I get a lot of questions from Instagram followers asking about what reinforcements they should use in bag making. Believe it or not, that is a pretty difficult question!
Reinforcements: Changing the Drape
Reinforcements are used to change the drape and handling of leather. Much like the picture above, reinforcements provide support to the leather. Leather, as you may already know, can be as supple and thin as a piece of fabric, as rigid and stiff as a piece of wood or something in between. Sometimes you will hear the term temper used to describe the pliability or softness of a leather. Usually there is a descriptor associated with the temper that might be firm, medium, mellow or soft. But even those adjectives alone will not tell the whole story as one person’s mellow may be another person’s soft.
If you purchase leather that is the hand or temper you want for the bag and you like the stiffness of it, then you may be able to make the bag without any reinforcements. If you like the leather but it is too stiff, perhaps having it split will make it more pliable and it will then be something that will work for your project, as is without reinforcement.
If the leather you choose has too much drape or is too pliable, then you can consider laminating (gluing) a reinforcement to the back of the leather to change its hand. A good reinforcement to consider is Salpa (also referred to by the brand name Salamander) which is a bonded leather fiber material. Another option is Microfiber (also called Microfibra, Micron or Mycron). Both of these products come in different thickness options, usually ranging from .5mm to 2.0mm thick.
Reinforcements Now Available for Small Makers
In the past, these products were very difficult for small makers to obtain by the meter, yard or small roll. However now, thankfully, you have some great options to obtain these products. Rocky Mountain Leather Supply is carrying Salamander brand Salpa and the Italian reinforcement line (including Microfibra) from Luigi Carnevali. If you are in Europe, you can also get small quantities of Salpa from Cuir Textile Crea and Microfiber from Mando.
There are other products to consider beyond these two options, including other products from Luigi Carnevali such as their Brio, Mayo, and Saba lines. The best way to get started is to purchase a few meters or yards of each product and give it a try in a new design.
Reinforcements in Action
In my book Leatherwork School, Salpa is used in the clutch and Top Handle bag project. It is also used in the handles of the Round Handle bag project. Microfiber is used in the Enchape bag project. I used those reinforcements after doing a lot of prototyping and testing; comparing test bags made with my chosen leather without any reinforcement, with Salpa and with Micron. After making bags with the same leather and each reinforcement option, only then could I make a fully informed decision about which reinforcement would work best for their design.
It’s all about the Prototypes
I understand that testing and trialing takes time to make happen, but you really need to make the investment if you are going to fully evaluate reinforcement options. I read an article about a designer working for a major Italian bag manufacturer and learned that they actually made one hundred prototypes to come up with their ideal design and materials. I’m not saying you need to make a hundred test bags, but you do need to invest in a few prototypes as you begin working with a new leather. Good Luck and Happy Prototyping!