2020 March 10    Tech   Various


In the first article, I began stitching my 1980's camera bag.  The fake leather straps that held on the buckles on had fallen apart, so I began sewing on better ones.

Recently, I got around to sewing on the other two. 

I learned some important things about leather stitching from all this.  Let's find out!

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In This Article

What Tools Worked Best

Couple of Additional Tips

Buying A New Camera Bag??


What Tools Worked Best

With additional experience, I narrowed down the list of tools to what worked best for me.

1. Carpenter's Square.  I still haven't found anything better for marking & cutting straight pieces of leather.   An 8" x 12" metal square is probably the best size for this.  And you'll need it for woodworking, too.

2. Leather knife.  I used something quite similar to this one.  For some reason this design works really well for cutting thick leather, linoleum, and similar materials.  (It may have something to do with not having a thin point that would break off.)  Here's another type that should also work great. 

3. Leather stitching needles. Again I used these;  they seem to be right for the task.

4. Waxed thread.  Again I used artificial sinew.  I don't remember the width offhand, but try for something about 3/32" wide.  1/8" might be usable, but it's a bit much for this project.  The flat stuff can be split into narrower threads, though, so a roll of this could work.  This stuff costs a bit more but may be of higher quality.  A roll of it should last quite a while.

5. Awl.  Don't use a round or scratch awl for making the holes.  Use a "diamond awl".  This looks like the one I used, but be careful you don't break off the awl.  Don't put any lateral force on it or allow it to flex;  try to punch the holes very straight.  (Easier said than done.) 

I've also tried a set of these.  The reason why the awl is better here is that you can't really put those leather punches through several layers of camera bag at a time.  But for other leather stitching uses, they could be just what you need.  And they're low-cost enough that they should be in your kit anyway.

6. Stitching groover.  In the second phase of this camera bag repair, I found that it's possible to do without one of these.  Nice to have, but you don't need one of these as much as you'll need the overstich wheel (#8 in this list.)

7. Wooden cutting board.  Unless you don't care what happens to your work surface, use a cutting board.  Some people use those flexible green cutting mats, but I've always had good results with a wooden backing, such as a scrap of cabinet-grade particle board (or a real cutting board).

8. Stitching Wheel, a.k.a. "Overstitch Wheel" or "Overstitcher".  Once again, 8 stitches per inch ("8 spi") is what I used;  it matched the original spacing on the camera bag.  Try the Tandy #8079-08 (or this link). 

9.  Scrap of 2x4 lumber.  This is what I use as a backing board for awl and punch work.  Otherwise, the cutting board will have hundreds of awl & punch holes it.  Experience talking here.

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Couple of Additional Tips

These days, getting genuine waxed thread is harder than I thought.  The amount of wax will affect how easily the thread stays put while you're stitching.  It also affects how much you have to knot the stuff to make it stay there.  Less wax = more difficulty.  Try to get thread or artificial sinew that's actually waxed. 

Here's something else I learned.  Trying to punch through thick leather, and several layers of camera bag, causes things to shift.  The most careful alignment may not stay that way.  It takes some care to avoid ending up with the straps sewn on crooked.  Once you anchor the corners and run the thread through a couple of the holes, you may not want to unstitch it and start all over again.  There could be a point at which you'll decide it's "good enough".  Only you will know when that is.

By the way, BEFORE you start making the holes or stitching the leather, it's a good idea to treat the leather with some of this or this  I have not yet decided which is better, but (A.) I plan to have an article about that, and (B.) if you make stuff out of leather, just get the larger can, because you will use it.

Either of these products can make leather-- even old, dry crusty leather from the 70's-- a bit more supple and a bit less brittle.  And of course, they add some water-resistance.  I once left a leather axe sheath pinned under a fallen tree for months (long story, that)... and because I had treated it with one of these products, it was not moldy when I finally went and got it. 

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Buying a New Camera Bag?

Not everyone is going to want to stitch a camera bag or have to learn leatherworking, just to fix something like this.  Buying a new bag, for these folks, is way easier.  (Actually it would have been easier for me, too...)

When I began fixing this camera bag a few years ago, I didn't notice much on the new market that seemed worth buying.  There were a few, but it seemed that most of the camera gear industry decided on the same, basic design.

Every store had the same cheap, nasty camera bags, made of the cheapest, thinnest black nylon they could find, stitched with the cheapest, thinnest thread that could be used without disintegrating during the sewing process.  Beneath these materials would be the usual cheap, nasty foam liners.  Designed for the price point somewhere between "$9.99" and "worthless", such camera bags would fray apart in about two months.  From there, it was nigh impossible to repair them without resorting to duct tape.

Good news, though.  There are a couple of manufacturers that make nice, vintage-style camera bags, using good materials such as leather, cotton, and waxed canvas.

I haven't done a thorough review of these yet, but lately I've noticed this camera bag and this one


Now, I still like the idea of salvaging this 1980's vintage camera bag, because it's still the nicest design I've seen.  But those bags I linked to above look like fantastic choices, especially if you want something that works "right now" without having to learn an entirely new craft.  So give 'em a try.

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So it only took about four years for me to finish stitching this camera bag.  But there it is, and I'm glad I fixed it up.  I'm not saying this is the greatest leather stitching on earth, because I still half don't know what I'm doing... but at least it works now.  And it's going to be a lot more durable than the straps that were on there.

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