Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weaver Leather Auction

From Cincinnati to Mount Hope GPS says is 290 miles. Highway most of the way but then it has me on back roads again. I'm going past farms in Amish country. I stopped to take this picture because I haven't seen a hay loader since the 50's when we used one on the farm. No horses then though, my father pulled the trailer with a 1932 Farmall and I was on top of the load packing it away.

I'm passing horse drawn wagons, then along comes a huge tour bus. These people's everyday lives are a tourist attraction. Well, I stopped too.

GPS tells me I have arrived. I'm at a crossroads, got no clue where I am. I keep driving until I come to a main road. There is a farm store for tourists ahead, cars fill the parking lot. This is where the tour buses are coming from. I ask one of the bus drivers where I am and where is Mount Hope. She doesn't know where Mount Hope is but I find out where I am. Back in the van I get out the Atlas. It takes awhile but I find Mount Hope on the map, about 20 miles away.

I'm watching the numbers on the mail boxes as I approach Mount Hope. When I get to where Weaver Leather is supposed to be, it's a field. In Mount Hope itself the post office is closed. I ask where Weaver Leather is at the hardware store. The guy doesn't know, he isn't from here. I ask a lady in a bonnet, that looks like she is from here. Its back down the road... at a wider part of the road that they call something or other... take a right and it's up there. That reminds me of the European commedian doing a sketch about how Americans give directions. "You go down this street until you come to where Mikes Barber Shop used to be, then turn left...".

I'm going back up the road looking for a place it's wider. At a cross road there is a blinking light, this must be it. Ok, I found it, I go inside. Place is practically deserted, only a couple girls on the phone. I find out that the auction is farther up the road behind the building. They are setting up for it. The auction doesn't start until tomorrow but I want to check it out in advance. It seems I'm not the only one.

Lots of lots of leather. This auction is going to take all day. The leather is odd lots and batches of culls. I've been there done that... I'm not buying.

The next tent is the machinery.

An old fortuna splitter and a couple old USM clickers

Maybe some of this stuff can be made to work but I don't need it and don't need to wait two days until the machinery part of the auction.

All day the weather report has been for rain, large hail and maybe tornadoes. Time to head home. GPS says take a left onto a country road. I'm headed south on a road with double yellow lines on it. I stay headed south. She tells me to take a left on every side street I pass. I'm back at the tourist stop still headed south. GPS finally comes around to my way of thinking.

Blog by

Friday, June 26, 2009

Leather buying trip stop #3

The GPS directed me through the Cincinatti trafic flawlessly and told me I was at my destination in front of a construction site. I called Newman Leather... "You aren't really in Cincinnati like it says on your letterhead and on your web site? Oh a suburb.. different zip code and everything..hummm. Same street name though? I'll be there shortely".
Couldn't blame that on the GPS could I. Need to find a gas station real quick though. When I find one on the right, GPS tells me to turn left.
A half hr. later I pull in behind their warehouse. I haven't been in a place like this in years. Thousands of square feet of leather neatly stacked in numbered bins. Their sample swatches have the bin numbers on them...really well organized operation.
I find a nice brown and a black for handbags, load a few bundles into the van, write a check and I'm off for weaver leather.

Blog by

Leather trip part 2

After the tannery it was off to Triple C leather. The GPS had me on some of the narrowest back roads. At one point I had to ford a creek, I was wondering if the pavement was going to turn to gravel road. It finally told me I had reached my destination in front of a dilapidated barn in a field. I could as well have been in N. Dakota from the way it looked. After trusting the GPS instead of keeping track of where I was I could have been there for all I knew. I had been driving for hours.
Well the name of the road was correct, the numbers on the broken down mail boxes were all wrong though. I decided I was at the wrong end of the road and headed off over hill and dale. Well what do you know, all of a sudden there was a place that looked like it wasn't abandoned. I had arrived at their warehouse. Unfortunately they only had about 50 picked over shoulders that I was looking for... the kind of thing I get when I when I phone in an order.
I left without buying anything and headed for Cincinnati.

Blog by

Leather Tannery

I've been ignoring the handbags because I had lost my leather supplier. I had given up on the handbags for months. I finally decided that I had to do something about it and the Weaver Leather annual auction was the trigger that set me off. Weaver is in up state Ohio and I'm in Georgia so it was to be a good road trip.
I wasn't going to just go there. This was to be a visit to several suppliers along the way. The first stop was Radio Shack for a GPS. I left the next morning at 3:00 am GPS wanted me to drive to Atlanta and then up the highway to Chattanooga. I ignored that and headed across lots for Cleveland GA then west. Eventually the GPS came around to my way of thinking.
Tennessee tanning was the first stop. They are the real deal old time tannery. The last time I was at some place this real was in Lhasa Tibet. The tannery smell, the hides, and the old equipment were something to behold. We looked at hides, they showed me the processes they could do, and gave me a tour.

A pile of finished hides on the left and workers opening a stack of the blue "crust" they start with. It was dark in there which added to the aura of the place but it meant that my camera used a slow shutter speed.

The worker at this machine is removing the flesh from the back of the wet hides. The blade has to be sharpened twice a day. I was told that this guy, in the years that he has worked there has "fleshed" over a million hides.

Here they are stretching out the wet tanned hides and nailing them to a piece of wood. It takes a couple days for them to dry.

The final step is measuring the number of square feet. It is done mechanically as the leather is fed through this machine. If there is leather there the lever is up if it isn't the lever is down. The dial at the top records the amount of leather going through the machine. The machine is calibrated daily by running a piece of known size through the machine.

Tanning is a chemical process that has a lot of variables. Over the years they have found formulas to produce different types of leather. To reproduce the same leather every time they have to control the variables, one of which is the water they use. They have their own wells from which they have been getting the water they use for tanning for over 100 years. To test the leather and the solutions throughout the process they have their own testing lab.

Blog by

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Designer Handbag factory

The last time I wrote about taking the step up in handbag making, from hand laced bags, to bags made using machines. This time I am going to show you how this is done in the factory.

The man above is Otis Anthony, shown in his factory in Framingham MA. in 2001. I learned a lot from Otis in the 70's when he developed and made the Frye Handbag line under license from the Frye Boot Co.

Otis passed away a few years ago but his legacy lives on with me and others he taught over the years. I was in the artist colony at the Greenbrier a few months ago and saw some of his styles made the way he did it so someone out there has his equipment and is still making bags the way he did.

I visited a designer handbag factory earlier this month and had permission to take photos as long as I didn't use their name on the Internet. Maybe you can tell who's factory this when you see some of their styles.

The man above is hand cutting handbags. Look and learn... He is cutting against sheet metal with a knife made from a hacksaw blade. They hand cut almost all of their handbags which allows them to be "up to the minute" and change styles without waiting for dies to be made. They custom make the handbags one at a time as orders come in.

After being cut the parts are put in plastic bags to keep all the parts together. The linings parts are in another bag with the same order number and are sent to be sewn. The external parts are sent to this department to be skived. They keep a sample bag of each style that they refer to in order to know where and how much to skive. It take a lot of experience to know how to do this and it must be accurately done so that the leather parts fold properly. This skiver has servo motors to adjust all the skive parameters. They read out on a digital screen. He uses this info to reproduce the adjustments for a particular skive.

The next step is to glue and fold the leather parts as needed for the style being made. This time consuming job requires a lot of skill to fold evenly and straight and to get the proper radius on corners .

After sewing, hardware is added, and the bag is inspected before adding the pigskin lining.

Here are some completed bags ready to be shipped.

This designer bag company uses expensive Italian leather and custom hardware. On some styles custom handles and fittings are made from a very hard and expensive tropical wood that is exclusive to them.

This modern factory sure is a lot cleaner and more well lit than the shop Otis had.

This is a view of part of my studio. It's a lot more comfortable than a factory setting and makes use of natural light. I custom make orders. You can see the work orders on the bench and stuck to the windows. The sewing and skiving machines are to the left and to the rear.

You can view my handbags on my website

and "How to make a leather handbag from a photo", on my .net site or from links on the home page.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Handbag Conversion #4

This time we are going to make the transition from making laced and hand stitched bags, using hand tools, to making them using a commercial sewing machine. It doesn't make much difference which machine you use as long as it has a "Compound Feed". It can be a Pfaff, Juki, Consew, Adler or any of the made in China knock offs. I also like a reverse lever like on my Consew 226.
I have to caution you about getting the 226 though. It has a design flaw which causes the thread to get caught under the hook all the time. It is quite aggravating and I have seen people abandon it's use because of this problem. It is easily corrected by soldering a wire from the needle guard on the hook to the heel of the hook, closing off that 1/4" opening below the hook. You will need to use a liquid flux like Duzall in order to make the solder stick to the chrome hook.

You probably don't know what I'm talking about, and probably wonder what that has to do with making leather goods. It sounds more like a mechanic thing. Well, that is why some people are never able to make the transition from hand sewn to machine sewn leather goods. You will have to know not only the proper way to install the needle, how to thread the machine properly, have a variety of needles for different size threads, and be able to adjust the thread tensions. You will also have to know how to adjust the timing or you are going to waste a lot of time and money trying to get someone else to do it. You are going to need a variety if presser feet and maybe even modify the stock ones for some operations.
I'm not going to spend much time explaining how to make bags using only a sewing machine because what you can do is limited. You can make soft simple "Turned" bags out of thin leather, like Hobos and drawstring bags. You can make some "Stitch out" bags of firmer leather with raw edges, and garments if that is the way you want to go. You will soon find that with more complicated bags the seams get really thick in some areas, the bags get lumpy and just don't work.
What you need along with the sewing machine is a skiver (sky-ver). I use Fortuna skivers but there is a good Italian make and a lot of made in china knock offs. The skiver is a strange looking machine.

It has a hollow circular blade called a Bell, a curved feed wheel under the sharpened edge, and a presser foot above.

The leather edge is fed through the machine which cuts off part of the back of the leather. The flat guide determines the width of the skive and the knob below the lamp on the top picture adjusts the depth of cut.
Besides learning what all the adjustment knobs on the machine do, you will also have to know the proper feed wheel and presser foot to use. This machine can make up to a 2" wide skive which with the proper presser foot, can be used as a splitter for making binding.
With these two machines you can make more complicated turned bags with pockets and turned edges like the tote handbag on my web site. You will probably have to have raw edges on the closure strap but you can make a wide piece of binding for the top edge and put it on using the "French" binding or "Stitch in the ditch" method.
To make bags at this level you have to be as much of a mechanic as you are a designer or leathercrafter. To even just be a designer, you should know what the machines are capable of doing.

Blog by

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

#3 Handbag Conversion

In #2 I said I would tell you what the designer needs to provide to the person who will be constructing the handbag. The more I thought about that the more confusing and out of context I thought that that would become. I decide that I had to do it the way I started out to do in #1. That is, start in the beginning with the basics, and learn it the way I did.

We are going to start the actual design and conversion of a handbag with a retro style, laced together with rawhide. You make your drawing of a basic handbag shape like the one shown below that I found at

Make a paper pattern for the front. Draw a line 1/2" in from the edge where the holes are going to be punched. This is your seam allowance.
Fold the pattern in half so that you determine where the center bottom is. This will also show you if your pattern is symmetrical or not. Put a mark on the seam allowance line 3/8" on either side of the center bottom. Those two marks will then be 3/4" apart. Continue making marks 3/4" apart up both sides of the seam allowance line. You will need to have an even number of holes so that when you lace it up, the lace will come out of the top hole on one side and go into the top hole on the other side. That's how it will work out since you started on the center bottom, if you have the same number of holes on each side.

You next make a pattern for the handbag, sides which I call the gusset. Draw a seam allowance line on each side. Mark off the same number of holes on that pattern as you made on the front pattern. That gives you the correct length for the gusset. Taper the ends of the gusset to make it narrower near the top on each side. If I made the gusset 4" wide, I would make it 3" wide on the ends. Start the taper about 3" from gusset ends.

Ok, now make the back and flap pattern. Draw a straight line on a piece of pattern paper. Lay your front pattern on the paper with the fold you made in it aligned with the line on the pattern paper. Trace the pattern and transfer the hole position marks. This is the back of the bag. Now we add an extension for the flap. Turn your front pattern over as if it were hinged to your pattern paper at the top. Now your front pattern top, is on the top line you traced on the pattern paper with the fold aligned with the line on the pattern paper. Move it 3" up the line... so that the two are 3" apart. This is to allow for the amount of flap you need to go over the top of the gusset. Trace the top pattern again along with 3" connecting lines on each side. Don't mark the holes this time because this is the flap and it doesn't get holes. This flap is actually marked too big, your tracing will show you how long the flap needs to be if you want it to cover the entire front of the bag. The tracing line represents the front of the bag. You can mark your flap shorter and narrower within the traced line and give it any shape you want. After you cut out your pattern fold it in half the same way you did with the front pattern. This will show you if your flap is symmetrical.

We know that this pattern will work because of the way we laid it out. The seam allowance lines are the same length and the holes are the same distance apart. I don't mark the fastener hardware location until I make the first bag. The thickness of the leather can change where the flap actually falls. This pattern was made assuming that a firm 5-6 oz leather similar to to that shown in the example above would be used.

You should now be able to make this type of bag and assemble it. The strap is just lashed to the top of the bag. You could instead, add a narrow extension to both tops of the gusset to fold around a ring, and either rivet it or lash it down through a couple holes. All you need is the leather and a few hand tools. You could add a pocket to the front or back and fasten the flap down any number of ways. Those are the kinds of changes you can make as the designer of this type of bag. Check out the other designs at the Old School link above to see some variations.

Next time we will make a soft bag using a sewing machine.

Blog by