The Leather Story

In Feb 2016 I challenged myself to learn new skills. I am an accountant and auditor by trade and I recently read an article which set out the jobs most likely to be taken by an intelligent Artificial Intelligence Computer (AI) in the next 10 years and in the top 10 jobs is Accountant and Auditor (Great). At the very bottom of the list are all of the jobs which need imagination. Experts don’t know how to give AI imagination.

I have thus embarked on learning everything I can on leather working, more specifically “Bag Making!” The early stages (a weekend course and a book or two later) seem very promising and the sense of achievement! WOW! A bit like cooking – take some raw materials, leather and thread, some tools and your imagination and almost anything is possible.

This idea for the leather working comes from a long term love of bags. I have owned a hand made leather “Man” bag for about two years and I find myself taking it everywhere. The organised me likes to have everything at hand and a bag (very much like and in great reverence to a ladies hand bag) with wallet, glasses, pens and notebook, phone, headphones, and charging cables (occasionally a hat and gloves) is just what I needed and use everyday. Add to that my wife bought me a hand made leather Iphone and pen case for Christmas 2015. I looked at it and thought that I could make the Iphone case. I wanted a new project and the leather work project was born. Turns out that even the Iphone case is more difficult than I might have thought (hand stitching is tough).

I booked myself onto a leather work course with Bill Blaikie at in Frome, Somerset and on 20th and 21st Feb and came away with pages of notes, lots of new knowledge and my own hand made belt and my own design glasses case.

Before the course I designed my glasses case on paper and then made up a model. See below pictures of the model and some “mood board” ideas which I used to come up with my plan. You will then see how this was translated into a finished product that I designed and made on the second day of the course.

First plan

At the end of the two days I left feeling positive, excited and enthusiastic to extend my new skill.

Course output

My first thought was to do a second course but then started to price up the tools I would need to work on projects at home for myself and with a bit of judicious ordering (from China and Hong Kong via Ebay and Amazon) I found that I could buy all that I needed to get started for about the same price as a one day course. It seemed to me that I could learn by doing. I learn best that way anyway. So during March I accumulated the tools and started to design some bags and created the patterns for three bags (oddly called 001, 004 & 005: 002 and 003 did exist but never made it past the sketching stage). Finally on Friday 1st April 2016 I went to a leather merchant in Cheddar, Somerset and purchased my first pieces of leather (about 16 sq foot in four random pieces) for £50.

That was it! Time to get going!

I chose the simplest of my bag ideas to start (Camera Bag 005) and 10 hours later it was completed and WOW! I was so excited it had gone much better than I could have ever had expected. Below are some pictures of 005 taking shape and the finished bag.

Camera bag (1)

A couple of simple tips, not that you are likely to head out to make your own bags anytime soon, but make notes – lots of notes. This was the best piece of advice that I got on the course I think!  Remember this is like prototyping a product. Starting with a blank piece of paper and finishing with a new bag and things go well and other things go not so well and you make mistakes. These are not catastrophic but I know that they are there. So documenting the process / the order you worked in detail, this allows you to go back to each project in the future and take the opportunity to learn from any mistakes.

Camera bag (2)

I have a note book which I am using to hold the notes (and my design ideas) that I made, starting with my course notes. I look at the bag and see the mistakes; most other people have looked at the bag and see something that they are impressed with. I guess that explains a lot about my life. At the moment it is a “Glass Half empty” type of time!! Let’s hope that a few more projects later I can change that around.

Camera bag (3)
Camera bag (4)

So Camera Bag 005 took up about 4sq foot of the leather that I had so now is the time to move onto the next projects and at the time that was DM Bag 008, Noah’s Rucksack 007, an Iphone 6 case (which should allow me to use up some of the smaller pieces of leather which I will have left over). So it is now the 8th April 2016 and time to start project two (DM Bag 008). Just to say this bag is going to be for myself and it is called DM bag because it is loosely based on a briefcase that I saw in the Dr. Martens shop. It is definitely a step up from the Camera bag but I thought that there was no point in standing still, push on to new skills and new heights.