Friday, 24 July 2015

Adding polished chrome studs to my new red bag


I fell in love with my new red Karen Millen bag on first sight, and I have used no other bag since buying it on 25 June, almost a month ago. This may have something to do with wanting to use a brightly-coloured bag in the height of the summer, rather than the more 'autumnal' orange bag. But it may indicate a development in my personality. Because you can't carry a bright red bag without being ready for it! It draws attention, and you need to be comfortable and confident about that.

Actually, I rather like being looked at a bit more closely than before. I've read somewhere that a preference for red indicates sexiness, which is not true in my own case, but even so, such a notion might make passers-by speculate! Certainly, the mischievous side of me doesn't mind being thought of as an ageing diva who can still cut it. I've also come across another interpretation, that red shows a keen interest in living a full life and having a good time, and that's largely true of me nowadays.

Red is definitely a positive colour. That's a good thing. But it's not for the shy and reticent, nor those who like to go unnoticed. I would say that carrying a red bag is empowering. Well, I certainly feel bolder. And surely I wouldn't carry a red bag unless I wanted people to think that I'm a force?

This bag from Karen Millen is very hard to fault. Its internal design is almost perfect. But externally I have had concerns about the strength of the stitching that secures the handles to the side of the bag.


To be sure, a month's intensive use has not thrown up the slightest problem, but the conviction has remained that this is a potential weak point, and that some way of strengthening the bond between handle and bag should be considered. You can see from the shots below that there aren't an awful lot of stitches holding the handles on. As I understand it, most of the stress falls on those two thick horizontal threads, and if they go, the rest of the stitches will quickly unravel.


I felt that a rivet or stud would usefully add to the strength of the fixing, and take some stress off the stitching. I thought about what sort. A plain rivet - the two parts gently hammered together with a special tool - would do the trick, but I wanted something in polished chrome, to match the quality of the four chrome feet on the bottom of the bag. Searching the Internet further, I found a leather goods supplier (Cox the Saddler, in Chesham, Buckinghamshire) who were selling polished chrome two-part Sam Browne belt studs that screwed together with the leather sandwiched in between. Just the thing. I ordered four. They would be high-class, moderately decorative, and certainly do the job where strengthening the handle fixings was concerned. They recommended using Threadlock to prevent the studs unscrewing once tightened up, so I ordered that from another supplier. It looks like this:


Both items arrived next day, and I then spent over an hour embellishing my bag as planned. I had some special tools ready, a leather hole-puncher and a sharply-pointed awl. Only the awl was needed.


Of course, I stood back before starting, and drank some tea. Did I really want to do this? I would be permanently altering the look of my nice new red bag. Was that OK? And what if the job was much harder than I believed it would be, and I messed up, and the bag were disfigured? Hmm. More tea. Then I thought: let's do it and see! Now or never! So, beginning with one of the handle ends on the 'back' side of the bag, I very carefully pushed the awl into the pristine red leather:


The awl made a hole through the handle (that's two thin layers of leather) and the side of the bag (a thicker layer of leather, and then the black fabric within). It looked all right. I now did the same thing, but from the inside of the bag.

Then came the fiddly bit. I unscrewed a stud, and from the inside of the bag pushed the shaft of the flat half I'd be using a screwdriver on through the various layers of leather - or tried to. It wouldn't go through! The leather layers had closed up a bit. Another thrust-through with the awl. This time the shaft did push through - but it didn't protrude far enough. I used the ends of two screwdrivers to compress the leather around the hole so that the shaft protruded sufficiently for screwing the two halves of the stud together. Here's a slightly out-of-focus shot to show how matters stood at this point:


Now I took the rounded, decorative part of the stud, and popped a little Threadlock into it, so that it would all lock solid after the two halves had been screwed together and tightened. Threadlock is a runny liquid glue, coloured blue, potentially messy to use.


For some of these shots, the little Leica was of course mounted on a tripod, and the shot was taken using a ten-second delay on the self-timer.

As you can see, the aim was to wet the screw thread inside the stud. Then to place the decorative part of the stud onto the end of the protruding shaft, and turn it with my fingers until the thread 'caught'. Then to apply a screwdriver to the flat end inside the bag, and tighten it all up. I had a yellow rubber glove ready for my left hand, to help me hold the exterior, decorative half of the stud firmly. And it all worked fine for the first two studs.

But not so well for the next two on the 'front' side of the bag. It was much more of a struggle to get the thread to catch when screwing the two halves of each stud together. A minute difference in the thickness of the leather, perhaps?

Stud number four was eventually done without mishap. But number three, which also took a bit of time and a lot of fiddling, did not come up to the standard of the others. The reason lay mostly in this being the stud that I photographed. So I was using up time taking photographs, instead of gluing and screwing in one rapid operation. The leather had time to decompress, which caused delay and much frustration; and the glue ran onto the leather around the hole, leaving more than a hint of a blue stain. It didn't look bad, but it wasn't the perfect result I'd wanted for a quality bag that was only a month old. I was assured later on that day that all four of the studs looked great, and that nobody was seeing any error in execution.

Anyway, what's done is done, and here is the end result. It's not (to my eye) a professional-looking job, but mine was a strictly amateur effort and perhaps allowances can be made. I will say that I have fulfilled my brief, and the handle fixings are now most certainly stronger. And - as I hoped - these Sam Browne studs have added a little necessary decoration. I didn't want bling, but the bag arguably needed something more; it was slightly too plain.


I'm thinking that the slight-but-detectable-close-up staining around on stud number three (that's number four in the photo just above) will fade with time, and may in any case get gradually diminished as the bag 'matures', especially after a few cleanings and leather-cream applications. And all too soon, the bag will accrue scuffs and stains through natural wear and tear. The essential thing is that its handles are now better attached, and a prolonged life is assured.

I did enjoy this little spot of leatherwork, just as I have before now. I'm considering two more little leather projects. One, a nicer sleeve for Demelza, my mobile phone. The other, a self-designed purse, to replace my ageing but faithful Mimco purse dating from 2009. Neither project is urgent, but both sleeve and purse will be needed within a year or two, and it would be very nice to personally create something unique. As for materials, I'm thinking that I could look around for second-hand leather bags in charity shops, and cannibalise them for what I need to use.

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