Ahhh...the smell of natural vegetable tanned leather! My favorite! It becomes more beautiful and develops more character as it ages. Even more cool; no two pieces of leather are the same so they will never age exactly the same way. The patina, or darkening color, is part of the aging process and will depend on the light it is exposed to, the oils it absorbs from your skin, the conditioners you use on it, and so on.
Vegetable tanned leather is definitely my favorite type of leather, which is why I chose it to make this very simple, but useful 1960s style duffel bag that will last for years.
Let's do this!
Step 1: The Bits, Parts, and Pieces
We can make the duffel bag several ways: (1) with or without a pocket; (2) using a shoulder strap that you already own; or (3) making a leather shoulder strap. I made my bag to include a pocket and leather shoulder strap.
TIP: I gathered the bits, parts and pieces shopping at Tandy Leather Company for both the convenience and the availability of all the items. If you don't have a Tandy store near you, you can shop online at tandyleather.com. Over the past few years, I've slowly gathered the tools that I need for most of my projects. It's ok if you don't have all the tools, you can improvise or substitute, as you need to. Just FYI, the Tandy Leather website has a library of videos for most tools they sell, showing you how to use them.
Tools I used for this project:
1. Mallet or maul (I don't use a hammer because I don't want to cause damage to my punches)
2. Craftool Oval Drive Punch, size 9, catalog #3778-09 (3/16" x 1/4")
3. Craftool Round Hole Drive Punch, size 4, catalog #3777-04 (5/32")
4. Craftool Round Hole Drive Punch, size 6, catalog #3777-06 (3/16")
5. Craftool Round Hole Drive Punch, size 00, catalog #3777-33 (1/16")
TIP: You can use a Rotary Punch that has all the punch sizes instead of the individual hole punches
6. Razor or cutting tool/Utility knife
7. Strip/Strap Cutter, catalog #3080-00 (you can use a cutting tool and ruler, but this cutter makes life so much easier)
8. Awl or scribing tool to make marks on the leather (even a nail will work)
9. Poly cutting board or poundo board to protect both your work surface and your tool tips when punching the holes in your leather
1. The body is a 15" x 25" rectangle cut from 4-5 oz vegetable tanned leather
2. If you want to add the pocket on the outside of the bag, cut a 7" x 10" rectangle from the 4-5 oz leather
3. The two round ends (rounds) are 9" in diameter and are cut from 6-7 oz leather. I used a dinner plate as my template. If you wanted, you could use 4-5 oz leather. I chose the 6-7 oz just to give the bag a bit more stability.
4. 1/4" leather lacing. The Tandy store sells 1/4" lacing, or you can make your own using a strip/strap cutter or cutting tool and ruler. I made my lacing from the 4-5 oz leather using the strip/strap cutter.
5. 12" Zipper. Never scrimp on the quality of your zipper!
6. 7" Zipper, if you're adding a pocket
7. Cast Dee Rings, 2 each, 3/4" solid brass, catalog #1129-01
8. Chicago Screws
Leather Strap Materials List:
1. The adjustable leather strap is made of two lengths of 3/4" wide strips of 6-7 oz vegetable tanned leather (or 8-9 oz if you want it more stout). A second option is to cut two of each length from the 4-5 oz leather and glue/sew them together for a heavier strap. A third option is the Tandy store. They offer 3/4" Heavyweight Cowhide Strips (#4523-00) in 50" strips.
The first section of the strap is 3/4" x 20" and the second strap is 3/4" x 45". The reason they are not both the same length, is to insure that the buckle doesn't rest on your shoulder.
TIP: An alternative is to make a fixed length strap, eliminating the buckle, which you can make to fit you specifically; or you can use a strap that you already own.
2. Belt Keeper, 1 each, 3/4", catalog #4600-01
3. Strap Buckle, 1 each, 3/4", catalog #11551-04
4. Trigger Snaps, 2 each, 3/4", catalog #1147-00
5. More Chicago Screws
Step 2: Making the Rounds
Cut two circles (or rounds), one for each end of the bag, from the 6-7 oz leather, measuring 9" in diameter. You can use 4-5 oz leather, if you prefer. I used 6-7 oz leather to add a bit of stability to my bag. The perfect round object to use as a template is a dinner plate.
Marking and placement of the punch holes is the most critical part of this project; so please forgive me if I spend a lot of time here.
On the first leather round (smooth side up), use your awl (or nail) to very gently scribe a circle 1/2" away from the edge, all the way around. The holes that you punch for lacing will be centered on this line. Next, you will need to make marks on the line so you know how far apart each hole punch should be. Make your first small mark anywhere on the line...from this mark, measure out 1" and keep marking 1" increments all the way around the circle. The first illustration shows a drawn depiction of the first 7 marks. The second illustration shows how the round should look after the holes have been punched.
Prepare to punch the lacing holes.
Protect your working surface and the tips of your punches by placing a poly cutting board or poundo board under your leather work.
Using your mallet/maul and the #9 Craftool Oval Drive Punch, punch out the lacing holes. Note that the punch should be centered over each of the 1" cross marks you made on the circle. Note also, the direction that each oval hole is oriented. The ends of the oval shapes point toward the center of the circle.
Once you finish punching out the lacing holes on the first leather round, repeat the process on the second round. You can cheat! Put the smooth sides of the rounds together with the rough side of the first round facing up and the rough side of the second round facing the work surface. We do it this way to insure that we have to opposite rounds rather than two matching rounds. Use your awl (or nail) to gently trace the punch holes on the second round. If you use this cheating method, the two rounds must stay perfectly lined up the entire time you are tracing, or your lacing holes will be off.
When you finish, count the number of holes you punched on each circle (they should be the same)...my circle has 49 holes.
To add the Dee Rings, cut two strips from the 4-5 oz leather, measuring 3/4" x 5" each. Fold the first strip in half and using the size 6 Craftool Round Hole Drive Punch, punch two holes through the folded leather. The first hole is centered and 1/2" up from the unfolded end; the second hole is centered and up 1-1/2" from the unfolded end. Take note of the illustration for placement of the strip on the round (slightly above center). Use the strip with the holes punched to mark the holes on the round. Punch them out too. Add a 3/4" Dee Ring to the folded end of the strip and attach to the round using the Chicago Screws.
Repeat on the other round.
Step 3: The Body
The length of the body is really your choice. The size I chose was 15" and cut a 15" x 25" rectangle from the 4-5 oz leather. From here on out, I'll refer to the 15" as the top (or bottom) and the 25" as the long sides. Using your awl (or nail), scribe three lines; one at the top and one on each long side, 1/2" from the edge. Refer to the illustration to insure the correct orientation of the oval lacing holes. Mark the 1" increments on the long side lines of the rectangle first, starting at the top of the leather. Punch out the lacing holes on both long sides. My rounds have 49 holes, which means that each long side of the rectangle has to have 49 holes, BUT, because I want the leather to overlap, I added three more holes to the length for a total of 52 holes on each side.
On the top (or short) line that you scribed, starting on the left side, make your first mark 1/2" away from the lacing holes on the long side. Now mark 1" increments across the line. The last 1" mark should be no closer than 1/2" to the punched holes on the right side. Punch out the lacing holes. You should now have both sides and the top holes punched.
Count down to lacing hole number 50 on the long side. Using your awl or nail, scribe a bottom line from the middle of hole 50 on the left to the middle of hole 50 on the right. using the exact measurements from the top line, mark the matching lacing holes on the bottom line. Punch out the holes.
Add your 12" zipper. Measure down 6" from the top and using the dimensions of your zipper, cut a length and width from the leather that allows only the teeth and zipper pull to show. Once you are satisfied with the fit, you can add some Elmer's glue to the zipper material and glue it from the back side of the leather. Make sure the zipper is zipping in the right direction! The glue dries fairly quickly, so it is ready to sew in place. You can either sew it by hand by punching holes or by using a sewing machine that can sew through leather. I normally sew by hand since I don't have an industrial sewing machine. I use the Craftool Round Hole Drive Punch, size 00, catalog #3777-00 to punch the holes and the Craftool Spacer, size 5, catalog #8091-00, to make sure my spacing is consistent. Tandy has several choices for waxed threads (your choice) and also chisels (or pricking irons) that can be used in place of the 00 hole punch.
TIP: To help your zipper move smoothly, rub it with candle wax or beeswax.
If you want to add a pocket, cut a 7" x 10" rectangle from the 4-5 oz leather. You can use a small round object (like a jar lid) as a template to round the four corners. Mark your line around the perimeter of the pocket (1/2" away from the edge) and mark the 1" increments all the way around. Punch the lacing holes. Add the zipper, as before, 2" down from the top of the pocket. Once the lacing holes are punched, place the pocket 3" down from the 12" you zipper you just sewed on the bag, and center it. Use your awl or nail to mark the lacing holes to be punched on the bag. Punch these holes.
It's time to lace!
Step 4: Let's Start Lacing!
You will need to cut several lengths of 1/4" lacing from the 4-5 oz vegetable tanned leather. I use the Craftool Strip/Strap Cutter to make my lacing. It's a bit more difficult, but you can cut your lacing using a ruler and utility knife. The Tandy store has several types of lace and strap makers to choose from, or as noted earlier, you can buy pre-cut 1/4" lacing. For each part that you lace, you will cut a length of lacing at least 2-1/2 to 3 times longer than the section you are going to lace to allow for the thickness of the leather pieces you are lacing together.
THIS I DO KNOW: it's better for the lacing to be too long than to get almost to the end and find out that it's too short...
TIP: Cut the end of your lacing into an angle to make it easier to thread through the punched holes. Even better, there is another "tool" you can use to help with the lacing. There is a Jumbo (#1193-02) and a Super Jumbo (1193-05) Perma-Lok Needle that has a threaded, tubular end that will twist on to your lacing and make it oh-so-much easier to lace. You can also push the lacing through the holes and catch it with a pair of needle-nose pliers.
If adding a pocket, lace it to the body. Make sure the pocket is right side up! Begin lacing from the underside of the body. It doesn't matter where on the pocket the lacing begins. Pull the lacing through, leaving about 2 to 2-1/2" underneath. Drop the lacing through the next hole and pull it snug, making sure that the smooth side of the lacing lays flush on the smooth side of the pocket. When you make your first return stitch underneath, tuck the 2 to 2-1/2" end through the stitch before snugging it tight. Continue stitching in and out until you reach the end. Again, tuck the last lace in the last stitch before snugging it tight. Clip the excess lacing. You now have a pocket!
Next, we'll form the body into its tubular shape. Cut a length of lacing 2-1/2 to 3 times longer than the width of the top. Next, roll the top of the leather body in a tube shape, aligning the punched holes of the top over the punched holes of the bottom.Begin lacing from the inside of the tube. It doesn't matter on which side you begin. As before, pull the lacing through, leaving about 2 to 2-1/2" inside. When you make your first stitch inside, you will want to tuck the end through the stitch before snugging it tight. The smooth side of the lacing should be showing on the outside of the bag. Continue stitching in and out until you reach the end. Again, tuck the last lace in the last stitch before snugging it tight. Clip the excess lacing. Your tube is finished! The zipper on the body is now the top of the bag.
Now, let's lace the first round! It does't matter which end you lace first. What does matter, is that the round must be placed so that the Dee Ring is at the top and aligned with the body zipper.
TIP: Because the leather round is a bit stiff, I used a several pieces of 550 paracord and tied about every 3rd or 4th hole to the matching hole on the bag. See the illustration.
Go ahead and lace the first round. The second round is a bit trickier since you can't reach through the open end as you could on the first round. Unzip the bag and you can gain the access you need.
Groovy! You have a 1960s style leather duffel bag!
Step 5: Want to Make a Strap?
Choose the leather weight from which you want to build your strap. Either 6-7 oz or 8-9 oz would be great. As an alternative, you can glue/sew two pieces of 4-5 oz strips together; or you purchase pre-cut strips.
Cut a 3/4" wide strap, 20" in length. Then cut a 3/4" wide strap, 45" in length.
Attach a trigger snap to the end of each strap. On the first strap, fold over 2-1/2" of the strap (smooth side out). Using the size 6 Craftool Round Hole Drive Punch, punch two holes through the folded leather. The first hole is centered and 1/2" up from the unfolded end; the second hole is centered and up 1-1/2" from the unfolded end. Add the trigger snap and secure using Chicago Screws. Repeat on the second strap.
Slide the belt keeper on the 20" strap. As above, prepare the other end of the 20" strap (punch two holes for the Chicago Screws). Before adding the buckle, you will need to make a small 1/8" x 1" cut from the folded end to allow the tongue of the buckle to slide through. Add the buckle. Attach the trigger snap of this strap to one end of your bag.
Let's finish up on the 45" strap. Using your razor/utility knife, round off or shape the end of the strap (opposite end from the one with the trigger snap). From the end, measure up 3", then begin marking 1" increments for the buckle holes. Using the size 6 Craftool Round Hole Drive Punch, punch the holes, insuring the holes are centered on the strap. Attach the trigger snap of this strap to the other end of your bag. Buckle the two end and move the belt keeper to hold the excess strap in place.
Adjust the strap for a comfortable fit!
Step 6: Dress Her Up and Take Her Out!
If you've made it this far (and actually made the bag), CONGRATULATIONS!
Treat your bag kindly...meaning that you should treat the leather with a product like Neatsfoot Oil or Mink Oil (some people use Extra Virgin Olive Oil) every 6-8 months. You should do the first treatment now! Let the oil soak in and dry thoroughly before use. This treatment will keep the leather from drying out and cracking. Treat your bag right and it will last you a lifetime. Be aware that most products will cause the leather to darken.
As you use the bag, the leather will break-in and soften. It will take on a beautiful patina! If you want to hurry this process on, let it sit in the sun for a day or two. If you do this, move it around so all sides get exposed to the sunlight evenly.
Dress her up and take her out! You can add a thin strip of leather to your zippers to not only make it look more cool than it already is, but to make it a bit easier to zip and unzip the bag.
Add some beads! Add some personality!