Introduction: Leather Laptop Portfolio
I call it minimal because I wanted it to be smooth to watch, with invisible seam. Well, most of it at least. As I'd only made a few leather projects until this one, I didn't have the slightest idea of the nightmare my fingers were about to live. I'll also give you some insight on how to treat your fingers better than I did.
Important note before you even start: you should buy the main leather piece only after having checked the dimensions of your project. Finding oneself in the middle of cutting leather and realizing one won't have enough is not quite a fun part of DIYing.
Also, a small disclaimer: I learned leathercraft some months ago because I thought it was cool, but you must know that I'm not any close of being an expert. I did this project my own way and some parts of it may not have been done the best way possible. Read and follow this Instructable with mild caution, and double-check the mm-to-in conversions. The Instructables' leather classes may also be of great help.
Don't hesitate to give a closer look to the photos and drawings, I wrote comments on many of them.
Now, have fun.
- A large sheet of 7 or 8 oz. thick (3 mm or 1/8 in.) leather. Dimensions: roughly 1000x500 mm (40x20 in.)
- A sheet of thinner leather.
- Sewing waxed thread (a few miles of it)
- A zipper (minimum 500 mm / ~20 in.)
Note: The leather can be bought online, but I chose to buy it in a specialized store in order to see and to feel the leather to be sure of what I wanted.
Regarding the main leather thickness, it could be a little less than 7 oz., though you want your leather to be hard enough to hold by itself when the portfolio is finished, but thin enough not to be too hard to manipulate.
For the tools, I tried to keep to a minimal set, but some of them are close to mandatory:
- A metal ruler, I suggest it to be long enough (around 36in / 90mm)
- A T-square ruler
- A pair of sharp scissors
- An "X-acto" knife
- A cutting mat
- A flat wooden plank or a poundoboard
- A set of stitching punches
- A mallet
- Leather sewing needles, some of them curved if possible
- A groover or V-gouge
- Leather glue
- A paper pen
- A stitching awl
- A wooden slicker and solid bee wax
- Thimbles and fingerstalls, for your fingers
- A skiving edge beveler
- Paper clips or clothespins
Step 1: What Do You Really Want? Thinking and Drawings
I first began to ask myself how I wanted my portfolio / briefcase to look like. You can find a lot of inspiration by simply typing some keywords in a search engine: leather, portfolio, briefcase, laptop, business, etc.
What details would you like the portfolio to have? How many pockets, handles or not, shoulder strap, how thick, etc. Write down all this information and draw the portfolio you have in mind.
Dimensions are important! Measure your laptop (or anything you want to fit into) and add between 30 to 40 mm (1 and 1-1/2 in.) to each edge.
Here are the dimensions needed for this particular portfolio:
- Part A: 1 sheet of 595x380 mm leather (~23.43x14.96 in.) for the main part;
- Part B: 1 strip of 950x50 mm (~37.4x1.97 in.) in the same leather for the side (contour);
- Part C: 1 sheet of 340x230 mm (~13.39x9.06 in.) in the same leather for the external pocket;
- Part D: 1 sheet of 370x200 mm (~14.57x7.87 in.) (can be in another piece of leather of the same thickness) for the inside laptop pocket;
- Part E: 1 small sheet of 250x200 mm (~9.84x7.87 in.) in any lighter leather for the inside pen pocket;
- Part F and F': 2 strips of 270x50 mm (~10.63x1.97 in.) and some scrap of the main leather for the handles.
Note: the part B's length is longer than needed and will be adjusted later according to the chosen radius of the the portfolio's edges.
Step 2: Cutting the Parts
As you can see on the photos of this step, I chose a close-to-raw leather with a nice natural color. It's actually soft, and sometimes I think my sleep would be deeper and full of sweet dreams with it as a blanket.
Anyway, to really begin we want to cut the different parts of the portfolio.
- Install the cutting mat on a still and clean table and put the leather on it, grain side facing up.
- With the ruler, the T-square ruler and the pencil, draw the lines where you will cut. You can also cut the exact parts in paper, fix it on the leather and trace the limits with the awl.
- Cut each part with the X-acto knife, being careful and working with several passes.
The cuts must be of course parallel, but don't freak out if they are a little messy: we will make an invisible seam and they won't be visible, except for part C.
That's it, you can have a short break.
Step 3: Preparing Part A: Front, Back and Bottom
The part A is the main part of your portfolio. It includes both large side and the under side. This step consists in tracing two grooves to separate the three sides, cutting the 8 radius that will become the 4 round edges, tracing the grooves behind the future stitch holes, where the leather will be tightly bend for the invisible seam, and finally punches the stitching holes
1. Folding grooves: they help to fold the leather.
- On the flesh side, measure 270 mm (10.63 in.) on the longest edges, from both side, and trace the two lines delimiting the front from the bottom and the bottom from the back, with the pencil and the ruler.
- Still on the flesh side, trace two grooves along these lines with the V-gouge. Be sure that they are not too deep, in order to avoid cutting all the way through the leather.
- You can begin to fold the leather along the grooves. Look, it's already pretty.
2. Cutting the radius:
- Find a solid circle to mark the 8 radius. I used a (clean) marmalade cap. The diameter should be between 50 and 60 mm (2 to 2.4 in.), for a radius of 25 to 30 mm (1 to 1.2 in.). With the pencil and the cap, trace the 4 radius at each corner of the leather part, and the 4 ones outside the grooves (see the photos).
- Cut the 8 radius with the scissors.
3. Tracing the contour grooves:
- On the flesh side, trace a mark with the ruler and the pencil all around the front and the back, at 10 mm (0.4 in.) from the borders.
- Trace the grooves along the lines with the V-gouge.
4. Punching the stitching holes:
- Use the stitching punches and the mallet to make the holes between the last grooves and the corners.Don't forget to put the leather on poundoboard or a plank of wood. Use the punch with the more teeth for the long lines, and use the 2-teeth punch for the radius.
Note: Be careful not to make too many holes! You must keep where there is a border, and not punching holes along the two first grooves. I did it (see the last photo) and now I'm sad.
5. Shorten the bottom side's ends
- Cut both bottom side's end to 15 mm large (~0.6 in.)
- Make a groove at 10 mm (0.4 in.) from the border, for each end.
- Punch holes between groove and border, and on both small borders for each end.
Note: As I don't have any photo for this step 5., I drew a nice... well I kinda try to drew it for you.
Part A is ready.
Step 4: Preparing Part B: Portfolio's Side
Part B is the side of the portfolio (left side, right side, and upper side with the zipper). As I wasn't sure how I would sew each short side, I cut it a little longer than needed. Of course in that case longer is better, because I could cut the extra length later.
1. Tracing grooves:
- On the flesh side, trace the contour of the part with the ruler and pencil, at 10 mm (0.4 in.) from the borders. No need to do the line of one of the short side, as it will be cut to the proper length.
- Use the V-gauge and the ruler to trace a groove along the 3 lines.
2. Punching the stitching holes:
- Use the stitches punches, the mallet and the poundoboard to make the holes between the grooves and the borders. If you think it takes time, you should wait for the sewing part...
Don't punch holes on the second short side, as you will cut it later.
Optional: I used a lot of the skiving edge beveler to reduce the border's thickness of the leather and to extend the grooves. Today I can't decide if that was useful or not, but it didn't hurt doing it.
3. Cutting the opening for the zipper:
- Measure were you want the zipper to begin and to end on the upper side of your portfolio. To do that, I positioned the part B as if it was already sewed to the part A, and marked a thin stroke with the pencil on each side, where the zipper's ends should be.
- Put the part B on the cutting mat, grain side up. Trace the center opening with the pencil and ruler, according to the width of your zipper. The zipper will be sewed on the flesh side of the leather, so their should be a fair excess of fabric in order to sew them properly together. Thus the opening's width must be shorter than the zipper's width. For me it was 18 mm (~0.7 in.).
- Cut the opening along the lines, with the x-acto knife. Be careful around both ends, cutting half a circle with an x-acto is a small challenge if it's your first time.
4. Punching the opening's holes:
- Punch the stitching holes at 5 mm (~0.2 in.) of the opening borders, with the punches, the mallet and the poundoboard.
4bis. Optional: Wax and burn the borders of the zipper opening: this is a step I forgot, but the border will be visible on the finished portfolio. Waxing then burning the borders by scrubbing them with a wooden slicker, although optional, give a nice "pro" touch to the final work.
5. Sew the zipper:
- Begin to sew the zipper to the part B. Choose a nice thread color because this seam will be visible.
- Cut the surplus of zipper.
Step 5: Preparing Part C: External Pocket
The part C is the external pocket. The tricky part here will be to give the pocket some depth so that several sheets of paper can fit into it, and not just one.
1. Cutting the opening: this pocket is large enough to put a standard magazine / journal. A nice opening will help you to withdraw it.
- Fold an paper in two, draw and cut half the form you want to give to the opening next to the folded border, and unfold it so it is perfectly symmetric.
- Measure and mark the center of one of the largest border of part C, and glue the paper on it along the border, with the folding trace facing the marking.
- Cut along the paper's border.
1bis. Optional: wax and burn the border with the cut opening
2. Cut the radius:
- With the marmalade cap, trace the radius at both lower corners.
- Cut them with the scissors
3. Folding the short borders:
- On the flesh side, draw two parallel strokes next to each short border, respectively at 8 mm and 16 mm (0.3 and 0.6 oz.).
- Trace a groove with the V-gauge along the 4 lines.
- On each of these borders, fold the leather so that it makes a step (see the photo). I moistened the flesh part to help the leather fold along the grooves, and used hard comic books with less than 10 mm thickness to keep the leather in this position. I'm pretty sure there are better solutions for this step... If you have an idea, you can comment at the end.
Step 6: Preparing Part D
The part D separates the inside of the portfolio into two pockets, one larger than the other. In put my laptop into the small one, letting enough room to put a lot of mess in the larger pocket.
I chose another type of leather because it was inside the portfolio. It's up to you.
1. Punch holes
- Punch stitch holes along both short borders of this part, at 4 mm (0.16 in.).
2. Cut two lower radius
- With the scissors, cut two radius on the lower border, identical to the ones you cut on part A.
3. Optional: wax and burn the upper border.
That's all for this part, no groove needed here.
Step 7: Preparing Part E
This small part is an inside pocket for pens or visit cards. I chose a thin blue leather.
- Fold the leather in two parts and let a little bit more on one side.
- Put some glue on each border.
- Punch holes on both glued sides and sew them together to make the pocket.
- Cut a bevel to both upper corners where you let an excess of leather.
- Punch holes on the border where the pocket will be sewed to the inside top of the portfolio.
Step 8: Assemble Part C to Part A
It's going well. It's time to put two parts together
1. Glue to front side
- Position the part C over the front side of part A (it's time to decide which side is it by the way), grain side up. Mark almost invisible small lines with the pencil when you're sure of the position.
- Put some glue on both thin "glue faces", on the flesh of part C and on the bottom border, and carefully replace the part on the front side of part A, with help of the marks you made. The glue is only used to keep the part C still while punching holes and sewing to part A
- Let the glue dry and put a magazine inside the pocket, part to test it, part to keep the form of the folded parts.
2. Punch the holes:
- Punch the stitching holes around the 3 glued borders of part C, at 4 mm (5/32 in.), don't forget to use the 2-teeth punch for the radius. The holes will go through part C and part A, but be careful that they don't go through the back side of part A!
- Punch one hole just above each side of the pocket, through part A only.
3. Sew the pocket:
- Time to sew the pocket. I kept the same thread color than for the zipper.
Note: Use the optional fingerstalls and leather thimbles to spare your fingers. When you tighten the thread with your bare hands to make a pretty sewing just once, it's quite alright. When you do it a few hundreds times, some cuts will appear at places you'd rather they don't and you will eventually begin to weep. Not to mention the needles thinking it's ok to insert themselves inside your skin. No.
Step 9: Make the Handles
An easy and rewarding step. Each of these bullet points must be done twice if you want your portfolio to have 2 handles.
1. Cut F parts:
- On grain side on your main leather piece, draw the F part with the pencil and ruler
- Cut along the lines on the cutting mat with the x-acto knife.
- Draw each end of the part according to the first drawing. These ends are the place where the handles will be sewed to the portfolio.
- Cut the bits.
2. Grooves and holes:
- Trace grooves at each long side, at 10 mm (0.4 in.) from the borders.
- Punch the stitching holes with the mallet, the punch and the poundoboard. As always, the holes must be between the border and the groove.
3. Filling bits:
- Cut 4 bits of 180x10 mm (~7x0.3 in.). Cut each end so they have a trapeze shape.
- Glue the 4 bits together face-to-face, and then glue the largest trapeze side of the result to the flesh center of the part F
4. Fold and sew:
- Fold the part F around the trapeze shape so that the holes of each border are joined together.
- Tightly sew the stitching holes together.
5. Sewing ends:
- Mark with the pencil and ruler where the handles will be fixed to the portfolio. You need to gently bend the two handles and position as desired in order to find the right angle.
- Punch holes along the line at each end.
6. Optional: wax and burn
- Put wax on the sewed side and scrub it hard with wooden slicker until the color gets dark.
Step 10: Count Your Holes
This is really serious business I'm going to talk to you about in this step. The next part will be about sewing all the parts of your leather together, and what you absolutely want to avoid is to un-sew it at the very end because there are extra holes on one end that fit with none on the other.
So, this step is about counting holes and be sure there is the same number at each corresponding side. That will help you to ensure which hole goes with which.
Doing this, you will also be able to know exactly at what length to cut off the part B in order to have the proper length with the proper number of holes.
Step 11: Sewing the First Side of Part B to Part A, With a Handle
We arrive at some challenging –if not slightly painful– steps. But everything is going to be well, because you have the right number of holes on part B and each face of part A!
The sewing "as is" isn't that hard, but we are going too need to sew parts really tight together, and sometimes up to 4 parts with only one thread; plus some stitches will be quite tough to reach, let alone to tighten.
Note: For all the invisible sewing, I highly suggest you to use the two-needle-saddle-stitching method. Also, you can use the optional stitching hole if some of the holes you made are too small.
1. Optional: Fold the borders:
- Fold the borders where the grooves are and put some paper pins on it. Let it rest a night. I put paper so that the pins won't let any hard mark on the leather.
2. Sew part C and D to A:
There is the way I did it (on the photos), and the way you should probably do it. For this step, the photos can indeed be a little bit misleading, because I began to sew one side of the part B with part A, and only then I sewed one side of part D to them. But sewing a new leather part through stitching holes which are already filled with thread was definitely not the right way to do it. Instead, you probably should sew the 3 sides in the same time.
- Choose where will be the pocket laptop (to the back of the front side –the one with external pocket– or to the back of the back side).
- Begin to sew part B to part A, from what will be one of the side's bottom (either front or back), just above the lower radius. Then add the part D and continue sewing. (See the 3rd, 4th and 5th photos to help you understand).
- Sew along the edge and stop just after the upper radius (see the 9th photo).
You can use the curved needles if you have some.
3. Sew the first handle and finish the first face.
- Choose where the first handle begin on the top face.
- Go on sewing where you previously stopped, and include one of the handle's end between part A and part B (see the 10th and 11th images). Be careful to sew the handle with its stitches facing towards the inside.
- Go on sewing until you reach where the handle's other end should be, and include it like the first end.
- Continue the sewing until you arrive where the other side of part D should be, and include it in the sewing like on the 3rd image.
You now have one of part B's side sewed to one of part A's face.
Step 12: Sew the Bottom and Second Face, With Other Handle and the Inside Pen-pocket
Before sewing the second face of part A to the second side of part B, we will have to sew the bottom, which where 3 parts of leather meet, not less than 4 times.
It's a bit tricky, but if you counted the holes well it will be alright.
1. Sew the bottom:
- Insert a new thread and begin to sew where you begin the previous step, in the other direction.
- Sew the short side of part B to the short side of the bottom face (part A).
- Go on sewing on the other side, towards the other face of part A. Stop after a few inches.
- Insert another thread in the other side to repeat these previous steps. As sewing the bottom is quite challenging, I found it better to do it at this time rather than at the end, when you'll be sewing with both hands inside your portfolio.
Note: all the borders should always be oriented inside the portfolio.
2. Repeat step 11:
- Sew the other face of part A to the other side of part B. The main difference here is that there is no part D, which is much more easier.
- Include the first end of the second handle.
- At this point, I added the part E, which briefly made a 4th layer to sew if we count part A, part B, part F's end and part E.
- Sew the second end of the second handle.
- Continue sewing until you reach the other thread near the bottom. Join them together inside the portfolio and make a solid knot.
Note: You will have to open the zipper and work through the opening to help you finish the sewing.
Step 13: Last Details
1. Shape the leather:
If the leather is a little bit hard, don't hesitate to shape it with some paper pins or clothespins overnight, where it should be bent or folded.
2. Make a zipper pull-tab:
There are many kinds of zipper pull-tabs, but don't forget you just made a full laptop portfolio with your own hands and with what is left of your fingers! So I'm pretty sure you will think of something nice.
- Draw and cut the form of the pull-tab in a scrap of leather.
- Optional: wax and burn the sides
- You can make stitching holes to hold it together.
- Put it on the zipper bit and sew each end together.
A last important details is the leather protection. If like the one I chose, your leather is almost raw, it will get stained from no less than any droplet of water. A leather waterproof spray generously applied on my portfolio kept its natural color but made it perfectly waterproof. This is up to you, as a piece of leather's color can somehow turn nicer even years of sun.
Anyway, I tried to partially waterproof a scrap of leather, and I put it 10 seconds under the rain. Later I put my two sweaty thumbs against each face. You can see the result and the difference on the third photo.
This is the end. Now I'm pretty sure there are things I could have done in a better way. Also, I realize now that I could have glued a nice fabric on the flesh side, for example.
This was fun, thank you for reading!, and please share with me your inputs, your suggestions or your photos if you followed it.
First Prize in the