Lesson One: Meet Don and Plan Your Bag
Don has been designing fashion for over thirty years, working for many private label companies in Canada.
In the first lesson Don mentions the importance of sketching your design first; if you have an idea of where you want to finish, then you are more likely to create a solid bag. Your design will need to meet your needs; will it be for everyday use, or special occasion? Will it carry many (potentially heavy) things, or a specialised item? By creating the design through sketches and patterns prior to working with your leather you will know how best to approach construction; you can’t easily unpick stitches to add that central pocket in if you forgot it!
A great way to make muslin test bags is to use wool felt; it doesn’t have a grain and it is approximately the same thickness.
He then discusses different construction methods, showing examples of how these different methods appear:
- The cut edge,
- The faced edge,
- The turned edge,
- the turned finish.
Lesson Two: Leather Selection and Cutting
Don covers some important information when shopping; how to shop, what to look for, and so forth. If you have never shopped for leather before or don’t know much about leather, then this lesson is essential to watch!
Did you know that leather is traditionally sold by weight, not length? Leather is usually sold by full hide, half hide or in pieces. There are grades of leather, called first or second, that determine how many imperfections there are.
For handbag purposes Don suggests you stick to 2 ounces or below; anything heavier will be difficult to work with due to it’s thickness, not to mention that it will be a heavy bag!
Working with leather is not like working with fabric. For example, you should not mark any leather with pen – heat soluble or not – as it is much more likely to bleed and stain the leather. Another important note is that leather is not even in thickness throughout – the middle of the leather will be much thicker than the edges – so you should cut your more wear-and-tear pieces such as exteriors in the middle. Also do NOT use your fabric scissors! They cut at an angle and can end up tearing the leather.
Don gives a few great tips on how to make sure that your cuts are as neat and accurate as possible; this includes the ideal standing position.
Lesson Three: Machine Setup and Outer Pocket
Again, sewing leather is different to fabric. You will need to use a specialised sewing needle, and most likely a presser foot such as a walking foot, teflon foot or roller foot. Don further covers the other tools that you will most likely need during construction.
The next step is to prep the leather edges for sewing; this process involves bevelling the edge and then applying some cold-rubber tape to prevent stretching.
Note that Don uses double-sided mounting tape to join pattern pieces together for sewing. This is a great tip as you can’t use pins.
Lesson Four: Assembling Bag Front and Adding Trim
Don covers some of the techniques that have already been taught in the construction of the bag front, such as joining and top-stitching two leather pieces in one step.
Lesson Five: Making and Attaching Reuleaux Straps
Reuleaux straps are probably one of the quickest and easier types of handles to draft for handbags – and very professional looking.
Attaching the straps to the tabs takes a bit longer and is a bit more complicated – but as Don demonstrates, the results are definitely worth it! He will show you how to cut your tabs, including awl punch the holes for the reuleaux straps to feed through, and then show how to attach the tabs to the bag exterior.
Lesson Six: Lining Your Bag
Don discusses several topics: firstly how to prep your lining material so that it can stand the wear and tear that a bag receives, and secondly what features, such as pockets, to place inside the bag. He even discusses tips such as how to add ease to your pockets so that they can handle bulkier items such as glass’ cases.
Lesson Seven: Adding a Zipper Top
The handbag industry will typically use zipper tape and stops, cutting their zippers to size. You will most likely purchase a zipper at the correct size – or slightly larger. Often in apparel sewing you might just base the ends of your zipper to stop the slide from coming off, but handbags get so much more wear and tear that make this practice unsuitable. Thankfully though Don covers how to use zipper stops to customise the length of your zipper without much difficulty.
The next steps covers installing your zipper to your lining, and then attaching it to the exterior leather of the bag.
Lesson Eight: Base Side Seams and Corners
Whilst not immediately apparent, Don teaches you how to sew perfect box corners in this lesson. Their practicality – and importance – is immense, extending beyond handbag construction. Since so many of us are obsessed with “couture” finishing – essentially the handmade but not homemade look – Don takes the steps even further to discuss techniques such as how to remove bulk with mitred corners and more.
Lesson Nine: Finishing Your Bag
There are a number of topics covered in this lesson: finishing the lining, reinforcing your bag, and finishing the recessed zipper.
Options to reinforce your bags are:
- An extra layer of leather,
- Heavy cardboard,
- Foam core,
- Plastic canvas (the type rug makers use).
Don covers many handy tips on best construction methods for bags – and of course other items. These tips can help you to reduce sewing time, make the tasks easier, or prolong the usable life of the final product.
Since you are working with leather, you are unable to use pins as they will leave very visible marks. Instead Don introduces you to alternatives such as alligator – or binding – clips and double sided tape. Normally I object to requiring your readers/viewers to use extra materials, but in this case I will say that they are necessary. Sewing leather isn’t ideal for beginners – unless they take it very slow – as it can take a lot of time and mistakes can be costly.
I really enjoyed Making Leather Bags, taught by Don Morin. He gives you a very simple tote style bag pattern, but more importantly teaches you all the necessary techniques for working with leather.
I would not suggest this class for beginners since working with leather can be costly if mistakes are made. This class would be great for advanced-intermediates who wish to take their skills to the next level and craft more “complex” projects. Advanced sewers will also enjoy this class, but only if they haven’t worked much with leather.