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Bag Lining Basics. Are You Making These 4 Critical Mistakes?

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

Bag linings are a crucial part of any luxury bag. They play an important role in construction allowing the use of hidden reinforcements, internal pockets and of course protecting the contents of your bag.


Cutting out a pocket lining in blue suede
(Screenshot) Pocket lining in kidskin suede. De Havilland Travel Bag Video Course

Therefore choosing the right lining for your bag can be an important part of the design process.


The idea of this blog is to help you to match the right lining with your bag design to get the most out of your project, with both how it looks, feels and its functionality.


So let’s start by looking at some of the most common mistakes leatherworkers can make with bag linings.


1. Bag lining thickness.


Overly thick leather linings present a real challenge when constructing a bag. Sure, a thick lining is going to be incredibly durable and long lasting as you would imagine. But on the flip side, it can lead to horrendously thick edges, difficulty in the folding process and extra weight. These factors can all take their toll and let the design down.


cutting a suede leather bag lining with dressmakers shears
A suede lining being prepared for the Turenne handbag gussets

On the other hand, very thin linings present another problem, mainly due to the reduced durability and the tendency to tear in areas of high stress.

Thin linings can also be prone to excessive stretch inside the bag. They show off lumps and bumps from zips, skived areas and even reinforcement edges that a thicker lining would normally obscure.


The goldilocks, or ideal leather lining thickness for most bags is between 0.8mm and 1.2mm going by my experience. Stray too far from these guidelines and you may end up with issues both short term and long term with use.

Bespoke handmade attaché case lines in red suede
Student Killian from Germany (@ledermanufaktur.kilian.moser) glues in a thin lining for his attaché case build

Thinner linings can be attempted only if you are gluing your lining fully to your exterior leather or internal reinforcements. That way, although thin, your lining gains strength and durability through direct lamination with a stronger material.


2. Paring the wrong lining with your bag.


Linings are designed to be functional as well as forming part of the design. But placing form over function can lead to some unusual looking design ‘faux-pas’.


A small doctors bag being opened with purple pigskin inside
Student Youngoak from the USA (@by_yom) uses a beautiful purple pigskin lining in her top frame handbag

The unofficial laws of leather linings state that your lining should be:


  1. Durable.

  2. Finely grained, meaning it can be wiped clean with a damp cloth.

  3. Soft and flexible to prevent excess internal creasing.

  4. Water resistant tanning method (generally chrome tanning).

  5. Pigmented, or at least having a protective top coat applied for stain prevention due to internal spills.

  6. Less visible grain or ‘character’ than the exterior.

  7. The lining should be made of a less premium or exclusive leather compared to the exterior.


A finely grained smooth calfskin together with a surface pigment makes for an almost maintenance free bag

On the whole, most leatherworkers ‘conform’ to these unwritten rules knowingly or unknowingly. As many would agree, putting an alligator lining inside a cowhide bag, or using an undyed veg-tan lining in any bag would simply feel and look a bit odd.


Of course, as I’ve said before in these blogs, rules are there to be broken, but it should be done so knowing the ‘rules’ and breaking them intelligently, or at least with thought to the overall design and intended use. For example, my main rule breaker is my love for suede linings as they definitely don't resist accidental spill! But they sure add an incredible feel.


This is usually why chrome tanned goat skins, calf skins and smooth cowhide make up the bulk of luxury leather bag linings. Their inherent characteristics make them ideal for the task as well as coming in a range of colours and finishes.


3. Not considering Fabric bag linings


The leathercraft community has been slow to adopt the idea of using fabric linings.

This may partly be due to the cost of fabric being considerably less in general, leading some to believe that fabric is less luxurious and desirable than leather, and in some cases it is.


While a fabric lining may not be the pinnacle of luxury, many top tier brands producing luxury leather goods, create some of their flagship bags with fabric linings, usually canvas, yet still charge the price of a small car.


There are many benefits to using a fabric lining as well as some drawbacks. Let’s take a look at some of these.


Canvas bag linings. One of the most popular choices, canvas, not only looks beautiful, but is also strong and lightweight.

It may not seem much, but a traditional canvas bag lining shaves a considerable amount of weight off a leather bag compared to a leather bag lining, even in the 7-8oz canvas range.


The ‘old school’ looks pair really well with almost any colour with its off white/ light beige look. Tan, brown and black are very popular pairings.


Leather bag with canvas interior with a metal zip and cognac calf skin
The Cutler briefcase with its canvas interior, finished with cognac calf bindings. See video course for details

The only downfall being staining. Canvas once dirty is very challenging to clean as the lining can’t simply be removed and washed.

Even canvas sold as water repellent will succumb to spilt coffee or tea, especially if exposed for any length of time. Only blotting with a damp cloth immediately after exposure can save it.


Nylon/Polyester bag linings. Synthetics share many benefits with canvas, however synthetics have a much better resistance to staining.

Outside of a leaky pen, much of anything spilled on a nylon or polyester bag lining can simply be wiped away with a damp cloth.

While synthetic bag linings don’t feel as traditional or luxurious as canvas, they can be easier to obtain, generally offer more colour options, all whilst being cheaper to purchase. Cutting can be performed with a hot knife rather than shears. This seals the edges and prevents fraying while constructing the bag.

Being a form of plastic however, means some water based glues do not stick well to it as the synthetic nature of the fabric (especially in a tight weave) is generally repellent to anything water based, glue included. So PVA and solvent free contact adhesives will need to be tested before use to prove suitability.


Luxury fabric bag linings. Linings such as silk, flax linen, Egyptian and Pima cotton provide a touch of luxury to your linings if you want something a bit more special, yet you appreciate the weight savings and want to use a different material to leather.


linen and leather bag lining in herringbone fabric
A linen lining with a herringbone pattern


4. Avoiding suede bag linings


While suede may need a little more care with use due to staining, use of this material provides a very different look and feel.

For anyone who's watched my leathercraft video courses, you'll know that I adore a suede lining.



Suede is a form of leather, not another material entirely as some may mistakenly think. Suede is leather that has been tanned and processed so that it can be used in reverse. Essentially the soft fuzzy top layer or 'nap' is actually the flesh side of the skin, and the grain side is usually unfinished as it isn't going to be seen.

Some suedes have a soft nap on both sides, this is where the grain side has also been buffed to give it a fibrous soft feel (technically becoming nubuck), so this can allow both sides to be exposed on a project.

Cheap suedes such as the lower split of a hide are best avoided if durability and luxury are considerations in your project.


However, other than exceptional quality lambskin, nothing is going to feel as soft to the hand when it comes to linings, so if you prize that luxurious sumptuous feel inside your bag, suede may be the choice for you.


For durability, calf suede presents an excellent choice, as does pigskin. However, if you want the crème de la crème, my recommendation would be to get hold of some kidskin suede. Nothing in my mind feels as fine, and it never fails to gets comments when people feel it for the first time.


Now, are you a beginner who would like to know more about how to get started in leathercraft?

Soon I will be launching the Leathercraft Beginner Class. A series of 9 videos which will take you through the basics of leathercraft in great detail, at a much slower and deliberate pace compared to the Masterclass.


This will enable you to discover the essential techniques such as stitching, cutting, marking, edge finishing, and the use of basic tools.


In this beginner course you will see and understand 5 different ways to stitch leather, from the unbelievably simple, to moderately challenging techniques. Multiple camera angles filming the front and rear side as well as what the stitch looks like above from your point of view.


Be the first to get notified about the new course when it drops by clicking here to enter your email (plus instantly get the 'Tool Buyers Guide' AND 'Leather Selection Guide' absolutely FREE).


I look forward to seeing you in the workshop!


Philip





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2 Comments


LizzieMade
LizzieMade
Oct 11, 2022

Great information. Thanks Philip. I've been using nice suede splits (good quality v-t goat) for some of my pen cases and it really does add a luxury feel. I've also used some hand-marbled fabric pieces that I bought from a marbling artist I know. Those also make the item feel more special and luxurious. You didn't mention woollen fabrics, such as Tweed. I lined my dog collar with tweed and it was great, if a bit tricksy to work with. Wool is soft, but durable and flexible, it resists dirt to some degree and has a classic look to it also. If you're making something that needs a rugged, out-doorsy appearance, I think Tweed is a good fabric to cons…

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Great catch Lizzie! Yes I do like tweed, especially Harris Tweed. I haven't ever used it in my leatherwork however. I must try that one day.

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