I’ve sewn many, many bags over the years, but this is the first time that I’ve sewn one in leather. I don’t think that it will be the last time.
The pattern is the Style Arc London tote bag. From their website: Gorgeous tote bag with clever but simple design that creates a flat base. The buckle closure makes this bag secure and the inside pocket includes a phone compartment. This bag is fully lined. FABRIC SUGGESTION & DESCRIPTION Leather, canvas, denim.
The leather I used was from NSW Leather Co in Collingwood. It was rather thin and very soft, so it was actually very easy to sew. The brown has a metallic sheen; the contrasting mustard leather is matt. I can’t remember what type of skins they were unfortunately, but they were lovely to work with. I took the pattern pieces in and selected the skins that would fit – the staff there were very helpful and provided me with plenty of advice, even though it’s really more a wholesale place (but happy to assist with retail, even small purchases like mine).
Bags are really difficult to photograph effectively! The lining fabric is quilting cotton, from a now discontinued Anna Maria Horner range. I included a key leash, and an internal pocket on each side of the bag.
I decided to use contrasting stitching throughout, which was a bit of a gamble as it required very slow and patient stitching! I had done a bit of testing before I decided what needles, machine feet and threads to use. On my machine, with this fairly thin leather, a fresh sharp needle, regular Gutterman thread and the normal presser foot worked the best! Who’d have thought! My machine doesn’t have very strong presser foot pressure, which probably helps – others may have more luck using a walking foot, or a teflon foot, or leather needles. My advice is to sew a few samples and see what works best in your situation. I used quilting clips to hold the pieces together – well worth it, as you can’t pin leather without leaving holes!
I carry a fair bit of stuff in my bags, so decided to add some rivets to the handles for extra security. I also folded the handles in half around cording and sewed them together to provide extra strength and support. As it turns out the cording tends to move out of the straps when I’m using the bag, so I probably need to glue the ends of it in place. Some of the handle stitching has come undone where it attaches to the bag, so this also needs reinforcement. Handles do a lot of work!
I have to give lots of my bag making credit to Nicole Mallalieu – I learned all my bag making skills and techniques from Nikki, and strongly recommend her books and patterns (and classes if you’re in Melbourne or online classes on Creativebug) if you want to learn how to make bags well. All the tips she teaches can be applied to sewing any type of bag, and you can often apply those skills to other types of sewing as well. Nikki knows her stuff and has a number of formal qualifications and plenty of experience.
Oh, the little buckle on the front that provides a closure for the bag came from Jimmy Buttons. That place is a whole other story – I have never seen so many trims, buttons, buckles, closures, etc in one place – but with highly eccentric owners who apparently prefer to sell in bulk! On the advice from a shop assistant who was trying to sort the shelves (and wasn’t allowed behind the counter) I left the money for my single buckle on the unattended counter and quickly left.
Actually, a magnetic or clip closure would have been much better than that buckle – threading the strap through it is a bit of a pain. I’d adapt that if I sewed this bag up again. So in summary, this bag isn’t perfect, but it’s not bad either for a first effort in leather, all sewn on a domestic machine without any special tools.