Tuesday, April 07, 2015



A leather duffel. This is the bag I have been working on for several-many weeks! almost a year, in fact, from conception, purchasing supplies, learning how to use the new tools and supplies, until completion. My son wanted a duffel bag, not the zipper-on-the-top kind, but the one-columnar top-opening kind, still used in the military. I started researching duffel bags, hardware, sizes, materials.

It's been a journey, learning new skills, buying new tools, and learning how to use those tools.

It's been a journey fraught with missteps, false steps, much planning and a certain fear of making (expensive) mistakes. I bought leather that was too thin, leather than was too thick, and Goldilocks! finally some that was just right.

I bought tools. I bought them thoughtfully, with much research, one at a time, with mixed results. I bought a highly recommended awl, for example, and it's a very nice awl...but it's too big for my hands. I bought another awl at a leather show where, in person, I could handle them, and figure out which one is the best for me. Bingo: perfect awl for me! I do now have leather tools plural, for there is a small handful that are the basics needed for leatherwork.


I started with photos of military duffel bags in this style. Have you ever googled "duffle bag" to find out just how many bags are named as such? I'll wait here while you do.

See? Maddening. Top zips, side zips, buckle closures, drawstring closures...almost everything *but* this style. I researched hardware. I bought various grommets and hooks and d-rings, all in multiples of course, and learned to attach them.

I watched duffel bags come off baggage carousels, and tried to sidle up closely enough to them and their owners (usually uniformed military personnel) to get a glimpse of the closures, a look at the handles, an idea of the construction. One really really really does not want to be thought to be stalking military personnel at the airport, so this plan was not the most successful. They were usually really Big People too; and these days, one does not stare too long at someone else's luggage. I was definitely too shy to tap them on the shoulder and ask to see their bags. Did I mention they were Big People?

I bought a canvas duffel at our local surplus store, and made a mock up for a friend, using my sewing machine. That's when I started to worry. I'd traded for an industrial sewing machine to sew these leather bags (this is not meant to be the last), would it work? Would it be suitable? Sure it was a sturdy machine and could stitch through thick layers, but some of these seams cannot be sewn easily on a sewing machine.

I found a saddle maker, and took a class in stitching leather by hand. I practiced on smaller bags.


I'm happy with the result! I love the piped seams, and got better and better at stitching, and lo and behold, I can hand sew through 9 layers (yes! Nine!) of leather. In tight corners. In places where no machine will reach.

The bag is not perfect. I did not solve all the hardware issues, and if ever I can find the hardware I need, I may be able to fix this bag, or make a better one. But I am very happy with it. It is now out in the world, and I am curious how it will hold up to use. I'm a bit worried, because I have never done this before. Not quite like this, not quite in this way. But I know, if there are problems, that I can fix them! Big Sigh of Relief!

Oh! the joy of the journey! The fun of the research, the trying, the mulling and the trying again! Sampling, and thinking and asking for help and finding it out there. Memories: a friend rifling through her leather stash, handing over a pile of it, making sure that I got enough to sew up a bag. 3 somewhat older weaver-ladies attending a leather show at an Indian Casino in Prescott Arizona, among the cowboys and Indians, bikers and buckskin-clad re-enactors, leather clothing makers and ... harness makers.. for people, for want of a more delicate way to phrase it....we were clearly out of place! But it was there I found my perfect awl.

What's next? I've started the next bag. I have at least four more ideas/plans and parts for bags. I don't really need more bags, but why stop now? I'm finally getting to the fun part!


Blogger Caroline M said...

I am seriously impressed. I find leather terrifying because once you've made a hole it stays made, no ripping stitches and erasing the sewing line with a fingernail. I wouldn't even know the search terms to use to look for hardware.

There must be a lot of learning in that bag, he's a lucky lad.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Lynn said...

Wow. I think I can cope with my plainweave cloth now.

Did I mention wow?

3:56 AM  
Blogger Deanna said...

I don't know which is more impressive, the incredible journey to learn this new technique, or the wonderful bag that resulted. You are an intrepid maker!

7:20 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

I bow in the face of your courage! All kidding aside, watching you take on this new pursuit is quite inspiring!

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so sorry I missed you when you came here to Prescott! I hope you come back some day, I would love to take a silk class from you.

I have launched on a leather journey as well, I plan to make myself a knitting belt. I purchased leather, awls, and rivets yesterday. I think the leather may be too thick, but having never seen one in person I don't know for sure, and I do know I want it to hold the needles securely.

That is a truly beautiful piece of workmanship you have created. Bravo!

9:52 AM  

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