Behind The Scenes of Making Leather Bags - Made in California (Part 1)

Posted by Lisa Ramos on

Behind the Scenes with Lisa Ramos Making Leather Bags

It is that time of year for making leather bags. I am both excited and anxious. I am Lisa Ramos, a handbag designer in Clayton, California. I design and hand make leather bags. Each year from January through April I am designing and making bags for my company, MONOLISA. My inspiration for writing this blog comes from the curiosity I had before becoming a designer and would ask myself - "What is the process of making a handmade leather bag?" I thought perhaps others may be curious as well. In this blog article I take readers through the process of managing a small batch one of a kind production through a journal and a variety of visual experiences. Did I mention, I do this project alone? The process is never easy, but in the end there is a great deal of inner satisfaction. Wish me luck....  

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Behind the scenes of making leather bags | Hot Foil Machine by Metallic Elephant
New Hot Foil Machine - Isn't it a beauty?

There are many steps that go into creating a leather handbag collection. A combination of planning, designing, carefully sourcing, scheduling and hand making each piece are the main parts of a design to production process. Below is a glimpse into my world of making bags...

November 2021: This month I worked on organizing the final hardware selections. Each bag style requires a specific metal hardware type such as lobster claws, buckles, D-rings, zippers, rivets, Chicago screws, locks and fasteners. My job is to double check the hardware requirements for each bag style and manage the inventory - avoiding last minute orders and backorder situations. I took a beautiful drive up to Napa to finalize the handbag leather types for the 2022 collection. The final leather color choices include baby blue, lavender, and pretty pinks. There will also be a collection of leather embossed croc styles in royal blue, black and brown.   

Behind The Scenes Article Making Leather Bags - Cutting the leather hide

Step #1 - laying out the patters on the hide before cutting.

December 2021: 2021 ended nicely, completing a last few popup art shows and finishing some custom orders. This holiday season I purchased a handmade foil stamp machine (I could have not gotten without all of the customer support over the years - thank you! ). The machine is coming from London with an expected early January arrival. In preparation for the upcoming handbag project, I spent time reviewing all of the bag patterns. I decided to make extra patterns and set everything aside for January's work. Also, I took some very much needed holiday time off, spending time with family and relaxing. I am ready to start 2022 and to make lots of leather bags. 

January 2, 2022: A very exciting day, the hot foil machine arrived safely. A bonus, getting the 60 pound machine up the stairs went smoothly. I tested the machine using a variety of beautiful foil colors in gold, silver and metallic blue. The MONOLISA logos are looking clean and shiny. Exactly what I wanted! 

January 3, 2022: Laid out a few blue hides and organized the handbag patterns prior to cutting over 120 SQFT of hides - the straps, strap holders, bottom bases and the main body of the bag. 

Behind The Scenes Article Making Leather Bags - Glue Process

Setup for Gluing Stations.

January 4, 2022:  Today was all about gluing - bag handles and base bottoms - this step is done prior to sewing each piece. This year I am taking the gluing task out to another room for better ventilation and to avoid smelling up my studio. No more stinky studio:-)

Behind The Scenes Article Making Leather Bags - Blue MONOLISA Bag - Handmade in Clayton, California
Keep Everything Clean!

January 5-10, 2022:  Spent the last few weeks sewing bag handles, leather base bottoms and assembling the pieces to create a variety of blue tote bags. I also decided to include additional hardware elements for the tote collection - requiring ordering more inventory ("I should have ordered more last year! Now I just wait for it to arrive in the upcoming weeks"). 

Behind the Scenes | Making a Leather Handbag - Small Production with Designer Lisa Ramos Blog
Working on New Design Ideas for the Bag Closure Pieces

January 11, 2022:  Unexpectedly, the electricity went off this morning for a few hours. Luckily it didn't keep me from completing todays goal - to finish the first over the shoulder blue tote bag.  

January 12, 2022: Woke up at 3:30 am thinking about a new tool required for implementing some of the hardware closure elements. After researching for an hour I finally found what I needed. One of the tools is arriving tomorrow. Spent a full day sewing. 

Being a Handbag Designer - Behind the Scenes YouTube Video

 YouTube Video - Behind the scenes of making leather handbags with Designer Lisa Ramos

January 13, 2022: The tool arrived today and I am glad I had a backup plan - it wasn't what I expected. I ordered another similar tool type and expecting its arrival by the end of the month. Hopefully it will be more of what I am envisioning. Today I completed more blue tote bags. All that is left are the decorative closure pieces - those will be implemented next month after the new tools and hardware arrive.

January 14, 2022: A nice day off.....wonderful visit with mom followed up by an afternoon at the salon. My feet feel great and nails are sparkly pink! 

January 15, 2022: Serger Saturday - I made muslin cotton dust bags for the blue tote collection. I kept my fingers crossed today that the machine would run smoothly and it didn't let me down. 

Behind The Scenes Article Making Leather Bags - Handmade Leather Baby Blue Bag - MONOLISA Handbags Made in California by Designer Lisa Ramos
MONOLISA BAG -Over the Shoulder Baby Blue Leather Tote

January 16, 2022: Big task today, cutting two 55 SQFT hides in colors lavender and pink. I spent several hours cutting the patterns out, prepping the pieces for tomorrows gluing tasks and cleaned up a very messy studio....fibers everywhere!

Behind The Scenes Article Making Leather Bags - Designer Lisa Ramos Working on Lavender Leather Tote Bag for The MONOLISA Handbag Collection Made in California

Working on Lavender Tote Collection | Love My Optivisors  - Helps Me See

January 17, 2022:  Slept great from that long physical day yesterday in the studio. I am ready to glue...glue....glue. My goal is to finish the gluing so I can start sewing the bags tomorrow. 

January 18-20, 2022:  I completed the gluing tasks for the lavender and pink totes. Next, spend the next few days sewing the purple bags. Working extra hours this week paid off. I was able to start sewing the pretty pink leather bags. I am excited to start next week making a few blue embossed croc bags.  

Behind The Scenes Article Making Leather Bags - Handmade Leather Lavender Bag - MONOLISA Handbags Made in California by Designer Lisa Ramos

MONOLISA BAG -Lavender Leather Tote

January 21, 2022: A change in plans. I won't be sewing. I have to finish some show applications - deadlines are approaching. Tax season alert - I completed some last minute tax preparation. The other half of the day I spent cutting the blue embossed croc hide into patterns. Oh, the blue embossed croc leather is looking so pretty. I can't wait to start sewing the bags. 

January 22, 2022: I can't believe it is Saturday already. I wanted to change things up, so I worked on the new crystal handbag closures elements. The hardware arrived earlier than expected, which doesn't happen often. I did not complete all of closure elements, but off to a great start. I still need to apply the crystal rivets on each piece and then carefully implement the designs to the bag. That will be a process. 

Behind The Scenes Article Making Leather Bags - Handmade Leather Pretty Pink Leather Bag - MONOLISA Handbags Made in California by Designer Lisa Ramos

MONOLISA BAG - Pretty Pink Leather Tote

January 23, 2022: I took a well needed day off and had a lovely lunch with mom.  


Balloon in the Sky in Napa, California

Napa, California - You Might See a Balloon in the Sky. 

January 24-26, 2022:  A small design change required me to take a nice drive out to Napa to pickup some small metallic leather hides at the beginning of the week. The scenic drive to Napa was so spectacular, I couldn't resist having lunch with a view of the Napa Valley vineyards.  I also spent time working on the new website product pages and marketing collateral for the upcoming tote collection.

January 27-29, 2022:  Made great progress adding the crystal design closure elements to a variety of bags. Spent a few days working on photography for the website product pages. I also spent time cutting the leather embossed croc hides in preparation for next weeks sewing. 

January 30, 2022: Got up very early and worked on gluing the some of the croc pattern pieces in preparation for this weeks sewing. Towards the end of the day I finished one last closure element on a tote bag and did more photography work. 

Behind the scenes of making leather bags | Handmade Leather Blue Croc Bag - MONOLISA Handbags Made in California by Designer Lisa Ramos for MONOLISA Handbag Collection

MONOLISA BAG -Embossed Leather Blue Croc Fringe Tote 

February 1-3, 2022:  Finally completed sewing the blue croc bags.  Then I shifted to working on the final touches of my documented YouTube Video - Behind the Scenes of Making Leather Bags with the goal of delivering a visual glimpse into life in the studio. I took a few hours and worked on my tote bag notes -  I use the notes each year to educate or remind myself how to work on specific patterns. I forget things very easily, so appreciate detailed notes and specs. This data gives me great perspective for future designs, saves time and prevents mistakes. 

February 4, 2022:  This morning I worked on an antique effect edge painting project for a potential upcoming tote bag project - still working on the details. The remainder of the day I launched the new bag collection online followed by some social media marketing tasks. 

 Video features Bag Designer, Lisa Ramos edge painting the leather handles of this embossed leather brown croc tote

February 5-28: Although the month of February isn’t nearly over, the remainder of the month I am working on the embossed croc leather tote collection. Also, I will be adding closure elements on a few blue and purple tote bags which were set aside - waiting on backordered hardware. 

Behind The Scenes Article Making Leather Bags - Italian Leather Tote Bag from 2022 Collection

Italian Leather Tote Bag from 2022 Collection 


March - April 2022: 
 The Italian leather crossbody bag collection will be designed and developed during March through April. If I complete this collection by mid April then I may have time to work on a last minute handbag design idea - creating a small tote bag with a shimmering crystal closure element and beautifully designed textured Argentium silver hardware handles. This project will require both my leather craft and metalsmith skills - I am working out the details. Definitely something new, exciting and challenging to work on. March through the rest of the year is busy - Weekends I am on the road at art shows selling my work followed by creating new pieces in the studio during the week. The remainder of the year, I am working on a variety of metalsmith projects - sculpted rings, versatile earrings, a new cultured pearl jewelry collection, custom orders along with last minute ideas. Before I know it I will be back planning for next years handbag collection. Looking forward to working on all of the MONOLISA 2022 creations. I better get to work!

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Handbag & Jewelry Designer, Lisa Ramos

This blog post is written by California Handbag Designer, Lisa Ramos who has featured her handmade MONOLISA collection at over 100 events in California.

Read about how Lisa started her business later in life - Starting a Business at 50


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