Introduction: Custom Leather Laptop Sleeve
Make your own custom heirloom-grade laptop sleeve in no time! Here's what you'll need:
- A few square feet of leather. Preferably 4-5 oz in thickness, and of economy quality veg tan if possible.
- A few feet of thread. Preferably nylon or polyester as they are more resistant to wear and tear.
- A stitch needle or two. Your choice based on personal stitch style preference.
- A few small binder clips. 6 or so should do.
- Some contact cement. I love using a product called Weldbond, and its widely available at craft stores.
- Leather dye. Can be whatever type you prefer, water or oil based, and your choice in color.
- Leather conditioner. Many types out there, but I use Fiebing's Mink Oil and Aussie Conditioner.
- Straight edge. For cutting straight lines.
- Square edge. To ensure right angles are achieved.
- Box cutter. Or other sturdy utility knife.
- Sand paper. 600 and 1000 grits.
- Edge Skiver. To take the edge off of your... edges.
- Burnishing tool. Not mandatory, but it's much healthier and cleaner for the exposed edges of leather.
- Gum Tragacanth. Or other edge sealant. Only necessary if you care to burnish your edges.
- Stitch punch. Can use either the fork style, or a basic awl to punch your stitch holes.
- Stitch groove tool. Not mandatory, but it definitely gives your stitching a polished look.
- Patience. :)
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Step 1: Template Generation
Before you reach for that utility knife, here's how you're going to determine the shapes you need to cut out from your hide (as seen in the above diagram):
1. Dimensions: Measure your laptop/device. Jot down the Width x Length x Height (thickness).
2. Allowances: To develop the device pocket size, we're going to take each of the freshly measured device dimensions and add what are called "allowances" to them to ensure that your device fits like a glove. For instance, the laptop dimensions seen in the example photos throughout this tutorial are: 14.13" (W) x 9.73" (L) x 0.71" (H).
3. Template Width: Take the Height measurement (the thickness of your device), and multiply it by two (0.71 x 2 = 1.42). This makes sure the leather can drape over both sides of your device. Then add 0.5" to that calculation (1.42 + 0.5 = 1.92) to allow room for your stitching. To be on the safe side, I'll just round that to 2" total, for my build. Add this amount to your Width measurement (14.13 + 2 = 16.13), which we'll round to 16.25". This is your new Template Width. (*Pro tip: Always leave more material than less; once leather has been cut out, you can't really add to it, but you can always reduce it.)
4. Template Length: Take the Length measurement of your device, and to make our lives easier, let's just round that to 10" in this example. This will serve as the updated Length measurement. To make sure that the leather can fold around your device, we multiply the Length by two (10 x 2 = 20" ) to cover the front and back. Then add the rounded Height of your device (0.71 = ~1") and multiply it by four (1 x 4 = 4"), to allow the leather to cover the front and rear edges of the device with 2" of overlap. Then we divide the Length by 2 (10 / 2 = 5") to gain the closure flap extension. Finally, add that all up (20 + 4 + 5 = 29") and you've got your total Template Length!
5. Closure Flap: Then we determine the taper angle of the closure flap by dividing your Template Width by ten (16.25 / 10 = 1.625"), a measurement used when drawing the line between the body of your sleeve and the edge of the closure flap. Do this for both sides. See the above diagram for clarification.
6. Flap Keeper: This is the belt piece that you'll stick the closure flap through and keep the sleeve nice and secure. Cut to match your Template Width by 1.5" or so.
6. Add 'em up: You should now be able to generate a sizable rectangle. Mine turned out to be 16.25" x 29". Now let's cut it out and get to work!
Step 2: Cut It Out!
Using your straight edge, square edge, and a pencil, plot out the shape of your rectangle. Then using the straight edge and a utility knife, hold the straight edge down firmly along a given line, and with the other hand run the blade of your utility knife against the straight edge to make perfectly straight slices into the leather.
Step 3: Block It Out
Take your freshly cut leather and fold it up accordingly to make sure you're on the right path in terms of size. Any changes that need to be made should take place at this point. (My flap keeper was cut extra long to make sure I had extra just in case.)
Step 4: Create Tapered End
Cut out the taper lines you drew up from Step 1, again using the tried and true straight edge and utility knife combo.
Step 5: Round the Corners
Using your preferred blade, be it a utility knife, or one of these fancy Round Knives, cut slices off of your corners to give them a cleaner rounded shape. I've had luck using a utility knife and a large coin to serve as a guide. If they look rough, don't worry; We'll address that in the next step.
Step 6: Sand the Corners
Rub the corners down with some heavier grit sand paper (600 grit works well) until they appear nice and round. Then finish the sanding process with some 1000 grit sand paper to take away any of the disheveled fibers.
Step 7: Cut Thumb Slot
Using a round object of your choosing about 1.25" in diameter or so, draw a half-circle at the very center of the bottom edge. Then cut it out with something like an Xacto knife to ensure a clean cut. Make light cuts until the piece is ready to be removed.
Step 8: Skive the Edges
Run your edge skiver down each edge at an approximate 45 degree angle to remove the squared profile and smooth them out. do this on both front and back sides of the leather (grain and flesh). *Pro tip: Make sure your skiver is nice and sharp before getting started. It will make a world of a difference. I use some Jewler's Rouge on some spare leather as a strop.
Step 9: Apply the Dye
Apply dye to a dense sponge, and lightly rub in a circular motion from one side of the leather item to the other. Repeat until the item's surface has been fully covered as evenly as possible.
Depending on the dye used, let this sit for a while until the dye has been fully absorbed into the fibers of the leather. Most would recommend waiting 24 hours. But I'll usually proceed if it's completely dry to the touch.
Step 10: Condition the Leather
At this point, your item may be feeling a bit stiff from all the handling and dye it's absorbed. The job of leather conditioner is to resupply the fibers with nutrients that help to keep it safe from the elements and restore the supple yet robust nature of leather, while allowing a timely patina to take place.
Apply some conditioner to a clean terry towel, and rub it into the leather the same way as the dye, in a nice circular motion, until the surface of the item is fully covered. Apply 2-3 coats. I use Mink Oil, as it doesn't change the color of my leather, but others might prefer it, to which I would recommend Aussie Conditioner. Note: A little goes a long way with certain liquid conditioners, so light applications are recommended.
Step 11: Treat Flap Keeper
It might go without saying, but be sure to apply all previous steps and treatments to your loyal flap keeper as well so that it matches the appearance of the sleeve body.
If you'd like to engrave anything, anywhere along the keeper would be a great place to do it.
Step 12: Looking Good!
You should be about here now, with all pieces ready to assemble.
Step 13: Cement the Edges Together
Apply your preferred contact cement lightly along the inner length of the sleeve body. This will ensure a solid seal on the edges, and hold it all in place for your stitching.
Then apply binder clips to the edges while it dries.
Step 14: Groove the Edges
Once the contact cement has dried, remove the clips and use a stitch grooving tool to create a perfect guideline for your stitch holes. Adjust your groove tool to create lines that are about .25" inward from each edge. Do this to the front and back edges of the sleeve body.
Step 15: Punch Stitch Holes
Using a stitch fork punch or awl, use the freshly placed grooves to guide your stitch punch. If you happen to have an arbor press, you can use it in place of a hammer to force the tools through the leather. Otherwise, you can line up the stitch punch and hit it firmly with a hammer to drive the tools through just the same. Do this down the length of each edge, through all layers of leather, until complete.
Step 16: Stitch It Up
Using your preferred stitching technique, stitch the edges together using a stitching needle and thread. I prefer nylon or polyester thread due to its resistance to the elements, and mostly just a straight stitching technique (passing the needle and thread up and down the length of the stitch holes, and then doubling back in the opposite direction once I reach the end. Terminate your stitching by backing the thread through your entry point about three times. This firmly locks the stitching into place and prevents it from coming undone over time.
Place the flap keeper so that its bottom edge is at the center of the front face of the sleeve body. In this case, the bottom edge sits at exactly 5" from the top or bottom of the front face.
Step 17: Finishing the Edges
Using the same sand paper from earlier, rub down the freshly stitched edges with the 600 grit sand paper to soften them up, then finish with 1000 grit sand paper to smooth them out.
Then apply water to a clean sponge, and use it to lightly dampen the newly sanded edges. This prepares the edges for wet molding using the burnishing tool.
Rub the corresponding slot of the burnishing tool up and down the length vigorously until it becomes slightly shiny and smooth to the touch. Apply water and repeat as necessary.
And finally, finish of the edges with a sealant like Gum Tragacanth. Apply with the tip of your finger along the edge, then rub it in with the burnishing tool until a nice polish appears.
Step 18: Done!
Your next step is to use it heavily for the countless years to come, as the steps in this guide, if followed carefully, should provide you with a sleeve to last for generations (long enough that it may outlive the existence of laptops even!). Maintain the item by simply resupplying the surface with Mink Oil (or similar product) as necessary from time to time.
And if this project wasn't exactly your cup of tea, each of these steps fully translates into other leather works, to which I would encourage anyone to try.
Thank you for your time!
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