How It’s Made

Behind the Scenes at Bags by Jo

One of the best parts of buying a Bags by Jo bag is that you know who made it, and that it was created with the utmost attention to detail. Here is a summary of my process which I hope will give you a window into the beautiful process of making leather goods.

 

Everything I make starts with an idea. Most of the time, I get inspired to create something either by the expressed desire of a customer, or by creative ideas that come to me when I realize there is an unfulfilled need or an opportunity to create something beautiful. These ideas materialize initially as sketches.

 

Sketch of a Design for a Bag
Sketch of a Duffel Bag

This sketch comes to life when I make a pattern. I do this using cardboard or stiff paper and work at producing something that can be used multiple times. I basically create a paper version of what I will be fashioning out of leather.

Sunglasses case pattern
Pattern of my retro sunglasses case

 

The next step is to find the right leather. I go to Tandy leather in Fort Worth to get leather, tools and dyes. Leather comes in all shapes, sizes, textures and weights, so it is key to figure out what leather matches the project.

Vegetable Tanned Leather
Leather Hides
Cubbies full of leather hides
Rows and rows of choices

Once I have found the perfect leather for the project, I use the pattern I have made to cut out the pieces which I will be stitching together. I cut using a rotary cutter for long lines, an X-Acto knife for the hard to reach places, and a strap cutter for long, thin pieces.

Cut Pieces of Leather
Pieces for a men’s wallet

If the product I am making requires a special color of leather, this is the point at which I dye the leather pieces.

Hand Dyeing Vegetable Tanned Leather

 

This process includes dyeing the leather to the right color intensity, and then finishing it with a leather finish.

I have the pieces which will ultimately come together to create the product, but at this point, I add any snaps, do any stamping, and punch any holes that will be needed later on. Once the pieces are stitched together it is too difficult to do these things, so I plan ahead.

The next step is to glue the pieces of leather together and stitch the leather. To stitch the leather, if I am hand stitching, I first cut a groove where the stitches will be to allow them to lay lower than the surface of the leather. This helps protect the stitches. I then punch holes using a chisel and mallet, and use blunt needles to stitch through with a figure eight stitch called the “saddle stitch”.

Hand Stitching Leather
Hand Stitching a Fold-Over Wallet

Otherwise, I use my Cobra leather sewing machine. I use the machine for large areas that need to be sewed since sewing by hand is time consuming.

The last step is to bevel and burnish the edges to seal the leather and give it a nice polished look. To do this, I use the beveler to cut off the sharp corner and then I use a product called gum tragacanth to seal the edges. I burnish the edges by creating friction with an edge slicker. The result is a beautiful smooth edge that lasts the lifetime of the product.

IMG_3141
Finished edges

And there you have it- a peek into what goes on in my studio. Each item is unique and has it’s own process that reflects the characteristics of the product. Check out my leather shop page to see the finished products, or submit a custom order to create something of your own!