Introduction: Simple Leather Moto E Case

About: I'm a chartered mechanical engineer and life-long maker. I especially like making useful things from cheap materials, including waste, and fixing things that would otherwise be scrap. I'll have a go at anythin…

This is a simple, easy slip case for a Motorola Moto E (2nd gen) phone, but it could be adapted to suit other smartphones. The phone slides in and out from the top and is a reasonably tight fit so that it won't fall out. The cut-out at the bottom allows the phone to be charged in its case, and it doubles as a finger hole to push the phone out far enough for it to be grasped from the top for removal. The seam on the right hand side is left open at the top to avoid putting pressure on the on/off button. Instead, the free edges create a protective space around the button.

Only basic leatherworking skills are required and no special tools because the seam of the case is stitched with an ordinary running stitch. Saddle stitching with two needles is beyond the scope of this Instructable, but there are plenty of others that will teach you how if you want to go down that route.

If you don't have an awl to make the stitching holes, you could perhaps make do with some other sharp implement such as a sharpened nail. It's important that the needle used for stitching is blunt to prevent it catching on the leather or the existing thread in a hole, so round off the tip using a Swiss file or emery paper before you start.

You will need

A 17cm x 15cm scrap of 1mm to 1.5mm thick leather

(That's 7" x 6" of up to about 1/16" thick, for those who don't do metric)

A craft knife, cutting mat and steel ruler

A small pair of scissors

Strong linen or polyester thread

A beeswax block

A sewing needle of a suitable size, and a few pins

2-3 small bulldog clips

An awl

A small table fork

A cotton cloth or scrap of fabric

Step 1: Cutting the Leather

Print off the PDF pattern attached to this step and check that the 100mm line printed on it really is 100mm long. (Adjust your printer settings if not.) Cut out the pattern around the outline. Check that it fits around your phone OK - it should seem rather big.

Place the pattern on the face side of the leather and transfer the outline by running something with a smooth point around the edge, exerting just enough pressure to leave a dent that you can see. (You might want to experiment on a scrap first.) Then cut out the shape using a craft knife and cutting mat.

Cut the straight edges against a steel ruler, then change the blade and cut the curves freehand. I find it's best to take two or three shallow cuts rather than trying to go all the way through in a single go, because it's hard to hold everything still when using a lot of force with the knife. It's also safer, because the knife is less likely to slip when using less force, but keep your other hand behind the blade anyway. As long as you press the blade hard against the ruler and hold it vertical, the sequential cuts should be in the same place.

When cutting the curves, rotate the cutting mat (with the leather on it) as you go to keep the line you are cutting at the best angle. After the first cut which will have broken through the shiny surface of the leather, just let the blade follow the same path on subsequent cuts. Trim any raggedy bits afterwards with a small pair of scissors.

Step 2: The Stitching Holes

You may possess a clam and be planning to saddle stitch this case, in which case you will want to proceed a little differently. But for "ordinary" stitching, mark and prick the stitching holes as follows.

Lay the leather piece right side up with the slot at the bottom (i.e the right way up). Again using something with a rounded point, mark a line 4mm (5/32") from the right hand edge and the right hand half of the bottom edge, as far as the fold line. You can run the marking tool along a ruler for the straight parts of these edges, but you'll need to find something of a suitable diameter to do the two curved corners - try a cotton reel or the cap of a small bottle. Ignore the left hand half of the leather shape for now, that will form the back of the case.

Check that the tine spacing of your table fork is about 4-5mm. Starting 2-3mm from the right hand side of the slot in the bottom of the case, work anti-clockwise around the edge, pressing the tines gently into the line you have marked so that they leave small indentations. At the corner, just make one new mark at a time, holding the fork at an angle, to go round the curve. Stop just before you reach the point indicated by a line on the pattern. Repeat for the short length of seam at the left side of the slot, stopping just before the fold line.

With the leather on the cutting mat, use the awl to make holes where you have marked.

Fold the shape in half (but don't crease the fold) and hold the edges together in a few places with bulldog clips. (Check first whether you need to protect the jaws with paper to stop them marking the leather.) Then with the front (right hand side) of the case uppermost, go round again with the awl through the holes you have already made, to prick holes in the back of the case too. Before opening out the case, turn it over and check you can see where each hole is on the back. Then lay it flat, right side up, and go over the holes on the back (left hand side) with the awl.

Step 3: Stitching

Before stitching, you may want to hold the edge of the case closed with bulldog clips and check that the phone will slip in. It should be a tight fit at this stage, it will loosen up as the leather gets used to becoming 3-dimensional. (And if it doesn't, see Step 4 for how to stretch it.)

Fold the case in half (again, don't crease the fold) and line up the stitching holes - a few pins come in handy here. Hold the edges together in several places with bulldog clips. Wax a generous length of thread by running it over the beeswax block a few times. Sew the long seam from the top to the right hand side of the slot, then the short seam from the fold to the other side of the slot.

Start by pulling the thread half way through the top hole. Leave the long tail of thread dangling for now and sew with the other half in a running stitch - take the needle through the next hole, back through the one beyond and so on. Pull the stitches tight. When you get to the slot, stop, remove the needle from the thread and and re-thread it on the other end that was left dangling at the start of the seam. Stitch back down, filling in all the gaps that were left on the first pass. Every stitch will be through a hole that has already got thread in it. Try to slide the needle through the hole without splitting that thread.

When you have stitched through the final hole, take the thread around the edge of the slot and back through the same hole from the opposite direction. Take one more stitch but bring the needle out between the two layers of leather instead of taking it all the way through. Put the needle back on the other thread and do the same - around the edge of the slot and back through the same hole, then out between the layers one stitch further on. Pull tight and then knot the two ends together securely, trim them to 5mm or so and tuck them away between the layers.

Sew the short seam in a similar way.

Step 4: Finishing

You may find that the case is a bit of a tight fit, even after leaving your phone in it for a while. Don't worry, just put a small, strong polythene bag (such as a freezer bag) into the case and pull the bottom of it well down via the slot. Fold the opening of the bag over the top edges of the case, then pour water into it up to the level of the top of the seam. Unfold the top of the bag and tie or clip it closed, squeezing out as much air as possible as you do so. Then stand the case upright in a freezer with something reasonably heavy on top of the bag, to prevent it expanding upwards as the water freezes. Hopefully, the bag will expand sideways instead, stretching the leather slightly. A couple of hours should be plenty of time, just slide the bag of ice out and try the case on your phone again.

The edges of the leather are unlikley to be even all the way around, so trim them with a knife or scissors. Seal the edges in short sections at a time by pinching them together and rubbing beeswax into them, then polishing the wax by vigorous rubbing with a scrap of cotton fabric.

That's it, but there are a couple of possible refinemements:

  1. Before waxing the edges, you could dye them a contrasting colour. Edges dyed to match the stitching thread look good. Alternatively, acrylic artists' paint can be used instead of dye on dark colours - see photos.
  2. Add a leather loop at the top on the left (fold) side, perhaps with a split ring through it, so you can secure your phone case to a lanyard if you want.
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