Sewing Stitches are a Basic Life Skill: How to Make a Leather Handbag

Oct 15, 2012

Having exhausted virtually all of the garment construction classes I can take in my lifetime on a Wednesday night at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)  in New York City,  I have turned my attention to accessories: bags and shoes and belts, oh my! What girl hasn't put an extensive amount of thought into the perfect purse or shoe? So for me this was a golden opportunity to put all these visions to work, right?

Not so fast. Making accessories involves some heavy-duty equipment.  My class is at the baby-step level and as such we newbie accessories designers are not permitted to use the machines to sew our leather. I am not quite sure why, but I think that they think we will break their machines. Indeed, the FIT accessories department has what appears to be a full-time accessories sewing machine expert, complete with his tool kit, a wizened man who seems to have been shipped straight from a shoe factory in Italy. 

Currently we are designing bags, and as such, we are left to do edge-lacing and gluing to hold the purse pieces together. After cutting out the leather from our pattern templates, just like a garment, except that you cut with a blade instead of scissors, we use double-sided rubber cement tape and binder clips to hold the seams together. Then, we take big, heavy rawhide mallets and metal hole punchers designed for leather, and we bang away until we have created enough stitching holes around the edge of the our leather pieces to stitch the bag together.

     
Purse templates are cut from stiff oaktag paper. Only a rawhide mallet will do! Or wrap a regular hammer head in leather. These leather tools make the holes in leather (with a good deal of pounding)!

Once the holes are punched, surprisingly, many of the same stitches that are used for hand-sewing garments are used for edge-lacing purses--the whipstitch, blanket stitch, the chain stitch, and so many more. I will be putting my purse together with the blanket stitch, and rather than using a needle and thread, I am threading the leather cord through the holes. (For smaller leather cord, you can use a glover's needle, which holds the leather cord securely during lacing.)

     
Leather looks different, but it's the same stitch. The same goes for the whip stitch. You can even get fancy with embroidery stitches.
     
Now that's a pattern weight, almost a foot long! My purse will be finished with a blanket stitch.

It was a breakthrough "Ah Ha!" moment for me to discover that many of the same skills that are used for sewing fabric can apply to sewing leather. Which brings me to this conclusion: Sewing skills are basic must-have life skills. If you have a few good sewing skills in your tool kit, you can do a lot! I never imagined that my sewing skills would put me so far ahead of the game in making leather accessories! The blanket stitch? No problem!

The Stitch Collection CDs bring together all of the past issues of Stitch, an amazing compendium of modern sewing projects and time-honored skills like the blanket stitch and much more. For me, there is no better way to enhance your sewing skills than by making beautiful projects. These are critical life skills, in my opinion! Check out the Stitch Collection CDs in the Sew Daily Shop.

Have your fabric sewing skills translated to some other hobby or craft? I would like to hear about it! Let me know!

Happy stitching!


Amber Eden


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Comments

harridan wrote
on Oct 15, 2012 6:43 AM

I have been sewing leather using my trusty Viking sewing machine (over 30 years old!) using a long straight stitch and sharp leather or upholstery needles.

Having a powerful machine is key. As are leather needles, because the points are different. You will still end up using glue and clamps, and even handstitching.

I look forward to seeing your pattern.

crobertson wrote
on Oct 15, 2012 3:14 PM

The studio where I work teaches students how to sew leather accessories on industrial machines. So excited to see this article!

Kauai wrote
on Oct 15, 2012 4:28 PM

What is the brand of the double-sided rubber cement tape and where can I buy it?  Thank you.

AmberStitch wrote
on Oct 15, 2012 5:44 PM

The project will be in Summer 2013!

The narrow, double sided rubber cement tape is available at:

Henry Westpfal & Co., 115 West 25th Street, New York, 212 563.5990

Unfortunately, it doesn't come packaged with a brand name, but they know what it is.

Much more to come on making leather bags!

cegrayne wrote
on Oct 15, 2012 5:50 PM

If you have any more information on how to make a purse or vest out of leather,  I would be interested.    I have some black suede to make a vest out of,   but I am not sure where to start,  besides getting a leather needle.

Thanks,  cegrayne  

cegrayne wrote
on Oct 15, 2012 5:50 PM

If you have any more information on how to make a purse or vest out of leather,  I would be interested.    I have some black suede to make a vest out of,   but I am not sure where to start,  besides getting a leather needle.

Thanks,  cegrayne  

cegrayne wrote
on Oct 15, 2012 5:50 PM

If you have any more information on how to make a purse or vest out of leather,  I would be interested.    I have some black suede to make a vest out of,   but I am not sure where to start,  besides getting a leather needle.

Thanks,  cegrayne  

cegrayne wrote
on Oct 15, 2012 5:50 PM

If you have any more information on how to make a purse or vest out of leather,  I would be interested.    I have some black suede to make a vest out of,   but I am not sure where to start,  besides getting a leather needle.

Thanks,  cegrayne  

AmberStitch wrote
on Oct 15, 2012 5:57 PM

With this construction technique, the vest is treated much the same---make an oaktag template and you can punch holes and edgelace.