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Hand Sewn Passport Cover

posted by Matt Pierce on August 24, 2011

Have passport, will travel... yes. Have passport in a hand-sewn leather case? JET SETTER. Here's a little project done for Design*Sponge's travel theme – a lesson in leather hand sewing that we can use for a passport cover, or just about any small case-like thing you can think of. Hand sewing leather is easy, but a few key steps will make it even easier. Sadly, it doesn’t make it much faster... get ready to earn this case with a couple hours of work. You’ll need a small amount of leather and a few inexpensive tools.

You’ll need enough leather for the main cover and two interior flaps. Cut your cover to 7 5/8 wide and 5 1/2 inches tall. Each interior flap is 5 1/2 tall and 2 1/2 inches wide. Position your pieces together, mark where the flaps will reside, then lay pieces separate and apply contact cement to the outer edges. Leave cement to dry completely, then press the pieces together to adhere. Having your pieces properly secured will make stitching so much easier.

Take the entire assembly and place flaps down on the table. place your ruler 1/8 in from each edge and run your stitch spacing tool along the edge. This will mark the leather in a uniform pattern, indicating where each stitch will be placed. Apply plenty of pressure to get a good mark.

After all edges are marked, press through each with the awl. I usually punch into another piece of heavy leather, so the awl makes a deep mark for passing the needles though.

Once your case has all the holes pressed, you can thread your needles and begin sewing. To thread a needle, put thread though the eye as normal, then bring it to the point and poke through the thick of the thread. Pull the end down the needle, over the eye completely, then slightly tug the long end of thread to secure. With normal sewing this should be secure. For more security, you can wax the threads together with some more beeswax. After both ends of a long piece have been threaded with needles, you can begin hand sewing by pulling the thread to its half-way point into the cover.

Stitching should be completed in a crossing motion through the leather - each needle passing through the same hole, being careful not to stitch though the thread. As you work your way around the piece, pull the stitches tight to keep a clean appearance. Stitching on a lacing pony or a vice is the best way, but buying one might be more of a commitment for just one project. If you’re going to be hand sewing more leather projects, a lacing pony is a must. Also, for a comprehensive lesson on hand sewing, check out “The Art of Hand Sewing” by Al Stohlman. It’s a bible for this type of project.

Hand sewing is a long process, but take your time as you do it, relax, make sure your stitches are clean and tight and the finished project is definitely worth it. Once you’ve completely made it through all edges, you should back-stitch 3 holes to secure your thread, then carefully cut the ends free. After the sewing is done, you can flatten the stitches with the overstitch wheel. This will press your thread into the leather and clean up the appearance of your stitches. Finally, you can round the edges with a knife or some scissors, wax the edges and burnish with your finger, then grab that passport and book your trip.



MMP on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Hey Graham, after using the sewing awl enough, I find it to be pretty crude on smaller stitches. The needle on that thing is massive. This way, I can make smaller holes and the stitches are much cleaner. Also, this method is not a lockstitch, but overlapping stitches, so it’s not possible with the sewing awl. Found this graphic from the book I mentioned… this should help explain how the stitch looks –

Graham on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

The finished product looks great but I was just wondering why you used a stitching awl and needles rather than just a sewing awl? From what you described I assume this was lock-stitched or did you use a different stitch that would disallow the use of a common sewing awl?

Logan on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

This is great

lacey on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

what?! this is awesome!

Kim @ HousetoHomestead on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Wow, beautiful work. I never knew about that needle threading trick, or about the existence of a “lacing pony.” Very interesting!

Randyg on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

what do you recommend to care for leather good? (products/process)

great work! thanks!


Mr. Lentz on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

I was wondering where a good place to source vintage leather cuts? Or just any leather for that matter – seems pretty expensive on a lot of the online shops.

MMP on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Great to hear… I think you’ll love that book. Such great information in there.

Mr. Lentz on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Awesome post – you inspired me to get Al Stohlman’s book along with a beginner’s kit. Can’t wait to try this out.

Sarah Kidmose on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Aha, I didn’t notice the shop before! It all looks great – props! :)

MMP on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Hi Sarah, I’m not putting these in the store right now… just here as a tutorial.

Sarah Kidmose on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Hi :)
Oh how nice! Do you make these for sale?

MMP on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Depends on the application, but I’ve used Fiebing’s saddle soap, carnauba creme, and Lexol products all with good results.

Jo on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM


Love your leather tutorials. You make it look so easy!
I was wondering if you had any advice on leather thickness when sewing leather by hand. I love the craft of hand sewing and I don’t think my sewing machine can handle leather.

Is there a minimum thickness that you require when you sew by hand? Seems like the thin garment leather won’t be suitable. Is my guess correct?

Lastly, I was wondering if there was a rule to the needles size vs. the leather thickness?
Thanks for a wonderful website and great work!

Joelf27 on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM


I’ve just finished making my own passport case using this as a (huge) guide, I also used your latest post about the Red Wing passport covers for ideas. Now to try wallets, iphone cases, coin purses……etc…..

Thanks for the tips and tutorials and I look forward to more.

Seb T on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

I had the same question than MMP. Thanks for your answer. I go to see if it is possible to ship that in France. And if it is possible, maybe you will have news about a kind of “pocket get on belt” for bike ;-) Bye

MMP on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Hi Stasha, a good place to check is Tandy Leather Factory. They’ve got lots of locations and mail order too. I’m lucky to have a great, local leather store, Oregon Leather Co., but I know it might be hard to find some of this stuff in other cities. The material I used is a 3-4oz chrome-tanned leather. Good for small projects like this, flexible and easy to punch and sew. Hope that helps!

Stasha Switzer on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Hi, thanks for the great tutorial. I’m trying to source material to make this project. Do you have any recommendations of where to buy the leather & tools? Also, what type of leather do you use/recommend? Thanks!

Erin Wilson on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Oh I love this tutorial!! I just passed it on to a friend that loves making leather cases for his ipad and computers. Hopefully it helps him. Thanks for sharing.

Judy @ my house and home furniture on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

I’m traveling soon and this would be perfect to make my passport a little conspicuous! I love the finished product, it looks like a machine made it with that perfect stitching. Thanks for the tutorial :)


Stasha Switzer on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Thanks a lot! I’m making this for my guy for Christmas!

MMP on November 14 2014 at 10:20AM

Hi Jo, thanks for reading. Leather thickness for handsewing isn’t as important as stiffness, I feel. Most garment and upholstery leathers are chrome-tanned, which produces a very supple feel. Vegetable tanning (and some combination tanning) gives a stiffer feel to the leather and is much easier to hand sew. As for needle size, there’s more correlation to the thread size you’re wanting to use. Most hand sewing needles will have a large diameter (and a blunt end) to handle thick thread. Good luck!

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