Featured Artisan: Sabrina Lee Designs a Celine Look-a-like Travel Tote Bag From Pebbled Taupe Leather Hides

Have you always wanted to design your own leather fashion accessories but felt like taking on a project that complex might be a little too ambitious?

That’s what our featured artisan, Sabrina Lee, thought before she decided to take her leathercraft skills to the next level. After years of refining her craft, she finally developed the confidence she needed to create a fashionable work of art.

Sabrina always wanted a Celine Handbag but wasn’t willing to pay the high price of high-end fashion accessories. She took matters into her own hands (literally) and designed her very own Celine Look-a-like Travel Tote Bag with our beige leather hides.

In our very first “Featured Artisan” edition, we interviewed Sabrina Lee to learn more about her inspirations and leather crafting process to inspire your creative journey.

Our Interview With Sabrina Lee

What inspired you to create your own collection?

I love to make my own clothes, as it allows me to make designer-inspired clothes on a budget. Over time, I became interested in making handbags to complete my handmade outfits, which naturally led to my interest in leatherworking. 

I also really love making handbags because I love to play with sculptural shapes, and it is often much easier to wear a sculptural handbag than a sculptural dress.

That led me to create my own line of handbags, Fukinsei Bags, featuring bags with unique silhouettes that stand out from the crowd.


When and how did you start working with leather?

When I first started making handbags, I would stick to using fabric because I was familiar with it as a garment-maker. After a while, I longed to get the look of a polished-looking leather handbag. Still, I was a bit wary of spending a lot of money on genuine leather when I wasn't sure I knew how to work with it, so I started working with faux leather, which I used to practice leatherworking techniques. 

Once I became competent in those techniques, I decided to take the plunge and start browsing for genuine leather at stores in the Garment District in NYC (where I was living at the time). Having now worked extensively with faux and genuine leather, I can say for sure that there is truly nothing like the look and feel of a supple genuine leather -- it's like the difference between sewing with silk and polyester.


What drew you to work with leather for your craft projects?

Of course, I love the look and feel of leather, as nothing even comes close to looking as polished and luxurious, in my opinion. I also love that leather can be supple or sturdy, depending on the weight and type of leather, giving you the freedom of a designer to make all sorts of shapes. 

Like my large triangular-shaped tote bag, a supple, soft leather can be made into slouchy, casual-cool bags. You can get the free pattern on my website here. More structured, stiffer leather can be made into sculptural shapes, like my banana sling bag. You can get the free pattern for that here.

I also love that you can work with leather in all sorts of different ways -- you can emboss it, paint it, buff it, stamp it, etc. I am currently obsessed with wet molding leather, which is when you soak leather in water, stretch it over a mold, then let it dry into a 3D shape.

What do you love most about working with leather?

Other than my love for the versatility of leather, which I've already talked about, I also love that I can make designer-inspired bags and clothes using my own two hands for a fraction of the price. 

So far, I have made a Hermes wallet and a Celine luggage tote. My next project is a Hermes Lindy bag. You can follow my progress on my Instagram or check out my blog for more details about my leatherworking projects.


Where do you find your inspiration for leather crafting?

I have found inspiration literally everywhere, but right now, I have two entirely different sources of inspiration: first, I'm inspired by classic designer handbags, and second, I'm inspired by sculptural, abstract shapes. I just can't limit myself to one category of makes!

What do you think is the most important part of your creative process?

I really love the brainstorming/material collecting initial phase of the project, when I dream about what I will make and think about the materials and techniques that I'll need to make it.

Once I've started constructing the bag, my favorite part is hand-sewing the leather pieces together -- I just find it so soothing and meditative, especially if I'm sitting in front of my window gazing at the view while I sew. 

Now, It’s Your Turn

We hope this first “Featured Artisan” edition inspired you to take on the challenge of designing your own leather accessories. There’s no better feeling in the world than creating a luxurious leather item with your own hands. Imagine the feeling you’ll get when you show friends and family what you’ve designed.

Read Sabrina Lee’s full tutorial of how she created her Celine Look-a-like Travel Tote Bag by clicking here.

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