I’ve dabbled in leatherwork for a few years, since I attended one of Andrew Clark’s courses at Fabrication in Leeds – highly recommended. Andrew teaches traditional leatherwork techniques such as saddle stitching and produces work of a very high quality that is in demand by groups as diverse as Savile Row tailors and historical re-enactment societies. My skills are of a different order altogether, but I find making things in leather very satisfying, in part because it’s quite an unforgiving medium. Once a cut is made or a hole is punched, you’re committed.
A mini wallet tutorial on Instructables caught my eye last week and I’ve made my own version. It’s a credit card-sized bifold that’s just right for popping in my pocket when I’m going out on foot or on my bike. It will hold a few coins, a Yale key, a folded banknote and a credit card or library card, all the things I like to carry just in case I remember something I need to buy or it rains so hard that I have to catch the bus home. The Instructable describes how to make up a wallet kit that the author is selling, but he has generously made the pattern for the leather pieces available as a PDF so it isn’t necessary to buy the kit.
The kits come in various versions. I adjusted the PDF pattern to replace a travel/ID card holder with three slots that will take coins or a small key. The outside of my version has a strap on one side that a banknote or scrap of paper can be tucked under, and a credit card or business card pocket on the other side. Inside, there’s the coin/key slots on one side and another card pocket on the other.
I bought a bag of large leather scraps from Fabworks in Dewsbury some time ago. There’s enough to keep me going in small projects for a while and I chose dark brown and tan hides for this one.
Unfortunately, the only linen thread I have, apart from a thick white one, is a fine peach-coloured thread that came from Texere. (Talking of Texere, it’s going internet-only in a few weeks, must try and get there before it closes its doors.) I had to use the thread doubled to make it strong enough for saddle stitching. The peach colour works with the dark brown but is less successful on the tan, I think. My stitching is not the neatest effort, and the fact that the thread is a contrast colour highlights the fact, but never mind, hand stitching looks better than machining, even if it is a bit wiggly.
The only special tool I needed for this was an awl, the tip of which is ground to produce a diamond-shaped hole rather than a round one. That helps to prevent the stitching from tearing the leather and enables two threads to lie neatly in the same hole. Other than the awl I just used ordinary tools such as a cutting mat, metal ruler and craft knife, plus a dressmaker’s pattern tracing wheel to mark where the holes needed to be made. A table fork could be used for that instead. I was able to mark the stitching line around the edges using a pair of dividers from an old geometry set.
After twisting a length of the fine linen thread until it doubled back on itself, I ran it over a beeswax block a few times to strengthen it and help it to slide through the holes. I don’t have any of the special harness needles that are used for saddle stitching, but I do have some long needles with slim eyes that I converted to harness-type needles by rounding the points with a Swiss file. A sharp point will catch on the leather and the thread that is already in the hole but a rounded end slips through nicely.
I’ve never had much success with using beeswax to bond and neaten the cut edges of leather, and this time was no exception. The edges of the wallet are still quite ragged. I will buy some gum tracacanth (remember Gloy paper glue?) which is easy to use and seals the edges very successfully.