I’ve recently discovered my love for leather. It actually all started with my current purse that I had for about a year which started falling apart a week after I bought it. It was just one of those $40, run of the mill, fake (sorry... faux) leather ones you get everywhere. I got so tired of seeing that old thing at some point that I looked into other options. When I saw some purses online together with their hefty price tags, I knew I could make those myself. Handmade comes at a cost, which I value, but I love making things myself, so here it goes…
Step 1: First Things First!
Let me tell you right off the bat about things I learned or did wrong (at least the ones I discovered by myself, I’m new at this).
1. Work with a clean and (mostly) empty surface or you might scratch your precious leather. Sucks pretty bad, because you put a lot of work into this.
2. Double check your work before you make any final moves, like I did on the long piece handle. Riveted it on backwards. It wasn’t impossible to take them off again, but not pretty… This caused me to not have enough rivets left in the end to finish my strap.
Step 2: Materials and Tools Used
- (Fabric) Scissors
- Hammer (regular and rubber kind)
- "Crab fork" in lieu of wing divider or groover
- Hole punch
- Utility knife
- Pliers (to pull the needle through the hole, it's tough sometimes)
- Binder clips etc.
- Solid surface (I'm using a counter top surface sample)
- Rivet setter
- Leather needle & Tapestry needle
- Edge beveler
- Cutting mat
- Edge burnisher
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- Leather (mine is 2mm)
- Rivets (9mm)
- Glue (E6000)
- Thread (Nylon)
- Cardboard (for pattern)
Step 3: Pattern Making
I started by making my own pattern. It helps to do some research in advance. Try simply googling leather purse or look on Etsy, they have some beautiful stuff on there.
I love drafting with pencil and paper, but you could make your own patterns with softwares like Illustrator.
After finishing drafting, I glued it to some sturdy paper/cardboard and cut it out afterwards. Next up, I put it together to double check that everything would fit nicely and look the way I imagined.
The way I designed the inner pockets is that they're held by the same rivets as the handles. The handles themselves consist of two pieces - short and long, for a lack of better description. The short piece is directly riveted to the actual purse and the long, loose handle is connected to the short piece with a D-ring.
The way I determined where the short piece of the handles are located on the purse was by imagining where the closure flap would be once it folded over. Now I had to find out the length for the long pieces. I laid down a measuring tape and measured the distance from the D-ring when attached to the short piece and the top of the purse which came out to be ~10cm. Then I added 4cm because of the fold over around the D-ring, plus the actual length of the long handle which is 45cm. It all totaled a length of 74cm. Does that make sense? :)
Next, I created the inner pockets now that I knew where they would be attached. Nothing special to report here, the picture shows everything. ;)
For the shoulder strap I just measured the length of my current one, which I felt most comfortable with. I made it non-adjustable, just because I can't remember the last time I changed it, but that's a personal preference.
Step 4: Cutting and Skiving the Leather
Now the pieces have to be cut from the leather. I laid down the pattern facing down and traced them all. When cutting out the pieces I found using a utility knife with fresh blades the best. They went through the leather with barely any pressure.
As it is with leather, it’s not all the same thickness, so I skived down some pieces with a skiving knife.
Step 5: Creating the Pockets
For the pockets, I made a small crease with the utility knife, being careful not to go too deep of course. But it helps when folding the leather. I used some E6000 glue on the edges before I punched them and sewed them up. I let it dry over night and held it together with some wooden “popsicle sticks” from the dollar store and binder clips. I prefer that method, because it applies the pressure evenly and you won’t have any marks left afterwards from the clips.
To mark the guide line for the hole punch on the sides, I used a crab fork I also found at the dollar store. It’s awesome and has the perfect distance.
I used a regular punch for the holes, brown nylon thread (which unfortunately is not waxed) and beeswax.
Step 6: Burnishing
Unfortunately, I forgot to burnish my pockets before I sewed them up. I went on to burnish all my other pieces, applying some beeswax and using my homemade burnisher for this step.
Step 7: Punching Away
Next up: punching many holes!
For the rounded piece I used a two hole punch after I made a guide line with the fancy crab fork.
For the ones on the gusset, I marked the first line with the fork and then, using an awl, marked a second line ¼" away. I did this on all four pieces that make up the gusset/come together on the side.
Step 8: Let's Start Attaching Things
I started off with the long piece handles, which needed the D-ring attached. In hindsight, I should have left more space for the D-ring to move.
I used a rivet setter and 9mm long rivets.
Step 9: Attaching the Closure
For the closure, I first had a different idea that’s why I had made this oval hole you see, but that didn’t work so well anymore, so I had to change it to something else. It’s much easier and prettier than what I first had in mind. It’s basically just an bigger oval piece of leather that sits tight to the surface and therefore keeps the closing flap down and shut. You’ll get a better idea seeing the pictures.
Step 10: Attaching Handles and Pockets
In this step, I riveted the the handles to the purse together with the pockets on the inside.
Step 11: Sewing the Gusset/Sides Together
Now the harder part. Sewing. Sounds simple and it normally is, but of course the way I had chosen to do it made it a bit more difficult. ;) But nothing's impossible!
I laid the two pieces that make up the gusset over each other. The one that is connected to the front, sits on top. I picked a cross stitch to add some interest.
I guess the thing that made it so hard was to go though four layers of leather at some point and some of the holes didn't match 100% at times, so there was a lot of wiggling and pushing. Once I got down to two layers, past the shoulder strap attachment, it was much easier.
Step 12: Folding the Flap Over
Now I had to attach the base that I designed to fold over on to the gusset. I couldn’t punch any holes prior to this moment, because it wasn’t 100% possible to know where they would go. I just folded the half moon piece over, held it down tightly and used an awl to first mark and then actually make holes. Sewing this part was a bit tricky as well, since it's hard to see inside the bag once both sides are closed up.
I also used some rubber gloves at some point, because it helped pulling and pushing the needle through the holes having more traction.
Step 13: Finishing the Closure
Once both sides were done, the bag was almost done. I had waited to cut the flap for the closure until the end, because I didn’t know how flexible the bag would be once it was finished and I didn't want it to be too short. The flap attached with two rivets to the fold over piece. Its length is more of a personal choice. It is 2cm wide.