Introduction: How to Sew a Leather Bag Out of Old Auto Upholstery
This instructable will guide you through the steps of gathering the needed materials and sewing a bag made (almost) entirely out of old auto upholstery. Because you probably won’t have the same leather I had this guide describes more of the general collection, design, and sewing techniques to make an all leather upholstery bag. *Disclaimer* This instructable assumes that you have at least basic proficiency in hand sewing and the use of a sewing machine.
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Step 1: Collecting the Materials
First off, find an auto junkyard near you that allows you to essentially ‘pick and pull,’ meaning that you go in and take whatever you want out of a bunch of cars and then pay for it on your way out. Coincidently, Pick and Pull is the name of an auto junkyard chain that allows just that, and if there is one near you, I’d recommend going to them. Regardless, just find a place that allows you to go in and take what you want out of cars.
Next, actually go the junkyard to get your materials (you’ll design your bag based on the stuff you find, and you can always go back to the junkyard later if you realize you need/want anything more). Take a knife, a wrench, and a screwdriver with you; you’ll need them to cut out/get at stuff you want. At the junkyard, try to get as many large rectangular pieces of leather as you can. I found the backs of seats worked especially well for this. If possible, get as much leather of the same color as you can, unless you want a random multi-colored bag. If you see any cool pre-made pockets or holders on the car, cut them out too if you want, because you can sew them to your bag too. Also, don’t forget to stock up on seatbelts and buckles, at least 4-5 feet of the belts and at least 3-4 buckles. They’ll be important for straps and clips later.
Step 2: Designing the Bag
After you’ve got all the materials, its time to design the bag. Lay out your materials on a large table and take stock of what you have. Move some materials around, and try and get a feel for what your bags going to look like. Find material for the sides, bottom, back and front, clips, straps, and top, depending on whether you want it a flap top or roll top (the pictures show the roll top I made). Based on the materials you gathered, measure and outline in chalk the spaces where you will cut the material (seatbelts, upholstery). With those measurements, it may be a good idea to make a paper or muslin model to scale of your bag, just to make sure that everything shapes up the way you want it. After that, go ahead and cut the material out.
Step 3: Sewing the Bag
First you’re going to want to sew the body of your bag, meaning the back and front, and the sides. Remember to sew with the two outside parts of each face touching each other, so you can flip the bag inside out later to have neat seems (as seen from the outside). After you’ve done this, keep the bag inside out and sew the bottom on. If you’ve given it enough lead on the bottom, then you should still be alright sewing it with a machine as opposed to switching to by hand early. After you’ve finished sewing the bottom on the bag, flip the bag inside out, so the leather is facing the outside and the inside is facing the inside, the opposite of how you just had it. After this sew the top on your bag, whether it be a roll top or a flap top. Depending on your skill with a sewing machine, you’ll probably have to do this part by hand which is a bit of a pain. Next sew the straps on the back of the bag (seatbelts + buckle to tighten), any sort of pockets on the front or sides, and clips to close the bag and any pockets you want. If you cut out some cool holders/pockets from some cars, now is the time to put them on. It’ll be a pain sewing these because you’ll have to do them by hand, reaching into the bag where you can’t see. Large pockets will be especially tough so be warned.
This next part is optional; it only applies if you made a roll top, and want a lining on your bag, to make it waterproof. Since it’s pretty hard to find anything in a car thats waterproof and sew-able, I suggest getting an old oilcloth. To make the lining, literally make a small bag with the same dimensions as your leather bag, including the length of the roll top, out of the oilcloth, but instead of flipping it inside out, keep it the way it is. Then stuff the lining into the bag, as far down as you can, making sure the shiny waterproof part is facing the inside. After this, sew the lining on at the top of the bag, right at the edge of the roll top. Again, if you’re good, you can use a sewing machine instead of having to hand sew this.
Once you’ve completed these steps, you’re done with your bag. Wear it around a bit and make sure all the seams are strong enough, and make any adjustments you see fit.