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?
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
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.