I had just sold my last one of these to a person in Kyoto, Japan and was getting ready to make more when I saw the leather contest and thought, what the heck, and decided to document the process for all of you in 'ible land. This is my first Instructable, so be gentle with me and I will endeavor to learn and make better ones in the future.
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
I didn't take a separate picture of the tools needed, but tried to add them in the steps as they were used.
The tools you will need are:
1. A template of some sort to trace your pattern on the leather
2. Something to mark the leather with. A sharpie works well as long as you are careful.
3. Something to cut the leather with. I use a utility knife with a sharp blade.
4. A stitch groover is nice, but not absolutely necessary
5. A #2 edger to help with slicking down the leather edges. This isn't required but looks much nicer.
6. Stitching chisels to punch the holes for sewing the leather pieces together.
7. A mallet of some sort. Please don't use a metal hammer on your tools.
8. Leather sewing needles and thread.
9. A stitching pony will make life much easier when it comes time to sew.
10. A hole punch for the lacing to go through. I use 1/4".
11. A sturdy surface to hammer on.
12. A cheap poly cutting board.
Supplies you'll need include:
1. Veg Tan Leather somewhere between 5 and 8 oz weight.
2. A softer leather for the bag front and back.
3. Dye. I prefer Fiebing's Pro Dye for all my projects.
4. Neatsfoot oil.
5. A topcoat protectant. I use Fiebing's Resolene.
6. A finish for the flesh side of the top flap. I use Fiebing's Tan Kote.
7. A finish for the leather edges. I use gum tragacanth.
8. Contact cement.
9. Lacing, I use 1/4" leather.
10. Beads or whatever other adornments you might like.
Step 2: Cutting the Top Flap and Front Anchoring Piece
Take your patterns and lay them on the veg tan leather. We are only using the 2 left hand patterns from the picture for this part. Find an area of your leather free from too many defects then mark around your patterns. I have used several different tools, but for this, I find that a plain utility knife works as well as anything for cutting the leather free from the larger piece. Take your time here. Miscuts can be very difficult or impossible to repair. That being said remember that this a handmade item and you shouldn't expect perfection.
Step 3: Further Prep of the Veg Tan Pieces
Now we will go around the top surface of both pieces with the stitch groover. This serves a couple of purposes. For one it lets the stitches sit below the surface of the leather, preventing abrasion of the threads and possible failure of the stitching. Second, it provides a guide for punching the holes that the thread will go through. You can set the groover for whatever distance looks good to you, but I go for about 4mm or 5/32".
After the groove is done use the #2 edger to bevel the edges of the leather top and bottom. This will make it possible to get a nice rounded edge on the leather when we slick it later.
I do both of these steps before dying to avoid having the natural leather color show through later.
Step 4: Applying Dye
Now lets give some color to that dull, drab leather!
I highly recommend using gloves, unless you think you would like being the color of your project for awhile. Remember that you too are essentially leather and your skin will take dye just as well as your project. Protect your work area also. I put down a plastic trash bag and a piece of craft paper to keep the spills and drips off of anything I don't want colored. I once knocked the whole bottle over. What a mess that was!
I place a small amount of dye in a container and use a sponge to apply it to the leather.
Now the dye is not super expensive, but why waste it where it won't be seen? For this part I dye the top surface of both pieces but only the bottom part of the top flap that will show when everything is assembled. Hopefully the picture makes this obvious.
Step 5: Applying Finish
After dying the leather needs to have some oil added to replenish what has been lost. I apply a light coat of neatsfoot oil. Be careful how much you put on as this will darken the leather. You can always add more, but once it's too dark you're stuck with it.
After allowing the oil to soak in for a couple of hours I apply the Resolene to the top surface. There are many different topcoats available, but this one is very resistant to water. I once again use a sponge to apply two coats. Let the first coat dry thoroughly before applying the second coat.
After the Resolene is dry I turn the top flap over and apply Tan Kote to the underside of the top flap that was dyed previously. Put on enough so that the entire surface has a light coat and then use the wooden slicker or any other smooth surface to rub the leather down smooth. I think this looks better than the raw leather does.
Step 6: Edge Slicking
This step is not absolutely necessary, but adds that extra little something that stands out in the finished product.
Take and stick your finger in water and wet the edge of the leather slightly. Let it soak in slightly and the use the wooden slicker to rub the edge of the leather to slick down the fibers in the leather. Friction is more important than how hard you press. Once you have gone over the whole edge with water repeat the procedure with the gum tragacanth. This will provide a more permanent result.
Step 7: Punching Lace Holes and Belt Slots
Now we can go ahead and punch the holes for the lacing and slots for a belt.
I have a punch for the belt slots but this tool is a little expensive. Another method you can use is to punch holes at each end and use a utility knife and straight edge to cut the slots. I used to do it that way, but knowing that I was going to make these to sell the price of the punch has been worth it.
I am using a 1/4" punch, but use whatever is appropriate for your lacing.
Step 8: Cutting the Bag Leather
Take the pattern for the bag and cut two pieces. Also cut a piece for a gusset. This adds some depth and capacity to the bag. The size of the gusset is up to your personal preference. I cut a piece 2" wide and a few inches longer that needed to make it around the perimeter.
Step 9: Attaching the Front Piece to the Bag
We can finally start putting the pieces together!
Notice the small marks at the top and bottom center of the front bag piece. These will come into play soon.
Lay the front anchor piece onto the front bag piece using the center marks to align it.
Using a marker outline the piece somewhat underneath the top piece. We don't want the mark to show when the pieces are attached! Also notice the gap where the laces are in the top piece.
Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of where I applied the contact cement to the two pieces but put the cement on both pieces. Do not put it where the laces are. Make sure and put the lace in the top part before gluing.
Once the contact cement is tacky on both pieces then carefully place the pieces together. Take your mallet and tap around the top piece to help with adhesion. Be careful not to mar the surface.
Now we can start punching the holes for the stitching. The care taken here will be evident in the finished product. Take your stitching chisels and start around the groove made earlier. Always place the first prong of the tool into the last hole previously punched. This will make sure that the spacing is even. Along the long straight runs you can use a punch with more teeth. Around the corners you need to use the two prong tool. When I am doing this part I am punching on a granite stone with a poly cutting board and a scrap piece of leather to protect the teeth of the tool.
We can finally start sewing the pieces together! I use this cheap stitching pony to hold the pieces in position while I sew. I highly recommend spending the $20 on this item if you intend to do any leatherwork at all. Now what I do is called a saddle stitch and it's not terribly difficult once you learn it. However I think it is terribly difficult to explain and would be a long Instructable all by itself. Therefore I encourage you to check out the Youtube channels of Ian Atkinson of Leodis Leather and Nigel of Armitage Leather. That is where I learned much of my leatherworking skills. They have very informative videos and I just like listening to the Brits talk!
The main thing I can tell you about good stitching is consistency. Make every stitch the same way! People that see my work say they can't believe it's hand stitched.
Step 10: Attaching the Flap to the Back of the Bag
This is done very much like the front of the bag. Here at least I remembered to take a picture of the contact cement applied. Don't put cement between the belt slots or you won't be able to get a belt through.
Step 11: Attaching the Gusset to the Front Panel
Fold the gusset in half to find the middle of the length. Apply a small mark at the edge of the middle of the rough side of the leather. We will align this with the marks on the bottom of the front and back panels.
Apply a thin line of cement approximately 1/8" wide along one edge of the smooth side of the gusset and the perimeter (not including the flat top edge) of the front panel. Once this has dried apply the gusset to the front panel smooth side to smooth side starting from the center alignment marks and working you way outward one side at a time. Try to make the edges line up as well as you can, but it isn't critical since this won't be visible on the finished bag.
Now you can punch stitching holes around the perimeter. Since the curve at the bottom is a much larger radius I punch all the holes with a four prong punch and eyeball the distance from the edge. I put these little binder clips on as I go to make sure the pieces don't pull apart afterwards, Some of these leathers have more oils and waxes than others that can make the adhesion less sure.
Sew everything as you have before. This is a little trickier as the gusset doesn't want to lay flat in the clamp as you rotate the bag around while sewing.
Step 12: Attaching the Back Panel
Very similar to attaching the front except for having a little more bulk to work around. At this time I lay scissors across the front and back panels and trim the gusset to final length.
Something just doesn't look quite right here, does it?
Step 13: Turning the Bag
Whew! That looks more like it! Carefully turn the bag right side out. If your bag looks anything like mine it won't be too difficult. If the mouth of the bag gets too small or the leather too heavy it can get very difficult to turn.
Step 14: Installing the Drawstring
Punch holes the right size for you lacing around the top of your bag.
The hole pattern on the back of the bag looks similar to the front and there are two holes in the gusset on each side.
Thread a piece of lace long enough to make it all the way around the bag when it is fully open and at least halfway down to the bottom at the front.
I place both ends of the lace through one bead at the front. This helps to hold the bag closed when it is drawn up tight. I then put a bead on each end for purely decorative purposes. Do whatever appeals to you.
Step 15: Add Front Closure Button
Add whatever type of closure suits your vision of what you want your bag to look like. I have cut a piece of deer antler and drilled two 1/4" holes the same spacing as the ones on the flap.
Step 16: Finished Product
And here is the final product! Whew, it feels like I've written a novel!
I hope you all have been able to follow along as I've rambled through what I thought you might need to know.
Now to get this entered into the leather contest!
First Prize in the