Introduction: Leather Satchel / Bag
The idea for this satchel came from an old leather working book I found at a local university library. The book showed a "box purse" using wide leather strips to lace the bag together. This is a simple, clean satchel using that same lacing technique. It's a design that can be easily modified to make different sized / shaped bags, i.e. a messenger style bag. The size of this bag is perfect for a few books, an iPad or the like.
In my experience, I have found when I start a project I get quite excited / anxious to get it finished and I'll rush things which inevitably leads to making mistakes. I have to continually tell myself to slow down, be patient, and don't rush. When I do listen to my own advice, the whole process is so much more enjoyable.
Good luck if you decide to give this a try...I hope you do, or at least this inspires you to try a project of your own.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or send me a message.
Step 1: Tools & Materials
- Razor knife / utility knife
- Awl / marking tool / pen / pencil
- Stitching needles (John James Saddlers Harness Needles, used size 2, also labeled 002)
- Mallet (hard plastic & rubber)
- Stitching chisels (used 4mm spaced chisels)
- Stitching groover
- Adjustable "V" gouge
- Copper rivet & burr setter
- Dikes / Side cutters
- Cutting board
- Oval punch
- Round punch
- Cap rivet setter and anvil
- Ruler / straight edge
- Washer w/ 13/16" outer diameter (OD)
- Circle templates
- 6oz - 7oz oil tanned leather
- Waxed thread (1.0mm Tiger thread)
- Copper rivets - 1/2 " 12 gauge with burr
- Cap rivets
- 1.5" buckle (1)
- 1.5" strap reducer (3)
- 1.5" Swivel clip (2)
- Contact cement (Barge) - Barge is simply the best contact cement for leather. Some cement brands stiffen the leather over time, but leather joined with Barge will remain pliable. Additionally, the cemented joint strengthens as it dries.
Step 2: Pattern, Marking & Cutting
I suggest starting by making a pattern so you can get your dimensions right before you start cutting. I've attached a simple PDF pattern. The overall pattern size is 14" x 25.5" which you should be able to have printed at a copy shop with large format printers.
I wanted the finished bag to be about 11" x 9" and 2.5" wide with the lacing and shoulder strap 1.5" wide along with some inside pockets/dividers. My pattern was laid out with these basic dimensions. Dimension details are found on the template picture. I use picture frame matting for my templates. It's thicker than poster board and can usually be purchased in pieces larger than regular poster board.
The same pattern is used to cut the three main pieces of the satchel; the front, back (which includes the front, and inside flaps), and inside pocket/divider. I also cut a piece 14" x 3" to secure the front flap.
I didn't have enough leather of a single color on hand so I used a dark chocolate brown leather for the front and a tan leather for the back and inside divider. The inside pockets/divider are optional...just skip those steps if you want your satchel to be one single compartment.
Lay out the pattern on the leather and mark the pieces to cut. Use an awl to poke holes through the pattern where the slots will be. For the front, you'll use the entire pattern. For the back you'll use the full width and up 13.5" from the bottom. For the divider (if you choose to put it in), use the full width of the pattern and up 11.25" from the bottom. Reference the pictures for additional details.
**Cutting Tip**: Always use a sharp blade...it'll make life so much easier. I use a basic utility knife and change the blade often. I buy the 100 pack of blades from my local hardware store. Additionally, having a heavy straight edge helps prevent any wandering while making your cuts. It's difficult keeping enough pressure on a regular ruler or yard stick to keep the knife from wandering, especially on longer cuts. But if I do end up making a long cut using a yard stick, I lay a couple of 10 lb weights on the yard stick.
Step 3: Slots & Grooves
Cutting the slots to lace the satchel together, I used an oval punch (round punches work as well) to punch a hole at both ends of the slot. Use a punch that will give you a slot as wide as your leather is thick. Test different punch sizes on some scrap before punching the holes in your satchel leather.
The small holes in the template for the slots are 1.5" apart, so when punching the hole, make sure you set the edge of the punch on each hole you marked in the leather so your slots end up being 1.5" long. See pictures for close-up detail.
I used my straight edge and cut two lines between the holes to make the slots. Take your time and make your cuts as clean and straight as possible (make a few practice slots in some scrap leather). Be sure to use a fresh blade when cutting the slots.
To make the sides, bottom, and front flaps fold easier when assembling the satchel, I used an adjustable "V" gouge to cut grooves where the folds will be made. I adjust the gouge to remove approx. 1/3rd of the thickness of the leather. An edge or stitching beveler could also be used to make these grooves.
Now on to the inside pocket...
Step 4: Inside Divider & Pocket
The inside divider is sized and cut to be laced into the sides and bottom of the satchel. You could leave the divider as-is (the first picture) and lace it into the satchel. I chose to add a smaller pocket to the divider.
The pocket is about 6.5" x 7", but you could add any type/size of pocket you'd like. In other projects, I've done pen, business card, phone holders, and key clips...it's up to you how the space is utilized.
The key to most attached pockets is to NOT mount them flat. For this pocket, I centered it on the divider, marked where the edge of the pocket was next to each hole. Then before punching the holes in the divider, I measured in 1/2" from my original marks. This causes the pocket to pop out so it's much easier to drop items in and take them out. Again, it's up to you what kind of pockets you choose to put in.
**Cutting Tip** - I rounded the edges of the pocket using a 13/16" (OD) washer. I have a stash of different diameter washers to round corners. The "trick" to using washers is to make multiple straight cuts. You don't want to try to follow the rounded edge of the washer with your knife. Line the washer up so it fits in the corner, and cut straight lines.
Attaching the pocket to the divider, I used 1/2" 12 gauge copper rivets w/ burrs, but you could use any type of rivet you'd like. Or you could stitch the pocket to the divider...I think copper rivets are cool and fun to use. Plus they will develop a great patina over time. Here's a quick 2 min video showing how to set copper rivets.
Another option if you don't use the divider, is to rivet a pocket(s) directly to the back of the satchel...keep in mind if you do this, the rivets will be visible on the back of the satchel (which I think looks OK too). I added a couple of pictures which show pockets attached to the back of the bag.
Step 5: Lacing Strap & Decoration
I wasn't able to cut a long enough 1.5" strap to lace the bag together, so I had to stitch two lengths together. If you can cut a long enough piece, you won't have to worry about doing this. I ended up w/ about a 36" - 38" long strap.
Stitching the two straps together, I first marked where the contact cement (Barge brand cement...it's the best) would go. Then I sanded the non-flesh surface before applying the cement to both gluing surfaces. Wait a bit for the cement to dry, then stick the pieces together. Use the rubber side of your mallet and hammer the pieces where you just cemented them.
I used a stitching groover to mark my stitch lines, then punched the holes with a stitching chisel (4mm spacing) and stitched the pieces together using the saddle stitch. If you want some detail about saddle stitching, check out this Instructable or hit up the interwebs...there are a lot of great stitching tutorials out there. Another great tutorial is from Armitage Leather.
I finished it off w/ a couple of copper rivets.
Now it is time to line up the pieces and lace the satchel together.
First, I folded the 2.5" edges on each piece and hammered the fold. This put a nice fold where the 90 degree corners will be on the bottom and sides of the satchel.
I started at the bottom so the stitched and riveted part of the strap would be on the inside bottom of the satchel. Simply lace the pieces together with the strap by going in one slot and out the next. The 2.5" sides and bottom edges of the front piece will be the outside edges of the satchel.
Once I had the satchel laced together I had a chance to look at it and there seemed to be something missing...so I decided to add a decorative stitch around the front flap keeper and the front flap. I used red 1.0mm Tiger thread.
Step 6: Handle
With the decorative stitching finished (probably took me 2 hrs), I decided to add a handle. It's a 1.5" wide strip 11.5" long. 2.75" on each edge is left alone, the middle 6" of the handle I folded in half, cemented, and stitched together.
Then I glued, stitched, and riveted the handle to the back of the satchel. I just eye-balled the position of the handle. I secured the left side first, then matched the spacing for the right side.
**Cutting Tip** - To make the semi-pointed tips of the handle, I use a circle template. The templates I have are actually platters from a destroyed computer hard drive. First mark the center of strip at each end. Next, line up the circle template so the template's outside edge matches up with your center mark and the edge of the strip. Hold the template in place and make straight cuts...like we did when rounding the corners of the interior pocket. See pictures for details.
Step 7: Lacing
With the handle now in place, I could finish lacing the satchel together.
Between the 2nd and 3rd slot from the bottom on both sides, add a strap reducer. Continue lacing to the top. Don't forget the 14" x 3" front flap keeper. At the top, mark the final length of the strap. Unlace it a couple of slots so you have enough of the lacing to work with, then cut, and add a strap reducer. I anchored the strap reducer with 3 rivets. With the strap reducer in place, I had to lace through each layer individually. It was a tight fit, but it went through without too much trouble. Take your time...
Step 8: Shoulder Strap
The shoulder strap is made up of two lengths, one 45" and the other 16". Of course you can modify either strap length to your own custom dimensions.
The 45" length has a swivel clip at one end and holes for the buckle at the other. The holes are spaced 1" apart starting 3" in from the end. I cut the semi-pointed tip on both ends of the 45" strap. The swivel clip is secured with 3 copper rivets.
The 16" length has a swivel clip at one end and the 1.5" buckle at the other. I cut a 1.25" slot for the buckle tang and secured the buckle with two copper rivets.
I used a 1" wide strip for the strap keeper. I skived (thinned) the ends of the loop before gluing and riveting. For the loop, I cemented the ends and finished with two small cap-style rivets. Slide this loop in place on to the strap before you mount either the swivel clip or the buckle.
Clip in the straps, adjust the length and we're done!
Step 9: Stand Back and Admire Your Work
Time to hit the road and take your new satchel on an adventure.