Monday, August 17, 2009

Can I Make My Own Saddle Bag?

I have no idea, but I'm going to try.

This ratty old nylon saddle bag came with my 1955 Huffy Sportsman and was probably originally supplied along with the Huffy's Taiwan-made saddle to appeal to American consumers who wanted the look of an English 3-speed without the cost, or who perhaps just didn't know any better.

Being the thrifty fellow that I am, I just cannot bring myself to hand over $100-$130 for an imitation leather saddle bag made by Brooks, and even less willing to pay almost $400 for a real leather one. And the bags at Velo-Orange and other places, while perfectly lovely in their own right, are just not what I'm looking for.

I'm using the old bag to create a pattern, and I've already made a mock-up out of paper. Over the weekend, I bought a yard of a nice, tweedy-looking wool remnant at the fabric store ($3.98) and I'll track down some leather and buckles to make straps.

I will disclose readily that I have zero sewing ability, although I have had some experience bodging together split seams and popped buttons. I will be trying to do this completely by hand, without mechanical aid. We'll see what happens.


  1. I love this kind of thing! My Mom reupholstered our Mini when I was a kid after finding overstocked fabric from an airline (!!!!!). She ripped apart the seats and made new covers from scratch! They were fantastic! This weekend, I hope to start knitting a liner for my bike basket!

    If this were the 70's, we could learn macramé and make our own lock cables : )

  2. I see a new textile empire arising...

  3. you may want to use something firm to line your fabric, so that the bag doesn't just sag like an dead balloon when it's empty. perhaps some stiff and water proof like plastic canvas or those thin plastic liners from the bottom of reusable grocery bags.

  4. Let me tell you that tracking down the straps is the biggest challenge.

    For my prototype I ended up using belts from the local thrift store. No, they don't match.

    Afterwards I found this source of straps, which I will use going forward:

    Best advice for doing it by hand is to mark your seam lines. It's easier to follow a line that is already there than to eyeball it once the seam is curving.

  5. @jgodsey: Yeah, I'm still trying to figure out what I want to use. I was thinking about double-layering the wool and/or using some light wire for structure. The old one is pretty stiff material and has a metal bar running across the back for the saddle loops to buckle around. Not the best design; I can definitely do better (ha!). Also, I was going to try waterproofing the bag once it's constructed, which I imagine will add some stiffness, too.

    @Charlotte: I believe you and I function in the same project universe. Whatever we need is *never* available when we need it, then we find exactly the right thing six months later when we don't need it anymore. And thanks for the sewing advice, it's much-appreciated!

  6. Charlotte, I just clicked on your links--I forgot you had made one! What did you use for structure? Or was the material thick enough that you didn't need it? What does the wooden dowel do? Your bag is larger than what I'm doing, so perhaps I won't need as much internal support? Any other insights you would like to share will be very cheerfully received.

  7. I'd recommend that you establish a standard 'seam allowance', be it 3/8", 1/2", whatever, and apply that allowance religiously to each panel that will compose the bag. Then you can confidently pin panels together as you work, sewing (by hand or machine) along the stitching lines you've drawn. And, when you come to bends and corners in the construction, you can cut notches in the seam allowances to create better bends, corners and curves. Good luck, Thom! You can do it!

  8. Thanks John! I was planning to leave a ridiculously huge seam allowance to accomodate dramatic mess-ups. The bends, corners, and curves are going to be my sticky wickets, I think. I keep you posted. One thing about project-blogging, it keeps you honest about messing up!

  9. Get a period accurate NOS bag for $21.95 + shipping at

  10. @ Doohickie: Yeah, but they're vinyl! And kinda ugly...

  11. Very nice work, Charlotte.

    Did you sew the leather on by hand?

  12. I didn't sew the leather on by hand, I have a Singer 15-91 that will sew through anything if you go slowly enough.

    Thom, to answer your questions:
    You see the wooden dowel helps for structure, and I added the thin plastic portion of a cheap 3-ring binder. I think that might have been overkill, but it does make it quite rigid.

    The wooden dowel is a bit like a clothes hanger to support the bag. It attaches to the saddle with loops around the dowel, distributing the load of the bag across more of the fabric. I can carry a bottle of wine in this bag, no problem.

    Depending on what you want your bag to do you won't need as much internal support, but I do think you'll want more than just wool and leather. I have a Gilles Berthoud bag and this one only has plastic like a milk jug along the surface that faces down and out (the bottom of the bag, which goes up to the opening). That might be enough for your bag.

    Hope that helps!

  13. Charlotte, thanks, the dowel makes sense.

    I came to the conclusion last night while I was cutting out the pattern that I will need a stiffer support. I think I'm going to do a double thickness of the wool with one of those plastic binders cut to fit between the layers. I'll do a post on what I end up doing. I wish I could take credit for the binder idea, but my wife had it first; and actually, the curve of a 1/2 gallon milk jug might just be perfect for the bottom/front/back of this bag. Hmm....

    See Doohickie, if I bought that bag from Menotomy, I wouldn't be having this much fun! :)

  14. for support. you can buy iron on interfacing from your local craft/fabric store. It comes in different weights. I would recommend that you get the kind that has sticky stuff on both sides.

    you can iron the two layers of wool together for extra support. it'll also help the edges of your wool from fraying. cut your fabric bigger than you need, iron the pieces together, then cut them to the proper size; so you ensure you have the interfacing all the way to the edge. if you really want to stiffen it up, you can also buy some heavy weight canvas, and iron that to the inside. if you're concerned about the look, you can sandwich the canvas between 2 layers of wool, so you have the sturdiness of the canvas as and the look of wool on both sides. but that very well may kill your hand to have to hand sew, now that i think about it!

    good luck!

  15. The REAL question - are you going to post about making the bag, including the pattern?

  16. @ Steve A: It's coming, it's coming...