Tips for Embellishing a Leather Tote

In a recent project from Stitch Summer 2013, Easy Leather Tote, I talk about using a pronged circle die to stamp the lacing and decorative holes in the leather. I want to go a little more into that technique because I had an amazing teacher who gave me all sorts of secrets:

Every crescent had
dozens of holes to punch.

The finished front had a
nice peek-a-boo texture.

 The cool thing about this circle die is that there are 4 prongs, but they are removable, so that you can punch one hole at once, two holes at once, and so on. This is really useful if you are going around curves or navigating in tight corners.

For instance, on the orange leather tote, I wanted to make a design that gave the flavor of tooling. I used a roll of masking tape as my half-circle template and drafted  interlocking crescents all over the front of the bag and then "pinned" a zigzag pattern along the crescents with an awl to indicate where I would punch the holes.

Next, I removed three of the prongs from the circle die, leaving just one in the middle, like a snaggletooth. Using my rawhide mallet (or a hammer head wrapped with a scrap of leather), I placed the leather front tote piece on a resilient mat to provide a protective barrier for the leather punching. I actually went out and bought a mat that is especially made for this purpose, but my teacher used an ordinary plastic kitchen cutting board. Either one works.

Then I pounded away, holding my mallet from the end of the handle, rather than the middle. This gave maximum heft and weight to the pounding and I punched each hole with two or three bone-jarring whacks. I also had to stop every so often and pull out the leather "holes" that got stuck in the prong–the awl tip is useful for this.

It took a really long time. My arm was sore and I built up a good sweat, but I punched all the holes along every crescent, and the result was a peek-a-boo textured effect. I loved the pattern. It made the purse look really special, and my time was well spent.

This is just one technique for making a tote. For lots more, check out the new Best of Stitch: Bags to Sew in the Sew Daily Shop.

Do you think you would ever try to do something this exerting or something similar to make a bag? Do tell!

Happy stitching!


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About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.

4 thoughts on “Tips for Embellishing a Leather Tote

  1. Possibly, though not sure if I would use it on a handbag. I wish the picture were clearer so we could actually see the design. Sometimes really good lighting is not such a good thing as details may be lost in the brightness.

    Wish I’d know about using a bread board, I had gotten all the things necessary for making me a pair of leather mocs. but all the stitching holes have to be hand punched and every thing I could find on this said you “had to use marble” which of course was more expensive than the whole project put together including all the tools I need to buy except for that one item.

  2. Can’t believe you are working in leather because next week my community college is hosting a design event with about 250 high school students. There are multiple workshops students may attend and my workshop is an earbud ” taco ” case made out of leather!
    I saw the idea on p.s. I made this ( one of my favorite blogs ).
    Am new at working with leather but, your experience is very encouraging.
    I always have a million projects going and post them regularly on my blog

  3. I would absolutely use these techniques to embellish a bag, that I would construct as well. I LOVE working with leather. Though I am a painter and calligrapher by trade, I enjoy the feel and smell of really good leather and do some pieces for my shows, especially around the holidays. I have enjoyed carrying good leather bags for years, if you make them yourself, all the better!