Sunday, July 31, 2016

My try at strap making and some lessons learnt

So as some of you may know, I bought a Panerai PAM005 recently and with it came the obsession of straps. I started going through a lot of forums and watch strap websites trying hard not to spend all my money. I liked the look of the handmade straps and started learning more about how they're made. I'm pretty sure I must have watched almost all the videos on this subject on YouTube. I was hooked and I just had to give it a go.

My first hurdle was a limited number of tools I could call from online websites in India. Most of the tools that I required for leather craft were either not available here or were way too overpriced. I managed to find a hole punching tool, a rubber mallet, a cutting mat and knife here. The rest had to be ordered from international sellers which took quite a while to arrive (some still haven't reached after more than a month).

I had most of the tools I needs to start working on a watch strap, except for leather. My first plan was to try my luck online, but no dice. I then realised that Mumbai has a very popular area for leather goods called Dharavi - which is also famous for being one of the largest slums in the world. I took a cab and headed there the other day and as it turned out, I didn't have a great experience. As soon as I reached all the sales guys outside the shops started calling me to have have a look inside. I politely ignored and went to a place I had been to years ago. The guy inside seemed a bit perplexed when I said I was looking for some leather hide. He couldn't figure out why, so I had to tell him and this was a mistake. He found it so funny that someone would try making watch straps at home rather than getting it made from one of them. He kept on joking with his staff and when he saw I was losing my patience, finally said he could get me what I wanted, but I had to buy the whole hide at one go. This  was a problem as I didn't require so much to start with and I had no place in my apartment to store it. So then he said he's got some bits and pieces lying around in his shop and showed it to me. There was one black and one dark brown patch of hide. Both were small enough to be carried in a bag and he wanted Rs.500 ($7.5) for them. Knowing nothing about the price of leather, I agreed and asked him if this leather was suitable for making a watch strap, to which he said, of course! I then went to another couple of places but neither of them had raw hide readily available and instead tried their best to sell me finished products - and yes, they too found this whole strap making thing very amusing.

Fast forward to my place. I had all my tools laid out and couldn't wait to start! As soon as I got the leather out of the bag, I knew something wasn't right. The leather was really thin, almost like cloth. It needed to be thicker if I had to make a strap out of it. I decided to cut more layers of leather and glue them together. So in the end I had 4 layers of leather making a combined thickness of about 3mm.

Hear are some shots I took while working on the strap...

steel tubes for Panerai style screw in straps

There is a process known as edge slicking or burnishing which is done to preserve the edge of leather goods. You wet the edges with water (or some special solution), take a wooden / or bone burnisher and rub it along the edges. Seems pretty easy, but I was having a real hard time doing this. I then realised that the leather was way too soft for this and I ended up fraying the edges instead (had to cut them off later).

the wooden edged burnisher

ready to start stitching

one down, one to go

My end results seems not too bad if I say so myself. I tried the 'saddle stitch' and it came out better than I expected. Here is the finished strap.

Here is what I learned:

  • Know your leather and buy it from a good source - I saw multiple videos on this and I wished I had seen them before. Turns out the stuff I bought was chrome tanned leather and not suitable for strap making. I need to get vegetable tanned leather. I think I have identified another source who seems to have leather of much higher quality.
  • Buy or make a 'pony' - a pony is like a clamp to hold the leather project while you have your hands free to stitch. I thought I could easily do without one, but I was wrong. There was no easy way to hold the strap (I tried holding it between my knees) and I ended up with a slight back ache.
  • An awl is a wonderful tool to have - very useful!
  • Even though the leather sewing needles aren't sharp, they'll still prick you if you're not careful.

It was a great learning experience for me and I look forward to improving my skills. Today I tried the saddle stitch on a piece of a cheap belt and I can already see the improvement :)

Now back to reading the latest Harry Potter book!


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