leather handbag making tools

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Leather goods design considerations

  As you might imagine the design considerations for making a bag out of stiff heavy leather, hand laced through holes banged in with a hole punch are quite different than those for a handbag made of soft leather with a lot of features. We have to skive, cement, fold, split and bind. There are zippers as well as fasteners to install. Several layers of leather in one place have to smoothly flow into one layer without producing unsightly lumps that jam in binders when sewn. The parts must be capable of being assembled in such a way that the operations can be done easily and accurately time after time.
  Besides the design considerations that pertain to the actual making of the product there are other factors to consider. The product must be designed to meet the needs of a specific market. These needs can limit the degree of sophistication of the finished product as well as the quality of the components.  I can work with customers to produce the best looking products for their market within the given constraints.

  For  step by step tutorials try these links  "The Making of a Custom Handbag"  or "Making a Designer Handbag from a Photo".
  For my own products I have taken craftsmanship to a new level by making leather goods with finished edges that are fully lined as well as stronger, lighter, and more pleasurable to use by incorporating Hi-tech fabric "linings" into them. This "lining" material is a bonded fabric similar to sail cloth and was not made to be used as a lining material. It was designed to be the actual outer part and is much too expensive for regular competitive manufactured goods to use as a lining.

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High-tech materials & Leather handbag design

  I have made bags from canvas, and canvas and leather, but was never happy with the "Same old, Same old" result. With my exposure to high tech materials as a sail maker I became convinced that sail fabrics would make a far superior product when combined with leather than cotton duck or canvas.
  There is a practical aspect to all this. 'All leather' products can become heavy and bulky. The pockets for the most part, especially a stack of patch pockets, are almost useless. They can't hold anything of any size and one can't get their hand in there to get anything out.
  Normally the fabric linings used in leather goods come from the garment industry. They are thin and inexpensive, but they cannot match leather for strength and durability. Modern sail cloth, however, is STRONGER than leather. Sail cloth doesn't fray or stretch and is practically waterproof and is stain resistant. It has it's problems though. It isn't particularly soft, it's white and it's expensive.
  Well, I've solved those problems, except for the expensive part. I now have a special bonded fabric, in charcoal and black, that I am incorporating in my handbags and wallets. These leather goods are now lighter, stronger, and more functional than ever before. All leather on the outside, all strong and safe on the inside. If you like the looks of the outside, you'll like the inside also and you'll like using your purchase even more.
  You will perhaps see that my designs while sophisticated in construction and finished to a high degree, express a return to basic values that I hope you will appreciate.

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The history of leather handbag design

  In the 60's and early 70's handmade leather goods became popular. Perhaps due to the political environment people wanted a return to basic styles. Or perhaps these crude handmade items seemed "Real", "Natural", or even "New". Perhaps they were popular because they represented the freedom of the people who made them.  Apparently the rejection of the values of the 50's included the rejection of factory "Machine Made" goods also.
  Do not think that these handmade goods represented how far advanced the leather goods industry was at that time. Better quality leather goods had been made for thousands of years. This was a case of reinventing the wheel and learning by doing.
  These "Hand Made" goods were made with simple basic tools. They had elements of western kit type leather goods that one might make at summer camp. They had the Hippy look rather than the western look by having simple stamped designs as a colorful decoration rather than the heavy all over tooling of the standard western look.
  They were made of Oak Tanned leather and laced together with rawhide. This led to the yellow Latigo leather phase which was basically the same, but with a more pliable leather that could be easily buffed to highlight a stamped design. This method was even faster and easier and in most cases did not have the colors of the Hippy era.

  Softer leather bags became popular as this phase matured and as craftsmen came up with better designs and put stress on function rather than decoration. Some were hand cut and sewn but one soon  appreciated the benefits of the sewing machine and die cutting. Even though we were now using sewing machines to sew the bags together we still called them "Hand Made".
  I was in Lynn Ma. in the Shop of Walter Dyer in the 70's and I remember asking, him how he handled it when customers asked if the goods were hand made, he replied,  "I say, they are as hand made as they can be". The bag below  is one that we were making at this time.
handmade leather handbag
  As the level of sophistication increased more machinery was required.  With soft leather and the use of machinery the choices and complexity have increased dramatically. Some makers still try to pass off simple construction methods as high quality goods. Some haven't mastered the more difficult methods that produce a more finished look, some are simply getting by without updating their products. Some of these shortcuts are covered under Quality Construction Methods.


  Passable machine sewn products can be produced with minimal equipment. To do this, the type of construction is limited to products with raw edges showing or simple turned bag construction with the seams showing on the inside. This produces a condition where they must stress form over function, some trick shape or design that gives the first impression that the product is better than it is.  I still stress form and function with the most stress on function. A lot of pockets are not a feature if they are unusable or if they take up so much room that the bag is at it's best when empty. I strive to make products that will be practical enjoyable and enhance the life of the user.

  You can see that the bag below, that I am making today, was made using completely different construction methods than the bag above. This bag is now available from my store. It is custom made from a choice of leathers and color combinations.

Equestrian Handbag

  It appears that we have gone through the full cycle in the last 50 years, to where handmade or custom made goods are now almost unavailable, especially fine quality custom made goods. This is because unlike the bags that were lashed together with rawhide in the 60's and 70's , making leather goods has once again become a complicated process. 

  I make my own patterns and design the bags to work with traditional equipment as well as specialized equipment that I make myself. I personally make everything shown on this web site, as well as the web site itself, with my own hands.  Go to my store to see more of my work or Contact me All mail answered promptly.

by Henry Hibbard


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