This is Kat's Writing.

Following are a series of words and imagery.
Do not be too alarmed at life nor too complacent in the world. There may be alarming things here. There may not be. Have I mentioned scatological yet?



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Restoring a Leather Purse, Part One.

I have a rather odd hobby. I like to find random old purses in thrift stores and restore them. I blame Coach bags. I love love love the old leather Coaches.. so I will scour the stores hunting them. Over the years I've found, rehabbed and released/kept over thirty older leather purses. Most were Coach. Some had no names but were just awesome. I've kept my eye out for rarer bags.. Maybe one day I'll luck onto a Hermes or a Channel. You never know what you might find.

This is the cleaned purse. At this point the leather is very dry, I will need to fix that. That bit of silk is what I will line it with.
Yesterday I found my first real Dooney and Bourke. It was a mess. I actually passed it up at first, it was so dirty. The leather was almost all stained, the brass was dull and there was something hard and gunky on the keyhole latch and there was black grime all over the D rings and the strap was mildly sticky. But it was 75% off the tag price and that worked out to under 80 cents.

I won't mention the inside mankiness or the ink stains. Or the weird smell.

Actually, I will mention the smell. It was a mix of layered old body odor and too much perfume. And old food. It smelled like the last owner never bathed but instead preferred to cover herself in spray on stank. And she apparently ate with her bag in her lap. I didn't notice it till I got home (as it was covered by thrift store general smell)... but then I kept smelling another human. A dirty one. Yeah gods. I'd planned to clean it this weekend but some things couldn't WAIT. It was just that bad of a stench. YUCK.

Tools of the Trade.
I will take this time to note that while I have used these techniques to clean leather bags with little/no ill effects you can IF YOU ARE NOT CAREFUL really screw up the leather with my methods. Acetone will remove all the dye. So will bleach. Brasso can discolor leather. You'll want to work in a well ventilated room and don't fucking smoke. Call it a disclaimer and a warning. Try it on a hidden spot or a scrap first.

The things I use

I use a nail brush to scrub all the nooks and crannies and to really get into the leather grain. The paint brush end is for poking into those bits the nail brush won't go. The thread ripper and snips are to remove loose threads and the sharp chisel is to help pull up suede nap that's been grimed flat. It's also good for scraping gunk off smooth leather if you are careful. The boar bristle hair brush is to brush out the suede after it is clean and completely dry.

Dish soap. Nothing removes oils and grease better. I used it first on this bag.
Bleach and acetone. These.. be careful with. I used the acetone to remove most of the ink stains on the inside flap and outside body of the purse. The bleach faded out all the stains very nicely.
Saddle Soap. If the leather isn't that dirty then this is all you need. Safe, gentle and moisturizing. Follow directions on the container.
Brasso. This is for the metal bits of the bag. If you don't have brass be sure it is safe to use.

White Vinegar. This is great for deodorizing.
Neat's Foot Oil. After you clean you will need to replenish the oils in the leather. Or, if your leather is older you'll be simply replenishing what has been lost.
Mink Oil. It waterproofs.
Polishes. These can be colored or clear. They'll go a long way to creating a like-new surface.
Glues, needle and Thread. Sometimes you just need to sew something back on or glue a bit back down.

Some people also use acrylic paints and leather resurface stuff and dyes. I don't. Mostly because once you do you can't undo it.

How I Do It

 I take it apart. Remove the straps, unsnap any snaps, dust out the pockets and so on. Since I was removing the inner pocket I did that now.

I start with the brass. 
IDing hardware on the D&B bag. It's all a heavy brass..but for the zipper.
I carefully dab Brasso on a dry cloth and dab it on the brass only. If it gets on the leather wipe it with a damp rag.If you have black gunk let it set a minute and scrape it off. Wipe and scrub till it's nice and clean.
This was black and dull yellow. The post was.. unspeakable.

Next, the ink. Use a clean dry cloth tip (fold a triangle) wet with acetone. Dab and rub gently at just the ink. Less is more. Be very careful. If you have a black bag.. I really wouldn't do it.

This is after cleaning. My finger is where the worst of the inner ink was. Note the clean area covered by the pocket.
 Now the dish soap. I used the nail brush and a wash cloth to scrub all the things. I was very careful to get into the stitches. I scrubbed inside and out.
The now-clean split leather side of the flap. It was brown and grey and ink stained.

Since this was a white stained bag I used a very weak bleach and water mix on the inside. And.. yeah.. the outside too. To do this I dropped maybe a 1/4 teaspoon of bleach into 1 1/2 cup water. I wiped it into the split leather side and used the nail brush to scrub there. And then I used a wrung dry washcloth to soak it out so it wasn't sitting in the leather too long. For the outside I wiped it with the bleach mix and let it set for 30 seconds. Then I wiped it off. And then I let it dry. I did repeat the bleach scrub. This baby was stained!

And now I used saddle soap. I did this mostly to remove any traces of crap I used to clean it earlier. 
Lastly I soaked yet another clean cloth in white vinegar and mashed it all over the leather. I was extra careful with those straps. Nasty nasty straps.

The final result. It's bone dry from the cleaning but looks pretty good!
It dried overnight. Today it smells of clean leather. No more nasty stank. Stains are minimal. I think it's a bone and English tan color combo. I'll need to locate a replacement duck fob.

This morning I glued the loose bits down with glue. This eve I'll oil the heck out of it with neats foot oil. And then line it.
Part two shall be all about that.


  1. That is an interesting looking purse. Did you take a before shot?

    1. No. I didn't think about doing a blog post about till after I had started cleaning it. Just take my word for the ickyness!

      I like it. It makes a good summer bag, nice and roomy and waterproof. I wasn't able to line it in the end. The leather is very dense and sewing through the suede side was impossible. I would have had to use an awl and put holes through the body or glue it in; neither of which I'm willing to do.