Photo Credit: Sew News

Celebrate summer with fresh sewing patterns and techniques from Sew News magazine! From wearables to stylish home décor projects to innovative techniques to take your sewing to the next level, the experts have got your summer sewing needs covered.

sew news june:july 2015Inside on page 74, you’ll find my Simple & Chic Camie project with full instructions to draft your own, along with step-by-step construction methods. The June/July 2015 issue is available now online digitally or at your local newsstand.


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Screenshot 2015-06-10 14.11.57

Leather can be a very forgiving material to work with in bag-making projects. It is supple yet durable and hard-wearing. However it does required a different approach than that of sewing cloth. Depending on what type of leather you use and how thick the sample is, it may be a task to manipulate it into the right size and shape for your needs. For the most part, smaller animal skins means the leather is thinner, making it appropriate for sewing with a conventional home sewing machine yet it also means the square area is often not large enough to cut out one solid piece for big projects and joining is required to make the final size required for your design. This is particularly true when trying to create bag strapping.

Skiving is the process used in bag-making to reduce the thickness of leather, especially in areas that are to be bent or folded and which must be pliable without becoming weakened. It is usually performed on the “flesh” side of a piece of leather rather than the “finished” side, and results as a “bevel” on the leather’s thickness to thin it out and reduce bulk.

Generally it is most often done along the edges of the leather where joins are formed, at the end of straps to allow for a better fitting of buckles or where handles are to be sewn into place and if done carefully, can even thin a very small area of leather around a punched hole to allow for a depressed hidden rivet. The latter can also be used to allow a secure set-up for a snap fastener or a bag clasp that would otherwise be slightly too thick for the length of the snap post.

skive angle

Safety first:

  • Be careful when working with extremely sharp blades.
  • Use new blades with each project; a razor sharp edge on your knife is essential.
  • Granite slab or glass works best for a hard smooth cutting surface
  • Work on an uncluttered solid flat surface that is well-lit.
  • Use woodworker’s safety tape on your fingers if desired.
  • This is not a process to engage in when you are distracted or tired.

Choose the appropriate tool for the job. For skiving an edge along which a stitched or riveted join will be done it is probably most easily achieved with a straight skiving knife (aka a skife) or a Mackay knife. You will find that a sharp utility blade will work as well. Whatever type of blade you use, make sure it is extremely sharp. Place the leather face down, with the fleshy side up. Bevel your edges by holding your skiving blade at the angle you need for your bevel – for shallower bevels, hold the knife more horizontal to the surface of the leather, for a deeper bevel, hold it more perpendicular. Slide the blade along the edge while placing tension on the hide with the fingers of your non-cutting hand. Push the back of the blade with the index finger of the same hand for a smooth edge.

skiving tools

“skife (above); Mackay knife (below)”

With the skife, simply place the leather on a flat work surface and hold firmly in place. Hold the leather firmly down on a hard and clean surface such as granite. Choose a work surface that is smooth and cannot be damaged if your blade slips and cuts into it.

Hold the blade at a low angle with the tip against the edge of the leather. Slice in a fluid motion to bevel the edge of the leather. The tool should be towards one end of the leather, protruding over the edge and resting at a slight angle as illustrated.


Apply enough pressure for the blade to bite into the leather and carefully draw the tool towards you, trimming the edge as you go. The depth of the cut (and therefore the thickness of the leather remaining) is dictated both by the amount of downward pressure exerted and by the angle at which you hold the knife itself; usually between 30 and 45 degrees.

To use a Mackay knife or utility blade, skive mckaythe action is pretty much the same as the skife except you are pushing the blade away from you rather than drawing towards you. Also there is no guard or other guiding fence on how deep you cut; it is purely down to your own control over the blade itself and holding the leather firmly. One slip and it could easily ruin your leather piece and possibly your fingers. Little and often is the key here. You can always keep going over the leather, removing thin strips each time. Remember, you can always take it away but you can’t add it back on. Repeat the skiving motions all over the surface of your leather until you have thinned your piece down to the thickness you wish.

There you have it. Bevel those edges and keep a steady hand.

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Bag straps are the backbone of any fashion handbag. They are often the first element you think about when you begin to design. Ask yourself if you will carry the bag over your shoulder, across your chest, in the crook of your arm, or in your hand.
Do consider how sturdy and resilient the handles need to be, whether there will be one or two straps, if they will be made from the same fabric as the bag, whether they will be structured or soft, and if they will incorporate a chain or other hardware.
Your design decisions will influence how and where the straps attach to the bag. Strap styles vary greatly. They can be part of the bag body, as in a hobo style, or made separately out of self-fabric, leather, Lucite®, bangles, beaded strands, simple utilitarian nylon webbing, or basic chains in everything from ordinary metals to more ornate and precious ones. Strap lengths can vary widely, and they can be adjustable. They can attach side to side, as in an east-west formation, or you can have double straps with one attached to the front and one to the back. Be sure to consider comfort when deciding on a strap style. For example, a metal chain can be a beautiful choice, but it’s neither comfortable nor practical to use on a bag that will hang from your shoulder all day. Try to create options in how the strapping is configured to your bag design to further enhance its versatility. Design at least two strap choices for every handbag so that you have the option of carrying the bag in several ways, such as integrating the first strap into the overall design concept and make the second one, inconspicuous and perhaps detachable.

Cut two strips of thin leather in 2-inch and 1-inch widths to the desired length. Set aside the 1-inch strip, which will become the facing (the brown piece shown in the photo). Working on the wrong side of the 2-inch strip, lightly brush with leather rubber cement. Wait a few minutes, until the cement becomes tacky to the touch. Fold both long edges so they meet at the center. Press firmly. Place the strap on a hard surface (granite works best) and roll flat using a seam brayer. Next, add the facing to the strap. Spread the cement on the backs of the facing strip and strap. After it becomes cloudy and tacky, align the long edges and press the strips together. Roll the strapping flat with a seam brayer. Let the glue settle and dry, then topstitch the strap with parallel rows of stitching. To hide the thread ends, use a hand needle to draw the loose ends into the layers and trim. Use a leather hole punch to pierce holes for connecting bag hardware.


Fuse the narrower strip to the wider turned edged strip for a clean finish and topstitch

Using the correct needle size makes all the difference. When sewing heavy canvas-type fabrics use a size 16 or 18 needle. Use a denim needle when sewing denim and a wedge leather needle for leathers. To allow for the extra thickness of fabric, you should also lengthen your stitch length to between 3 and 4. You need a longer stitch to accommodate the thicker fabric; using a smaller-sized needle and a shorter stitch may cause your machine to jam or the needle to break.

When shopping for glue to attach the back facing to the strapping, check the label on the bottle or tube to make certain that the product you purchase works well on a variety of handbag materials including fabric, metal, and plastics.


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Photo: Courtesy of Fine Leatherworking

Thought I’d share with you some insight on leather crafters.

You might want to surf over to Fine Leathercrafting and read Sean’s blog on the subject.

I absolutely concur with his advice to “refine, refine and refine more until you think you can do no better; then get your work out there.”

Oh, by the way, I am not the polite gentleman LOL!

P.S. Take a look at his product line in the Store section too.


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sew award

Congratz to all my friends at Craftsy.com.

Craftsy has been voted the WINNER in the Best For Sewing Workshops/Courses category in the British Sewing Awards 2014 run by “SEW” magazine. It has been my great pleasure to be affiliated with the Craftsy organization and honoured to be associated with many talented design colleagues, all notable experts in their field. If you wish to  learn more about Craftsy and its community of passionate designers and crafters featuring online classes about all your favourite crafts, check out my STORE page for my top picks, as well as my own online class, MAKING LEATHER BAGS.

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be dior

Photo courtesy of French Vogue

” be dior bag”                               

For your little design zen for today, the Be Dior bag …introduced at the Fall/Winter 2014-2015 collection shows. Watch how it is made, exclusively on Vogue.fr as the expert craftsmen at Dior takes us through each step of making their latest it-bag, from the precise leather-cutting, to the different pieces coming together and the neat stitching to finish.



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Photo Credits: Nyla Noor

“look at it from all angles”

In my mail lately, I have been receiving select jpegs and requests for pattern-drafts based on that chosen item. Upon viewing each submission I often question,  Why am I being asked to draft such a basic bag design?” In my mind’s eye or is it my designer’s brain, I visualize a simple pattern shape. I have to ask, “Why aren’t you seeing it too?

Now if I was being naughty, I’d suspect someone wanted me to do their design homework for them, yet in all truthfulness I’m guessing that those new to the world of fashion design haven’t developed their spatial skills.

Visualization or what is known as, spatial perception in fashion design includes images, symbols, scale diagrams, cutaway diagrams, cross-sections, production flow charts, specification worksheets, technical flats, 3-dimensional illustrations, and flat pattern-making techniques to develop a new product. Along with scheduling time lines, mood & story boards, and other graphic designs to communicate the idea or new concept, these  mental skills are used by designers and manufacturers to bring new products to the marketplace. All require a high degree of visual literacy or visual/spatial abilities and skills.

As for the pattern-drafting, the design and formation of any fashion bag is based upon simple body shapes when laid flat, fit into a square or rectangle, of which the size depends on the final shape and parameters of the pattern. In other words, it’s a box.

Now visualize that box with handles for toting around. Don’t let the “bells and whistles” distract you from the basic shape. Look for the pattern grid(https://bagntell.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/pattern-grids-an-invisible-foundation/) by identifying the elements you plan to use throughout your design. Think out a rough shape, the approximate size of the square or rectangle in your mind. Every bag design has some kind of top finishing which often provides the focal point of the style – the bag ‘opening’; it can be a flap, a frame, a zipper, or a draw-cord detail. The ‘body’ will have 5 planes: front, back, bottom, and 2 ends. The beauty of designing your own is that you can change at will the dimensions of the body cavity, shorten or lengthen straps, add pockets to create your own bag style from scratch. And if you’re like me, it’s easy to take creative risks if you can visualize the finished prototype in your mind’s eye.

Of course creating or adapting a pattern does require a lot of confidence in your spatial skills. In other words, you’ve got to be able to translate a 3-dimensional finished product to a 2-dimensional pattern; or the cutting pieces themselves, if you’re feeling bold and skipping the pattern all together.

What are spatial skills? Basically, they’re what we all use to mentally view objects from all angles…top, front, and side views, from top to bottom. If you’re good at reading a map or solving puzzles, you probably have strong spatial skills. If you “see” the pieces of a bag style, you’ve got it going on the ball.

But if you can’t seem to find your way around your cutting room or if pattern pieces never seem to mentally translate to the finished product, never fear! You can boost those skills with a little practice. Being able to mentally transform 3-D figures to their 2-D equivalents– and vice versa– can be tricky, but there is no special talent required.

If you only recently graduated from school or have recently moved to new abodes, you probably know something about “nets.” Nets are the 2-D representations of 3-D shapes. You know those cardboard boxes that you can buy flattened out and then assemble when you need them? These are examples of “nets”, with regard to visual or spatial perception: First it’s a “cube” net, then it’s a moving box!


Making patterns are much the same. Whenever you do clothing construction or sew up fashion accessories, you start out with flat pattern pieces (2-dimensional). In geometry, these shapes are nets, the foundation of spatial thinking. When we cut them out of the fabric, they’re flat and they may not look at all like what they’re meant to be. A collar may look like a semi-circle at first. Attach it to the neckline, and it curves over the shoulder and around your neck. And like magic, this pattern transforms into an actual collar (3-dimensional).

Zipper bags, tablet sleeves, wallets, and other little organizing carry-alls work the same way. Take a look at these pattern drafts for various bag styles. All began as a flat piece(s) of material.

pattern bag templates 2_Fotor

But you don’t have to completely depend on your mental spatial skills to create or alter a pattern. If you’ve cut the pattern out of paper, just fold and curve it to see if it works. I often do this even if I think I know what I’m doing…. call it “sewing-in-paper”. Many times, the curved pieces of a pattern end up looking more like straight seams on the finished piece. That collar is a perfect example: the curve is actually the inner edge of the collar that sewn into the neckline, while the straight side is folded on itself around the neck, which appears round on the body.

And of course you can always verify your assumptions by making up a mock-up of your design. I do this when I’m trying a new pattern I’ve created or altered, or when the pattern is complex enough and my fabric is expensive enough or in limited supply. It’s a simple case of “measure twice, cut once”.

If your mock-up doesn’t turn out don’t lose faith in your abilities and above all, value these mistakes. Believe it or not, mistakes can be beneficial.  They cause us to search for a different and often better way.  They facilitate experimentation with new materials, techniques, or styles.  Mistakes or challenges (as I like to call them) are an important part of the design process because they provide unique opportunities for creativity. Always make a toile or muslin fitting to test your pattern before cutting into your fashion fabric. Don’t be disappointed if it does not ‘turn out ‘ on the first attempt as planned; that is what creating mock-ups are for. These mock-ups allow you to modify the end result, correct the pattern, and work out the sewing/assembly process.

Now you may ask “ How do I develop my spatial abilities?” Sketch every day and sketch everything.  Keep a record of your ideas in a sketch book. Redesign – redraw – renew your ideas.

  • Draw everyday objects, close-up, and far away.
  • Draw cross sections of objects that have been cut in half, such as fruit or vegetables
  • Draw objects from feeling them through a sock or in a bag.
  • Identify paths through mazes. routes on maps, paths created in  trademark/logos to create visual objects.
  • Look for differences in drawings with discrepant details.
  • Find Waldo, Where’s Waldo and other similar puzzle books.
  • Observe optical illusions.
  • Drawings from observing objects through a microscope, hand lens, telescope, or binoculars. Make drawings from another person’s descriptions.
  • Compare real objects with photographs or drawings of the objects.
  • Create scrapbooks of objects as they change over time.
  • Drawing a plant from day to day or season to season.
  • Drawing interactions of other objects.
  • Activities that involve figure rotations, reflections, projections, and pattern recognition.
  • Use of pattern blocks, attribute games, Geoblocks, Unifix cubes, Cuisenaire rods and cubes.
  • Brainstorm with drawings and story board collages.

So, if you’re resisting the urge to create your own patterns or alter one that you love, turn on your math brain, do some sketches and let your spatial skills work for you.


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