This was our first foray into hand-sewing leather, so our teacher had us do a simple bag just to try out some techniques and get the hang of things. In hand-sewing the best leather to use is vegetable-tanned leather, which comes in different thicknesses and is also what’s used for saddles, men’s belts, etc. It’s super sturdy and can be manipulated in a variety of ways–dyeing, carving, burning, sculpting, etc. It’s a great material to work with, but the best vegetable tanned leathers also cost a pretty penny–around 85 euro per square foot! It’s no joke why they call it an investment bag…
I found the pattern for this bag really strange, though, and felt like there maybe was a piece missing or something, because the two components aligned rather awkwardly. But more on that later. I also didn’t have my own cutter yet at this point, which is crucial. Leather working needs sharp blades and good grips! I used an old, unsharpened one I found in the classroom–big mistake. It messed up my bag’s edges and made them wibbly.
You can already see the unevenness of the edges :(( These two little pieces of vegetable-tanned leather cost me twenty euro already :(( Good thing we weren’t dealing yet with the highest quality stuff, or I’d have wept.
We could try out whatever techniques or designs or manipulations that we wanted to, so I decided to try my hand at dyeing my leather. For in-class dyeing we use alcohol-based ones, diluted with denatured alcohol because it’s better to layer on the colors lightly, one at a time, instead of laying down too heavy a coat from the get-go. I mixed up this nice leafy green–green with yellow since the pure green alone applied on the brown leather was not the shade I wanted.
After an hour or so of slowly layering (you have to sort of wait for each layer to dry a bit because the color will lighten, and then you can decide if you want to apply another coat), I finally got my desired shades of green. Since my edges were wibbly and, let’s say, “rustic”, I decided to make my leather have a more rustic texture to it as well. I rolled it, pounded it, and bent it this way and that until I got a cool, textured, almost exotic-like effect that I liked.
In hand-sewing, you need to mark where your stitches will be and then punch through with sewing awls (like small ice picks) before you can begin stitching. My first set of stitching holes were so shoddy and uneven. It really takes practice and patience and a lot of physical effort.
When you’re sewing a section of stitches that have two “good sides” (meaning both sides are visible on the bag exterior), you need to use a two-needle method instead of the traditional backstitch or running stitch. We clamp the bag to a wooden stitching pony (leaves both hands free for stitching), and use two needles simultaneously so that both sides are good sides.
For other parts like attaching this strip to my bag’s front flap, I just made up some random stitches that are more decorative than anything, really.
The completed “Peter Pan” ish mini bag (it can’t hold much–I currently use it to store old receipts). I don’t really care much for this bag, it was more of an experimentation and make-all-your-mistakes-here sort of project, but I do love the textures I got from my playing around with the leather.
I cringe seeing these shoddy stitches. It doesn’t sound too difficult to mark, punch, and sew, but I think it will take more hours of practice and experience to really get my work up to standard. For now, I have a rather useless little bag that I suppose I could one day use for a Peter Pan themed event. In the meantime, I’ll maintain it as my receipts holder