Introduction: No-Sew Leather Tote Bag With Interchangeable Art Panels
I originally came up with an idea to make a Leather Tote Bag that was Reversible, so you could have a different design on the inside & the outside.
Then, once I created a design with dimensions I realised that would require a very large amount of leather, making the project expensive.
So, the idea evolved, out of financial necessity, to one that would still allow for retaining the concept of multiple designs whilst reducing the amount of leather used. So now in order to have a new design for a new day it's just a small replaceable piece that is a lot cheaper to produce.
Also, I wanted to create a project that I could share with beginners to the craft of Leatherwork, hence the decision was made that sewing/stitching/lacing were all a no-go (for this project) and everything needs to be assembled in an easy manner.
Thus was born the No-Sew Leather Tote Bag with Interchangeable Art Panels.
Step 1: Materials, Findings, & Tools
For this project a handful of materials, findings, & tools were used. You may or may not have access to some of these materials or tools, but most can be substituted with something similar.
- 1-1.5mm Natural Vegetable Tanned Kangaroo Hide/Leather (approximately 0.7 square metres)
- Can be substituted with any Vegetable Tanned Hide/Leather that you have access to. Note: if you use thicker hide/leather, you may need to consider modifying the pattern to take into account the extra thickness (for bends around corners, etc)
- Leather Dye
- Note: For this project I used black, blue, green, red, tan, & yellow
- Leather Lacquer
- Methylated Spirits
- Note: This is to dilute the dye to a) make the colour lighter, b) make it thinner for airbrushing, & c) use less dye
- A3 printer paper
- Note: you could use A4, or whatever paper you have laying around. This is used just to create a "test" bag off the pattern to ensure that all elements are sized correctly & all rivet/press stud post holes are in matching locations
- Low-tack Painter's Masking Tape (~50mm wide)
- Note: if you can get even wider tape, that would be more useful for some of the larger pieces. Just make sure to get Low-tack variety, as higher tack will possibly stick too much to the fibres on the reverse side of the leather (resulting in an ugly mess when removed)
- Approximately 100 x 2 Piece Double-cap Rivets (e.g. http://www.maclace.com.au/product.php?id=688&list_page=2)
- Note: I suggest getting some extra in case you have a mishap when fixing to the bag pieces
- 4 x Press Studs (e.g. http://www.maclace.com.au/product.php?id=717&list_page=3)
- Note: You only need 4x of the bottom 2 pieces (for the front of bag panel), however you will need 4x of the top 2 pieces for every Art Panel that you create
- Craft knife
- Self-healing cutting mat
- Press stud setter & anvils
- Rivet setter & anvils
- Laser cutter/engraver
- Note: this is optional as you can cut manually with your craft knife, however all of my project was cut with the laser cutter. I also used the laser engraving function to engrave my imagery on the art panels. You could, again, manually carve/bevel designs onto your art panels.
- 5mm Hole punch
- Note: only necessary if you are not using a laser cutter, as you will need to manually punch the rivet/press stud post holes
- Note: my airbrush isn't even a real airbrush. It is a single action spray-tanning airbrush that runs off a basic airpump that I picked up at a local auction. A real airbrush would possibly allow for much more finesse in the airbrushing of artwork
Step 2: Create a Design & Pattern
The first step to all good projects is an idea.
After you have the idea in your head, you need to get that down onto paper so you can then start determining the dimensions, the materials required, & any other relevant information.
So, I've sketched down some rough design ideas.
Note: these had to be modified at a later date in the project due to material size restrictions & a total reworking of the idea
Once the idea is fleshed out in your sketch book, you can possibly move straight on from there to creating the paper template "test" bag.
However, in my case I have added an intermediary step of creating the pattern for the bag on the computer (as I planned to laser cut all the components). See .AI file at bottom of this step (contains dimensions for each component).
Once I had created the bag pattern on the computer, using Adobe Illustrator, I then imported the design files into my laser software (LaserWeb3, open source project) to cut out the paper pieces with precision. It's probably a bit of overkill but when you can, why not? You can substitute scissors or craft knife to cut your paper pieces.
Once you have cut out your paper "test" bag, you will want to assemble it (using sticky-tape) to test that it is the right size, holes for the rivets/press studs match, straps are decent length, etc.
You will need to probably cut 2 sets of your paper "test" bag parts, so you can assemble 1 set & retain a set that is not assembled to use for positioning on your leather to determine if the bag will fit.
Note: my first attempt at this step resulted in a bag that was going to be too large for the Kangaroo Hide/Leather piece that I had, so I had to modify my design & shrink aspects of the bag
Step 3: Cut Your Pattern Pieces From the Leather
Now that you have tested the bag (with paper) and determined that everything is the correct size, you can begin cutting your pieces from the leather. I cannot stress enough making sure to test everything first (as the leather is too expensive to make any silly mistakes).
SAFETY WARNING:either way, at this point you will be using something dangerous or potentially harmful: a knife or a laser cutter. Please take care & follow necessary safety precautions.
In my case, as I planned to laser cut all the pieces & assembly holes (for rivets/press studs), I roughly cut the leather into pieces that were suitable for the individual bag components. I am also limited in my laser cutter regarding the size that I can do in one go (330 x 230 mm).
Once I had roughly cut all the pieces out, I then took each piece & placed in my laser cutter to cut the final precise shapes.
Note: if you do not have access to a laser cutter you can manually cut all your pieces to the correct size using your craft knife
Step 4: Add Your Art to Your Art Panels
For this step, I utilised another function of my laser. I engraved the imagery onto the Art Panels using the laser engraving ability. This can actually be quite a time consuming process, so sit back, watch a movie & keep an eye on the laser with a fire extinguisher handy (don't want to burn the house down).
Note: if you do not have access to a laser engraver you can transfer your art to the leather pieces using traditional methods (e.g. swivel knife, bevelling, backgrounding)
Note: For my 1st art panel's artwork, I have utilised an old nautical map drawn by a fellow named Ortelius around 1570 (see: Abraham Ortelius on Wikipedia.com). The original image I used was full-colour, so I had to do some pre-processing in Photoshop to remove the colour & retain the outlines for the landmasses/text on the map. For the 2nd art panel's artwork, I intended to use Leonardo Da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" sketch (see: Vitruvian Man on Wikipedia.com), however it turned out to be a pain to pre-process for removing the background parchment whilst retaining the shadows & details in the man's face. So, I came up with the idea of using the Instructables.com Robot logo & fitting him into the "Vitruvian Man" style (hence the extra arms & legs).
Also note: You may notice that both of my images (the map & robot) are backwards compared to the engraved image. This is because my laser engraves everything mirrored (for reasons not yet determined).
Step 5: Colour Your Art Panels
For the Art Panels, I decided that the best method to transfer colour & to be able to blend colours was to airbrush the dyes onto the leather.
In order to do this, you want to start with light colours & build them up successively to the desired effect. You can always add more, but you can't take away what you have already dyed.
So, to achieve this result I mixed the leather dye with methylated spirits, to thin it down & lighten the colour. The ratio was very approximate, however it was close to 1:10 (dye : methylated spirits).
Before airbrushing I prepared all the pieces by masking the backs with painter's masking tape. This was to prevent any dye getting into the back fibres of the leather (which I wanted to leave natural). I also used some 100% methylated spirits to wipe off any sooty residue around cuts/holes from the laser cutting.
I then spent a few hours airbrushing the Art Panels. I am by no means an expert on airbrushing, so I will let you find other Instructables to teach you how to airbrush.
After airbrushing the Art Panels, I went ahead & airbrushed all the main bag panels in a light tan colour.
Step 6: Seal/Lacquer Your Bag Panels
After all the dye has had an adequate amount of time to dry, you can go ahead & seal them all with a leather lacquer or sealer. I left my panels to dry overnight & came back to lacquer after about 12 hours. Realistically, you could probably come back after about 4 hours as the airbrushing technique (mixed with methylated spirits) means the dye on the leather dries quite quickly.
So apply your lacquer on the leather with a sponge or a brush. I used a sponge for the art panels & then a sponge brush for the rest of the bag panels/straps.
Don't freak out (like I did) when your art panel's dye looks darker after applying your lacquer. Turns out this is just a temporary effect until the lacquer dries (again, I left it overnight to dry).
Step 7: Assemble Your Bag
Now the real fun begins.
You can start assembling the bag & see it taking shape before your eyes, literally!
For this step we use the press studs & the rivets, along with their associated setter/anvil tools & a hammer. You will want to make sure you are doing this on a very solid surface. I use a hardwood block to rest my anvils on whilst setting the rivets/press studs.
You can pretty much start wherever you want with placing your rivets & setting them, however, in this particular design there are flaps that come across from the bottom & sides onto the front and back panels. You will want to make sure that you leave the corner rivets out until all the sides have been attached, as that corner rivet needs to go through all 3 layers of leather.
Make sure to set the press stud "bottom" pieces onto the front panel of the bag, & then for the Art Panels you will set the press stud "top" pieces.
Step 8: Hang Your Bag in a Tree?
You've now completed your bag, so now it is time to hang it in a tree & take some photos of it.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this project & that it inspires you to have a go at leather crafting.
Any questions or comments please add below & I will get back to you as soon as possible.
This is an entry for the Tandy Leather Contest 2016. If you liked my entry, give me a vote for the contest.
Third Prize in the
Tandy Leather Contest 2016