So you want a nice new bespoke leather bag. Where do you start?
The first bags I made all came out of my frustration that I could never find exactly the right bag for me.
As someone who is always misplacing an item because I have put it somewhere safe, I don’t want a bag with lots of pockets. What I want is something very minimal, with capacity to carry a select number of items for the day, but not so big that I end up carrying the kitchen sink.
So for me, the ideal bag has one or two compartments. It should be large enough to take the items I regularly carry, with just enough spare space to get everything in and out, but not rattle around. Living in London a secure fastening is imperative, and I like a shoulder strap so my hands are free.
I gathered together the items I usually carry – an iPad air, wallet, mobile phone, keys, and glasses case. Next I stacked them all up in a pile on my workbench and measured around them. This gave me the basic dimensions for the bag.
From here I then made up a pattern and mock up in card. My ideal bag was so simple, really just a box with a flap to cover/close it. I didn’t really need to complete this step, but I did – just for the practice. And it was helpful in positioning the buckle closure.
Time to select the leather for the job. My go to leather is English Bridle leather, usually made by JE Sedgwick, but in this case I used a split leather (i.e. leather that doesn’t have to top grain) in navy.
I used the pattern to mark out, and then cut the leather by hand using a saddlers’ head knife. The leather was then edged, taking the sharp edge off the cut leather. I stained the edges black, and polished them using a piece of linen cloth.
Creasing the edge of the leather using a heated crease iron then helps to seal the edges.
Next I used a pair of dividers to mark out a stitching line, and marked out the stitch placements with a pricking iron.
I had selected brass fittings, and these needed to be fitted next. I marked out the position of the chapes (the pieces that hold the D ring for the straps) and the buckle closure. These were then hand stitched into position with waxed blue linen thread.
Now to the lining. I wanted to contrast the navy with some royal blue nappa leather. Nappa a very soft leather that is typically made from sheep or goat skins and has a lovely luxurious feel and makes a stunning lining.
This was glued to the leather, and trimmed. With all the pieces ready it was time to complete the stitching. All done by hand using box stitch. This is a variant of the traditional double handed saddle stitch, which is used to stitch two pieces of leather together that meet at a 90 degree angle.
Final step was to prepare the shoulder strap – it was cut using a strap cutter, edged, stained, polished and creased before being stitched onto the bag.
A final polish up and my bag was finished and ready for use.