Making Handmade Handbags as a Self-Taught Designer

Seiko Industrial Sewing Machine used to sew handmade leather bags by Directive in Milwaukee

There was never a course in accessories or carry goods when I was in school. The extent of my soft-goods skill building came from years of making tiny embroidered cat and dog pillows, altering thrift store clothes, and a few DIY books from the library when I was a kid. That doesn't really make for high-quality leather work from the start.

My very first handmade bag, a bike messenger bag made of canvas in 2012.

(above, one of my first real bags, this one was a big turning point in my abilites in 2012 and the start of Directive)

Much of my skills have been learned the longest, hardest way- through trial and error.  There are a lot of mistakes, seconds, and embarrassing bags I have made.

Handpainted leather clutch by Directive Leather Goods

(above: handpainted leather pouch from early 2016 in the beginning of my deep dive into leatherworking techniques)

But, sometimes I see those past bags come in, well loved, needing a zipper replacement and I can see I had no idea what type of adhesive to use, or the best way to proper finish my stitching, or even that the leather I used made my work far more difficult to do.  I can see how far I have come.

Market Totes with handpainted patterns for a local jewelry designer. Made by Directive in 2016

(above: handpainted, leather bottom Market totes made in 2016 for a local jewelry designer- looking closely you can see my hardware attachments are all wrong and my skiving (thinning of the leather) abilities were non-existant)

As the leatherwork community online has grown, acquiring fine leatherworking skills has been exponentially easier and I no longer have to search through pages and pages of old leatherworking forums to understand what one basic size tool I need. The world of learning leatherwork techniques was there when I needed a distraction in the early moments of the pandemic, and pushed me to dive in deeper.

In a wild turn of events, my handmade leather bag business in Milwaukee turned into finer, high end bags and accessories and got me hired to teach at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2022. My teaching abilities have never been more fast tracked than with a class full of ambitious young artists. 

For Summer 2022, I am aiming to offer a handful of handmade leather classes to the public. Think wine and snacks and a craft project in my sunny Milwaukee studio. Stay tuned for more.