Monthly Archives: January 2012

Sporty Leather Messenger Bag

Leather messenger bagI was talking about leather bags with Tony, and mentioned how I was looking for a good sized leather messenger bag – one big enough to handle an iPad, some books, and A4 folders. He offered to make one up, and I filmed it from beginning to end. One things is for sure. There is much, much more involved on making a bag than what you can see on the surface. It wasn’t until we were well into the bag that Tony told me he was making this design as he went along. That was shortly after some stitches had to be pulled out to accommodate a change in plans, when Tony said “The prototype is always trouble, but the second one goes much easier.”

OK…got it.

This bag is the result of several drawings, and some redrawings. You don’t immediately see the liner, with the zippered pockets. Nor do you see the zippers, the support fabric underneath, the support material so the back will stand firm even when empty, or the steel rods that enable the bag to snap back into shape each time it’s used. You can see, but might not notice the various edge linings, and details on the strap. Many of the things that go into making a bag are only noticed if they are not there. Even if one doesn’t notice the lack of a proper edge, for example, the subconscious will pick up on it, and the bag will be perceived as rough or unfinished in some indefinable way.

This process will be released as a DVD, warts and all. Why? Because it’s one thing to watch an instructional DVD when steps A to Z in perfect order, and then find that when you do it yourself, it’s more like A,B,C,D and then back to C again. Then D,E,F,G,H,Q,I,J,K…. and then you’ve noticed that Q probably should have come later, like after P. And that maybe K shouldn’t have been there at all, and instead you would like to have a second J. Yet, in the end, a bag gets made.

It’s helpful to see the whole process, with the mistakes included, so you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to do something like this on your own – and it will hopefully encourage you when you get frustrated by something that needs redoing.

Does that make sense?

Posted in Bags, Leather fashion, Lessons | 1 Comment

Leather Stamping Tools

As promised, the picture below shows the tools used to make it, minus (of course) the all important swivel knife. Still the stamps and bevels are needed to make it a 3 dimensional picture. All are Craft Tools available at Tandy.

Leather stamps on leather carving

Again, the beveler is used before the stamps, to bring the image up off the flat surface. The stamps are shown below.

Pear shader P370 Pear Shader




background shaderA98 Background Shader




407-veiner-stampV407 Veiner Stamp




A104 background stampA104 Background Stamp




A102 Background StampA102 Background Stamp

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Carving Leather With What You’ve Got

Carved leather crossThis reprint shows what a leather artist named Cristi in Romania has been able to do with home-made tools. He can’t find proper tools where he is, and there’s not a Tandy tool in sight. No swivel knive, no stamps, no camouflage. This shows what can be done with a couple saw blades, some nails and some ingenuity.

Sometimes we get hung up on our leather working tools, our workspace, whatever excuse we can make to avoid actually digging into our work. And good tools are important, don’t get me wrong.

Cristi jumped into leather carving on his own, with no guidance, and with no tools at all. He made do with what he had, and sent me a photo of what he came up with. You’ll notice that among his tools are plain old nails.

What makes this amazing is that he also sent some pictures of his work. And while he, like all of us, could use some guidance, he is already producing stuff of beauty. With nails. Check out the pictures. Then take a look at his homemade leather carving tool set. Inspiring!





Two more of his works:Leather carving birds

Leather carving horse

Leather carving tools homemade

Posted in Instruction, Leather carving, Leather tooling | 4 Comments

Using the Camouflage Tool for Stamping

No sound on this one, but lots to learn by watching the use of this tool. Notice the timing of the taps, the gradation, and the subtle way it’s twisted.

Posted in Instruction, Leather carving, Leather tooling | 1 Comment

A Second Look at Two Leather Carving Samples

  1. Leather tooling comparison 2The camouflage tool is missing in “A” which means empty space and no definition for the seeder portion.
  2. Few seeds without a clear division detracts from the overall image.
  3. Decoration cuts with the swivel knife show a lack of practice. The swivel knife is the first and last tool to be used on the design (Where have we heard that before?? Well, repetition is the key to learning!) and will determine the fullness and volume of the flower, the petals and leaves. The final decoration cuts will make or break the whole project. Lots of scrap leather and 15~20 minutes a day practice will put you head and shoulders ahead of most other craftsmen.
  4. Mule foot shows no gradation and does not follow the design line.
  5. Rough gradation.
Posted in Instruction, Leather carving, Leather tooling | 1 Comment

Comparing Two Leather Working Samples

A reader sent a piece he has been working on and asked Tony’s opinion.  Since Tony has been working leather for over 40 years and is a perfectionist in the way traditional Japanese are, he  certainly has comments. The work is good, and this is where people run into trouble. It’s one thing to learn some basics and jump into leather carving. But how do you get the help to improve once you’ve gotten started?

So, this reader was kind enough to allow his critique to be made public. We welcome submissions, and want to do this regularly – so everybody can learn at the same time. Let’s get started, first with the submitted picture…

Student leather work

Looks pretty good to us. Lot’s of potential here, and he’s come a long way working on his own. However, this is where it gets tough to make progress without personal guidance.  Let’s look at Tony’s suggestions.

Master leather work sample

Tony’s comments:

The swivel knife is both the first and the last tool to be used. The initial cutting will determine the flow of the design, the symmetry of the curves and the body of the petals and other parts. Finally it will be used for the decorative cuts, though subtle, to bring out the definition that sets off the total presentation.

1. The Beveler (B702), as with any tool, should be smoothly and rhythmically used. This will minimize any clear marking as the beveler is tapped.

2. The Pear Shader (P212) should not be merely stamped but should be moved as it is tapped to lengthen the shading/effect and bring out the volumn.

3&4. The tools V707, V407, and C831 are all used the same way, as with many other tools. There should be a gradation of strength from strong to weak, or the reverse. This adds depth and body, creating a 3D effect rather than just a flat picture. Sometimes it can seem a bit daunting at first but just stick with it and practice.Eventually  your hands will hardly feel the tools, as the hand and the tools become almost one and the rhythm becomes natural.

5. V707 is used as a stopper. Again, a very minor tool but it works to build the design.

6. The mule foot is not simply tapped 3 times. Notice the gradation and the flow. These help create a design flow that is pleasing to the eye.

7. The camouflage tool (C831) is first used on the center of the blossom. Then the left foot is moved over and not turned, then the right foot is simply moved over and tapped without turning the tool. The placing of the left and right foot is important in maintaining the symmetry of the half circle. Turning the tool will change the shape. You will also notice that the seeds (S705) are placed close together as with a real blossom.

8. The decoration cuts and the balance is something that can only be gained over time. Keep all that scrap carving leather and use it to practice with the swivel knife. Eventually, you will be able to create smooth flowing lines.

Those who spend the time on honing the basic skills will quickly reach the stage of craftsman. As with any art, it all goes back to perfecting the basics. Be sure to constantly compare your work to the pros and masters to keep your goals in focus. Repetition of mistakes is a waste of time, and will create bad habits that might be hard to break. Focus on the lines and the balance. Continue to practice those things you do well so that you don’t slip back into bad habits.

OK. Any questions?

Posted in Instruction, Leather carving, Leather tooling, Lessons | 2 Comments

The Man Bag

Man BagSometimes it takes a long time for a thing to acquire a name. There are concepts and even material things that affect us every day of our lives, yet go without an agreed-upon name. The reason is that the names are to wordy, not memorable enough, not descriptive enough, or just not right.

Forgive me. I write, so I think about these things.

Almost 30 years ago, when I was just a naive kid fresh out of college in Michigan, I embarked on a round the world tour with $600 and a one-way ticket to London in my pocket. Even back then, $600 wasn’t all that much. When I ran out of money, I was in a place on the Egypt-facing coast of Crete, in Greece. It was half fishing village, half beach hangout for backpackers. All said, it was a pretty nice place to run out of money in – and maybe still is.  A huge plate of sauted shrimp cost about a dollar, we could sleep quite happily on the beach, and bath in a stream that fed the beach from snow covered mountains behind us. And the place was clothing optional, which was a big deal for me, because most of Michigan wasn’t.

One of the reasons my money disappeared was that I had bought a bag in Italy. I wanted something to carry my valuables in besides a weighty backpack. That shoulder bag stayed with me throughout almost an entire year of backpacking, and started me on the bag carrying habit for the rest of my life. I disdained the bulging wallet impression on most guys’ back pockets, and I loved the convenience of having all the stuff I might need with me at all times. That, and the habit of drinking iced-coffee, came back to the Midwest with me.

Eventually, the US caught up. It took a while. European and Japanese men have been carrying bags for a while, but there has not been a commonly accepted English word for them. “Men’s purse,” “shoulder bag,” “tote bag…” none of it stuck. Finally, it seems, we have “man bag.”

Now, if you’re still with me, I’ll talk a little about the Leathercraft Studio man bag. We have been working on one for a while here, and filming. I wanted either a black or chocolate color bag – something dark and stylish. Tony came up with some great chocolate brown leather (I read somewhere that brown is the new black, but that was almost a year ago now. It’s probably already the old black.) We put together a nice mock up of a bag, and filmed it. But the problem is, the stitching and details on the dark leather just don’t come out well on the video. So, for instructional purposes, we are back to the natural light tan leather. Whether you want to run with that color or not, it’s ideal for showing what we are doing. And the technique works whatever color you have.

I’ll slap a few pictures up, so you can see what we mean.

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Brand Names Making Their Own Fakes

Luxury brands are baiting and switching Americans. The brands are made in China and passed off as made in France or Italy.

Gucci and Prada are manufactured in China. Hermès silk scarves are hand finished in Mauritius. And Louis Vuitton will soon build a shoe factory in India.

The “Made in China” label is often hidden in an inside pocket or stamped black on black on the back of a small tag. Some goods are almost entirely made in China, with a few finishing touches, such as buttons, applied in Italy — just enough to earn “Made in Italy” on the label. Or, accommodating factories in China, will sew on the Made in Italy for you.

The story in the New York Times  should make anyone think twice when they pay an outrageous price for a “luxury” handbag made by “artisans.”

This is the culmination of a trend, and high-end shoppers will soon get tired of paying premium prices for the same mass-produced junk that every salesclerk can buy.

This is good news for real leather artisans. People will come around for the real thing, and pay well for it. Better yet, there is little competition, as skilled leatherworking has almost died as an art.

I am convinced that leatherworking, if applied creatively and diligently, will increasingly be a great way to make a living.

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Leathercraft Studio Lessons

You can read about it, or you can do it.

Doing is better.

Read about our leathercraft course here.

And then start doing…

Posted in Lessons | 6 Comments