Julie’s Gadget Diary – Martha Stewart Ain’t Got Nothing on Me

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If you read my review of the Midori Traveller’s notebook, you might remember that I thought it was insanely priced for just a square piece of leather with a couple holes punched in the spine and some elastic bands to hold it closed. After that review, I ended up ordering a BIG piece of leather from Leather Unlimited for $80 with plans to try my hand at making some leather items. That was last December and just this past weekend I finally made some time to work on my first project.

First of all, I purchased several yards of 3 oz. thickness leather. It came in a large rolled up tube like you see here. You can also see where I’ve already cut a piece from it.

The reason why it took me so long to start making things is that I had to clean our up/upstairs room, which has always been what we  affectionately called the “Holy Hell Hole”. It’s the room where we shoved anything and everything that we didn’t have room to store elsewhere. As a result, you couldn’t even walk in that room. But after a few weekends and several trips to Goodwill, the room is actually usable.

The main reason why I wanted to clean the room is because I knew there were 3 sewing machines buried in the mess. I found them 🙂

Ok, I know it looks very crude, but it’s only my first try at making a leather notebook cover, so cut me some slack please.

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The design is very simple. I cut two squares of leather and then took one of those squares and cut a 2 inch strip from the center to create 2 pieces. Then I lined them up, clamped them together with a few binder clips and sewed all the way around on all sides.

It can hold two Fields Notes or two Moleskine Cahier notebooks.

Minus the fact that the leather edges aren’t perfect, are a bit ragged and my stitches aren’t perfectly straight, I’m still pleased with my first try.

Except for this little “issue” where the thread got all tangled in the corner. Oops.

I don’t plan to stain it or anything. I like the natural leather color and how it will get a nice patina over time.

I’m already planning on making another one. This time I’ll use a couple tips that Joseph of Inkleaf Leather shared with me. I’ll be using a carpenter’s square to cut the pieces with a brand new Xacto knife blade. It’s amazing how much easier it is to cut something with you have a sharp blade. Go figure! I even ordered some leather sewing needles and upholstery thread which is a bit thicker than the normal sewing thread I used with this first one. Another purchase I’m waiting for is a rounded corner cutter. Hmmm, maybe that Midori Traveller’s notebook isn’t so overpriced after all 😉

Anyone else out there make their own gear? Let us know all about it in the comment section.

Updates 07/02/15

After I posted this article I made another notebook cover that turned out a lot better and I’ve been using every since. It’s not perfect, but what is?


I carry it with me in my Timbuk2 messenger bag and use it to keep track of Gadgeteer article ideas and to-dos.


I have 2 notebooks in the left side of the cover (A Field Note notebook and a Moleskine Cahier) and a second Field Note notebook in the right side of the cover. I’ve thought about making more covers and trying my hand at staining them and adding other features. This one has changed color since I made it. I put it out in the sun every now and then to “tan” the leather. It’s an easy way to make it darker without having to deal with messy dyes.  I love working with leather and I am proud of my notebook cover just as it is 🙂

13 thoughts on “Julie’s Gadget Diary – Martha Stewart Ain’t Got Nothing on Me”

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  2. Julie, that’s really good! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to try that.

    You need the folks at Saddleback Leather to give you a tour. Jenny has a Corgi.

    1. @Andy Thanks, but I know it’s not “good”, but my 2nd attempt will be at least 25% better.
      I’d love to tour Saddleback, but I think they have all their bags made in Mexico… I think. I could be wrong. Not sure they have an actual store front.

      @Anson My old (1980’s) Kenmore seems to do just fine with two layers of 2-3oz thick leather. That is using a regular needle. I now have leather needles that I bought from Amazon that are supposed to work better because they have a wedge shaped tip.

  3. I figured they may not make everything at the mothership, but it’s gotta be interesting nonetheless! And the smell must be incredible.

  4. Great first effort. I didn’t know a standard sewing machine could go through leather. Though I don’t think I have the nerve to try using my wife’s machine.

    As to Midori pricing, you do notice that after adjusting for the size difference, you have almost twice as much leather with the inside pockets and you sewed where Midori punched holes. So my guess is yours required a lot more effort.

  5. It looks good Julie; well done! When I was in Middle school I had to do sewing and I was really quite good at it! My key to sewing straight is go slow and speed up slightly. As for the corners, twist the knob ‘thingy’ that manually controls the needle, put it down, turn it and then keep going. But I’m probably being patronising… Sorry. Good Job and I like the look of it. Soon we might have Julie’s Gadgeteer wallet designed for her needs! 😉

    1. @Ted You’re right about the amount of leather and just cutting one piece is a lot easier than getting two pieces that line up so you can sew them. I’ll be making my 2nd one this weekend. I have my rounded corner cutter, upholstery thread and a plastic square to help me cut a better line.

      @Jake Yup, I figured out how to do do a corner by the same method you mentioned 🙂

      The reason why I made this cover is that although I like the Inkleaf Field Notes cover I reviewed, I prefer the raw leather look. I was considering buying one from GFeller, but didn’t want to spend the money when I could try to make my own.

  6. For a first try well done Julie! I wish I had kept some of the first pics of my work. After over 30 years playing with leather and the last 10 professionally all I can say is practice, practice, practice. You most certainly need leather needles for your sewing machine. I would also suggest a bit heavier thread. I either sew by hand or use my Tipmann Boss Saddle Stitcher for the heavy stuff (Will sew 3/4″ layers of leather). Keep at it. Every piece gets better. Dave

    1. @Dave I had a 2nd try yesterday. My cutting skills have MUCH improved, but my sewing skills have only slightly improved. I used a leather sewing needle and upholstery thread this time and am having problems getting the tension set correctly for my old Kenmore sewing machine. As I’m sewing, it looks neat and tidy, but when I flip over the work after I’m done, the bottom side doesn’t look as nice. I guess I just need to fiddle around with the settings. I’ll have to check into the Tipmann Boss Saddle Stitcher. I don’t anticipate needing something that specific since I”m not going into the business of making leather goods though 🙂

  7. Getting your stitches to look good on both sides is the tough part. You’re on the right track though. Keep playing with tension settings on both the bobbin and the master thread. On the Tipmann I wouldn’t worry about it unless you’re ready to drop $1500.00 on a leather specific machine. You could always hand stitch it but that takes quite a bit of time. Keep on keeping on.

  8. I use a circular/rotary cutter with a ruler to cut leather. It is way easier than an straight blade (i.e. exacto). This only works for straight lines though.

  9. I admire your resolve, both to clean up that room (I’d still be procrastinating over that) and to undertake your first project.
    Great job.
    Are you taking orders yet?

    1. @Cyrano Ha, no, I don’t plan to go into the leather gear biz. I just want to make a few things for myself. My 2nd try at the cover turned out a lot better and I’m actually using it now. I still need a lot of practice though… or a better sewing machine.

      My next project is to try to make a small gear bag. It will be out of canvas or some other material though. Maybe seat belt webbing. I bought several colors and have been trying to figure out something to do with it.

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