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This week’s Customer Creations post includes a variety of bags designed with every purpose in mind. Whether it’s a bag for your everyday carry, or you’re off to the office with a stack of paperwork, or you’re packing for a long weekend or extended vacation, these bags designed and constructed by our readers will have you covered. Included are some lovely cowhide travel bags, a couple of leather briefcases, a bag with some beautiful hand-tooling, and a calf leather handbag with an alligator pouch.

Laddie Howard

Clarence Baptiste

Ralph Harmon

Jan Sundland

Angelita Fabiani

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Today’s post is a pair of videos that inspired me to think more about how important it is to bring our own individual tastes, talents and gifts to our leatherworking projects. For those of us who own our own leatherworking businesses, we’ve all heard things like:

  • “It’s important to keep the customer in mind at all times.”
  • “We have to design and create what we know is going to sell.”
  • “Create supply where there is a demand.”

There is a lot of truth in statements like this, but in watching these videos I’m reminded of how important it is to create pieces that also reflect our own taste and love for the craft.

In watching the first video from 174 Leatherworks, I was immediately inspired by Jess’s drive to honor his brother’s memory through his leather work. It led me to think about questions like:

  • What is the deeper meaning behind our work and what we do?
  • At the end of the day, what impact does leatherworking have on our lives?

The second video, from Hand and Sew Leather Goods, is all about smart design and finding ways to improve upon old standards. Sure, it’s a good idea to follow well-established traditions and techniques while first starting out, but once we’ve gained some ground with our ability, what can we do to improve upon the methods we’ve been taught?

In the video, Steven hits upon the importance of designing according to your own needs and wants. If you don’t see what you’re looking for on the market, work out a way to make it yourself and improve upon an existing design. Chances are, if it’s something you find useful, someone else will too.

If we’re always creating with someone else in mind, our unique vision and talent will never have a chance to shine through in our work. Do you incorporate your own style into your work? How do you balance your style with what seems popular?

Let us know by leaving a comment below!

174 Leatherworks

174 Leatherworks - Dreamhost - Vimeo

Hand and Sew Leather

Hand and Sew Leather Goods - Vimeo

*Note: The second video contains advertising for Dreamhost. We have no affiliation.

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This week’s Customer Creations post includes an assortment of colorful pieces made by a number of truly talented artisans. Included are a gorgeous purse in mallard made from shrunken calf, a couple of high-end handbags, some lovely hard cases from an ex-Hermes craftsman and an awesome English bridal/shrunken calf dog-collar stitched with Lin Cable!

Patrick Naylon

Shannon Perkins

Alexandre Lay

Michael Fenwick

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Today’s post is an educational video sent to us by one of our community members that highlights a little piece of leatherworking history. Specifically, it goes into some detail about the tools and techniques that have traditionally been used in making a dog collar. Many of these techniques will be familiar to you. Many of the tools are still available in their original form today.

I love this video because it really gives a lot of perspective on just how far we’ve come in leatherworking. Some tools and techniques have stood the test of time, whereas it’s also clear that we now benefit from having access to better materials and the added knowledge of generations of new artisans and craftsman.

How long have you been doing leatherworking? Are you an old hand that has stories/insight from ‘way back when’ that you’d like to share with the community? We’d love to hear from you!

Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Leather Workers - YouTube

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I often get reader questions about getting stuck in the middle of project. Something like, ‘I created an edge by gluing these three layers together and now it looks too thick.’ Or ‘I’m almost done with my bag but I’m not sure how to install the feet.’

I also have gotten to this point many times where I’m thinking on the go and doing what I call exploratory building. That is where you aren’t quite sure how you’ll go about making a piece and trying different techniques while working on a piece. Figuring out how to build a new project is absolutely necessary to your growth as a leatherworker and you should do it often. Problems can arise though if you are trying to do this while also trying to complete a final piece.

You can waste many hours by starting with only a vague notion of how you will build something before actually building it but proceeding anyway. You can also make this time-consuming mistake a time-consuming expensive problem by using your final materials. One way to avoid wasting time and expensive leather is by making prototypes.


A finished bag and one of its prototypes

Everyone loves the idea of prototyping, but few do it. They just shuffle their feet and say something like, ‘yeah, I really should probably do that,’ but they never do.  Why?

There are many reasons that I’ve heard like:

“I only have a limited number of hours to do leatherworking, so I just don’t have time.”

“I kind of just like to go for it.”

“I feel like it’s a waste of time. I can usually just figure it out.”

Prototyping feels like eating your vegetables to some people. Because they love leatherworking and time is short, they just want to get started but paradoxically this can end up wasting more of their time if they get stuck.

We all want to show everyone our best work and to do that means eliminating all of those tiny and sometimes bigger mistakes. When you do prototyping, you head off potential mistakes and blocks to a project. I’ve learned to love prototyping because I can play and experiment in my prototyping and then take the best of those experiment results and build them into my final.


Rough shape and style prototypes of a bag.

My favorite starting materials to use are canvas lightly spray mounted to felt. This gives the material a thickness and temper more similar to leather. It’s not quite the same as you can see how the prototypes droop a bit more than the final, but I can get a pretty good sense of how it will finish. You can also see that the edges are unfinished on one of canvas bags since I was testing the shape for finished edges.

In my prototypes, I am testing build variations and construction styles like:

  • Zippers/no zippers
  • Piped edges/finished edges
  • leather selection
  • color combination
  • size/fit
  • stress testing; wear testing

If I’m testing a new technique, I will build a few small test parts to just practice and perfect that component. If I need to test the overall size or fit, I will machine sew the piece together but, in a pinch, I’ll use tape or even staples, so I can just see a full-scale version. Going the other way, I’ll build a half or quarter scale version in final materials if I want to double check the construction and process. Smaller is often harder so if I can easily build a tiny version of my final, the larger one will be a breeze.


I give my small-scale prototype versions to my kid. At this point she probably has more toy hand-bags than some adults.

I still get some things wrong. But they are much reduced. A final construction with slightly different materials might sit differently. These things still happen but I almost always know where the risks are after having done a prototype.

If you have the time, use your prototype to test how your work will wear. This is especially important if you plan on selling a piece. I’ll make a project in final materials and try it out for as long as I can to see how it wears. Read more about how I tested a pair of leather sandals.

By prototyping your projects, you can shave hours and stress off a project and improve the quality of your work with each new final creation.

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This week’s Customer Creations post includes a variety of bags designed with every purpose in mind. Whether it’s a bag for your everyday carry, or you’re off to the office with a stack of paperwork, or you’re packing for a long weekend or extended vacation, these bags designed and constructed by our readers will have you covered. Included are some lovely cowhide travel bags, a couple of leather briefcases, a bag with some beautiful hand-tooling, and a calf leather handbag with an alligator pouch.

Laddie Howard

Clarence Baptiste

Ralph Harmon

Jan Sundland

Angelita Fabiani

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Today’s post tells the story of Soumana Saley, a respected leather craftsmen  from Niamey, Niger. His life represents a unique mix of passion and hard work that I found really inspiring, and it served as a reminder about the opportunity that we all have as leatherworkers in an ever-growing field.

At the age of 11, Soumana decided that he was going to take up leatherworking. There weren’t many leatherworkers around, but one of his friends’ father owned a business that made leather goods, and Soumana asked if he could become an apprentice. He was accepted, but first had to learn how to read, write and use measuring tools. Soumana didn’t have much access to education up to now, but he saw his opportunity and took it despite starting at a deficit. He had to keep his training a secret from his family as leatherworking wasn’t practiced by people of his ethnic group. In addition, kids his age weren’t encouraged to go against the grain of the culture.

Three decades of trial, error and success later, Soumana was able to take his leatherwork to the US, where his wallets and handbags are being featured by the Smithsonian’s Crafts of African Fashion show. He also started a school in Niamey, the capital of Niger, for teenagers who are interested in learning more about leatherworking.

I found the story of his journey and perseverance to be inspiring. His dedication and persistence is an example of how one can succeed in this craft even if you initially don’t have access to high-quality tools and materials, a wealth of leatherworking knowledge or experienced teachers. Soumana worked hard to pave a new path for himself, took advantage of an opportunity to learn from an experienced craftsperson, and later paid it forward by sharing the gifts of his success with those who were still trying to find their way.

If you’re interested in reading the full story, click here to see the article by Mark Silver. Additionally, if you’re interested in more of the work that’s being done by the Smithsonian to feature the work of a wide range of international  artists and craftsmen, click here for a full list of Smithsonian Folklife festivals.

We all have challenges in starting and improving our leathercraft. Many of us may lack the experience, the means, the time or even all three. As you can see from Soumana’s story, if we keep our eyes open for opportunities, we can catch a break that creates a lasting impact on our work.

Did you catch a break in your leatherworking journey? If so, how did it help you to improve? If you’re feeling like you hit a wall with your craft, step back and think about what opportunities might be available to you. Even a small leg up can make a big impact.

Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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It can seem difficult to develop your own style when you are creating your own leather goods. You look at iconic product designs both large and small and think, “I’ll never be able to come up with something that creative.” Great designs can seem like they came out of thin air, fully formed and completely unique. This might be true on occasion, but more often than not these design innovations can take months or even years to fully form. You might be tempted to not start at all on what feels like a long and difficult road to designing your own projects. Today, I want to show you that not only can you get started right away, but that there are easy ways to see immediate improvements in your current work. 

Uniquely Solving a Design Problem

I was recently conversing a with a student, John, who discovered Ondrej Sima on Instagram, an inspiring and skillful leather goods maker from Prague.

John pointed out this great construction detail of how Sima terminates his zippers. Instead of crossing over the tape, which can be difficult to negotiate, Sima will instead come in one or two stitches over and then stop.

Sima Prague via Instagram

If you are familiar with installing zippers, you might have experienced some difficulty dealing with where the teeth cross under the leather at the end of the opening. Sima’s solution is to not fully sew over this part. This gives him more flexibility and ease to end the zipper underneath. Typically, you have to add the zip stop and then negotiate the remainder of the tape under the end so that you don’t sew into the teeth and ensure the zipper lays down evenly. With Sima’s method, you can let the teeth go under or put a stop just past the tuck under and not have to count teeth to the end. It can just run longer, and any asymmetry is hidden.

This small design change could have been an ‘aha’ moment of inspiration or it could have been a practical solution to solve the above-mentioned challenges. Either way, the result is both innovate and aesthetically-pleasing. It’s a brilliant way to solve the very practical challenge of nailing the ends of a zipper.

Taken by itself, this detail might not seem like a big design distinction but when combined with all of the other ways in which Sima crafts his bags, the piece as a whole feels different. The work will seem different and unique even though you may not notice right away what  is different. I certainly didn’t until John pointed it out to me.

Revisit Past Inspirations

Even though I have been following Sima for a long time, I had not noticed this detail about his zippers. As you change over time, so does your perception and your ‘eye’ for detail. Like me, you can make a new discovery in something you’ve seen many times. I often find something new whenever I re-read good books, re-watch movies or look at someone’s work anew.

The difficulty is in the mind’s tendency to gloss over what is already familiar. When I revisited Sima’s photos, I had to spend a lot longer to find the new details because I was looking too quickly. If you can slow down and take a moment to really look at a piece, you can discover more of its complexities and nuances.

Small Changes Can Lead to Big Design Improvements

As you improve your designs, you don’t always have to make big changes. Great design improvements can actually be quite small. They  often solve practical construction problems but serve to make your piece aesthetically unique at the same time. These changes can evolve through several versions as you improve your technique and refine your finished products, and because everyone thinks differently, how those refinements evolve is what can lead to each person’s unique style.

You can see how Sima’s small details like the zipper stop adds one more part to his overall design. The refinement of this detail over time and its combination with other design choices generates his own unique personal aesthetic. Similarly, your design choices don’t have to be big or extreme to achieve a unique look. Even a simple choice like color can become an iconic part of your design. As an example, think of Louboutin’s red soles or Tiffany’s blue boxes. Your signature details don’t have to be big to make a big impact.

If you get better results by using more extreme or ornate design changes, that works too. By exploring bigger changes you stretch your boundaries and find a new level of complexity or sophistication. But if you’re feeling stuck or lost in how to make your work more unique, you can start by making just one small change. If you take it a step further and refine that change over several versions, you’ll be well on your way to making your own unique work that will truly stand out.

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