Homespun Love: Leatherwork Some Handsome Luggage Tags

My family did a lot of traveling during the holidays which meant we pulled out our suitcases with our very fancy luggage tags — you know, the ones my dad got for free from his job because they’re plastic and emblazoned with his company’s logo. Which is to say, I decided that this was the year we needed some new luggage identification.

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These classic luggage tags are made from hand-stitched and stamped leather and will set your bags apart when you’re looking for them on the baggage carousel.

You Will Need

  • This template — Download it, print it out, trace it on cardboard (try an old cereal box or 6-pack carrier), and cut that out.
  • A box cutter
  • ruler
  • Thick (1/8″ or 8 oz) leather — Usually I’d say feel free to get on with your bad vegan leather self, but I don’t think that pleather works with metal stamps like real leather does. If you decide to go this route, you’ll need to use something like a permanent marker instead. If you’re trying to be conscientious but still want to use real leather, head to a thrift store and see if you can find a cheap leather jacket or purse hiding on the shelves.
  • Waxed thread or beeswax and thread —Waxed thread is great for making books as well as sewing leather, but if you don’t want to buy some, just coat regular thread with beeswax.
  • An awl — You’ll use it to poke holes in the leathers so that you can sew it.
  • 2 leather stitching needles — Leather stitching needles are different from the needles you would use for cloth because they’re thicker and don’t have sharp points.
  • grommet kit with grommets — Grommets come in all different colors; get something that you like. The grommets you get should have a 3/4″ inner opening.
  • Metal alphabet stamps — These may seem like a one-hit wonder craft supply, but I can tell you that I’ve used mine at least every few months since I bought them. They’ll work for leather but also clay and metal.
  • A hammer — You’ll need a hammer to use the ABC stamps.
  • 1″ metal split rings — You probably know these as key rings. We’ll use them to attach the tag to the suitcase.

Instructions

1. Place the template on the leather and lightly trace with the box cutter. Leather is both tough and delicate; instead of forcing your way through, make five or six cuts along each line. You should use a straight edge to guide your cuts until you’re at least half way through the leather.

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2. I have all kinds of weird and fancy leatherworking tools because I once lived in a tiny town where it rained all the time and all there was to do was take cookies to the leatherpeople and ask them to teach me stuff. If you’re lacking in the leatherworking tools department: don’t fret! I made all kinds of cool stuff before I had a beveler. If you do: fantastic! I’m going to tell you how I did each step and how I would have done it if I didn’t have the right tools.

That being said: if you have a stitching groover, create a stitching groove. If you don’t, use a ruler and a pencil to mark a 1/4″ border around the tag.

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3. Now we’re going to punch holes. If you have a stitchin’ pony (obviously it is improper to ever refer to this piece of equipment as a “stitching pony”), saddle up and start awlin’. If you don’t, mark dots every 1/3″ along the border you created and then use your awl to punch holes through the dots. If your awl is round, punch away. If your awl is diamond shaped, punching with your awl in the same direction each time will help your stitches lay flat.

4. Stitchin’ time! Have you ever seen a tag on something that says “hand-sewn leather” and thought to yourself “who cares?” Me too. As it turns out, hand sewn leather is actually a great thing. Here’s why:

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To sew a saddle stitch, cut a piece of thread long enough to go around your tag two and a half times. Thread a needle through through each side of the thread and you’re ready to go. Start by pushing one needle through a hole from front to back. Then push the other needle through the same hole, back to front. Pull tightly. Continue the whole way around. When you’re back to the beginning, back stitch two and a half holes (the half come in because on the last stitch, you only sew from the front to the back so that both threads are on the back of the tag). Tie the threads in a square knot and then pull them through a stitch so that they lay flat.

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5. To add your grommet, start by creating a hole either with the punch that came with your grommet kit or — if you’ve already hit your thumb with a hammer too many times and are getting frustrated — with a drill. You’ll notice that I added the grommet before I sewed. This ended up being a pain in the ass when I was trying to sew, so do as I say, not as I do.

leather-0016. Follow the instructions on your grommet kit to insert the grommet.

leather-0027. Before you start hammering letters into your leather, do a little planning. First, plan how you want your tag to look. Then plan not to get upset when your tag doesn’t look perfect. Metal stamps are nearly impossible to get straight or even. It’s okay; this just proves that your gift is homemade.

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8. Okay, ready? First get your leather wet. Not soaking, just damp. Let it dry until it’s almost back to the color it was when it was dry, and then start hammering.

9. Slide a metal jump ring through the grommet and coat the tag with protective leather sealant or conditioner if you happen to have some (You just might! They’re usually used for shoes).

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 329 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. Neat little project. I’ve been leathercrafting for several years, mainly tooling dog collars and motorcycle bags. It’s worth noting that the letter stamps can be bought at Harbor Freight for a fraction of the price Tandy and other stores sell them for–like $20-30 less.

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