Making  a Custom Made Leather Handbag

The making of a Large leather Tote Handbag from Leather Goods Connection 

  The first step in making a leather handbag is to find a picture of a handbag you like, or draw a picture of something you want. You then need to decide what methods you will use in it's construction. There are different methods for constructing leather handbags the same as there are for houses. There is the log house, the A frame, the frame house. They can have different windows, foundations, dormers etc. The same is true of handbag construction. Take a look at some of my leather handbag styles.

    After you know the different types of handbag construction you can combine methods to get the result you want. It is important that you think about the construction step by step so that you can do the necessary operation while you have access to the part. You can't sew a pocket into the lining after the bag is complete. You have to do the operation when it will fit into the sewing machine.
  When someone asks me to make them a custom leather handbag I decide on the construction method from experience. If they want additional features I may have to modify the method or change to another method. For instance, there are a lot of ways to make the bottom of a leather handbag. Will the seams be on the center of the ends or on the corners. If the seams are on the corners, an end pouch can be sewn onto the end before the leather bag is assembled. If the seam is on the center of the end as on the leather handbag we are about to make, the pouch would have to be sewn on after assembly when that seam has been sewn. This is more difficult. The more difficult you make the bag to assemble the more likely you are to sew something crooked, wrong or through another part of the bag. When doing jacket repairs it's what I call. "sewing your elbow to your knee".

leather handbag

This is the Leather Tote Handbag made today

  This is a large tote leather handbag with a zipper closure recessed on a narrow gusset. This leather handbag has an outside center pocket on the front. It is made in two tone with black and camel leather. The camel leather is thinner and softer than the black so when I put on the strip on the bottom for color I applied it over the black so it wouldn't sag. The bottom of this leather handbag has another piece of leather glued to the inside as a stiffener so the handbag is double thick leather from below the pocket. The black front and back is made from 3 pieces of leather. This allows better cutting on the hide, the seams add interest and it allows adding the pocket, with the ends into a seam rather than just sewing a patch pocket on the outside.
leather handbag
  Normally I make a sketch and add dimensions when designing a new leather handbag, then I make patterns and fit them together to make sure they work. This leather handbag is interesting because of the simplicity of the cut parts. To make this handbag I don't have patterns, I just have a list with the dimensions of the handbag parts. I cut them with a carpenters square and a razor knife on the cutting board on my bench. I skive one edge thinner, apply seam tape to the edge, fold the edge back 3/8", apply seam tape to the back of the folded edge, press the seam together and top stitch. This is a real insider trick I learned from sail making. I used to sew a 3/8" seam allowance then fold back the seam and top stitch. The seam could easily end up looking crooked if the leather wasn't pulled back evenly against the seam. The thread I use is easily strong enough with the seam only stitched once and you have 1/2 as many holes in the leather. The image above is the completed back.
leather handbag
  This is the completed front of the leather handbag. It has the same outside dimensions as the back. I use lining material below the top center black panel, inside the pocket. This makes the seam thinner where the pocket is sewn in so that it more nearly matches the thickness of the seams on the back. As I mentioned in the beginning the operations have to be done while there is easy access. That is why I add the straps to the handbag now. This is one of the more difficult operations as the panel has to be revolved in the machine when sewing on the tabs over the strap attachment. I don't want to have to do that after the front and back of the handbag are joined.
leather handbag
  I'm going to use 1/4" nylon rope inside the strap on this leather handbag rather than the regular cotton piping filler. Here again we see the advantage of seam tape. One piece on the edge, and one piece on the center. Remove the release paper and stick the rope on center without any twists. Here again, this is a real trick. Try to do this some other way and see what happens.

leather handbag
  Now fold the leather straight over and press the edges together. Looking good...

leather handbag
  Now lets sew it together. This roller guide is one of my favorite tools. I got it out of a junk box years ago and made guides for it on the bobbin cover. Other than my one good eye this is why my seams are straight. See how the leather and rope are controlled by the seam tape as they feed between the foot and the guide for a straight tight seam.
leather handbag
  After trimming off the excess to the stitch line, we have the completed rolled leather strap for our Custom  Leather Handbag.
leather handbag
  This is when we attach the tabs that will cover the strap attachment. They are sewn to the handbag front and back below the hole. The strap is inserted and lashed down by hand with harness stitching thread.
Tote Handbag
    The tabs are then folded down over the strap end and sewn to the handbag. Next the edges of the bottom are skived ( pronounced Sky ved ) and then sewn to the center bottom of the handbag front and back. This time the seam is sewn, then folded down and top stitched.
Tote Handbag
  Here is our leather handbag with the front and back joined. What we now have is a common bottom type of construction though we arrived at it by a method different than normal.
  Picture what the front and back would look like if we now cut the bottom down the center.  The front and back would have squares cut out of the corners. Then to join the front and back we would sew a seam where we just cut it apart to get back to the shape we have now. With that method the handbag would have a seam down the center bottom only.
  Now we fold the handbag together and sew the side seams.   

leather handbag
  Then we sew across the bottom ends to produce this. The next step before turning the handbag right side out is to glue on another piece of leather to the bottom. On the left you can see the lining behind the camel pocket.
Tote Handbag
  There it is, the outside body of the leather handbag waiting for the lining to be inserted. Notice the bottom seams and think about how we arrived here and how the other method I just mentioned would look with a seam down the center of the bottom and no seams on the front and back where it makes the turn to become the bottom. See how this allows us to have a solid bottom in a different color than the accent trim. For the lining we are going to use the method with the seam down the middle as it is smoother, simpler, and we don't need the seams that are on the outside.
leather handbag
  On this side of the handbag lining we install a zipper, sewing another piece of lining material behind it to define the pocket. The bonded lining used here is much thicker than regular fabric linings and gives me a lot more options. Bonded means that it doesn't fray or stretch in any direction. Sure, making linings seems boring, and a big hold up when the handbag seems so near completion, and we're getting anxious, but it is an important part of the functionality when the bag is in use. This is where we have a chance to add custom touches like the cell phone pocket that just fits the phone this customer has. The lining looks purple in the picture because of the flash, but it is definitely Black.   Tote Handbag
  On the other side of our handbag lining we sew on a pocket and a cell phone pocket with a Velcro flap closure. Notice that I folded and top stitched the top of the pocket. Remember these lining pieces are more or less square with with the bottom corners cut out. We now sew them together on the bottom and top stitch the allowance back to keep it lying flat. This gives a lining the same size and shape as the body of the bag before we sewed the sides and ends of the leather handbag together. Next we skive and fold back the zipper facing, apply seam tape, stick on one side of the zipper, apply seam tape again and apply it to the top of the lining. Then we sew once across the top joining all three pieces.

leather handbag
  Here we have the lining inside the leather handbag body to test the fit. Notice the top stitched seam down the center bottom. See how this makes a smoother interior than if we had made it exactly like the outside.
  Go to my leather handbag page and see how many leather handbags there have the body of the bag made the same way as we made the lining of this handbag. The Diana, Tote, and Maxi Tote as well as the Hobo, have the same construction. The 2 pocket zip has similar construction except for the complication on the side seam that is similar to the bottom seam of this handbag.
  Now we put on the slider and join the side seams.

leather handbag
  Reinsert the lining and position it inside the bag. Line up the end seams and sew the top of the facing to the top of the body of the handbag. We're almost there, phew!
  All we have to do now is make some binding in the camel leather and bind over the top seam to finish it off.
leather handbag
  There it is!! Not Bad!! Once it's together it sure looks better than anything I could ever make! But I did, didn't I. It's just a matter of thinking it through first, and taking it one step at a time. Isn't it interesting that we started with nothing but rectangular shaped pieces and ended up with this. If you saw a picture of this and wanted to copy it, wouldn't you think you had to make the top of some of the pieces wider than the bottom?
leather handbag
  Whoa!!! I did it again! Wow that's twice. OK you make the next one.
  How about something completely different... take a look at this one.
Custom Handbag

  Does this bag have any structural elements in common with the Tote we just made? Take a look at what's available from LeatherGoods Connection .

Want to make something more difficult? try Making a Handbag from a photo.

by Henry Hibbard

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