One more of the presents intended for Christmas – but this one needed to wait a little longer. Three months longer… A friend gave me part of a hide of leather, she’d been given it by a local interior designer, but knew she wouldn’t ever use it. She figured I’d make a skirt or something with it, but I had grander plans! I knew the pouch Daughter No1 was using for her laptop wasn’t the best, it was just a zippered pouch – and she needed something easier to carry it around in, but still keep it safe. So an idea was born, to make a laptop bag. Can’t be that hard, right??
I thought that before I concoct a pattern of my own that I’d check out what sort of patterns were available online, and quickly stumbled across the Laptop Bag pattern from Sew All Petite. It came in two sizes and – best of all – it was free!! Double checking the dimensions of the laptop in question, I realised I was going to have to make the large version (17″). The pattern as a PDF printed out on only a few pages and I was off. But there’s a problem with the pattern and some of the pieces didn’t line up, others were the wrong size to fit together. So I sorted that out in paper before cutting my precious leather!
Now, I have to say this. This is my first time using leather. I started the practice with making a couple of card wallets/holders with the Thread Theory pattern, which gave me an idea of how my machine was going to cope with the thickness of the leather and all the layers. It also let me know that there was no way I’d be able to use topstitching or even denim thread. I was going to have to work with just plain old Gutermann. My old Bernina was fine with one or two layers of leather and a 90 leather needle, but three layers required me to turn the fly wheel by hand. The card holder pattern instructions suggest using a light sandpaper to smooth the cutting marks from the edges and to rub them aftewards with beeswax. This seals the edges, so good idea. I used these tricks on the edges of the handles and long strap on the laptop bag.
Now for the bag. I decided I wanted to quilt the main pieces. This would add padding for the laptop to stop it being bashed about, and also make the outer layer nice and sturdy. For the lining I picked out a piece of doggie print cotton from the stash, and paired it with some of the left-over mustard cotton from my Sienna Maker Jacket for the bias trims. The zip for the inner pocket came from the stash, it didn’t need to be white or cream and the red stands out nicely.
The other notions were part of the reason why the Christmas present turned into a birthday present, 3 months later! I had trouble collecting all the goodies I needed. Either they were out of stock, or I just couldn’t get the right size in the right colour in the right material! In the end I got everything from the following suppliers;
- 1m of continuous zip and zip pull from Zipper Station
- Buckle, D rings and clips from U-Handbag
- Rivets (which I didn’t use in the end) from The Leather Goodie Company
I tried out a couple of quilting designs using some batting I’d got free from a local swap group and in the end chose a basic square pattern stitched on a 45 degree angle with 2.5cm spacing. I used a small amount of leather glue on the underside of the leather and smoothed the batting onto it to hold it together while stitching, drew the lines with tailor’s chalk and got going. It worked pretty well! I quilted the font and back main pieces, as well as the gusset. To give the upper sections of the bag support, I fused some canvas interfacing on (minus the seam allowances). So far so good! I cut the handles and strap in two pieces without seam allowances on the long sides and glued them together before sewing them. Basting was done on the macine and I turned the fly-wheel by hand to get through all three layers of leather. Thankfully the machine handled the topstitching of the handles and strap ok without me resorting to turning the wheel by hand!
I wanted the inside to be soft and safe against bumps too, so decided to interface the cotton with some medium weight weft insertion interfacing. It has made the inside feel rather luxurious! So far everything was going together well, zip was in, snaps were in – all good. But, I had to wait for parts and then other projects got in the way! Queue jumpers! Eventually more metal bits appeared and I cleared my head to finish the project. This started the hard part, putting the layers together, leather, batting, leather, interfacing, cotton… In the end, I used many, many clips to hold it all together and sewed it all together by turning the fly-wheel by hand. Let’s just say that’s no fun at all and it results in a large blister!!
There are things I’d definitely do differently if I make another bag with leather. I hadn’t fully appreciated the resulting bulk in certain areas, and would cut more of the bag without seam allowances – there are places where they aren’t needed and they layers could just be stitched together and the raw edges treated. If I’d thought more about how the bag went together in the beginning, a lot of time and effort could have been saved! In the end there were places that my machine just couldn’t get to, never mind stitch through, so I took it off to a local lady with an industrial machine. She managed some of it, but not all. It was up to me to figure out how to finish the bag!
In the end I used an awl and made holes through the almost 1cm of bulk and threaded a handsewing needle with topstitch thread and sewed those bulky areas by hand! I went backwards and forwards and over and over to make sure it was going to hold and knotted the thread nice and tightly afterwards! I hope I’ve done a good enough job!
Then it was time to attach the bias binding to all the seam allowances, as the lining isn’t separate and bagged out – it’s sewed to the outside pieces. I just did this by hand to save a lot of swearing and broken needles later. It took some time to do, but it was totally worth it! The seams are bulky, I beat them to death with a hammer and tried bevelling the edges and layering the seams, but they’re still chunky. Bound in mustard cotton, they don’t look too wrong though.
I’m really rather chuffed with the result – it looks fabulous from far! Just kidding – it looks good close up too! There’s a nice big outer pocket that closes with a magnetic snap, handles for carrying by hand and a nice long adjustable strap for slinging the bag across the body, or carrying on the shoulder. The long zip ensures plenty of room to slide a laptop and notebook in throught the opening without scratching the edges on the zip (another reason why I chose a plastic or nylon zip over a metal one). Inside, the bag has a zippered pocket for things you’d rather not loose, and two large pockets on the opposite side. These are the perfect size for cables, wires and chargers – keeping them away from the laptop and scratching it!
Daughter No1 was super impressed with her laptop bag, and as soon as offices are open again, it’ll be in constant use! In the meantime though, she can use it at home to store all her computer goodies in one place.
Will I make another?? Let me have a year or so to think that over… !