Introduction: Leather Lens Cases

Woohoo! Camera time!

Got a trip coming up, so I'm needing something to carry lenses and filter stacks. Otherwise, there's a good chance they won't go on the trip. So handy dandy lens cases for tossing in a bag and off to go have fun. Sure, we can whip something up!

For this tutorial, I've got 2 lens stacks needing to be built. But the photo shows three? Yeah, true... I made the first case to hold 2 lenses. Now it's time for the filter stacks to get a new home.

Total time on this project = 15 days @ 8+ hours per shift (heavy on the + symbol). Greatly simplified this should take 1-3 days. 1st time, with this much detail you can expect to take a month or more. Please do not let the time frame scare you off. It's a really fun project.

Tools list :
Nylon hammer
Sharp cutting implement
Leather edge trimmer
Stitching groover
Stitching spacer wheel (looks like a cowboy spur)
Leather edge polisher
Billfold and belt craftaid pattern number 76576
Tooling stamps : B60, Z-C433, B802, Z-B701, B201, Z-B701, Z-A104, Z-S706, Z-V407
Swivel knife
Scissors (for thread)
Waxed thread
1 shoulder of hide
Super sheen
Rubber cement
Rivets x4 (or stitch in the handle) and rivet setter tool
Snap rivets x2
D ring (not required)
Eco-flo 8 pack water stain (or oil based dyes and thinner)
Good technical painting brushes
Dye thinner for brush cleaning
Glass eye dropper
Glass shot glass (for mixing dye)
Roll of paper towels

Step 1: Measurements

Oh... fun! Pattern plans.

I'm horrible with numbers. So, I don't use them unless I have to. Straight edge, oh yes. Numbers, nope right out! Because of the lack of mesurements, often I will alter the pattern as I go. I always make a double pattern for inner and outer, and I almost always end up altering the inner to fit snugly.

I get around using exact measurements by using the object to be covered in the round case.

Mistakes: I could have used a little bit more wiggle room around each lens stack. After everything was finalized I had to spend a goodly amount of time stretching the leather so things would slide out of the case instead of getting wedged in there real good. At the last I spent 4 hours shoving the back end of a flash light into the business end of the 37mm case until the lens stack would fit correctly.

37 mm case, inner pattern was trimmed a little too much, due to not allowing enough fabric for the wiggle room... So learn from my mistakes, mind the wiggle factor. If you can't freely pull the lens stack out from between the uncut fabric (veg tanned leather), your making it too tight. Add another 1/2 to 3/4 inch to the width of both inner and outer.

Step 2: Making Marks

Mark what's what before you do anything else. Mark which piece is inside and what's outside. Because I'm making two cases at the same time I wanted them to match fairly closely so both pieces will have the same height for both top and bottom and inner/outer. Only difference at this point is diameter.

Note on making marks: wrong side or non-facing side only. If you'd rather the marks your making not stay permanently, use a bit of seamstress chalk. You can pick those up at joeann fabrics, hobby lobby, micheals, or even Wally World (walmart)...

For measurements, I marked where the seam would be, then started measuring the filter stack from that point and deciding where the inner and outer would live. Then I matched the sizing for both round boxes and marked what was what so the pattern wouldn't be confusing later. Last thing you want to do is get two different patterns mixed up at any point.

Once everything had a name, I moved on to slicing and dicing. A good sharp, thin blade is best. Strop it using jewlers rouse, or use a sharpening stone to make sure your blade is ready for the task.

You can strop a razor blade if that is the choice at hand. 'Paint scraper handle' holds it at just the right angle for stropping, and a nub of jewlers rouse over a bit of leather, gets the job done.

Step 3: Tops and Bottoms

For this part of the pattern I used one of each of the filter stacks to get the correct pattern.

Cut from the outer part of the line.

Note: If you listened to me earlier and made some wiggle room, your going to use the inner piece for your measurement (or a lid from something that's close in diameter). Meaning, you're shooting for a circle that will just fit into the diameter of the outer fabric. You're going for a snug fit, but not horrendously tight one. If it's too tight, you're not going to have fun when it comes time to stitch. If it's too loose the edges will end up overlapping, end up skipping stitches, or the work will develope wrinkles. This is a critical part that's hard to fudge later if the size is wrong, so TAKE YOUR TIME!

Step 4: Sharpened Implements

Before the tooling begins, and periodically during the line cutting, you'll want to stop and sharpen your tool. If the swivel knife starts to drag, catch, or if it's not turning into the curves; there's a good chance you need to stop and sharpen things up again, (Especially before beginning a large work).

For those that don't know how to sharpen a swivel knife, YouTube is your friend. Better, more knowledgeable folks than I have posted some excellent tutorials, on swivel knife sharpening.

Another thing to check if the knife is sharp, but still not cutting, check the dampness if the leather. Too wet it slides all over, too dry and your hand starts hurting from pressure sensitivity. Again, better folks than I have posted some excellent info on wetting veg tanned leather for tooling.

Thirdly, if everything else seems correct but the knife work is just not coming out, it might just be the leather itself. I've bought some really bad stuff, and no knife, sheers, etc wanted anything to do with cutting that particular piece of leather. I've learned to check a hide before buying. Usually by folding a corner over and pinching real hard. If it cracks, or looks like it wants to crack I keep looking. Does the hide have a ton of warts that look like they've been shaved off? Skip it as well. Bad leather is no pleasure to work with. Don't ruin your project before you've even started by buying bad material. Cheap leather is fine. You can get some good deals. Overly dried leather, or some skin desease, regardless of price, skip it. Save the headaches for some other event. (scarred or branding marked leather on the other hand... oh yeah! Made some really interesting things with scared up hides.)

Step 5: Picking an Artistic Pattern

Seeing as I'm matching a prior work, I'm sticking with the same pattern: Craft aid 76576, picked up from Tandy leather.

Step 6: Installing Patterns and Knife Work

Tandy leather has a plethora of fantastic patterns that are easy to transfer to your projects. You can also combined patterns to make them your own. Half the fun is picking the image out.

Step 7: Knife Work Continued...

Lots of swivel knife work. Remember to keep the edge sharp.

Step 8: Whoops

Forgot the snap straps. Left them plain figuring I would be cutting the upper inner lid piece and I could use the scrap from that. This only worked on the 37mm round box.

Step 9: Rounding Corners

Knives used for the rounded corners can be acquired from amazon or eBay. Honestly can't remember what they are called, but I do remember they were extremely cheap, came dulled, and have ended up being some of my favored tools once properly sharpened. Have to use a round file to sharpen as due to the curvature of the blades can't be worked on a sharpening stone. But the honing oil works just as well with metal files.

Step 10: Edges and Stitch Lines

Sometime between creating the pattern and prior to tooling, the edges need to be rounded and the stitch line installed. This step could have been done prior to the decorative pattern knife work, however I chose to put in the pattern first as I didn't want obvious boarders.

All outer pieces need a stitch line. All inner pieces could have also benefited with a decorative stitch, but I wasn't in the mood for that much detail knowing how much work was ahead yet.

Step 11: Backing

Before tooling, we need some way of making sure our pounding on the leather doesn't stretch the pattern out of whack.

Better folks than I do this in a number of ways, one of which is to use rubber cement and glueing the piece to the pounding board (marble or some other hard stone work surface). I obviously do not glue my work down. The reason for this is, I have found the glue penetrates too far into the leather for correct painting later, or at least in the manner in which I paint/dye my leather work. If glue is used the leather won't take the dyes and I end up with bald spots and half a tub of dye waisted.

To get around this normally I'll use blue painters tape. It holds well and doesn't leave a residue. However, I was lazy and didn't go get the painters tape from the garage... Instead I used gorilla tape (duct tape or gaffe tape). This did leave a little residue but was negligible and it did not penetrate up into the leather.

Step 12: Beginning Tooling

We've got our pattern in, swivel knife work finished. Time to start tooling.

Tooling took me 10 days to complete on 2 filter stack cases. For 1 case you can expect to work for 5 days if the pattern is compact and covers the entire work. Simpler patterns can be done in one day if your quick at tooling, or don't go for that overly tooled look like I do.

Note on tooling: Take breaks often! If you find your losing your place repeatably or your eyes are darting around, it's time to take a pause. If your legs start feeling antsy, again it's time to stand up and walk around for a bit. I try and stand up at least once every 20 minutes or so. Helps keep your concentration going. If you find you're working 4 hours straight without a break it might be time to set a timer.

Also don't neglect a good meal before you begin. Not a large meal, but something good for breakfast, to give you the stamina for long concentration spells. I find if I just get up and go for it while neglecting to eat, I make many more mistakes. Slow burning fuels seem to be the best for me, so lots of oatmeal in the morning. Power tooling, OH!

Step 13: Tooling Example

Quick video, no sound.
{I'm not sure why I'm not getting the video linked to the article correctly, so if the video isn't loading, just copy/paste the video links to a new browser window. Cheers!}

Because the subject of tooling is such a hot topic with many example of technic, I didn't want to cover too much on tooling and only made 1 video on the subject. If it seems more info is needed later, I might cover it in a new tutorial. But for now, this is enough.

Step 14: Tooling, Tooling, a Tooling We Will Go...

Just never ending on this project...

Step 15: Punching Through to the Other Side

Yaaaaaa, tooling is finally fin. Time to punch some holes in those pretty little stitch lines we installed way back when (and nearly a week ago)...

There's a number of tools available for punching holes and ensuring even spacing. For my project I used hand chisel pliers, picked up from Tandy leather for a reasonable price. However there are also some really nice punch chisels used in conjunction with a hammer, or good old leather punch sets or a simple awl and stitch spacer wheel. Pick your poison and go for it.

Now, some folks wait to punch holes until the end, right before stitching. I never wait due to how I apply dye to the leather. If I wait until after dye has been applied I find little white spots after all is said and done. If I do the stitch holes prior to dye I can fill in what the thread won't cover. Of course if I used thicker thread this would be a moot point, but I like my needles to pass through without much hindrance, so usually make the holes larger than they need to be. Seeing as I don't produce the really nice stitchwork feel free to disregard all of these points and stitch however you feel comfortable stitching. As stated prior, there are many many 'how to' stitch videos out there that can be found without too much effort.

Step 16: Prep for Painting

Yes! Finally, we are almost ready to start laying in some dye work. First we need to prepare everything for the next few days worth of work.

Brushes: Do not go the cheap route! The brushes I am using are designed for acrylic paints. Not really wonderful for this project but will work in a pinch. Better brushes would be ones designed for classical oil painting. They are expensive, but they are designed to stand up to chemical abuse. My acrylic brushes are slowly disintegrating through the handles. The chemicals they have been exposed to travel up the brush hairs and into the handle, causing breaking and cracking (mostly from water damage from water colouring. Water is quite caustic). A good oil paint brush can withstand much of this chemical bath because they've been treated at the time of creation to repel the chemicals used for cleaning.

Never, NEVER, never leave your brush soaking in any liquid for long periods of time. Again, the liquid travels up the brush hairs and into the handle causing damage to the brush. Leaving a brush in liquid also messes up the tips of the hair and causes a permanent curve at the tip.

Always clean your brush before, and after painting. This doesn't need to be spring cleaning type of clean. A little paint left in the brush doesn't hurt the brush. However if you don't clean them before the next session, you will find color pollution within your work.

Cleaning: Oil dye thinner works fantastically for cleaning brushes. Also cleans the glass dropper I use for moving dye from the pure color, to my mixing cup, and cleans the glass mixing cup. Win win win all around. But how do you tell if your brush is dirty? Well, pinch it at the base. If it's sticky or the hairs want to clump together and do not return to a nice evenly spaced row of hairs, then the brush is still clogged with something. Usually 2 douses with dye thinner will clean up the mess in record time. However if it's still not feeling supple with the pinch test, you can use good old dish soap as the final cleaning. Pinch test after should have all the little hairs returning to a nice even line and a sharp tip.

Why does it matter? Dye pollution not withstanding; if the hairs are clogged, they can't pull paint/dye up into the reservoir that is held within the hairs. And it effects the dye flow from the brush head to the surface of the work. Basically a clogged brush will produce clogged strokes.

Finishing up: Always comb the brush tip with your fingers before putting it away. Whatever shape the brush head has while wet, if left in that state it will remember that shape later if left to dry that way. So make sure it's got a nice crisp line, or point (depending on type of brush). If this is done every time, your brushes should last your entire lifetime and then some. And honestly, if you go out and drop 168$ on 1 brush, your going to want it to stay nice. Treat em well, they are an extension of you!

Lastly, never never never dip your brush into a pure colour container. This can pollute the pure colour! Always transfer the pure colour to a mixing cup, even if not mixing. You'll use less dye over all, and you won't lose pure dyes to evaporation. (Which can change the colour of the dye if left to evaporate too long.)

Step 17: Mixing Colours

For our project we will treat the entire work as if it were a water colour painting. Lots of goodly videos can be found by better folks than I on water colour painting. I do suggest if you are unfamiliar with water colouring that you spend some time researching the topic.

When I dye leather I stage it. I don't use a colour pallet. Instead I work an entire piece with one colour before moving to the next. This means I'm usually only going to put one layer on per day. As we are thinking of this as a water colour painting, we want to put everything down lightest first and as light as possibly, building up our layers over many days. We also will not use the final colour on the work until after our shading/highlighting colours have been put down where we want them to live. Going, highlights first, shading second, final colour third, and background going in somewhere in that mix.

Now if the work were less detailed I would stress more effort going into the background as I'd probably be using more than one colour and blending into each other. However, due to the complexity of the tooling work, there isn't really enough room to have a real good play with blending backgrounds. The spacing is too compacted for this. So we're not going to worry about blending and go with one coat of background colour.

Testing colour: Make sure to save a scrap of the same veg tanned leather as the pattern was cut from for testing purposes. Different leather holds colours differently. I've had one hide show yellow dye as yellow, and another hide shows yellow as a brown.

Types of dye: For this project I'm using water stain from Tandy leather. However, I've also used oil dyes exclusively, and oil dyes in conjunction with water stain. Just remember water and oil don't blend well, so water stain first and let dry, then oil dye stain if you plan on mixing the two together. You can really make the colours pop out at you with this technic. Also oil dyes can be used with the water colour methods just as well as the water stain dyes. Only difference is evaporation is higher, and instead of water rinse, you'll be using dye thinner.

Note; Water/thinner is a colour and has an effect on everything else. In a prior lesson I wrote about using coal black as white and it worked fantastically.

Painting wet verses dry: Wet leather dyes a different colour to dry leather. Taking yellow as an example, on dry leather the final colour is yellow, on wet leather the final colour is still yellow, but tinted to the brown side. This is true for most colours. Reds will be deeper reds, browns will be deeper browns, etc. Black is the only exception to this rule that I have found. Wet leather and black ends up quite grey. With this in mind, test, test, and test again on a scrap from the same hide.

But wet leather bleeds colour! Yes true, to a point. You're going to have colour bleeding, that's why the swivel knife cuts are so important. They give the dyes a place to bleed into without over running everything. But there is a way to use wet leather with wet brush (termed wet on wet painting), where the colour will stay right where you put it with no bleeding. As noted above, it can and will effect the final, dried colour, but it'll work just fine for our purposes.

So how to achieve the no bleed when working wet on wet? The leather has to be soaked to the point where it no longer bubbles when submerged. This can take from 5 - 20 minutes of soaking time. If your using water stain dyes, this can ruin anything painted on it, so if you're wanting to work wet on wet, it's going to have to be the first layer you put down. Once the leather has enough water within its fibers, it must be left to rest. You'll know it's perfect when you drop a bit of water on the surface and it slowly sinks inward and disappears without spreading outward. For those of you whom are comfortable with leather tooling, you'll recognize the wetness level. For those who are not so comfortable, use your test scrap. Soak it with the rest and have a play prior to starting on the main project.

Step 18: Leather Painting, Layer 1

Each video I've posted to this article is 1 days worth of work. Total painting time took me 5 days.
Quick video, no sound, timelapsed.

Highlight colours go in first. Wherever light would hit in real life, that's where we put in yellow paint.

The first touch of dye will be the colour that is soaked up the most in that spot and will have a tendency to repel any subsequent layers of colour, toning things to the correct hue. So go liberally. Of course it's real easy to mess this up and over load the area with too much dye in subsequent layers, losing the highlight. But with care and practice you can master this. Remember in the artistic painting world, water colour painting is the hardest to master. Don't get discouraged if mistakes are made. Just continue on and practice. I have every confidence in your ability. YOU CAN DO THIS!

First layer, be liberal with the dye and a little bleed is no game stopper. Yellow hides pretty easily under other colours.

Step 19: Leather Painting, Layer 2

So for my roses I wanted them to look like the "painted rose" type my mother grows in her garden (that every year the deer munch to stubs). So I need a nice, brilliant orange as the under colour, for the reds lie over, in the final layer.

Quick video, time lapsed of my process. There is no sound in the video.

3 droppers yellow + 2 droppers scarlet red + 2-3 droppers water = orange.

Dye placement: All along the flower peddle edges trying to stay away from the inside of the peddles as I want the inner colour (yellow), to radiate out of the flower. Brush water is used first without colour, to bleed the colour into the peddles. Then quick daub of colour is placed along the outer edge, before the water sheen disappears. You'll see your brush daub radiate up, and into the peddles, thinning out as it expands. Practice on your scrap, as it's a touch tricky to master and a quick hand must be used.

Step 20: Leather Painting, Layer 3

Quick video, no sound.

Background filled in. Really a no brainer. Dry on dry (dry brush on dry leather) technic. Load the brush, then tap it along the edge of the mixing cup to knock out about half the colour load to help prevent colour bleed. If it's still bleeding out, knock a bit more off the brush using a paper towel. If a flat angle brush isn't working for you, move to a round tip brush.

Step 21: Leather Painting, Layer 4

Quick video, no sound.

This layer we are putting in the shading for the greenery. I'm using violet/purple.

Why purple? That makes no sense! Plants aren't purple, why are you colouring them that way?

Yes, true, most plants aren't purple. There are of course exceptions to the rule. But over all most plants aren't purple. Violet is a colour we find often in nature, but it does not fall between red and blue. It falls after blue, therefore not true purple. If we split off red, and blue light the middle colour between the two will be... nope, not purple. It'll be green! Strange, I know. We only get purple when dealing with paints. Never with light. If we mix up equal amounts of red, and blue paint, we get purple.

That still doesn't explain why your using it!

Ok, enough of the sciency shpeel. Why purple?

Take a moment and have a gander at some greenery. I'd like you to pay particular attention to the shadows that fall onto green things. It shifts to purple. Trust me, it does. But if you don't believe me go have a look see for yourself. also have a look at a colour wheel, which colour is opposite to green? Oh look, it's purple. Ah, now that makes sense! Opposites attract and all that, green and purple complement each other perfectly. So for this project we shade the green with violet/purple.

Notice in these photos taken after putting in the violet/purple shading. Because we've also coloured over the yellow, it looks like I've already filled in the leaves with a layer of green, but I haven't. It just looks like the leaves have magically turned green. But that's not done until the final layer of colour. Even I, live, holding the work in my hand under 3 bright lights, it looked like I had already put in the green dye. Just magic!

Step 22: Leather Painting, Layer 5 and Top Coat

Quick video, no sound.

Deepening the yellow in the roses to account for shadows.
3 droppers yellow + 1 dropper light tan + 1 dropper brush water = deep yellow.

Minding our light source we daub colour into the roses where light wouldn't reach directly. Wet on dry (wet brush on dry leather). Don't mind any bleeding, let it flow where it wants to. Then let everything dry well before continuing.

Yes, finally! We can put the final colours where they need to go.

Green colour: 3 droppers yellow + 2 droppers green + 2 droppers wash water = green. Dry on dry (dry brush on dry leather).

For the roses, this is the fun part. This is where the real joy of the project finally comes to a head.

Taking a mist bottle, not spray bottle, we mist the rose once or twice, and quickly daub in scarlet red. Yes, the colour will run and bleed. It's ok, we want it to. It's perfectly fine if it bleeds into the rose, background or even onto leaves, as in nature rose bush leaves have a little red tint to them on newer, tender shoots. Let it all dry. Final layer needs the prior layers to be set in their places or we will get a muddy image.

Next layer we mix:
3 dropper scarlet red + 2 droppers violet + 2 droppers brush water = deep red.

Same as the last layer. Mist and daub, trying to stay on the outer edges of the peddles. Don't worry about colour bleed. We want a little bleeding to occur here as well. Let it all dry.

Finally, top coat. I wasn't thinking too much about antiquing the work before stitching, but wasn't sure just yet. So I used a liberal (heavy on liberal) layer of super sheen (about 1/3 of a bottle). This sets all the colour so you will no longer have colour bleeding issues, and the leather can be soaked without fear, nor should it fade. You do not need to use super sheen, but you must use some form of finalizing coat to protect the colours. Be mindful of getting something covering it with uv protection or over time you will lose the green and blue colours due to uv bleaching. I have more than 1 work I've done where it looks like I just skipped colouring things due to fading. Took about 3-6 weeks to lose all greens and blues. So heed this advise if you want to preserve your hard work. If you don't want shiny, look for a matte finish with uv protection built into it. Once the layer is on, let it dry. If you tap, test it and it feels sticky, it's not dried yet so don't touch it. A good 24 hours is an excellent guide to wait before starting your stitching.

If you're wanting to antique your work, once this has had a good drying session, you can then apply your antiquing layer, then buff it down. Also, do this before stitching things together or risk having dark areas where it's harder to buff the antique off. That said, it doesn't look bad to have dark areas in a completed piece so... be as artistic as your desire to be. If you mess it up, you can tell folks you used artistic license and your working on building character!

Step 23: Stitching

My stitch work leaves MUCH to be desired. As before, there are better folk in the world than I, who have posted fantastic examples of correct stitching technics. I come at it from a seamstress stand point. My mother taught me how to hand sew and I'm not inclined to learn box stitching nor use the two needle technic. Therefore I didn't record anything regarding it, nor will I tell you how to stitch your work. My apologies for not covering this topic. However, I will include a few images of my stitching process. Nope, I don't use a stitching pony either... just can't be asked to learn it. I have one... It's a nice dust collector.

Step 24: Installing Handles

Rubber cement and a little wait with some elbow grease thrown in pinching things together... ready for either stitching down, or rivets.

Step 25: Rivets

Another step I'm not wonderful at. Rivets are a titchy skill. First one I tried putting in bend sideways and had to be cut free. Practice practice practice, but do the practice on scraps first. One good even swing beats out light tapping every time. It's also much easier to set a rivet if you haven't started sewing things together. If your good with measuring things, this step would be worth doing prior to stitching. But as I'm horrible with measuring, always seem to leave it til it's too late to fix. Learn from me, rivets prior to sewing!

Step 26: Cutting the Inner Lid to Size

We want the inner lid to hold the inner deco top plug in, give the round box some rigidity, and give the inner bottom something to bump up against to keep the lid from warping or extending past its rest point. So a little trimming is in order. Usually I will end up cutting off about a half an inch. Whatever the stitch lines took away, and including the thickness of the top and bottom plugs in place. Easier to measure if the top hasn't been sewn in first, but with small, straight cuts being made we can fudge the measurements and make it work. Excess cut cleanly away can be used for the rivet snap along the front once the edges have been rounded, but that didn't happen on this box.

Step 27: Snap Rivets

Again, it's best to set your rivets or snap rivets prior to sewing things together, but I didn't listen to my inner teacher... so the jewlers anvil got to come out of hiding. Useful little tool and very affordable. You can find these off eBay for about 15 bucks or less.

Step 28: Finishing

Added a D ring to the bottom in case I want to stabilize the case from swinging. This is in prep for a bag idea I'm still mulling over. You do not need to add this D ring into your work.

The back strap holds the top to the bottom so out in the field we don't lose the top. Will also be useful as a belt loop.

Step 29: Fin and Enjoy!

If you've made it this far, congrats on the epic journey, and thank you for looking! Now get out there and take some photos. No excuses not to take your filters/lenses...
Tandy Leather Contest 2016

Participated in the
Tandy Leather Contest 2016