Like a lot of other people in the galaxy, I've spent a good part of 2015 quivering with anticipation for the release of the first new Star Wars Movie, The Force Awakens. Of course, I've tried to balance my excitement with a healthy dose of skepticism, remembering the lingering trauma of the three terrible prequels, but who am I kidding??... The anticipation is half the fun!... So I figured I might as well enjoy it, and maybe even channel it into something creative.
With that in mind, I decided to use leatherwork to create a bag that looked like the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon. I thought the shape of the ship would lend itself well to a small purse and I liked the challenge of trying to mimic the sci-fi metal finish of the Falcon with leatherworking techniques like tooling and dying. The adventures aboard the Millennium Falcon were always my favorite part of the Star Wars movies, and of course the ship itself, with its scrappy exterior, fickle yet powerful hyperdrive and unusual design has become a kind of symbol for the spirt of the movies themselves. "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid."
I designed a relatively simple bag and used hardware, texturing and dying to create details that mimicked the warn look of the ship. To create the illuminated rear hyperdrive module of the Falcon, I added a strip of LEDs with a simple on/off mechanism attached to the snap closure of the bag. I tried to turn as many components of the ship as I could into functional design elements while still keeping the overall form relatively straightforward. It was a really fun project, challenging in all the right ways.
Making this bag also ended up feeling somewhat like a ritual of hope and anticipation. I've heard the Millennium Falcon makes an appearance in the new movie and I, for one, take this as a hopeful sign. As I recreated my own version of this beloved vessel, which so embodied the heart of the original movies, I think I was also channeling all of my childish excitement and wonder into my creation, willing this new incarnation to capture some of the magic of those first adventures.
May the Force Be With Us All.
Step 1: Supplies
- A printer to print out the pattern (which I have included above)
- Veg tanned leather - a large piece about 2x3', unmilled, about 5oz thick
- Small piece of wire mesh or window screen
- Leather dye and finish - I used Smoke Black High-Light Stain, Black Waterstain, Red Eco Flo Dye, and Clear Gloss Finish
- Sponges and daubers
- Leather glue
- Swivel knife
- Xacto knife
- Leather scissors
- Textured beveling stamp
- Large and small seeder stamps
- 3D printed circuit stamp (optional)
- Basketweave stamp (optional)
- Ball point stylus
- Adjustable V gouge
- Hole punch
- Stitch punch
- Leather needle and waxed thread
- Quartz and poundo board
- Waxed paper
- Large and small grommets and matching setters
- 1 1/4" O rings
- Magnetic snap closure
- Chain, or another material for the strap
- Two split rings to connect the chain
- Lining Material - I found mine at Mendel's in SF and couldn't resist using it
- Sewing Machine
- Fabric Scissors
- Two strips of nine 12V cool white LEDs
- 2 feet of connection wire
- 9V battery snap connector
- 9V battery
- Soldering iron and solder
- Heat shrink tubing
- Heat gun
- Hot glue gun
Step 2: Making the Pattern
To create a good pattern for my Millennium Falcon purse, I first looked at a lot of photos of the ship and thought about how its form could best be translated into a bag. Then I imported in image into Adobe Illustrator and traced around the shape of the ship to get the proportions right. I wanted to keep the pattern relatively simple, but to give the different elements as much depth and detail as possible. I also wanted to see how much I could use pre-existing parts of the ship as functional elements of the bag.
I decided on a simple pouch design with two main flat faces and a curved wall creating volume between the two. I added a pocket with a folded detail to the bottom half on the front and back to define the raised engine exhaust area. I cut out a notch on each side of the ship and designed a separate strip to represent the central gun well and escape pods that would sit in this notch, wrapping around the front and back and connecting to metal O rings at the sides to represent the ends of the escape pods. To represent the cockpit I created another separate leather piece would connect to the front and back with elements in the middle that would be riveted together to create a 3 dimensional cockpit.
After creating my basic pattern pieces, I chose some detail elements from my photos and traced simplified versions of them onto my pattern in blue. I tried to choose shapes that I knew I could replicate with the leather tools and stamps I had on hand. I decided to use hardware to define some of the design elements as well. So wherever there were ports of hatches in the Falcon, I marked places where I would attach grommets or rivets.
I separated out all my pattern pieces and marked sewing lines on them where necessary, and flipped and duplicated them to create all the pieces I needed and then printed them on 11X17 paper. I tested my pattern by assembling it in paper first, then going bak and making any necessary changes to my pattern.
Step 3: Tracing the Pattern
To trace my pattern onto leather, I first roughly cut out each of my pattern pieces leaving a little space around the edges. Then I lay my leather out on my cutting mat and "cased" it by dampening the entire thing with water and a sponge. This allows the leather to take the traced lines more effectively.
I arranged my pattern pieces on the leather, tacking them down in a few places with tape. I used a ball point modeling stylus to trace all my cut lines, sewing lines and detail lines through onto the leather. Then I removed the pattern pieces, and roughly cut out each leather piece leaving a little room around the edges.
Step 4: Tooling Part 1: the Swivel Knife
To create the details on the Falcon, I used a few different leather tools to carve and texture the lines I had already traced. It is best to do this over a hard base with a slightly softer surface on top. I use a combination of quartz slab and poundo board for this. The leather also needs to be wet throughout this process so I always keep a sponge and water nearby, to re-case my leather when it starts to dry out.
The first tool I used was a swivel knife. This is a carving tool that allows you to cut grooves into your leather where you want to define lines or the edges of pattern elements. You hold the knife with your thumb and middle finger while your index finger rests in the saddle at the top. Push down on the knife with your index finger while pulling it forward and guiding it around curves with other two fingers. The action takes a some getting used to, but with a little practice it becomes fairly simple.
I used the swivel knife to trace all the detail lines on each leather pattern piece. Most of these lines are straight, so using the swivel knife here is relatively easy. Be sure to make distinct lines, but don't so deeply as to damage the structure of your leather.
Step 5: Tooling Part 2: Beveling and Stamping
Once I had all my lines traced with the swivel knife, I used a few additional tools to create the detail on the rest of the ship. I kept my reference photos in view and tried to create texture that mimicked the features of the ship. Though I chose to use some specific leather working tools and stamps here, this would also be a great project for experimental tooling using ordinary objects. If you don't have exactly the tools I used, try experimenting with different tools and found materials on a scrap piece of leather until you figure out how to create a texture you like. I've gotten some great results in other projects just using things I found around the shop.
To create my texture I first used a textured beveling tool to stamp down the leather next to the carved lines in places where I wanted to create depth and indicate that the ship was divided into different sections or levels.
Next I used a small and medium seeder stamp to add some circular markings in various places on the ship.
I used a geometric stamp I had selected from Tandy to add some variation in detail in a few places on the escape pods and in the back around the heat vents.
I used the pointy end of my stylus to poke holes in a lot of places to represent bolts holding the metal panels of the ship together.
I also used a circuit board stamp I had 3D printed for another project to add detail in a few places, but this is absolutely not a necessary tool.
Step 6: Punching Sewing Holes
Now I punched sewing holes in the main body and pocket pieces of my leather where I had traced sewing lines from my patterns. To do this I cased the leather in the areas I wanted to punch and then used a diamond stitching chisel and a hammer to punch even lines of holes.
On the body I punched holes around the front mandibles and down to where the pockets would start on each side.
Before I punched holes in the pocket portion, I needed to crease the folded sections. To do this effectively I folded, then pounded the leather with a hammer to create a defined crease. Then I unfolded and used a V gouge on the creases to make them fold more easily. With the creases folded I cased the leather and then punched sewing holes through all the layers.
Step 7: Painting Dying and Finishing
The first step in creating the right color effect on my leather was to use red Eco Flo dye to paint a few panels of each pattern piece red. As Han says to Luke and Obi Wan, he has apparently made a lot of "special modifications" to the Falcon himself, so ostensibly these red patches are panels of the ship that have been replaced during its lifetime. I thought adding these splashes of color also gave the ship more visual interest. Once again I referred to my photos of the falcon to decide where to paint.
Once these sections had dried, I used a sponge and to apply my Smoke Black High Light Stain to the entirety of each piece. I applied the dye in circular strokes, working it into the details and grooves I had created in the leather. This stain will naturally go on rather unevenly, and for our purposes here, this is just fine because the Falcon is, of course, supposed to look a little shabby and worn. You can manipulate the stain to your liking as you apply it, making it darker and lighter in places to add more depth.
After my stain had dried I finished each piece with a clear gloss finish. I found that no matter how much my stain had dried, applying the finish still seemed to strip some of the dye away and smear it. I didn't actually mind this because I wanted the whole thing to be a bit lighter, but it did require some careful buffing and dabbing to get an even finish.
Step 8: Trimming
When the finish on my pieces had dried, I trimmed away the excess leather from the edges of my patterns. On most pieces this just involved following the lines I had traced, but on the two main body pieces, I made sure to trim front sections first, then fold the facing layer under and trace the outline of the front layer onto the facing before cutting it out so the two layers would match up perfectly when glued together.
Step 9: Dying the Backs and Edges
Next I dyed the backs of the few pieces that would be visible later. I dyed the back of the cockpit piece, and the escape pod pieces. I also used my wool daubers to dye the edges of some of the pieces. In retrospect I wish I had dyed all the edges at this point to save time and effort later.
Step 10: Adding Grommet Details
Now I added my various sized grommets in places where I wanted them to mimic elements of the ship's design, like the heat vents, quad laser cannon wells, and the base of the sensor dish.
I punched holes for my grommets with a rotary or manual punch depending on their location and then set the grommets with the appropriate grommet setting tool and a hammer.
Step 11: Attaching the Snap
I marked where I wanted the two halves of my magnetic snap closure to sit on the facing layers of two main body pieces. I used an xacto to cut small slits in the leather here and inserted the tabs of the snaps, folding them down over the metal plate on the other side of the leather.
Then I soldered a length of stranded black wire onto one tab of each of these snaps. When these wires are hooked up to the LEDs and battery, this will allow the snap to act as a switch for the hyperdrive lights, turning them on when the bag is snapped shut, and off when it is opened.
Step 12: Gluing and More Stitch Punching
Now, it was time to attach the pockets to the body pieces and punch stitch holes all the way through. To do this, I first glued down the folds on the pocket pieces with leather cement. I applied cement to both sides, waited for it to be tacky, then stuck the sides together.
Then I applied glue around the underside edges of the pockets, and the top side edges of the body pieces and stuck them together, making sure they lined up properly.
With the pocket and body together I used my stitch punch to punch the holes on the pockets through the layers below.
I did the same on the upper part of the body pieces, punching the holes from the front through onto the folded facing pieces.
Step 13: Soldering the Hyperdrive LEDs
To create the lights in the rear of the ship, I soldered two strips of nine LEDs to a 9V battery clip with the purse snap as the switch. I connected the red power wire from the LEDs directly to the red wire of the battery clip, then soldered the ground from the LEDs to one side of the magnetic snap and the ground from the battery clip to the other side.
I used heat shrink and a little glue over both ends of the led strips to hold them parallel to eachother.
Step 14: Cutting and Sewing the Lining
To create the lining of the bag, I laid out my Star Wars technical readout fabric and cut out two main lining pieces and one square to act as a small pocket. I pressed and hemmed all 4 sides of the pocket and sewed it down on three sides to one of the two main lining pieces.
Step 15: Attaching the Lining
To attach the fabric lining to the leather, I covered the underside of each piece with leather cement and pressed them together, sandwiching and hiding the wires beneath the fabric. I also cut a small slit in the fabric allowing the battery clip to feed into the pocket.
I made sure the top of the fabric lining pieces extended up under the bottom edges of the leather facings, then I applied glue to the facing and glued them down over the fabric.
Step 16: Attaching the Sensor Dish
To attach the button I had selected to act as my sensor dish, I poked holes through the bottom layer of leather with an awl and sewed on my button with waxed thread and a blunt leather needle. I left some slack in the connection and wrapped my thread around itself at the end creating a stem for the button dish.
Step 17: Covering the Hyperdrive Aperture
To create an opening to contain the lights of the hyperdrive, I cut out a rectangle in the long piece that forms the walls of the bag and covered the opeing with a piece of wire mesh I found lying around our studio. I glued this mesh down on the edges, then further reenforced it by gluing a piece of thin green leather around it (because that was what I had on hand, and I would be covering it up later).
Step 18: Final Grommets
The last grommets I added were the large grommets in place of the equipment access bays on the front mandibles of the Falcon. These grommets will also serve as points of attachment for the strap of the bag.
Step 19: Attaching the Cockpit
Before sewing the whole thing together, I assembled the attached cockpit piece and riveted it to just one side of the bag, punching holes and hammering in with small rivets. I waited until the whole thing was sewn together to attach the other side.
Step 20: Sewing the First Side
Then I started by sewing one side of the bag onto the wall piece. I centered the hyperdrive aperture piece along the bottom of the engine and began stitching it together with my waxed thread and blunt leather needle.
I used a saddle stitch to attach my two pieces. There are two ways to do a saddle stitch: the two needles at a time method, or the one needle, two passes method. I've tried both and I prefer the one needle, two passes method. For a great description of how to use two needles, see this excellent Instructable by jessyratfink.
To use the one needle, two passes method, I simply threaded a single leather needle with a long strand of waxed thread and began sewing at the bottom of my bag.
When I got to one end of the line of sewing holes, I turned around and sewed back the other way, this time filling in the opposite spaces between sewing holes, making the stitches look like one unbroken line similar to a sewing machine stitch. When I got back to the bottom of the bag where I had started, I kept going around the other side of the bag repeating the process. At the end I back stitched a few stitches to secure the thread before cutting it. Whenever I ran out of thread I just did a few backstitches and then started a new thread.
Step 21: Covering the Lights
Before sewing on the second half of the bag, I attached and covered the lights behind the aperture at the base of the bag.
First I tacked them down lightly with some hot glue to keep them in place, then I took an 11x2" strip of black leather and glued it down on top of the lights inside the bag, covering all the wires and keeping the lights securely centered in the hyperdrive aperture.
Step 22: Sewing on the Second Side
Next I sewed the second side of the bag to the wall piece. I actually made a mistake here and started sewing these pieces together from the center bottom of the bag like I had with the first piece. As a result my pieces ended up slightly skewed, and I had to take them apart and re-sew them. For this reason I would recommend sewing the second side on by starting from one end, not the middle, so you can make sure the sides line up properly.
Step 23: Touching Up the Dye Job
Once I had done all the sewing I trimmed some of the pieces so the layers were even, then I used daubers, paintbrushes and black dye to cover any areas of exposed leather with black, making the whole think look more polished.
I applied finish to these areas to protect them once they had dried.
Step 24: Attaching the Central Gun Well and Escape Pods
I riveted the ends of my escape pod pieces around my O rings to create a loop, then slipped this loop down around the bag to the rings sat in the notches on the sides of the bag and the escape pods covered the tops of the pockets.
Then I punched a hole through the central gun well and the pocket on both sides and riveted them together.
Step 25: Adding a Strap
I debated a lot what kind of strap I wanted to use on the bag, and in the end I settled on chain. I'm still not sure if this is the ideal strap material, and I'm going to keep my eyes out for another option, but for not I think it looks pretty good.
There are a few ways you could attach the strap to the bag which will make it hang slightly differently. You could just use the grommets at the back for both ends of the strap which would make the bag hang more vertically, but I chose to attach one end of the strap to the grommets with split rings, and loop the other end around one of the escape pod O rings. This makes the ship hang at a slight diagonal when worn over your shoulder which I think looks nice and gives you convenient access to the mouth of the bag.
And I was done! Now I too have my own trusty ship to take me form one side of the galaxy to the other... or at least carry my phone and wallet. I'm really pleased with my final version of the Falcon. It is a good size to hold my essentials, hangs well over my shoulder and really captures the look of the ship better than I even expected. To power the light, I just plug a 9V battery into the battery clip in the fabric pocket inside. The light will come on when the snap closure of the bag is shut, and stay off when it is open. If I want the lights to stay off entirely, I just unplug the battery.
As my boyfriend pointed out, I should really have added add a secret "smuggler's compartment" in the bottom just in case the empire comes snooping around. Ah well, there will always be room for more special modifications in the sequel.