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How to Design Your Own Leather Bag: A Beginner's Guide

When I was in my teens, I was a gym instructor for a while. Just by the main doors of the gym where I worked, we used to have a sign that read 'No Bags Allowed', as it's a trip hazard.

One day, an elderly gentleman walks through the doors, hangs up his coat, looks at me, and points to the sign. 'I guess I can't bring the wife then?'.

It took me a second to get it, but I still laugh at that now. I'm sure his wife was just lovely.

What's this got to do with today's blog post? Not a lot, but I've never actually shared that with anyone. Indulge me.

So, getting back on track, you want to design and make your own leather bag eh? Right.

Whether you're a novice leathercrafter or an experienced one, designing and making a leather bag can be a challenging but rewarding process.

In this blog post, I'll share the basics you need to know to get started. From coming up with unique design ideas to creating a prototype.

Designing Your Leather Bag

Before you start cutting and stitching your leather, you need to come up with a design for your bag.

The first step in designing your own leather bag is to gather inspiration and ideas. Look for inspiration in a variety of places, such as fashion magazines, shop windows, online blogs and websites, social media, and even everyday objects. When you see a bag that you like, take note of the style, shape, size, and material. Look for unique details that catch your eye, such as hardware, stitching patterns, or embellishments.

a shop window display showing leather bags and leather accessories

There are a few things to think about when designing your bag.

An important consideration is who the bag is for. Is it for you, a customer, or are you making it as a gift?

What will the bag be used for? Will it be a purse or a backpack, a tote or a messenger bag? These questions will help guide your design choices and ensure that your bag is both practical and stylish.

Another key consideration is the size of the bag. How big should it be to accommodate its intended use? Will it need to hold a laptop or other large items?

Once you have a design in mind, it's time to draw your ideas. Use a sketchbook to create rough sketches of your bag. You can also create a more detailed drawing using a software program like Adobe Illustrator. Be sure to include dimensions, stitching lines, and any hardware you plan to use.

Make sure to mark any important details on your pattern, such as the placement of pockets or zippers.

An artists drawing of a leather bag during the bag design process

Don't worry if you're not an artist – even a rough sketch will give you an idea of what the finished product will look like.

When sketching your design, it's important to keep in mind the overall proportions of the bag. A good rule of thumb is to make the length of the bag approximately 1.5 times the height of the bag.

This will ensure the bag is balanced and proportional. Alternatively you can use the Golden Ratio, making the length of the bag 1.618 times the height.

For example, create a small clutch 100mm high and 162mm long (or if you want to be super precise, 161.8mm long)

Collecting Leather Samples

When designing your bag, it's important to think about colour combinations. One way to do this is to create a sample board. Collect leather samples from a supplier or your own stock, and arrange them on a board to see how the colours work together. This will help you choose the right colours for your bag.

You can also add hardware and other materials to the board to see how they will look with your leather.

If you are still stuck with colour combos, then then click HERE to read my post for the ultimate cheat guide.

You can also add hardware and other materials to the board, to see how they will look with your leather.

Examples of various colors that can be used when making leather bags

Converting Your Sketches into a Pattern

Once you have your design and colour scheme, it's time to convert your sketches into a pattern using thick card.

This is the challenging part, as you are taking your idea and transporting it into the physical realm using a pencil, ruler, knife and some thick card.

As you begin to cut out your pattern pieces, it's important to keep in mind the placement of the gussets.

These are the pieces that give your bag its depth, and it's important to make sure they align properly with the body of the bag. A misaligned gusset can make your bag look lopsided or unbalanced.

Always start simple, and get ready to adjust the size of your gussets, or the main body of the bag. Don't adjust both at the same time, stick to one variable.

a card pattern used in leathercraft when making leather bags

Remember, you are not trying to make a prototype with your pattern card, these are simply templates to cut out the material you will be using for your prototype (and eventually your premium leather) in the next stage.

Talking of which..

Creating a Bag Prototype

Before making the final product, it's a good idea to create a bag prototype. You can use a variety of materials such as 12oz canvas (stiffen with 50/50 PVA and water first), 1-3mm craft foam, or cheap bonded leather.

This will give you a good idea of how the bag will look and function when it's finished. Pay attention to the details such as stitching and hardware, and make any necessary adjustments to the card pattern if need be, then repeat the process as you need to.

TIP: You don't have to fully hand stitch a prototype bag (sewing machine is fine if you have one). Instead, just use contact adhesive along the seams then create a hole with a round awl at high stress points and run some thread through the hole and around the edge a few times to bind it, like you see in the image below:

leather bag prototyping illustrating a binding stitch to add strength

(More on prototyping can be found HERE)

Making a Leather Bag

When making a leather bag, there are a few essential tools and materials that you will need. These include:

Leather: Choose a high-quality leather that is appropriate for the type of bag you are making.

Cutting tools: You will need a rotary cutter, or a leather knife to cut the leather. A ruler will also be useful to keep your cuts straight.

Punching tools: You will need a set of leather punches or a rotary punch to create holes for hardware.

Needles and thread: Use a strong, durable thread and needles that are appropriate for the thickness of the leather. (More on that HERE).

Hardware: Choose hardware that is appropriate for the bag, such as zippers, buckles, and D-rings. Think about consistent hardware colour, but also durability by avoiding zinc alloy or 'Zamak'.

Finishing tools: Use leather edge bevelers and sandpaper to finish the edges of your leather before burnishing, painting or binding.

Leather conditioner: Use a high-quality leather conditioner to protect and nourish the leather at the very end.

In conclusion, designing and making your own leather bag can be a fun and rewarding experience. By following the steps outlined in this post, you can create a unique and functional bag that you can be proud of.

And if you're feeling really adventurous, you can even experiment with different types of leather.

If you really struggle or simply don't have the time (or patience) with bag designing and prototyping, then don't worry, I've got you covered!

You can use the downloadable pattern templates from the Masterclass video courses.

Simply print them off and get crafting immediately (cut them out and glue them to your pattern card).

It's a great way to see how it all works before trying it with your own designs.

Each prototype has been created and thoroughly tested by me, so you can save time and frustration PLUS avoid any costly mistakes.

Click HERE to discover more about the video courses.

If you haven't already, don't forget to grab your FREE copy of my short saddle stitching tutorial.

Click HERE now, and get your copy instantly sent to your inbox. So grab yourself a coffee and let's get started!

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Apr 13, 2023

Thanks for the tips Phil! I'm sure I'll have many questions for you once I give it a go!

Replying to

Glad it was useful David! 👍

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