Leather Tote Bag

So my sister came to visit me a week ago, and we did some sewing–she a circle skirt and I a leather tote.  I have to say she came away the winner since both items went home with her, but I’d do it all again for a few more days together.
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Her skirt is sewn from a heavy canvas type of material with a directional print.  In order to keep the print more or less upright, she cut four pieces to form the circle.  This strategy worked out quite well, and with all the fabric and print gathering around, the seams  are hard to spot.

While she utilized my Janome, I was busy on the Consew with leather.

 

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This is the first leather bag I’ve completed!  I’ve been working on my bag making skills, brushing up on some leather techniques, and generally working towards this moment for months now. There’s nothing like tackling a big project to gauge what I’ve learned and what I have yet to learn.

 

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The exterior is cut from a veg-tanned cow hide that I dyed with Eco-Flo water based dye in the color Dark Mahogany.  The interior is an upholstery weight fabric that Jessi picked out at Hancock Fabrics, and the pockets are lined in red cotton.

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Working with leather does require some special tools (besides the upholstery weight industrial sewing machine).  I wanted to add metal rivets for strength and visual appeal, and  I had to get the appropriate hole punch, mallet and rivet setter.  As I plan to use them extensively in the future, the extra tools were a worthy investment.  I was very impressed with how sturdy the handles felt after adding the rivets compared to when they were only stitched on.

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As far as construction, sewing this bag up wasn’t so much different from a cloth bag until I tried to turn it right side out.  The leather is quite stiff (I’d guess the hide is 4-5oz) and the seam allowances can’t be pressed open.  I literally wrestled with the bag, pushing and pulling for 10-15 minutes just to turn it.  Once it was turned, Jessi and I took turns pushing out the bottom of the bag and working on the seams.  It was at this point that I became tired and frustrated.  There has got to be a better way to do this with leather!  I’ll be experimenting with thinner/softer leathers, smaller seam allowances (I used 1/4 inch S.A.), a beveler and other designs to improve the experience and results.

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Another detail that differs from working with cloth is how one finishes the edges of leather.  The handle edges as well as the top of the bag are all cut edges that require some sort of finishing to improve the look and durability of the leather.  I used bee’s wax and a slicker to finish them on this bag.  I like the way this method looks, but it takes a fair amount of time and effort.  The other method I’m aware of is to use Edge Kote, which is simply painted on.  This method sounds easier, but in my experience, it cracks over time (ever had a purse with a handle where the edges are cracked all over?)

All in all, this bag was a lot of fun to make and I’m pleased as punch with the results.  I’m already working on #2 and planning #3.  Have you worked with leather?  Any resources you could recommend for learning leather techniques?

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20 comments

  1. Well, I have seen this bag in person and can verify that it is beautiful inside and out!!! I’m glad that you two got to spend time together, just wish that I could see you one of these days :)

  2. Such a gorgeous bag!! I love it!!! Your sis sure is a lucky gal. That skirt is awesome, too!! I’d love to make some leather bags someday. I haven’t worked with leather for a while and its only been belts and wallets and such. Nothing amazing like a bag!!!

      1. Well, I think it’s super cool that you went all in and made such a gorgeous bag. You definitely have talent for leather making. I have not sewn leather on a machine, but I’m looking forward to it. I was just reading Sew Stylish and they have some leather sewing tips in this month’s issue.

    1. Hi Cheryl! I am working towards making custom bags; I’d love to make you a tote. I’m still practicing and working on perfecting a couple designs to start with. I’ll be selling on etsy.com. Right now my shop name is TheRosyPony (in case you want to look it up).

    1. Hey, thank you! This one is made of vegetable tanned leather, maybe about 6 oz in weight. I’ve since tried to get thinner leathers because this one was a bit difficult. A 4 oz vegetable tanned leather would probably be ideal.

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