I have a love affair with kitschy vintage stuff. Bowling things make me especially happy. I love bowling bags. So, when I walked to the sporting goods section of the Goodwill a few days ago, and saw a tooled-leather bowling bag practically in pieces on the bottom shelf, I swooned a little. But what would I do with a bowling bag that was falling apart? Was it in good enough condition to try to save?

The answer was no. The stitching was rotting, the thing was falling apart. The bottom had obviously been sitting in water at some point, so there was some staining and some mildew. But… but… well. Tooled leather bowling pins. That’s all I’m saying. I bought it, and I brought it home, and I got some ideas.

Step one was simply giving up and taking the entire thing apart. I broke it down to its constituent parts, and then discarded whatever clearly couldn’t be saved. That was pretty much all the non-leather parts, including the bottom, as well as many of the very thin leather parts, like trims and lacing. But I did get the two large front and back panels, two smaller panels from the sides and the side/top parts where the zipper resides. Which, really, were the only important bits.

Step two was reconditioning. I first soaked the pieces in hot water for a bit, then washed them carefully. I used Dawn dish soap. (Hey, if it’s safe enough for the oil-covered critters, I figured it’s safe enough for this, and I didn’t have any saddle soap handy, although I really should get some.) I scrubbed carefully with a soft cloth to remove the dust in the tooled designs, and the filth on the inside of the leather, to include mold on at least one piece. After rinsing thoroughly, I let the pieces dry overnight. The next day, the task was to remove as many of the tedious little leftover bits of stitching as possible, and then oil those puppies. I had some mink oil I bought to condition some shoes, and along with the shoe brush and an old cotton sock, I first scrubbed, then rubbed, the mink oil into both sides of the leather pieces, being careful to get the edges really well.

Ladies and gentlemen:


The bowling scene. I love this. I believe this will be one side of a knitting bag. It will be a basic tote style, with the rest of the body made of felted plaid wool suiting or coat material, and bowling-themed lining fabric. (I’m contemplating designing my own, having not yet found one I really love anywhere.) The handle hardware will be replaced, and it will also have a shoulder strap.


The rose. Yeah, this is awesome. Another tote-style bag, possibly also a knitting bag. Like the other large panel, the handle will be replaced, and it will have a shoulder strap. Meanwhile, this one will, I think, have a black/red color scheme. I’d like to do plaid in those colors if I can find it, but otherwise a plain black or strip will work. For the lining, I’m thinking rockabilly, Day of the Dead or Catholic imagery. And I was also thinking about doing some kind of black-polish wash-type thing to only the rose portion of the tooling.

Last, but not actually least:


Each of these pieces measures a little under 6″x9″. I’m thinking I’ll knit and felt bodies for them and make clutches or little handbags out of them. The floral motif one will have a zippered coin pocket. (I am not sure what that zipper was for, but it reached into the liningless bottom of the bag.) The other piece used to have a little window sewn on to put a name label. The stitch holes delineate an area almost the exact size of my driver’s license, which means by the time I sewed a window pocket there it would be too small to actually put the ID in there, or at least, a very tight fit. So. I’m thinking it’ll have some kind of pocket, but I’m not sure what.

Not pictured are the zipper bits. I haven’t finished reconditioning them yet, as I have a LOT of stitching to take out first. (Including removing the zipper.) Once done, I think they’ll make a really interesting little bag. I have ideas. Oh yes.

The really nice thing about all this is, I think I can do a lot of the sewing on my machine, including sewing the leather pieces to the fabric. The former stitching left holes, and as long as I go slowly and/or hand crank the machine, I think my machine will be able to use the old stitch holes with no problems. That’ll save a lot of work, although the other nice thing about the stitch holes is, even my ungainly hand-stitching will look neat, wherever it happens to be necessary.

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