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Dawn Chan's entry in the custom handbag competition<br>November 2005

Dawn submitted the sketch for the custom made leather handbag shown below. Handbag Drawing

  Dawn also submitted the technical drawing below. This drawing is done to scale to show that everything actually fits together. When I first printed the one above, there was a mark on the paper that made the 9-1/4 on the flap dimension, look like 8-1/4. I questioned her about this and found that I was mistaken. The drawing below really is a nice piece of work and to scale as it should be. I have had to resize it to make it fit on this page.
  I knew a woman who was remodeling a house. The contractor knocked out walls and framed up for the living room and bedroom to find that there were only two feet left for the kitchen, which was shown to be fifteen feet wide on her drawing. I've seen handbag designs with similar problems. That isn't a problem here and you have to admit that Dawn can really do a nice drawing.

Technical Scale Drawing

  I had questions about the construction which were not shown, and about the flap border which appears to waste a lot of leather if cut in one piece. She sent these additional drawings to answer those questions. I have had to resize them to fit on the page but you can click on them for the larger size that you can read. Use your back button to return to this page.

Handbag Details Drawing

Handbag Details Drawing

I also questioned the size and asked how structured the bag should be.

Hi Henry,

I think this size is practical and big enough. I find that most bags look great when they are full, like how it is displayed on a shelf. As a user, I love leather bags but hate them when they become too heavy after I put everything inside to make them look full.

You mentioned that a bag with metal feet should be structured. But I would rather suggest a casual and vintage feel for this bag. Please find attached a picture of an ivory satchel which is not too hard/ structured but with metal feet. I think this hand-feel is nice. What do you think?

To enhance the retro feel, I think this bag look good in thick vintage leather and brushed hardware. What do you think?

If I have still missed anything, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Best regards,

Well, I think that asking me what I think was a mistake. This is your design and I have my own reasons for choosing it as the one to make. One of which is that it is different from what I would make.

So, what I think is that without a stiffener in the bottom of that example bag the only thing the feet are going to do is make a clicking sound when you set it on a hard surface. The bag is stuffed with something, as you suggest, not enough to make it look structured, but enough to make it look like the feet would work, but they won't.
  On your bag, the straps you have the feet mounted on will help, and if thick leather is used maybe the bottom will be firm enough. What you are asking for seems to be a kind of middle ground that will require just the right firmness and suppleness. This can create a real sourcing problem for me. I'll have to study the design more to see if the firmness of the leather will create a sewing problem. The smaller the bag is the harder it is to sew. The problem is top stitching the gusset. It would be possible on a post machine, which I don't have, if the leather were soft. Stiff leather would require the Mellow Lite machine I told you about, which costs $7,000.00 U.S. F.O.B Korea.

You can see that when sewing a soft bag, like the one below, you can twist it out of the way so as to be able to sew it on a flat machine. Then the final joining of front to back is done inside out and not top stitched.

I like how interesting this bag is using only the leather and the design complication for the eye to focus on. (If you look close you can see how the pocket lining is frayed out the edge of the seam. tisk tisk) There are raw edges but it still looks good to me.

  I only bought those domed studs in Nickel and Gold and the only place I know of to get them is Tai Lam St. If you want the hardware to match you will have to send it to me. I have nylon zippers in a lot of colors but only have Black, Nickel, and Brass sliders. What color do you have in mind for the bag?

  Your bag does have a retro look to me, as was shown in the picture of the bag I made in the 70's which I showed you.

Your design has some of the same shape but with more of the strap and buckle thing that has been popular lately. I'm not real crazy about either and don't like to load up the bags with things that aren't functional, or don't appear to be functional. I'm slowly coming around to it, and am now willing to go so far as to admit that hardware serves a function and adds to the style if it is only a focal point for the eye.
  I'm wondering if you can run the straps for the feet up farther so that they appear to work with the straps on the flap, or would that change the look too much for you? I do like how they look now, I just wonder "Why?", when I look at the buckles on the flap.

  Styles seem to be going down two different tracks. The bags below are going one way...

I like them... they are real nice and a real piece of work... but I guess I'm stuck in a rut. I like the bags which are more traditional and less trendy like the ones below. I guess it's because they look like leather bags.

The bag below is the closest to making a bag with a lot of hardware on it that I've done so far. I think I'm going to find this one a challenge.

Greetings Henry,

You have certainly put your neck on the line with this venture. When I was at the Leather College I always made the point that any design must be fuctional & fit for the purpose intended, access should be easy & it should if intended be put into production be easy to make. Now this one looks good on paper & it is well illustrated & I must complment the young lady on her drawing skills.

There are some maufacturing problems & design faults that will soon rear their head. You are right feet or domes on a bag without reinforcements are not realy prctical however firm the leather selected. Even bridle leather will soften in use & stiff leather will make that seam hard to stitch although it could be done by hand stitching.

The main poblem lies in the incorporation of a zip in the flap. It is not going to be easy to get anything in or out, When the flap is open the zip pocket is going to be upside down. Now if someone leaves the zip undone the contents will come out. The intended use of that pocket would be coins & with no side gussets to that pocket it is going to be set between the flap & a lining. the bulge made by the coins will be at the botton of the pocket which will make the proposed magnetic catch imposible to engage.

There are a few minor points that need attention like over long points to the handle straps at the sides which will curle in use, if adjustment is required then strap loops on the gusset would help.

Don't get me wrong it is a good effort & the young lady should consider becoming & designer. But to get designs into production it is wise to remember that a manufacturer may only employ one competent craftsman the rest are bench hands with limited skills & machinists. A designer must realise that any design will have to be capable of being made up in a factory. If it is to complicated or takes to long to make it will not be cost effective.

The series of manuals that I am writting are equal to that 2 year full time Advanced Craft Course we ran At Corwainers (Now defunct) & they are invaluable to anyone aspiring to become an expert craftsman.

Incidently Manual No.1 covers all types of strap making as well as cutting & costing & hand stitching in fact all the fundamentals.

Regards Francis

  What I was considering doing about the strap attachment and strap for the feet was to split the leather for the straps and glue them back to back giving a grain side on the top and bottom. Then they are less likely to curl and if they do it's just part of the look. The one that I can't go with is the loose end on the flap zipper placket. I see no reason not to sew that down. There are going to be raw edges on them which was always a no no for me, but I now have and edge coating that finishes them off really well. I have even seen it used on really expensive bags. They have been able to simplify the manufacture of bags a lot by using this product.
  I wouldn't use lining material on the back of the flap, it would be too floppy, I would use leather. I feel the same way about flap pockets as you do. I always assume they are never used and are just for looks. I would have to put a piece of lining in there though that gets sewn to the top of the zipper and flap edges, to keep anything in there from falling to the back of the flap when the flap is opened. The flap edges will just be cut edges also. I can't imagine lining up those three layers close enough for even this new coating to cover properly. It right away makes me want to put binding on it and I may. Otherwise the bag will end up looking like a cheap import.
  The main problem for me is top stitching the gusset, as I have mentioned. The other is attaching the flap. I asked her about this and she said fold it and sew it down. This means extra thicknesses. It's hard enough to skive it thin enough as it is especially with the strap ends in there. I visualize trying to sew it, breaking needles, and having it look crooked. I plan to make the back in two pieces with a seam where the flap attaches so I can slip the flap end straight into it. That will give me a straight seam line for the eye to follow instead of the folded flap and straps. On a production bag the bottom piece would be lining material, saving a little leather, since it's inside the back pocket.
  I would want to put keeper loops on the strap near the rings but this is her design and that looseness ties in with the loose strap ends I guess.
  As for production I don't see any real hang ups. I feel like I've made it before. It's about the size and shape of the Cutie bag I make. The gusset could have a center bottom seam, for better cutting. Now, if she wanted the feet straps sewn down... there would be real problems. The bag is basicly simple enough. The strap will add to the cost. There is more leather there than you might think, (since its double), and has a lot of sewing, skiving, and hardware.
  Well, Francis...
  What is lurking back there is the question of what this bag would sell for, and who would the customer be. I kind of mentioned this to Dawn when I questioned the size. I think that making it a little bigger would add more value to the bag than the added cost of material, and would cost no more for labor. For the purpose of this bag, that isn't a consideration, but normally, being able to sell the product is the only reason for the design process to happen at all. That is another long discussion that I don't want to spend time on here but, as for making a custom bag, it's important to note how much time is spent working out details before leather is even cut. Once I know in my mind how I will make everything, and have all materials on hand, actually cutting it and making it is the easy part.
  This part of the construction process is omitted from the How to make a leather handbag tutorial

Hi Henry,
  * I have attached a picture of vintage cognac leather bag with brass hardware for your reference. I would like my bag in such a color combination - thick cognac leather (no embossment), heavy stitches in matching color, raw edges with black edge paint, and brass hardware.
  * Do you have that leather? Or is your leather color #5 and its finish very close to that?
  * To coordinate with your gold metal studs, I hope to use brass metal zip on the flap and front panel. Will you send me a small swatch of the leather to be used so that I can go to Tai Lam Street and get you brass metal zip with zipper cloth in matching cognac color? Please advise the length needed as well.
  * I may also try to send the brass/ gold pin buckles too. Though the pin buckles on the flap are not functional, they help make the look complete.
  * Noted that top stitching the gusset is the major problem. Please change to sew the gusset inside out on your flat machine and turn. In this case, can I keep all other details unchanged?
  * Regarding stiffness of the bag, I believe you have got what I mean. I just do not want too much reinforcement.
  * I want to keep the straps on flap and bottom as they are now, instead of joining them.

Dawn, I sent you a swatch of the Cedar leather which is the closest to what you want. I sent a piece sewn with different colors of thread. I probably won't know which is which. You should be able to decide on the size of the zipper. The problem is that the zipper will be brass. That doesn't match gold and brass plate doesn't match brass. Good polished solid brass is hard to get. The retro stuff was brass zippers with antique brass finish hardware.

Even the gold finish can be different from different makers and unless you are using enough to have all your hardware made by the same company it's hard to match everything. The way around this is to use all Nickel hardware.

Hi Henry,

I have got the following for the custom handbag:

* square pin buckle 3/4" (same design as my drawing) in gold color, 10 pcs - I planned to use 5/8" straps and buckles. But I found that this buckle in 5/8" was low in quality and did not come in gold color. Yet the same thing in 3/4" width was available in gold and better quality in another shore. As I thought that the bag can be enlarged a little by 20% proportionally to get the same look, I bought the latter finally. Please let me know if it will be OK. * metal (brass) zipper with dark brown cloth, 1 yard - yes, I know that brass does not look the same as gold. But I still prefer brass to nylon zipper. As for zipper cloth color, it is now darker than your leather. I think it is fine as I hope that the zipper cloth color will match the edge sealer as painted on the leather you sent that I really love. I think it will look great that way. * thread color - You did a few row of stitches on the piece of leather with edge paint. I like the lightest color and cut it and put it in a small plastic bag in the package. But I would like it in heavier thread. I think if you have heavier thread in this kind of natural color, it will also be great.

As Wendy has not yet called me, if you think I have missed anything, please let me know. Best regards, Dawn

Handbag started Feb 23

I made the Flap first, it was the most interesting.

This shows How I covered the bottom edge of the flap under the pocket lining.

I am terribly sorry that I could not reply until today. I want to thank you for describing the pattern making procedures in so much detail! Though my drawings may show some nice looking handbag designs, I am sure knowledge in handbag production will help me do a much better job as a designer. In Hong Kong where I am living and working, I can hardly find a class or even a good book about handbag and pattern making. I knew a handbag pattern/ sample maker and planner living in China, when we worked for the same company (but in different offices) producing handbags for the US market. He is willing to teach me. But he has to work 6 days a week and needs to get home in another city to see his family on Sundays. So this is such a great gift that you show us so much from your experience.

I found 2 photos showing the flap and saw the change you had made to the buckles and straps. To me it does not make a big difference to the overall look. But it seems that the flap is a little bit too sturdy and heavy. Is it due to too many details - buckles, straps, metal zip and pocket that add weight to the flap? Will it help if we keep reinforcement/ stiffening material to a minimum? But I believe you know how to get a right balance.

I look forward to seeing how you assemble the bag body soon.

Best regards, Dawn

Dawn, Yes the problem is that the flap is too heavy and stiff for the rest of the bag. It would have been less so if I had used lining under the flap instead of leather. To me that looks cheap and that isn't what I want to make. There is also the problem of the mag snap fastener which I didn't want to have fastened to only lining material. Perhaps it could come through the top and be covered by the buckle fastener strap and have been sturdy enough. While the flap is firm it isn't unmanageable, and has a good solid feel. I think all that is necessary is to replace the lining in the back pocket with leather so that the flap attachment point is more substantial. I am not able to top stitch the gusset and Larry Dark hasn't come through with the post machine, so I am thinking of using binding on that seam under the top collar. This will give more shape to the gusset as shown on your mechanical drawing side/end view. This has an important effect on the lining. If the gusset is top stitched, the lining is inserted like a bag and hangs from the top seam. Usually it is thin material and made a little big so that it is supported by the leather and will have extra material inside that will someday show a few wrinkles. My lining is not that thin and soft so it has to be just the right size if inserted that way. It is strong enough to carry the weight of the contents without support from the leather. If sewn with the seams out and bound, the lining can be cut with the same pattern as the front, back, and gusset. It is applied to those pieces and sewn into the seams with the leather. This gives a nice interior with the lining fitting exactly and reinforcing the leather.

Hi Henry,

I am pleased to hear that you have used leather instead of fabric under the flap for durability and better quality.

It sounds great that you are going to bind the side panel seams under top collar for a neat interior. But I have a question - do you think the bag will look a little bit odd with the bottom straps across front panel, bottom and back panel? A bag bound looks rather different from those turned or top stitched, as both front and back panels usually turn inwards in the way as the attached photo shows. If I want to keep the look as per my sketch, I will have to stuff the bag well meaning it will become more and more heavier. Is it possible to have it turned and stitched? or done with a binding as thin as possible?

As for the metal feet, I found in the photos that they were not in dome shape that I personally prefer much for this bag. As these studs are used and seen on both flap, body and bottom, I hope it is not too late to change them. Please advise your comments.

Best regards, Dawn

You really know this stuff! Yes, binding will tend to curl the sides like that because of drag in the binding folder. The operator has to hold back on the material on the corners as it is being sewn so more binding is pulled in. That is how I got the flap to lie flat instead of being cupped. The techinical drawing shows a more ridgid edge that binding would provide while your drawing shows a more buxom look. You are right about the straps across the bottom ... that is one of the reasons I didn't continue with the binding. Two different bags can be made using the same pattern if one is bound and the other has turned seams. I'll try to make turned seams, perhaps just cementing the seams back without top stitching. The studs are 1/4" high, 3/8" dia. at the bottom and 1/16" less at the top. I got them when I was in Hong Kong and they are all I have. If you want different ones you will have to send them.

  Dawn said the studs I have will be ok so let's get working on this bag again. I was wondering if I should start over and make the flap less stiff when fate intervened. When finishing the window trim in the studio some varnish got on the handbag flap... save the hardware and it's into the trash. I cut out the flap parts again and this time split the large front and back pannels. I stuck the zipper to the facing with my seam tape then stuck that to the flap and sewed it down.

  You can see the leather through the open zipper. I then cut a slit in the leather and from the back inserted sissors and cut away the leather up to the stitch line. That's a lot easier than cutting the slot first and trying to line everything up. Then I sewed on the other stuff and bound the edge to finish the flap.

  Even though the flap is now more flexable, the other stuff did stiffen it up some, so I decided to add some stiffener to the back. I skived the edge thinner so it would blend in better and kept it away from the edge so that both sides of the gusset would have the same feel when I was done. I sewed through the stiffener when I top stitched the pocket lining to the bottom of the flap and sewed the stiffener to the top of the facing above the pocket.

  Next step was to sew on the gusset, fold it back and top stitch it. I was able to do this on my flat machine.

  Oh, forgot about the mag snaps. I did that next by going in through the pocket on the flap. I then sewed the zipper into the front of the bag and sewed it to the gusset. I make a notch in the center of the front and gusset, line the notches up and start sewing there in the center bottom, then flip it over and sew in the other direction starting at the center again. This keeps the bag from coming out with the front and back twisted out of alignment.

  This is the post machine that I bought from "Reliable" Sewing Machine. They have yet to send me the proper parts. I did manage to fit the bobbin cover by cutting down the incorrect part they sent, making the hinge wider and cutting and welding it back in the correct position. They sent the wrong spring to keep it shut, but what's new. It seems to stay closed without it anyway. You can see that the throat plate is still the one that was modified for a binder. I have to watch for seams on the bottom of the work catching on that shoulder. I used this machine to top stitch the front half of the gusset.

  Next step was to put on the bottom feet. I wanted the bottom firmer so I glued in another thickness of leather to the inside of the gusset bottom. About an inch beyond the seam across the bottom to the same distance beyond the other seam. My next problem was that the dome spots I have, only have one size stud, which was too short to go through that thickness. I used a 9D rivet stud instead which seemed to work. Dawn, if they fail you can get longer studs and install them through the bottom lining and from inside the front and back pockets.   To line up with the straps on the flap the studs would have had to go through the stitch line. I didn't want to do that so I moved them to the side a little but with the straps still covering the seams in the gusset. You can change the gusset pattern a little if you want to correct this.

  I use a cylinder machine to sew the collars onto the bag and lining. I have fitted a roller guide to this machine.

  So now I insert the lining, stick the top edges together with seam tape and top stitch them together.

Then it's just a matter of putting on the other half of the mag snaps to close the flap. It's hard to figure in advance how much to allow for the flap coming over the top of the bag but I was within 1/4" of my marks.

  All that's left now are the straps... straps use a lot of leather and take longer than you think. These have their problems. One is that the drawing shows the drop measurement... one presumes, even though they are shown in a fanciful artistic curve. What I really need is a length measurement. I don't have one so I guess. The next thing is the way the center strap folds back. I sew the center then turn it over and sew the ends on the other side so that I don't have the bobbin side showing when I fold it back. Look at the drawing again. How are those buckles attached anyway?? they aren't! Well I did it that way then hand sewed the straps together a couple stitches beyond the buckle to hold them in place. The way this would normally be done is to use a slot punch where the strap folds, thread on the buckle, then bring the loose end back through the buckle again. The center bar of the buckle would show on the back of the strap if done that way... so I did it her way instead.

And then... IT'S FINISHED!!

  These pictures don't seem to do it justice. I did get a larger size than originally proposed (that I wanted) and the proportions are what I would have to call powerful. It's big enough to be taken seriously and to carry the hardware without looking over burdened or over sized.

  Something to note. You know the internet right? These photos were not reworked in photo shop and the handbag was not stuffed with anything. Dawn, you have the bag and the patterns... lets see what you can do with them.

Dawn's latest design

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