You guys, I just had the best long weekend EVAH! See what happened was Gabriela from Chalk and Notch was coming into town to take a class at Fancy Tiger, and I was like, cool, let’s have dinner! And then a couple other people were like, hey, we’ll fly in too and just share an airbnb with you even though we’re not taking the class! And I was like, sweet! And the next thing I know, EIGHT AMAZING SEWISTS are coming into Denver for 4 days! WHAT?!?! Add in the 5 of us who are local and a couple more who joined us for dinner one night and it really turned into a party!
Anyway, we had the very best time and they picked this amazing airbnb that is a converted church, so it was really cool and the perfect space for a bunch of crazy sewists to get together and work on projects. The majority of our sewing centered on the Fringe Dress and the Range Backpack. I cut out my Fringe Dress but realized I didn’t have enough fabric, so I’ll have to wait to finish that one unfortunately, but here is my completed Range! After I posted a sneak peek of it on my IG story, I had a lot of people asking if I had any advice about sewing it in leather, so I decided to write up a post to tell you all about it!
I am so ridiculously, over-the-top excited about this bag. I still just stare at it and can’t believe my hands had anything to do with producing it. The Range Backpack is the newest pattern from Anna of Noodlehead, so that right there tells you it’ll be amazing. As soon as I saw a sneak peek I knew I HAD to have it, even though I am not a bag sewist by any means. I’ve been on etsy for months, maybe a year now, searching for the perfect cognac colored rustic leather rucksack type backpack. When I get something in my head I can’t let it go or settle for something that’s not exactly what I’m envisioning. It’s a sucky way to be, but that’s how it is, folks. So, like a dog with a bone I searched and never found the exact right bag. When I saw the preview for the Range I knew it would be PERFECT if I could find the right materials.
Luckily Anna sells hardware kits in her shop as well, and she had the exact color brass that I was hoping to use. One day last week I was near my local Tandy Leather and decided to stop in to see what they had. Lo and behold, the very first table had two hides in the EXACT color and weight that I wanted. And they were on sale. This bag was fated.
I also bought the natural straps from Tandy’s and dye to make them a bit darker. I really wanted the straps and hanging loop to be lighter than the bag, but darker than natural colored leather. I think I kinda nailed it. This is the “wheat” colored dye if you’re interested.
The only thing I didn’t have was a zipper, but angel in disguise Nicole brought 5 extra zippers with her on her trip and it matched my bag hardware beautifully! I owe her big!
The Range pattern includes measurements for cutting out all the pieces for the bag, which all start off as rectangles. Anna also includes a really handy page that has “labels” you can cut out and pin to each piece so you don’t forget what it is. Stroke of genius right there!
My first step was to lay out my two hides wrong side up. If you use a full cow hide you will only need one, but mine is calf and required two. I assume you’d need two lamb hides as well. The pattern pieces fit really well – there was never any question that they would all fit but they did use up basically the entire two hides with some useful scraps left over.
Next, I would recommend making paper pattern pieces for each piece so you can lay them out on the hides and figure out how to make them all fit. Fortunately 3 other ladies were making the Range, so I was kinda sneaky/lazy/efficient and just used the pieces they had already cut out as pattern pieces 🙂 Thanks for making my life easy, ladies! (be sure to check out their backpacks, which I’m sure they’ll be blogging soon! Leslie, Fleurine, and Nicole). Also helpful – leather doesn’t have to be cut on grain!
I traced the pieces on to the back of the hides using a regular pen and then also wrote on each piece what it was. Cutting all the pieces out was a breeze. And the very best part about using leather is that you don’t need interfacing and you really don’t need to line it either unless you want to. All of the leather bags that I fell in love with were just suede on the inside – no lining. You do sacrifice an interior pocket if you go that route though. I was very concerned about the number of layers I was going to be sewing through, so I eliminated bulk where ever possible.
In the interest of reducing bulk, I also cut all the pieces that were going to be folded (upper and lower closure straps, reinforcement strips) to their final width instead of folding them several times. Luckily Anna always tells you what the final width will be in the pattern so there’s no guess work. So several pieces on my bag are single width with raw edges and suede back, which I find to be totally acceptable and even pretty in leather. If you have an industrial machine you may be able to fold the leather strips once (but I would probably still cut them down rather than folding them the way you would if they were fabric.)
The only difficult parts of sewing the leather were going over bulky areas and holding things in place evenly where you’d normally use pins. Because the reinforcement straps are being sewn flat to the front and back of the bag, you can’t really secure them in the middle with clips. I did my best to keep them straight by just holding them in place and I think it worked out really well. Leather is pretty good about staying put as you’re sewing it as long as you keep two hands on it. For the bulky areas I trimmed as much seam allowance as possible and sometimes had to manually crank the wheel to get the needle to punch through, but for the most part my Bernina handled it like a champ with a size 14 needle. I was really worried about sewing the parts with the straps because they are thick and very stiff. But that proved to be not a problem either. I don’t like to knock sewing machines but in this case I will say that I doubt a brother or other lower end machine would have been able to do the job, so if you plan on sewing one in leather and don’t have a pretty decent machine, you might want to look into borrowing one or renting time on an industrial machine at a local shop if available.
Since I got to skip interfacing and lining my bag was done in only a few hours! I couldn’t believe how fast it was, even with taking breaks to snack and chat and check out what all the other ladies were sewing. I would venture to say that with the right machine and a nice drapey, thinner leather, sewing a leather bag was probably much easier than making one in fabric! I highly recommend it!
Thank you Anna for a wonderful pattern with very thorough instructions and tons of tips and tricks to help me out! I can’t recommend this pattern enough if anyone wants to make their own backpack!
LOL, much as I love you and your posts and patterns, my Brother brand loyalty got “triggered” =P I won’t hold it against you, though!
I’ve used my Brother Innovis to sew through multiple layers of leather and faux leather – a guy I used to work with was a biker and I’ve sewn patches onto many leather vests and jackets with my machine.
Tips for holding pieces in place on leather: chalk the outline of the patch/strap edge where you want it positioned and then keep the patch/strap aligned to the chalk mark as you sew it down. I have also used clear packing tape to hold multiple pieces in place; just be sure to not sew through it to avoid gunking up the needle.
Great job on the bag. Looks both professional and indestructible 😉
lol fair enough! I’ve only sewn on really cheap brothers (like the one that most people buy on amazon) and one time it wouldn’t even go through 4 layers of quilting cotton. I also troubleshoot a lot of issues for people and sadly it’s often because of the quality of their machine (not brother related, usually cost related unfortunately. I feel like when it comes to sewing machines you really get what you pay for.) I know brother does put out higher quality machines though, and they have great industrials and sergers! And obviously I’d be completely lost without my brother laser printer 😉
Thanks for the tips on keeping leather lined up! Hopefully anyone reading this post will read that too, it’s a great trick!
I tried to sew denim on my brother that everyone buys from Amazon and I can confirm it was a horror show! Belt loop bar tacks with the finest of fabric are interesting too. Speculate to accumulate! Love your bag!
Brittney Laidlaw says
I have serious bag envy!! You absolutely nailed this.
Beautiful!! Can you tell us what weight leather you used? Thank you!
I second the rec for Berninas – I’ve sewn through hugely thick fabric, including leather, and the machine didn’t even break a sweat. They are workhorses! Love the bag – I’m getting ready to make the Range Backpack (out of canvas, not leather). 🙂 But yours is beautiful!
forgot to leave you a high five here. Dang, it looks so good. Love that you did it in all leather. Love!!!
Ashley S says
Kids are home from school and I’m sitting on my couch reading through post after post on here and going, oh yeah! I forgot she made this! Oh yeah, this was super cute! Because I have no better thing to do and frankly, your site is my favorite site/blog ever to waste time on 🙂 🙂 I want to come to CO so I can stay at an airbnb and watch you sew! And that backpack is a dream. I’ve been pinning backpack patterns lately wanting to make one so maybe I’ll give the Range a try. But maybe in canvas instead of leather…leather is hard to source locally and I want to see it in person rather than buy online 😀
DO IT!!! Come sew with me! I want a canvas one too. I even have waxed canvas for whenever I get my butt in gear to make another one!
Love, love, love It! I have never sewed leather or canvas anything but I have just got to try. I love backpacks too. Do you have a pattern for an absolute newbie?
This one! I’m a backpack newbie, and have only sewn a couple other bags and I’m not very good at it. This one was fantastic! Really, anything by Noodlehead is going to be great, and she has some great tutorials on her blog if you need help!
Mariah Magagnotti says
I’m working my own way through a leather Range Backpack, and I’m having trouble finding where you see all the final sizes mentioned. Any tips? Its not in the cut list… Your bag is beautiful, thank you for the inspiration!