Introduction: No-sew Leather Pencil Case
Hard cover pencil cases which pamper your supplies can't be found in the US but they were common when I was growing up in Switzerland. They keep all your drawing and writing materials safe and organized in a zippered, hardcover case. Each pencil, ruler, sharpener, and pen has its own spot, so you don't have to dig through a jumble of dull, broken pencils to find the one you need. They usually come fully loaded with all sorts of exciting accessories; colored pencils, pens, an eraser and sharpener, rulers and even a compass and a spot for a fountain pen. Some have an extra flap to hold even more stuff.
Unfortunately, even if you CAN find them, these beautiful cases have become prohibitively expensive, so I resolved to make my own using some recycled leather, cardboard from a box of Cheerios, and various snaps, rivets, and rings I had lying around. Since I don't have the tools to sew leather, I replaced the standard zipper case with a slightly modified magnetic snap design. Then of course I customized the interior to fit all my favorite pens and tools. Now you can too!
Step 1: Tools and Materials
I used 3 types of leather, because I had all of them on hand:
- Heavy beige leather, recycled from a beloved sofa which fell apart -- for exterior and interior pockets and straps. (I also made a bow case with this leather!)
- Mid-weight black leather for interior, recycled from an ugly skirt which I hated
- Super light and thin red leather I bought years ago at a flea market, because I cannot resist a good deal on beautiful material.
Truth be told, you could easily make a similar pencil case using just one type of mid-weight leather, with a few minor adjustments to the design.
- Cardboard (aka chip board) which you can recycle from any box of cereal or from a sugar ice cream cone box, if you're looking for a good pretext to buy yourself a nice treat.
- Magnetic snaps. This is the only item I needed to purchase to make the case, and it was well worth it. These snaps are easy to install (no need for a special tool, just pliers or even a screwdriver to bend the metal clasps) and they are much easier to use than regular snaps, you don't need to press down, they'll just snap closed.
- Regular snaps. I know, right after singing the praise of magnetic snaps here I go and say you'll need regular ones! That is because the magnetic snaps are designed to be covered on the back, and for the interior trims (assuming you want scissors and a compass in your case) you will need a snap which is finished on the outside to use on the simple straps.
- Small double headed rivets (these are smooth on both sides). These are optional, I used them to create the pocket which protects my Xacto knife.
- Eyelets. These have a hole in the middle, so they're useful for attaching a key ring or lacing. This is also optional, I used it because I wanted my case to include a...
- Book ring. This is like a key ring except it has a hinge and you can open it, which makes it easier to attach things like a USB thumb drive, keys, or simply a decorative doodad. Also optional.
- Glue. Very important! I find the tubes of glue to be expensive and not so great -- my favorite is this Contact cement in a can which you can apply with a sponge. If you're careful it's not too messy and it gives a great bond. Just follow the instructions on the can.
You will need basic cutting tools (scissors will do, though you will need a scalpel knife and cutting mat as well, to cut the small slits in the cardboard backing).
You will need pliers to bend the fasteners for the magnetic snaps, but even a spoon would work in a pinch.
If you are using regular snaps and rivets you'll need the tools which go with them. They rarely come with instructions, even though it's not always self-evident how to use them. Hopefully my pictures will help you. Just get enough to spare and practice on some scrap material before working on your cut pieces.
Step 2: Design Your Case
I created PDF files with the pattern for this case, but you will probably want to modify the interior section to fit your supplies.
The design has multiple layers. Starting with the exterior it has:
- Exterior leather (one large piece 39cm by 45cm). In these pre-making mock-up photos, it is the hot pink piece of cardboard.
- Exterior cardboard. Though it is glued to the inside of the exterior leather, I call this the exterior cardboard layer because there are several layers of cardboard. I cut these pieces from a box of Cheerios, and it worked perfectly to stiffen the exterior leather and hold the exterior snaps firmly in place.
- Interior cardboard. This is the layer which you will modify to fit your supplies. I just laid all my art supplies on a piece of paper and sketched them out, then I drew where I'd need to cut slits into the cardboard to weave a piece of sofa leather. I made several mock-ups to make sure I got the spacing and layout just right.
- Red leather trim. I used this as trim for the interior of the three rectangular flaps. Since the leather was so thin I was able to cover the male magnetic snaps, just making a tiny hole for the -- ummm -- male part to emerge. You don't have to use a contrasting piece of thin leather for this, you can also cut them out of the same mid-weight leather as the rest of your interior... but in that case you might have to attach your snap outside of the leather, rather than concealed as shown in the last photo.
All the patterns are drawn on a 1:1 scale, so the leather exterior and interior pieces will not print on a single sheet of letter sized or A4 paper. Most software will allow you to tile the image and print it full scale, so you'll need to do a bit of cut and paste work to prepare your templates. I also included in the download a reference PDF which shows the important dimensions and how many of the pieces are to be layered.
Click here to download the templates from my website -- the pattern is FREE, but you will need to enter a valid email address because I'll be sending you a link to the files via email. Don't worry, I won't use your information for any other purpose (unless you ASK to get my newsletters). I just like to get a sense of how many people are interested in my projects. While you're there, feel free to poke around, I have tons of pop-up card and paper toy templates, many of which are free.
Step 3: Cut the Leather and Cardboard
Use the templates from the previous step to cut your leather and cardboard pieces, but make sure you're tracing them the right way. The pattern is drawn to be traced on the wrong side of the leather, but if you're not careful you might flip the pattern and cut it wrong.
The patterns for the exterior leather and cardboard show where you need to cut small slits for these 14mm magnetic snaps. If you're using different hardware you'll need to adapt the pattern.
Step 4: Glue Exterior Leather and Attach Magnetic Snaps
You need to attach the male magnetic snaps to the triangular cardboard pieces before gluing them to the leather, but the rectangular cardboard on the left must be glued to the leather before attaching the snaps.
Before gluing, push the female snap tabs through the leather exterior and the rectangular cardboard to make sure everything is positioned properly. Then apply glue to both surfaces. When they are slightly tacky but not wet, very carefully and lightly put the cardboard pieces in place. Once the two tacky surfaces touch it's extremely difficult to adjust their position, so just be careful and use a steady hand... Once it's in place press down and bend the snap tabs over the washers to fix in place.
You will have installed thee female snaps on the case's exterior, and two male snaps on the top and bottom triangles. The third triangle glued to the exterior leather does NOT have a male snap, because there will be a pocket for your protractor above it. The third male snap piece needs to be attached to the pocket cover (i.e. the smaller triangle which is not yet glued to the leather exterior).
Please note: if you will be using a thicker leather to cover these side flaps, you will need to glue that leather piece to the top and bottom cardboard pieces, attach the snaps through the leather and the cardboard, then glue the interior leather and cardboard to the exterior leather. You can't hide the male snap under thick leather, because the center won't stick out enough to allow a good grip.
Step 5: Glue the Side Trims and Prepare the Triangular Ruler/protractor Pocket
After you have attached the male magnetic snap onto the small triangle, glue the leather square over the piece so it covers both sides. If your leather is thicker than the red trim leather I used, you will first glue one side of the square leather trim to the cardboard triangle to the cardboard, then push the tabs of the male magnetic snap through the leather, then the cardboard, and flatten them over the washer as shown in the first picture. Then you will fold the leather square over and glue it onto the back of the cardboard triangle.
Glue the top and bottom leather trims to the interior of your case's flaps. They will be aligned to the exterior leather on the edges, then cover a small portion of the exterior center cardboard rectangle.
Step 6: Prepare the Interior Leather Piece
You already cut the outline of the interior leather piece in step 3, but you need to glue the leather to the interior cardboard before cutting out all the slits.
To position your interior leather properly, you will first need to tape the interior cardboard (with the slots cut out as shown), on the partly assembled case, where they will be glued later. Use small pieces of double sided tape to temporarily hold the cardboard backing onto the case exterior. Put a few more pieces of double sided tape on the top, to hold your interior leather in the correct spot once you have positioned it.
When everything is in the right position, carefully detach the interior leather WITH the interior cardboard, flip them over and trace the cardboard onto the reverse side of the leather. Now you can pull everything apart and remove any remaining tape. Apply glue to both the interior cardboard to the interior leather piece, and press them together, using your traced lines as a guide.
Now you can cut the slits in the leather.
I know this all sounds complicated, but when you have all the pieces in front of you it will be much easier to understand...
Step 7: Add Straps and Pockets to the Interior
My template does not include all the various leather straps and pocket pieces, because you will be cutting those based on your supplies (you should have figured this out in step #2). Most of my straps were 1.5cm wide, and I basically wove them around the leather and cardboard backing.
The scissors and the compass require straps with snaps to hold them in place, but for all the other pieces I just cut approximate sizes, pushed them though the leather and cardboard slots, tightened them over the actual supplies I was going to store in my case, then glued them in place on the back.
You could also use elastics, which would be more forgiving than leather straps, but they don't usually last as long.
Step 8: Finishing
Since my leather straps were fairly thick, I added an extra layer of cardboard on the back of one of the sides, leaving cutouts where the leather was glued. This gave me a flatter surface to glue on the exterior backing, which made it nice and clean. That said, the other side (without an extra layer of cardboard) looks fine too, even though theoretically it's a bit more bumpy.
After all your straps and pockets are set and glued in place, glue the whole interior to the exterior.
If you created a pocket like mine for my Xacto knife, fasten it with some rivets.
Attach the protractor pocket to the case exterior by gluing the edge of the leather covered triangle you prepared in step #4
Now load up your case and you're done!
Note: although this is labeled a "no-sew" pencil case, in reality if I had the right equipment, I would stitch around the edge of the case, maybe even reinforcing it with a long strip of black leather. Not only would it be pretty, if would also help make the case much more durable. If I'm lucky enough to win that gorgeous sewing machine in the Tandy leather contest, I will definitely sew the edge with some bright red cotton thread and I'll update this instructable with new pictures.
If you enjoyed this you might be interested in my other work: I design pop-up cards which you can download and make yourself, now that all your drawing and cutting tools are organized!