Fixin' the Chossy

The right strap broke and the left one
was on it's way to breaking.  The awl
is called the "Speedystitcher" and came
in a suitably retro box.

So you may have noticed that I've obtained some nice old black panniers on my Raleigh, courtesy of eBay.  Originally I bought them for a friend, but decided to keep them for myself.  They are made of black vinyl with black leather straps and buckles, they have these badges "The Chossy" on the flaps.  A quick Google reveals that this brand was a popular maker of saddlebags and other luggage, based in Epsom, Surrey in the south of England.  I've seen quite a few of their saddlebags on eBay but haven't seen any other panniers so they must be reasonably rare, they were not very well described on eBay so I got them for quite a good price.

They came in excellent condition with no rips, the only downer was that the leather buckles had dried out a bit so there were some cracks; I found this out the hard way on the way home from the supermarket.  They are attached the traditional way with leather straps looped through the rack, one of these straps decided to break with a pannier full of groceries, luckily it still had the other strap to hold it in place, albeit dangling perilously close to the road, every bump made me wince at the thought of all my groceries being splattered across Whitechapel road, a busy 4 lane road.  Luckily I made it home, with all my groceries intact.  After this, I applied proofide to all the leather straps and buckles to prevent any more cracking and to moisten the leather, in the hope that they would hold; this was not to be as one of the buckles that holds the lid down cracked a few nights later.

This was disappointing, as whilst I can sew at a basic level, I have little experience working with leather or luggage.  However in my eyes it looked easily repairable and I was confident that I could take it to any shoe cobbler and they could cut out a new buckle from a piece of leather and just sew it in and replace the old one.  Off I went to the local shoe repairer, the first thing they said was that they didn't have a sewing machine that would fix it, I then asked if it could be done by hand.  The shoe repair guy just smriked a bit and replied that I'd have to be super strong to get through leather like that...  The leather on the buckles was only about 2mm thick.  They chose the wrong person to say that to, I have Google on my side!  After some quick Googling I found that typically leather is sewn with special needles that are larger and with special tools, like strong metal thimbles to push needles through as well as a tool called an Awl.  So off I went back to eBay to purchase one of these awls, I found some useful videos on youtube

So today my sewing awl arrived and previously I purchased a black leather belt from the local op-shop to use for the straps.  At this point I wasn't really sure if it would all work, but I felt that there was a good chance it should be fine.  I'd also ordered a leather punch to make the holes for the buckles but that hadn't arrived yet, the awl however was perfectly fine for making holes, just not as accurately or cleanly.  The plan of attack was to pick out the old stitches holding the exisitng buckles on their, use it as a template on the belt to cut out some new ones.  The belt leather is a little bit thicker than the original and the grain a little bit different, but not really noticeable.

I used the awl to pre-punch some holes in
the new buckle straps 
Sewing took a bit to get used to, but it
was relatively easy to punch through
the thicker leather.

All done!  

My gut feeling was right, and this was totally doable, it took me about an hour or two.  A lot of this time was spent just learning how to use the thing properly.  The stitching was the wrong colour however, the original stitching is black not white.  Also the awl made much larger holes in the leather than the original, they must have used smaller needles originally.  Not to worry though, the colour was easily fixed with some shoe polish.

A bit of shoe polish never went astray...

My repaired buckle on the left, the original on the right.
The original stitching and leather grain is different from left
pannier to right pannier, which I only noticed after.

They're back on the bike now, hopefully the left pannier will hold for a while, the straps on it aren't as cracked.  Now I know they can be reasonably easily and quickly fixed so I'm not too worried, now to haul some groceries!  I was originally expecting to pay £30-£50 to have someone fix it for me, then was told it wasn't really fixable.   After all this it's only cost me about £20 and I have gained tools, skills and had the satisfaction of doing it myself.   I have also been thinking of modifying them to use modern quick-release attachments to the rack as well, stay tuned!


  1. Nice bags. I like the do-it-yourself approach.

  2. Thanks! They sure don't make 'em like they used to, so you just have to DIY