Leatherwork needlecase (part 1)

On Saturday I had the pleasure of a visit from Lady Cassandra della Corona and Gytha Ui Bhanain.  I love when householders come to visit because I get the excuse to cook and to make things *all day* with conversation and company and we all get to to oooh and ahhh over each other’s progress.  Gytha was working on some brooches for her viking style dress and Cassandra brought some leatherwork supplies with her and very kindly offered to teach me how to make a needle case (because she’s awesome like that – she also taught Gytha and I how to do fingerloop braiding, it took me a little while but I got there in the end.)


First I was handed two leatherworking needles.  These are fantastic things, like little extra deadly spears for lego men, that same sort of head. This photo, alas, does them no justice at all.   (Okay so it took me a while to stop trying to figure out how to give them little handles and wondering if there was any of the castle lego likely to still live in a box in my parents’ attic, these things happen.)

They are sharp, and because of the tip shape they can surprise you, handle with care.

20140614-233641.jpgCassandra came pre-prepared with blocks on which to model the case. Having chosen a block that sat nicely in my hand I had to draw a pattern by drawing around the outline as I rolled it over carefully to get all four sides.  The first “case” is the inlay, so it’s quite tight and there’s no seam allowance or anything as there is with cloth.  I cut the leather to the shape and size of my paper pattern, not exactly straight but not too shabby either.  Sharp knives essential (I used Cassandra’s, I need to get a really good one of my own now too)  The leather was heavier than I (as an newbie with no clue) expected and pulling it around the block while dry made me afraid I had cut it too small, if this happens to you, fear not!

The next step is to soak the leather cutout by submerging it in cold water.  The big child that I obviously was on Saturday got a great kick out of watching and listening to the leather “fizzing” in the sink.  When all the bubbles stopped it was ready to work with, with some judicious shaking to get rid of the water excess.


Using some black linen thread, waxed by running through a block of beewax, I threaded one needle and started by making a hole in the top of one side of the leather with the needle and coming out half the thickness of the side, not straight through to the bottom.  I did this (that is, I made the holes with the needle on each stitch) along the length of the inner case but I found later that pre preparing the holes with an awl was much easier and also had the benefit of making the stitching line much neater.   But back to the first stitch I went in at the top on one side, out at a deep enough angle at the edge, in at about the same point on the edge of the other side  and out of the top, then pulled the thread til it was even on both sides and threaded the second needle on the thread side with no needle.

This, I’m discovering, is quite difficult to describe in a meaningful way 🙂

20140614-233716.jpgThis is the inner case with my wildly uneven stitches, to see if it helps with the description.   The best thing to do is prepare the line of holes on each side of the closing strips of leather, as even as you can and an equal number on each side.  The holes, remember, should start at a sensible distance away from the edge at the top (to avoid it just pulling straight through the side) and go at an angle to come out about half way down the edge.  You then bring your first needle down to the next hole out and across, up through the other edge and out on the other side’s top.  Then the second needle down to the matching hole on that side and across through the same holes the first has come through.  Repeat all the way down to the end.

The thread *will* break and sometimes the leather will rip where you’re trying to sew.  Knowing this may help with resulting frustration.

20140614-233724.jpgThe inner tube done you need to use it as a pattern for the outer case, same idea tumble the insert while drawing around it but this time make sure to allow a bit extra – position each side to give you a bit more room.  You need to include a little foot this time – I made the mistake of forgetting I wanted to sew up the middle rather than along the edge, but I had left a bit extra leather on the base so I could just adjust it.   This outer tube will be smaller than the inner tube, as part 2 will hopefully see me making a lid as well.

Once you have the shape cut out and you’ve made sure it’s an appropriate size you soak this one too.

20140614-233745.jpgMore fun, Cassandra brought leather stamping tools so I had a go at patterning this outside case.  First came the experimenting to see what they each did on some scrap leather – this was definitely satisfying stuff, though listening to the short sharp hammer strokes for a prolonged period may not have been as much fun for Gytha, who was sewing a tunic, as it was for me. Once I messed about a bit on my scarp leather I stamped my own piece.









caseThen, having tidied up the uneven bits I could clearly see after photographing it, it was back to sewing again, this time, as I mentioned, with a prepared row of awl made holes.   The bottom needs to be sewn and the top made but I’m pretty happy with my first try so far and it’s proving a very satisfying craft.











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