DIY Leather Portfolio

So you’ve always been beating your peers in the style game, but you’re having problems destroying your competition. My advice: move to Boston…. Or LA, right behind Boston in worst-dressed cities. Partially kidding.
But in all seriousness, what you do need is one of these bad boys:

Better yet, make your own!
During the end of Spring was the sudden rise in the portfolio’s popularity. During the end of Spring was the sudden rise of people entering the world of working full-time and selling-your-soul-to-the-salary. That is when people started busting out their professionalism. But being professional is always trendy, so there is no better time than now to make your own. Let’s get to it!

Here is what you’ll need:
Leather 5-8 oz.
2 rings (Hardware section at Home Depot)
Metal ruler
Square (90 degree straight edge ruler)
Compass (if you don’t have a square)
Pencil & Pen
Poster paper
Cutting board (or scrap magazines, newspapers, cardboard)
2 Blunt leather needles
Waxed thread

The Design:
My final design came from browsing through many different portfolios online. I drafted mine in a notebook and made some wacky measurements. Look at my final product to get an idea for how I did it. What I wanted was one compartment for files and things to put in—big enough to fit multiple things in—and have a flap covering it. While I was browsing, I saw one with a ring closure and I just had to have one. It adds a little kick to professionalism–a more rustic twist. I don’t want to leave y’all with a tutorial on how to look dull. I want y’all to look Supa Hot.
So let me tell you my dimensions. I divided the the blueprint into 3 sections: two will make the body and one will be the flap. The dimension as a whole (for the poster) was ~15 inches in length and ~25 in height. Divided into sections, it will be ~10 inches height for each body part and ~15 inches in length for each. That leaves the remaining ~5 inches for the flap.

Cutting Out the Leather:
I’m very jealous of those whose parents have their own workshops because doing these things at home (and without proper tools) could be very troublesome. I didn’t have a square, so I had to use a compass–and what college physics lab teaches you is that all measurements on a ruler or a compass has its errors–and my OCD brain was freaking out when I noticed things weren’t as straight as can be. I wish I had Home Depot sponsor me or something, but you probably don’t care about my issues, so I’ll stop complaining.
Starting out, you’ll need a cutout of the shape you want the leather to be. With the boxcutter, cut out your dimensions that you sketched on your posterboard.
Once you have the cut-out, trace it onto your leather with a pen. The leather you should have should be about 5-8 oz, which is the thickness. I used a 6 oz leather for this tutorial. Make sure that you have a cutting board or something of the sort because I want you to just destroy your competition, not your floor and/or table. Use the metal ruler while cutting with the boxcutter, and cut straight vertical without bending or leaning the blade.
[I traced my leather on the flesh side, where all the hairs stick out]

Preparing the Leather:
If you have lots of hairs or rough ends on one side of your leather, you should probably take care of it. What you can do is sand it off. I used a rough grit to get as much of the fur off and smoothed it out with finer grits. Then you can burnish it or whatever. I still don’t know how to do this stuff. Once that’s done, you know where you would want to fold it, so start the fold of the leather. To fold it more efficiently, you can dampen the folding edge with a wet sponge and then start flattening it with a mallet.

Usually all the stitching will be using the saddle stitch technique. If you don’t know what that is, GIYF. If you don’t know what GIYF is, then you should probably google it. The portfolio only needs to be stitched on the left and right side along the edge. But of course, you would need to know where to stitch. Leather crafters use a creaser to leave a crease where they want to stitch. I used an old compass (the kind where you use to draw circles) and used the needle in a way such that I would have an even crease of ~2.5 mm along the edge of the leather. If that sounds complicated, forget what I just said and make sure to stitch evenly about 2.5 mm away from the edge. Poke a hole about every 2.5 mm away. Having pre-marked where the holes should be poked, use the awl to make the stitching holes. Then saddle away!
And remember, I’m on a student budget. I can’t just go out and buy a proper vice, or a stitching pony–as ridiculous as that sounds. Sometimes you gotta improvise. It’s time for all of us to develop and maintain our inventive side.
In my previous post, I mentioned an overcast—where you loop outside the edge multiple times at the end of the stitching. You will need to overcast three times at the top. Sorry for having so many precise instructions. Didn’t mean to sound or act like a stitch.

The strap:
My honest word of advice: don’t invest too much time on the strap in case things don’t go as planned. But if it does, don’t lose heart. Keep it simple and long so that it can be cut shorter. I honestly thought about giving up DIY after my strap fiasco. I spent a whole day soaking, hammering, flattening, stretching, and drying my strap and then stitched it the next day to find the whole thing too short. The day after, I made a new strap of a longer length to find that my D-rings were terrible for the job. So I spent hours salvaging Michael’s and JoAnn, looking for the proper O-shaped rings (Home Depot was my savior). As you can now tell, the darn strap was the waterloo of my leather career. So I’m telling you, don’t dedicate too much time for this part.

“Keep It Simple, Stupid” -Michael Scott

The strap is completely up to you. I cut out a strap of about 1 inch width and ~26 inch length. Preferably, you want it to be long and thin. If I were to change what I did in the process, I would have used leather of about 4 oz. instead of 6 oz. because it was just way too thick. I had to sand the sucker to make it a lot thinner. But what you would have to do is cut two slits in both the front and the back, wide enough so that the strap can go through. The length is up to you. I tried to be a minimalist for this.
Stitching for the strap is pretty simple. Just overcast both ends. No need to sew all the way across. But try to stitch close to the rings. I could give you all the physics jargon to explain why, but I’d rather not. I put a huge slack on my rings, as you can see from the picture below, and that leaves the strap hanging out. The solution is to stitch closer to the rings so that they will be tight.

Once you’ve assembled everything, you will have one gorgeous portfolio (I hope). Constant use will burnish the leather, and a burnished leather is beautiful. Your peers will forever be  swooned as you take the throne of Style King/Queen.*


*But if you’re the type who believes everyone deserves a chance to be “whats-cookin-good-lookin,” then you’d be one great friend to show them this DIY.

4 thoughts on “DIY Leather Portfolio


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