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Topic: How to Re-Cover a Wallet (Project and Tutorial, with Many Pics)  (Read 4761 times)
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Eclectic Savant
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What do you mean, "it isn't supposed to explode"?

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« on: September 12, 2007 09:21:46 PM »

So, my partner in my first-ever swap half-asks for a wallet with enough pockets for 20 cards.  I'm up for it, but it takes time to do R&D on a new design, more time than I have.  What to do?  Go to the discount store, find a wallet that has the required pockets, and re-do the outside to make it beautiful!

(Before and after in reverse order so the right pic will show in New Projects)



Better, No? ^^

Okay, tutorial- sorry, there is a lot of this that amounts to "here's how to figure it out" because wallets vary a lot.  This should apply quite well to "girl" wallets like the one I did, and somewhat more loosely to billfolds or other styles.

What you need:

  • 1 Ugly but eminently functional wallet
  • 1 Piece of fabric with which to cover wallet
  • 1 Piece heaviest nonwoven interfacing you can find, size to match fabric.
  • 1 Piece heaviest fusing web you can find, about twice the size of the interfacing.
  • Fabric marker of your choice
  • Heavy thread for topstitching
  • Fabric Glue of your choice
  • Craft Scissors- do NOT use your good shears for most of this!

Step 1: Find a wallet that has the basic structure you want.  Get one that is relatively stiff (meaning there is reinforcement between the layers), and that has the features you want, like enough credit card pockets, or an ID slot, spot for a checkbook, whatever.

Then check the construction.  The one I chose had two overall layers, with the cover being glued and topstitched to the innards.  This is good.  Ones in which the outside and the inside are more interactive pieces, such as the snap going all the way through, will be harder to work with.  Basically, the more "apart" you can take it, the better.

My wallet had fairly simple exterior construction- one pocket that was simply a fold, one more complex zippered pocket, and two snaps.

2: Take it apart, doing as little damage as possible.  Depending on how it was constructed originally, damage may be inevitable, but keep it to a minimum, as you might have to re-use some of these pieces, and even if you don't, they are your templates for cutting new pieces.  In my case, this involved seam-ripping the topstitching and then carefully prying apart the two layers of the wallet, which were glued together. 

Be particularly careful when pulling the glued bits apart- cardboard is commonly used to stiffen cheap wallets, and mine split a bit as I was getting my wallet apart.  Also, if there is trim between the layers, leave it on the innards if you plan to include it in your final design.

Set aside the innards and focus on the outside, which should look something like this (from the formerly hidden side):

3: Now that you know how the outside was constructed, you have a choice- make an entirely new outside, using this one as a guide, or re-cover this one.  Making a new one has the advantage of letting you deal only with new materials, but it also requires you to make a new version of what may be several layers of construction.  Re-covering the existing one allows you to add minimal material, lets you use the existing closures (which are usually quite sturdy), and keeps you on scale, but you might not be able to do things in quite the most convenient order.

I decided to re-cover the one I had, as I didn't have a good way of doing snaps that would be anywhere near as firm as I wanted.  Also, the existing construction included a foam layer that gave the wallet a nice "cushy" feel, and I didn't feel like trying to recreate that with something else. Smiley  The remaining instructions assume you did the same- see your choice of tutorials on making wallets if you decided to make an entirely new outside.

4:  Take out any structural components from the outside (mine had a folding flap to allow the zipper pocket to open), paying great attention to how they were originally attached, and make sure that you can lay each section out flat.  Decide if you will keep or replace pieces like pocket linings (I kept mine).

5: Prepare your fabric.  I used a flat quarter of quilting cotton for the outside of my wallet, so I fused some very heavy interfacing to the back for stability and strength.  You only need slightly more than the area of your wallet (to allow for seams), so this is a great way to use up remnants.  With the wide world of fusibles, you can turn almost anything into a wallet-hearty fabric- if nothing else, fuse clear vinyl over it and call it good!

Do NOT use all the fusing web just because you can- you will be using strips of it later.

If your fabric is one-directional (like mine), you will not be able to make it match all the way around when the wallet is closed, so decide carefully when it matters.  I decided that the parts that are on the outside when it is closed were the most important, which meant I needed to cut all my fabric so that "up" was away from the nearest edge (see photos above if this is confusing).  If you don't have directional fabric, don't worry about it, but do try to cut on the grain; the fusing  and glue will help reduce raveling on any exposed edges, but it's best to just cut straight in the first place.

6:  Lay out each piece of the wallet on the wrong side of the fabric, aligned with the grain, and trace around the edges with your choice of fabric marking tool (I used disappearing ink).  Leave about an inch to an inch and a half between pieces, and add seam allowances to each piece.  You want about the same amount of seam allowance the original pieces had, keeping in mind that some is lost as it wraps around layers of cardboard, foam, and whatnot.

If you have pieces such as the folding flap from the zipper pocket that involve more than one layer, you separate the lining from the "fashion" fabric and use the fashion fabric as a guide for cutting.  Pay particular attention to folds and relative positioning, as you will need to recreate this with your new pieces.

Cut out your new fabric pieces and keep them handy.

7: Lay each piece of the wallet on the fusing web and trace the outlines.  I recommend cutting slightly inside these lines so that you are less likely to have loose web flying around during your first stage of construction.

8: The beginning of actual construction:

Find the piece of your wallet that is on the "bottom"; i.e., there may be construction over it, but none under it.  In my case, this was the flap that closes the wallet, the one without the snaps.

I show it here with the "fold" pocket flipped down so that you can see just the part I am working on:

Decide if you want to expose or hide any hardware on this part.  In this case, it is the corporate logo, and will serve it's purpose just as well hidden, so I plan to hide it, and can safely ignore it.

Lay the fusing web for this piece down on the wallet, paper side UP (very important), and attach it according to instructions.  Then pull off the paper and carefully align your covering fabric over the wallet and fuse it in place, carefully going over areas such as the hardware to make sure there are not "bubbles" in the fusing.  Congratulations, you are now taking advantage of the original layers of padding, interfacing, and whatnot. Smiley  Let the fusing cool before moving to the next step, and it will keep your fabric aligned nicely almost no matter what you do.

9: Flip your piece over so you are looking at the "innards" side with the cardboard and so on.  Starting with the longest side, cut a piece of fusible web the size and shape of the seam allowance, attach it to your choice of the seam allowance or the cardboard (I did the seam allowance), and fuse the edge to the cardboard.  Leave about an inch at each outside corner unfused so that you can clip the corners after doing the short sides; you will get better smooth curves if you do the corners last.  When you are done, it should look something like this:

and the outside now looks like this:

(Those of you with sharp eyes will be noticing that the fabric is backwards here from the way it was on the final wallet- I fixed it after I took the pic).

Repeat this process with any other simple construction pieces, and attach the lining to pieces like the flap we disassembled earlier.

10: Prepare for hell- now that you have done all the easy bits, it is time for the complicated things like the hole for the zipper pocket and allowing those snaps through.  If you have areas like the zipper in my wallet where the raw edges show, you might want to trim back the old fabric so that it does not show along with your new fabric, especially if they are very different:

11: Re-insert any removed bits that will interact with later layers, with the hardest-to-reach first.  In my case, this was the flap in the zipper pocket.  Once I fuse the fabric onto this layer, it will be hard to get to this one properly.

Remember my telling you to pay attention to how these were attached?  Here is where it comes in handy.  I missed it on my first try, but this piece should actually fold around between the white and black layers of material, to cover up the edge of the lining fabric:

12:  Allowing previous construction through starts very similarly to the simple pieces- place fusing web and attach it to the existing wallet, but be careful NOT to actually attach it anywhere you do not want your new fabric to end up, such as over the zipper and snaps.  Don't cut them out, just don't iron over them.

13: After you pull off the paper, carefully cut the web away from places you don't want fusing to take place, making sure to leave the web right up to the edges of the snaps and zipper area, just not over.

14: Once again, carefully align your fabric and fuse it onto the wallet, starting away from moving features such as zippers.  Don't worry if you can't get the fabric to fuse right next to raised features like the snaps at this time.

Pull the zipper (or other moving feature, but I'm going to assume a zipper) all the way to one side, and fuse the other end of its track, all but an inch or so.  Then, carefully cut along the center line of your eventual zipper slit, and push the zipper until it comes out on top of your new fabric.  (Sorry there's no pic of this, I didn't think of it until I was done.)  This allows you to finish fusing the other end without permanently trapping your zipper or having a big lump in your fabric.

15:  Flip over your piece and fuse any simple edges now available (the part that forms a fold pocket is not a simple edge, it needs more work first, so just ignore it).  This stabilizes things before you start cutting at the fabric any more than necessary.  If you like, you can re-attach the lining for the fold pocket at this time, just don't close the sides yet.  If you plan to topstitch around anything in the area, I would wait on this.

16:  Carefully cut out your new zipper opening, including the vertical leg that allows the pocket to open out.  In my wallet, this was literally a slit, so it required careful cutting to keep the line straight.  These edges will likely not be covered up, so make sure they are neat.

Poke a hole in the fabric over each snap, and make several radial cuts out from the center almost to the edge of the snap.  Use a small object (I used the edge of tweezers) to stuff these flaps of fabric under the snap.  If you work your way around, the fabric will stretch just enough to let the snap through, but not show the cuts when you are done.  Once you get the fabric under the snap, run as close as you can to the snaps with your iron to finish the fusing in this area.

17: If you are doing topstitching around anything in the middle of the pieces, now is the time to do it.  Try not to involve cardboard in this topstitching, or it becomes a real pain in the rear, and on something like this, I think I'll probably skip it in future, because I had to re-do it about four times because I kept catching the pocket in bad ways.  Again, paying attention to how it was constructed the first time is key.

18: Now you reattach things like the fold pocket lining, and if you are going to do any topstitching across the thing (like along the top of that pocket), go for it.  I had learned by this time, so I skipped it. :-)  Fusing web is my friend.  If you are worried about it holding, you can use your glue to hold it down instead of web, but I have a hard time controlling glue when there isn't a safe direction to squeeze the excess.

19: Once all your pieces are reattached, everything becomes a "simple" edge.  Make sure all your seam allowances are firmly attached to something on the cardboard side of the piece.

20: It is time to reattach your now-beautiful outside to the functional inside of your wallet.  Get some heavy books, clothespins, or other ways of making your pieces stay together.  I had books; I suspect clothespins might have worked better.

If you have books, I recommend gluing only part of your wallet together first so your alignment is set.  Once again, I started with the outside flap.  Run a line of glue about a quarter inch inside the edge and squish them together as firmly as you can, aligning carefully and pressing excess glue towards the center of the area.  (For most fabric glues, if some does make it to the outside, leave it alone and cut it off later- it will become a permanent smear if you try to wipe it off just now.)  Allow to dry according to the instructions on the glue.

Any of you who sew, and many who don't, likely know the concept of "ease".  When you go to glue your pieces back together, it may seem that one piece is not long enough to match the other.  This is an illusion- the key thing is that the pieces have been trained into their relative positions when the wallet is closed.  Thus, you may have to close one or more of the folds on the wallet to get everything to line up for the final gluing.  This is fine.  Get it to where it lines up, repeat the glue line on the loose sections, and clamp or weight with books.  Once the glue is dry, your wallet sections will hold together no matter what position the wallet is in.

21:  Here is the bit that really gave me hell- unless you have an industrial sewing machine, you will likely find that your machine is not up to topstitching through several layers of ripstop, a couple of layers of cardboard, and several layers of fabric and interfacing.  You have three options:

1: Leave the topstitching off and trust the glue.

2: Try it with the machine.

3: Topstitch by hand.

The main downside to 2 is that once you try topstitching, the holes don't close well, so you are committed.  Personally, I recommend 1 or 3, with one trick to 3.  If you are going to topstitch by hand, use your sewing machine to punch the holes for you.  Grin  Just run around the edge at a long stitch length with no thread and a fairly heavy needle, and topstitching by hand will probably look much better than machine stitching by a machine that is out of its depth.

The downside to this is that unless you are bored enough to form overlock stitches by hand, your topstitching fabric needs to coordinate with your lining, but if you chose a fabric that works with the lining, that shouldn't be too big a deal.

Enjoy!  I hope this is useful to anyone who has the urge to renovate a wallet!
« Last Edit: September 12, 2007 10:54:46 PM by Firefairy » THIS ROCKS   Logged

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but sticks and string excite me.

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I'm on Ravelry, and now, so are my stash and WIPs.  Makin' progress!
« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2007 09:25:47 PM »

What an awesome job! It looks oodles and oodles better!

« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2007 12:33:24 AM »

Wow! That really is very clever!
I'm book marking this.

« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2007 06:41:50 AM »

Thanks for the lovely detailed tutorial!  I look forward to seeing people's takes on this when I'm scrolling through the "recent with pics" section! Cheesy
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do i gnome you?

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« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2007 10:48:10 AM »

it is truly awesome.
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