This year, I am running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign and needed a journal to flesh out certain things about my game world and about the campaign itself. It is a really nice thing to work on during a lunch break or some downtime.
To complement the journal, and also make sure that I would never be without a pen to write with, I made this simple pouch. The elastic band allows it to loop over the outside of my journal, keeping it closed and keeping my nicer pens close at hand. This is out of leather, but you could easily make it out of some other stiff fabric.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
This is actually my first project with leather. I wasn't sure if I was going to like this hobby, so I started by buying a cheap set of leatherworking tools. This set was about $20 and had a few good tools and a few bad tools. But, you could easily get by with some leather stitching needles, waxed cotton thread, an awl, and a leather groover.
- Leather Groover
- Awl (Effectively a metal spike affixed to a handle)
- Leather Stitching Needles and Waxed Thread
- Standard Fabric Stitching Needles and Thread (for sewing the elastic band)
- Chalk (for marking) and Pencil Sharpener for sharpening it to a point
- Rotary Cutter and Scissors (plus some sort of cutting mat so that you don't scar up your table)
- Straightedge or Ruler
- Small Spring Clamps (The smallest ones)
- Stitching Pony (optional, but highly recommended)
- Small Pliers (optional, but highly recommended)
- Thimble (optional)
- Leather (I picked up mine in a leather remnant bag from a craft store)
- Leather Snaps or other heavy fabric snaps
- 1/4" Braided Elastic (I used this because it was what I had on hand; feel free to use larger sizes!)
Step 2: Select Your Leather
For this project, I used a bag of leather remnants found at a local craft store. However, I give you a warning about remnant bags. Some bags of leather remnants are great for this sort of thing and have strips of leather more than large enough for your needs. However, some bags are filled with smaller scraps of leather, or pieces of leather that wouldn't make a nice finished product. It can sometimes be a gamble. If you are looking to mass-produce these, I would recommend buying a full roll of leather and cutting your pieces out of that.
My plans call for a strip of leather about 13.5" long and 3" wide. You can adjust this based on the length of your pens and could even make one out of two separate pieces of leather, rather than one large one, but I think the one long piece of folded leather has a much cleaner look.
Step 3: Cut It Down to Size
My plans call for one long strip of leather that was folded over and sewn together to make the pouch, but you could just as easily make it out of several pieces of leather and sew them together, but I think making it out of one long piece makes the final project look much cleaner
Now, the piece of leather that I used had a slight taper on both sides, so I had to square up all four sides to use it. In this case, I just used a few rulers and marked a long strip to cut out. I suggest marking with some school chalk sharpened to a point in a cheap pencil sharpener.
Use your rotary cutter and straightedge to cut your leather down to size. My plans originally called for a piece of leather 13.5" long and 3" wide, but I had to narrow it down to 2.5" wide, because of how my remnants turned out.
On one end of the leather strip, I curved the corners. I used to try and do this freehand with scissors, but my curves usually turned out pretty wonky. So, this time, I used a US Quarter to lay out the curves and, to cut them out, I used my rotary cutter to cut off the corner and then cut off the smaller corners until I was able to make a general curved shape. I then used some scissors to clean up the edges.
Also take this time to mark along your desired fold lines and test if one of your desired pens will fit in this pouch once fully sewed. This will make sure that you don't take all the time sewing to only make a pouch that is too short for your needs.
Step 4: Preparing for Sewing
Now we need to prepare this pouch for actually sewing the sides together. You could just start sewing the leather like this, but the problem is that those stitches would be exposed and would be easily subject to stress and pulling. As well, without grooving, it would become hard to see if you were keeping your stitches straight.
We use a leather groover for this job. All it does is remove a small amount of leather in a straight line. This gives the stitches a good place to sit within the leather and gives us a nice straight stitching line.
To make this work, set your groover to the desired distance away from the edge. There are no set measurements on the groover bar, so I typically just eyeball it. I mark where I want the groove to end with chalk and then lay the leather flat to groove it. The adjustable bar has the sharp part while the central shaft of the tool rides along the edge of the leather to create a straight line.
Take your time with this. I would even suggest making a few passes with light pressure before applying more pressure on successive strokes with the tool. This will help you get the grooves neat and straight. Repeat this process on all sides. I left a small space un-grooved between the front and back of the pouch, but you could just as well groove in one long line on each side.
Step 5: Sewing and Ponies
Now it's time to sew this whole thing together. Now, I won't be going over the process of the saddle stitch in super depth, so for further information, see the linked instructables at the bottom of the step. Now, you could just sew this whole thing together by hand, but that tends to be a tricky thing to get right especially when you are, like me, not using leather cement to stick the pieces together beforehand.
I would suggest building or buying a stitching pony for this step. It's essentially a vise for leather made out of wood that you can either clamp down to a tabletop or just position the bottom piece underneath your legs while sitting in a chair. This makes the stitching process much easier. I built mine (mainly because I saw the price of this one), but there are plenty on Amazon.com within the $20 - $30 price range if your woodworking isn't up to snuff.
To keep the alignment of the leather where I want it to be, I use a few of these tiny little red clamps (with leather pads on the tips) to keep the folded section aligned while I tighten up the stitching pony. Next, you are going to need to thread your needles for the saddle stitch. I am using some waxed linen thread that came with a cheap leather toolkit that I bought.
Typically, you would use a stitching wheel to lay out where your stitching holes will be on the leather before you actually go through and punch holes with your awl, but I didn't receive a great quality stitching wheel with my leather toolkit, so I just typically keep the stitches the same distance away using my groover bar as a spacer.
Step 6: Stitching
Some close up pictures of the stitching process for those who are interested. For further detail, refer to the saddle stitching tutorial posted in the last step.
Step 7: Install the Elastic Band
Now, I very well could have done this step before sewing one side and probably should have, but be sure to do this step before you sew both sides, because if you don't, you'll have to use a pair of tweezers to pull the elastic band up from the bottom slit in the pouch
First, you'll need to size the elastic band to fit the book or journal you want it to fit around. It should be tight enough to keep the book closed and to hold the pouch in place. Once you have the size, you can keep the elastic band temporarily in place with a binder clip while you cut the band away from the main roll of elastic.
I made a few more marks with chalk to mark out exactly where the slots would be and to make sure they were exactly in line with each other. I then used an Exacto knife to cut them out. If you manage to sew up one side before cutting the slots like I did, be sure to put some sort of sacrificial board in between the layers of leather, so that the Exacto knife doesn't cut through the front of the leather. I just had a few pieces of cardboard that I glued together, but you could just as easily use some plywood.
After cutting those slots, I was able to thread the elastic band through both of them. You can either sew the end pieces together now or wait until later. But, since we are on the topic...
Step 8: Sewing the Elastic
Nothing too fancy here! I just used a standard fabric needle and a piece of embroidery thread. You don't have to use embroidery thread if you don't want to, but it was the only black colored thread I had on hand that wasn't currently installed in a sewing machine.
Anyway, as my wife explained to me, embroidery thread is made up of 6 strands and is pretty thick on its own, so I was able to separate it into a few 3 strand pieces, one of which I used for sewing this together. I am by no means a sewing expert and this is the only real stitch I know, which just consists of pushing the needle in through one side and back the other way. As such, it didn't really come out too pretty, but, after I was done, I pulled the sewed up portion to where it laid on the inside of the pencil pouch, so it wasn't a giant issue.
I usually hate having a stray end with a knot at the end of it when I am hand sewing, so I tried, once I was done, pushing the needle under 2 of the stitches that I had previously made. Hopefully this should keep the stitching from working itself loose over time.
Step 9: Add Snap
One of the last things is the snap itself. I used a snap kit, tools included, that I got on clearance from my local craft store. You can definitely use regular snaps designed for leather working, if you have them, but I wanted to use these since they were cheap and pretty easy.
These come with some basic tools to install the snaps, including a small hole punch. However, after using this several times, I think I might need a better one, as this one cuts slowly and messily. If you have another method of punching holes, use it.
But, to install the snaps, you basically align the two pieces (made easier with the little plastic jig) and give them a few hammer strikes, making one piece expand to fill the other and make a tight fit.
Be sure to double check after you put in one piece of the snap that it will still be able to reach the place where you plan to drive in the second piece of the snap.
Step 10: Enjoy Your Journal's New Friend
For this instructable, I made the pouch out of the black leather. However, I've been using this pouch made out of the light brown leather for a few months now, and it has easily been the best companion to my journal that I could wish for. You can store a few different pens in it, and probably even a ruler or small compass for drawing circles.
And it is just so handy to be able to pick it up and have any number of pens or drawing tools on hand. And for this reason, I often will take this notebook wherever I go, for whenever inspiration may strike.
You could easily make this pouch out of a different material, if you don't want to use leather, but I would recommend trying it out with leather, as it isn't too difficult to get started and it is very rewarding. Happy making!
Runner Up in the
Leather Contest 2017