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New material

So back around the start of August, I wanted to buy myself a new notebook because the one I normally carry in my back pocket was exhausted. It was also torn and shredded because that’s a rough pocket for a notebook to live in. I bought yet another A6 sized moleskine lookalike, but I got one in a leather cover because I figured that’d last longer (it’s now December and yes, it’s definitely weathered better than the paper covers would). It showed up in a very fancypants box too.

The thing is though, that cost me a little over €20. And it’s just an A5 size bit of leather with five holes stamped in it and a bit of elastic. That… rankled a little. I could almost definitely make one better than that (with a pen loop no less) for way less, right?

So there are cheap leatherworking kits on Amazon that would be useless for a professional but if you just want to give it a try, they’re grand. And Amazon also sells leather scraps and offcuts in bundles, and they’re always useful for things like elbow and knee patches on clothes as well. And youtube has a metric ton of tutorial videos (I can recommend Corter Leather‘s as a great starting point). So off I went.

Yeah, that’s awful, but it was the first line of stitching I ran in leather, and it was oddly theraputic – just repetitive hand work, no thinking required. Hell of a break at the time, so I kept doing it.

The thread is a polyester one, and you melt the ends to secure the stitching when done, so you use cigarette lighters a bit in this. So one of the easier beginner projects is a cigarette lighter case. This was the first thing I did in leather. Bit of wet molding there as well, which didn’t work as well as it does in better leathers, but it was still useful. Still using it today in fact.

Around about this time, it was my birthday and my parents thought “he has a new hobby, thank feck, don’t have to spend six months thinking up a new gift this year” and so we went here, the Dublin Leather Store and came away with a little over half a cow in vegetable tanned leather (there’s basically two kinds of leather – veg tanned and chrome tanned – and for what I was doing veg tan was better suited). It’s a fun place, very much in the Irish style of “we’ve been doing this for fifty years ‘cos we love it and who cares if we’re not rich, we know our stuff”. Well recommended.

Pictured: A little over half a cow, in flat-pack form.

So September starts and I’ve gotten myself some good needles and some good thread, and I started in on my first real projects – wanted to make a pen case for Mom’s pen and pencil set after one I’d seen on youtube.

Might have been ambitious for a first real project I guess.

But they were nice pens and it came out okay in the end I thought.

I mean, it’s rough. I can see fifty things wrong with it from here. But I got to sit by the window and do something with my hands and let my brain rest, so I called it a success.

I also wanted to make a custom notebook for my brother, which went okayish. It’s just a prototype, I’m going to make another with the lessons learned from this one.

By this point, I’ve picked up a few more tools from cheap aliexpress kits and the like, and I got a cheap toolchest from Halfords to put them in to try to keep things tidy.

The notebook turned out okayish too.

But my design suggestion wasn’t adopted…

I thought it would have done wonders for community policing, but oh well…

Mom sews and is in a sewing circle and around this time they were doing a charity thing where they made up bags of basic sewing tools to send to Syria because refugees there were living in tents with no way to repair clothing or tents. Sounded like a good thing to do so I looked up how you make leather bags and it turns out to be easy enough.

And I started making pouches and things for storing the tools around this point as well.

My brother is left-handed so I made a left-handed notebook (it has a plastic stiffener in it so you can rest your writing hand beside the notebook while writing away from a desk).

Things are starting to get a little neater by this stage, so I got myself a decent craft knife or two.

The finger-ring versions are interesting – they make it really easy to make a vertical cut.

And at the same time, Tandy Leather were having a sale ‘cos they’d been in business for 100 years, so I bought some more cattle…

And got a new makers mark as well.

We’re into October now and mom didn’t have anything to keep her Covid cert in…

Again, getting neater but still not great.

This one was interesting – it’s a Corter Leather pattern, but it’s not leather. That’s cork (the wood) on a fabric backing. Works a lot like leather. Interesting material.

It’s a simple coin purse with a card slot. Bit more ragged looking than the norm that one.

Bought an arbor press around this point to do stamping and cutting and setting rivets and so on. Works really well, wasn’t very spendy. Used that to make a very late birthday gift for a friend (hi Fiona!).

And also made a small gift for another small boss lady:

I was doing a bit of knitting at this point as well, so I made a tool wrap thingy for the needles and such:

That’s probably the biggest and most complex thing I’d made to that point, and as you can see, it’s not *quite* big enough – I still haven’t gotten the judgement right on leaving things a bit larger and trimming back at the end. You have to get over the fear of wasting material for that, not quite there yet. That’s leather lined with canvas and using hemming tape to stop the canvas fraying at the edges so I’m starting to use more things now.

I started this bag at the start of November, with a new makers mark (the one I’d gotten before was punching through the leather, it was really meant for metal I think), and experimenting with dying leather. That bag’s still not finished because I was waiting for something that’s only just arrived. I’ll finish it off soon.

I spent November walking up hills and having socially distanced hot chocolate.

I got the idea from watching hiking videos from Sweden on youtube, and when taking the thermos flask up the hill proved a pain because it leaked, got some cheap camping stuff.

I did make up more tool pouches and a few other small things as well.

And I got a stitching pony. It does help with the stitching though you can’t always use it. That material is flooring vinyl btw, an interior decorating shop just gave me a few metres of offcuts of the stuff. It’s great prototyping material for leather. Cuts and sews like leather, and lets you see if a pattern works before using more expensive leather on it.

A few more cheap toolkits showed up from china and I made pouches for them:

And I splurged on a hot foil press as well because it looked awesome but it wouldn’t show up for almost another month. The lettering showed up early:

Probably the most awkward fiddly project to date was to make a case for some binoculars (took them up hill walking and the belt loop is too low, but I can fix that):

And I finally got round to making my much-easier-than-spending-€20-on-amazon notebook cover…

So yeah, no, spend the €20, it’s cheaper than learning to do it yourself, even if its a lot more satisfying to do it yourself. I mean, it worked for me because I needed something to do with my hands at the time, but it’s just not the most economical way to get a leather notebook cover 😀

2 Comments

  1. Well, it’s much cheaper to buy tomatoes at the supermarket, but that doesn’t stop people from growing their own!

    I think you’re doing very nice work!

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