Thursday, May 8, 2014

My 10 Favorite Leathercraft Videos

There are lots of great videos on YouTube about leathercrafting. People are producing and sharing some nicely produced, beautifully shot little movies, and the best of them have an almost hypnotic quality. Watching a craftsperson who has done something hundreds or thousands of times, you see the routines they develop, their personal ways of working. There are many great tips and techniques to be gleaned if you watch closely.

Here are my 10 favorite videos, in no particular order. 

First off, we have JnK from Korea making a camera case for Leica X1 half case in a beautiful red leather:

Interesting glue paddle... Particularly love the way he makes his precision cuts. The position of his hands. The pricking iron. And the steady application of edge coating. 

Number 2: A video slideshow of a Milanese handbag company Valigeria Beretta that has been making luxury items since 1947.

Love the large cutter which I assume they use to slice the boards that would be used inside the bags for structure. Also, it's cool to see all the patterns, cutting templates and tools they have accumulated over the years. The precious exotic skins, which you can see are carefully positioned to maximize yield. 

Next up: A handbag by Salvatore Ferragamo. You know you are in the luxury space when the craftsperson is wearing a lab coat. I love the way the video starts with him feeling the leather for any flaws or defects with his hands. You may be able to detect with your fingers something you can't see with your eyes...

At 0:55 he puts the leather through a skiver, which takes the hide down to a specified thickness. Nice way to get consistency, but those things aren't cheap! At 1:05 he's skiving down the edge with another machine, which tapers the thickness just along the edge. It has a circular, bell-shaped blade (which you can't see in the video). At about 1:07 you see him sanding the edge with a power sanding wheel. It's great to see all the steps involved in building up the handle (starting around 1:30). See how he's working on a nice, thick marble slab? At 3:11 using shears to cut relief slits for folding the leather around the curves of the handle. Then using his bone folder to crease, coax and fold the leather into place. At 3:26 there's a telling detail. When mating the sides to the bottom, our craftswoman aligns the center point, and then the corner point, before working down the leather in between. A perfect strategy for maintaining the shape when joining two pieces with elastic properties, such as leather. Note the use of an edge guide at 3:47 when machine stitching. At 4:07 the "bag-within-a-bag" construction technique comes into play - a great strategy for creating an inner lining. 

Now for a pair of sexy red patent leather heels, another video by Salvatore Ferragamo:

This one starts with the digital sketch, rotating in a 3-dimensional rendering. Then they skip directly to a pattern being projected onto the leather on an automated cutting table. These things run over $100,000! Not for your average shoemaker... At 0:27 they are skiving the edge, thinning it down. At 0:35 you see the very careful and close-to-the-edge stitching along the upper opening, mating the lining and using a post-bed sewing machine with a wheel instead of a presser foot. Just look at how close to the edge that stitching is...

Next the counter and toe reinforcements go in place, before the workpiece is clamped into what looks like a Darth-Vader-like torture/stretching machine. That thing is putting immense pressure on the leather to stretch it into shape around the last. Even with all the specialized machines, notice all the hand work still involved, every step of the way. Notice the lining is kept oversized, so it can be nailed to the last? A way to stretch the workpiece without making holes in the finished shoe. 

Into another machine that helps form the heel of the shoe, pulling the leather ever more tightly over the shape of the rear of the foot. 

At 1:40, I'm assuming that the trip on the conveyor-belt is through some sort of oven. Many heat-set adhesives are used in shoe making these days, and that may be the part of the process where those glues are activated. 2:05 using a grinding wheel to taper down the leather at the bottom of the shoe. 2:44 the sole is lovingly hand-glued in position. 3:00 a specialized press, to make sure the sole is firmly attached. 3:18 those nails from earlier are removed, and the shoe is freed from its last. 3:35 I think this device is nailing the heel to the shoe. 3:46 edge coating the shoe opening. 3:54 hot foil-stamping the logo onto the insole. 

Video 5: Some classic hand stitching from Hermes.

This video is a great primer for those of you interested in hand stitching with 2 needles. All the steps are shown (except for the inital hole-punching, unfortunately). You see the stitching pony, waxing the thread, putting the needle through the thread. Watch closely to see how he uses the thread from the first stitch to help pull the needle from the second stitch through the hole. Notice how he uses the awl to guide his needle though for the first stitch. Observe how small the stitching awl handle is (and how well it fits in his hand). Also notice how short the blade is on his awl. No wiggling when he punches through the leather either, his holes are nice and tight. Probably a nice sharp edge on his awl. Flattens the stitching at the end with a mallet. Look at the beautiful finished stitches when he's done. Just look at them, and learn! 

And number 6: Some gratuitous handbag porn from Gucci. 

Love the hand-airbrushing at the 0:27 mark. This one jumps all over, showing a variety of techniques very quickly. Hand-cut fringe at 0:57 which become those awesome tassels. Note the use of the custom wood form during assembly (at 1:24). Hand stitching to reinforce the corners at 1:39. Using heat to from the bamboo handles at 1:52. Slow stitching of the nameplate on a cylinder-bed machine 2:02. 

A document case by Dunhill:

Not as detailed or as informative as some of the other videos, but still fun to see a master at his craft... Not sure if the whole thing is hand-stitched (they only show him stitching the handle), but it is quite possible. 

Video number 8: a craftsman from Hermes talks about the process of making a Kelley bag. Originally from NY Mag's the Cut. 

Video number 9: the making of a Louis Vuitton bag with embossed monogram:

Starts with feeling up the leather (as in several other videos), and at 0:25 one of the cooler things to see: the giant embossing plate that presses the logo monogram design into the leather using a giant press. How cool is that? This video skips all the making, and jumps right to the sanding (0:36) and edge-painting (0:43-0:50) which is accomplished through a unique machine. The last part of this video seems to be all about inspecting the final product, measuring stitches, and looking for blemishes or defects of any kind. 

And last but not least, number 10: a quick video of hand-made high heels by Koronya shoemaking school:

I hope you find something inspiring or helpful in these, as I have. 


  1. [engaging fangirl power now!]

    honestly, if i had the money to properly buy something fancy, i'd rather commission you to do it. i don't care if you don't have a $100,000 doodle that does fancy things on leather. that's not the point. you can spend infinity dollars and get a machine that will stamp out a shoe or a bag or a whatever.

    but then my shoe is the same as your shoe, and really, they're just identical parts.

    but if you get a craftsman to do it, who measures it out and cuts it right and sorts out the problems so the final thing is a unique object? that's a whole different world of luxury stuff.

    anyway, rant over, now i have like thirty minutes of youtube videos to watch so i can see how this works.

    1. Oh sammy, I love you so much. It would be great fun to spend a year or two just making you toys, outfits and one-of-a-kind restraints. It would be so much fun.

      I am always looking to discover how things are done, and all those processes and techniques are fascinating to learn about. That's the spirit in which these videos were posted.

      I always think about how Gucci or Hermes would approach something like a sleepsack. It's not necessarily because I'm a label whore, but more because they do have access to the best materials and equipment available, custom hardware, experienced craftspeople, and they put emphasis on quality craftsmanship. It can lead to my own solution for a given problem.

  2. Love the pink high heel in number 10