Update: I made another one of these, with new leather and red linen for the bottom.
I’ve been using a blue “pukkel” (a Dutch marines supply bag that looks a bit like a haversack, very common in the Netherlands) every day the last couple of years. It’s made out of virtually indestructible canvas, it’s simple and I think it has a certain aesthetic to it that I love. It has a couple of disadvantages: it’s a bit small, and especially a bit too narrow. It wont comfortably fit an A4 sized notepad. And even though it’s small, I always have a hard time finding my stuff in it, since it has no pockets or dividers, it’s just one big compartment.
I decided to make my own bag for everyday use, and totally customize it to my own needs. It would need to be small enough to comfortably carry around every day, and stay on my back while cycling, but big enough to do groceries on my way back from class or work. It would need to be waterproof, preferably dirt proof, ideally bulletproof (well, I mean, durable). I chose not to make the bag out of leather only. I’ve had leather bags before, and I’ve always found them a bit heavy. I chose to use waxed long-fiber organic linen as my main material. It’s extremely tough, not too expensive and very versatile. Since I wax it myself, with my homemade greenland wax, I can also dye it any color I like. I used Dylon Navy Blue hand wash dye for the bottom of this bag. For the lining I used an organic hemp/cotton mixture which is soft and flexible, yet heavy and durable. The flap is made of recycled veg-tanned leather. It came from an old messenger bag that sustained heavy water damage. It was my favorite bag because of the high quality leather used, and luckily I could salvage this largely undamaged piece from it. The strap attached to the flap was cut from this same piece. The carrying strap used to be an old belt, it might have been part of some horse tack or something.
Using recycled materials for most expensive parts has both advantages and disadvantages. It’s nice to not pay big bucks for top quality leather, of course. Vintage leather, if it has been cared for properly, can also have a great patina from use and oxidation over time. It can also be ruined if neglected. I personally find it very difficult to take something apart that’s not broken. If it can still be used and appreciated as it is, I can’t recycle it. The bag and belt I recycled were perfect for this project: the bag had too much damage to use as it was, but had enough undamaged leather left to recycle. The belt was freakishly long and totally unsuitable to wear, but ideal for this project. Using recycled materials becomes a problem, however, when I have to make another one of these bags for a paying costumer. Either I pay a lot more for materials that don’t quite look the same, or I spend a lot of time and effort to find more vintage materials that are just broken enough to recycle.
To make the bag, I started off by making sort of a “box” out of waxed linen. I attached the blue bottom to the outside and sewed together the sides inside out. To create a neat seam, I folded over the sides. This was really easy, since the linen is pliable from the wax. Then, to create the bottom and sides, I sewed across the corners.
For the lining I took a piece of fabric of the same dimensions as the outside of the bag. I first hand-stitched on the leather pockets, one for pens and one for small items with a little flap that closes with a snap. On the other side I sowed on a pocket made out of fabric to put my tablet in. Then I sowed the sides of the bag together, not inside out. To create the bottom and sides, here too I stitched across the corners. then I sewed the lining to the outside of the bag.
Now the fabric parts of the bag were essentially finished. The picture below shows the leather I used in the bag, before cutting them to size and attaching them to the bag. The only new leather used is the light colored strap. I used this to make a strap inside the bag that keeps the sides together. This comes in handy especially when I put a lot in the bag. The strap prevents the sides from leaning out too far, causing stuff to fall out and rain to fall in.
The strap inside the bag also served the purpose of strengthening the place where the carrying strap is attached to the bag. The strap is attached with book screws that go through holes that are punched in the sides, that could stretch or tear the fabric if not backed by something like a piece of leather. I chose to hand stitch the strap around the clasp for aesthetic reasons.
I then hand-stitched the flap to the bag. I used a saddle stitch with thick, pre-waxed linen thread for all the leather parts. The bag didn’t fit in my stitching pony, so I used these little binder clips to hold things together.
I was so caught up in the work that I forgot to take pictures of the last steps of the process, but here’s the final result:
I made a little “floor” out of real Cedar of Lebanon to put in the bag. It gives it more stability and rigidity, looks awesome and smells great. I’ve used it for a couple of weeks now and it works great.