Introduction: Handcrafted Leather Messenger Bag
I have to begin this instructable by saying that their are no rules to leather working. Thats what makes it so great. I'm self taught and proud to say that I learned the craft from old Al Stohlman books. I primarily work with oil tanned leather so its always refreshing to build a back from the ground up. I haven't dyed in a while so we are in this together! This instructable will cover all you need to know in order to build a great 17" messenger bag from veg tan to oxblood. Ive added a leather strap on the inside of this bag for organization. This tutorial will not include the basics of hand stitching so if you totally new do what I did and skip the youtube videos and grab "The Art of Handsewing Leather" by the great Al Stohlman. You will appreciate the craft so much more by reading about it then watching a video. Enjoy!
Step 1: Tools Used
Every one has their preference on tools & materials. Here's my list of things I used to build this bag.
-6-7oz Veg Tan Side.
-.04mm Maine Waxed thread
-(2) 1" Solid Brass Center Bar Buckles
-(2) 1" Solid Brass Dee's
-(1) 1.25" Center Bar Buckle
-(2) 1" Solid Brass Snaps
-Box of Copper Rivets
-Fiebings Leather Dye (Oxblood)
-Fiebings Leather Dye Reducer
-Water Resistant Oil
-Fiebings Neatsfoot Compound
-Raw Hide Mallet
-Edge Beveler (#2)
-Copper Rivet Setter
-Strap End Punch
If I forgot anything I do go over tools used in each step!
Step 2: Cut Out Each Individual Piece.
Once you have all you need to start this bag you will begin the prep process. Now if there is one rule that you take away from this is that you MEASURE TWICE & CUT ONCE. This maybe the most important rule when cutting anything. Below you will find the measurements of each piece.
(1) 20"x17"- This will be the back of the bag.
(1) 12"x17"- This will be the front of the bag.
(2) 10"x17"- This will be one of the front pockets and the back pocket.
(2) 7"x8"- This will be your front two pockets.
(4) 4"x1"- These straps will be for the Dee Rings on the sides of the bag and to hold the front buckles in place.
(2) 18"x1"- These will be the straps that wrap from the back to the front and attach to the two front buckles.
(1) 41"x4"- This will be the side gusset that holds it all together.
Remember we are going to be dying this bag. Some folks think I'm crazy by prepping each piece then dying but I find that if mistakes are made its within the first few steps. Since I will be dying the leather later we can cover up and mistakes with dye!
Step 3: Round Your Corners.
After you have cut out all your pieces you will now need to round your corners. These will be the bottoms of the bag. In the first three photos you can see that I used the top of my saddle soap container to round these corners. The front piece (12"x17"), the front pocket (10"x17"), the two front exterior pockets (8"x7"), the back (20"x17"), and finally the back pocket (10"x17") will all need their corners rounded and the bottom.
Next, you will need to use your corner round punch to round the top corners of each of these pieces. Remember in the intro that there are no rules so if this is something that you don't want to do or want to use a larger or smaller corner do what you think works best. Aesthetically I have found this method to be the best.
Step 4: Punch Your Ends & Punch Your Holes
The four 4" strips and your straps will now need to have their ends punched. I am using a 1" strap end punch that is pointed. If you desire rounded go for it. it gives them a finished look rather then a rigid square end in my opinion.
After you've punched these you will need to use your oblong punch. This will allow your buckles to be secured to the front pocket of your bag. I punch these out a little off centered so the center bar of your buckles can have movement during utilization.
Next, you will punch your strap holes. As you can see from photos I have uses my awl to mark where I would like the hole to go. Again, measure twice cut once. I punch my first hole two inches from the tip of the strap and every hole is one inch apart. I typically will six holes for these front straps.
Step 5: Bevel Your Edges.
This part is where most folks shake their head. Most leatherworkers will bevel their edges once the bag is completed followed by burnishing. If I am dying a bag I will do this during the prep phase, again so we are not cutting into dyed leather. Its important to keep a steady hand when beveling and if for some reason your hand slips when you've already dyed the bag you will just have to fix it with more dye. I prevent this by just getting it out of the way before hand. If for some reason you need to bevel again you can do so and then touch up with dye.
You will bevel the top of each layer as well as every side to your two front pockets.
Step 6: Prepare to DYE
So as you can see I dropped some paper on my table to prevent making too much of a mess and I'm using gloves during this process so I won't stain my hands. The body of the bag will be in oxblood and all the straps will be in black.
To begin I condition each piece with saddle soap. This will moisturize the leather first helping to soak in the dye. Make sure that you wait to dye until this has seeped into the leather.
Step 7: Dye Your Leather
So I emptied a container of Fiebings Oxblood into this plastic container and added half an ounce of Fiebings leather dye reducer. This step is based on personal preference. I find that if you are dying this full steam ahead with full color and no reducer its impossible to tone down the colors after. By reducing this potency of color we can always add other elements to darken this overtime.
I start by dipping my sponge into the dye and applying this in a small circular motion going from each piece I have prepped. When I was finished I went over it again with a second coat and then again with a third.
Next I put some Fiebings Black dye into a throw away bowl and dip dyed my straps. I dipped for two reasons. One because these pieces are small and can easily be submerged. Secondly I want these to be as dark as I can get them.
Step 8: Condition Your Leather.
Immediately after I was finished applying this dye I added some leather conditioner. I used Hipples Classic. These guys are local here in Indianapolis and I cannot get enough of their product. Smells great and works like a charm.
I applied this in the same circular motion as I did with the dye using a sponge. You will start to see the leather darken (Hints why I reduced the color in the beginning).
Step 9: Oil Your Leather
I used Fiebings Neatsfoot oil compound after the conditioner soaked in. I am doing these steps one after another without really waiting much in-between. If you were to dye your leather and let it sit it will become extremely stiff and hard to work with. It will also crack and not be easy to work with down the road.
I applied this again with a sponge in a circular pattern. I did a few coats to make sure to moisturize the newly dyed leather.
Step 10: Apply Water Resistant Oil (optional)
This step is completely optional. I tend to apply this oil to every bag I dye. In my opinion its a "better safe then sorry" scenario. Lets face it your spending so much time in this process that whats one extra step.
After you have finished with this your leather should be good a ready to sit for a bit. You will start to see the true colors of the dye settle in. The whole dye process took me roughly an hour for those who gauge on time.
Step 11: Burnish Your Pockets.
As you can see my leather is dyed. Its dry to the touch and I'm ready to start putting this thing together. First I will burnish the tops of the exterior pockets (12"x17" & 10"x17").
Everyone has their secret to burnishing. Heres mine. I apply saddle soap to the edge, let it dry, and use a wooden edge slicker and apply friction. Next Ill throw some beeswax on the edge and continue with the edge slicker. I will finish it off with a piece of raw denim for polish.
Next I have burnished each side to the front two pockets (8"x7"). I do this because they will be laying flat on the front pocket (10"x17") and each side just looks better burnished.
Step 12: Groove Your Stitch Line and Attach Your Buckles
I have to apologize for the overload in photos. Personally I am a visual learner so I documented each step.
We are going to prep our front two pockets next. You will need your revolving hole punch and your stitch groover. First I will punch a hole on the top of each corner and then use my stitch groover to draw a line for the stitch. Next, I have added two holes for the copper rivet post to hold the buckle into place. These are four inches from the top of the pocket right in the center and about 3/4 an inch apart.
Then I placed both copper rivet posts in each hole and placed it on top of a piece of granite. You will need a hard surface to drive these copper rivets into place.
I then punched my holes in the 4" strap piece that will hold my buckle into place and threaded the rivet post in it to hold that buckle on. Next, I added the burr of the copper rivet and using my copper rivet setter I hammered down the burr using my rawhide mallet.
Once these burrs have been driven into the post I used my clippers to snip the ends of these posts. Using the other side of this setter I rounded the edge of the post and finally used my hammer to flatten the post to the burr.
I hope this wasn't an overload of info. If you need to practice driving a copper post into a burr I suggest it. If this is not properly done the burr will not set correctly which means that this buckle will not be secured properly.
Step 13: Attach Your Pockets, Chisel Your Holes, and Stitch!
Just like attaching your buckles we will need to attach these pockets using copper rivets. In the photos you can see that we already punched a hole at the top of each corner of these pockets. Now you will place each pocket evenly on the main exterior pocket of the bag (10"x17"). Match up the hole and set your copper rivets securing these pockets into place.
Next, you will use your chisel or whatever you use to punch your stitch holes and follow your stitch line previously made with your stitch groover. Personally I love circular stitch holes. I know this is not the traditional slanted stitch but I love the look of it.
When you've punched your stitch holes your ready to stitch your front pockets!
Step 14: Add Dee Rings, Draw Your Stitch Line, and Punch Your Stitch Holes
Next you will attach your dee rings to the side gusset. No need to go into how to set a copper rivet since we have already done so. I add my dee ring three inches from the top of the side piece.
Then you will draw your stitch line with the stitch groover and use your chisel to punch your stitching holes.
Make sure to also burnish the top to this side gusset! Gives it a finished look after you have completed the bag!
Step 15: Add Optional Interior Organizer, Glue Front, and Chisel Your Holes
So I have added this interior strap. I wanted an extra spot to hold my water bottle and holster so after thinking on it I added this strap to the inside of the front main piece (12"x17"). This is totally your call. I have not used this bag so I cannot speak on it but I thought it would be fun to have two extra slots for things.
I view glue as cheating and I absolutely despise using glue but sometimes its best to. I have glued the front pocket (10"x17" piece we attached the pockets to) to the main front body of the bag (12"x17"). I then used clips to hold it in place and let it dry.
Once dryed I used my stitch groover again to draw my stitch line and then punched my holes.
Step 16: Stitch the Front to the Gusset and Form Your Corners.
You will then line up your front piece to your side piece and begin stitching these together. Make sure your line up correctly before you start stitching or this can be a pain later on.
One difficult thing to do that I made sure to highlight is forming your corners. Make sure your not skipping any holes and that you are forming the side gusset to the front of your bag not the front of your bag to the gusset. If you do this your bag will not have the structured shape we are going for.
Step 17: Sand & Burnish Your Edges.
After you have stitched the side of your bag to the front you will want to sand this seam edge. This will clean up any uneven edges and give it a great look. After sanding I applied a very limited amount of oxblood dye to the edge and the applied saddle soap.
I gave this edge a little hand burnish and it turned out great!
The front is done!
Step 18: Set Your Straps to the Back Pocket and Glue the Back Pocket to the Back of the Bag.
We've made it to the back!
Now you need to burnish your straps and add them to the back pocket (10"x17"). You can now start to see the back start to look like the back of a bag.
I add two sets of two holes roughly 3/4" apart. These are punched 3.5" from the side of the piece and the first hole is punched 1" down. I know this is a lot of measurements so I included photos to show you the dimensions. you will now attach these straps to the back of this pocket using copper rivets.
Next, you will apply glue to this pocket to the back of your bag. Just like the front you will clip this to hold this into place until it drys!
Step 19: Attach the Back of the Bag to the Front.
Woohoo you can now see that we have the front of the bag completed and the back is coming together!
In my opinion this step is the MOST important to follow. It is so easy for you to attach the back of your bag to the front unevenly. This is what I do to keep it all together, straight and even.
Remember when I said MEASURE TWICE CUT ONCE. Ya, this applies here more then ever. Before I even touch my stitch groover I make sure that I clip the back to the front evenly. I always start with the bottom of the bag and work my way up. This might take you a few times but don't rush it as you will have to start over if this is uneven. I after I find my center on the bottom of the bag and clip it I will work my way up the sides.
*Hint* after you have clipped your bag together stand it up and make sure it does not wobble and stands even.
After this is clipped I will then poke my awl through the top hole of my side gusset into the back of the bag. I do this on both sides of the bag so I know where to draw my line with the stitch groover.
I will then unclip the back of the bag, draw my line with the stitch groover and then punch my stitching holes. Next I will then match my hole up and clip the bag back together.
After the bag is clipped back together and is even (try standing the bag up again while its clipped and the holes are punched to make sure this is even) I will then stitch the back of the bag to the side gusset.
Step 20: Add a Handle and Shoulder Strap
The Final Step!
You can now see that you have build a bag entirely by hand! Bravo!
Now whats the use of a bag if you can't hold it.
I added a handle simply by riveting through the strap and front flap. The shoulder strap that I have added is 1 1/4" wide and has trigger snaps on either end that will attach to the dee's on the side gusset. The handle and shoulder strap in my opinion all up to personal preference so I didn't jump too far into it!
I hope you have enjoyed & your bag lasts a lifetime!