In this Instructable you will learn how to transform a piece of leather into a modern, simple tote bag. It can be used to carry books, as a purse or for groceries or any other use you can think of. Because of how the bottom is sewn, it can stand upright on its own as well. It's a bag that should last you a lifetime.
Step 1: Materials for Leather Tote
- Leather (I used a finished double shoulder leather I got on sale)
- please see image with measurements so you know how much you need
- Basic Leatherwork Tools
- a rawhide or basic wood mallet
- a hard surface - ideally a marble or granite slab if you plan to do tooling
- Ruler & Other Tools Needed
- scissors, utility razors & ruler
- leather glue
- hole punch tool
- spray bottle to wet leather
- small rivets and a rivet setter
- 2 metal clasps (which hook onto the bag for long strap - I used two swivel lobster clasps)
- Materials for Sewing
- needles for sewing the leather
- waxed or sinew thread
- pliers - sometimes are needed when pulling needle through holes
- awl - needed for punching holes into leather for sewing
- creasing tool - used to make an even line in preparation for stitching
- overstitch wheel - makes indentations where the holes will be put for stitching
- stitching groover - this gouges a channel along the edge to prepare it for the holes & sewing
Step 2: Cutting & Preparing to Sew Sides
The first thing you'll need to do is cut out the leather, according to the measurements. Of course you can change the measurements and size to fit your preferences. The bag you're creating here is pretty deep and not medium-sized capacity on the inside. I like that you can set it down and it stays upright.
Once the measure is cut out, then take the main piece and spray the edges to get them wet. Then take the creasing tool and make a line down all the edges, including the top and bottom (it looks nicer to be consistent with all edges). Then take the stitching groover tool and use that down the edges of the bag along the sides (the long sides which you will be sewing together). This will gouge a groove into the material to make it slightly thinner and easier to sew.
Step 3: Sewing the Sides of the Tote
After using the creasing and groove tool on the sides, you'll then need to take out your leather glue. Turn the bag so it will be "inside out" and then wet the leather again on the edges. Use the creasing and groove tool on the wrong side of the leather. It may not work quite as well as on the finished side, but it will be good enough. Then use the stitching wheel to create indentations where the stitches will be sewn.
After that, brush a thin layer of the glue along all edges that will be sewn together - the bag should still be inside-out. Let the glue dry slightly and become tacky before sealing the edges together. Then place some heavy objects along the edges to let it really bond together. Wait a little while, maybe 30 minutes to an hour before you plan to sew the edges.
Before sewing along those edges, you will need to use your awl to punch holes into the leather where you'll be stitching. Normally people would use a leather stitching horse to help hold the leather together while stitching, but I don't have one. So I had several cutting mats below my leather and used that to punch holes into the sides to prepare for sewing - I did that with the awl and sometimes had to use the mallet to push it through.
Once holes are punched, you are ready to sew. It's very difficult to explain how to sew the leather properly, but I found an excellent photo tutorial of that here. If I could do anything differently on this tote bag, I would have used a neutral color thread for sewing the seams on the inside. You can find this waxed thread at local Hobby Lobby stores or online.
If you prepped the area to sew, it shouldn't be too difficult to sew the side seams. If your holes were punched, you should be just fine. Be very careful not to hurt yourself while stitching. I used a very sharp needle as my leather one (which was duller) broke, and I accidentally stabbed my finger about 1/4 inch deep. I had to get a tetanus shot because of it!
Step 4: Finishing Bottom of Bag
Next, you'll want to turn that bag right-side out. This isn't the easiest of tasks - but it is do-able. :) Once you manage to do that, you will then need to prepare the bottom side edges for sewing. See image for detailed understanding of this process. Basically, you'll be prepping it the same way you did for the side edges.
You'll start by wetting the leather, then using the creasing tool, the groover and the overstitch wheel. Then glue the pieces together and clamp and let them dry. Then use the awl to punch holes and then you can sew the edges.
Step 5: Adding Small Straps to DIY Leather Bag
Now it's time to add the small straps. Please see images so you know where I used the creasing and groove tool to gouge out some of the leather for stitching. I first made a line across one inch from the end of the strap. I did that on each strap end. Then 3/8 of an inch in, I did another line. And 3/8 inch from the sides and bottom I did lines with the creasing tool and then the groove tool to gouge out some leather for stitching. Please note: if you get sick of stitching, you can always use rapid rivets to attach these straps instead. In the next step we will be using rapid rivets for the long strap - skip over to that step if you decide to go that route for attaching these handles. Anyway, I don't mind the homemade look with the natural stitches on the small handles.
Once the ends of the small straps are prepped, you'll then want to attach them to the bag with glue. I attached mine approximately 3 1/2 inches from the side seam. The strap ends were about 3 1/2-4 inches apart on the same side of the bag (hope that makes sense).
Once the glue is mostly dry, you can then use the awl to carefully punch through the strap ends and the leather (be careful not to puncture through both sides of the bag) and then sew as you did in previous steps.
Step 6: Attaching the Long Strap to the Tote
Take out your long strap and wet the ends of it with your spray bottle. Also take out your metal clasps or clips (I used the swivel alligator clips) as well as some rivets (I used small rapid rivets I bought at a leather store). Once wet, put the metal clasp through the leather piece (see image) and fold the leather over so there is about one inch extra leather from the fold to the end. Find the center of that piece that is folded and use the awl to punch a hole through the two pieces. Then take out your rivets and attach one where you made the hole (see images). Once that is done, repeat on the other end of the long strap. This step should be quick and easy - especially if you use small rapid rivets. So, your strap is complete.
Now be sure to have two small strips of leather ready. Use a very small hole punch to make a hole in the ends of each piece (once again, please refer to images for full explanation or understanding). Then use the same size hole punch to make holes in the side of the bag, approximately an inch from the top of the bag and 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the side seam. You will attach rapid rivets here as well. Please refer to images for the rest of the way as you finish up attaching the small pieces of leather to the sides of the bag. This step is fast and easy - but not as easy to explain in writing here. So please refer to the photos and also feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section below here.
Once you're finished with that, all you need to do is attach those long clips to the bag and you are finally done! Your beautiful, simple leather tote bag is complete! It should last you a lifetime!
Visit the next step to see more photos of the finished product.