I’ve always been fascinated by leather. Well made leather items can last for ages. A friend of mine has an old satchel from the Amsterdamse Spaarbank (Amsterdam Savings Bank) in Art Nouveau style that must be a hundred years old, which is in great condition and she still uses. Leather is a versatile material that comes in many qualities, and can be used for many purposes. I have done some leather working in the past, making simple cases for chisels and knives, but nothing too pretty or intricate. I had only very basic tools and no knowledge of how proper leatherworking is done. So I decided to buy some more leather and get some practice. I made four small projects in one week, which I will show you below.
Project one: Pen Case
I started off by making a simple leather pen case. It’s made out of really smooth aniline leather. It is quite supple and thin, which makes it unnecessary to pre-punch holes for stitching. I don’t have a sowing machine that can sow leather, though, so I hand stitched this piece. I used no special leatherworking techniques in this project, just normal techniques I would use if I were making it out of textile.
First, I cut out a square of leather. The size was random, about 9″x5″ (23cmx13cm). The leather can easily be cut with a regular pair of scissors.
Next, I sewed the sides together inside out with a whip stitch. In hindsight I might have better used a combination of a whip stitch and a back stitch for a neater result. The leather can stretch, which might cause the stitch to show a little. But so far this seems to work fine and was the fastest solution. The “H” shape of the sides makes the case more width and makes it less flat. I also think it looks nice. I stole this idea from shopping bags, which often have bottoms that are made this way.
Then I put the zipper in. I did this by first unzipping the thing, and back stitching it to one side. Then I turned the case inside out and attatched the other side. I made sure the ends of the zipper overlapped a bit with the sides of the case for a neat finish. When everything was neatly sown together I flipped it right side out again and zipped it back up. Case finished.
This thing took me about an hour or two to make, and I’m pretty satisfied with the results. I ran into a couple of problems, though:
-I need a stitching wheel to space my stitches evenly, and put them in a straight line.
-When you pull leather, it stretches. I accidentally pulled my piece of leather slightly out of square while stitching the sides, which made the zipper go in slightly uneven. I am the only one who noticed this, but we all know that is usually the case with mistakes we make and it still sucks.
-Next time, I would reinforce the whip stitches on the sides with backstitches, just to be sure.
Project two: Axe Sheath
I recently bought a new axe from a local smithing factory – it turned out the axe was actually forged in Germany, and the local smith only put on the American hickory handle, but I will write more on that in another blog post soon. Anyway, I needed a sheath for this axe. I made this out of thicker vegetable tanned leather. I had just gotten some new tools in the mail and from a shop downtown, which I immediately put to good use in this project.
First, I outlined the axe on the leather. Then I used a divider to make a border around the outline of about half an inch (1.5cm). I cut this out on my new cutting mat (I can’t believe I didn’t have one of these yet. Get one if you don’t have one already).
I cut a groove for the stitches with my new groover. As you can see, I experimented a little with the groover on this piece.
I punched holes for stitching with an awl. As you can see, I still don’t have a stitching wheel…
I used this parallel clamp as a makeshift stitching pony. This was my first time stitching leather the official two-needle way. I like it. The dark stuff you can see on the side of the leather is gum tragacanth and blue stuff that came off of a burnishing wheel I bought. I didn’t like that, and I will not be using the wheel again.
This is the finished result. I used a round rivet on one side and a book screw on the other, so I could change the strap easily if I would ever need to. The strap is cut from an old narrow leather belt. I bought a bunch of these at a flea market a while back for under a euro for the bunch. The sheath does does its job well, it feels sturdy and stays on the axe head well. I finished the leather with some leather creme, which gave it this nice tan color.
Project three: Card Holder
This card holder was a really nice and simple project. I have this big bulky wallet which I don’t like to carry in my pocket. I needed something to hold my cards which would comfortably fit in the pocket of my jeans.
I cut a long strip of the smooth analine leather I used for the pencil case.
I soaked the case and let it dry with my cards inside. This supposedly makes the leather shrink to fit. The analine leather doesn’t seem to shrink that much, and it isn’t as malleable as veg tanned leather. It did hold its shape after drying, and the fit is snug. After drying I finished it with leather creme. It’s actually more of a leather maintenance product not really for finishing. The creme made the leather slightly darker, but I thought this would happen in my pants anyway. I’d rather have finished it with carnauba creme, but I can’t get it where I live and I haven’t been able to find a good recipe for it. I might try to come up with something myself.
Project four: Case for Nexus 7
I’d been planning to make a proper case for my tablet since I bought it. After making the first three projects in this post, I felt confident enough to give it a go. I decided to stick to a simple design, executed in sturdy veg tanned leather.
I first made the fold for the bottom by burnishing a line with my bone folder and subsequently soaking the area. This made it easy to double the piece up and work the fold flat with my fingers and the bone folder. After this I let it dry before I continued.
I cut a groove with my groover and punched holes with a lacing chisel. Because of the two teeth on the chisel the holes were automatically spaced, without need for a stitching wheel. The most difficult part was aligning the grooves on the two pieces of leather so that the chisel would come out in the right spot on the other side.
Here you can see my makeshift stitching pony again. I recently bought an antique stitching pony which should be arriving by mail any day now. Will blog when it gets here.
Here you can see the infamous burnishing wheel I referred to earlier. As I said, it stained the sides of the leather. It was also not wide enough for most sides. I tried the little scrap of leather for burnishing, too. It worked pretty well. I ended up using a little scrap of canvas, which worked really well. A very cheap solution, as well. I beveled the stitched sides with a chisel before burnishing. It worked, but I think my next buy will be a proper beveling tool. After the stitching wheel, of course.
This is the finished case. I fitted it by soaking it and letting it dry with the tablet in it. Don’t worry, I put a ziplock bag around the tablet. The fit is perfect now. I can hold it upside down and shake it and it will not fall out, while I can pull the tablet with my index finger and thumb and it will slide out nicely. This case, too, was finished with leather creme. The thread I used for all these projects is black or white “Iron Thread” as it is called in Dutch. I had heaps of the stuff from my grandmother. I think she used it to repair things. It’s 100% linen and very tough.
All these projects were made in less than an evening, sometimes in as little as an hour. This is what I love about leatherworking. It’s a welcome change of pace from woodworking.