For my first real bag project (the shopper tote was more of a teacher’s evaluation), I wanted to tackle making a structured top-handle elegant lady bag, inspired by the likes of the Delvaux Brillant GM, or the Proenza Schouler book bag. My classmates hadn’t really heard of my bag references but they did think it was Hermès Kelly-esque in style, which is true in some ways except for the main buckle and the construction of the flap.
Clipped together a paper prototype using the patterns I’d made. I’ve found that binder clips are my best friends in making bags. A strangely useful tool which no one really told us about–I just, quite luckily, happened to have brought like a dozen for using around the apartment (as chip clips or whatnot). They’ve become so essential in how I work that I even got my sister to bring me a bazillion more in all sizes when she came to visit me this past Christmas (they’re so much cheaper back home than if I bought them here in Florence). I now have a giant tub of the things. Score.
Once the teacher OK’d my paper patterns, I went ahead and cut the leather accordingly. For this bag, I wanted to use this dark green (almost black in some lights) textured leather. I didn’t have a lot of it (there was just a small piece available at the leather shop), but I measured out the paper patterns and I had just enough.
Sewed the base, attached the bag feet, and prepared my bag’s side panels. Hindsight note: I had a lot of sharp edges/corners in the paper version of my bag, which doesn’t really translate in leather. As you can see from my side panels, I had to curve out the bottom corners otherwise the edge would’ve bunched up where the folds were supposed to have been.
Attached the inner top flap and inside pocket, as well as my leather lining.
Made the top handle and preparing it for sewing onto the body of the bag
I wanted to go with an oversized buckle a la Delvaux, but the ones that the school had in stock weren’t really the right kinds, so I ended up with a smaller, more modest buckle instead.
My stitching is slightly improved but still frustratingly shoddy in a lot of parts of my bag. You know that feeling when you’ve done great on a practice strip of leather but then when you get to sewing the actual bag the machine somehow betrays you (performance anxiety?) and you want to strangle it? Yeah. That happened a lot with different parts of this bag, but I didn’t have enough spare leather so I had to make do with what I could salvage. Leather doesn’t ‘heal’ like fabric does. When a needle punches a hole in it, the hole is there for good.
Not too shabby, but I still cringe at those unsightly stitches on top :((
The bag beginning to take shape
Preparing the shoulder straps
Attaching the side panels
After stitching everything together
And now with the detachable shoulder straps
I really love this shape and will probably attempt it again after a few more months of experience. For now I guess it’s not too terrible for a first bag effort, although I can’t help but spot everything wrong with it that I will definitely need to work on.
For one thing, I love how this leather looked when I bought it but I didn’t know enough to inspect it more carefully at the time. Turns out that the piece I got was near the edge of the pelt so the thickness was not so even (note the wibbly parts), and the leather in some areas was very brittle and prone to cracking. It’s not obvious in the photos but a lot of areas have dye cover-ups and nail polish. Certainly nowhere near acceptable for a luxury good.
More hindsight notes: in this type of class where the teacher is advising you only one step at a time, it is important that you yourself have a clear idea and direction as to what you want to happen, how you want the bag to turn out, as well as possible points of difficulty or problems that you might encounter as the project progresses.
If you rely too much on just following the teacher and only thinking of the current step, a lot can be overlooked. Remember that the teacher has more than one student and thus his/her focus is divided, but you should have ownership of your project and be fully aware of what’s going on, what to do next, and the project’s ultimate end goal. Kind of like a manager just being aware of everything that’s going on in his/her company, or something like that.
I say this because there were so many mistakes with this bag that could have been avoided if I had spoken up more about the next steps and plans for the bag earlier on in the project, which would have affected the teacher’s instruction on what to work on/do next. When you realize the mistakes down the road, there is a lot of course correction that happens, which wastes time and resources–wastefulness which could have been avoided if things had been done properly from the start.
Update: I sent this bag home with my sister and asked her to photoshoot it for me with a real camera (and not just my phone camera), so I would have decent photos to use for my year-end portfolio. Here are some of the photos: