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Christine Cox
Since 1999


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Giving an Old Suitcase a New Life
by Christine Cox

From an antique store "find" to a refurbished and useful "art case," this suitcase gets another chance at life.

I had been looking for a case in which to carry my art supplies while taking classes at Art Continuum 2000. Almost ready to give in and buy a case made for scrapbookers, I found this old (my guess is that it's from the 1960s) cosmetics salesman's sample case at a local antique store. The outside and the hardware were in great repair but the inside was in horrible shape and plastic to boot. I was up to the challenge of seeing what I could do with this ugly duckling.

The first step in the process was to get rid of all the plastic bottle- and jar-holders and the lining on the inside. This was a tedious task but it had to be done with care in order for the new leather to adhere well to the wood frame. The glue was old and crumbly and in places very hard to get off. A heat tool carefully used in conjunction with a razor blade (in a protective handle) was used to get the most stubborn bits pried loose.

The cheap plastic lining had a terrible smell and heating the glue didn't help. A mixture of charcoal and newspaper was put into the case for several days to absorb the odor. This was effective but the case still has an off odor. I would recommend smelling the inside of any case that you plan to refurbish.

The new lining could have been about any kind of leather (within reason) but I was interested in durability as well as good looks so I chose 5 to 6 oz. vegetable tanned leather. I used a ruler and a utility knife to cut the leather to the length and width of the back wall, bottom and front wall of the case. I then measured and cut the leather for the two side walls and for the lid.

I used a special leather working tool made for beveling the edges of leather to create a finished appearance rather than a squared off look.

Since the leather that I chose was so heavy it was difficult to get it to conform to the corners of the case. A sponge dampened with water was used to make the leather more malleable. I was then able to use a wooden potter's rib (Teflon Folder would be better) to gently force the leather down into the corners.

PVA (polyvinyl acetate -- a bookbinder's adhesive) was used to adhere the leather to the edges of the case frame. The type of adhesive to use was an easy decision since the frame was wooden. When you buy your case, be aware of what it's made from and use an adhesive that is appropriate. Since PVA has a very quick drying time, I glued the leather down in small sections, using the potter's rib to ensure that the leather was smooth and tight.

Once a section of leather was glued in, I used binder clips lined with scrap leather to hold it in place until the adhesive dried.

The last step for the case was to glue a piece of leather into the lid so that I could put my cutting mat and scrap paper behind it without worrying that they would fall down into the bottom of the case. This was easily done with PVA using the same techniques I had used when lining the inside.

After the suitcase was complete I decided to use leather dye to color the inside to match the dark brown of the outside of the case. I also wanted to have a snapped accessory case to hold paint brushes, pens, rulers, etc. After lining the suitcase, I felt that I could do anything!

I cut a piece of the same leather I used for the lining to twice as tall as I wanted the case to be. I then cut 2 small pieces of leather to glue into the ends of the case to form gussets so that I could easily fish my tools out. Once the pieces were glued together I added a gunmetal gray snap and the project was complete.

The new leather interior after it was dyed dark brown to match the outside

Inspection of the outside of the case and the hardware reveal that this suitcase is suitable for the project

The mirror in the lid shows great evidence of aging. It will be used in a future project

Ripping out and cleaning up the inside of the case







A heat tool was used to warm the glue before scraping it off with a razor blade

Leather was cut to size for the new lining

A ruler and a utility knife or rotary cutter get the job done quickly

The leather was laid into the case for measuring

Beveling the edges of the leather gives the case a more finished appearance

A damp sponge applied to the folds makes the molding process a lot easier

Sizing the leather for the side walls of the case

Clamping the leather to the case while the adhesive dries

Note the use of scrap leather under the clamps to protect the case and the new leather from dents
The Brush Case

Cutting the leather for the brush case

The gusseted sides of the brush case

The brush case is ready for a snap closure and then it's finished