Leather Knapsack Prototype

Why do this?

In my life-long quest for better designs and finer gear, I am constantly on some sort of hare-brained mission to make something new.  Some readers may remember the earlier backpack I made and eventually traded off to a new owner.   My friend Jacob, even made a fine copy for himself and it now lives happily in Botswana, hopefully seeing many great adventures.

Snapshot of the pack, ready for waxing.

Leather and Brass? (or, what the hell were you thinking?)

One thing that can be said about real leather is that it will, barring some mishap, last a lifetime but eventually fade back into to earth, leaving little trace.  Leather is strong, wears well, is abrasion and heat-resistant, feels good to the touch, and cannot be beat for beauty.  While I considered antler for buckles, I decided to go with a slightly more modern closures and fasteners made from solid brass.  As I use antler in most of my creations, I chose to make a few well-shaped toggles as practical accents.

The downside? These materials are heavier than modern, lightweight materials but, for me, the trade-off is completely worth it.

It begins with the little things. There are many repetitive steps in large projects such as this.

This backpack started off as some daydreaming and sketches on graph paper sometime last November but other projects and commitments made me set it aside again and again.  This was good though; it allowed me to rethink the plans and make modifications as they occurred to me in the quiet hours of the night.

The harness system took some time, thought, and modelling before work could commence.

What were the design parameters?

Design is always the toughest part when creating something new.  I’ve been looking at handcrafted bags and packs for years so I’m sure there are a thousand images bouncing around inside my skull influencing the composition of this piece.  Honestly, choosing a size was the most puzzling part of all for me.  I’m a biggish guy and have a tendency to go big when I make gear so I was determined to keep this one reigned in.

Once the more difficult decisions were made, cutting and sewing could begin.

I already had a “look”  in mind and already decided on the construction technique.  Should it be a six panel body for easier layout or single panel around the body for a more seamless build?  Should it be sewn, laced, or riveted and what pockets does it need?  Will it be “turned” (seams hidden inside) or will the closings be visible?  Finally, where to begin construction?  We can’t close the body until the external sewing is done so pockets and straps were a good place to start.

Not long after getting most of the parts gathered and cut, I found myself wounded, with only one arm for practical use.  This slowed down sewing to a crawl.  What should take fifteen minutes took over two hours so this bag became an exercise in patience.

Still, I managed to make headway and the pack came together over several weeks.

A “turned” pocket freshly attached to the body.

Maybe not my prettiest stitching ever, but as it will be mine, and not for sale, I will still cherish every flaw.

Large pocket accessible with the main flap closed.

As a prototype, there were changes that must be made on the fly but overall I was happy with the design.

The shoulder straps were made to be replaceable without too much hassle and are long enough to accommodate a heavy coat in winter.

A carry handle was a heavy debate in my mind but makes a lot of sense for modern travel.

Each side has a slip pocket, tie down D rings and a compression strap at the top of the pack.

Bottoms up! I was able to place a scar in the hide on the bottom of the bag. The two rectangular patches are for blanket straps.

Details – brass rivets, antler toggles, and beautiful leather called for a heavy pillow ticking to serve as the liner.

Waiting to be packed for an adventure. I hope to get it waxed and outside later this week. Hopefully, I’ll get some photos of the new pack in use.

  Specifications:

  • Materials – 8 ounce veg tanned leather body, 4 – 5 ounce leather pockets, brass and antler
  • Height – 16 inches
  • Width – 12 inches
  • Depth – 6 inches
  • Weight – 5 pounds

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Selfies of your hand-made gear?

Work from the Leather Shop

  • Long, cold nights in the Midwest. 
  • Limited mobility due to injury. 
  • A need to create new things
  • A desire to fund my trips later this year…

This is a recipe for high productivity in the workshop.

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Hot off the workbench.

Fortunately, I have a fairly large stockpile of leather and supplies to see me through my projects as I find inspiration in different projects.  I am leaning toward things that have been popular in the past years but if anyone has ideas or suggestions, I will gladly consider them.

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Sam Browne button in solid brass.

This is my travel wallet design.  It’s a simple clutch-style document case to keep things safely stowed when you want more than a card wallet.

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Simple, rugged design.

No frills but elegant in its own way, this one was left natural color and rubbed with dubbin (a mix of neatsfoot oil and beeswax).  Full-grain veg-tanned leather like this ages beautifully and takes on a golden brown patina.  This wallet should outlive its owner.

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Hand stitching.

As always, the stitching is double-needle saddle-stitch for strength and hard-wearing.  If you are interested in this or similar goods, please check out our new Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/LostWorldCrafts or just click the banner below.  We hope to have the site fully running and stocked with new goodies in the coming weeks.

lostworldcrafts

 

A Leather Purse and Wallet

Here is a shop update on a couple of the many leatherworking projects undertaken lately.   I decided to use up all the leather I have been storing and put it to good use.  I have about 100 projects I’d like to make for myself but the Yule season is coming, gifts are expected in many quarters, and we have an invite to show our wares at a local crafts fair.  So, without further fanfare…

A waxed leather bucket-style purse. I hear these are the rage in certain groups now. I remember seeing many in this style back in the 1980s coming out of Morocco and Spain.

And I decided to make a few bomb-proof wallets of various designs to go with it.

A surprising amount of work can go into even a relatively small project like this.

Temporarily gluing the welt to the bottom.

Sizing the bottom to the side before sewing.

The exposed welt after sewing and turning the bag.

Marking and punching the holes. Tiresome for the hands.

Choosing an appropriate lining; strong and beautiful.

Drawstring added, holding the leather edge biding while sewing.

The ‘ears’ for holding the shoulder strap sewn on, strap attached, and it is done!

The antler toggle helps keep the bag secure and adds a bit of primitive flash.

Difficult to photograph, but the liner gives the bag some class and a feeling of “completeness.”

This is a new traveler’s wallet design. Three pockets, large capacity to hold money, cards, and passport.

This one might be a bit too small to hold a check book but not a lot of us carry those these days.

The button stud is a favorite closure of mine as it is simple and effective without the need for a large hole.

After a quick buffing, the wax shines up nicely. This one should last a lifetime.

Making a Minimalist Wallet

I try to live by the creed of learning and making something good every day.

The Minimalist Wallet

As we have been pondering the holiday season it seemed a good time to get a jump on some leatherworking projects I’ve had in mind the past few months.  This morning, before getting to work on other chores, I decided to take a little time and work out a slightly modified Minimalist Wallet.  If you have followed this blog for long, you may have seen a couple earlier wallet projects we shared HERE and HERE.  This isn’t a complicated project and might be a good one to start with if you trying your hand at leatherworking for the first time.

The All-Encompassing Symbol of the Age

Making the Pattern –

It would be pretty optimistic to just dive in and start cutting out a wallet without knowing what needs to fit.  I used a debit card for scale as there will inevitably be a couple of these in just about any modern traveler’s pocket.  I didn’t put a lot of time into the pattern as I have made a similar style before and knew the basics of what I wanted; essentially two pockets and very little sewing.

A Bit of Sloppy Origami to Test the Dimensions

To create two pockets, there needs to be three layers; two on the outside and one to divide.  To make the cards more accessible, the outer pocket will be a “reveal” and I chose to do this the simplest way possible, by a diagonal straight line.

Test Fitting and Trimming the Draft Pattern

I ended up tightening the width and lengthening the entirety just a bit from my original estimates for a better fit.  The difficult part is over.

The Draft is Transferred to Stiff Bristol Board for Multiple Uses

After the pattern is transferred to the card stock, it can be used many times without fuss.  It is a good idea to label your patterns before storage as they begin to look alike when you amass a large folder of them (was this a pocket, part of a shoe, some sort of handle cover?).

Getting Down to Business –

The next step is to cut out the pattern on appropriate leather.  I’m using Hermann Oak 1.5 mm tooling side that was leftover from an earlier project.  Neatness in cutting is very important as it will affect the look of the entire piece if the cuts are even a millimeter or two off or wavering in any way.  Since most people seem to prefer dark leathers for this sort of thing I chose to dye it Medium Brown with Fiebings Leather Dye.

Wet with Dye

After the dye sets you’re free to move on.  I started by marking and awling the stitching holes at about a 5 mm increment.  I will admit, this was not my straightest set of stitching lines ever.

Punching the Holes

I almost always use a double needle saddle stitch when sewing leather as it is the best and strongest choice in most cases.  I chose a contrasting thread to give it a fine finished look.

Finishing Up

And finally, the edges were dyed again and burnished to create a smooth, finished look.  Overall, I’m quite satisfied with the outcome.  This one will be the prototype to work from and I’ll be able to take a little more care now that I have learned from this one.  If I ever get around to making enough to sell, I’ll put them on my Etsy Store.

To view this project on Instructables, click the link here: Minimalist Wallet

I have a slightly more complex project laid out for later.  If I take the time to document it, I’ll post it up here.

Tanning Leather: Not a Lost Art

Many years ago, in Morocco, I was able to tour an ancient tannery and see some of the process of creating beautiful leather.  I use leather for many projects and although I do some brain tanning myself, I purchase all of my truly “tanned” leathers from others.

Click the image to visit the Moroccan National Tourist Office on Facebook

Click the image to visit the Moroccan National Tourist Office
on Facebook. If you are interested in a description of the tannery at Fez, have a look at Becca’s post about it over on AlwaysCarryOn.

One very important lesson about tanning I learned in Africa was that I never want to work in a African tannery when it’s 100 degrees in the shade.  The smell makes a feed lot in Texas almost seem habitable and hits one in the face like a dense fog.

Well anyway, Markus at the huarache blog has done it again… forced me to steal his excellent article and link to his great research in Mexico.  The post gets a very close inside look into the tanning process; a somewhat secretive business in my experience.

img_0237img_0646img_0160Great set-up for the beams.  Spacious, indoors with a cleanable floor.

img_0218I think anyone who has tanned hides will appreciate this solid set-up.

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img_0782This is just a picture preview.  For much more in-depth information, have a look at the article on the Huarache Blog by clicking here.

I appreciate this work so much for having done some myself.  Tanning hides is tough, back-breaking labor that goes unappreciated.  It’s good to know that there are still folks out there keeping these important skills alive.  More importantly, to know that there are alternatives to corporate factories producing little more than garbage and waste.  It must be tough on these small family businesses but I hope, for all our sakes, that they find a way to survive.

http://huaracheblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/taller-de-curtiduria-gonzalez-making-the-best-vegetable-tanned-huarache-leather/

Hide Tanning 1769

Here are some images from hide tanning workshops from Diderot’s Encyclopedia, 1769 that I found interesting as a leather worker and occasional hide tanner.

Tools for the tanner, the beam, currier knife, slick, tub, and the heater. From the Encyclopedia of Sciences, Arts and Trades, Diderot and D’Alembert.

Chamoiseur, From the Encyclopedia of Sciences, Arts and Trades, Diderot and D’Alembert.

If you have done any hide tanning you’ll recognize the tools of the trade.  Not much changes for the small-time home tanner.

From the Encyclopedia of Sciences, Arts and Trades, Diderot and D’Alembert.

I suspect this is some hot and smelly work and judging by the way they’re dressed it is a hot room.  The only large traditional tannery I have visited was in Morocco and it had an odor on a hot summer day that hit you like a brick wall.  I’m not sure what they’re doing with the fire at this stage but maybe adding some amount of smoke rather than heat.

Any thoughts or insights?

Making the Possibles Bag

Several years ago, I made a shoulder bag that I still often carry today.  It is the perfect size for a small field bag or hunting pouch.  It was a lot fun looking at various designs, mostly from the 18th century to try and come up with something that would fit my needs.

My bag, several years and many miles later.

When I first joined Boy Scouts at about age eleven, I envisioned myself as a mountain man-explorer who was going to learn to live off the land.  The first merit badge book I bought with my little money was Wilderness Survival and it spoke of the possibles bag that  early explorers carried that kept everything they needed to live off the land and cover every emergency.  At least, that’s how I remember it.  Later, as a an actual wilderness explorer, traveler, and archaeologist, I learned to appreciate the “kit” bag on a more realistic level, and how this bag transforms for different purposes and places one travels.  It is the unsealed* survival kit to be used and replenished as needed based on the situation. My current favorites, though too big for general daily wear, are the Mountainsmith Approach pack and my Filson Medium Field Bag.  I can live out of either almost indefinitely and both make handsome weekender bags.

On to the Shoulder Bag

After much deliberation and review of mostly 18th century gear I decided I wanted a small outside pocket, a small inside pocket, a larger, closable outside pocket for important things like a compass, and main compartment large enough to hold a notebook and daily essentials.  I decided to make the main flap in a stitched-down style so that it would keep things in, even if it wasn’t buckled shut.

In the end, I went with a fairly standard English-American shooting bag style as seen above.  It works well for me and after using it for several years now, I don’t believe I would change anything about it.

 

Dimensions: the body of the bag is 9 x 10″ with a gusset exposed at 1″.  Reinforced ears, riveted for strength.  All stitching is two needle saddle stitch, except the body, which is laced.  Three pockets, and a 1 1/4″ shoulder strap, adjustable by about 12″.

All the parts of the body except the main gusset.

When laying out a complex sewing project like this, you need to decide in what order to begin the assembly.  The back wall of the bag has an internal and external pocket that were sewn down first (beginning with the smaller one inside).

Outer pocket attached.

The outer pocket has a gusset that was sewn inside-out before being sewn down to the front wall of the bag.  You’ll probably notice that the edges of the flaps are raw but if I were using thinner leather I would bind them with a soft buckskin or something similar.  The raw edges were smoothed and burnished to create a nicer look than just a sharp cut edge.

The assembled bag.

Finished!  It’s hard to gauge work time but since that is generally the first thing anyone asks I will estimate about eight hours of stitching and assembly for this project.  There is one inside patch pocket, an outside rear pocket, and a gusseted pocket under the flap.  Eleven pieces plus the strap (four pieces).  Hardware includes a one inch bridle buckle, a 5/8″ buckle, and two solid one inch “D” rings.

 

Now, what to keep in it…

*The modern sealed survival kit was developed for conscripted soldiers and airmen to keep them from rifling through and using up the goods and having nothing when they truly need it.  This has carried over into survival-skills-for-morons programs world-wide and creates a product to be sold and consumed by the inept.  If you cannot trust yourself to update, change, use, and modify the contents of your personal survival kit, by all means make or buy one and seal it up, awaiting the day it will come in handy.  If nothing else, you can enjoy all the surprises you will find while you wait for someone to rescue you.  ~GTC

Medieval Turnshoes

I’m re-sharing an older post of some experimental turnshoes I made quite a few years ago.  These were based on some Scandinavian examples from the archaeological record.  They came out pretty good for a first try.  My only modification would be to tighten the width through the arch and lengthen the toe area slightly.  I have since learned that this problem has been well-understood for centuries by shoe makers and is why modern shoe lasts often look long and narrow to the amateur eye.

Finally “finished” enough.  These were rubbed down with a “tea” made from walnut juice, worn dry, and later oiled.

This was my first attempt at a proper turnshoe.  Basically a variation on the shoes worn in Europe and parts of Asia from the Iron Age (ca. 500 B.C.) through the early modern times (ca. 1700s).  This pair is made without a last (form) so construction is similar to other moccasin-type shoes.  There are quite a large number of early shoes found in archaeological contexts in Europe so many designs are known.  This is inspired by, but not slavish to, shoes found in the British Isles and Scandinavia in the early part of the last millennium.

I was sorry to not document the pattern making but, as can be figured, the upper is a single piece side-seam make by wrapping the foot, marking a rough outline of the plane where the upper meets the sole, cutting off the wrapping, and cutting to shape.  Really, I’ll try to make record of this in the future but, for now, I suspect there are other tutorials out there.  Besides sewing, the turning is definitely the toughest job as this was some very thick, tough leather.

Still damp from the turning and shaping.

My slightly sloppy side-seam.

Ghillies (simple shoes) again

Here’s a simple shoe design that was made by our ancestors before there were shoe shops or Zappos.  Much of the Europe population, both male and female wore a variation of this for many millenia, right up into the early 20th century.  They are commonly associated with their Celtic cousins in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland but they are essentially the same as the simplest Roman carbatina.  Essentially, it’s a basic European shoe.

I made a set of these around 1986 with a little instruction from an Eighteenth Century reenactor and loved how simple they were to make.  My experience up that point was with Native American style moccasins the difficulty I had with sewing in those days.  This was a perfect option for me and I find that it is a popular class when I offer it as an introduction to leather working and moccasin making.

While this isn’t exactly a tutorial, it does provide the basic information necessary to get started on a pair for yourself.  I would suggest a pattern to be cut from heavy cloth before diving into cutting valuable leather just to get the fit right.  It’s a forgiving design so,

Don’t Panic.

pattern and finished

pattern and finished

rear view

rear view

sewn heel

sewn heel

lacing the toe

lacing the toe

after wetting and shaping

after wetting and shaping

drying before oiling

drying before oiling

And finally, six years later, they still function well.  The soles are getting thin so it’s almost time to renew them.  Fortunately, a pattern can easily be made and adjusted from the old pair by wetting them, letting them dry flat, and using that as a starting point.

dsc_0130-3 dsc_0127-5Dive on in.

Save

Save

Huaraches!

There are still Huaraches north of old Mexico.  As I prepare to resole my huaraches I thought it might be good to look back on them as a very viable hand-made shoe.

For a long time while searching for huarache construction techniques, I could only find the simplest tire sandals and many links to “barefoot” style running sandals.  However, a few years ago, I found Markus Kittner’s Huarache Blog and scoured it for inspiration and design secrets from real huaracheros in old Mexico.  He has done excellent work in documenting the process.

My first beautiful huaraches drying after being soaked to shape to my foot.  They were subsequently oiled and slicked down.  I owe much to the Huarache blog for so many great images and descriptions of traditional huaraches.

As a craftsman of sorts, I understand that making a “one-off” of something does not imply expertise.  Only replication builds a real understanding and mastery of the object being produced. However, this is not my first leather working or shoemaking project but a major improvement on a theme.  This style shoe is made on a last.  The shoe lasts I purchased on Ebay have finally been used to actually make a shoe.  I documented the process as it came together as best I could; my mistakes and changes included in the process.  This is not really a “how to” recipe for making a huarache but shows the process I used.

The lasts I found on Ebay.  The sole cut out, punched for strapping and nailed to the last.

The last shown here fits me well but are an Oxford dress shoe style, meaning they run a little long in the toe.  As I am making an open-toe design, I let the last hang over slightly in the front, squaring the sole to the shape of my actual foot.  New lasts are pricey (ca. 50 euros/$70 US), but I think it will pay in the long run to invest in a better design for myself and those people I might make shoes for.

Wetting out the first strap.

I didn’t show the strap cutting process as there is little to be learned about that.  It is a skill in itself, even if you have a strap cutter.  My Osbourne strap cutter can be seen in the upper right of this photo

Since this project was experimental, I used scrap leather, meaning I could only get about three foot (one meter) straps.  In future, I’ll probably use 6 foot or longer pieces (2+ meters).

Nailing the strap to the last.

I pre-punched holes in the mid-sole and away we go.  A little tallow on the straps helps cut the friction of the leather but ended up being not worth the trouble.  They were kept damp throughout the process.

Placing the twining thong.

This is a signature of the style I chose.  The vamp or tongue-like piece was later removed as I didn’t like the way it looked.  I’ll experiment more with that later.

Lacing and twining.

Unlike normal, I completely finished the first shoe and removed it from the last to check size and shape to determine any major changes that would need to be made.

A heel piece was added and laced up the back. I think this step shows the evolution of the strap sandal to the modern huarache.

The straps running under the mid-sole look like a problem here but are ultimately skived down, dampened, and hammered flat.

Straps ends as added in. Longer straps would lessen the ends here.

I used simple wire nails (as is traditional) to attach the soles but sewing would work too.

Ends to be trimmed and skived, and a finished sole.

Pulled from the last, they actually matched.  I don’t know why I was surprised but that made me really happy.

Preparing to nail the sole.

The method I chose to attach the rubber is fast and efficient, and I suspect rather tough.  The nails are pressed through the leather and rubber into a thick leather scrap below.  Otherwise, you would need to pry it up from the work board.  One surprise I learned over time was that the nails actually wore off on the underside before the rubber.

Nailing the sole.

Bending the nails in preparation for clinching.

The nails are bent over (inward) to prepare to “clinch” them.  There are no photos of this part of the process but this was done by setting the shoe back upright on a small anvil and hammering the nails down tight with a punch.  The pre-bending causes the nail to curl inward and back up into the sole.  Voila!  The Huaraches below have about five miles of hiking on them now and they’re beginning to have some character.

Huaraches you say?  Do tough guys wear such things?  In an era of cheap, slave-made garments, its easy to forget how self-reliant our ancestors were for such things as raiment. I include this photo of Capitan Alcantar I found on the Huarache Blog as a great historical image of a man of action wearing his huaraches and ready for war.

Click the image for more historic photos like this.

I hope this prompts someone out there in the world to take on the project of making their own shoes, whether for survival, uniqueness, or just as a challenge.  Making for yourself is a small act of revolution against a bad system.