I've been meaning to learn more about leatherworking for a while, and with Christmas around the corner this was the perfect opportunity to practice! I tried to think of something everyone can use, and landed on a glasses case (richardhan I see you came to the same conclusion, great case you just published). Having never worked in leather before I was surprised how quick it was to make something that looked so expensive and professional. It's way easier than sewing with fabric!
While there is an up front cost to get started with leatherworking, if you already have some tools handy these cases were relatively cheap to make, and could easily be made in an afternoon.
Step 1: Supplies
I am lucky in that I have access to a full set of leatherworking supplies here at Instructables. I'm going to list all the tools I used, however if you are starting with leatherworking from scratch you can definitely get away with fewer tools than I have listed here.
- Leather! I used a piece like this in 4-5 oz thickness. This amount of leather was plenty for me to make 8 of these cases with plenty to spare for future small scale projects
- Dye - I used a bunch of different colors from this multi-pack, as well as this red
- Satin Leather Finish to protect the dye and seal the leather
- Gum Tragacanth for burnishing the edges
- One line 20 snap and two quick set rivets
- Wool daubers and sponges for applying dye, finish, and gum tragacanth
- Awl for poking holes, marking leather
- Sharp X-acto knife
- Adjustable Groover for making the stitching groove (nice to have, but could do without)
- Beverler to prep edges before burnishing (nice to have, but could do without)
- Hole Punches (not pictured above)
- Stitching Hole Punch (could use an awl instead)
- Wood Slicker for burnishing edges
- Snap Setting Tools
- Waxed thread and needle
Step 2: Make the Pattern
The first and most important step is making the pattern. I began with some research to find the style I was after. Once I had that in mind, I roughed out a pattern using a hard glasses case as a base.
While card stock worked well to create the initial pattern, I did a few iterations of fine tuning as I made this set of cases. Some things I added along the way were a bridge to support the nose of the glasses within the case, which also provides support for the snap so the hardware isn't pushing into the glasses themselves to close the case. More fine tuning came in with the length of the flap and placement of snaps.
Note that this case is relatively small, perfect for reading glasses or flat sunglasses like those pictured. You will need to adjust the pattern to fit wraparound glasses, or really big framed sunglasses. I recommend printing this pattern and making a version out of card stock first to see if your glasses will fit, and leaving the snap on the flap to last to ensure a perfect fit.
Step 3: Cut Out Pattern
Print the pattern attached in the last step on tabloid sized paper, and trace it onto your leather with an awl, marking snap, rivet, and stitchline placements as well. Cut out with a sharp X-acto blade, and punch holes for rivets. I'd recommend leaving the hole for the front flap snap for last, to ensure that you get a perfect placement if this is your first use of this pattern. Use a 3mm punch for the holes on the case, and a 4mm punch for the holes on the nose bridge.
Step 4: Make Stitching Grooves
Use your adjustable groover to make a groove for the stitch line, using the notch in the pattern as a guide for where to stop. This helps the stitches lay flat against the leather, and stay in place around the fold. Leave a healthy amount of room between the groove and the edge, as you'll want to trim it after stitching for a perfect edge later.
Step 5: Punch Holes
Using your 4 hole punch, make your stitching holes. The create uniform spacing, I would line up the tool with the last of the 4 holes I just punched and only punch 3 new ones at a time. This technique seemed to result in more consistency than eyeing it.
You will want one extra hole in the middle section to tie down the loose edge of the bottom once folded together.
Step 6: Bevel Edges
Use the beveler to shave down both edges. This creates a nice curved edge when burnishing. Leave the area around the stitching for later, as you'll be creating a new edge there after stitching.
Step 7: Optional Embellishment: Stamping
At this point you can either leave your leather as is, or embellish it!
One way to embellish leather is to use stamps. I tried this for a couple of my cases.
Wet leather with a damp sponge before stamping, then have fun! I found stamping very satisfying, as not much pressure is needed to create a deep impression. You may not even need a hammer. Practice on a scrap first before trying it on your finished piece.
I'm using this stamp in this example, but all kinds of found objects could act as stamps as well. Get creative!
Step 8: Optional Embellishment: Laser Etching
Since I have access to laser cutters, I wanted to see what etching would look like as well. I'm pretty happy with the results.
I had to do a lot of tests on the leather to get the right raster settings, and noticed that it varied dramatically between these two designs so I couldn't run them together. On a 120 Watt laser, I ran the celtic knotting at 80 Speed / 9 Power, and the flower of life at 80 Speed / 15 power.
The two designs I tried are attached here. If you don't have access to a laser cutter, Ponoko carries veg tanned leather and can etch it for you.
Step 9: Add Dye
This part is the best! I found using the dyes very fun, and much like watercolors. Use a sponge and test out your color first on a scrap. Dyes can be diluted for a lighter wash of color, or mixed together. Some of my cases came out more like I expected than others, so testing is key if you are after a specific result. Even dyes of the same brand may act differently. I just went for it with this one, and embraced the irregularity as part of its handmade appeal.
I found that doing an ombre with a dark edge looked really nice once folded up, so started this one with a wash of green, then added a little brown around the outside to achieve that effect. You'll want to blend second colors in quickly with a damp sponge, or else you'll have sharp lines between the colors.
Step 10: Add Rivets and Snap
Snaps require a setting tool and support for the curved side of the snap. Line up your pieces making sure your leather is lying flat, and hammer with the setting tool in the center to adhere the two sides together. You will use the support shown above for the curved side of the snap, and the flat side of the metal for the other half. Make sure you use inside pieces that nest in each other vs the same type, otherwise your snap will not fit together! I made this mistake once in a rush, and it's pretty tough to get these guys off once they are in there. If you've never used snaps like this before, do a test first to get the hang of it.
Next, add the glasses support with easy set rivets - just snap the two rivet sides together and hammer on a flat surface.
Step 11: Sew Together
Almost done! Take a short length of waxed thread, and sew up your case. You can use a saddle stitch, or I just did a basic back and forth stitch which creates the same look once you meet back up at the top. Tie a square knot, run the ends through a few stitches, and tie off. The great thing about waxed thread is that it's sticky enough you don't even really need to knot it, it stays put on its own.
Step 12: Prep Edges
Do a final trimming of your newly joined edge and bevel the two sides to create a really clean edge.
Use a dauber and some dye to color all of your edges in preparation for burnishing.
Step 13: Burnish Edges
Apply a light layer of gum tragacanth to the edges, and run your burnishing tool back and forth to polish the edge and create a nice sheen.
For more on burnishing, check out this instructable.
Step 14: Add Leather Finish, and Done!
Add a layer or two of leather finish, and you're done!
Impress your friends and family with your fancy leather skills, or make one for yourself :)