Tales of a Leather Craftsman

The Pandemic gave us a chance to sit down with the lead leather craftsman at Without A Trace Weavers. It was very interesting to hear his perspective on leather, leather repair and designer handbags.  

As an apprentice at a leather repair & reweaving shop, I remember my first few days and the amount I learned from the older guys about their leather craft. It changed my life and gave me a career in the world of leather fashion.

Time Is A Good Teacher When Working With Leather

I learned a lot over the years, mainly working with high end leather garments, the very best leather and suede coats, and as time went on, designer handbags. Over the past few decades, I have found working with leather has given me an intimate feel for the material.  Before handling the leather repair, I can usually tell how malleable it will be by looking at its thickness and grain. It’s hard to explain but I am sure some readers understand. It is like a sculptor and his clay.  The craftsman has a feel for how their materials perform.  The feel of the leather, how supple the particular piece is, the thickness and the type of the four basic grains used; full-grain leather, top-grain leather, genuine leather, and corrected-grain leather.

Leather craftsman from Without A Trace
Leather craftsman from Without A Trace

Depending on the designer handbag, different grains of leather are used in the final product. This is one reason why we give estimates on handbag and leather repairs. There are so many different handbags with varying structure that we have to assess the potential repair and if the value of the purse is retained after the repair. Designers push the limit sometimes and create beautiful handbags by combining different materials.  As a leather expert, mainly for designer handbags and leather coats, I have to stay educated about how new designs and materials work together to ensure the client’s satisfaction with my leather repair.

Handbags Are A Little Different

Designer handbags are a bit different than the leather or suede garments I work on.  They are much more difficult because the leather is taut with precise seams that are linear and perfect. A circular stitch requires the utmost of care, time, and focus. A stitch out of place stands out like a green pea in a bowl of corn. So, we take our time making sure the leather and stitch are in good shape.  This can frequently result in working by hand, stitch by stitch. It’s time consuming but the quality is top-notch.  We have a good reputation, in fact, Barbara Streisand’s production team called us to repair her leather boots before showtime in Chicago.  We’ve been able to work with celebrities over the years.  Notably, I worked on the leather jacket of magician Penn Jillete from a period when he was a roadie in the 1970’s. It was a jacket that looked like it traveled a lot.  Mr. Jillete expressed his gratitude when he voluntarily recorded a video about his experience for our website.  His compliments are echoed by other clients we have helped over the years.  

designer handbags needing repair
Designer handbag repair requires experience.

Common Repairs

Common designer handbag leather repairs involve replacing piping, hidden feet, panels of accent leather, torn pocket edges, replaced torn inside pockets, worn corners, and cleaned some leather and suede that turned from grey to brown. That is really just naming a few of the more common fixes.

Stains from cosmetics, food, soda, and water can usually be removed successfully.  Unfortunately, if you burn your designer handbag, you burned your handbag.  However, estimates are free so send it to us and we’ll see if we can help restore your bag.

Beside repairing seams, zippers, and handles, I have replaced different buckles and just about all hardware.  There are buckles on straps, rings, turnbuckles, male and female hardware – the list is endless!  I am not exaggerating when I say I’ve replaced just about any kind of hardware out there for handbags.

Hardware is sewn in and we do a great job.  We have a series of steps we developed that allow us to reproduce the look of the original seam. I am always amazed at how good our repairs look leaving the shop.

Power Handbag Users Push The Limits

Some handbags do get returned but it’s usually the following year due to torn leather or cosmetic stains.  Depending on how much you pay for and use a designer handbag, you may want to think about getting it cleaned and refinished at least once a year.  There are what I like to call, Power Handbag Users, who may stuff work files, small laptops, lunch, snacks, cosmetics into their bags.  I’ve seen the damage Power Handbag Users can cause.  The good news is that it can be repaired, most of the time, and look very much like the original.

Handbag power user
Power handbag users tend to stuff their handbag

You need a Master Craftsman to accomplish the level of care and dedication that brings a handbag back to its original form. Although there is a limit, leather is an amazing material because of how much abuse it can take.  Sometimes, leather, if stressed too far will shred – leaving us little to work with. If that is the case with your bag, we would try to replicate the panel if possible.

If there was a buckle or other hardware, it would have to be mounted onto a new piece of duplicated leather that matches the original. The edges dyed and then re-stitched by hand. The edges are prepared, buffed and refinished.  We have many tools and machines to use on leather to create a highly finished piece, or at least bring it back to it’s original form.

Beside regular cleaning of your handbag, I recommend changing your handbag’s liner.  Liners seem to take the most abuse despite their underacknowledged importance to a bag’s integrity.

Keep It Clean – Bacteria Lurks

A national test across the UK involving handbags whose liners were swabbed and tested in a lab. The bags had some of the same bacteria found in a hospital.  Yes, it can be that dirty. Keeping your handbag clean is especially important these days, think of it as your little preparedness kit rather than the harbinger of deadly germs. 

Coccus bacteria
Keeping a handbag clean has its perks. Especially for your health. Staph, strep, and other nasty bugs could get you sick. Replace a bad liner or get your handbag cleaned at Without A Trace Weavers Reweaving, Leather & Handbag Services – (800) 475-4922

Clean Solution

If you bought your handbag new, clean the liner and outside annually each year your use it.  Clean during the off season for that handbag.

If you bought your handbag used, get a new liner and clean the outside of the bag.  When you get it back, it will seem brand new with a new leather liner and untarnished exterior.  We’ve seen some amazing handbags come in for this service and they always look good when they leave.

Leather liners are better than any other liner because the material cleans well, giving you the years of service and cleanliness.  Leather won’t rip as easy as some other materials and can hold up better against Power Handbag Users.

Keeping your designer handbag in perfect shape will give you the option to sell it when you tire of it. With the right care and timely maintenance, your designer handbag will last for longer than you might expect and keep you looking good for years to come.

Without A Trace Weavers is a firm that reweaves fine garments, men’s bespoke and custom suits, cashmere sweaters, and other fine fabrics.  Without A Trace Weavers is also a leather expert studio offering the same fine repairs to leather and suede garments including high-end designer handbag repair.  Two locations in Chicago offering curbside service at 100 E. Walton. Please note our working hours during the pandemic.

Without A Trace website.

Reweaving, Leather & Handbag Services – (800) 475-4922