Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft - Favorite Tools & Resources

Posted by Lisa Ramos on

MONOLISA Studio in Clayton, California

Since, I changed careers five years ago and started my own business,  MONOLISA everyday has had a teaching moment. My journey has taught many valuable lessons along the way and ironically just a few clicks away. In this article "Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft - Favorite Tools &  Resources" I am sharing some of my favorite equipment, useful tools, leather craft teachers, and other resources, which have added tremendous value to my leather craft profession. I also share some of my personal experiences about starting a solo woman owned business hand making leather bags and sculpted jewelry. The goal of this article is to provide information about valuable tools and resources to individuals interested in learning the leather craft making process - especially those just starting. When I first started working in the leather craft world finding great resources was not an easy task. It took many years and experience building that foundation - still growing. I hope some of the resources below can help in your leather craft. Have fun creating!


 Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of Barry King Mallet, Iris and Stria by Makers Cabinet

Barry King Mallet and Makers Cabinet Tools on Deluxe Stone Slab

Learning about leather craft started for me back in 2013. At the time, I knew very little about leather grades, sewing, tools, pattern making or industrial sewing machines. My lack of knowledge and formal training only inspired me to learn independently. So, that is what I did over 8 years ago and am still doing today. The leather craft knowledge I have today is a result of ongoing research, online training, experimenting with pattern designs, lots of sewing, mistakes and taking risks. The list below are some of my favorite tools I keep in the studio.

Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of the Making of a MONOLISA Handbag on Olfa Mat and using Fabric Clips

Olfa 36" x 24" Gridded Cutting Mat and Fabric Clips

Favorite Leather Tools & Accessories

Olfa 36'' x 24'' Gridded Cutting Mat - This cutting mat is great for cutting leather, fabrics and other materials. I have a few mats in my studio and the measuring guides help tremendously throughout each project.

Fabric Clips - When you need leather patterns to stay in place fabric clips do the job. My experience using fabric clips over the years has been successful - holding leather patterns sturdily and no leaving marks on the leather I use. Using small and large clips I find useful for different size projects. 

Barry King's Mallets - Perfection is one word to describe these beautifully crafted tools. I use both the 24 oz and 48 oz mallets. The quality and strength of these mallets are ideal for many of those striking leather tasks. Let the tool do the work as they say - a few hits go a long way with these ultra strong mallets. I just bought Barry King's fancy glass slicker and I can't wait to use it!

Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of Leather Craft - Tools
Olfa Rotary Cutter, Poly Cutting Board and Silicone Glue & Finishing Mat

Poly Cutting Board, 12" x 16" - I use poly cutting boards for many of my leather craft projects. They are light-weight and easily portable. My poly cutting board moves around a lot in the shop.

Olfa Rotary Cutter - Cut with ease and comfort. The Olfa rotary cutter delivers clean cuts every time and is super comfortable to use. Working with thinner leathers makes this tool a must have in the studio when cutting out pattern pieces. I keep a lot of replacement blades on hand and also use a tool to sharpen the blades. 

A Day In the Life of Handbag Designer - Lisa Ramos wearing white gloves
Wearing TrueGrip White Gloves

TrueGrip All White Gloves - I work with leathers that can scratch and get dirty. To keep leathers pristine and scratch resistant these white gloves are ideal. They are really comfortable gloves and are sold in bulk. Purchase at Home Depot or other hardware store outlets. 

Silicone Glue & Finishing Mat - The ultra light-weight mat is a must during gluing tasks. The mat cleans up easily with soap and water. 

Fiskars 10" Amplify RazorEdge Fabric Shears - Don't let the world Fabric in the title steer you away from using these scissors on thinner leathers. I have cut through natural aniline leather 1-1.2mm and Pigmented Cow Leather that is 4 - 5 oz. They do the job nicely. 

Hand Making Leather Bags - MONOLISA Handbags
Using the 12" x 12" Deluxe Stone Slab

Deluxe Stone Slabs - For tooling leather deluxe stone slabs are ideal. The slabs are made of granite or quartz. They come in 12"x 12" or 6" x 6". I use both sizes, the 12"x 12" stays on my work table and the smaller one travels with me throughout the shop. Tandy Leather sells both deluxe stone slab sizes. 

    Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of Handbag Designer Lisa Ramos

    Lisa wearing her Optivisors

    Optivisors - I can't live without my optivors when working on all of those detailed leather projects. I own two pairs, one for leather craft and the other for metalsmith work. They are great because each pair comes with different interchangeable lens plates or purchase separately. I wear mine everyday. 
      Wood Slicker - A basic slicker and a strong hand can do a nice burnish job on leather. Some of the simplest tools achieve great results. 
        Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of Designer Lisa Ramos using the Stria from Makers Cabinet Tool Collection
        Using Stria Ruler From Makers Cabinet

        Makers Cabinet Tools - If you love fancy tools, Makers Cabinet is a must see collection designed in London. My first purchase from the company was their Iris product - the high quality brass and steal tool draws circles effortlessly. Another bonus, it looks beautiful in my shop and is a great conversation piece. My second purchase, Stria their brass folding ruler is designed in brush brass. The well hand crafted ruler includes imperial and metric on either side. I enjoy using this ruler, because it is durable, fits perfectly in my hands and folds effortlessly. Did I mention the packaging is beautiful too? 


        Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of Table Accessory for my TechSew 2750 Pro Industrial Machine

        Aluminum Cylinder Arm Extension
        for TechSew 2750 Pro Industrial Sewing Machine -  I love this table top accessory for my Techsew machine designed by RecentRelicDesigns I purchased on Etsy. I use it as a sewing table top, however it also comes with seam guides and strap tracks - for sewing perfectly straight stitching on straps. I made a cover on mine to keep the top extra smooth when placing those delicate leathers on the aluminum element. I first heard about this accessory in the TechSew Facebook Group I am a member in. 

        Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of Metallic Elephant Foil Machine

        Metallic Elephant Foil Machine

        Favorite Equipment For Leather Works

        I learned right away that quality is everything when purchasing equipment. Over the years, my goal has been to slowly build my studio with high quality machines that would last for years to come. Although the machines listed below are a big investment, I explain some of the features I like for each one. 

        Hand Making Leather Bags - MONOLISA Handbags

        TechSew 2750 PRO Cylinder Walking Foot Industrial Sewing Machine - This sewing machine is ideal for handbag sewing. The long cylinder shape industrial machine allows one to easily sew bags and get to those hard to reach places. It was easy to set-up and creates beautiful stitching. Personal favorite feature of the machine as described by the Techsew Team is the "SmartServo-NP Needle Position Motor: The Techsew SmartServo-NP is an automatic needle positioning motor which saves you tons of time and effort while sewing. This powerful and versatile motor will automatically lift the needle at the end of a seam, or automatically leave it in the bottom position. This will eliminate the need to constantly turn your hand wheel to position your needle." This industrial sewing machine can certainly take projects to the next level.

        Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of Gold and Silver Foiled MONOLISA Logo

        Foiled Logos Produced from the Metallic Elephant Machine

        Metallic Elephant KSF4 Foil Machine - When I first started my business I used a small hand held iron to emboss my logo, MONOLISA on the leather goods. As my business grew, I searched for a high quality hand operated foil machine that could deliver a beautifully hot foiled or embossed print. This state of the art 60 pounds machine delivered just that and is handmade in London. Another plus, excellent customer service and the machine was packaged to perfection. 

        Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of aBernina 700D Serger Machine

        Bernina Serger 700D - This is the second serger I own and favorite. I wish I would have invested the extra money to purchase this Bernina Serger 700D first. One of my favorite parts about this powerful machine, when I am serging fast the machine doesn't shake like other models I have used. Another bonus, it is light-weight yet extremely sturdy. I sew dust bags for each leather bag in the MONOLISA Collection using the Bernina serger. The only complaint, threading the machine tests my nerves every time, but that is part of serging. 

        Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of theMONOLISA Handbag Collection

        MONOLISA Handbag Collection Made by Designer Lisa Ramos


        Online Learning Resources for Leather Craft

        Learning online can be overwhelming with the abundant amount of information on the web. After watching hundreds of videos over the years, resulted in finding some valuable resources. The list below are some of my favorite Master Classes, YouTube Channels and Facebook Groups.

        Leather Craft Master Craft Online Classes - Although, I don't hand stitch leather and currently use an industrial machine to make leather goods, I had interest in the various Leather Craft Master Craft Classes. After reviewing the instructors leather work - Philip Ray, I knew the courses would deliver new and extremely valuable skills. After taking the self-paced online courses, not only did I learn new skills, but improved on existing ones - detailed edge painting techniques and best practices for using leather adhesives. I very much enjoyed also learning more about sharpening tools, leather sourcing, finding quality tools and hot foil machines. The best part, the self-paced classes gave me the freedom to go at my own pace. 

        Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of Handbag Designer Lisa Ramos Edge Painting

        Facebook TechSew Sewing Machines: Tips, Tricks & Resources - This group is a great resource for learning about TechSew brand industrial machines. The group provides insightful feedback from people who use this brand of machines. Lots of great resources are shared in this community such as troubleshooting machine problems, replacing parts, needle types, best oiling practices, where to purchase unique accessories and much more. I continue learning more about my TechSew 2750 Pro machine reading the daily Facebook posts from this group. The group is for those first time industrial machine owners to professional advanced users. 

        1451 Juki Owners Facebook Group - Since I also own a Juki machine it made sense to become a member of this Juki Facebook Group.  The Juki Owners Facebook Group provides valuable information about this specific type of industrial machine, the 1451 Juki. Members discuss interesting trouble shooting techniques, replacing parts, threading problems, bobbins, accessories, maintenance and lots of needle talk. 


          Lessons I Learned in Leather Craft Article - Favorite Tools &  Resources Picture is of aBlack Italian Leather CrocEmbossed Bag | MONOLISA Handbags Made in California

          YouTube Channels for Leather Craft

          Unsure how to use certain leather crafting tools, no problem - Weaver Leather Supply and Tandy Leather YouTube Channels offer great videos for this. Each channel shows how to use different leather crafting tools properly - skiver, striking tools, knives, slickers, edge painting, adhesives and machines.

          If you own tools, you can appreciate the art of sharpening them. Sharpening the tools in your shop is a valuable skill. I am still learning, but when it comes to techniques I watch the Burrfection YouTube Channel and search for sharpening videos in his video library.

          LeatherCraft Master Class YouTube - This channel delivers a lot of valuable information about edge painting, tools and leather techniques with instructor Philip Jury. Philip's work is both beautifully handmade and impeccable, keeping the viewers wanting to watch more. 


            What I Learned About Starting A Handbag Business

                1. I have learned to be comfortable being outside of my comfort zone.
                2. Creativity can happen at the most unexpected times - in the middle of the night, showering, folding laundry, driving or in the middle of a conversation.
                3. There is more than one way to do a skill. 
                4. Buy quality tools and equipment - my cheap stuff now lives in the garbage can.
                5. I wear many hats as a business owner - metalsmith, designer, bookkeeper, web developer, writer, marketer, sales and customer support - thats only a partial list.
                6. Continue learning, watching and practicing - the payoff will come and the learning never stops. 
                7. It is never too late to start a business - I started mine in my fifties
                8. Support other small businesses and makers. 
                9. Try and have fun - don't beat yourself up too much!
                10. Some days are easier than others. What they all have in common is keeping my eye on the clock and working at being efficient.

             Behind the Scenes with Lisa Ramos Making Leather Bags

            Studio Tour



            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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