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So my nephew wanted a cover for his new Moleskine diary he received for his birthday. I thought that would be an excellent present so I set out deciding how it could be made. This instructable will go through my design process and followed by how each step was completed.

My brief:

Seemed easy enough.

Before we start though remember for each process there are 100 other ways for it to be done. Each leatherworker has their own way to do something (or sometimes they have 2 or more ways). Also remember we are dealing with a natural product, leather. Being a natural product means that it doesn't always react in the same way to different things. With all that being said we shall proceed.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Materials:

  1. Leather.
    • The leather I have used here is Craftsman Oak Sides 3 - 4 Oz but any veg-tanned leather of the same weight will do.

    • One piece 400mm long by 225mm high
    • Additional piece 100mm wide by 225mm high
    • Strap 16mm Wide by approx 450mm long
  2. Wax thread
  3. Leather Dye
    • Any brand of waterbased dye but recently I've been using this Eco-Flo Waterstain. Covers really nicely.
      • Tan
      • Black
      • Dk Brown
  4. Antique Finish
  5. Carnauba Cream
  6. Eco-Flo Super Shene
  7. Tracing Paper
  8. Old shirts or rags
  9. Sponge
  10. Rubber Gloves
  11. Medium Rivets - Nickel Plated or any other type of your choice
  12. Button Studs - I liked the Star Themed Stud but whatever your choice is fine. I also didn't take a picture for the materials above but it is the same one in the link.
  13. Garbage bags or plastic drop sheet
  14. Loctite (available from any hardware store)
  15. Jewelers Rouge

Tools:

  1. Stanley Knife
  2. Steel edged ruler
  3. Strap Cutter
  4. Cutting Mat
  5. Optional for Tooling:
    1. Stylus
    2. Strop
    3. Maul
    4. Swivel Knife - Tandy or Leather Wranglers
    5. Craftool stamps as required. For this design:
      1. Bevelers B936 and B801
      2. Small Star Z610
      3. F890 Figure carving stamp
      4. A888 Backgrounder
      5. Modeling Tool
      6. Alphabet Stamp Set design of your choice
      7. O57 Border Craftool
  6. Stitching Groover
  7. Diamond Hole Chisel Set
  8. Stitching Needles
  9. Hole Punches
  10. Rivet Setter
  11. Small Anvil (optional)
  12. Awl

Step 2: Cut Leather Pieces and Stitching Groove

There are many ways to skin a cat (or cow in this case...).

From a full side or shoulder you need to end up with a square approximate 400mm wide (I say approximately as you can see I have used the ragged edge... more on this shortly) by 9" high (Yes I use a mix of metric and imperial).

When you are selecting the portion of the hide you want to use you would normally stay well away from these edges. Leather almost always (depending on quality) has various insect bite marks, holes etc. You would find the nicest parts of the hide and use these, the rest is either discarded or kept aside as scrap (always useful for something later).

In this case my brief included an "old" looking style cover. To get this I decided to use the edge so I found an edge to the hide that wasn't too badly damaged.

  • With the scissors cut from the hide a section that is larger (about 2") than what you need. Don't always cut directly to size as if you make a mistake, you can't get rid of a cut (yes, I'm speaking from experience)
  • Place this cut piece onto your cutting mat. If your mat is big enough with inch markings this next part is very very easy.
  • Using the Stanley knife, cut one of the long edges straight as you can using the steel ruler as a guide.
  • Line this straight edge up on on the marks on your cutting mat.
  • Cut up using the lines on the mat as a guide and the steel ruler.
  • Cut the final line (remember we are using the ragged edge as one edge that doesn't need to be cut) using the same method and you should have two nice 90 degree cuts ending up with a piece like the image above.

Use the same method to cut the second piece of leather. This piece needs to be 100mm wide and 9" high and completely rectangle (ie. no ragged edge).

I then took the stanley knife and ran the edge along the edge of the large piece. Doing this 'roughed up' the three straight edges, making it look a little worn. Optional but in this case looked good.

Finally we need a strap to keep the cover closed. You need a strap approximately 16mm wide and 450mm long. Rather than go through the stages of this here, you should check out the video above from Tandy Leather showing how to use the strap cutter.

Stitching Groove

We will apply the grooves and diamond holes here that will be stitched later. Refer to the template image above.

  • With the larger piece of leather, smooth side of the leather face up and the straight edge on your left (as in orientated in the first picture above), measure along the top of the leather 174mm from the left. Make a small mark with the awl about 3mm from the top at this point.
  • Measure along from this spot 95mm and make another mark with the awl. These two points are where you will create the stitching channel.
  • Using the stitching groover adjust the end so that the cutting part is a little more than 3mm from the main shaft that will guide the cut.
  • Starting at the first awl hole lay the groover along the leather (link to howto video above) and draw a groove through to the second hole.
  • Repeat for the bottom edge of the leather.
  • Taking the second smaller piece of leather repeat the steps above and make two stitching grooves on the short ends. They should each start about 2.5 mm from the end.

Stitching Holes:

  • Place one of the pieces of leather on a poly board. Take the diamond hole punch and place it in the stitching groove. Using a mallet hammer it into the leather till it has pierced through the other side.
  • Line up the punch so that the first prong is in the last hole you just created. Using the mallet continue punching holes in this manner till you get to the end of the groove. By using the last hole as a guide for the punch you will ensure nice even holes all the way along.
  • Repeat this process for the other stitching grooves. All four should end up with the same number of holes.


Step 3: Tooling (Optional)

Ok, I will go through the method I used here. You can tool anything you like on here, the leather is like a blank slate. I've linked to some good tooling videos above that explains the process.

NOTE: I don't tool leather often. In this case it was requested so I am not the best tooler in the world. I will give a brief outline below but the design "How To Carve Trees by Al Stohlman" is a must for this design as it gives you a lot of detail and the outlines you will need etc.

NOTE 2: My phone that I was taking photo's with stopped working so I redid the cover with a new piece of leather. That's why the final picture above shows a slightly different piece but it was all prepared the same way.

  • Select design. For mine I am using a design from a "How To Carve Trees by Al Stohlman". You can by these for download from https://www.leathercraftlibrary.com/ for a very good price. There are all manner of different designs available and they include the craftools you need to by to finish the carving.
  • Once you have the outline of your design trace this onto a piece of tracing paper. Here you only need the outlines. (See picture above)
  • Case the leather. Some people just run a damp sponge over the top of the leather. Personally I find it better to completely submerge the leather in water until it stops bubbling (all the air escaping). Then allow the leather to dry until the leather has just returned to its original colour but is still cool to the touch (if it's too wet the tooling will be "mushy", if it's too dry then the tooling won't make an impression).
  • Place the tracing paper over the leather in the place where you want the tooling. Using the stylus trace over the outlines. Doing this will leave small impressions on the leather of the outline. (Picture 2)
  • Using your swivel knife (again see the videos for details) go over the lines you traced. For this particular design you do not however want to go over all the outlines of the leaves, only the trunks.(Picture 3)
  • Take the beveler B986 and go around the trunks and the outside of the leaves (where they meet the "sky"). Take the backgrounder A888 and impress into the gaps in the trunk. (Picture 4)
  • For the leaves take each little cloud shape one at a time and fill with Star impressions from Z610.
  • Make it look like leaves by using the F890 craftool in a "chopping" motion which will give the appearance of shading under clusters of leaves. Repeat these two steps for each cloud like shape.
  • Make a knot or two in the tree by impressing the F890 tool.
  • Finally using the modelling tool draw squiggly lines around the trunk and branches to simulate bark. (Picture 5)

I added some additional lettering using the lettering set (LL in this case) and a border tool between the letter I think looked good. Feel free to go to town and add designs as you want. Be creative!

Step 4: Dyeing and Finishing Leather

As with the other steps there are a million ways to do this. This is just the way I did it this time to get the colour that was asked for. My best advice I can give here is to test it on a scrap piece of leather until you are happy with the result. To achieve the colour I wanted I did the following (Do the same for the second piece of leather and the strap):

  • Put down an empty garbage bag or a drop sheet underneath the leather so you don't stain your work area.
  • Using the black watercolour stain (or any water based black dye) and a small detail paint brush (I use a #2 Windsor Newton Sable) paint the background areas between the trunks and around the outside of the design. I also painted the Initials I put and any other design I wanted to stand out. (Picture 1 above)
    • NOTE: Make sure your hands are clean and the black dye is well contained as if you touch any part of the leather with the black it will be on it permanently.
  • Wear disposable gloves for this next bit.
  • Pour a significant amount of the Tan Waterstain into a container (you don't want to run out halfway through). Using a part of the sponge (you can cut it up to make it go further) dab it in the dye (not a huge amount but enough to start colouring the leather) apply the dye all over the leather using a circular motion (think Karate Kid here) covering the entire piece of leather. Try and keep it even all over though sometimes some darker spots appear. This is usually ok as it will dry even. Check out the Tandy videos on dyeing leather (I've linked one above). (Picture 2 above)
  • Allow to dry completely (don't be hasty)!
  • Once dry I like to apply some Carnauba Cream to the whole top. It make it a bit waterproof and softens up the leather. Rub in completely till gone with a clean old rag. Allow to Dry.
  • Apply Satin Sheen as a finish and resist for the next stage. Apply liberally and don't worry about the white of the liquid as it dries clear. Allow to dry (do you see a pattern).
  • Next (again while wearing gloves) take the Antique stain. Load a piece of sponge with a liberal amount and start to apply over the leather. In particular ensure it gets into all the tooling so that the beautiful job you did on your tooling stands out a bit. This will also darken the overall leather a bit but don't be concerned about that yet. Allow to dry!
  • Once dry take some Carnauba Cream and using a clean rag apply to the leather. Since we put a satin sheen over the leather A lot of the excess antique stain will rub off. Because of this don't go overboard with this step or it will just all rub off. In particular go easy over your tooling. Allow to Dry!
  • Next apply another liberal coat of Satin Sheen. Again try and do this using a sponge and by patting it on rather than rubbing or it will rub off the Antique. Wait to dry then repeat. After this the top fo the leather will be nice and sealed and somewhat waterproof.

Next we need to dye the sides and rear of the leather. If you are clean with all of the above application and don't get any on the back then it is perfectly feasible to leave it a natural colour. Waterproof it with Fiebings Tan Kote or even the Satin Sheen and you are good to go. In my case I wanted a nice dark brown so I did the following:

  • Take the Dark Brown Waterstain or dye (in my case I had some Moccasin Brown by Fiebings lying around). Apply to the rear of the leather but not too heavy. Just light coats until completely covered. If you are too heavy with this it will show through the top side of the leather. Also carefully apply to the edges of the leather without going onto the front (if you do just wipe it off before it dried. That's why we sealed the top first)
  • Liberally apply Satin Sheen to the back and edges and allow to dry. (picture 4 above)

Step 5: Attaching the Second Piece of Leather

We will attach the second piece of leather to the first. I've linked above to a great tutorial on saddle stitching.

  • Line up the two pieces of leather so the holes are matched up and the two rough sides are touching.
  • Take a piece of wax thread approximately 6 times as long as the stitching groove we created earlier. There is no exact science behind this length. I find 6 times covers all eventualities.
  • Attach a saddle stitch needle to either end of the thread.
  • Pass one needle through both pieces of leather on the first hole until the thread is halfway through.
  • Take the needle on the side with the smaller piece of leather and pass this through the second hole.
  • With the thread not pulled all the way through pass the needs on the other side through the same hole. Be careful not to pierce the thread that is already in the hole when you do this.
  • Pull both ends of the thread tight (not too tight).
  • Repeat this process right to the end of the groove.

When you have finished the last hole we will stitch back about 2 holes for one needle and 3 for the other so that both lengths of thread are on the same side but one hole apart. Cut the thread here.

Using a lighter melt the ends that have been cut (if you have some beeswax then put some beeswax in the final holes here before melting and it will hold them better).

Note: You can use a leather glue between the two pieces for a stronger hold. I haven't here as I want the pieces to look old and not finished properly. The thread is still strong enough to hold.

Step 6: Adding Hardware and Assembling

The final result here will be a strap that is connected to the front cover. It will wrap around the whole cover once and then hook onto a button stud that's on the inside flap.

  • To attach the strap we will use two rivets.
  • Line up the strap so that one end of it is overlapping the journal cover by about 2" (enough for the two rivets you have selected to hold with a little bit between them (laying out the top of the rivets on the leather will give you an idea of where to position them).
  • Take your awl and and pierce the strap in the center at the position you found for the first rivet above. This will be a guide for where to punch the full size hole.
  • Position the strap over the front cover of the leather and push the awl through the mark you made on the strap and into the front cover.
  • Do the same for the position of the second rivet hole.
  • Take the hole punch for the rivet hole (1/8" in my case) and punch a hole directly over the four awl marks you made.
  • For each rivet you attach it by doing the following:
    • Line up the holes in the strap and the front cover
    • Put the rivet cap on the strap side and insert the rivet bottom from the back of the cover and push together. There should be a little click.
    • Put the small anvil underneath the bottom of the rivet.
    • Put the curved end of the rivet setter over the top of the rivet.
    • With the mallet tap the end of the rivet setter until the rivet is firm but don't completely set it (leave a little bit of play).
    • Do the same with the next rivet. The reason we left the previous one a little loose is so we can line up the holes for the second rivet.
    • Once the second rivet is in place then you can set both the rivets firmly.

All that is left now is the button stud.

  • Punch a hole in the section of the leather that is just under the front cover (see final picture for location). Test on a scrap piece of leather for size.
  • Take the button stud and unscrew the bottom from the stud and push it in from the back of the leather.
  • Apply a little bot of loctite to the end of the screw to stop it from coming undone later and firmly screw the stud to the screw.

Now some holes in the strap for the button stud and we are done.

  • Put your journal into the cover and close the cover up.
  • Wrap the strap around the cover and you should be able to line it up with the button stud.
  • Make an awl hole at that point in the strap.
  • Now undo the strap and make a hole at that point (sizes will vary. Test out what size you need on a spare piece of leather).
  • Now take your stanley knife and cut a small cut leading out from the hole away from the strap end. This is to give the leather a bit of give to pop over the button.
  • Do this two more times, once before and once after the one you've just done. Make sure they are far enough away that the leather won't split into another hole.
  • Carnauba cream the holes so the leather isn't inclined to split.

Now insert the back cover of the journal in the flap that we sewed and close the front. You now have a functioning Moleskin Cover.

The tassel makes it look real professional. Where can I get leather pieces to work on?
<p>Hi Richard. The tassel is actually from the Moleskine itself. The cover is designed so you can use both the elastic closer and the tassel on the Moleskine itself.</p><p>Tandy Leather (<a href="http://www.tandyleather.com">www.tandyleather.com</a>) is where I get my leather from. Shipping is quite reasonably priced and always gets to me quickly. Alternatively if you have a local leather shop they may have offcut pieces that are big enough for this project. Enjoy.</p>
Voted. It looks awesome, a unique &amp; creative design &amp; good workmanship, and much better than all the others I've seen. The tutorial is really clear &amp; useful. You should definitely win!!
Voted. Good luck.
<p>Nice, voted</p>
<p>Thanks Marcella!</p>
<p>This is beautiful work and a fantastic tutorial!</p>
<p>Thankyou. I was worried my first instructable would be really bad. Thanks!</p>

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Bio: Amateur leather worker. Always open to learning a new skill.
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