, it cost around $17 and a little goes a long way. It looks a lot darker in the third photo than it actually is, let it dry completely before judging how many coats you should apply.
Step 5: Punching and Sewing the Bottom of the Main Compartment
So this is where I started actually sewing the parts together, for the 2 bottom inseams you can easily clamp the leather where you want it, punch through both layers at once while they're lined up (depending on your punch, you can see mine in the second photo), and sew them together without having to realign them. Before punching the holes, I gave myself a guideline to make sure it is straight and properly spaced from the edge. I've found that it helps to place a piece of wood under the section you are working on, this protects the surface under and provides the stability that helps the punch go through easier. I used the saddle stitch for this whole bag, you just have to make sure the knots are secure.
For these 2 seams, both edges will be on the inside, meaning the leather will have to bend quite a bit, so make sure you oil the bend and the seam well. I went a step further and used a pipet to get oil right in the seam and let it soak in, this is not necessary but I found it helped the stiff leather become workable, which will really help in the next step.
Step 6: Sewing the Sides of the Main Compartment
The order of sewing what when was very important in this project, for this step all the sewing is done the same way but it can be difficult to get the leather to line up how you'd like, I marked a line on each piece where they lined up and at the point where I wanted the stitches to start, marked a guideline the same distance from the edge on each of them, then just made sure I did the same amount of punches on either side, since working with a rake punch does the spacing for you. Before sewing, I trimmed the corner of the inside seam and that let the corners come together better. I did the 2 front seams first, but when I had the 2 back seams left to do (this point is shown in the 7th picture) I had to do the punching for both seams and then sew them because you can't punch the last side with 3/4 of them sewed. Sewing inside the bag was hard but once you got it started it only got easier.
Step 7: Making the Handle
This was pretty easy, and a nice break after the challenge of the last step. I folded a 10" piece of leather and stitched it up leaving 1.5" on each side unsewn, those sides can then lay flat and be sewn to the bag. To punch these holes I lined up where I wanted the handle to be and marked it out like any other part, but to punch the holes in the back I put a wooden box on the inside of the bag (shown in the third photo) with my scrap of wood on top of that to protect it. I used this same set up for all the sewing on the back.
Step 8: Making the Straps
There are 3 parts to making the staps, the main piece, attaching the buckles, and sewing the bottom of the adjustable part to the bottom of the bag.
My own measurements are tagged in the first photo, I based them off the length of straps on my other backpack keeping in mind that it was going to be adjustable anyway. The top 3" inches are folded over and sewn to the back. As for the buckles, I found an old purse laying around and took them off of that, this was convenient because the adjustable straps that went to the buckles originally were long enough to work with my backpack with minor alterations. To attach the buckles I could've made the rectangular piece on the bottom of the strap twice as long but I didn't think of that when I was planning so as you can see in the photos I had another piece wrapped around, which was only a problem because I had to punch and sew through 3 layers.
As for the bottom. (shown in the last photo) I had to sew through 3 layers again but the middle one (the strap stolen off the purse) was much thinner than my usual leather. First I sewed the piece that sandwiches the strap to the backpack, (it would be impossible if the steps were reversed), just by lining the parts up and punching the holes in the back the same as I had the rest. After that, it was just sewing the strap into the sandwich (parts shown in the second and third to last photos)
If I were to do this again I would find a better way to attach the bottom to the body of the bag, its been working fine but I worry about how long it will last.
Step 9: Making the Buckles for the Main Flap
This is the last sewing step! There are 2 parts to this step, sewing the brass rings at the top, and sewing the pull strap onto the bottom.
Part 1: The strap that holds the brass rings to the flap is 6" x 3/4" with sewing through 3 layers for 1 3/8", I had to punch through 2 layers at a time, like in previous steps, but it was much easier to work on the edge than it was to work on the back. They are spaced exactly in thirds on the flap.
Part 2: The long skinny adjustable straps measured 20" long (but were trimmed to an appropriate length after I saw how much of them was being used) and 7/8" wide. I sewed them on upside down (picture 4), so that when they went through the buckle the nice side would be showing (picture 5). The stitching is 1 1/4" and although it at the bottom of the bag you only have to sew through 2 layers.
Step 10: Last Step!! Oil the Leather and Make It Look Pretty
Just to finish it off I oiled the whole thing with more neatsfoot oil and continue to do so once in a while as the leather gets used and gets more pliable you don't want it to dry out. The photos are a before and after I oiled it the first time, as you can see the color is darker.
Thank you so much for reading! I appreciate any feedback you guys have!
Second Prize in the