Friday, May 29, 2015

Leatherworking with Pascal

I posted ages ago that I may make some crafting posts in the future. Since then, the only thing I delivered was a paper towel holder because I kept forgetting to take step by step pictures. I remembered this time, so please, if you've ever had an interest in taking your in-game professions to the actual world, enjoy taking a look through this very visual process of making a simple little leather bag!

three of my previously crafted bags

First step to starting out leatherworking is of course finding your leatherworking trainer.

Either talk to him for awhile, or look on the internet for about an hour.

Of course, you'll need some supplies. Leather obviously, waxed thread, a sewing needle or sewing awl, hole puncher, rubber hammer, stitch spacer, maybe some edging tools...

In game professions are a pretty bad representation of how much effort crafting something really takes. Anyone is smart enough to know that, obviously it takes longer than a few seconds to make something, but you also need quite a large toolbox to craft stuff reasonably quickly. I legitimately used to think leatherworkers just sewed like you would cloth and thread, but about immediately after experiencing what working with leather is like I realized that would be a nightmare. You can work with fewer tools and eventually accomplish the same thing, but it will take longer and be more challenging to make well.

this is almost everything I used

Along with leather, we need:
  • some method of hole making, usually an awl (pointy thingie attached to a handle) and a rubber hammer. I used to use a leather hole puncher, this method is very trying on your patience and can cause hand cramps and generally produces worse stitches - not recommended.
  • sinew or waxed thread - sinew is made from actual animal stuff and is more expensive, there is synthetic sinew but it's dumb and wax thread is better than fake sinew. 
  • some method of determining your stitch lines. Eying it is technically a method, but a stitch spacer is much better. You could also get a ruler and draw all your stitch marks but like I said, stuff like that takes much longer than just having the right tools.
  • a needle with a wide enough eye for the larger thread and tough enough to deal with leather, so usually not a tiny regular sewing needle.
  • a hard reliable surface that is okay to mess up - I use an old plastic cutting board.
  • probably like a pen

So, here we go!

Always make sure to pick out the area of the leather you want to use by taking into consideration the inside and outside of the piece you're cutting.

I made this stencil forever ago

I'm using the same stencil I used to make those bags at the top of the post. Remember of course the bag will be smaller than the stencil! Also, remember that small leather shreds can't really be effectively used for much, so it's important to pick a spot where you the stencil can be placed that creates the least scrap. Remember to check the other side of the leather before committing...

bulk scrap leather! cheap but still decent

We obviously need two outlines...

Time to get some crafting scissors and cut them out - carefully!

label your scissors if you feel the need

Once we have the two cutouts, they probably won't be exactly the same shape. Leather, especially this suede kind that I'm using, tends to stretch and move around on you. Luckily, as long as the stitching is in a straight line, the edges are on the inside where you can't see them, so we can just adjust for error.

It's important to keep them as lined up as possible when getting ready to punch out the stitching holes. I use paper clips!

high tech stuff

When running the stitch spacer down the edge, it's important to keep the line straight and even as possible, or if hand drawing your punch marks, make sure to do a really great job. Weird hole placement will show up on the finished product, creating a weird dip, crease, or curve at the seam.

I use the outside of the leather to 'draw' stitches and punch holes because the other side is covered in fuzzies that shroud the location of marks pretty effectively. We obviously won't stitch the bag together with the pieces aligned this way!

even pressing down hard, the marks are hard to see

Obviously the marks need to be visible to use them as our guideline. This leather is darker than I'm use to and the marks are hiding pretty well, but they were easier to see in person than in this picture.

And this is why we need a surface it's okay to mess up...

hammer that point right into the cutting board

It will probably annoy the people around for a moment as you have to hammer the awl rather hard into each and every stitch mark. You can't just stick the needle into the leather as you go, first of all that would be really physically difficult and second of all, you'd probably have a super hard time getting it right without messing it up unless the leather pieces were super secured together

Now, this is technically a sewing awl, but I'm not comfortable with that method. As I said, it's easier to do this stuff with the right tools, and it would probably be much faster to use a sewing awl properly but... I don't, at least not yet.

If done right, the holes should of course be visible on the piece of leather on the bottom!


Uh oh, I made a mistake. Don't worry, though. This error happened because the front piece of leather and the back piece didn't match up perfectly, obviously. Again, it's okay if they don't match, that is the least of our worries. Getting the stitching holes right is much more important. Which, I still managed to mess up - but this process is surprisingly forgiving. I chose to go with it until I got to that point at the stitching to see what I'd need to do to fix it, rather than try to punch new holes now. We'll see it again in a bit!

Once the holes are all the way round, we will obviously flip both pieces so the outsides are touching. This is standard with any kind of stitching, as you don't want the seams to be on the outside.

Time to get the needle!

pro tip: this is not a safe way to store needles

So I keep my needles in a pile of other junk. Probably don't do that, since they are pointy.

It's easy to thread waxed thread or sinew because it's kind of stiff (I use waxed thread, sinew is 'spensive). The knot will move around and possibly come undone, or even break, through the stitching process. It's no biggie, this stuff is pretty easy to get along with. My thread actually broke halfway through stitching - you just rethread and retie it.

There are other stitching methods, but my preferred one is the following. I need to pull enough thread through to go all the way around the edge and back again in a loop in and out fashion.

In and out all around the inside. This part takes forever and is the most tedious and repetitive. The hole punching is pretty tedious, but this is much worse!

The leather can easily be flipped open to check out where the hole is on the flat side, to thread easier. As I mentioned earlier, the fuzzies mask the openings very well.

Stitch stitch stitch...

Whoops, here is where I messed up the punches earlier. It's not salvageable and new holes need to be punched. No biggie, I just need to try to make them flow well from the previous hole and of course keep them away from the existing cuts so that they don't only serve to further break the edge of the bag.

Oh hi Toona.

Here is the outside of where I messed up and had to repunch holes. This won't be visible once the bag is inside out, so it's pretty much a non issue as long as the new holes that were made were responsible and aren't in danger of ripping into the broken parts of the edge.

nice and secure

Almost done the first pass around!

Oh, another mistake. Looks like I skipped over a hole on one of the two sides of the bag. Whoops.

One way to fix this could be to take a look and see if you can pinpoint the hole you skipped. You can untie the thread from the needle and just pick and pull the stitching out all the way back to the skipped hole, and of course don't skip it next time around.

In order to try and do this, turning the bag inside out can help to see where the stitching looks particularly odd, since, as I've said probably like three times now, it's hard to see marks or holes on the fuzzy side.


Turning the bag inside out at this point makes it obvious why you have to go through and back around again with this stitching method.

The pieces pull right apart. With these kinds of materials, pulling it super tight just isn't enough. Of course, there isn't a tie off on that side either, but if any part of the stitching came undone and this was all you did, the bag would be ruined pretty quick. Doubling back will make it pretty resilient.

looks like a scary mouth

I was actually unable to find the missing hole... I took an easier approach.

snip snip

All fixed!

what do you mean I skipped a hole

I did say this process was actually very forgiving.

Once we're done going all the way around, the stitching can be tightened by pulling the thread and letting the leather kind of scrunch up.

looks like a clam mouth
These scrunches can be gently pulled all along the entire piece to wherever needs to be tightened.

Once done, the bag should be able to flatten out evenly and there shouldn't be any parts that are too clam mouthy.

Once we are satisfied with how scrunchie or not the bag is, it's time to work around the other way!

yay I'm so excited to do this again


Finally at the end! Time to tie the end with the beginning.

Just tying it usually isn't good enough. The thread can be fed back around through some of the loops. It's important to tie it to the starter thread more than once during this process, and not to make too many knots or they may be noticeable.

Now I have a cheap trick I like to use - glue. There is leather glue, but I don't have any and tacky glue works. I haven't had a bag come undone yet, and I'm not exactly super careful with them.

Just a little dollop on the knots, and press it down hard.

We did it!

Much better seam than last time we turned it inside out.

See how much smaller it is than the stencil?

Now we need to fancy it up. A standard with any bag is of course a drawstring. I have several little boxes on my crafting desk, and inside one of them...

is a treasure trove of string, cord, thread, etc...

I actually really like the look of standard black cord, solid braided cords look very nice on bags.

But I have a specific purpose in mind for this bag, so I'm going to braid a drawstring, similar to the one you can see here on this bag I made awhile ago.

We have to make sure whatever length of string we use will look decent when it's not drawn, and also not look way too long when it is drawn.

Give me a moment to braid my drawstring...

Yes, I do have a thumbtack pressed into the top of my desk, for this exact purpose. It's super useful.

If you don't know how to braid, it's super simple, here is a video if you want to be in the know.

Once we choose our string, we of course need to make holes. This time around, a leather hole punch is excellent.

behind the scenes factoid: I took this picture earlier on in the process

Hammering in holes will look messier and since the string will be going back and forth through them, it could continue to tear and cause lots of little fuzzy shreds to come out over time.

I am not great at this part. I usually just eye it out, but there is one important thing to remember. It's something I messed up on before - the amount of holes need to to come out to a number where the strand will come out of the hole it's supposed to. If you're confused, I'll explain more in a second.

Here are my holes on either side of both edges. I do these first, to make sure they end up where I want them.

This is the part where I pretend to measure out the holes so that they are evenly spaced and look nice, then I get frustrated and give up.

Here is a rough example of what I mean. The cord will go in and out of each hole as it approaches the other end, where you want the last hole it is weaved into to cause the thread to come outside, obviously, so that it can perform its function correctly.

An even number of holes will accomplish this assuming we want the first hole to lead the cord into the inside of the bag, and of course we have to do this to both sides! Also, the size of the holes and the cord being used will dictate how hard the bag is to open and how tightly it closes, but opening and closing it over time will help make it easier to open and also make it harder to keep closed. A tight stopper will be more effective than worrying about the size of the holes and cord.

I get to cheese things again as I pick the glue back up. I squeeze glue up the ends of the cord, especially if it is a braided cord, in order to keep it uniform and together as I weave the cord through the drawstring holes.

Aaaaaand when we're done threading the cord through the holes, we have a drawstring!

Here's my neato bead I picked to be my stopper. It stays on there pretty good.

Now, there's only a little matter of all that glue I slathered onto the ends. To soften it up, I wet a paper towel and get the ends of the threads a little wet before I work with it to fix it up.

I cut the threads to the length I want, then I use a razor blade to pull through and separate the threads, as well as chopping it up a bit and making it look a little frayed.

Awesome, we have everything we need to be done with our bag. Except, I like to make mine a little fancier. The entire reason I made this bag was specifically to make one that was a little less fancy than my bag I popped in here earlier in the post, so I don't want to go too crazy.

I usually brainstorm by just putting trinkets, beads, and whatever on top of the bag until I figure out what I want it to look like. One thing I really like to do is add a dangley onto the other side of the bag. To do this, I make said dangly with beads, charms, cords, and whatever else, then I thread the end through the seam of the bag. This is sometimes super hard to do if I've made a particularly sturdy bag, so I sometimes have to stick the ends of a paper clip or something through, or if the dangly is particularly thick I'll have to pull it through with my needle nose jewelery pliers.

My favorite way to secure these is with little studs. Poke them through the seam and tighten them on the inside!

All done!

 I want to add one little ornament to the front of the bag...

And middle middle middle...

Forgot to take any pictures of what I did, here. I used strong snippy snips (technical words, I know) to cut that top loop off, then sanded it flat with a metal sanding stick. I lined up the charm and put a piece of cardboard inside the bag so I could hammer holes with the awl to sew embroidery thread through the front and wrap it around the charm to fasten it.

Cool, so, I'm all done!

Here is the too-fancy bag I was purposefully downgrading from. This bag has all our dice in it, several sets plus lots of random extras. I wanted one bag to put one set of dice in, and this stencil is the same one I used for all my friends' bags - which they all use as dice bags!

I got a new DnD book that is bound in leather with some cool Celtic/Druidic designs and super thick, fancy paper. The fasten on the top of the spine is something I made and attached in order to keep the book and bag together. The fasten on the book loops through the drawstring of the bag to hold onto it.

I can very comfortably fit my dice and my mini inside my new, cozy dice bag! It has a little extra space if I needed to store something else in it, but it's at about 80% capacity with these items in it.

The entire reason I was inspired and motivated to do this is that this Sunday we are hanging out to play again for the first time in ages! I never wrote up a post about what happened during our last play session, and it seems like it may end up teetering into the nether. I would like to finish up posts about that campaign, but even we never got a solid conclusion so I don't really feel like it. I know, I'm awful.

We're having a themed one session adventure, and it's going to be an over night event - so we will be Dungeoning and Dragoning it up late into the night!

If you have never read about our adventures, the five available posts are linked at the bottom of this page, which can also be found at the top of my blog with the link "Series".

I hope the creation of my little bag was interesting for you! I have an awesome friend who lent me most of the tools featured in this post and eventually just gave them to me entirely. I wouldn't have been able to get as into leatherworking as I have been without access to these tools, since they can run on the expensive side. She sells her own crafts and has an Etsy shop, which you should totally check out here!

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