Intro: Leather Smartphone Case (with Pull-tab)
The following is a set of general instructions on how to design and make a leather case for your own smartphone. I am by no means an advanced leather worker, (this is my second project) but with patience and the seemingly limitless resources of the internet, anyone can make their own!
It's great to be back. I originally signed-up as an instructables member more than five years ago but I have been inactive over the last few years and decided I wanted a fresh focus (and account), hence this is my "first" instructable!
While making my leather case, I made plenty of mistakes. As such, if I get to a step where I think there is a better way, I will write out what I suggest and give an explanation of what I did differently below:
In a format like this.
The instructables community is full of amazing projects, which I recommend browsing for ideas before you start and I'm sure that I've unknowingly picked up many tips from among them. Most extensively, I referenced the following for techniques:
HOW IT ALL STARTED
A friend of mine had an iPhone case with a pull-tab, a function that which I really admired. The problems were: the cases are expensive, I believe it was purchased out of the country, not made of leather and what's the fun in buying it when you can make it!
Step 1: Materials and Tools
- smartphone (or other device)
- card/heavy weight paper
- ball point pen/pencil/eraser
- 4-5 ounce vegetable tanned leather (slightly more than twice the surface of your phone)
- 2-3 ounce leather strip (~1.5 times the length of your device)
- hobby knife
- *4-prong (2mm spacing) diamond punch2-prong (2mm spacing diamond punch)
- poly mallet
- rubber mat (I used a rubber mat meant to protect stairs. It is about 2cm thick and much cheaper than the version sold in leather working shops
- waxed thread
- leather needles
- flat-nosed pliers
- edge-beveler (I used a crafttool version, size 3)
- contact cement
- dye (used: Fiebing's Professional Oil Dye, colour: saddle-tan)
- burnishing tool (aka edge slicker)
- gum tragacanth
- finish (used: Tan Kote)
- clothespin + string
- mink oil (as secondary waterproofing, I did not use this brand. I had some at home that was more of a wax-like consistency)
- wood to make moulds of your smartphone
- fine grit sand paper
- clean cloth (for buffing)
- *letter stamps
- *spray bottle
*denotes optional items
Step 2: Designing Your Case
Start by designing your case on paper or card. It helps if it is slightly thicker, as you will be cutting it out and using it as a template in a later step.
First, trace the outline of the phone. After doing so, draw a margin around your outline, as you want the case to be bigger than the actual device, to accommodate the its width as well as the portion that will be on the other edge of your sewing line. I would recommend a margin of about 10-11mm. In order to get nicely rounded edges on your template, I suggest using a coin (I used a quarter.) I also marked where I wanted to make the incision for the pull-tab, although I simply eyeballed it when it came to transferring the template to the leather.
When I did this, I only gave myself an edge margin of about 6mm, figuring that based on my phone's thickness of 9.1mm between the two sides, this would be plenty: I was wrong. I eventually (as you will see in later steps) had to add a third, middle piece, to give the case more depth and even so, the case remained an extremely tight fit and required stretching thereafter.
When you are satisfied with your design, cut it out. To get a straight edge, I suggest using a ruler for the straight edges and a hobby knife (as pictured above.)
Step 3: Transferring Your Design to the Leather
Jessyratfink has created an excellent instructable for cutting leather, which I highly recommend you reference.
Next, I transferred my design from my template to the flesh (rough side) of the leather, using a ball point pen. I do not have pictures of this step, but it should be fairly self-evident.
Then, I used the hobby knife to cut out the leather pieces: 3 total.
- Back piece
- Front piece
- Middle piece (only three sides, no middle, no top) **
In the last photo above, you see my middle piece on the left. I used an edge groover (with the modelling spoon attachment, not the cutting blade) to give it uniform crease about ~6mm from edge. I then cut along this crease on the bottom, and both sides, leaving me with a u-shaped piece of leather that I later sewed between the front and back for extra depth (I did not take photos of this step.)
**Originally, I did not cut out a middle piece, as I thought the margin on the front and back would give me enough depth - this was not the case. If you have given yourself a larger margin, you may not need a middle piece. I recommend you first cut the front and back pieces and pinch your smartphone between them and judge for yourself whether you need a supplementary layer. The disadvantages to a third layer are that more layers are more challenging to glue/sew correctly and it is one seam that could come apart.
This is a good point to cut a slit, approximately halfway up from the bottom of the case for your pull tab. Make sure it is wide enough for your pull-tab:
Next, cut out a piece of thinner leather to be your pull-tab. It should be as wide as the slit you just cut, and approximately 1.5 times the height of your case. I have included a roughly sketched cross-sectional diagram in the images above, to show how the pull-tab works.
Step 4: Customization and Edge-grooving (and Edge-bevelling)
This is the point where I would recommend you do any tooling or stamping. In my case, I have personalized the case, below where the pull-tab is stitched to the front (not pictured). If you do plan on stamping, use a sponge to lightly dampen your leather before hand and your results will be much more defined.
At this point, use your edge-groover (with the cutting-blade attachment) to create a groove about 5mm from the edge. This will help guide you in aligning your holes for stitching later on.
If you've never done this before (like me), I highly recommend you practice on a scrap piece of leather before-hand and reference jessyratfink's instructable on how to prepare leather for sewing
While I chose to bevel my edges at this point, I recommend you first sew your case before doing so. This will avoid accidentally "bevelling away" too much, if you're a beginner like me.
While you could bevel the edges now, I recommend you wait and do so after step 7, sewing the perimeter. (I will add a note there to prompt you.)
Step 5: Dyeing Your Leather
If you have decided to do any tooling, ensure that your leather is completely dry before you proceed with dyeing.
This is only my second leather project, and the first where I've used dye. You could of course, chose not to dye your project, if you like the look of raw leather.
I learnt a lot about dying leather by watching different youtube videos by Ian Atkinson, particularly his video titled Information About Dyeing Leather.
Watching his video (broken down into sections in the below description) was very helpful. At 34:10 time mark, he covers dyeing leather specifically with a wool dauber. He explains the best way to apply it (because leather has a grain) is to start by applying it in circles, and then finish with a second coat going in straight lines.
I chose to leave my edges natural, but you could dye them as well.
After each coat (I only had one) make sure you buff your died surfaces with a clean cloth. This gets rid of excess pigment and makes the surface smooth. If you are applying a subsequent coat, it also hopes achieve an even consistency.
Step 6: Preparing and Sewing Your Case - Part 1 the Pull Tab
The next step in the process is to prepare your leather for sewing. This can be broken into two separate parts.
- Using contact cement to hold your pieces aligned.
- Using your diamond punches (or an awl if need be) to punch holes in the leather.
Before all else, focus on attaching the pull-tab to the front (side without the slit) of your case. You should position it about 1/3 of the way up, from the bottom of your case and centred from either side horizontally.
I chose to punch the holes into the pull-tab and the case separately and to sew them together after, but I strongly recommend that you follow the below steps. There was no rational reason why I chose to risk misalignment by doing it this way.
First, use the contact cement. Apply it to the surface that will be sewn on both the pull-tab and the respective area on the front cover. Then, let both sit (without putting them together) for at least ten minutes, so that the cement goes tacky. When you are ready, firmly press the pull tab against the case so that the loose end is downward, as shown in the hand-drawn diagram above. Be sure it is all aligned and facing the right direction: contact cement DOESNOT BUDGE once the two pieces touch.
Likewise, I chose to fold over the loose end of my pull-tab. This gave it extra thickness and reduces the likelihood that it is accidentally pulled through the slit in the front of the case. To do so, I once more coated both the folded part and the part that it folder over onto, with contact cement. As before wait 10 minutes before folding it over, then press down precisely and firmly.
Next, prepare to reinforce both of these glued areas (loose end of the pull-tab and newly attached end) with stitching. To do so, place your front piece with the attached pull-tab on a rubber mat (or other protective surface surface, such as a piece of leather on a poly cutting board) and use your diamond punch and rubber mallet to create holes for your stitches.
*If you are using an awl, perhaps use a fork to mark out even spacing, before punching.*
I used my diamond punch, to create holes in a square, with a side length of 4 holes (2mm spacing) one the attached end, through both the front piece of the cover and the pull tab and on the loose end, through the newly folded over end of the pull-tab.
Once the preparation is complete, the sewing is fairly straight forward. Use your braided wax thread and two leather needles to saddle stitch the areas that you punched holes into. I recommend jessyratfink's instructable on how to saddle stitch leather if you have not done so before. Ensure that once you have gone around, that you back-stitch by about 4 stitches to ensure it does not unwind. When you are satisfied, use your hobby knife to cut off the lose ends. While I did not melt the ends in this project, many people seem to like to use a lighter to lightly melt the ends of the wax tread, to prevent fraying.
Step 7: Preparing and Sewing Your Case - Part 2 the Case Perimeter
As with the pull tab, this process comprises of the same two separate parts.
Apply it to the surfaces that will contact between the middle layer and the front of the cover (not pictured). Then, let both sit (without putting them together) for at least ten minutes, so that the cement goes tacky. When you are ready, firmly press them together making sure that you have carefully aligned them. As before, be sure it is all aligned, contact cement DOES NOT BUDGE once the two pieces touch.
The next step is to pull the pull-tab through the back of the cover: this should be a tight fit, if you have already folded and sewn the pull-tab over on the loose end. I used a pair of needle-nose pliers to help pull it through.
*Make sure that you do so in such a manner, that the pull-tab will not be twisted on the inside, but will lay flat, folding over on itself once.*
This next part is slightly challenging. You must now prepare to glue the middle piece and the back of the cover with contact cement. The difficult is:
- While the glue goes tack over 10 minutes, the two surfaces with glue cannot touch each other, or anything else for the matter.
- Because the prior step requires that the pull-tab is pulled through the slit, this pieces cannot be separated completely.
See the above photo, for how I dealt with this issue. Essentially, I used a pair of flat-nosed pliers and a piece of scrap wood to hold one piece on top of the other, without the parts that have contact cement on them touching.
When the ten minutes are up, once more carefully align the pieces and press down firmly.
Ensure that you apply an adequate amount of contact cement to pieces you are cementing, but not too much either. You don't want leakage over the edge, as it prevents you from burnishing parts that have contact cement on them. Likewise, too little contact cement makes your case prone to splitting between the layers. Although mild, this splitting did happen to me and detracts from the aesthetic of the edge.
Next, prepare to reinforce your glued seems with stitching. To do so, your case once again on a rubber mat (or other protective surface surface, such as a piece of thick leather on a poly cutting board) and use your diamond punch and rubber mallet to create holes for your stitches.
*As before, If you are using an awl, perhaps use a fork to mark out even spacing, before punching.*
I used my diamond punch, to create holes along the three closed sides of the case (with 2mm spacing.) For the straight edges, I used the 4 prong diamond punch, as it is more efficient. To ensure continuous alignment, always place the first prong in the last whole you made (so your punch only makes 3 new holes).
Sew using a saddle stitch, as instructed in the previous step. Don't forget to double-back on your stitching by at least 4 stitches at the end.
NOTE ON BEVELING EDGES
If you have not yet bevelled the edges, I recommend you do so now!
Step 8: Testing Your Fit
*If you do this step: consider proceeding to the next step (finishing the edges) before following the description below on removing your "wood moulds."*
Here is where I encountered the most challenging step in the process. I slipped (read: forcibly pushed) my phone into the case and to no one's surprise, I had a huge amount of trouble getting it back out again. If the fit is too tight, DO NOT force your smartphone into the case.
If you followed my advice in step two "Designing your case" hopefully this will be a non-issue.
In case you didn't, here's how I fixed it:
I started by doing a google search to get the exact measurements of my smartphone: 133.9 mm (5.27 in) H; 68.7 mm (2.70 in) W; 9.1 mm (0.36 in) - based on this information, I built a wood-model of my phone slightly wider and thicker, and about 100mm longer: 235mm x 69mm x (two pieces, 5mm each = 10mm). Although I considered gluing the pieces together to form a single "model" I chose not too, to make it easier to take them out of the case, in the case that one got stuck.
I made the mistake of making both pieces of wood the same length, which actually makes taking only one out very difficult. I ended up having to saw off part of one, to get the first one out. To avoid this, I would recommend making at least one piece 2 cm longer than the other, so that you can grip it with a vice, and pull it out separately if necessary. See picture above.
Next, I took a spray bottle and misted the inside of the case quite heavily. The idea was to moisten the leather to allow it to expand to fit the moulds. With quite a lot of physical force, I was able to insert the moulds into the case. I would recommend leaving the moulds in the case for some time, (I left them for about 45min-1h.)
To remove your "wood moulds":
grip the longer one in a vice and pull hard. (If you don't have a vice, maybe grab a friend!) This solved all the fitting issues for me, but you may have to repeat the process if you still are having to force your smartphone in.
Step 9: Finishing Your Edges
At this step, I still had my case with my wood moulds inside clamped into my vice, which made things easy to hold. You will have to find a technique that works best for you. Make sure you don't forget the edges at the top, where the case isn't sewn together
Bevel the edges:
I temporarily took the case out of the vice to use the edge beveler, to round the edges of the case.
Sand the edges:
At this point, I once again clamped my case into the vice, having it still on the wood moulds. Using a fine grit sandpaper, I sanded all the edges of the case. When finishing, make sure all your strokes are in the same direction, to maximize the "smoothness" of the edge (i.e. don't sand back and forth).
The final step in finishing your edges it to burnish them. This seals them and helps blend the separate layers. I burnish my edges twice. First, I use my burnishing tool and dampen the edges with water (which I applied with a sponge.) After that, I apply gum tragacanth with my finger to the edge of the case and burnish them all again. The difference between unfinished edges and the burnished edges is pictured above.
Scraping the inside edges:
Although this doesn't really fall under finishing the edges, this seems to be the most appropriate spot to do it. Using a scrap piece of wood (a chopstick would also work) I worked around the edge on the inside to break apart any bonds of contact cement that continued to bind on the inside of the stitching.
Step 10: Finishing the Surfaces
Once more with a wool dauber, I applied a finish, using the same technique as when applying dye. I chose to use Tan Kote, a less glossy finish, but I am sure you could substitute another finish if you would prefer. Above, you can see the self-explanatory clothespin contraption that I used to ensure that the pull-tab would not stick to or obstruct the application of the finish.
I then allowed the finish to dry over about 4 hours, but it probably didn't take that long.
Because I wanted my case to be somewhat water-resistant (I often bike in the rainy weather, with the case in my front pocket etc.) As such, I chose to apply a cote of mink oil as an extra layer of protection. This I simply rubbed in, with a clean rag.
Step 11: Done! (finished Case Photos)
Congratulations, you've finished. Here are a few more photos of the finished product.
If you have any questions, found a better way, or I've left something out, please let me know in the comments!