Leather field notes cover


#1

Skip down for pictures. Read to learn from my mistakes.

One of the reasons I wanted a glowforge was to get into some basic leatherworking. I bought 25 sqft of leather from tandy leather around Seattle for $5/ft. About half of it is this amazing material. It’s got a gorgeous dark color that looks between green and dark brown depending on the light. I had to use it on something immediately.

I grabbed this simple leather cover from instructables. Like field notes, I wanted to keep it fairly basic, but I wanted a small personalization so people know I made it :slight_smile:. So I went to add a bit of personalization to engrave on the front. Field Notes seems to use futura font, which runs $29 /variant. I found one that is basically a modernization of the 1927 futura called Renner (after futura’s creator) which had an OFL (Open Font License). It’s not exact but it’s close enough. I went with the bold, but probably shoulda gone with the black. The kerning I adjusted by eye, and again it’s off by a bit, but nothing noticeable unless holding the two side by side. For my name I went with something that looks somewhat similar to my writing if I didn’t write so poorly - Dancing Script.

Being that this was my first leather project, I was ready for some mistakes. While trying to mitigate them, I made my first. I wanted to minimize the amount of wasted material, so I squeezed the pattern in very tightly, knowing that it would be hard to compensate for the offset. The the result was a small defect in the leather being included in the top left corner, and cutting off a bit from one of the bottom corners, giving 2 bad stitching holes. I decided I’d work with it so I went to fold it.

I wet the leather where I wanted the crease and then folded it into place. I wrapped a too thin layer of paper towel around the leather and used my plastic clamps to squeeze the fold. I should have put some wood in between to ensure an even press cause certain parts of the leather weren’t clamped and don’t fold the same. The clamp also dug into the leather and left some marks, but I’m hoping they’ll wear out over time. Next up is stitching.

I decided to do a saddle stitch after watching these two videos:

I purchased white and black stitching leather and decided to go with black on my first go with the expectation that it wouldn’t look so great, so might as well blend in. I think I did a decent job actually, though there are definitely improvements to make. I measured out thread the length of what I wanted to stitch and then tripled it. That only got me through probably 40% of the stitching that I measured out, so I had to restart it. If you look closely enough, you can see the 6 backstitches from the start and restart in the middle of the back panel.

Shortly after that my wife picked it up to help out while I held our baby. Confused by the 2 needles, I briefly explained the saddle stitch to her and told her to be careful to not split the thread. Well she denies it, but she split the thread on that same back panel (on the inside). She’s also a veterinarian, so she finished off the stitch with a suture knot. I undid that and finished it with the backstitch and melting of the wax thread as shown in the 2nd video above.

When I went to stitch the front panel on, I got what I thought was too much thread (5 or 6 feet). Halfway through I got worried I wouldn’t have enough. I don’t know how I ended up doing it, but I finished the work off with just 2 or 3 inches of thread left. I literally couldn’t add any more stitches because the needle was longer than the thread left. (I know I could thread it with the needle going through, but you get the point).

I split the thread probably 4 or 5 times, but pulled the culprit back out as I caught it immediately after doing it. It was a pain every time it happened, but I’m glad I did it.

After stitching I decided I wanted to engrave it. I’m happy with how I placed the design, but it’s not super visible (being dark on dark). That’s ok, I like subtlety. To place it, in Illustrator I added a red rectangle in the dimensions of the cover folded in half. I placed the engrave relative to this rectangle in the design. Then I placed a cardboard sheet in Gary (the forge) with some of these magnets holding it down (with the eyelets removed cause they’re too tall), cut the red rectangle while ignoring engrave, removed the cut rectangle without moving the rest of the cardboard, placed the folded cover in the resulting hole (tight squeeze), masked with transfer tape over the cover and sticking it to the cardboard around the cover to help hold it in place, and then engraved. I took advantage of the newly increased .5" limit because this leather is so thick, after 4 layers it’s pushing the limits of what I could do with the crumb tray in. The masking tape helped hold the cover down and in place, but it didn’t stick very well to the leather. I lost the inside of the O and some other pieces to the exhaust fan. I hope they made it all the way outside and aren’t stuck somewhere in the machine.

So some basic lessons learned from my experience:

  • Use a lot more thread than you think you need when stitching leather
  • If you make a mistake, fix it.
  • Stitching leather is harder on the hands than I realized. Pliers are helpful.
  • So long as I’m not selling these, be happy with the unfixable mistakes. They add character, uniqueness, and a story to be told.
  • Tandy leather is great. I joined their gold club to get discounted prices as I plan on going back.
  • I bought some delrin and have some proofgrade acrylic. I’d like to try tooling next time.
  • OFL fonts are great

If anyone is still reading, thanks for taking the time. Finally, here are the pics!




Leather Field Notes Cover take 2 - Wallet Edition
Another pair of Field Note covers made in leather
Custom Ink Drawer
First project: Harry Potter bookmarks
#2

Nice work! The lettering looks professional.

If you want to go a little further next time, you can make the thread closer to flush with the surface by running a little score on the same line as your stitch holes (quick, but weakens the leather), or stamp a line along it with a leather tool (slow, but makes it stronger).


#3

I think this is wonderful! Had you not pointed out mistakes you made, I would never have known. But, then I’m not a leatherworker. I think it looks terrific!


#4

Love that just the way it is…it has real character! :grinning:


#5

Thanks everyone!

FYI - I edited the original post cause I realized I left out 2 videos that I found useful when learning how to saddle stitch.


#6

Looks great! Thanks for the video links- I’ve been looking forward to leatherwork and know these will help.


#7

Thank you so much for taking the time to document your workflow and provide some good illustrations. Posts like these go a long way to inspiring someone to take it up themselves. Some nice narration on the stitching, including some good cautions and tips! Very nice notebook. I love small graph paper notebooks. It’s what I use when I’m taking classes. Can’t find them too easily around here, so making your own is a great option!


#8

I use Field Notes Brand. They’re simple nice little notebooks with quality paper. They pair nicely with my fountain pen hobby. I’m an annual subscriber. They come out with limited editions every quarter and it basically saves you a few bucks and shipping if you subscribe. Each quarter comes with 2 sets of the limeted edition sets. Plus you get some free basic ones. They’re not the cheapest notebooks but they’re well made and here in the U.S. and the subscription makes it more affordable.

I’m kinda a hoarder and don’t actually go through a ton of the notebooks. So I usually keep one of the sets and open one to use. Here’s what I have so far:

Here are the basic ones:


#9

Haven’t gone subscription, but keep my eye out for the ones with wood covers that I can embellish with the laser.


#10

Wonderful project! Enjoyed reading through your steps.


#11

I enjoy your attention to typography!


#12

Very impressive, especially for your first leather project. Thanks for sharing your process. We all makes mistakes on our own, but we can learn from each other!


#13

Looks great! It really is hard to gauge how much thread you’ll need. I used the method of measuring how long my stitch distance is and multiplied it by 3 on a recent leather project (my first one too). Seemed to work out just about right.

The leather you used…do you know how it was tanned? I’m curious, because it seemed to do quite well in the Glowforge. Veg tanned? Oil tanned? Originally, people were saying not to use anything but veg tanned, but I’ve seen someone using oil tanned, and they said it was fine.


#14

That’s quite the Field Notes collection. Another little notebook that looks promising is Nomad. They have some different paper options that might be good to add into the mix. http://www.nomadnotebooks.com/


#15

I’m actually working on a very similar project for the miniature composition books you can get from various places. Adding a leather cover really classes up a simple notebook. Great work!


#16

This leather is vegetable tanned. It worked well in the forge, though a couple of places it was just barely short of cutting all the way through. It pulled apart in those places without too much negative impact to the material (a few leather fibers getting pulled but nothing too bad).

I have some other leather that I’m not sure on…I think its probably chrome tanned. It’s a lot thinner but probably won’t cut as smoothly. I’m planning on trying it out on my next project so keep an eye posted.


#17

Thanks for the reply! I’ll stay tuned to see the other leather stuff you do. I have a hard time navigating Tandy’s site. Am I the only one?


#18

It’s not the easiest to find what you’re looking for. I actually went into a store and found it a much better experience. Their staff is super helpful and knowledgeable if you happen to live near one of their locations. If not, I’d recommend checking for any other local leather place and try your luck there.

Also tandyleatheroutlet.com is a great resource for low prices on some more limited options.


#19

They’re both okay. Veg tanned is better. The one you want to avoid is Chrome Tanned leather.