DIYdiy projects

diy project: hand-sewn passport cover

by Matt

Have passport, will travel . . . yes. Have passport in a hand-sewn leather case? JET SETTER. In the spirit of this month’s Design*Sponge travel theme, let’s take 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. — Matt

See the full how-to after the jump!


  • leather
  • waxed thread
  • contact cement
  • beeswax


  • knife
  • cutting mat
  • metal ruler
  • stitch spacer (overstitch wheel)
  • leather awl
  • two leather needles


1. 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″ tall. Each interior flap is 5 1/2″ tall and 2 1/2″ wide. Position your pieces together, mark where the flaps will reside and then lay pieces separately 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.

2. Take the entire assembly and place flaps down on the table. Place your ruler 1/8″ 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.

3. 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.

4. 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 the 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 in the cover.

5. Stitching should be completed in a crossing motion through the leather — each needle passing through the same hole, being careful not to stitch through 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.

6. Hand sewing is a long process, but take your time as you do it. Relax and make sure your stitches are clean and tight — the finished product is definitely worth it. Once you’ve 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.

7. 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.

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  • Wow, the stitching is lovely! I’ve never heard of a lacing pony nor do I know what it is but now I want one. And The Art of Hand Sewing by Al Stohlman too! Great tutorial, thanks.

  • Fantastic. I have so much leather lying around. I inherited a bunch of leather some years back in all types of colors and surface patterns, but wasn’t sure how to best piece it together. This tutorial looks great. I’ll try it out. Thank you.

    • katy

      i can promise you we would never steal from poppytalk (or anyone), jan is a friend and we always make sure our projects are not taken from other sites.

      sewing your own passport cover is a project that’s been done a great deal online, however we haven’t done our own version here, so we decided to do our own version. matt most commonly works with wood and leather so this project was right up his alley.


  • Hi Grace,

    Matt’s version is quite beautiful and I didn’t mean to imply that he had taken the idea from another site. There are a lot of great blogs out there that feature DIY projects and this was the first time I noticed a similar project featured on two blogs within a short period of time. Obviously because my friend wrote the post for poppytalk, (and that was the first time I had seen it done), this particular project popped out at me.

    Also, thank you for your personal reply. I’ve been a reader for several years and have always appreciated not only the time you put into your content, but the time you spend thoughtfully answering questions from readers. It makes the whole Design*Sponge experience that much more engaging and is one of the reasons I come back each day.

  • i’m looking for those tools but i cant seem to find them here in portugal, nor their translation into portuguese… :(

  • It would be so fun to do this with brightly colored thread, or experiment with different materials on the interior…..oohh the possibilities are endless. I won’t be able to sleep tonight. Officially geeking out.
    (Love it.)

  • obsessed and the stitching is gorgeous. i’d want one in a bright color to make it easier to spot in my enormous bag, and this seems way more economical than the ones i see in stores. thanks for the tutorial!

  • This is a great idea. Not only does it look good but it is extremely practical. If you travel regularly then your passport can get frayed and damaged.

  • A note to Sarah C., I did not want to buy a full side of leather either, but I was able to find a lovely Coach bag with a bad ink stain at the Goodwill. It worked out very nicely.

    And I would like to second the comment by Katy, I enjoy the civility of this site, it’s where I come when I have had enough of current politics.

  • Can you give us any insight as to where to buy these tools? I actually have skins already from a class I took a while back, but I have no idea where to even look for the tools.
    Also, is the waxed thread something that you buy already waxed, or is it just regular thread that you put beeswax on yourself? And is contact cement the same as rubber cement?
    Thanks! I’m really excited about making this asap as a birthday gift for a friend going abroad.

  • @Saioia – the yellow tool is a rotary blade, but it’s not as good for corners on leather. A super-sharp pair of shears is good for rounding the corners.

    @KellyC – try looking up Tandy Leather and see if one is near you. If not, I think they do mail order. There’s usually one nearby and they have plenty of supplies for starting leatherwork. As for the thread, I buy mine pre-waxed, but it’s easy to make your own with some thick thread and a small block of beeswax. The cement I use is for shoe making which is heavy duty, but regular rubber cement should work fine since it’s just to keep things together while sewing.

  • Passprt control will require that you take the passport out of the case so it can be scanned. But very nice otherwise.

  • I hope you don’t mind me lifting this idea to make a professional looking scrapbooking album. Thanks so much for the detailed tutorial. I really find a lot of useful stuff here!

  • This is the first time i read your blog and admire that you have posted on this…I really found useful.Keep updated.