Introduction: The Quest for the Perfect Wallet

About: applied simplicity

Most of us carry them always around and despite that fact they seldom get the attention they deserve. I owned quite a few wallets over the time and strangely, I never bonded with them like I do with other things I always carry with me. Most were overcrowded with compartments and card slots and few pleased the eyes as well as my hands. Thus I had to start on this quest.

Because I like it simple and minimalistic, I ogled Slim Wallets, money clips and other wallets that contain only a few compartments. However, since I live in Switzerland and our smallest bill is worth 10 $, you always end up with coins. And coins make your wallet fat, ugly and cumbersome. So I combined the sleek and natural look of a card holder from Tanner Goods with a simpler version of the interior that Freitag wallets use (google at will).

After having gone through hell while trying to get my template right, I ended up with a rather slim, minimalistic and highly functional wallet that seems to have been made for me. Mostly because it was.

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment section. And if you like it, feel free to vote for it in the leather contest. And most important of all, if you build it, please share a picture and tell me what worked and what didn't!


Materials needed:

    • 1 Leather piece 240 x 230 mm approx. 1.5 mm thickness (US: 9.45" x 9.06" x 0.06")
    • 1 Leather piece 110 x 120 mm approx. 1.5 mm thickness (US: 4.33" x 4.72" x 0.06")
    • (choose vegetable-tanned leather if you can)
    • Waxed yarn (0.7 - 1.0 mm) (US: 0.028")
    • 1 snap button
    • Elastic leather glue

    Tools needed:

    • Ruler
    • Sharpie knife or cutter
    • Hole punch (plier type or chisel type)
    • Leather awl
    • 2 Leather needles (blunt tip)


    Step 1: Making the Template

    Getting all the angles and especially all the lengths right is very crucial in this design. When you fold it together the snap button must close it neatly even if its filled quite a lot. You can use my pattern that I digitalized for you directly or you can use it as a basis for your own design. It doesn't have to be asymmetric, you can make it just as well symmetrically by folding my pattern and thus creating your own version. Just please, please, brag about it in the comments. I really would love to see what you have done!

    In the pattern I used color codes and symbols for the various lines and indicators. They should be fairly easy to follow. For my wallet I rounded all the corners to some degree (blue circles). It makes it look a bit smoother, especially after some use.

    Cut out your paper pattern and fold it. This ensures that you know exactly how the end result will look and feel like and which side will be the outside. I even taped it together and put some money and all the cards that I need in it to ensure that it's big enough for the task.

    Warning: The template is on paper format A3. But there are reference lengths in cm and inches, so you can adapt it to any format you like. If a brave person from the US transforms it to US sized paper, I would gladly publish it as well!

    Step 2: Cutting Out the Leather

    I won't go into too much details as for how you work exactly with leather. There are already excellent instructables and internet resources out there (youtube!) that show you all the tricks. However, for this project you'll do just fine with some basic skill. For a bit more skill there's an excellent little book by Al Stohlman out there that shows you all you need to know.

    I used a Frixion Pen (a pen that can be erased by heat or by rubbing vigorously with the rubber end of the pen) to transfer my pattern to the top side of the leather. You can just as well use the flesh side, it's just a bit harder to draw a line. However, if you don't have an erasable pen, you might better do that. To indicate the centers for the holes, you can use a needle and slightly (!) push a bit through the pattern into the leather. Then you can mark the place with your pen.

    Use a metal ruler and a box cutter (or sharpie or whatever looks very dangerous and sturdy and likely to cut off your thumb) and cut out the shape. Leave the outside rounded corners for now. It's much easier to get a nice round corner when the basic shape is cut free. However, make sure you don't cut into the inside curved corners. To get the corners evenly cut, you can use a coin (finally they're useful...) and cut multiple straight cuts along the edge of the coin.

    Finally, punch the holes on the sides and the hole for the snap button (check your snap button for the appropriate size of the hole). The side holes will come in very handy when you try to fold the leather multiple times and sew some layers together. They take away some of the material in the area where it get's compressed the most.

    Step 3: Burnishing the Edges

    After the next step your leather will be folded and will roughly resemble your future wallet. However, this means that you won't get to all your edges. Although quite early in this project, this is the time to burnish the edges. Since my leather was quite thin, I didn't use an edge beveler and just rubbed the slightly wet edges thoroughly with an edge slicker (round wood piece with a groove in it. Google it and then build it yourself.). Then I applied some bees wax to the edges and rubbed some more. If you like the raw look you can skip this step altogether and jump to the next one.

    Step 4: Forming the Leather

    In general, once vegetable-tanned leather is thoroughly wet, it can be formed and stretched very easily with your fingers and retains it's new form when dry again. Although this fact is very helpful to form something, it's bad when it happens accidentally and hard to impossible to revert again. So handle it with care. Even your fingernails and tools will leave deep marks that will stay. If something happens, just call it character and personality and avoid it next time.

    Let's start with the insert piece because it's the easiest. Use the edge of a sponge to wet the inside (flesh side) where your fold will be (see pattern). When it's wet and darker in color, place your ruler on the flesh side directly on your fold mark and lift the free side up. Rubb it on the outside against the ruler with a bone folder or any other smooth tool without edges. Remove the ruler, fold it down flesh side to flesh side and press it down. A few very gentle taps with a smooth hammer help to make a very narrow fold (I think there's a new instructables in the leather contest that addresses exactly this step...).

    Now the hard part. I wetted the hole big piece because there are so many folds to bend. When it's wet it's easiest to start on the snap button side and fold the sides in. Then move your way down and fold exactly like you trained with the paper pattern. It helps to have it close by. Once folded, press it down and use a hammer carefully to narrow any uncooperative folds.

    Insert the insert (!) piece and make sure it's snuggly resting on the sides. Wrap your favorite plastic cards into clear kitchen foil and place them into the slots where you want them later. Place several layers of kitchen paper into the coin compartment. This helps later to have enough space for your coins. In this wet state you can rub along the edges of your cards to make the slots fit perfectly.

    Once finished put something smooth and heavy on top to let it dry in the form you want. Let it dry slowly and thoroughly. No microwave, no oven, no radiator. I'm not patient, but that really would destroy it very quickly! Mine was very wet and took almost two days to completely dry. This is a very good time to experience how annoying your old wallet is.

    Step 5: Attaching the Snap Button

    At this stage you only have one hole for one half of your button. That's because we don't know yet where your button will rest (depends on thickness of leather etc.). Since it's now formed and dry, fill your wallet again with everything that should be inside (including the insert, cards and coins), close the wallet and mark through the first hole where the second hole should be. Then grab your buttons.

    Attach the button according to the instructions that came with your snap button kit. If you have one that has a plastic U-bracket with inserts to punch the two halves together, I learned that it's better to use a vise and gently press them together. Hammering didn't work so well. Don't overdo the pressing. You want a snug fit. If you press them too much, the metal edge of the button will cut through the leather.

    Also it's a good idea to try one first on a scrap piece of leather. I bought some that looked nice but eventually were so hard to take apart again that it almost ripped the leather apart. Drilling them open again is not fun and gives your wallet much too much character.

    Step 6: Sewing It All Together

    Sad to say, but this part is a bit tricky... To make it a bit easier, apply some glue to the sides of the insert and glue it into the wallet.

    For the stitching holes I used a pricking iron, but an overstitch-wheel and a leather awl will work just as well. If you don't own an overstitch-wheel use a fork to determine even spaces between stitches. Because the fold which should be sewn lies between two other folds, it's really tricky to get there. Bend the top and bottom folds carefully out of your way and stab the holes.

    Sew it together, making sure that all four layers are joined. I used a saddle stitch and waxed thread. This stitch is very sturdy and won't fail when one stitch get's cut open. Since your building your perfect wallet you might just as well build it to last for life.

    When finished sewing, cut the thread, burn the ends and push the melted ends into the stitch. Tap the stitches lightly with a hammer to flatten them.

    Step 7: Living Happily Ever After

    Of course you can dye it if you like to. But vegetable-tanned leather will age and darken very nicely by itself. It only gets more beautiful with age (unlike us). It only needs a little bit of leather fat from time to time. I've used mine daily now for a couple of months and even in this short time it darkened quite a bit and is developing a nice patina.

    So, is the quest at an end? Yes. For now. I love it and it makes me smile a bit every time I use it. And that is something that no wallet so far has achieved. :)

    I hope you'll like yours too and please don't forget to brag with pictures and showing off yours in the comments.

    Sincerely yours.

    Leather Goods Contest

    Second Prize in the
    Leather Goods Contest