Monday, December 28, 2015

A Guide to Making a Custom Scripture Case

In April 2013 my congregation held a fundraiser to help offset the cost of religious summer camp for the youth. I put up for auction a custom scripture case. The family who won the auction specified that there was no rush - as long as they got it before their oldest son, Sam, graduated high school (he was a freshman, then) that would be good enough. I took them at their word and took my time.

Below is rough walk-through of my process of creating the case. Although I make simple scripture cases in which the books fit snugly, I designed this to be bigger since I suspect that in the next couple decades most reading will be done on digital devices, and I still wanted Sam to be able to use this - so it's designed as a scripture/gadget/possibles case.

The plans were drawn up in January 2014, but the physical work all happened in November and December of 2015. I hope this helps the budding creators out there. If experienced leather workers wish to offer suggestions, I'm all ears!

Step 1: I drew up a plan of how I wanted the final product to look, including an exploded diagram of the various parts I'd need to make. NB: I worked up some dimensions to help guide the process.

Step 2: I rough cut all the parts I'd need, trying to get them as close to the final dimensions as I could, while also giving myself extra material in case I needed it. I used a ruled square to measure and score the surface of the leather, then I used a cutting board and a utility knife to make the cuts.

Step 3: After the rough pieces were all cut out, I broke out the ruler (again) and re-measured precisely where the cuts had to be so all the pieces would fit together. As you can see from the photo, below, I also made templates for the more ticklish seams. In this particular photo, the template shows where I needed to remove enough material that the thick leather would fold nicely, but still provide enough clearance to fit on top of its lower counterpart (confusing, I know - it makes more sense if you look at the photos in step 9).

Step 4: I used wing dividers and diamond punches to mark out where I'd be stitching (sorry, no pictures on this one, but you can see the punches and stitching marks on the photo for step 5). I also marked and punched out the holes for the rivets.

Step 5: After all the parts were cut, triple measured, & punched, I treated everything with neatsfoot oil, then dyed the exterior parts. I wanted to keep the interior a lighter shade to make it easier to find things. After buffing the dyed parts, I treated all the leather with a conditioner. Here all the parts are assembled and ready to be stitched together. NB: all these parts were shown in the sketch-up plan.

Step 6: Start sewing. This is far and away the most time consuming task, since I stitch entirely by hand. It always takes me a while deciding the on the best order to piece things together when there are multiple layers to wrestle with - in this piece the biggest seam contained four separate layers. In cases with interior pockets, it's often best to sew them on first - at least the parts of them that can be sewn independently. So, for this case, since I wouldn't be able to rivet the top after making the case three-dimentional, I started by riveting the top handle and the front buckle. After that the bottom of the interior back pocket was stitched to the main body, then the left side (this is the seam with four layers: main body + side of back pocket + back of side loop + gusset). As predicted, this was the most difficult part, since the back pocket's side angles were cut at an obtuse angle (when flat) so that when they were sewn vertically the pocket would lie open (look at the photos below this one). Finally, the opposite side gusset was sewn to the pocket and back.

Step 7: With the side gussets anchored to the back of the main piece, all that was left was to finish stitching the bottom and front (left and right), then stitch up the top corners so they would overlap the bottom of the case and make it more weather-proof. It's all done one stitch at a time.

Step 8: Check for obvious errors and make sure everything will fit.

Step 9: Burnish the edges, and put it under the tree (I had Sam's mom do this last step). It's quite a journey from blank hide to final object, but it is so fulfilling to know I've made something that will be used for years to come. Here is the finished case: