I figured if I am going to have a motorcycle, I should make it fabulous. I was not into the studded saddle bags I saw everywhere, I wanted something smaller and not intimidating. I did not see anything online that I liked so I just decided to try and make some.
Preface: I am not a leather worker. I have never done anything like this before. I just REALLY wanted fringe saddle bags for my motorcycle.
WHAT I DID
I googled a lot and essentially found a saddle bag pattern but it was for horses. I figured it was similar and I would just make it work. I found the nearest leather store (Tandy Leather Store, it's a chain) and made friends fast because I had a lot of questions for them. I had no idea what I was getting into, I assumed it was just, "oh make a few holes, sew them up, put some stuff on the leather make it look nice...". False.
Here is what I wished I would have known before hand:
Leather is really expensive and there is not really an alternative. No pleather allowed here.
Tanning leather is not the same as dying it
There are numbers on the under side of leather that tell you how big and thick the hide is
You will get blisters sewing by hand
Find your hide and cut out your pieces
OK hides. It's a science that people have devoted their profession to. So accept that you know nothing and just ask every dumb question. My friends at Tandy literally walked me around and explained everything. Hides are different depending on which part of the animal is comes from. The thickness also varies which is a big factor depending on what you are making.
They were having a sale on Double Shoulder Hides so I grabbed one for about 50 bucks. This was a DEAL, plan on spending around 100$. Spendy I know.
When you find a hide you want, go through each piece and inspect it. Not all hides are created equal. Look for something consistent all that way across. Flip it over and look for weak spots that could potentially tear. There is a number underneath, the first number is how many square feet the hide is and the second number is how many ounces thick it is. The picture has a hide that is 11 square feet and 3 ounces thick. These number make it easy to compare and make sure you are getting what you want.
It takes heavy duty scissors to cut through leather or you will have to exacto-knife it. I used a knife and took me a minute. I used Tandy's scissors in the store after, way faster.
Dye your leather
Ok. I had no idea how hard this was. I thought it was just a "paint in the lines" type of thing. If you want a really good dye job, I would take it to someone especially if you are wanting a lighter dye. If you are looking to learn and do it yourself, here's what I did:
Buy some daubers which look like these guys. Dye will stain your hands for a week so definitely use these.
Put the piece of leather under water (you could use oil too), this makes it so the dye blends better.
Dye dries super fast and it is really streaky, if you go back over it then the color becomes darker.
Go in a circular motion and dip in the dye regularly.
I was not stoked the first time these came out, they were really streaky and I wanted it a lighter brown. I put them under water again then buffed it with an old t-shirt. I let them dry in the sun to wear them in and then called it a day. I put a conditioner afterwards which ultimately looked like a clear coat. Adding this won't really make a difference so don't lose sleep on the color you are going for.
You can see a little bit of the streaky vibes. I'm telling you, dying is a whole new ball game.
Hammer your sewing holes and start threading your lace through
This will take some time. Get a tool that has multiple pegs to it, check this out and you will know what I am talking about. Make sure you have something underneath your leather so you don't put holes in your table. There are certain hammers you can use that make it easier. I used a waxed canvas thread and had bigger needles. The stitch pattern is really simple, it would be hard to explain in text so here is an article about it. Don't be intimidated by all the tools, I was. Just know all you need is something to make a hole and needle/thread to sew it together. I realized very soon I needed to wear gloves, your fingers will become raw.
Once I had both of my saddle bags, I just measured how much they would overlap under my seat. I just had to eye ball this one.
That line of holes made was a mistake on my end, I just measured wrong. It gave it character.
Condition the leather afterwards
This really helps take care of your leather. I used this Aussie Leather Conditioner and I always re-apply after using any of my leather goods. You can just use an old t-shirt to apply it. Once it was on my bike, it looked like a million bucks.
STEP FIVE (best part)
ADD THE FRINGE and attach to your bike
Grab some leather lace and cut the length you want. Hammer more holes (I used this tool at the shop) in the top flap and just thread it through! I threw some conditioner on the fringe as well so they hang better.
I had saddle bag bars already on my bike so I sewed two strips of industrial velcro on and worked it around the bars. Seems ghetto but worked like a gem.
THERE YOU GO. I took them on my trip to Canada and they did great. Obviously they are not as robust as some of the nicer saddle bags but they lasted 2,600 miles and I never had problems. I even got some compliments from a biker gang. Validation. Thank you.
WHAT I LEARNED
It's really satisfying to learn something new
Now I know why leather goods are so expensive, the time spent on this I would have to charge a pretty penny to make it worth it
Leather stores have a smell that stays with your clothes
Old men become really flirty when they learn you made something out of leather