On the Sewing Table – HotPatterns Homage Tote

Next on the table is the HP Homage tote.

I’ve actually started making two versions. One from a very kewl ponyskin in my stash. Alas, I discovered that the leather I was going to use for the reverse side is black, but the dark color of the ponyskin is really dark brown. So I’m putting that on hold until next week when I will get another hide of the pony from Leather Suede Skins. In the meantime, I am making it out of some black leather that I have in my stash, and a small piece of zebra printed leather that I bought at Leather Suede Skins when I was there with Phyllis something like 4 years ago.

A couple of notes about this pattern and the bag. It’s ginormous! Seriously, you can fit a week’s worth of groceries in this puppy and go camping. I actually really like it. But if you’re not as amazonian as I am, you might want to think about scaling it down just a bit before cutting it out. I don’t have the dimensions in front of me. Oh wait – yes I do. The bag is 20 inches wide by 21 inches high – without the straps, and it’s a rather slouchy design. When picking out a fabric for this, if you don’t make it in leather, I recommend using something with good body to it.
Someone recently told me that she loves it when I get on my soapbox. Well, make some popcorn and gird your loins folks, because I’m about to start knocking heads! I’m not naming any names, and if you think I’m talking about you, you’re wrong, but I have to vent for a moment. I read an article about sewing leather recently. I was absolutely appalled at the advice they gave about how to work with leather. I know a little bit about working with leather. I designed and manufactured handbags, and I have been sewing with leather for longer than I’m going to admit here. So it was with horror that I read advice on working with leather that was not only just plain wrong, but would give disastrous results if you followed it! So as I work on this bag, I’ll take you through the steps I use. These are not the only ways to get good results, but they work well.

Sharpies Work Great for Marking
Mark darts, tucks, pleats, and anything else on the back of your skin with a Sharpie marker. The exception is on the thinnest of skins, and sometimes even on those, they work like a charm. If you are working with a black hide, I like to use a white wax marker. But I’ve also used silver colored Sharpies.

Never, Ever, Ever Pin Leather
Hard and fast rule. Common pins, safety pins, T-pins – keep them away from your skins! Look – leather is expensive. Even cheap leather is expensive. Pins will do three things – 1) distort your leather before you sew it, 2) leave holes behind, and 3) weaken the hide. Oh wait: four things: waste your money. Save the pins for fabric projects.

Use Small Binder Clips
Also called butterfly clips, these are available at any office supply store. I use the smallest size.

Regular Thread Is Just Fine Unless You’re Working With Heavy Skins
I learned this by doing it. You can use a regular polyester thread with just as good results for a lot less money. When I first started manufacturing handbags, I specified to my contract sewing company that I wanted them to use heavy duty thread. The head of production called me up the next day and said, “Ann, you can do that, but it won’t do anything but increase your costs. Why do you think you need it?”

“Well, it’s a handbag. Don’t we want super strong thread?”

“Sure, if you want lower margins with no real benefit. I’ve made tens of thousands of bags with standard poly thread and I haven’t had a failure yet. If it’s luggage, that’s another story. When you start designing luggage, we’ll talk.”

You know what? I never had a failure at the seams with any of my bags. Save your pennies and just use regular thread. Even on leather.

Use the Smallest Sized Leather Needle You Can Get Away With
Leather needles don’t come in small sizes. I think the smallest I’ve seen is a 90/14. They may make smaller ones. The needle leaves holes in your skin, so I like to minimize the size of those holes. On lightweight skins, like lambskin or lamb suede, you can even sometimes get away with a regular needle or (my preference) a titanium needle in a 70/10. Test on a scrap to make sure you don’t get any skipped stitches.

Use a Teflon Foot and Straight Stitch Plate
The teflon foot glides over leather. You can also find feet that have rollers on them. In a pinch you can put scotch tape on the bottom of your regular presser foot. Any of these will ease your sewing. I also use a straight stitch plate, especially with lambskin or lamb suede. While most leather won’t get caught in the throat plate, it provides extra insurance, and that’s never a bad thing.

Use a Longer Stitch Length
When sewing with leather, I use a stitch length of 3.5mm. For topstitching, I use a stitch length of 4mm.

Smash it With a Hammer!
10 points to anyone who can tell me what movie I took that quote from. Seriously, Since you don’t press leather seams open, the best way to open out your seams is to gently tap them with a hammer. I use a regular hammer. Well, actually it’s a tool that does everything that DH bought and gave to me when I was putting all the Ikea stuff together. It works great. But you can use a specialized rubber mallet, or even a flat-sided kitchen hammer. I’ve had good results with all of them.

Topstitch Seams
Rather than gluing my seams open (which is a good option in many cases), you can also use topstitching on either side of a major seam to make sure your seam allowances lay flat. I did this with the pieced front and back of my bag. It works best on flat seams, and it adds a nice touch. It doesn’t add any strength to the seam. It’s more for aesthetic purposes.

Okay that’s enough for tonight. I hope to finish the bag tomorrow. I was going great guns, then I got tired and screwed up on the zipped pocket in the lining. So I took a break. But I’ll be back at it shortly and I will have lots more advice to dispense then.

Happy sewing!

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