The phrase “Handmade” sometimes gets a bad rep, especially when it comes to leather goods.
Is stuff sewn on a machine still handmade? To an extent, I suppose, if you count the machine as a very fast moving and accurate extension of your hand that never gets tired and doesn’t get callouses.
Let’s talk about this bag for example.
It’s a camera case I made for myself (ignore the snoozing dog doing a photobomb). Black veg-tanned Buffalo hide, with one main compartment that will, with dividers, hold 2 camera bodies and 1-2 lenses. Two side pockets and a front pocket complete it. Adjustable sling strap with a shoulder pad for comfort.
The thing is, cows seldom grow camera-bag-shaped. Yet, at least.
These were some of the parts that went into the bag. I was halfway through the first side pocket as you can see. The various straps had been pre-cut and burnished, but snaps, rivets and buckles had not been fitted yet.
The little holes that you see along the edges are the prick marks that would need to be hand-pricked and enlarged, and then sewn together.
So the entire process goes something like this:
- settle down at the work space with a coffee
- stare at a blank sheet of paper and start mentally working out how large the bag should be
- start making design notes, including some truly terrible sketches with outside dimensions, pockets etc.
- pick out the hardware that will be used. Yes, I recommend pre-planning EVERYTHING.
- translate those terrible sketches into equally badly drawn cut-dimensions and try to group them to minimise leather waste
- and all that has to happen before you do the cut, or clicking of the leather. Cut the leather. Or click. Whatever.
- measure to make sure that your, erm, measurements aren’t off (Oh it happens. I’ve ended up with an additional inch of leather on one panel before. Much cursing resulted)
- start marking and then pricking the stitch holes
- plan your assembly. There is nothing more frustrating than to start off sewing the pieces together then realising that you actually should have sewn on this part first. Much more cursing will result should that occur
- start sewing. I, like almost every other leather crafts person, would use a saddle-stitch. Part out of tradition, but mostly because there is no point trying to improve on what is probably the best stitching method for leather. Oh. Fun Fact: Saddle stitching can’t be done on a machine
- sew some more. Look, there are only 24hrs in a day, and I have a day job and a needy dog alright
- finally finish sewing, and then fit assorted buckles and snaps
- burnish, wax and inspect
- and you are done
All in all, this particular bag probably has about close to a thousand frickin stitches to be done by hand, and that isn’t particularly uncommon for a decently sized bag. I have the actual number scrawled on the plans somewhere but I’m not going to look it up.
And ladies and gentlemen, is what I, and other leather workers think of when we say handmade.
When you purchase an item with your hard earned money, the bulk of the cost isn’t all going into the cost of materials, but the workmanship that put it together. That is where your money goes. The final item isn’t going to be the cheapest thing around, but I’d daresay that it will be of a damn fair value.