Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Lovely Leather Passport Cover

Not long before we left Toronto last spring, Chris and I started experimenting with leather working. I mean... we were about to embark on an adventure in homelessness and filling up our Jeep with more tools and craft supplies just seemed like a super good idea. (Right?!) Now here we are a year later and the leather working tools have managed to travel all the way to Reykjavik! 

It sounds ridiculous, but this little allegory sums up my life philosophy pretty well. You can have too many things, but you can never, never have too many tools. Making items for yourself is sustainable, environmentally friendly, personally fulfilling, and just plain fun. And it's always a good idea, even when you live in a Jeep. 

And working with leather is at the top of my maker list. You can create such cool and useful stuff! Starting with this passport cover, of course! I should say that this project is at a beginner level, but you do need some special leather working supplies. Look to the internet to find a leather supply store near you or check with your nearest large fabric store, as they sometimes stock leather and relevant supplies.

If you're interested in making leather working a hobby, you might want to check out some of my other posts involving leather. I introduced this new topic on the 11th apartment with a super beginner level craft, my tassel key chains. The key chains are a great leather intro because they involve just the cutting and gluing of the leather. My 'dreamcatcher + leather feathers' post is still at a beginner level, but with this project you'll practice cutting and gluing with the addition of punching holes and stitching.

And with the passport covers, we'll move into stitching and stitch grooving (an additional step that makes for straight stitches), with the added challenge of making something functional that has to be a certain size. The covers are definitely not difficult, and if you've never tried leather working before, I really do think this is a good introduction. I've broken the project down into very small, very easy to follow steps.

So let's make something! Here's the supply list, followed by my step-by-step instructions:

-leather, two colours     -cutting mat    
-rotary cutter    
-heavy ruler
-high tack craft glue     
-small paint brush    -scissors    
-rubber mallet
-stitch groover    
-4-in-1 leather punch   
-waxed thread    
-leather needles    

Step One: Prepare the Leather
To begin, you'll need to cut out two pieces of leather or suede. You want to use thin, soft, flexible leather, as you don't want the cover to be too stiff or bulky. For a Canadian passport, the main cover piece should measure 25 cm x 13.5 cm. (These measurements are slightly larger than the passport itself, giving you space enough for folds and stitches). The smaller accent piece should measure 13.5 cm x 7 cm.

To cut the pieces straight and square it's best to have a cutting mat with a grid on it, a heavy metal ruler or square, and a rotary cutter (available at fabric stores). If you're a bit foggy on how to effectively use a rotary cutter or cutting wheel, refer to my leather tassels post or the tassel YouTube video. Once the leather is cut, take the larger piece and wrap it around the passport, folding the edges in on themselves. These folds will make the flaps that will hold the passport in place. Take a pen and lightly mark the spots where the flaps end.

Step Two: Glue the Leather Together
Take the cover piece and spread a thin line of high tack craft glue from the outer edges to the pen markings that you just made. (Do this for all four corners). Fold the flaps in carefully and press on them gently. The glue will form a strong bond quite quickly. With the flaps in place, flip the cover over and grab the accent piece. Cover the back of this piece with glue (make sure to spread it with a paint brush to avoid glue oozing out or forming ridges). Place the accent piece in the centre of the cover and press gently into place.

Step Three: Make the Stitch Grooves
Once the glue has dried (I like to give it 30 minutes), it's time to start preparing to make the stitches. On a project like this one where we need the stitches to be in a straight line, it helps to make a stitch groove. Making a stitch groove involves only one tool, the adjustable stitch groover, which gently cuts into the leather, when dragged along an edge, clearing a groove that the stitches will sit in comfortably.

The groover has a silver arm that can be adjusted. This arm rides along the edge of the leather piece, while the small black head cuts a groove into the leather just beside the edge. Adjusting this tool will allow you to choose how close to the edge you want your stitches to sit. To help you get comfortable with this tool, it may be helpful to watch this short YouTube video by USAknifemaker.

You're going to use your stitch groover to cut shallow lines/grooves along the top and bottom edge of the passport cover, and along the outer edges of the accent piece.

Step Four: Punch the Stitch Holes
Now that you have four grooves cut into the leather, it's time to punch out the holes for the stitches. This is when you'll need the leather hole punch and rubber mallet. I'm using a 4-in-1 leather punch, but you can use a 3-in1 or a 2-in-1. Just stay away from using a single hole punch, as you can use the multiple hole punch to act as your hole punch guide, helping you to place the holes evenly. You'll also want to do the hole punching on a cutting mat.

Start punching the holes along the top of the passport cover. Take the leather hole punch and place it on the groove at one end of the cover. Make sure the hole punch is positioned straight up and down, at a right angle to the cutting mat and passport cover. Strike the top of the hole punch with the mallet. It takes a fair amount of force, and you'll likely need to strike two or three times. Remove the hole punch and check the leather to see if the punch cleared the holes.

Use a needle to clear leather bits out of the hole punch tool, and get ready to punch again! Lay the cover back down on the cutting mat, and position the hole punch. This is when it helps to have a multiple hole punch, so that you can use the punch itself as a guide for how far apart the holes need to be. Line up the punch with the last cleared hole, add some pressure to make an indent in the leather, and then position the hole punch for the next set of holes accordingly.

Repeat these steps, lining up the punch on the groove, striking with the mallet, clearing the punch tool, and setting it up for the next set of holes, along all four lines.

Step Five: Thread the Needles + Begin Stitching
Ok! The hardest parts of this project are already in the past! Stitching leather will take you back to your kindergarten days. Did anyone else do those crafts where you were given a piece of paper with holes punched all around the edge, and you just had to take a piece of yarn and 'sew' with it? Well, maybe you did, maybe you didn't, but that's what we're going to do today!

To begin, cut a length of waxed thread that is about three times as long as the line you'll be stitching. So if you're starting with the top of the passport cover, that length measures about 18 cm, so you'll need a piece of thread that's around 60 cm.

Now the annoying bit, you have to put a needle on both ends of the thread! Grab two leather working needles and thread one on each end. Then stick one needle through the first hole in your row, and pull it through until the thread length on both sides is equal.

Once that is done, you're going to take one needle and thread (it doesn't matter which) and start stitching. Going in and out along the length of the row. You can completely ignore that second needle and other half of the thread for now. Stitch until you reach the end of the row.

Step Six: Finish the Stitching
Time to work that second needle! With the first needle and thread already at the end, take your second needle and wrap it around the outer edge of the passport. (This is not absolutely necessary, it's just a design choice). With your second needle, stitch in and out, in and out, and watch as the whole row fills in and the stitches form a straight line. This stitching method is called 'saddle stitch' and it forms a strong, interwoven stitch that will last

Just a tip: Take care to form straight and uniform stitches. This is something that will come with practice, but where you stick the needle into the hole (are you always on the right side, the upper side) will show in your stitch line. Practice makes perfect!

Step Seven: Secure Stitches + Trim Thread
To finish each line of stitches, wrap the thread around the  outside edge of the cover; as this creates the look of nice straight lines, criss-crossing across the passport cover. (In short, it's just a design element, but it looks pretty!)

Now that the thread has wrapped the edge, you just need to secure your stitches. To do this, stitch back one or two stitches with each needle and cut the thread. The waxed thread is not in danger of slipping, so a single stitch back (with both needles) is sufficient to hold things is place, but you're always welcome to make a small knot, just do that on the inside of the cover!

Repeat steps five, six and seven for all four of the stitch lines that you punched. And that's it, you're done! Try the cover on your own passport and get ready to look super cool at the airport!

Happy Travels!


  1. You are simply brilliant Shayda! I love my leather tassel key chain

  2. Hi Shayda! It's Julie from Instagram (Xmasgirl43). I just found this post. I have made 2 leather travelers notebooks (so far) can see them on my blog. I also made 2 out of grocery store vinyl placemats. I thought you might like to see them. I'm really into the travelers notebooks. I just came to your blog, so still need to read through it all. I just love your videos, and am so happy to pick up many of your tips. Thanks so much. I love your tips here on how to sew on leather, which I still need to try! Fear has stopped me, I'm sad to admit. But I will forge ahead. I did not think to check for leather in the fabric store! I will go there tomorrow! I got my first piece from a leather furniture repair shop, and they just GAVE it to me. Lucky me. But I need a better source, for sure! Talk to you again soon! Julie

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