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Thread: Making a wet formed bag. A tutorial

  1. #1
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    Default Making a wet formed bag. A tutorial

    I've posted this on a few other forums but as Blutack asked I may as well post it here as well.

    First the disclaimer. I am self taught at leatherwork and may well be doing everything the wrong way. I have read a few books but do not always follow what they say. That said I am pretty pleased with my results and have been asked to document the way I have made the wet formed bags I do and so here is how I do it (not necessarily how it should be done)


    We are going to make a wet formed bag. From the same mould I make both shoulder bags and possibles pouches. This tutorial is for the possible pouches but there is little to change for a shoulder bag.


    Once finished we should end up with a bag looking like this





    First thing to do is cut the piece of leather to wet form the front of the bag. In the following pictures I am working with 2.5mm leather but later we will switch to a front I formed from heavier leather (3.5mm). So what I am saying is you can do this with almost any weight of leather.


    So lets cut out a bit of leather for the front. Remember to allow plenty of spare. The size you need will of course depend on the size of your form.



    Once cut out I let it soak in warm water for 15 minutes to half an hour. You get a feel for when it is ready. Sometimes I will let it sit for another half hour or so before I start forming and sometimes not. So far I have never really noticed a difference in waiting.



    The form is a piece of pine, shaped and varnished. I have also glued it to a backing board but you do not need to and it is probably not a help as I cant move it about once there are too many nail holes round the edge. I also use a bone folder to help shape the leather but you can use a bit of plastic or a butter knife if you do not have one.


    I will be nailing the leather in place with copper coated nails, which still stain the leather the same as steel ones. (note; this staining can be remove with Oxalic acid but as this was being stained a dark colour I did not bother)



    Place the wet (cased) leather over the form and put the first nail in the centre of the bottom.



    Next nail one round the corner but remember to not pull round the corner tight or you will have too much spare leather as you go up the edges. You want to use as much leather as possible between the central nail and being round the corner.



    Put a few nails in the curve of the corner to hold everything in place. This sounds easy and it can be but it is quite difficult to not end up with too much leather at the sides from going to tight round the corners. Once one corner is done start on the next. You can already see that I have too much leather for the sides and it is starting to stick up away from the face of the form.



    To solve this problem we cut away the spare leather at the corners. Then cut a dart at the last nail on the side. Pivot the leather round at this nail to take up some of the slack. Nail a bit further up, cut another dart and pivot some more to use up more leather. Remember to not cut in too close with the darts or you will end up with part of the dart still showing when the edges are trimmed.



    Repeat this on both sides and you should end us as shown below with the leather tight across the whole form. As you can see I have ended up with leather extending over the top of the form. Rather than cut this away I slide the piece of plastic (shown on the right of the picture) under the leather, above the form, to hold this top edge out and allow me to make the bag deeper.



    I use a modelling tool to ensure there is a good crease along the angle where the form meets the backboard. I tend to go over this every few hours or any time I am passing to ensure this crease stays well defined as the leather dries to shape. I also use the modelling tool to rub out any tool marks from the forming.



    I leave the leather nailed to the form for a few days to make sure it is completely dry. You can remove it sooner but I have found it will tend to shrink a little if you do, so now I ensure it is completely dry.


    Once dry I pull out the nails and pop the leather off of the form.



    Now at this point in the tutorial we are going to switch to a piece of leather that I formed earlier. This is purely to help with timing as these steps were actually carried out while the above bag was drying. It is formed from a piece of 3.5mm grade b hide so it has lots of blemishes etc. I only point this out as the more observant of you will notice a big difference in the quality of the leather and I dont want you thinking it is because the forming makes the leather blemish etc.


    So off the form we trim the edges of the bag and round the corners. At this point I also shape the top end of the bag. I form a semi-circle on the sides and cut straight across from the bottom of these along the front edge. This means the sides will seal against the flap as it curls round and stop stuff falling out. I have rarely seen this done and cant understand why. It seams obvious to me that a flat top to the sides allows things to fall out the bag.


    Now place it onto the leather we will use for the back and flat so that we can mark the width of leather we need.



    Cut a strip wide enough for the back and flap and hold this in place to mark where to cut for length to suit the bag.



    Now mark the rounding of the flap corners with my patented circle drawing tool.



    Cut the corners to shape



    Then check it looks right in place



    We now cut the tongue that will attach to the flap and go through the buckle. I prefer a shield shape at the top but any shape that takes your fancy should work. You could also just form the tongue into the piece of leather for the flap but I prefer the look of the sewn on one.



    I cut the end of the tongue with a strap end cutter but you can just cut it to shape with a knife if you dont have one. (a handy hint is to buy the biggest strap end cutter you can get. It will cut the end of every strap as small as you want to go so there is no need for a selection of different sized ones)



    The bag will have 2 D rings at the back to take danglers to attach to a belt as well as a buckle on the front to hold the flap shut. These are attached to the bag with inch strips of 1 1.5mm leather as shown below. I use a slot cutter to cut the slot for the buckle but you can just cut this shape with a knife. (a handy tip if you are buying a slot cutter is to just buy the inch one. You will rarely need a smaller size and for larger slots you just cut then move the cutter along and cut again to extend the slot)



    I also use the slot cutter to cut the slot for the tabs of leather to go through where the buckle is to be located (I also cut the slots for the D ring tabs but have not photographed this). You can either put the leather back on the form to give you a bearing while stamping the slot or use another piece of wood or cutting block to give a rest under the piece to be cut.



    I now mark out the stitching on the tab for the buckle and round the edge of the bag. I have used a pricking iron. If you dont have one a fork will do. You can use a marking wheel but they do not always leave very clear marks unless you are doing this while the leather is wet. I have also stamped a small makers mark in the centre of the tab stitching.



    Time to dye all the pieces. Gather them all together along with your dye and a wool dabber. I use a spirit based dye and buy it in the 1 litre bottles as it is much cheaper that way. I still tend to decant it into the smaller bottles for use though as it is easier to handle and has a larger neck.



    I dye the inside of the leather as well. A light inside looks strange and I can never finish with a clean edge anyway. Give the leather a good coating with the dye then set aside to dry



    Once the dye is dry it is time to stitch on the buckle and D rings. First mark out your stitching with your pricking iron (or fork). I like the triangular pattern and my pricking iron is just the right size for marking this out.



    Put the buckle onto its tab. Thread the tab through the slot. Open the tab out and sew in place.



    Same thing with the D rings. Here we see one sewn and one about to be sewn.



    And once done you can trim the tabs in the inside as seen here.



    Some people glue the bag to the back to keep it in place but I have never got on with this method. I tend to tack the front to the back with stitched spaced an inch and a half apart. I only make the holes for these stitches with the awl at this time. I punch through the rest of the holes with the awl as I go along.



    I punch the holes between the first two tacks, stitch this section, remove the tacks at this bit, form the holes in the next section, sew that bit and so on



    Once finished sewing I trim the back piece round the bottom corners and also trim the edges along the sewn section to ensure they are even or as even as I can get them. Then I dye the freshly cut and trimmed bits.



    Before I stitch the tongue on I finish the edges of the bag and the tongue with gum tragacanth and rub down with a piece of canvas.



    Then clamp the tongue in position ready for stitching



    Tongue stitched on.



    Pull the end of the strap through the buckle and mark the position for the one hole needed.



    Punch the hole. Dye the edges of the hole (cotton buds are great for this) and we are nearly there.



    Now I cover the bag with carnauba wax. Inside and out and work it well in. (I managed to spill the wax which is why there is a puddle of it in the background)



    Let the wax dry for a little while then polish with a soft brush.



    Now the droppers are just two strips of leather, about of an inch wide with two press studs to close them over. You can easily work out how to make them from this picture. Cut, dye, finish edges, punch for studs, wax polish and attach studs.



    A handy hint for attaching the press studs. Use a punch a bit bigger than the part of the press stud that goes through the leather to push the leather down. A light tap with the mallet makes sure you have enough of this bit exposed to ensure the two parts of the stud lock together well.



    So thats us all finished. You should now have a bag that looks like this











    I hope you found this interesting and or useful. Any questions just ask.
    John

  2. #2
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    John

    Thank You... I Really Enjoyed That.

    Sundown

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    Thanks for that John - very interesting . I'll add it immediately to my list of things I'd love to have a go at, but will probably never get around to!!
    The Canoeist's prayer: "Lord grant me the serenity to walk the portages I must, The courage to run the rapids I can, And the wisdom to know the difference".

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  4. #4
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    Very, Very interesting John.

    I've never thought how you shape leather before. I've got some in my workshop I've been keeping for years. I see shapes forming before my eyes.............

    Thanks
    http://www.davidwperry.blogspot.co.uk/

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    Question, John... Is This Process Viable for Any Type of Leather?

    Thanks

    Sundown

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sundown View Post
    Question, John... Is This Process Viable for Any Type of Leather?
    Good question. The answer is no. It has to be vegetable tanned (veg tanned for short) for it to be able to be wet formed. Chromium tanned stuff will not take and hold a shape.

    Dyed through leather will take a shape as long as it has been veg tanned but it will not form as deep shapes. I still find it okay for tooling although many books tell you it will not tool or carve well (carving and tooling = embossing in leather).
    John

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    Great tutorial! Thanks John!

    Almost sure Ill try something on that! Hope I can post here reasonable results in less than 45 years!
    Tony BR
    www.companhiadecanoagem.com.br
    www.canoacanadense.com.br/english.htm
    Past 20 years teaching Biology!
    Next 20 building Canoes!!!

  8. #8
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    Default Great

    Wow. Thanks for that. This is something I do hope to have a go at some time - and I'll be coming back to this when the time comes. Nice bag!

    Ben
    One year olds want four meals a day: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Paper...
    Two year olds want whatever is most dangerous to get to... (Then to throw it on the floor.)

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    Great "how to" could you sticky this so it doesn't get lost?
    Cheers Simon

    Gumotex Baraka

  10. #10
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    This will go on the main site so it should be easy to find. I am waiting till after the next major forum update and the integration of a content management system which are both due later this month.
    John

  11. #11
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    Excellent article, really enjoyed reading.

    Thought this was a black art but you have de-mystified it for me. Its always good to see how things are made.

    Thanks

    Mike
    born to paddle ... round and round in circles ...

  12. #12

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    Thanks for a brilliant tutorial!

    Just a few quick questions if possible:

    Could you give us a list of materials and suppliers and what tools are used/required? I've always wanted to get into making some small leather items, but I just don't know what to ask for or where to get the materials from.

    What sort of costs are involved?

    Thanks,

    Gweedo

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    Very interesting thread showing some neat work! It took me back to my childhood days, when my mother was an outworker for a saddlery firm in Walsall - the centre of the leatherwork trade at the time. My brother and I "helped", firstly by waxing and threading the needles onto the threads and, ultimately, being allowed to do some of the stitching on the simpler, lower grade pieces. The strongest memory is the pain in the creases of the little fingers of both hands from repeatedly pulling the threads tight!

    Many thanks for sharing your skills with us, MK!
    Juvanile delinkwit, vaguely faffing around with a pair of pliers. Du skal ikke tro at du er bedre end mig!

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    John

    that is a great tutorial. I really enjoyed it.

    I have some deer leather that I am wanting to make some axe sheeths with. It is too flexible, and floppy. can you recommend a way to give it some body?
    Regards,
    Mike

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    Great stuff. Well photographed & noted tutorial.

    TGB
    May the gentleness of morning, greet your silent passage through endless waters...

    May all your winds be gentle. And for ww - May it rain the night before.

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    Absolutely awesome! a great result and a demystifying explanation on the how to. Good stuff.
    Leone_blanco

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gweedo View Post
    Thanks for a brilliant tutorial!

    Just a few quick questions if possible:

    Could you give us a list of materials and suppliers and what tools are used/required? I've always wanted to get into making some small leather items, but I just don't know what to ask for or where to get the materials from.

    What sort of costs are involved?

    Thanks,

    Gweedo
    Initially you can gt everything form Leprevo (http://www.leprevo.co.uk/) later on you can have a look at AbbeySaddlery and The Identity Store but they tend to be a bit more expensive.

    To start you can do most stuff with a sharp knife, a bit of leather, the blunt needles an a awl. Dye and wax are fairly cheap for moving on a bit.

    Other stuff can be bought as you need it or to suit the piece you are going to make. Cost wise you can get started for under 50 including a piece of leather but 100 is more likely once you start adding on bits and pieces.

    Leather tools etc frequently come up on ebay but often end up just as expensive as buying new.

    My journal tutorial may help to give a few more tips

    http://www.songofthepaddle.co.uk/leather_journal.htm

    and a look at the leatherwork section on British Blades will also help.



    Quote Originally Posted by MotoMike View Post
    John

    that is a great tutorial. I really enjoyed it.

    I have some deer leather that I am wanting to make some axe sheeths with. It is too flexible, and floppy. can you recommend a way to give it some body?
    Not sure. There is a way of dipping leather in hot wax to make it rigid but it is not something I have done. you could probably glue a few layers of leather together to give it more body but I am guessing at that as much as anything.
    John

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    Quote Originally Posted by MotoMike View Post
    John

    that is a great tutorial. I really enjoyed it.

    I have some deer leather that I am wanting to make some axe sheeths with. It is too flexible, and floppy. can you recommend a way to give it some body?
    You can try gently heating it with a hot air gun and apply melted beeswax (melted in a bain maree) with a toothbrush. Do the whole sheath, it'll look rubbish with clumpy bits of wax everywhere but then give it a gentle going over with the heat gun and a rag, rubbing as you go. Should penetrate and make it pretty tough, do it after you've made the sheath. I'm assuming deer leather reacts the same way a cow leather maybe worthwhile trying on a scrap first. Worked great on my quiver though

    HTH

    Alan
    Cheers,

    Alan


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    Default nice job john

    i really enjoyed the tutorial..cheers Jim

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    Many thanks for an excellent tutorial. I did a bit of leather work when I was doing lots of falconry, including trying to make hoods but they were never very good. This article has given me the impetus to have a go at something useful to humans and maybe get the kids involved too.

    Graham

  21. #21

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    Hey John

    Thanks to your superb tutorial, I created my first leather bag. Of course I made my share of mistakes (riveting the belt straps upside down), used some experimental tools (like a Dremel to grind the edges) and noted a few things that I will do better next time (a longer tongue for one), but that's called learning, right? I'm quite proud of it in any case.



    Thanks again, mate!
    Ron

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    Looks good too!!

    Probably for John but what's the gum tracanth John used for rubbing the edges for?
    http://www.davidwperry.blogspot.co.uk/

  23. #23
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    That does look good. Well done.

    The gum on the edges gives thema finished polished look, instead of just rough leather.
    John

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    Thanks John.
    http://www.davidwperry.blogspot.co.uk/

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    Nice work!
    The perfect canoe -
    Like a leaf on the water

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    I just saw this post the last week of Dec 2013 and I wanted to let you know how helpful it was.
    thanks

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