In our studio, we are big advocates for re-working what you currently have before purchasing new. And even then, we'd rather create a new design before buying a mass-produced piece. Read on to learn more about this nine-month long project in which we restored a Louis Vuitton duffle and learned a few things about working with leather.
There were mixed feelings with this project. Several thoughts went through my mind like, "Damn this is an expensive piece, I better not mess this up," and then "Eeeee I cannot wait to rip this apart and learn how they put it together"! Clearly, the latter thought won.
Best word of advice when taking something apart is to take a photo of what the original looked like before or record down any important measurements. Once something is deconstructed it is difficult to recall these important details.
It was rather fun taking apart the seams and ripping off the old leather. It might have had something to do with the fact that it was Louis Vuitton. Insert me squealing like a school girl here.
I had to take this bag apart in small periods of time over several months because the stiff leather was hard on my wrists and hands. Hence why it took so many months to complete. I was lucky enough to convince my best friend Sam (owner of duffle) to assist in the last steps of the deconstruction process. Thank you Sam!
One of the best ways to learn about how things are put together is to take it apart. While taking apart the seams of this duffle, I learned that they notched the leather with tiny snips to assist in lining the side panels to the main part of the bag. They are so tiny - only 1/16" - but they are there and helped greatly as leather does stretch out while sewing. I also learned that in areas where the leather doubles up, you should shave off half the thickness of the leather (on the bottom layer) to allow ease of sewing and for straps to lay flat against the item. I am guessing Vuitton has a sanding machine for this. I just used a blade (how ghetto am I!).
All hardware was saved and re-used to put the bag back together again.
The major reason for restoring this bag was that one of the straps attached to the main part of the bag had cracked fully so it was unusable. Using a rotary blade and steady hands, I cut out brand new straps out of cow leather.
Sewing with Leather
Sewing with leather can be challenging. We are lucky to have an industrial leather sewing machine in studio that has a walking foot. Let's be clear: that did not excuse the many unique challenges the duffle presented.
In the above photo, you can see that I had to hold the bag in awkward positions to get the leather straps sewn on. This is because the zipper was the only thing holding the bag together, therefore, creating a tunnel shape that I had to work with. It's so much easier to create a design from scratch than re-work a piece.
I thought that once the leather strips were sewn on, the hard part was done. Boy, was I wrong! The most challenging part was sewing the side panels back to the main part of the bag. The leather stretched out from (what I am guessing was) the deconstruction part, so the notches did not line up! I had to adjust the seam allowance slightly just to get the notches to kinda line up and then I gently stretched out the leather on the shorter side to fit correctly.
The pelt of leather was not wide enough to cut a full strip of leather that fit all the way around the front and back of the bag. So, I joined up two pieces to meet at the bottom. No one really looks at the bottom, right?!
Custom LV Duffle
In the end, we were able to customize this duffle with heavy duty leather and black top-stitching thread. We also created clean seams by removing the original piped ones. It is safe to say that no one will have a Louis Vuitton duffle bag like my friend Sam.
Reconstructed and written by Sheila Wong
Edited by Samantha Quon
Sheila Wong Studio Team