Intro: Curvy Leather Belt Pouch
Most pouch patterns for beginners involve one piece that you fold and sew to create a box-shaped pouch. This is a step beyond that, using a wooden form and several pieces. The method described in this instructable frees you from the box shape and opens the door for some really creative projects. But first, a little foreword about pouches.
There are a million ways to build a belt pouch. If you have an exact idea of what the contents will be, form will usually follow function. If you want more of a general-purpose pouch, the form can become rather...nebulous. Often a pouch that looks great isn't practical for holding much of anything. I wanted such a pouch for hiking and walking; a way to increase my carrying capacity and avoid overstuffed pockets.
What size? If it's too long, wide, or deep, it will be awkward to wear on your belt. Too small, and it's not much more than a fashion accessory. This depends on the size of the person, as well. Being rather thin around the middle, I find that anything on my belt sticks out from my body and looks awkward.
What material? A lot of leather pouches are thin, soft leather. These are great for coins and the like, but it won't offer your camera or phone much protection if you bump it against something.
How does it attach? Can you unclip it from your belt, or do you have to unbuckle your belt and slide the pouch off the end?
How does it close? This is a constant headache for me. I don't like fancy clasps. Even a simple snap can be tough to close if you can only apply pressure from the outside.
In the end, I designed the one pictured above. It's big enough to stick my hand in, but small enough to stay out of my way. It's made from thick leather and can take a lot of abuse. The curved bottom prevents tiny objects or debris from getting stuck in corners.
I'll show you how I built it, and how you can build one, too.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- 7 oz. veg-tanned leather. Slightly thinner or thicker will work fine.
- contact cement
- Heavy thread. The kind you'll find in leather supply stores. Heavier than the stuff you use for regular cloth sewing.
- scrap wood
Many and Varied. At bare minimum, you'll need something to cut leather, something to cut wood, and a way to sew the leather. This will probably be:
- Box cutter or razor knife
- Metal ruler
- Jig, scroll, band, or hand saw
- Harness needles
Step 2: Draw Your Pattern
I've included my pattern here. It's easier from a construction standpoint if you keep the sides straight. It's important that the top is not narrower than the bottom. Everything was designed in Inkscape. The svg file is also here, so you can easily print it to scale.
The dotted lines are just guides for where the belt loops will be. Notice that the back, top, and flap are one piece, but the shape of the back part and the front are the same. The long strip runs between the front and back, giving the pouch a bottom and sides. Therefore, the thickness of that strip is the thickness, or depth, of your pouch.
Step 3: Cut the Pieces
Cut out the pattern pieces and lay them on the flesh (rough) side of your leather. Trace with a sharp pencil.
Cutting curves accurately can be difficult in thick leather. Cut the curves a little larger than you think you need. We'll trim them to the exact size in a later step.
Step 4: Make a Wood Form
Paper is flimsy, and two dimensional. By making a wood template, or form, we can line up all the pieces perfectly. The pouch is built around this form, so remember that it should be 1/8" smaller all the way around to account for the thickness of your leather.
This step proved to be very nerve-wracking for me, as I'm not the best at shaping wood. You'll notice that I give more warning than instruction:
Originally, I made my form out of a 2x4. I found it very difficult to work wood that thick with the tools I had. I switched to two layers of 1x4, which was much easier to cut and shape. Don't screw them together like I did, since the screws get in the way. Just use glue.
All you need to worry about is profile of the bottom curves, since the top is square, anyway. I used a jig saw, followed by a random orbital sander because my jig saw was cutting on an angle. Then I tried a rotary tool. Power tools aren't really my thing, so it ended up taking me an entire afternoon to make a form resembling the shape I wanted. If you know what you're doing, it will probably take you about five minutes to trace and cut perfect shapes. I'm very happy for you.
Keep in mind that this isn't a precise operation. Leather is a forgiving medium.
Once the wood form is a shape you're happy with, very lightly glue the bottom/sides piece to the edge. Now do the same to the back and front pieces. If you measured correctly, everything should line up. It probably won't. Trim off any excess so that the back and front have the same profile. When you get fed up because the leather isn't staying in place despite the glue, try putting the front piece on top of the back piece. As long as these two line up perfectly, and the shape is pretty close to that of the wood form, it will all work out.
Step 5: Tool or Decorate
Pull your leather pieces off of the template (remember I said to glue them down very lightly?).
Tooling leather can be as simple or complex as your time and skill allows. As with my other instructables, I'll give you a basic overview of the process. When planning out a design, I would suggest leaving a 1/4" border around the edge of your designs. This is for the stitching, but also is a margin of error so your design doesn't go right off the edge..
Case your leather. Dampen it thoroughly with a sponge and wait a few minutes until the top layer begins to return to its normal colour.
Trace your design. Any pressure on the damp leather will leave a mark. I like to use a pencil and a gentle touch.
Cut the main lines. Use a swivel knife to slice the upper layers of the leather.
Stamp the edges. Use a mallet and edge beveller to accentuate the main lines and give your design depth.
Texture. Use other stamps or materials to create textures.
Even the most complicated designs are just a matter of a steady hand and a lot of patience.
Allow the leather to fully dry, then very, very lightly glue the pieces back onto the wood template.
Step 6: Assemble!
With your pieces on the template, mark out your stitching lines about 1/8" from the edges. Note the diagram for placement. You can use a stitching wheel or just a ruler and pin. I like to place stitching holes about 1/4" apart.
Sewing this without a wooden template to hold the pieces in place would be next to impossible. I know this, because I tried several times to do just that. Make a hole with your awl and bring a needle through. Make another hole and pass each needle through to the opposite side. Note in the cross-section how the hole should never be visible from the inside. Of course, that's in a perfect world. In reality, make the stitches as neat as you can manage.
If you want to add belt loops, just sew the front to the sides for now. After the belt loops are installed on the back piece, go ahead and sew it on. The belt loops are next to impossible to attach if the pouch is already assembled. I found this out the hard way and had to pull out all my stitches!
Remove your leather from the wood form. Actually, now that the pieces are assembled, you'll have to remove the wood form from the pouch! If the form is proving too tight to remove, try sliding a thin knife down the front and back to break the bond the glue has made. Another good trick that was passed on to me is to drive a screw into the top of the form, then use that as a handle to pull on.
Now is a good time to slick all your edges. Lightly moisten an edge, then rub vigourously with a piece of cloth to make the edge smooth and shiny.
Step 7: Belt Loops
Having two belt loops instead of one will allow the pouch to fit better against your waist. Longer loops will let the belt hang lower, but will also allow it to flop around. Try out different positions and go with what works for you.
Sew the top first, flesh side out, then fold over and sew the bottom. This simple design puts the top edge of your belt in contact with the leather, instead of rubbing against the stitches. I like to use a double row of stitches for extra strength.
Instead of sewing the bottom of the loops, you could add a snap closure to each one. This would allow you to take off the pouch without unbuckling your belt. I found that fiddling with snaps was annoying and I usually just kept my pouch on all day, anyways. It's your pouch, so it's your preference.
A lot of people have asked me about using rivets for projects like these. Riveting takes much less time than sewing. Quite frankly, however, I find sewing to be a stronger, better quality bond. Rivets require a relatively large circle of leather to be removed. In sewing, the awl pierces a hole, but does not remove material. I can also fit more stitches than rivets in a smaller space. While rivets have their place, they are no substitute for sewing.
Step 8: Closure
I will not bore you with my lengthy search for the perfect closure. There are many, and they all have their uses. I wanted something that would stay firmly closed, but open easily when I wanted. I also wanted something inexpensive and preferably hand-made.
This is the simple closure I used. A narrow slit and a loop of leather. I slid a thin stick to act as a toggle, but the loop alone does a good job of keeping the pouch closed.
Step 9: Shaping and Final Thoughts
Once you are happy with your pouch, dunk it in water. Yes, that's right. Just a quick one second dunk to make sure it's thoroughly wet. Now put it on your belt, exactly how you plan on wearing it. Next, stuff it full of crumpled up pieces of newspaper.
Wear it around like this for an hour or so, allowing it to dry. It will take on the curve of your body.The stuffed newspapers are there to give the pouch a slightly bulging shape. Instead of newspapers, you can try using rags or even sand.
Once the pouch is thoroughly dry and you're happy with the shape, seal it with your favourite leather sealer or finish.
Leather is a very unique material. It's essentially a dense bundle of fibers which we usually treat as a flat surface, like heavy cloth. In practice, leather is more like a natural plastic.