Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Paisley Purse, Please

Well, I almost managed to get a second purse done before I went back to work, but not quite.  It took me an extra two days to finish.

My second purse is very similar to the first one: same shape, same upholstery leather.  For this one, though, I was mostly playing with how I could make a filigree-punched Paisley pattern for the main decorative design. I have a set of filigree punches from Tandy (triangle, diamond, moon, heart, flower) as well as my circular drive punches that I usually use for punching holes for rivets and such.

I started with a paper sketch of the Paisley shape, and I started punching right through the paper into the leather.

It got kind of zen-like as I just started punching one line of shapes after another, just following the sketch lines.  By the time I was done I had my punched leather layer and a really cool paper doily.

I used diamond chisel punches (forks with attitude!) to punch holes for all the stitching.  I have three of them: six teeth, two teeth, and one tooth (which helps you get around curves).  I embroidered the blue lines to hold the punched layer to the gold leather layer.

I laced the purse together with a different type of lace this time.  It's something called EcoSoft Lace from Tandy, and it's microfiber!  You know, the stuff "high-tech" cleaning cloths are made of.  It's nice and soft and comes in more interesting colors than regular leather lace.  The one downside I found is that it's difficult to skive (shave off) the ends into a tapered shape for splicing two pieces together.  You are only supposed to work with about two yards of lace at a time so you avoid wearing out or fraying the lace by the time you get to the end of the piece (since you pull the whole piece through each lacing hole).  Since the double loop stitch uses a lot of lace per inch of leather edges, I ended up having to do several splices.

The last big different thing I did on this one was to do saddle stitch along the two edges of the shoulder strap. Saddle stitch is like running stitch with two alternating needles, or what my husband calls "racing stitch". There are lots of videos out on YouTube for learning to do saddle stitch.  I punched all the holes first with my diamond chisels again.  It added several extra hours of work to the project to do the stitching, but it does really improve the look.  The strap is made of two layers of the upholstery leather glued back to back.

Here are the two finished purses, along with the usual gratuitous dog pose.  Lacey and Tulip will endorse anything for enough treats!

Well, leatherwork was a good way to while away a good chunk of four weeks off work, and now it's back to my day job!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nevermind Netflix--I'm Too Busy Making Leather Stuff!

I recently had some surgery that requires some time off work to recuperate (and it's going just fine).  I had originally planned to use the time to catch up on all the various TV series that I never get around to watching during my regular life: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and so on.  I had a list all lined up. Yeah, so much for that idea!  The wi-fi isn't good enough, and there are just too many other things that interest me.

Among other things, my older daughter and a friend got me hooked on Pinterest.  Now I'm wondering how I ever lived without it, and how I will live without spending hours on it after I go back to work!  So much inspiration!  Dyeing, leatherwork, fashion, shoes... I've been caught in a frenzy of wanting to pin more things and wanting to run off and do a project right away based on something I see.  I was really drooling over the amazing Russian leatherwork at kooc.livejournal.com.

I have a leather stash like some of my quilting friends have a fabric stash (yes, I've got one of those too...), and I figured I should use some of it.  Since my favorite color is blue, I have a good selection of blue leathers, as well as other colors.  A lot of it is upholstery leather, odd-lot whole hides that appealed to me even if I didn't have a specific project in mind for them.

I thought I'd try out making a purse with a couple of the techniques I saw in the Russian bags (especially this one).  Specifically, I wanted to try out lacing and hand stitching as well as the cut-out techniques, all techniques I haven't used in previous projects.

I made a pattern for my purse.  I wanted the bag itself to be simple since the decoration would get most of the work.  I cut one "figure-8" piece (the pattern is two same-size circles overlapping like a Venn diagram), two "half-8" pieces that were half of the figure-8 piece (circles missing top sections), and a rectangular strip to form the gusset section of the purse.  One of those half-8 pieces is a gold-dusted leather that will peek through the cutouts of the front flap of the figure-8.

The Design

I can't ever make a "creative" project exactly like somebody else's (even if I had the skill of the Russian leatherworker!), so I did my own design of a sky with clouds.  I used a half-inch drive punch to make the cloud cut-outs, and I cut slits in the leather in a fan design to create the sun rays.

The Clasp

A while back I had ordered a bunch of strong and small neodymium magnets from K&J Magnetics for some other project that I had then abandoned, so I used some of those to make a hidden magnetic clasp to hold the bag closed.   I initially sewed one magnet between the blue and gold leathers on the front flap (adding the gold "sun" piece on top to hide that stitching).

I sewed the lines around the clouds and the little bird motifs in lockstitch using a sewing awl after watching an instructional video on YouTube (have I mentioned that I LOVE YouTube for learning how to do things?). Lockstitch is the same type of stitch a regular sewing machine makes.  I also used some contact glue between the cut-out blue leather and the gold piece to hold everything in place more firmly.

I glued and sewed the matching magnet under the moon motif on the inner front piece.

When I got those done, I found that the magnetic clasp hardly did anything.  There was too much leather between the magnets.  I skived down some of the leather between the magnets, but it wasn't enough to help much.  I then took those pieces back apart and added another magnet to each side (so 2 neodymium 3/4" x 3/8" x 1/32" block magnets on each side).  It works, but it doesn't have the reassuring "click" of those magnetic clasps where one piece clicks into the other.  On the good side, it doesn't show at all, and the magnet does have the handy advantage of holding my metal lacing needle for me!

The Lacing

I glued the gusset panel to the front and back pieces, and then it was time for the lacing step.  Back to YouTube for a lacing video!  I followed that video, tried it on a practice piece with my lace and lacing needle, and off I went to the real thing.  I used "Superior Calf Lace" from Tandy Leather Factory for this.

I really like the double loop lacing style.  However, if I were to do this again, I wouldn't use the brown color (too jarring a contrast), and I would only do the double-loop lacing on the flap.  The double-loop lacing is too stiff for the upholstery leather body of the bag, and it juts straight out from the gusset panel, making an odd raised rim around the front and back of the bag body, though it is less obvious if the bag is full (which it will be!).

For the strap, I glued two strips of the leather back-to-back, riveted it onto the sides of the gusset, and added a strap buckle and keeper loop.


So now I've got a fancy new cross-body bag, and I've learned some new techniques!  I've still got some more time before I can go back to work, though.  Hmm, what should I do for my next project?  Back to Pinterest!


If you want to find me on Pinterest, I'm the Sara Woodhull with a profile picture of two dogs wearing tie-dye (of course)!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Leather, Zippers, Buckles, and Straps--It's Not What You Think

Oh wow, has it really been over four years since my last post to this blog?  I haven't stopped making things, but I have been busy.  As I mentioned in this blog previously, I had been taking a long leave of absence from work just because I needed a break.  At some point I went back to my previous job (surprising many coworkers who thought I'd never come back), and I got back to writing professionally.  As a product manager, I write presentations, white papers, documentation, lots of explanatory emails, and blog entries for a corporate blog, so my general urge to write is pretty well satisfied.

But enough about me...

My most recent project was a leather fanny pack for my older daughter.  Like me, she likes to keep her hands free, so she avoids carrying purses.  She likes leather fanny packs instead.  She has had a couple that worked pretty well for her, but she breaks the zippers on them because she stuffs them too full.  So this time, instead of just buying her a new one (leather fanny packs are not cheap, even if you can find one you like!), I decided to make her one myself.

One of her favorite fanny packs was from Libaire, a company in Berkeley, CA (search libaire.net for fanny pack).  It's a great pack, elegant and well made of unlined sturdy leather, but she overstuffed it and eventually broke the zipper.  Here is the original:

I copied the general design of the Libaire pack with its four zipper pockets, but I modified it, of course.  I made a paper pattern for it that was a bit bigger in all dimensions.  I also planned to add a lining to the main section of the bag that would include a few organizer pockets.  My daughter has a set of stuff she always carries, such as headphones, highlighters, and a small pencil case, so I wanted to tailor the pockets just for her.

For materials I used four sturdy zippers I had salvaged from old jackets and backpacks, along with the remains of the same crocodile-embossed cowhide I used for a previous iPod case.  I had fabric scraps left over from making a slip, so I used those for the lining.  Once I made the pattern and cut out all the pieces for the new pouch and the lining, I had a nice pile of bits.

My mom recently gave me her old industrial sewing machine.  It's a Bernina 217, almost 50 years old, and it can sew through pretty much anything.  It has a heavy-duty clutch motor underneath the table, and the motor stays on, humming, the entire time you are working at the machine.  As I was working on the project, I realized that the sound makes me feel warm and secure--I have a happy association with the humming sound from all the times my mom would work at the machine while I was playing nearby, or in bed, when I was a kid.  

Putting in zippers is one of the early steps in fanny pack construction.  I started by sewing the zippers into their respective panels (front, top, and the two triangular side pockets).

For the side pockets, I discovered that it was important for the little metal clamp at the closed end of the zipper (the top end in the picture above) to be on the same side of the seam as the rest of the zipper (so that there were no zipper teeth or clamp in the seam allowance, only the fabric tape part of the zipper).  When you turn it right side out, you cannot bend the zipper itself, but the tape can bend.  I sewed the polypropylene webbing into the pockets as well at this point.  Here are the zipper pocket pieces before and after turning right side out through the zipper opening.

I sewed the triangle pockets onto the back panel of the pack, making sure the zipper slide was not hanging out in the seam allowance.  The two triangle pockets are connected by the webbing strap at this point.  Once the triangle pockets were sewn on, I could cut off the excess zipper length.

I assembled the lining separately.  I made the pockets to fit specific items she carries.

And then a miracle happened...

Once all the sub-assemblies were assembled, I sewed the whole thing together to the accompaniment of much swearing and a bit of rework.  It seemed like a Moebius bag, and I'm not quite sure how it actually finally went together.  I'll probably have to reverse-engineer it to make another one!  At the very end, I cut the webbing strap and sewed on the buckle and slider.  Here is the finished bag:

 Here is a view of the lining with organizer pockets in the main section:

Here is the fanny pack in use.  Stuffed, of course!

And of course, the obligatory dog shot with Lacey and Tulip:

Tulip figured she'd better make sure there weren't any goodies lurking in the bag.  Something sure smelled interesting in there!