Cutting, glueing, sewing & working with fine materials

Do you know this craft and what is the artisan name for it?

That is the job of a 'fine bag maker'. You have never heard the name before? But you like to exper­i­ment with dif­fer­ent mater­i­als? Have you already pro­duced unique cre­at­ive pieces? Then the pro­fes­sion of the 'fine bag maker' may be your voca­tion. In the name you recog­nize a product that the bag maker makes. Yes, bags in all vari­ations. But bags not only made out of leath­er, but also vegan leath­er sub­sti­tutes, tex­tiles and new anor­gan­ic mater­i­als are pro­cessed into bags, back­packs and suit­cases. Wal­lets, cases and spe­cial bags for cam­er­as are other excit­ing products.

How to become a fine bag maker within the German apprentice training process?

Firstly, you apply for a 3-year appren­tice­ship in a com­pany or in a work­shop with a master bag maker. Since there are only a few com­pan­ies left in Ger­many, you should start look­ing for an appren­tice­ship pos­i­tion early and also look beyond your place of res­id­ence. Train­ing always starts in August.

TIP: Look for an intern­ship in advance. Then you can get to know the pro­fes­sion better and maybe later have the chance to do your train­ing in the com­pany or work­shop.

Why are there so few training places left in Germany?

The reas­ons for this are very simple. In the 1990s, many leath­er good com­pan­ies moved their pro­duc­tion abroad for cost reas­ons or had to close because of cheap­er com­pet­i­tion from other coun­tries. The few artis­an work­shops which are still exist­ing in Ger­many are usu­ally spa­tially very lim­ited, so that they cannot set up a 2nd work­bench. You are also entitled to an appren­tice salary of between 500 and 800 euros. This is unique to the German system. Also, the train­ing com­pany covers the costs for your mater­i­als & tools as well as part of your health insur­ance & social secur­ity pay­ments. For reas­ons of space and cost, most bag maker mas­ters do not take on appren­tices. In addi­tion, the owner often does not have the time that is neces­sary to famil­i­ar­ize you with the basics of the craft and later to show you the time-con­sum­ing work steps. During this time she cannot finish her own work and thus loses income.

TIP: Find out from your own coun­try if there is any fin­an­cial sup­port for you or your chosen bag maker master.

What do you do in your 3 years of training?

Gen­er­al info:

Your train­ing takes place as a dual system. In your train­ing com­pany you will learn all the manual skills, see the pro­duc­tion steps and man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses.

Two days per week or some­times a few weeks out of a 6-month period you attend a spe­cial craft col­lege. There you deepen your the­or­et­ic­al know­ledge.  With sub­jects such as tech­nic­al draw­ing, mater­i­als sci­ence, his­tor­ic know­ledge and digit­al cut­ting pro­grams, you will get to know the diverse build­ing blocks of your pro­fes­sion.

'Hands on' aspect - In the first year

You start right away with your first ‘hands on’ exper­i­ence. Your ‘master’ teaches you the basics of the ‘bag’ making pro­cess. How the mater­i­al is meas­ured, pre­pared, moistened, which parts need to be coated with glue and you will do your first simple sewing lines. You'll get better at it the more you try it. This is the pur­pose of the first year! You also get to know and to use dif­fer­ent machines, for example to punch out leath­er parts. The sewing machine is an import­ant tool. But you also learn to hand-sew as a seam can be a neces­sary and dec­or­at­ive ele­ment.

The ‘secret’ parts in the bag making pro­cess­With all products there is the outer shell, but there is also an 'inner life'. The goods are equipped with an inner lining, straps & zip­pers or have a metal frame with a clos­ing mech­an­ism. Some ‘tech­nic­al’ cases have well thought through details but a rather simple out­side.

With your basic skills you are soon able to pro­duce some parts. At the begin­ning the work is not so com­plex, but at the end of the train­ing pro­cess you have the skills to make even com­plic­ated products. Your ‘Master’ instruct­ors show you many tricks and tips on how to per­fectly work with even dif­fi­cult mater­i­als.

Advanced ‘Hands on’ steps

What is import­ant when gluing and cut­ting lining and how edges are care­fully pre­pared are import­ant steps towards the per­fect final product. This With your basic skills, you'll soon be able to craft parts of a product. Of course, easy parts in the begin­ning, but at the end of the train­ing you will be able to man­u­fac­ture com­plic­ated products. Your master train­er will show you lots of tricks and tips on how to work with dif­fi­cult mater­i­als. A long last­ing per­fectly executed hand craf­ted product is the goal!

Draft & Design Aspects

You will also learn to select suit­able mater­i­als for spe­cif­ic parts. Fash­ion and Design trends play an import­ant role too. You can devel­op your own design ideas. As you will also learn to create cut­ting pat­terns and how to trans­fer them onto dif­fer­ent mater­i­als. Of course, quite a bit of your time will be ded­ic­ated to work also on pro­duc­tion pieces. With the build­ing blocks of your train­ing, you can later turn your designs into a per­fect artis­an piece!

The formal guideline for the ‘Training Process’

During your 3-year train­ing period there are vari­ous tests at the Craft Col­lege. If you pass them suc­cess­fully, you are ready for the next steps. The inter­me­di­ate exam gives you an ori­ent­a­tion to your learn­ing status. A few months before the end of your appren­tice­ship, you start with your final task: your self-designed and man­u­fac­tured journeywoman's piece. The ‘Master audit team’ of the Cham­ber of Crafts exam­ines and approves all final work pieces from the stu­dents. You will then receive your offi­cial jour­ney­wo­man letter – called ‘Gesel­len­brief’. This is still a term from the Medi­ev­al times – you see how old this appren­tice pro­cess is: learn­ing your craft skills from a ‘Master’. Of course, the ‘Cham­ber of Crafts’ eval­u­ates the cur­riculum reg­u­larly to add or change some sub­jects e.g. Digit­al pat­tern making, when new tech­no­logy is avail­able.

Important to know:

The pro­fes­sion of 'fine bag maker' is a spe­cialty in the voca­tion­al train­ing for a 'sad­dler'.There are 2 other dis­cip­lines that have a lot in common in the work pro­cess with the pro­fes­sion of 'fine bag maker'.In the 'vehicle uphol­stery' spe­cialty, you will learn among other things how to make uphol­ster­ies, seat covers and cab­ri­olet roof covers for vehicles.If you choose to focus on 'eques­tri­an sport sad­dlery', you can make a saddle and other sports products after your train­ing.

Craft is in demand!

A hand­craf­ted piece is unique and cer­tainly has a long-life span. But the work­shops also offer a repair ser­vice. This approach of 'repair­ing instead of throw­ing away' is also an import­ant part of the work. A hand­made bag, back­pack or saddle can be repaired or worn parts can be replaced. This is almost never pos­sible with machine-made 'cheap goods' made from poor mater­i­als. Hence the des­ig­na­tion as a 'dis­pos­able' item. Hand­made products are dur­able! Your work as a crafts­wo­man is in demand again and has high value to offer.

Alternative professions to the 'fine bag maker'

In the German appren­tice system, you will find other artis­an pro­fes­sion. The shoe­maker and the ortho­ped­ic shoe­maker also work with sim­il­ar mater­i­als and work pro­cesses. Exclus­ive custom-made products are not only in demand for every­day shoes, but are often a neces­sity for dis­abled feet or legs caused by illness.Other pro­fes­sions that pro­cess leath­er mater­i­als are the fur­ri­er and fur refiner. Not only in the 'haute cou­ture & high-end fash­ion' you can find a job later on. The pro­duc­tion of leath­er trousers or jack­ets, for example, has a long artis­an tra­di­tion in many regions and is part of the local worn region­al ‘out­fits’ – called ‘Tracht­en’ in German.

What opportunities do you have after graduation?

You can now work as a jour­ney­wo­man at your train­ing com­pany or apply to anoth­er com­pany or work­shop. Your field of work will change as you become more routine and con­sol­id­ate your skills. As in all trades, there is fur­ther train­ing to become a master (Bach­el­or Pro­fes­sion­al). You will deepen your skills and expert­ise and learn the basics of man­aging our own busi­ness or work­shop. The degree also allows you to train other appren­tices your­self later.Some cham­bers of crafts and voca­tion­al schools offer fur­ther train­ing to become a master crafts­wo­man in a part-time or full-time format.

NOTE: You have to fin­ance the ‘Master’ train­ing your­self. This is a rare occa­sion in the German train­ing system – as oth­er­wise all train­ing and stud­ies are free of charge.

DID YOU KNOW …? That you can also study with the master craftsman's cer­ti­fic­ate in your pocket - even without a high school dip­loma.

Further steps: Design studies

The spe­cif­ic study course 'design­er in the craft' gives you the oppor­tun­ity to deepen your design skills. You will also find this form of study at spe­cial craft academies that offer design stud­ies as an addi­tion to their master crafts­man courses. If you want to get even more involved in the design pro­cess or add an artist­ic dir­ec­tion to your work, then you have to apply at Art & Design uni­ver­sit­ies in Ger­many or other coun­tries. They offer courses like Mater­i­al Design, Product or Indus­tri­al Design. You can use your artis­an skills and under­stand­ing of the diverse mater­i­als & pro­duc­tion steps to design unique pro­duc­tion pieces.

Pro­fes­sion: 'Fine Bag Maker'

The pro­fes­sion of 'fine bag maker' is a spe­cial­isa­tion in the voca­tion­al train­ing 'sad­dler'.

Train­ing pro­cess / where: 

in a bag work­shop, sad­dlery or a larger com­pany that man­u­fac­tures suit­able products and still offers appren­tice­ships

Appren­tice­ship system:

this is a 3-year course in a dual system which is unique to Ger­many i.e. it is a com­bin­a­tion of attend­ing a Craft Col­lege and the 'hands on' train­ing in a tra­di­tion­al work­shop or man­u­fac­ter­ing com­pany


you need basic crafts­man­ship skills and interest, good fine motor skills, con­cen­tra­tion and design interest


start with an intern­ship at a bag maker or in a sim­il­ar craft pro­fes­sion - see Info: 'Altern­at­ive artis­an pro­fes­sions'. Then you will notice wheth­er the pro­fes­sion and the craft meets your expect­a­tions. Maybe your intern­ship will also give you the oppor­tun­ity to start your train­ing there.

Museum - tip:

Let your­self be inspired by a visit to this great museum in Offen­bach. Here you can learn and see many things about the use and pro­cessing of leath­er. Bags, shoes, gloves, Japan­ese samurai armor made of leath­er.

It also shows impress­ive arte­facts of the past 200 years of leath­er making goods in this par­tic­u­lar area near Frank­furt.

From 4 to 6 Feb­ru­ary 2023, the Inter­na­tion­al trade fair for innov­at­ive and high-qual­ity leath­er goods, bags and lug­gage will once again take place in Offen­bach.

The 'Academy for Craft Design' of the Aachen Cham­ber of Crafts, for example, offers a full-time study 'Busi­ness Man­age­ment & Design' with the master craftsman's train­ing can be com­bined, in 6 semesters - as well as ''The Design­er in the Craft' as a part-time study.
Here is the link to the design courses for crafts­wo­men of the 'Academy of Design' of the Mün­ster Cham­ber of Crafts
The hand­made leath­er bags are by Daniela Damm. She kindly provided me with the photos for her STORY.

Be the first to know

Be part of this exciting journey and sign up to the newsletter and updates.