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
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
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
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.