So this is how I go about making a leather cover for a notebook, complete with a pen holder. All going well after reading through this you should be able to make one of these.
First a disclaimer. I am new to leatherwork and have only read a book and some of the tutorials on British Blades so my way may well be the wrong way. So far it works but you have been warned
So first step is to catch yourself a cow, alternatively you can but some veg tanned hide. I get mine from www.LePrevo.co.uk . For the main cover and the fastening piece I use Culatta (grade 2) dyed through leather in mid Brown.
So lets begin. The first step is to cut out the cover piece. This is simply a rectangle. The size for yours will depend on your notebook. The notebook I use is an A6 Black & Red book. The book is 148mm high and opened out flat it is 225mm. The leather cover is cut to 165mm x 250mm. This is the size I have come up with after a few different versions. Any smaller and I have had to trim the book cover to get it to fit and any larger and it looks odd.
I mark out the cover using a scratch awl but a pen or pencil will do fine.
The cuts are made with a Stanley knife and a steel rule
With the cover cut out you need to soak it in hot water. Now since this is pre-dyed leather this needs a good soak in hot water. I find it needs to be hot and it needs to be moulded straight out of the water and while still hot. Any delay and the impression is not as good.
Like I say it is not a subtle process. If you are using natural leather then you can use a bit less brute force. You can see below I use a BIG hammer and a hard sanding block as a shock absorber.
I hold the edge of the embossing plate with my fingers and strike the block repeatedly. I also turn the block if I can and strike it again to try and spread the image evenly. If you are striking a few times be absolutely certain you do not let the embossing plate move between strikes. It is easy done, trust me
The small otter on the back is done the same way but requires less force. Part of the issue with the big badge is how much area needs to be pressed into the leather. As with everything doing a test first is the best way to get a feel for it.
I fold the leather cover while still wet so it will dry to its finished shape.
I then leave this overnight.
Next, while the leather is still damp (the leather takes about a day to dry) I use an adjustable groover to mark round the edges where I will be stitching.
I find the adjustable groover a pain to try and get the corners to meet so I leave these and use a regular groover to tie in the lines. All lines are gone over three times with the groovers to make a good deep line.
I then slightly round the corners with a pair of tin snips.
I then use an edge beveller on the top edges (this is not a requirement but I like the effect)
Now I use a stitch-marking wheel to mark the leather out for stitching. Because the leather is still damp the stitch markings take quite well. I mark these all the way round the grooves, even at the parts that will not be stitched it gives a consistent look. I start marking the stitches from the corners so I will have a hole for the stitching right in the corner. On the long edge I mark from the corner to the middle then start from the opposite corner.
All marked up and ready to be left to dry. It is shown flat for the photo but I fold it over to its finished shape while drying.
So while the cover dries I can start work on the closing piece. This is an “H” shaped piece of leather. The two tabs are 20mm wide, the linking band is 22mm wide. The tabs to the front are 35mm long and the back tabs are 40mm. The overall size is 97mm x 110mm.
Again I mark out with a scratch awl.
Cut out with a Stanley knife and using a steel rule.
I round the end of the short (front) tabs with the tin snips.
Once again I mark out stitching lines and pattern with a groover. I just use the straight groover for this. In the picture I have still to add a couple of lines but you will spot them later
Edges are bevelled. On this piece I do this on both sides. I am pretty sure you are not meant to do this on the rough side of the leather but if I do not know the rules I can’t break them
It is now time to add the press studs to the closing piece. I punch the holes for the studs using the punches that you hammer rather than the plier type.
Top piece put through
Riveting the bottom piece on.
One done, one to go
I recently got a ¼” alphabet set which is a great size for putting names on the long part of the closing piece. I put a piece of masking tape on this piece and then mark it out to give a good spacing and keep them level.
This is done with the leather dry (I have found no benefit in wetting the leather for this) and again it is given a good whack
Once complete peal of the masking tape and pick out all the bits that did not come out first time ( I am making two book covers at the same time so you might notice that the pictures are not from the same book each time)
I am now going to add the pen holder (NB I have just realised that this could be done as the last operation if you want to wait till then but I prefer to do it now). This is formed out of a thin piece of goat hide (about 0.6mm). I do not have a size for this as I tend to cut it slightly long and with a little extra width and size it insitu each time.
This is then clamped in my stitching pony. I forgot to say but I have marked the stitching lines with the stitch marker.
I pierce all the holes with a sewing awl. I hold a cork sanding block behind the leather being pierced.
I pierce all the holes down one edge at a time. I know you are only meant to pierce a few at a time but I find it quicker this way and I get better spacing. I stitch using a saddle stitch, which I am not going to cover here but which you can find about easily enough elsewhere.
Once you have done one long side you need to fold up the leather at the end to form the closed end of the pen holder.
Stitch up the end then back up the other side. Back stitch three stitches to finish.
One pen holder all ready for a bullet space pen
Hopefully now your cover is dry and we can move on to fitting the press studs to this.
Make sure you use the closing piece to mark where these studs need to go. I put the book inside the cover and put a pen in the holder and see where everything needs to go. Then punch the holes.
And fit the studs
All the studs fitted now.
I check the position and sizes again and mark where the back tabs go. Then clamp them in the stitching pony and stitch these in position.
Both stitched now
And from the back
A little aside here.
Warhog1981 made my stitching pony and it has been invaluable. When I first got it you clamped it using a coach bolt. This was great but the thread stripped and looking round for a quick fix I grabbed a quick clamp.
This is a vast improvement. It allows me to move the clamp about to suit the shape of what I am stitching. When doing the book covers there were a few runs of stitching I had to do without the clamp as the coach bolt got in the way but now I can move the clamp and also as it goes round the outside rather than through the middle it is less in the way anyway.
We’re on the home straight now. Time to stitch in the inside pieces that hold the book cover. These are cut from natural veg tanned kip sides and are about 1mm thick. The size I use is 90mm x 170mm (5mm extra on the length to allow a margin for error)
One side stitched in place and ready to be trimmed.
Now trimmed (again as a side note I am getting much happier with my saddle stitching, it has come a long way since my first stitched a couple of weeks ago).
Stitch the other piece onto the other side and trim the same way, with a pair of sharp scissors.
The edges are finished by applying some gum tragacanth and rubbing vigorously with a piece of canvas. I am told that saliva works as well but to be honest the pre-dyed leather needs very little edge finishing and the thin leather fibres would probably bind with friction alone.
Once the edges are finished I rub generous amounts of Carnauba Cream into the leather, inside and out. You are meant to use a cloth but I tend to use my hands as I feel the heat will help it melt in deeper. Once dry I buff it up with a shoe brush.
The Black & Red books I use have a piece of elastic riveted to them to use to hold them shut. I take these rivets out. Once out you should now be able to slide the covers into your leather cover. Generally it takes a while to loosen off and until then the book will react a bit odd when the cover is opened and closed but it very quickly beds in.
So now you should have one like this.