Some people (and you know who you are) have been bugging me to see the new, non-holster wares that I’ve been working up. I was kind of dragging my heels on this until I had a few examples of stuff that I’ve done for review. So, without further delay – Lady and Gentleman, the original prototype designs from Haute Couture Leather and Sac De Cuir by Michael…
Part 1: Sewing Machines
Well, maybe just a little delay… In all fairness, I have to give a little disclaimer/back-story before proceeding. When I got the sewing machine, I jumped right in and attempted to start making leather bags. I knew that the first one wouldn’t be perfect. Heck, I didn’t know anything about sewing! The ‘practice’ or ‘learning’ leather that I originally bought are four upholstery hides. These are not top-grain hides, mind you, but they are what is called a ‘finished split.’ This material is still attractive, but it is not nearly as tough as top-grain leather, which is the material from the top of the hide, as you might infer from the name. Split is more of an under layer of the skin. Usually split looks like a suede, but they will apply a finish to it which makes it look like grain, and that is an excellent, economical material for upholstery or other applications where you may want the beauty of leather, but it doesn’t need to be as tough as grain leather.
The first couple of ‘bags’ that I made were not ready for prime time. They were valuable classes in the School of Hard Knocks. Because I’ve been letting the creative juices flow freely, and unabashedly sewing away with all kinds of materials, I’ve quickly gone from not knowing beans about sewing all the way to producing viable products that have piqued the interest of those that see them.
I told you about the Juki industrial walking foot machine that I purchased. That machine is a brutal beast. At first, I kind of hated her. The machine stitches 1,800 stitches per minute and operates full-throttle on a clutch motor instead with a throttle-controlled foot pedal like a home machine. As in, it is either on or off. There is no slow going with it. It pulls like a horse. It will stitch through pretty much any material from light weight cloth all the way up to bone (I have heard stories). Imagine learning to drive on a supercar that runs either throttle open or throttle closed. Wrecks are inevitable. After using it for long enough, I have eventually learned how she works. Now, I’m beginning to enjoy stitching with this machine. That being said, I quickly learned that she shines on the heavier material. Although she is capable of stitching lighter fabrics with lighter threads, the settings to do so are touchy. It would be a major slow-down to go between light materials and heavy materials and back just because of all the setting adjustments and everything. It quickly became clear that I needed a light-duty machine.
Jenni and I have tended to be pack rats in the past. We don’t drag crap home like we used to anymore. Now, if we don’t have a clear and present need for whatever the object is, it’s not coming home with us. There was a point in time that we had three dining room tables. We don’t have a singular dining room to speak of. Jenni inherited her grandmother’s sewing machine – a Pfaff 130. I inherited my grandmother’s sewing machine – an Adler 589A. We still wound up picking up three other vintage sewing machines since then – two of which we believed to be a pair of Singers, but turned out to be a Singer model 66 made in 1926 and a similar vintage Japanese knock-off. The third machine was a Kenmore made by the White Sewing Machine Company in the thirties. This is a bizarre straight stitch sewing machine that actually spins backwards from anything else I’ve ever seen.
As far as I’m concerned, Jenni’s Pfaff is out of the question for my purposes. Although the Pfaff 130 is widely considered the toughest dressmaker machine ever made, I very simply will not risk breaking her grandma’s machine. When I got into my grandma’s Adler, I found that the timing belt has rotted out. Where we stand with it right now, I can order the belt out of Germany for some $35.00 (which I don’t really have right now), and anybody that can work on the thing is apparently dead. I’m hunting for a service manual for it to see if I can perform the replacement myself. I’m mechanically inclined and don’t see how it could possibly be all that complicated. If I had properly documented instructions, I ought to be able to git-er-dun. But, I can’t very well count on that for my upstart business either.
We douched out the old Kenmore with Gun Scrubber and reoiled it. The machine is strong. I need to rebuild the light, but it happily stitches through over 3/8-inch of calf or pig skin. Since I learned to hang on to my material tightly running the Juki, I wound up thinking that the Kenmore wouldn’t stitch a straight line, and concluded that the feed-dogs were worn out. So, I shelved it and got out the two ‘Singers.’
I quickly discovered that the one was a cheap, Japanese knock-off of a Singer and that the bottom end of it was rusted solid. So, I salvaged the motor off of it and threw the rest of the head in the dumpster. After a little research, I discovered the other to be a Singer Model 66 from 1926. I douched it out with Gun Scrubber and thoroughly oiled it. When I went to stitch with it, it reduced its motor wiring to a smoking, gooey mess. I replaced its motor with the one off the Japanese knock-off. It worked like a charm! We purchased extra bobbins and a light bulb for it. The check-out girl at the cash register asked us what we were working on. We told her a Singer 66. Even though the bobbin package was labeled ‘Singer 66′, the check-out girl seemed surprised. Apparently, this machine has been the benchmark for many machines in the last century. As I continued working with it, I found that it was skipping stitches. The hook is damaged. I can get a new hook for about $20.00, and replacement doesn’t look fun, but certainly more straight-forward than the timing belt on the Adler.
I started thinking that I needed to get a zig-zag machine going for some of my finer work. My mom has a Bernina 830 record that her mom bought for her in 1978. That has always been a fine, well-used machine. In fact, her mom purchased five copies of this machine at the same time in 1978. They were gifts to her daughters and daughters-in-law. Since this machine has a bit of a track record in my family, I decided to see what I could get one for. They seem to be selling on ebay for between $500 and $800. I found one that had been dropped and had some cosmetic damage for $200. I had just brought in some money for a job that I’d just completed, so after thorough investigation and research, I purchased the machine.
The Bernina 830 is a great machine, and will serve me well when I need a zig-zag. But, the model is really not capable of running some of the thread materials and weights that I want to with a light machine. So, although not exactly what I was hoping it would be, it promises to have a place in the industry that I’m currently setting up. Plus, it has a damaged hook, so it skips some stitches. The hook costs $70 and takes two seconds to install. I have used it on several of my projects, and will continue to use it, but I’m honestly looking forward to replacing it with better equipment.
I went back to the Kenmore for my light-heavy-duty (if that makes any sense at all.. medium duty?) work. Now, I’ve discovered that it stitches perfectly straight if you work with it instead of fighting it like you have to with a true industrial walking foot. The feed dogs are nice and sharp, but I was pulling the fabric and fighting the feed without realizing it. Frankly, I can see a place for all three – the Singer, Kenmore/White, and the Bernina. I still want to get my Adler fixed and Jenni will keep her Pfaff. Basically we have six goram sewing machines in this house that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’d really like to find one machine that will do what all three of these will. Until I can afford that, I’m stuck with the three. *Sigh…*
Part 2 – Goods
Alright! Here are the goodies! After fighting and cursing with my first few prototype bags, I got pissed off and made a realization. I get too elaborate. The first couple of concepts were simply too complicated for me to do right the first time around. After much cussing and throwing and hating the world, I decided to go back to basics. What’s more basic than anything else in the realm of a hand bag? How about a checkbook cover?
This one is made of red upholstery leather and lined in black pig skin. It is stitched together in Kevlar thread. We are actually using it for our checking account.
It’s possible that both of you have seen the picture of my trifold wallet on MyFace.
This one is lined in pigskin with pigskin pockets. But, the shell is in a carbon fiber/Kevlar twill cloth.
The entire thing is stitched together in Kevlar thread. This one is a promo piece for one of my buddies to take to his auto clubs. I’m sure they will want it badly.
Of course, I had to do a little testing on the concept for myself. Here’s a pic of the wallet that I’ve been carrying in the same materials:
I don’t carry a billfold. Here’s the interior of the wallet:
Behind the cards, there is a bill pocket on the left and another long pocket on the right. I have done a couple of hat bands as well. Here’s one that I did for a Marine friend of mine:
The hat is mine, and here’s the hat-band that’s normally on it. (Also made by me):
But, I know Falnfenix didn’t come here to read all about the sewing machines I’ve accumulated, or to look at pics of wallets and hat bands. She wants to see purses! Here is the first bag that I will reluctantly let see the light of day:
This one is lined in matching red wool under the red leather and red zipper (going for a theme):
The closed-end braided strap attaches to the bag with beautiful, round, nickel buckles:
Overall the bag is about 13-inches wide.
Next, I decided to design and sew a mini-messenger satchel. This is what Jenni is currently carrying, and it is incidentally my second prototype:
Much like the first, I attached the strap with nickle buckles.
The robin’s egg blue exterior is nicely balanced by the genuine silk fuchsia lining. Load-bearing side seams are stitched in heavy Kevlar thread and all the black top stitching is in top-quality, bonded nylon.
I attached pockets that hang from the top in the same leather as the shell.
There are three of them in there in different sizes.
This is the foreshadowing of what I’ve got up my sleeves. I can say with absolute certainty that these things will greatly improve quickly, but this is what I’ve got to offer right now. If there is anything that you specifically want in a top-of-the-line leather product, feel free to contact me.