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Making old new again…the ‘Camperdown Cordwainer’

January 11, 2011

This was the first bag I made, the one to replace my other satchel that broke. It’s about 6-7 years old now, and it’s been my daily bag ever since. It’s taken a bit of a beating, but it’s very sturdy and durable, and the leather has a lovely worn patina to it now.

Battered but certainly not broken...my daily carrier made from Tan Italian double-shoulder, belt leather

Deciding what leather to use wasn’t a big issue. It had to be at least 3.omm thick, and veg tanned, and preferably a bridle or strap/harness leather. The choices were either Astley’s or Sedgwicks or local Australian hides from Birdsall’s Leather. A saddler showed me some Astley’s bridle back, which comes from New Zealand, and it was beautiful and buttery and not too much tallow. Sedgwicks is from Walsall in the UK. Both were quite expensive at the time, so I had to look for an alternative, and then someone suggested using Italian Double shoulder, a belt leather. Much more economical, at less than half the price…can’t say you can compare them though, because the double shoulder has a lot shorter wear-in factor. meaning it gets soft and pliable relatively quickly. And of course it comes from a different part of the cow’s hide.

The double shoulder is not as dense or as heavy to hand as English bridle leathers. It’s certainly more pliable, and gives to cutting and hand stitching relatively easily. Grain direction is more noticeable and it’s more fibrous, when cut. Still tough work though.

Angled view showing gusset srap...and proportions of the bag

View of back

Close-up showing gusset and strap fitting

The 'Cordwainer'...laid flat showing shoulder strap set-up

I wanted to keep the design minimal and simple. The straps on the lower side of the gusset were originally designed to close a leather strap along the base of the bag to give it extra support, but as I was playing with mock-ups it didn’t warrant it. So in the end I left it as a visual accent.

The buckles are stirrup buckles, nickle on brass for the side straps, and a standard West End buckle for front closure. Dee rings are saddlery-standard mid-weight English cast brass, nickel plated.

As already mentioned in previous posts, simplicity is best…always, I think. For me the focus is on shape, the inherent qualities of the materials, and how hardware and fittings can be designed and work to enhance these. It’s about working with as few elements as possible and using the strengths of each to greatest effect. Each should be a bold feature…the stitching, buckles and fittings, and the leather.

A lot of contemporary leather bag design is about ‘representing’ a label’s direction, and in some cases it really works. Recently, several months ago now, I saw a John Varvatos satchel that really worked as a piece. Strong and robustly made, it had a presence. A Tanner Krolle satchel I saw a few years ago was superb. Made from fine English bridle back it was beautifully made, hand stitched and simple in style. But many others limp along in the same old vain…overdone with detail, not well made, and use bog standard materials.

There’s been a tendency to throw in far too much detail, most of it useless and downright ugly, and there’s little design rationale for it being there anyway. Ironic considering that it’s ‘designed’ to be user friendly or functional. Most bags/satchels have no stand-weight, by which I mean the main trunk of the bag can’t hold all the detailing and flops down like a bean bag…terrible. But then considering the leathers and construction methods being used it’s not surprising.

No doubt there many fine examples..I just haven’t seen them yet. I’m getting the feeling that a small and very dedicated and inventive scene is emerging making their own, doing everything from designing, pattern cutting, creating little zines and look books ( which I hope to do soon )….even making their own fittings from scratch. Doing it all by hand. It’s the only way to do it right, and to keep old skills alive and kicking.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2011 6:14 am

    Hi mate, Love the minimalist design. The patina is very2 nice indeed, loving it. I’m also a firm believer on doing everything by hand. Good to see fellow aussie sharing the same thought.

  2. April 18, 2012 8:19 am

    Nice article , i really like them all.thanks for sharing this precious arcticle i really appropriate it.

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