Introduction: Personalized Leather Cord-Keepers
***NOTE: This Insturctable was written as an entry into the 2019 Leather Contest. If you like what you read, are inspired or find it helpful, then a vote would be very appreciated! Thanks!
Welcome! In this Instructable I'll be showing you how to make custom leather cord-keepers to help your headphone, USB, charger and other cables stay wound and organized. Not only does keeping your cords safely wound decrease clutter and mess, it also prolongs the life of your precious stuff by keeping wire twisting and bending to a minimum.This is a great scrap-buster project, and can be an awesome gift for those who like to keep their things tidy and their tech long-lasting.
I'll be walking through two shapes with this process. One will be a heart headphone holder, and the other will be a USB cord-keeper. I've broken down each step section into small steps, and put some extra notes in the photos if you need clarification! You can feel free to make these same pieces, or use this as a guide to make something special.
No prior leatherwork experience is necessary, and the leather tools pictured can usually be picked up at your local craft store and online. I'll be including some introductory information into leather stamping, dyeing, and tooling, so if you find yourself having fun I suggest joining in the great community of leatherworkers here at Instructables.
Thanks for joining me, here we go!
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Step 1: Gather Supplies and Find Workspace
For this project you will need the following supplies:
Leather - I suggest veg-tanned, preferably 4oz or heavier if you intend to do stamping or adding initials to your project. You can use the soft, garment-grade leather, but that doesn't take to traditional hand stamping quite as well. The example pieces you see in this Instructable range from 4oz to 6oz veg tanned leather. Scraps will work wonderfully for this project!
Sponges or rags - these should be clean, make sure they don't have any color or dirt that could transfer onto the leather. I would suggest having a small pile of rags, you may need as few as three or several per step depending on how you choose to complete this project.
Paper - Sometimes it helps to sketch out your ideas beforehand, or even make a sample to test on your cord before using your leather. We'll be making a pattern piece, so white or construction paper would be ideal.
Stud - I love using button studs for my cord-keepers, but you can use a snap, ties or other form of closure depending on your needs. For this project I'm using an 8mm Screwback Button Stud, a photo of that is included above.
Leather Dye - I'll be using Scarlet Red and Coal Black Eco-Flo from Tandy Leather for this project. You can also leave your project with the natural leather finish, which will help make the piece more unique as time goes on, or you can choose to make many different colors to help your cords stand out
Saddle Soap - There are many edge-finishers you can use to make your ends look clean and professional, but one of my favorites is saddle soap. The kind I'm using is from Fiebing's.
Tan-Kote or other sealant - the final step, which will protect your leather and make sure your piece lives a long and happy life. This is also a Fiebing's product.
Leather Stamps - These can be purchased from many sources online, and are often found in large chain craft stores (and might just have coupons, be sure to check!). They come in many shapes and sizes, I'll be using letters from Tandy for this project. These aren't mandatory for the project, but I walk through the process of using them as part of the main procedure.
Scissors - Craft or paper scissors will work well.
Mallet - I suggest a rawhide mallet, or a rubber one. I opt for a double-sided mallet, myself. Metal can be dangerous to use on metal stamps, and wooden ones often lack the extra weight you need to make a nice impression with your tools.
Leather Hole or Rotary Punch - You can get these as small, individual punches, but I like to use the rotating one to keep my options readily available.
Edge Beveler - this is a leather tool used to shave the harsh angle off the edges of your leather to make them easier to smooth later.
Edge Slicker/Burnisher - a fun tool with grooved tracks to accommodate different sizes of leather. This is used to create a smooth, sealed finish on the ends of your piece in conjunction with a sealing or smoothing agent like Saddle Soap or Tan-Kote.
You'll want a clean workspace with no chance of color-transfer from the surface. It helps to run a damp washcloth over where you intend to work to make sure any leftover pigment, dye or debris doesn't interfere with your work. If stamping or tooling, a marble slab or countertop can help your stamps leave a clean, crisp impression and protect your table.
If using leather dyes, make sure that you have adequate ventilation! Some may require respirators, but I chose to use Tandy Eco-Flo dye for the sake of ease and safety.
Step 2: Create Your Pattern
Each cord may need a different shape, and now's the time to find the right one for your project. For headphone holders I like to make a butterfly shape with large flaps and a short center to allow the earbuds to keep shape when not in use. For USB cords and charging cables I often use an elongated rectangle and decide if I'll be wrapping many times or once to keep the cords tidy.
1) Use paper to design your shape - It can be as simple as a strip of leather at least 1/2" wide (to ensure the closure will fit), or a circle, triangle, asymmetrical, or personalized shape. (Hence my choice to make a heart! Get as creative as you'd like!)
2) Use scissors to cut down your shape as necessary while trying it out with your cord - I like to keep my headphones fairly tightly wound, whereas I made the USB cord-keeper looser to accommodate the different/several cords I'll be using it with.
3) Check that you've left enough space for the button closure - I suggest at least 1/2" of 'extra' space where the sides can meet and your holder can close.
4) Trace on sturdy paper - After refining your shape and testing it out with your cord/headphones, trace it onto sturdy paper. You can skip this step if you like, but in case you want to make another one later it's good to have the pattern on hand!
Step 3: Tracing Onto the Leather
Now that you've got your pattern made, it's time to transfer it onto the leather.
If using scraps, it's a good idea to compare the size of your pattern on the piece before tracing. There's nothing more frustrating than being a 1/4" short!
1) Check the size of your pattern on the leather -There's no need for "seam allowance" or any extra space around the shape, so you can trace the edges of the paper exactly.
2) Trace your pattern onto the leather - Use a pen or pencil to trace your shape on the back of the leather. I like to trace on the back in case I make a mistake or the pen slips during tracing. Check the photos to see the difference between the front and back of the leather.
3) Cut out your shape - I like to use scissors, an x-acto knife or a box-cutter to keep my lines clean. Make sure your blades are sharp, it's safer to cut with sharp blades than dull ones! Also be sure to use a cutting mat under your project if you choose the x-acto route.
Step 4: Beveling the Edges
Now is a good time to bevel the edges, while the leather is dry and you haven't started dyeing or stamping. This isn't necessary for every leather project, but makes for a more polished end product and is a lot of fun.
For this, you'll need an edge beveler, two kinds of those are shown in the photos.
1) Angle the beveler on the edge of the leather - as seen in the photos
2) Bevel the edge - Carefully (they can be sharp!) apply pressure and glide the beveler away from you, along the edge of your shape to remove the hard corners on the edge of the leather.
3) Repeat on the back of your shape - This should give a nice, rounded feel to the edges of your leather that we'll smooth further in a few steps.
Step 5: Customizing: Wet the Leather
Now comes one of the most fun parts: Adding things! I've broken this down into a further step-by-step to make sure all the photos are useful and clear, so feel free to read through them before starting this process.
I like to add initials, messages, or little designs as the mood strikes. If it's a gift you may choose to personalize your stamping to the person's tastes, or keep things clean and useful with 'USB' or 'PHONE' so they can be sure of the cord's use at a glance. I decided to stamp 'LOVE' on my heart, and 'USB' on the rectangular cord-keeper.
For this step you'll need a wet (not soaking, but more than damp) cloth, a mallet, and whatever stamps you've chosen for your design.
1) Wet the leather - First, you'll wet the smooth side of the leather until it's prime for keeping impressions. It takes time to master knowing when the leather is good to go, but the goal is to get the leather damp, but not soaking wet. If water is puddling on the top of the leather, you may want to leave it be for 10 minutes or so to give it time to soak and disperse all the water through the piece. You'll notice that the leather changes color when wet, this is normal and it will fade back to the original color when it's had time to dry. If you want to dye your leather, you're going to want to wait until it's had time to fully dry before changing the color of the cord-holder.
Feel free to practice on a small piece to get a feel for when it's good to go!
Step 6: Customizing: Stamping the Leather
After your leather is sufficiently wet, it's time to add initials and stamps to make your piece unique. I suggest practicing this if you've never done so before, and finding what process works best for you. All stamping should be done on wet leather, so feel free to go over your piece with your damp sponge if it's getting a little dry.
1) Choose your letters - I chose to stamp 'LOVE' in an arc shape for my heart headphone-holder, and 'USB' for my cord-keeper.
2) Place your stamp - Take a stamp, hold it at a 90 degree angle so the face of the stamp is flat on the leather. If you're nervous about getting your letters or design straight, feel free to use a ruler or edge to make sure you're lined up correctly.
3) Strike the center of the stamp's stem with your mallet - You may need to hit more than once to make a deep, clean impression. When you remove the stamp you should see a clear impression of the face of the stamp now firmly pressed into the leather.
4) Repeat with the rest of your design - Complete your word or initials, and then let the leather dry completely.
Step 7: Customizing: Dyeing the Leather
Once your design has dried entirely, you can think about adding new colors to make your cord-keeper unique. There are a wide variety of leather dyes in the world, but whatever you choose to buy make sure that you're taking precautions for your own safety. Gloves, safety glasses and even a respirator may be necessary for some leather dyes, consult the back of the packaging or bottle to ensure you're protecting yourself.
I chose to use Tandy Eco-Flo in Scarlet Red for my heart, and Coal Black for my USB cord-keeper.
1) Safety - I suggest finding a well-ventilated area,wearing gloves and clothing not too precious to you, as well as laying down foil or plastic to protect your work surface.
2) Pour a small amount of dye into a metal or disposable dish or cup - You won't need much for a small project like this, but you can always pour more if necessary.
3) Taking a sponge, dauber, or paper towel, soak up a fair amount of the dye - You don't want this sopping wet, but you'll be able to see how much is on the applicator by how intense or dark the color is.
4) Using even strokes, apply the dye to the leather - Some choose to use circular motions to apply the dye, but for such a small project you may find that one or two swipes along the entirety of the leather will suffice. The surface will dry lighter than it looks now, so don't panic if you think the color is too dark. If your stamping is deep then the dye may glide over your work without sinking in. This is okay! Just apply slight pressure over your stamping and the dye should get in there well. Your letters won't disappear with the addition of dye, don't worry.
5) Dye the edges and back of your piece - Make sure you run your dye applicator along the edges and back of the cord-keeper
6) Let the leather dry - and admire your lovely, colorful piece when it is!
Step 8: Finishing the Edges
Once your cord-keeper is entirely dry, it's time to move on to finishing the edges. You'll need your Saddle Soap, edge slicker and some water.
1) Using a clean paper towel, dauber or cloth, dip a portion of your applicator into water.
2) Glide your damp applicator along the edge of the leather -This will dampen the edge and make smoothing even easier.
3) Using circular motions, use your applicator to pick up Saddle Soap - This might foam a little, that's okay! It will also look yellow depending on the brand you use. Also okay. The yellow won't turn your piece into a different color, although it might produce a slight mellow sheen as it conditions your piece.
4) Glide your applicator back and forth along the edge of your piece - It may pick up loose or "fugitive" dye, this is great, as it means there's less chance of that loose dye transferring onto something else in the future. We'll be sealing the piece next, so don't worry about a little bit of color on your applicator. You may see a little foaming on this step, as well. Still all good!
5) Use your edge slicker to smooth the edges - The Saddle Soap is working as a smoothing agent, and the edge slicker is going to help get the edge of your piece looking nice and polished. Find the groove of your edge slicker that fits your leather best (For my heart it was the smallest groove) and rub the slicker back and forth along the edge with slight pressure. You'll know if you're applying too much force because the leather will start to fold and curve, so feel free to start light and find a pressure that's comfortable for you. You can tell it's starting to work when the edge takes on a slight sheen, and appears to be curved more than the sharp angle it was when you first cut it.
6) Repeat if necessary - Some like to do this step two or more times. I find that twice is enough if I want a really smooth edge, and I may have to do it three or more if the leather is very thick.
7) Let leather dry completely
Step 9: Sealing
We're almost done! For this step you'll be using a leather sealant to help protect your piece for years to come. There are many sealants to choose from, but my favorite for this project is Tan-Kote. Make sure the leather is entirely dry before you move onto this step!
1) Using a dry paper towel, dauber or cloth, dampen a corner of your applicator with Tan-Kote.
2) Using a circular motion and slight pressure, apply the Tan-Kote to your cord-keeper - You want to make sure you're really working the sealant into the leather, so don't be afraid to apply firm pressure. This might result in more fugitive dye transfering to your applicator, which is, as per ususal, totally okay! This process will help seal in any extra dye, and if you find that you'd prefer to be safe you can continue to buff your piece using a dry, soft cloth until it comes away entirely clean.
3) Seal the edges and back of your piece - Make sure you seal the entirety of your cord-keeper with Tan-Kote
4) Let your cord-keeper dry entirely
Step 10: Adding the Button Closure
We're here! The final step! This is where we punch a small hole and add the closure to make your cord-keeper functional.
1) Lay the button stud on one side of the cord-keeper - You should have enough so that the round edge of the button's base isn't off of the leather piece. You're going to want to keep it anchored and strong, so make sure the entire base has some leather showing around it.
2) Mark its place - You can use a pencil or pen to do this, but I often find that using the screw end to leave a small impression is enough of a guide for me.
3) Punch a small hole in the leather - Using the roatary punch, turn the punch wheel to the smallest setting. If you're using hand-punches, one of the smaller sizes should do fine. Place a scrap piece of leather below your cord keeper, align the punch with your indentation or marking, and squeeze the handle of the punch until the the punch has cleanly made a hole in the cord keeper.
4) Place your button stud screw - I arrange by stud so that the flat-head screwdriver back is visible on the outside, as pictured in the photos. Place the base of the stud into the hole you punched, and then apply the stud's top on the opposite side of the leather
5) Tighten your screw - You can use a screwdriver to do this, but I find that hand-strength is often enough. If you're feeling really in need of a sturdy stud, you can apply some glue to the threads of the screw so that it's a permanent addition.
6) Mark the opposite side of your cord-holder - Now we'll be punching a second, larger buttonhole slot for the stud to pass through. Now you should fold your cord keeper to match where your stud will need to secure on the other side to make your keeper closable. You can use a small pen or pencil mark, once again I live dangerously and make an impression with the stud onto the opposite side of the cord holder as my guide. This is another time you want to make sure your hole won't be too dangerously close to the edge of the leather.
7) Punch a buttonhole slot - I use the largest hole size on my rotary punch, for an 8mm button stud, but I suggest double checking that the size is compatible with your stud. You want the hole to be just smaller than the stud, so that when we add a small tail it will fit snugly around the base of the stud without falling open too easily. Repeat the process in step 3 to punch your buttonhole slot.
8) Cut a small buttonhole slot tail - using an x-acto knife, box-cutter or scissors, make a small incision about 1/4" long coming out of your freshly punched buttonhole slot. This should be large enough so that your slot can now pass the stud through it, but gives slight resistance when being removed. This will keep your cord-keeper firmly in place and your headphones, wires, and/or cables happy!
Step 11: Rejoice! You've Made Something Cool!
Congratulations! You've now made an awesome, personalized leather piece for yourself or a friend. Feel free to experiment with different shapes, colors, uses and stamping methods to make something truly unique!
Thanks so much for reading, and happy making!!!
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