Sentimental sewing // Vintage leather bag repair

My Father-in-law passed away recently. It was a little unexpected and obviously very sad. We will all miss him a great deal. Living so far away meant that it wasn’t possible for our whole family to make such a huge trip on a moment’s notice. However, my husband was able to return to New Zealand and he was fortunate enough to make it home in time (21 hours of travelling later) to be there with his Dad and to spend time with his Mother and siblings.

My husband is very sentimental, so I suggested that he look through his Dad’s wardrobe and ask his Mum if he could bring home a suit or jacket that I could alter to fit him. I was expecting one nice item (his Dad wore a lot of quality RTW and designer brands). He came home with an extra suitcase brimming with shorts, pants, jackets, shirts, an old leather bag, and a particularly fabulous collection of belts (I’ll post some pictures of those belts on Instagram as soon as a day passes when they aren’t being worn).

The clothes fit near enough that I haven’t needed to do any immediate alterations, although everything is a tiny bit bigger than what my husband would normally wear. With plain T’s, casual shorts, and business shirts, this hasn’t really mattered. He’s been wearing at least one of those items every day and I know it makes him feel closer to his father, especially when I know he still feels so much sadness.

I will definitely need to take a closer look at the suit pants and jackets in the future. They are too nice to make do with a less than perfect fit. The bag, however, required immediate attention. The lining was disintegrating on the touch and leaving everything in it’s path covered with a powdery white residue.


My first step was to cut out the lining. I left 1/2″  of lining still attached to the bag. I wasn’t quite sure at that point whether I would want to stitch though the bag leather or re-stitch the lining to the top most portion of the existing lining. In the end, I unpicked it all, and hand-stitched it in exactly the same position as the original lining.

Once the lining had been removed, I was able to copy the pattern pieces. There were four pieces in total; two sides, a bottom, and a pocket bag (it was incredibly simple). I was also able to see what a disgraceful mess of inner construction there was hidden beneath the original lining.



The fabric I used to line the bag was a mix of cotton shirting and heavy silk twill. Both fabrics were leftover from previous projects (here and here) and I had to do a bit of piecing to come up with the amount of fabric that I needed. I put a silk twill panel in the sides of the bag and used the same silk for the pocket bag. There’s one extra seam in the striped shirting, but my stripe matching game was strong and you can hardly see it.


Once I’d finished sewing the lining, I pressed down the top seam allowance and glued the lining to the inner leather (in the same manner as the old lining had been attached). I then hand-stitched the lining to the outer bag. I tried to avoid adding new stitching holes, but it was difficult to see where I was going in the old stitching line. The old seam line was quite stained and creased because of age. In the end, I somehow managed to finish with what resembles a modified prick stitch on the inside and a running stitch on the outside. The outside stitches don’t look out of place, and I really like the vintage feel of the tiny inner stitches.


It’s actually really difficult to photograph the lining of a bag. Perhaps I should have turned it inside out but I didn’t think of that at the time.



9 thoughts on “Sentimental sewing // Vintage leather bag repair

  1. Amanda

    So sorry to hear about your family’s loss. Thinking of you and yours. This is such a special TLC project and I truly hope it brings your husband much comfort (while in style!) x


  2. Linda Galante

    How nice that you were able to save something so special. I love vintage leather and your little stitches look perfectly in keeping with that style of bag, as does your fabric choice. What a nice way to honor his memory!


  3. Jillian - SewUnravelled

    Debbie, my heart aches for you and your family. But I love that you encouraged your husband to keep those things that give him comfort and at least a small sense of peace in this difficult time. The bag is stunning and you restored it perfectly because you did so with love xxx


  4. Sarah

    How hard to be so far away from family at such a time. You’ve done a beautiful restoration job on this bag and the thought of your beloved wearing his dad’s clothes every day makes me cry. So sorry x


  5. Lisa G

    How wonderful you were able to re-line the bag for your husband! It really is hard to be so far from family, especially when unexpected things happen. Very sorry for your family’s loss.


  6. Marisa

    So sorry for your family’s loss. It is my first time reading your blog and this post hits right home. I lost my mom 4 years ago, quite prematurely. She made me promise I would keep her clothes and her things for myself, even though nothing fitted me. But I kept my promise and I am re-sewing every item (It’s going to take me a lifetime!). It makes me feel close to her and to my grandmother, who taugh me to sew. You are wonderful for taking the time to make a new lining and alter your father in law clothes. I am sure it will make this difficult time a bit less painful for your husband.


    1. Debbie Iles Post author

      Thank you Marisa. I love the idea of what you are doing too. There is so much you can do to refashion/re-sew clothes to suit. And it really is a nice way to feel close to those you love. I like seeing my husband wear his dad’s items because I can see how it makes him feel (even if they don’t always match ;-)).


  7. Melanie

    My condolences to you and your husband on the loss of your in-law and father. I’m glad he was able to get back to NZ. I am also very moved that you are able to work with these keepsakes to keep them alive, both in use and memory. Very cool idea.



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