Introduction: The Beetle Bag
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm back with yet another leather project for you all! This quirky bag features a cool shell that's reminiscent of an armadillo or, as the name suggests, a beetle. In my case, I'm making this as a an interesting purse for my mom as a late Christmas present but with one simple additional step you can make a fun little backpack for your kewl kiddos! Above I have a picture of my mom wearing the bag in both backpack and purse form. Both styles suit her because she's young spirited and actually a child at heart. :)
As with all my Instructables, this was a learning process for me and I always appreciate any feedback, suggestions, and thoughts that you guys may have. Please leave them in the comments below! :)
Step 1: Materials
For this project you will need:
- Design (See Below)
- Box Cutters
- Leather Hole Punch (or nail)
- Leather Awl (or large needle/nail)
- Liner (slightly elastic)
- 30cm Zipper (From bottom stopper to top stopper)
- Contact Cement (or some other glue)
Notes: I only had chrome tanned leather when I made this bag so it came out very soft but I recommend that you use vegetable tanned leather to give the bag some sturdiness.
Usually purses have some kind of polyester/nylon lining but due to my inexperience with sewing I went ahead and used an elastic fabric to make the process a little more forgiving and smooth. However, if you know what you are doing I recommend you go ahead and use the correct fabric and your own design for the inside.
The hardest process for me in this project was threading everything together. This was because my thread was a bit too large for the size holes I was able to make. Whatever tools you use to make holes in your leather make sure you can easily double stitch and either increase the holes or decrease the thread size.
Step 2: Cutting Leather and Lining
This process is very straight forward. Print out the designs for the leather and lining and cut out each shape. Use a needle to scratch out the outline of the leather pieces and use your knife to cut them out. If you don't have a cutting mat, place a scrap piece of leather underneath so you can make a clean cut through your design without damaging the surface you're cutting on.
For the lining use a thin marker to mark your design and use scissors to cut the fabric. Remember, I created the lining designs with an elastic fabric in mind; if you choose to use a more conventional lining make sure you adjust the designs.
Step 3: Holes & Triangles
Once you have all your materials cut out we need to add our holes to the leather and triangles to the lining. Line up your templates on the leather pieces and mark a hole through each dot on the template with a needle. Next use an awl, nail, or larger needle to push through the leather to fully form a hole. Make a few holes and test how easy it is to sew through them. Remember we are going to be double stitching, so make sure you can push a needle and thread through each hole at least twice. If you are having a difficult time, you need to make your holes bigger or decrease thread size. Trust me, this will save you hours a work later on.
For the lining we are going to cut triangles to create flaps around the extra material to accommodate the curve of this design. I already sectioned the tips into thirds so you can cut along those lines. For the sides I didn't specify where to cut because I'm not a sewing expert and honestly didn't know how many triangles I needed. You can refer to the pictures above to see what I did but feel free to change up the amount of triangles and give advice in the comments below. All I know is the more triangles you make the smoother the curve should come out but the harder it will be to sew (due to the amount of flaps flapping around :P )
We also need to cut a few triangles on the side of the zipper fabric that will be attached to the back of the bag. Leave at least .25 cm between the zipper and the triangles so that we are always sewing on uncut parts of the zipper fabric.
Step 4: Stabilizing the Shells
Before we start attaching all our pieces together we are going to give some structural integrity to our shell. I broke the shell into halves: The bottom half (composed of bands 1-3) will be immobile with each piece attached to the adjacent and The top half (composed of bands 4-6) will be mobile meaning the bands will not be attached to one another. To give the shells some stability we are going to loosely thread them together. Since the bottom half is immobile the holes on the bands line up so you can thread every fifth hole together. The top half is a little more tricky. Since the holes don't line up I tried to simply clamp the ends together (as seen above) but I highly recommend you go ahead and loosely thread the bands together and just try your best to match up holes and keep the overall shape symmetrical.
Step 5: Sewing the Shells
Ok, now that we've strengthened the shape of our shells we are going to line up our lining's inner edge with the edges of the shells. Once you're satisfied we are going to clamp it down and begin sewing. Remember, our lining is elastic so it doesn't matter if its a little suspended over the inside of the shell; we're just going to push that down as we sew.
I recommend you start sewing the bottom shell first as it should be a little more stable and is a good way to get started before we move on to the tricker upper shell. At this point we can only sew the two inner edges of the of the shell. As you sew firmly press the lining down and feel free to stretch it to make sure the lining is even spread. We don't want it to be too loose on one side and too taunt on the other side. Because of how I designed this bag there will be a gap in the sewing of the lining as we sew the hump on bands 2 and 3. If you don't like this look feel free to add some extra holes in the leather and fill in this gap. Once you reach the other side of the shell you need to backstitch at least twice and then tie off the thread underneath the lining where it will be hidden. Finish the job with a bit of contact cement and move onto the next band.
As I said, the upper shell is a little tricker to sew since its larger and mobile and therefore more flexible. Place the lining on top of the shell as you did with the lower shell. Just as before, work your way across gently but firmly moving the lining to make sure it fits nicely as you sew. Since we are not sewing the bands directly to each other we will not have the same gaps in the lining as we did with the lower shell.
Notes: Before or after this step you can sew the hump side of bands 4 and 5.
Step 6: Attaching the Lower Shell to the Back
Line up the lower shell with the bottom half of the back. It's helpful to punch the "pivot" holes on the ends of the bands and the flaps of the back so that you can thread a strip of leather through the holes of the side you are starting on. Use clamps to hold any loose fabric in place. For this part of the bag I used alternating cross stitches (one cross on the outside followed by one in the inside) until I reached the hump of the first band at which point I switched to double stitching. There should be eight stitches on the hump at which point you can cut the thread or using the same thread go back and double stitch seven stitches on the back of bag. After this the holes will line up between the first band and the bag and you can go back to cross stitching.
Step 7: Attaching the Two Shells
Similar to before we are going to punch holes and use clamps to hold everything in place. For this step we are going to fold the fabric on the lower shell below itself and put the fabric on the upper shell below that. Use double stitches and slowly work your way around the bands, making sure that you can fully open the bands but that they don't overstretch and leave a gap between the two halves.
Step 8: Strap Attachment
Using two separate threads begin stitching the attachment as seen above. Next, stitch the attachment to the back of the bag. Thankfully, this is a pretty easy and straightforward step and you can refer to the pictures above for more details.
Note: At this point you need to decide if you want to make a backpack or a purse. For the purse move onto the next step and for the backpack we need to measure out the length of straps we want and attach them to the bottom "corners" of the bag before we close up the lining.
Step 9: Zipper
I want to preface this step by noting that I was forced to use a zipper for this bag due to the flexibility of the leather. If you are using something stiffer you can get away with using a tab with a button to close the bag.
Start by sewing the hump side of the sixth band. Before we add the zipper we need to make sure that the the sixth band will still be able to fully open and close. I found that if I place the bottom stop of the zipper right below the top half of the back I was able to fully open and close the sixth band. Clip the zipper and fabric to the back and begin stitching. As we sew the liner we need to make sure that our folds are tight and small so that they don't get caught in the zipper.
Repeat this process with the sixth band. Again, make sure that everything is even and can fully open and close.
Step 10: The Strap and Final Touch
Measure the desired length of the strap and feel free to increase the thickness by lengthening the slots in the attachment on the back of the bag. Stitch the ends of the strap together or, if you want to make a backpack for a child, simply stitch the ends of the strap to the bottom "corners" of the bag.
After the straps are finished we need to add a strip of leather through the pivot holes. I decided to add four knots in the strip (two on the outside of the bag and two on the inside) to make sure that all the bands were pressed together. The reason I let the strip go across the entire bag was to make a little holder for a phone.
And voila, you have finally finished the bag!
Some final remarks: The zipper I used wasn't that great and made zipping a little difficult. Try to find a good quality zipper before you make this or even better yet use stiffer material so that the zipper isn't needed. When I sewed the liner into the top half I made the mistake of sewing the bands too close together which meant I wasn't able to fully open the bag as easily as I would have liked. If you look closely at the images of the bag at the top you can see the distortion this caused in the top half. To make sure you guys don't end up making the same mistake I increased the size of the top liner design in the PDFs above, but you still need to make sure that the lining isn't too taunt. I hope that my mistakes will help you guys make an even better bag!
If you have any questions please feel free to ask me! Like I said before I'm no expert in leather making or sewing so I appreciate any constructive criticism. :)