Here in the House of Geekdom, I make my sweetie a fancy lunch to take to work most days, but sadly, he’d been carrying it in his 20-year-old, stain-tastic canvas lunchbag from college. NO MORE.
LUNCH: THE FINAL FRONTIER. These are the voyages of the lunchbag LeatherSpock. Its continuing mission: to transport strange new foods, to prevent things growing new life forms in the meantime, to boldly go where no disposable lunchbag has gone before, primarily to Jerome’s office.
Sadly, this was not laser made, because I DON’T HAVE MY GLOWFORGE YET AAAAUUUUUGH. Phew, OK. Rather, it’s a WBBwL (Would Be Better with a Laser) project.
Instructions are below for folks who want to make something similar before their laser arrives, with notes for laser users.
Technique: Leather onlay, machine stitched, with removable, washable liner
- Image: Stencil image of Mr. Spock by an artist named Pink Ray Gun who unfortunately no longer seems to be online.
- Pattern: This super-easy, free lunchbag pattern, modified to fit our glass containers.
- Leather: Exterior is 4oz oxblood cowhide with a very shiny, smooth, wipeable finish (purchased secondhand). Interior of the onlay is this ultra-shiny silver Mirabella lambskin from Tandy Leather. NOTE: If you’re doing this with a laser, use veg-tan leather instead.
- Washable interior liner (not shown): Roc-Lon Home Decor Fabric Lining- Windsor White from Joann Fabric
- Thread: For the onlay, Gutterman 100% polyester. For the sides and liner, Coats Dual Duty XP 100% polyester. (I used the lighter-weight Gutterman for the onlay because it was a perfect color match to the leather, and the heavier Coats thread where it wouldn’t be as obvious, but needed to support more weight).
Practice material: Some kind of cheap, soft, lightweight vinyl I got at Joann Fabric.
- Xacto knife with #11 blade or very sharp swivel knife.
- Olfa rotary knife
- 24" metal straightedge
- Singer 4423 Heavy Duty sewing machine
- Binder clips
- Printer, printer paper (for stencil)
- Drafting square
- Large, cheap paper (to draw pattern on)
- Fine-point felt-tip pen (to draw pattern on leather and practice vinyl)
- Blue-Tack or other VERY temporary adhesive
- Rolling tool, such as rolling pin, brayer, or wine bottle
- Clear-drying, flexible leather glue or Fray Check Max
- Sewing pin
- Figure out what’s likely to go in your bag. Design around that. For example, we have little round glass food containers, and I wanted two to sit side by side in the bottom of the bag, plus more stuff on top, so I set two lids (the widest parts) side by side and measured that distance, plus the lids’ width. That was the size I wanted the bottom my bag and liner to be.
- Go to the lunchbag template here and modify it for your needs based on Step 1.
- Draw up an initial version of your lunchbag template on your large paper.
- Trace the pattern onto your practice vinyl and cut out your pieces.
- Sew your practice lunch bag in the practice vinyl, using the instructions from the lunchbag template.
- Check out what you made! Does it fit? Do you like it? Put stuff in it. Fold it up, shake it around. If you need to modify it, repeat steps 1-6 until it’s perfect. When it’s just right, dimension-wise, transfer your new bag template to your exterior leather, drawing the pattern on the WRONG SIDE of the leather.
- Cut out your exterior leather pieces.
- Using your vinyl practice bag for a model, figure out how large you want your onlay image to be. Leave a nice margin around the edges unless you have a really good reason not to.
- Using your computer and whatever image program you use, size up your stencil pattern, print it out, check the actual fit against your bag, modify, and redo until you’re happy with how the image fits on your bag.
- If you have a laser, laser cut all your pieces and skip steps 11-17.
- If cutting by hand, lay out your leather. On the piece you’ll use for the front of the bag, on the RIGHT side of the leather, lay your image stencil out. Make sure all is kosher with the fit. You’ll very likely need to trim around the outside edges of the stencil to make it easier to handle. Then, place eensy little chunks of Blue-Tack all over the back of the image stencil, except on the cut lines. The pieces should be no more than the size of a pencil eraser in width, and no thicker than 1/16". Stick the stencil to the leather. Smooth it down tightly (you can use a rolling pin, bottle, or brayer to smooth it). Re-check the positioning to make sure it’s perfect-ish.
- Take a deep breath.
- Use your X-acto or swivel knife to cut through your stencil and leather to create your image. Cut in long, smooth cuts. Take breaks whenever you need to.
- Remove the pattern and Blu-Tack from your leather, keeping the pieces of your pattern. Inspect the leather to make sure everything looks right, especially the inside corners of cutouts. Use your blade to trim any messy bits still on the leather.
- Grab your interior leather. Lay what’s left of your stencil on it (or another copy of your stencil) and trim the interior leather to have about a 1" border around the image. Place more teeny bits of Blue-Tack all around the edges of the RIGHT side of the interior leather.
- Flip your exterior leather piece with the cutouts so that it’s facing WRONG side up. Gently place the interior leather on it so that it’s centered over the image. GENTLY press the leather down to adhere the Blue-Tack. Flip the whole thing over to make sure it fits and you like what you see. Adjust as needed, then press the interior leather down hard using your rolling tool.
- Look at it? Does it all look right? You’re about to sew.
- Set your stitch width to 1 or 2. Starting with the interior-most and smallest sections, sew around the borders of your cut shapes. SEW SLOW AS MOLASSES IN WINTER. THERE ARE NO RE-DOS ON LEATHER. Seriously, I usually take no more than 2 stitches before lifting up the foot and rechecking where I am on a curve. When finishing a shape, do whatever you need to do your best to drop the final stitches into the holes of the first stitches on the shape.
- Check out what you’ve done. Is it awesome? It’s awesome, isn’t it? Optional: Mutter to yourself, “Hot damn, this is fantastic.”
- Using the instructions you followed to make your practice bag, sew up the rest of the bag. Instead of sewing pins, use your binder clips to hold your leather pieces together as you sew.
- Trim the thread ends from your leather, and gently dip your sewing pin into your glue or fray-check. Use the pin to drip glue into the stitch holes at the beginning and end of each shape, front and back of the leather. If you get it on the rest of your leather, wipe it up with a damp cloth instantly. Let it dry and repeat.
- Admire your work. Show it off to other people. You just made something beautiful.
- To make a removable, washable liner, just follow the instructions as if you were making a basic lunch bag (no image) with the Roc-Lon, but sized down to fit inside the main bag. I had 1/4" seam allowances, so I made the liner pattern 2" narrower overall.