How to make a leather clutch bag

If you know me you know I’ve been on a lot of courses in the past, before I settled on my current preference for generative and geometric pattern designs applied to various media.  I’ve done shoe making (at Black Truffle in London, back late 2007 I think), pattern making (the sort you use to cut clothes from), jewellery design and making, stone carving, beer making, fine box making, and probably a few I’ve forgotten about.

I have so many half finished projects lying around the place that they just blend into the background. Last week I was looking at making some laser engraved and laser cut personalised luggage tags from walnut.  Proper man sized, rugged and handmade, not the usual sort.  The designs and the walnut material were not the problem, they were the relatively easy part for me.  The problem was, how to attach them to the luggage?

I looked around google, not quite sure what I was looking for – “some sort of strap affair, made of leather, like a mini version of a belt”.  Google doesn’t really do vague, and gave me suitably vague results.

So then I did what I naturally do in such circumstances and started looking at laser cutting some leather myself, to fashion into a custom made leather strap to attach to the wooden part of the tag.  I knew from the shoe making course that rivets and buckles and such things were easy to find and work with.  It should have been easy to fiddle around and come up with something, right?  Well, yes, though I do find that if something doesn’t come out right first or second time, I quickly get bored and drop the project, possibly for a day or two, or possibly forever.  Occasionally I come back to things years later!

So googling around I found Tandy Leather in the US, who I had heard of before.  I was surprised to learn that they had recently moved into the UK, with a shop practically on my doorstep in Manchester.  Crikey!  Reading their website further, I discovered they ran workshops, with a “leather clutch making course” running in just two days time.  A quick email and they confirmed there was still space.   Hurrah!

 

Leather Clutch Bag Making Course at Tandy Leather Manchester, 2nd July 2016

Now just to set the record straight, I’m not intending to embark on a new career making clutch bags any time soon, but I thought it was just the ticket to get me back working with leather after several years of giving all things leather a very wide berth. I had a trip over to Tandy Manchester the same day, just to check the place out and explain what I was trying to do – the luggage strap idea.  I also wanted some advice on the leather bookmarks I’d been trying to colour.

 

Laser cut leather bookmarks
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Laser cut leather bookmarks

I had intended it to be a 10 to 15 minute visit, but it turned into I think nearly two hours of chatting and playing around with various colours and leathers.

It turned out I was on the right track anyway with my colouring attempts.  There are two ways of colouring leather, or three if you want to be pedantic.  But basically it boils down to – stain the leather itself, or cover the leather with another colour.  What I was already doing was covering the leather, and to be honest I was happy with it.  The selection of colours available to stain leather are what I would call “limited”.  Nice, but “limited”.  I digress.

So back to the leather clutch!  On the day of the course I was half an hour early, as was someone else who was very keen to get going.  After a quick stop over the car park to an appropriately US eatery for a sausage and egg concoction, it was back over to Tandy where David introduced himself to the class, a softly spoken Irishman with years of experience working with leather.

leather clutch bag pattern
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Leather clutch bag pattern

David gave us this to use to cut out our leather pieces for the leather clutch bag.  It turned out it had one or two slight inaccuracies, which you may spot if you look closely at the punched holes on the left and right, relative to the 6 holes punched either side of centre.  In the end, these turned out to be “not a problem” for our tutor to work around.  In fact, many problems encountered with leather can be worked around with a bit of creative thinking.  Not like lasers then, where if you make a mistake you generally have to chuck the whole piece away.

 

Unless you’re going to be laser cutting your leather, which is incredibly useful (and really helps if you have a laser cutter handy), you’ll need to transfer the pattern to the leather.  This involves simply tracing round the edge of the pattern with the reverse or back side of the leather under the pattern.  The holes for the stitching are also transferred as you’ll need to pierce the leather with a hole punch to get the needle through.

Not being a leather expert, I like to call the front side of the leather the “nice side”, and the reverse the “backside”.  If you want a lesson in leather, I suggest you read this excellent post over at Wikipedia – Leather.  There are many many terms used, many from the 19th Century when leather working really took off, but suffice to say you don’t need to know 99% of them to make a bag!

 

Having cut out the parts of the leather clutch bag – I used some scissors, and a scalpel to tidy up the wonky bits – we had to punch out the holes for where our stitching would go.  Leather is really tough and, fortunately, the needle used to stitch leather together is very blunt.  I say fortunately as I have a bit of a phobia of sharp needles, more of jabbing myself in the fingers than having them stuck in my arm!

For the long run of stitching holes, it’s quicker to use a special tool designed for punching multiple holes at once. This one does 4 at once which makes straight runs really quick.  A simple whack with a rubber mallet, quite hard, does the job.  Locate the last hole you punched in the first hole punch so you’re only really cutting 3 at once, but at least you’ve got a reference hole and your holes are all perfectly spaced.

I will finish this one when I get chance!  Sorry if you read this far and wanted the final bits, it’s coming, I promise!

 

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