Over the past 10 years, I’ve completed a ton of custom leather work that includes everything from guitar straps to car interiors to chairs and jackets. A teaser of the collection is shown in the custom link on the Heavy Leather NYC website but there is so much more in the archives. I’ve dug up a ton of designs so you can get inspired for your next piece of custom leather. Feel free to reach out! Rachael@heavyleathernyc.com
This is part 1 of 3 posts. Enjoy!
Over the years my team and I have made a variety of bags including stick bags, camera bags, gig bags, saddlebags, backpacks, purses, belt bags, mic pouches and more.
Bags take a ton of patternmaking and use a large amount of leather which makes them an expensive and difficult item to produce. I keep them exclusively, for now, as a custom job.
The gig bag above turned out stunning, although I nearly broke my sewing machine assembling it. The bag, with the intricate front pocket detail, used much more leather than expected and took many hours to construct but was well worth the challenge. The stick bag was one of my favorite projects, made for jazz drummer Steve Williams. Using a strong, vintage-dyed leather with a sheen, it came out incredibly rich and handsome. The vibe of the piece matched perfectly back to Williams’ drumming, which I later got to whitness at a small jazz club in Greenwhich Village.
Steve Williams hangin’ out before his show
I occassionally make props and accessories for t.v. and theater, often working with the shows Blue Bloods and 30 Rock.
A custom backpack, worn by Tina Fey
The first of these jacket inspired pieces is the guitar strap on the left. The customer requested a strap that had a 70’s punk theme. I first drew the sketch shown in the center and then assembled the design. That strap threw me back to my early teen years when I ate, slept and breathed punk and worshiped the Westwood/McLaren King’s Road look. I had a hell of a good time putting it together listening to my semi-warped dollar bin punk records.
The design in the center was a conceptual motorcycle jacket collage guitar strap. I’d met the customer a while back watching Moto GP racing at a bar. We both ride and know the importance of good leathers. He had gone down on his bike wearing the Ducati jacket and wanted to make something of the torn up leather. I Photoshopped the above sketch and was psyched to begin work on it- but he never came back with a deposit, or for his jacket. That design is shelved to this day but I still love the idea. I believe in re-using leather right up until it’s very last life.
The strap to the far right was made for my friend Calvin’s younger brother Ray. The strap was made up for Ray’s birthday and I gifted him a non-working Fender which he fixed up with his dad.
Later on, Calvin, his dad and their friend Ben, together as Retrofit, fixed my Yamaha XS650 into my then dream bike.
In exchange, I made them custom leather jackets. The jackets are a replica of a 1960’s motorcycle leather owned and well worn by Calvin’s dad. A rare moment in time where you’ll find custom Heavy Leather NYC clothing.
New vs. a well-worn leather
The first Heavy Leather NYC engraved straps were made for Black Sabbath. I wanted to get an intricate, heavy metal cross & skull design subtly carved into their leather and laser engraving was the perfect technique. It burns the leather and you can dye over it, giving the design depth and distortion.
On the skull strap to the right, I took inspiration for the art from a James Trussart metal pickguard design. I sketched the art using Photoshop, cut the strap out of veg-tan leather, then sent the strap out for engraving. Once engraved, I painted streaks of gold under the red dye. This gave an extra layer of luster and dimension to the skulls when illuminated under different types of lighting.
I used this laser engraving for both Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi’s straps. The original art was done in collaboration with the guys from Shirts & Destroy in Brooklyn. The beauty of laser engraving comes out in full effect on stage, and who better to show it off than Black Sabbath.
I’ve got Geezer Butler’s signature strap for sale on the Heavy Leather NYC website- HERE– and I’m currenltly working with Tony Iommi on his signature straps and belts. His project will be available for sale at the end of August, along with a new blog post about my experience with them.
Tony Iommi in his custom Heavy Leather NYC strap
Geezer Butler with his signature Lakland bass and custom Heavy Leather NYC vinyl vegan guitar strap
Conchos are a consistent theme in Heavy Leather NYC designs. I’ve used them on all styles of guitar straps, boot straps, belts, cuffs, even on camera straps. I dig how they can create a flashy or vintage look, rock ‘n’ roll, western, you name it. Some conchos I find on vintage belts and some I order through catalogs. The large conchos in the western strap line I have custom made in a factory.
The Iron Horse strap in sunburst brown, shot by Joey Falsetta
Back in 2008, when I’d just met and strapped Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead), I was using mostly large conchos on the guitar strap designs. Lemmy loved the large hardware and quickly switched from the delicately ornamented concho strap he was using to the more heavy duty Heavy Leather NYC straps. He wore at least 5 different concho style straps I made custom for him. The concho straps have been a favorite amongst the famous musicians I’ve strapped, including Rex Brown of Pantera, David Vincent of Morbid Angel, Reb Beach of Whitesnake, Danny B. Harvey of The Headcat, Ed Rolland of Collective Soul, Bobby Ingram of Molly Hatchet, and many more. Check out the artist page on the HL website for more rock star custom work.
Large, bold hardware is still a trademark of the HL western strap styling, 10 years later. You can find the core collection of concho strap styles HERE.
Lemmy with his custom white concho strap/ Toni repairing the strap in our Brooklyn studio
Lemmy wearing the Lowrider strap, with Danny B. Harvey to his left
TEXTURE EXPERIMENTS WITH DYE
Whether in the city or in nature, I’m always looking out for texture. The patterns of generation and degeneration found in bark and rock, on walls and on the pavement are a huge inspiration. The old Heavy Leather NYC studio in Brooklyn was filled with beautiful decay. It was an old glue factory which we re-constructed into loft and studio spaces. The walls were made of brick in a variety of red tones, some painted and chipped. There were metal gates, grating, elevators, poles and fire-escapes covered in rust and patina.
The neighborhood was a mix of residential and industrial properties with old factory buildings still adorning their original, decomposing painted signage. And from the roof of our building, we had a pristine view of the Manhattan skyline with all of its magnificent lights and shapes. I used these textures and patterns to experiment with dye on leather.
Photo by Joey Falsetta
The leather that takes color the best is called veg-tan, which is a pink hue pre-dyed skin. This material has great versatility, perfect for stamping, carving, molding and more. It is what’s used as the base for all of the above custom dyed straps.
Stamping on veg-tan leather, Brooklyn studio circa 2010.
PART 2: CUSTOM HEAVY LEATHER COMING SOON. UPHOLSTERY, GUITAR- DYE MATCHING, HOLSTERS, CARVING, STEAMPUNK, SHINY STUFF & MORE!
Photo by Joey Falsetta