A special pen case

I found this small Gladstone bag at a local market, my first thoughts were to replace the handle without the nut and bolt! On closer inspection I could see that the thread had rotted away in places so I decided to replace the stitching and keep the vintage leather. Small gladstone bag This type of bag is sewn together inside out (more of that later). Soon I realized the vintage leather would not survive being turn inside out. I had been discussing a possible pen case project with a friend on the Fountain Pen Geeks forum to hold 20 pens while inked, so ideally in the upright position. After some discussions we decided that the hardware from this bag would be a great starting point for a bag with replacement leather. As the leather was going to be replaced we decided to go with some brighter colours. I made the interior from bookbinders grey board first to see if it would be possible to take the idea from my mind to reality IMG_9850_1 Once I was happy with the idea I started to work out a plan for everything else. IMG_9888_1 I took measurements from the original leather and added a little height for some of the larger pens. Then I started to cut out the leather to the rough sizes. The picture below shows the two sides the bottom piece along with the two edge pieces which wrap around the side pieces. IMG_9944_1 The main colour chosen was blue and I knew it would be a challenge. I have used Fiebing’s Turquoise it is a light coloured dye but with lots of coats it turns a darker shade of blue and this is the colour I wanted. This took forever. I used 5 118ml bottles of leather dye over a period of 10 days until I got the shade I was happy with The original bag had piping so we decided to replicate this in pink nappa leather which is soft and flexible to take the required shapes. IMG_9840_1 Now that all of the pieces were rough cut and dyed. I cut them to the correct sizes and marked out an inner line for skiving once the line was removed I would know that I had removed enough from the edge. IMG_0234_1 After skiving all of the edges I turned to the finished side and marked out where the stitching would go with a pair of dividers IMG_0226_1 The next step was to mark out the stitches with a pricking iron and started the long process of sewing the case together IMG_0234_1 At this point I was doing a little sewing each day so turned my attention to the inner section. I bought the largest pink hide the store had. Here you can see the leather draped over the grey board. IMG_0241_1 This is the mock up using a template in card and pink leather IMG_0244_1 Here is the starting point of the pen slots I used a 20 mm dowel to provide the shape. My first plan was to use pins and glue to hold the leather in place. IMG_0246_1 That plan did not work and so I moved on to plan “B”. I was able to use the same dowel and sewed the outer end of the dowel in place. Then positioned the dowel in the correct place and marked the holes with a prickling iron. IMG_0251_1 I cant sew for long periods so this actually took weeks to get to the point of finishing the first 10 slots. IMG_0253_1 In between sewing the outer shell and the inner section I started to look at the handle. Rather than remake the original handle I wanted something a little larger. I took a 2mm diameter thong and wrapped it in some kip leather. IMG_9964_1 This picture shows both the thong and the kip as well as the wrap.Cutting a piece from the side piece, I wrapped a length of blue leather around the thong and kip. After adding the “D” ring on each end, I tucked in some piping to finish off the handle.. IMG_0273_1

I added the handle to my list of items to sew together and stripped off the remaining leather from the metal frame and began thinking how I was going to cover it. The easiest solution would have been to paint it. But as it had previously been covered in leather I decided to have a go so I cut some lengths of pink leather and soaked them in cold water for a few hours. IMG_0444_1

With the help of some mini clips I secured the wet leather around the frame and left it out in the sun to dry, that sounds so easy it took 5 hours to form the leather around the frame. I sewed the handle together using white thread which did not look right, So I thought I would try dye to the thread blue. However that did not work either.

Another thing which did not work was using rivets to attach the lock and other catches to the frame. It was incredibly difficult to get anything inside to rivet the end over so I made a decision to use mini bolts and nuts from a model engineering suppliers.

I also ordered some blue thread. IMG_0547_1

If you look closely at the picture above the left hand clip which was held in place by fold over tabs I snapped one of the tabs off during dis assembly and I managed to snap the other one off during re assembly. It then required some minor engineering to make an alternative fixing method using an even smaller nut and bolt. IMG_0455_1

By now the project had entered its third month and I had sewn the two side pieces together and had started attaching the base to the first side panel.


All of the pen slots had been sewn in place and I had started making side pockets for the other side of the slots. IMG_0364_1

Here is the case sewn together yes it is inside out. IMG_0425_1

A sneak peak inside well at the outside . I am sure you get the idea. IMG_0427_1

Before I finished sewing the ends to the base I needed to make the end pieces. The method was simple draw around the old pieces and cut them out.


Next I soaked the pink leather in water and folded it in the old piece to take on the shape. IMG_0431_1

Once dry the leather had the shape and the texture of the original piece. IMG_0434_1

Here are all of the pieces together. IMG_0435_1

I added the end pieces and also fitted the pink lining leather around what would become the inside. IMG_0440_1

Time for one of those big moments. A turning point IMG_0445_1

The whole case was soaked in cold water until it was soft enough to turn inside out IMG_0448_1

I clipped the case together whilst I allowed it to dry slowly IMG_0451_1

While the outer section was drying I re assembled the frame complete with catches and lock. Please note the blue thread had arrived and the white thread was no more. IMG_0547_1

You can also see the holes where rivets would once have been fitted to fix the frame to the case again I planned on replacing them with nuts and bolts. These are the bright pieces that fit inside the metal frame to hold the frame to the case together. IMG_0570

This is the interior complete and ready for assembly. IMG_0571

Here is the first time that the inner section was test fitted into the outer case I am pleased to say it fitted. IMG_0551_1

Once I had test fitted the interior I went mad and test fitted the metal frame complete with all of its attachments. IMG_0462_1

I made some adjustments to the side pieces to allow the frame to fit in place and the marked out and stitched the end pieces in place.


At this point I made an inner base from grey board to add some strength just to be on the safe side I wrapped it in pink leather.  I don’t think it would ever be seen but you never know. I also added some feet. IMG_0574_1

After the base was fitted I glued the inner section in place at this point I noticed that a thin strip of unfinished leather inside the case.


After fixing this problem I fitted each bolt cutting each one to size there were only 20 so it only took me a day to complete. So here at last is the finished case. IMG_0584_1 IMG_0585_1 IMG_0589_1 Thanks for reading

I wanted to finish this project by sharing some feedback from the owner of the bag I think a link to the thread on fp geeks might be a good start


The owner of this case has kindly sent me some pictures of the case in tis new home

20 pen case 2

20 pen case 1

It looks great full of pens and in the sun shine.

The only problem with this case / bag is after a year there is just not enough accommodation for pens.

The most elegant solution I could come up with is to use the pockets on the opposite side of each set of pen slots


I made a pair of extension pieces to slot into the pockets which will double the amount of pens that can be carried and if the leather matches ok all will look ok.


Thanks for looking



2 thoughts on “A special pen case

  1. Hi,

    I really love the way you rebuilt what was once a ‘dead’ old bag, well done!
    I heard of your wonderful items from swrebrown on you tube. I am trying to recall that name by memory so please forgive me if it is not exact, he lives in Holland I believe and reviews pens and all things pen related.


    1. Don’t worry about it he would be happy to know that you enjoyed his videos he is Dr S B R E Brown to give his full title and a very nice guy.
      I am pleased you like the bag restoration it has been used everyday for over a year now and is still looking good.


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