The Swivel Knife

Swivel Knife in Action

Swivel Knife in Action

From the letters we have been getting, it’s becoming clear that there are a lot of accomplished leather goods makers around the world who haven’t been much exposed to leather carving. We have a couple new vids ready to go up here, around the net and of course at

To make these intricate carvings, nothing is more important than your swivel knife. Get the best swivel kinife you can find, preferably with a ceramic blade (prevents sticking to the leather and snags). Then, get to work. It will take some time, but after enough practice the knife will become an extension of your hand, putting your images directly onto the leather.

A swivel is to a leather carver as a Fender guitar was to Jimi Hendrix (though we don’t recommend setting it on fire onstage – unless you’re paid a lot to do it.)

Leathercraft Success Stories – Prada

A watercolor portrait of Mario PradaThe man in the picture is none other than Mario Prada. Yes, that Prada. Like many Italian leather workers who rose to prominence, Mario Prada made leather luggage for the class of people who could afford to travel in those days. He opened a leather goods shop in 1913, in Milan, Italy, along with his brother. They imported, designed and presumably made leather travel goods for an exclusive clientele.  One of their more popular leathers was walrus hide, used to make steamer trunks. As air travel came along after the war, the Prada brothers shifted towards handbags and lighter goods. (Early air travel not only restricted luggage weights, they even demanded that passengers sat in particular places on the plane to balance it.)

Prada Bag

Mario Prada passed away in the 1950’s, and his granddaughter took over the company to make it what it is today. But, the heart of the Prada name was leather goods and leather craft. They cannot match a quality hand-made bag, but the design sense of Prada is something to emulate.

Man Bags

Man Bag, Wrap Around StyleFollowing up on my post over at the Leathercraft Studio blog, I thought it worth going into the whole man-bag thing here. We are working on a few designs, but the beauty of this for leathercrafters is that these bags are highly personal. In all my years of buying man bags, briefcases, and laptop computer bags, I have never found one that meets all of my needs. Some have had qualities I think are fantastic, and even those have had other things I found to be annoying. I don’t like to spend money all that much, but I would pay a small fortune for a bag that had everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t want.

Now, for features, I was really taken by this bag from the inexpensive Japanese clothing chain called Uniqlo. It was cheap, and it was made of (shudder) denim. But it is super functional, and I have gotten compliments on it. It’s load with small zippered inside pockets, so I can leave all my keys, coins, flash drives, whatever, Uniqlo Denim Bag with keychainand quickly find them. It’s nicely partitioned, so I can keep my documents in order. It has handles and a shoulder strap – I use both. It has studs on the bottom to protect it from the floor. The list goes on. But it’s best feature is the long key chain you see in the picture. I am constantly digging around for keys, so this is perfect for me. You attach the keys to the chain, and drop it in your bag. The chain is anchored to the inside of the bag, near the top. When I need my keys, I just pull at the chain until they turn up – like reeling in a fish. The chain is also long enough that I can use the keys to open the door without taking them off. This item is one thing I would like in my perfect bag.

Now, everybody is going to have their own ideas, and this is what makes custom leather goods something that mass brands cannot compete with. When you make a bag for somebody, with all the bells and whistles that they want, and no annoying features, those customers will love that bag for life. In fact, they may love you for life, and come back when they need a wallet, a belt, or even a new bag.

Beckham and his manbagBeckham is a guy who is not known for dressing well, at least not consistently. He has been seen in public in a  sarong, of all things.  Anyone with any taste knows that the only way to be seen in a sarong is either on a Southeast Asian beach or dead. However, even blind squirrels sometimes find an acorn, and Beckham is doing OK here, with a very stylish bag. It wasn’t cheap, but then he probably paid too much for the sarong as well. The funny thing is, this picture launched us at Leathercraft Studio into the man bag design business.  Not that you would know it. Our first design is out, and we will have to do it all over again for the DVD. Have a gander…Leathercraft Studio Project bag

A New Short Video

A simple demonstration of tracing a shape out on translucent, wet leather, and then cutting the shape out. In this case, a knife sheath. On the video page.

What to Do with that Crappy Old Belt

DIY LED BeltI really don’t think this belongs here, but I can’ t resist. Please, please, please don’t construct this monstrosity with any decent piece of leather. You may as well burn the leather.

On the other hand, fashion monstrosities have their place, and it’s always fun to play around with an old piece of clothing or junk that you were about to trash anyway. The LED lights will hide any cheap leather flaws, and in fact will even hide the fact that its made of leather at all. And who knows what effect they will have in a nightclub? Flashing lights can be hypnotic. They may attract hordes of desirable partners. Or they may cause everyone to keep a certain distance away from you. Lately, I am more inclined toward wanting the latter.

And, even goofy and ridiculous ideas sometimes spark brilliant and sublime ideas. So, in the interest of inspiration, I am linking to How to Make an LED Belt.

Just don’t get carried away.

Cartier Starts to Make Bags

Cartier Marcello Leather BagNot traditionally a bag maker, but aware of the great market awaiting them, Cartier is now producing the Cartier Marcello bag. For a large manufacturer, they seem to trying to make a really good bag (see the video page). Still, at over $1000 per bag, one could buy an well made, and very personal bag made by an artisan. The bag market has been very strong, and will only continue to grow. I posted this partly because the video is worth watching. Head over to the video page and enjoy!
Meanwhile for a look at mostly lower priced bags (to give you some design ideas, not pricing ideas as much) take a look at this leather briefcase website.

Leather Bags from Japan

Japanese leathercraft is something that came to the country in the aftermath of the war. There, of course, were leather goods before that, but some American servicemen and their families brought over the concept of leather tooling. Intricately carved Western leather gear fascinated many Japanese, with their love of detail, and the art form took off on its own from that.

However, once imported to Japan, things are known to change a great deal. Japanese leather artists began to make design that suited their own tastes. Also, unlike in the US, the majority of those attracted to leather tooling and leathercrafting were women. An entire art form has blossomed from leathercraft’s humble origins, and the Japanese work is among the best in the world. Since we are focused more on practical applications, I selected a picture of handbags rather than some of the really stunning display pieces in this book. Click on the image to get a larger view.

Leathercraft and Stitching

Spinning ThreadThis nice picture has what to do with leather?

Well, we added a couple new videos on the video page.

The first is how to make a monarch butterfly mask.

The second is how to sew a spinning stitch, which really resembles the spun thread in the photo to the left. The stitch is being done on a shoe, but it’s applicable to just about anything you make with leather.

It’s really important to put a lot of effort into stitching your leather goods. It can be repetitive work, but it is vital to a product’s integrity and beauty. Quality hand stitching has been a mainstay of fine leather goods and, as people learn to get more for their money, it will be a major selling point for your own line. Fine stitching distinguishes a product from expensive machine stitched goods and poorly crafted hand-stitched “craft” goods.

Buying Leather – Sitting on a Top Secret

Top grain leather, a dirty little secret:


The ad proudly says “We carry 100% top grain leather.”

Watch out, fair buyer. Top grain leather is a sneaky marketing term used by leather goods dealers. It literally means “low quality leather with a fake grain embossed on it.” That last slogan was not so catchy, eh?

Top grain leather means they take cheap leather and buff it, then emboss what looks like leather grain on top. Marketers often talk about turning a negative point into a positive one. I suppose this falls into that category, but really does a disservice to the consumer.

The proper name for this leather is “corrected grain,” though don’t look for that term in any sales pitch. Full grain leather is what you are looking for.

Naked Ladies and Hand Sewing

Oh, gosh. Whatever sells, eh? I added a video (to the video page) of a guy that tools naked women on guitar straps….you know what I’m talking about.  Meanwhile, on the tutorial page, I added a short hand-sewing tutorial. Go ahead and get the video out of the way first. Meanwhile, I have to get started on my own guitar strap.

Next Page »