Learning something new can be so stressful. I suggest doing your research first or finding a mentor to help you. When you just have ambition this doesn’t always happen and sometimes lessons are best learned from mistakes. I am willing to share mine here today with you.

This year, for my August birthday, I wanted to sit in the air conditioned house and replicate a leather bag I love. I learn a lot the hard way, that’s okay.


I found measuring my bag and cutting all of my pieces with a ruler, cutting mat and rotary blade was the easiest. It took me most of the morning to cut, measure and decode the original bags construction.

No problems, yet! I cut my bag just an inch larger so my red wallet would zip in. You can see my wallet hanging out just a little below in the original blue bag.

The best advice I can give when starting something new is to remember the first, and some times the second thing, you make is always a practice project. Can you tell these are my first two pocket plackets that I cut in the above photo? 

Plackets are the coverings for raw edges on pockets, necklines, arm holes that are connected to the cuffs, pants and in little girls dresses where they button up. They help strengthen and reinforce where zippers, snaps and buttons will go.

These are purely a design element with my bag.

After I cut my pieces from the outer bag I cleaned my space and started cutting the lining pieces. The lining had 1 pocket on the inside and the two placket pockets on the outside. All was still going good with this project!


If you are spending an entire morning cutting and measuring something new you may consider breaking your project up into two day sessions to keep yourself from getting project fatigue. Tired eyes make mistakes and negative feelings come when mistakes are made.


I went ahead and prepped all of my zippers using the button bar tack stitch on my sewing machine. This means I can take any long zipper and make it shorter.

Here is where the problems started!

Mistakes I Made.

Remember leather makes a big dirty mess, again I’m wearing white and my shorts are covered in leather particles.


Even using my walking foot and making placement markings the placket covers still slipped around. I found out I should have applied fast drying leather glue first to hold them in place later.

Remember, you can’t remove leather stitches because they leave permanent holes in the material. Also, leather cannot be pinned for this reason and this placket is in the center of the bag Clips will not work either. My first placket is crooked by 1/4 inch on the front of my bag.


I needed longer stitches, heavier thread and a leather needle. Everything looked great from the outside. I noticed later that the underside had loose stitches. This did not happen on the last project because it was not as thick. A youtube video, or five, informed me I needed to tighten the tension. So, the real tip here is a simple one – test your stitches first on different thicknesses and look at the back of your project for bad stitches.

The Leather Bag

I should have interfaced the outer layers of the bag to give it structure and a professional look.

The Lining

I should have made the lining just a 1/2 inch larger than the outer leather shell because it sits in the inside of my bag and is just a bit shorter. This makes the top lip pull in and sag due to the weight of what is in the bag. Just a little bit larger and it would have saved it from sagging.

The Worst

I tried to rush and finish my bag before a pool party. I had one hour and all my bag needed was the straps. Easy right? Never ever think something you have never tried to do before is going to be easy. After another hour of Youtube I still had no answers to why my machine would not sew on the thickness of the straps.

At this point my bag turned me into the kind of person to stay away from!

Watching closely I noticed that the needle pulled the strap layers up on each stitch and this was why the stitch would not catch.

I set the bag aside and started looking at other leather bags and how they were made.

Being on the Kettering Arts Council and volunteering I have access to meet, talk and ask questions to so many wonderful artist and it must have been my lucky day!

At Art on the Commons I met a leather bag maker, owner of Last Chance Leather that kindly told me exactly what to do. The simple procedure to blow your mind.

To keep the thick leather stitches on the straps from skipping due to the needle pulling them up can be solved by taking a fork and bending the middle prongs up. Then using that fork around your foot to hold the layers down.

I am so thankful for the advice. Now I can carry my mess of a bag proudly and hope to have a more successful part 3 in 2019.

Behind the scenes~

Want to take one of my classes?

Thank you for reading,

Tracy McElfresh

Dream It! Sew It!


Tracy McElfresh