My BlackBerry came with a boring, black, fake leather, slip-in case with nothing to hold it in there securely and no means of attaching it to a belt. So I decided to make a new one using some leather I had had lying around for ages. This is the first time I have made anything from leather, and if I can do it then so can you.
This 2 colour case is lined with leather and there is both felt and stiff plastic between the layers to provide protection. Hidden neodymium magnets provide a secure closure and put the BlackBerry into sleep mode when it is in the case. The strap is continued on the rear side to form a belt loop.
Lightweight leather in 2 colours, main (M) and contrast (C). (In the photos, M is blue, C is brown.)
Sewing thread in colour M
A 6" square of felt
HDPE sheet cut from a bottle of cleaning fluid (look for the HDPE recycling symbol)
Three 10-12mm diameter, 1-1.5mm thick neodymium magnets
Superglue or hot melt glue
You will also need:
a sewing machine that is reasonably powerful, fitted with a leather needle
a few small bulldog clips or clothes pegs
an indelible pen
crayons in colours that contrast with M and C
a craft knife, steel ruler and cutting mat
Step 1: The Pattern and Materials
The case pieces are assembled as a sandwich. The front and back are each composed of: a leather lining in C, a layer of felt, a plastic stiffening piece that just covers the central area, and an outer leather layer in M. The strap has the C coloured leather on the outside, M on the inside and a layer of felt inbetween.
Download the PDF pattern and print it. Check that the scale on it measures exactly 10cm / 4". (If it doesn't, adjust the size by using the reduce or enlarge functions on a photocopier.) This pattern is made to fit a Curve 8900, so you may need to alter it a little if you have a different BlackBerry model. Cut out the pattern pieces for the front/back and the strap, and also for the plastic stiffeners.
If you are using a cleaning product bottle for the HDPE, prepare it by washing out the bottle thoroughly and then cut out the front and back to give 2 reasonably flat pieces. Soak them in water until the labels can be removed. Don't worry about trying to remove any sticky residue, some tackiness will actually come in useful later on. Dry the pieces with a towel.
Examine the skins, holding them up to the light to find any small holes or thin patches. You will need to avoid such areas when you come to cut out the pieces. If you have plenty of leather, cut the 4 fronts and backs from slightly stretchy areas of the skins but choose firmer sections for the straps.
Use ordinary craft felt that you can buy from any haberdashers or craft shop. Any colour will do, but it's easier to mark cutting lines on a pale colour.
Choose magnets that are, at most, 1.5mm thick or they will be be visible through the leather. Two are used for the strap fastening and that will give a strong, magnet-to-magnet closure even with quite small neodymium magnets. The strength of the sleep mode magnet is more critical, as it won't put the BB to sleep if it isn't strong enough (and possibly it will damage the BB if it is too strong). Test your magnet by checking it will operate sleep mode through a scrap of leather, holding it against the "sweet spot" on the BB keypad. It will work better one way up than the other.
Step 2: Cutting the Pieces
Now you need to cut out the leather outer and lining pieces for front, back and strap, the plastic stiffeners that go in the front and back, and the felt that provides some padding for the front, back and strap.
Place the stiffener pattern onto the non-sticky side of each piece of plastic and draw round the pattern with an indelible felt tip pen. Cut out the 2 stiffeners with scissors, being careful to cut inside the line.
Cut 2 fronts/backs and one strap from each of M and C leather. Place the pattern pieces on the right side of the leather, weighting them down with kitchen weights or something similar. Draw round the pattern pieces – I used a water soluble crayon in a contrasting colour – and then cut them out carefully. As the leather is fairly thin, a sharp pair of scissors should do the job, but you may prefer to use a craft knife.
Use the front/back pattern to cut 2 pieces from felt. Either pin the pattern onto the felt and cut round it, or weight the pattern down, draw round it with a felt pen or crayon and then cut round the outline. Cut one strap piece in felt in the same way. You will need to trim a couple of mm off all the edges of the felt pieces, but don't do it just yet.
Pressing the pieces
Before moving on, give all the pieces you have cut out a good press. Put each piece, whether leather, felt or plastic, between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper and press with a dry iron. Start with the iron on its lowest setting and turn it up gradually if necessary. It should be possible to shed light creases from the leather and to press the plastic pieces completely flat if they have a slight curve from the bottle they came from. Put a heavy book on top of each piece after you have pressed it (leave the greaseproof paper in place) and leave it there for a few minutes until the piece has completely cooled.
Step 3: Making the Fastening Strap / Belt Loop
The first sewing task is the strap. Trim 3mm from the square end of both the M strip of leather and the strip of felt. Then trim 2mm off all the edges of the felt strip (including another 2mm from the square end). Place one of the magnets on the rounded end of the felt strip leaving a narrow border of felt (see photo) and draw round it with a felt tip pen. Then cut out the circular hole with a small pair of scissors - make the hole a bit on the small size to start with and keep enlarging it until the magnet fits into it perfectly.
Unless the C leather is very thin, pare a little of the thickness away from the back of the end 3mm which will be folded under. Do this by drawing a line 3mm from the square end on the rear side using a felt pen (lightly, so that it doesn't bleed through to the right side), then use a very sharp craft knife to reduce the thickness of this portion, taking great care not to cut right through the leather.
Lay the C strip right side down, apply PVA adhesive to the felt strip with a spatula and then lay the felt onto the C strip, glued side down, with a 2mm border of leather showing all around the long sides and the curved end. At the square end, there should be a 2mm gap between the felt strip and the line you have drawn 3mm from the end of the leather. Check that the magnet fits (the circular hole may have become distorted), then remove it and put a sheet of greaseproof paper over the strap and a book on top of it to keep it flat while it glues. Leave it for 20 minutes or so, then apply PVA to the felt, pop the magnet in the hole and lay the M strip, right side uppermost, in place. You should now have a sandwich of the 2 colours of leather with felt in the middle and a magnet at the rounded end.
Once the strap is glued, turn under the C leather by 3mm onto the wrong side so that it finishes the short end neatly. Glue the flap in place using PVA, holding it with a bulldog clip (pad the jaws with pieces of cardboard or scraps of felt to avoid marking the leather) or a couple of clothes pegs. Again, leave it under a heavy book until it the glue is dry.
Now it is time to stitch. Put a leather needle into your machine and practise stitching a scrap piece of C to M. Adjust the stitch length until it looks right, about 3.5mm should be OK. You will need to stitch 2mm from the edge of the strap, so make sure you can do that neatly before you try it on the strap itself. You can’t just unpick leather like you can when sewing fabric, you will be left with permanent needle holes.
Using thread in the M colour will look great as a contrast on the upper, C side of the strap, but if your stitching is less than perfect you would do better to use C coloured thread. You will probably find that you need to put a piece of scrap leather of the same thickness as the strap under the right hand side of the presser foot in order for the strap to feed evenly when you are edge stitching, stopping the machine to take it out at the back and move it back to the front as necessary (unless it is as long as the strap). The scrap piece you have been practising your stitching on will do for this if you cut a straight edge along it. You can then butt that straight edge up against the edge of the strap and line the edges up against a mark on the presser foot to keep the stitching precisely 2mm from the edge. It is better to trim any excess underside away after stitching, but be sure to watch the upper C edge and not the lower M edge if it protrudes a little anywhere.
You should be stitching through the 2 layers of leather, with the C side uppermost, just missing the felt filling in the sandwich. Take care at the rounded end: do it one stitch at a time, raising the presser foot when the needle is down to swing the strap around before the next stitch. Be sure not to hit the magnet, particularly if you have used a 12mm one as there will be little clearance.
When you have finished, use a hand sewing needle to take the top threads through to the wrong side at the square end and finish them off neatly. Apply a drop of PVA if you want to be sure they won’t come undone. Then lay the strap right side (C) up on a cutting mat and trim away any of the M leather that protrudes beyond the long edges or the rounded end. Use a steel ruler and a sharp knife, or a long-bladed pair of sharp scissors for this.
Step 4: Attaching the Strap / Belt Loop
The next step is to attach the strap to the back of the case. Lay the case back outer piece (M) right side up on the table and place the strap right side (C) up in the position shown on the pattern - it doesn’t matter too much if you place it a little higher or lower, but do be sure that it is central and straight. When you are happy that it is in the right place, peg it in position with a couple of pegs at the top edge, as shown in the photo. You can now lift the lower end of the strap and it will go back down in the right place when you let go. Tack the very end (the 3mm of C showing on the wrong side) down onto the back of the case using a couple of drops of superglue or hot melt glue (apply it using a cocktail stick to transfer a tiny quantity from the tip of your glue gun). Try to keep the glue away from the lower and side edges of the folded-over rectangle of C so that you don’t have to stitch through it later. Press it down for a few seconds until the glue sets. Remove the pegs and you should have a strap held in place ready to sew.
Before sewing, check that your machine will go through 4 layers of leather. If it won't you will need to sew the end down by hand, but with luck you will be able to machine through 3 layers to create the belt loop at least. Start by stitching the lower edge of the strap in place, 2mm from the edge. Put a piece of scrap leather of the right thickness under the free side of the presser foot again. Raise the presser foot and pivot the work on the needle just before you reach the edge stitching that you have already done, take 1-2 stitches parallel with the edge stitching, pivot again, sew across the strap parallel with the lower edge and complete to form a neat rectangle of stitching.
Work out what size you want the belt loop to be, this design can accommodate a belt up to about 1.25" (3cm) wide but you could sew a narrower slot if you wish. Note that you cannot put your next row of stitching, which will form the top edge of the slot, too close to the top edge of the case or you will not be able to fold the strap out of the way later on when you come to sew that top edge. Make the gap between the rows of stitching 6mm wider than your belt to allow for its thickness. Cut a piece of thickish cardboard the width of your belt and lay it under the strap to create a small gap between the strap (which will form the belt loop) and the back of the case. Then hold the free end of the strap in position at the top of the case using pegs or a bulldog clip. Sew across the strap to form the loop (you could scribe a line first, or apply a piece of masking tape, if you need help to keep straight). One row of stitching should be enough because a BlackBerry isn’t particularly heavy.
Remove the cardboard and pegs/clip and finish off the ends of thread on the inside as before.
Step 5: Finishing the Case Back
The back of the case then has to be completed. Lay the back (M) wrong side up with the paper pattern on top of it and carefully use a pin and felt pen to mark the positions of the top corners, sides and lower edge of the plastic stiffener. Then stick down the stiffener - if it has been cut from a bottle with a label on it the sticky residue may be sufficient, if not apply some spray-on adhesive mount if you have any, or PVA will do. It doesn’t need to be stuck firmly as it will stay in place once the case has been assembled. Press it under a heavy book to ensure it is stuck down well and that it is flat. You'll need to put a couple of pieces of strap-thickness cardboard under the back, one each side of the strap, to do that properly.
Next, stick down the felt liner on top of the plastic stiffener. Apply PVA to the whole of the felt's surface (not too much, you don’t want it to soak through the leather) and press it under a book again for 20 minutes or so until it is dry. Finally, apply more PVA to the felt and lay the C back piece down on top of it, right side up, lining the edges up with the edges of the M leather. Put it back under the book and leave it for half an hour.
Stitch the top edge of the back, right side (M) up. You will need to bend the strap out of the way first - use a peg or bulldog clip to hold it in place. Stitch 2mm from the edge, starting and ending just where the curved corners start to straighten out for the sides (see final photo of this stage). Take the needle (upper) thread through to the inside of the case, knot it with the bobbin (lower) thread and then hide both ends of the thread within the sandwich of leather and felt. Then trim the stitched edge with sharp scissors to within 1-2mm of the stitching line.
Step 6: The Front
The front is assembled in the same way as the back, but 2 neodymium magnets need to be inserted within the layers. One magnet, near the top edge, will fit within a hole cut in the plastic stiffening and will attract the magnet in the end of the strap to form the closure. The second fits in a hole cut in the felt, towards the bottom of the front, and will put your BlackBerry into sleep mode to preserve its battery when it is holstered.
Mark the position of the centre of the closure magnet on the plastic stiffener (from the paper pattern), using an indelible marker. Centre a magnet on this point and draw round it. Using a craft knife, cut carefully, well within the marked line. Enlarge the hole little by little, trying to fit the magnet frequently, until the hole is just the right size for the magnet. Then lay the M leather piece face down and mark the location of the stiffening on it, as for the front. Work out which way up the magnet needs to be so that it will attract the one in the strap rather than repel it - see below. Use your indelible pen to mark the side that is attracted (to the underside of the strap) with a T for top. Then pop the magnet back into the hole you have made, with the T upwards and the sticky side of the plastic (if it has one) also upwards. Stick the plastic stiffener onto the back of the leather front, as for the back, so that the T side is against the leather.
More information on working out which way up the magnet goes. These magnets are very powerful and will fly through the air to stick to eachother, so take care to hold the loose magnet securely. Place it on the end of the strap, with the strap inner side (M) facing upwards, so that it sticks to the magnet within the strap. Mark the free surface of the magnet with an X in indelible pen. Then slide the magnet off the end of the strap and mark the other side with a T.
Sleep mode magnet
Now you need to position the sleeper magnet. Again, exercising caution as these magnets are strong, put one near the keyboard of your BlackBerry (when it is "awake") to find out which way up it needs to be and to check it will work. Move the magnet around on the bottom central area of the keypad until you find the sweet spot – the BlackBerry's screen will go black and then come alive again when the magnet is moved away. Then try this again with a scrap of the C leather between magnet and keypad, as it needs to work through the leather lining of the case. If the magnet will not work, you will need to use a larger one (in diameter or thickness) or else 2 together. Ideally, you want one that is no thicker than the felt, or not much thicker, so it will be "lost" within the felt layer. Mark an X on the side that was not against the leather scrap, ie on the side that was furthest from the keypad.
To get the sleeper magnet in exactly the right position will take a little experimentation. First, use a piece of masking tape to stick the magnet X side up onto the back of the front lining piece (C) in approximately the right place, using the pattern as a guide. Then stick down the top inch (2.5 cm) or so of the felt layer onto the back of this piece with PVA and press the top half under a book until it is dry. The lower edge of the felt (where it covers the magnet) should still be free. Now lay the outside (M) of the front plastic side down onto the lining piece, so that the front "sandwich" is assembled in the right order. Take the completed back and assemble the entire case, clipping the back to the half-finished front around one side and the lower edges using bulldog clips. You will need to place the clips about 2 mm from the edges, along the line you will be sewing later. Slip in your BlackBerry with the keypad side to the front. Check that sleep mode is activated and stays activated with the BlackBerry far enough down in the case for the strap to be fastened. If not, remove the bulldog clips, reposition the magnet and try again until it works.
Draw round the magnet in this position and cut a hole in the felt with a small pair of scissors. Remove the masking tape, stick down the free flap of felt and then stick the magnet in the hole, being careful to have the X side upwards, facing the inside of the case. Press it under a book until dry. Now assemble the case using bulldog clips again and just check all is well (ie sleep mode works and the strap fastens) before continuing. Stick the two parts of the front together and press it again until dry.
Sew the top edge of the front as you did for the back, including trimming the edge and finishing off the thread ends.
Step 7: Final Assembly
With the front of the case uppermost, stitch front to back around the sides and lower edge, starting the stitching in the hole at the top of the right hand side where the stitching of the top edge ended and ending in the equivalent hole at the top of the left hand side. Sew a 2mm seam. At the lower corners take it slowly and keep stopping to raise the pressure foot, with the needle down, to pivot if necessary. After finishing off the ends, trim the seam to 1-2mm using sharp scissors or a craft knife and steel rule.
Give the case a polish or wax with a suitable leather product and you're done!