Big heaps of thanks to Julie for taking the time to write this super useful - and thrifty - post on how get some leather bag strap action on your bags!
Julie loves sewing and writing about crafts. You can find more how-to articles by Julie at at Serious Sewing and How to History.
If you fancy buying ready made leather bag straps & handles you can always check ours out :)
Guest post by Julie Anne Eason
Leather adds a touch of elegance and class to any handmade bag, and one of the easiest ways to add leather to your creations is with the handles or straps. They're soft, sturdy and best of all, don't usually need to be hemmed or finished in any way. Most people don't hang out with the local leatherworker, so it can sometimes seem intimidating to think about adding this versatile element to your bags. But the techniques aren't difficult. And if you're worried about where you might find the materials, I'm going to show you how to find fabulous leather straps --Cheap!
First, let's take a field trip
When I first decided I wanted to try working with leather, I had no idea where to get my hands on some. This was way before the Internet, and craft stores hadn't yet started carrying leather supplies. These days you can easily order leather online, but it can be expensive and you'll still need special tools to work it. Don't despair, intrepid bag-maker. A fine array of leather straps, buckles and brass findings is available, if you know where to look. All you have to do is start thinking "recycle." Or "upcycle" is the trendy term these days. The best source for handbag straps is old leather belts, shoes and scraps salvaged from worn out purses and even leather coats.
Your first stop should be your own closet. Then check yard sales, flea markets, charity shops and the like. You're looking for lengths of leather, metal rings, interesting buckles and findings. Sometimes you can score a lifetime supply of these treasures for next to nothing. The best part about recycling leather like this is you don't have to do anything to cut or shape the strap. It's all ready to be attached to your bag. Don't worry if the piece you find is too short or too long, we can fix that. So, go scavenge the neighborhood and don't forget to ask your friends and family if they have any unwanted items in their closets. Free supplies!
Next, let's look at how leather straps are attached to most bags
Start paying attention to how straps are attached to fine leather bags in your local shops. When you look closely, they are almost always done in two parts. There's a short piece attached to the bag with a metal ring of some sort. Then the strap itself is attached to the ring. You rarely see the strap attached directly to the bag. I'm not sure if there's a reason for this, other than that it's pretty. And it allows you to adjust the strap on your shoulder or in your hand without putting added stress on the bag itself. The ring doesn't have to be round; it can be any closed shape. (it could be an open hook shape, too. But be aware the strap may come unhooked from time to time.)
Be creative with your "rings." You can use old costume jewellery, toys or shoe decorations. Some of my favorite pieces come from the hardware store or antique shops.
Now let's learn the basic leather skills for attaching the straps
So, you've got a strap or two you like. And you've got some interesting findings. How do you get them on your bag? Well, you have a couple of options.
Machine sew it: If you happen to have an industrial sewing machine for leather, you can just sew right through almost anything. Just sew a double line of stitches and you're done. Some high-end home machines like the Bernina 950 will tolerate lightweight or garment leathers. But don't risk damaging your machine on heavier straps.
Hand sew it: Hand stitching leather, especially thick leather, requires heavy weight thread (preferably waxed linen), special needles and you may need a metal awl to pre-punch the holes before you push the needle through. There is a special locking stitch you'll want to use when sewing your straps. This stitch uses one thread and two needles, one on each end of the thread. You'll be forming a knot in the middle of the leather, so if for some reason the thread breaks with wear, the whole seam won't come undone.
You can stitch a couple of straight lines across the strap to hold it in place, or work some decorative stitching like a box or an "X". There's a great leather hand stitching video here.
Rivet it: I love rivets. They're decorative, functional, cheap and easy to use. You'll want to get a bag of "jiffy rivets" or "two piece rivets" from you local craft store. If you have a cobbler in town, they may be able to sell you a box. Or you can order them online. They come in two pieces--a shank and a cap. Here's how they work:
You cut a small hole through all the layers you want to rivet together (make sure it's smaller than the rivet itself, or it will pull out.) Then push the shank through the hole from the back and gently press the cap on top. Place the rivet on a hard surface and hit the cap end a couple of times with a hammer until it is seated firmly. An anvil or piece of metal is ideal, but you can also use a piece of scrap wood. Sometimes the rivets will come with a small "anvil" and "rivet set." These tools keep the domed caps of the rivets nice and round, even after pounding on them with a hammer. But I like the way they look when they're smashed flat, too. So, don't worry about it too much if you only have access to rivets and a hammer. If you don't have a leather punch on hand for cutting holes, you can use a paper punch for thin leather or sometimes a nail will work. Just hammer the nail into the leather (with a piece of scrap wood behind it), then pull the nail out. Here's a video on how to set a double cap rivet.
Finally, let's fit all the pieces together
You can certainly decide to stitch or rivet the strap directly to the bag. But as I mentioned before, most handles are done in two parts connected by a ring. There's a short tab piece, which you attach to the bag, and the strap itself. You'll want to connect the shorter tab piece first. Sew or rivet a tab of leather through the ring. Then either attach it to the outside of the bag, or cut a slit in your bag and slide the tab to the inside and attach it there. Be mindful of what you plan to carry in the bag. If you're going to be toting anything heavy like books or a computer, you'll want to reinforce the tabs or your fabric will sag and the straps could pull out. Also, if you're using a loose weave fabric, you'll want to reinforce as well. Just cut a tab of thin leather or canvas and use it like a washer to keep the strap fastened securely. With the tab secured to your bag, all you have to do is attach the main body of the strap to the ring. Put one end of the strap through the ring and then fold it back on itself and secure by sewing or riveting. Then repeat on the other side.
This is where you can get creative with embellishments or lengthen/shortening the strap. If your leather piece is too small, you can add extra rings or embellishments in between the leather and the tab. You can also attach the strap to a snap-type swivel hook. Then it's a simple matter of snapping the hook to the ring. The hook itself takes up room and lengthens the strap. That's all there is to it! Beware, though, scavenging for straps and findings can get addictive. You may find yourself unable to pass by another thrift store or yard sale again.