by James S. Vilett

Jan 2008

              MATERIALS LIST:

1-Fine tweezers
2-Needle nose pliers
3-Jeweler’s pliers with round ends
5-A seam ripper
6-Carpet needles, or
   A needle set with larger needles
7-A thimble
8-Cotton buttonhole thread, or
   Shoemakers nylon thread
9-Meltonian shoe dye
10-Colored paste shoe polish
11-Clear paste shoe polish
12-Pliobond contact cement 3 fl. oz. bottle
13-A butter knife

      When you find a classic camera, the camera may be very nice but the case stitching may be falling apart. For those of you who do not care, you may stop reading right here, throw the case out, and keep the camera. Owning and operating classic photographic equipment certainly should not require reading or a case. However, a stitch in time saves nine. If you take the case to the shoemaker they will certainly run it through their machines. None of the stitching will ever match the original holes. This will ruin the camera case and it will cost you money for an awful looking job. There is a way to get the shoemaker off your case. Do cosmetic surgery on your old leather case. Do your own stitchectomy. An important part of doing this process yourself is that you'll be able to line up your holes correctly. In case you haven't thought about it, proper hole alignment is and always was the key to a successful case operation.
      Buy some carpet needles or a set of regular needles which has some larger needles included. You need needles which are thin enough to go through the original holes but have a large enough eye to accept your thread. Don't use your wife's needles or you'll be in deep trouble. When you break them using pliers to pull them through the leather holes you'll be in some real difficulty. You'll need to tell her you're sorry for breaking her stuff. It is best to use jeweler's pliers that have round ends to grab and pull the needle through the holes. These pliers will not break the needle as easily. It is always best to anticipate potential problems before starting a repair project. Purchase of your own non-wife equipment will work best. At this point you should be properly needled. Purchase buttonhole thread or nylon shoemaker's thread of the correct color. If you can't find the right color thread, get tan colored cotton buttonhole thread. This thread will be colored later when you polish the finished case. Cotton buttonhole thread works pretty well and will not tear the old leather holes so much. Nylon thread from the shoemaker works well but tends to tangle easily, and sometimes cuts the edge of the leather holes when pulled tight. However, nylon is very strong and will never tear out.
      First diagnose the problem. Many times the case is only partly falling apart. If that is the case...,don't take the case apart. Get a pair of tweezers and pull out all of the broken threads where the leather is already loose. If the case has multiple areas falling apart, pick only one section at a time to take apart. Work on that section first and then do some other area of the case. Whatever you do, don't take the case all to pieces or you may go to pieces trying to get it together. Some people never get it back together. If you do one section at a time, you'll be able to line up the original holes just like they were meant to be. If the section you're working on is partly stitched, leave that stitching and start repair FIRST. Once you've started stitching then you may remove the few stitches holding the part on. If you do it this way, again the holes will line up the way they are supposed to when you get done. You may also use needle nose pliers for hard to pull out old thread pieces. If the thread is very fine, use hemostats to pull out the old broken pieces. If you don't do this step it may be hard to get the new thread into the old holes. In addition, pushing more thread into a hole with broken thread remaining often will break the surface leather of the case. Don't skip this part. What you want is a set of fully empty holes with no thread remaining. That way when you get done your new work will look clean and neat.
     Cut off enough thread to finish the entire job, about one to two yards. Line up the first two holes that you want to stitch. Insert the thread from the outside of the case through BOTH of the first starting holes. (A case in point, put one end of the thread through the first side-panel hole from the outside. Pull it about 4 inches inside the case. Next, put the other end of the thread through the first bottom-panel hole, also from the outside. Pull it about 4 feet inside the case.) Now you should have two loose thread ends extending into the case, one long end and one short end. Close to the inside of the case tie off the short end of the thread, leaving 2-3 inches of thread extending from the end knot. This will result in a tied off loop at one end of the thread, holding two pieces of leather together, with several inches of thread extending from the knot inside of the case. Now take the other end of the thread (the long part of the thread, one to two yards, which is now attached to the case at one end) and put the needle on this end. You will use this long length of thread to stitch your entire section.
     The thread will tend to knot up as you pull it through the holes. Untwist your thread as often as possible to avoid knots. Pull the thread very slowly so if it does start to knot up you will have time to fix it. If you get a knot it will not go through the original leather holes. If this happens, first you will scream, never ever saying a bad word, and then you have to start over. Avoid knotty situations at all costs otherwise you'll cause a big break. The needle should be pushed through the original holes at about a 45 degree angle towards the next hole in the row. The technique you use is stitching at a 45 degree angle from hole to hole, skipping every other hole. Hint using an old style thimble helps avoid bleeding finger holes.
     Stitching should be done in an "S" pattern. This means every other hole is not stitched. Continue in and out of every other one of the original holes in an “S” pattern. As you stitch you should stop every few stitches and pull the thread tight, being sure not to break it. After about 10 stitches you may want to tie off your sutures in case your thread breaks or knots later. Often the needle is hard to get through at some spots. For this reason pick a needle that is small enough to go through but big enough to pull with jeweler's pliers without breaking. Keep stitching until you reach solid original thread. Do not cut the thread.
     If you want the entire job to look really nice, remove all the stitching on the section you're working on even if it is still solid stitching. That way each section of the case will have totally uniform stitches. The tool you need for this is a seam ripper. This tool allows you to cut stitches without damage to the leather. Once you have stitched up to the original tight thread, you may start tearing out all the original thread. After you're fully ripped you may stitch the entire section in an “S” pattern. Do every other hole for the entire piece. Once you get to the end of all the holes in the section, tie off that end of the thread.
     Now start back doing an “S” pattern in the other direction, filling in all the holes you did not stitch in the first direction. To some degree, you will end up going back through some of the holes that already have thread in them. Be sure to purchase thread which is not too thick. If your original thread is too thick you'll never be able to go back through holes that already have thread in them. Once you have stitched back to where you started, you should have 2-3 inches of thread where you tied off the starting point. Tie off the two threads. The result is a perfect stitching job in all of the original holes. Make sure to use a fisherman's knot (also called a figure-eight knot) or two half-hitches so the thread does not come loose.
      After you're all done stitching, if you lift up the interior bottom of the case with a butter knife you can often hide the knot under the inside bottom of the case. Using a dull knife keeps you from putting the knife through your hand if you slip. Sometimes in life it's better not to get the point. The bottom may be glued back down with contact cement. I suggest Pliobond in the 3 ounce bottle as this includes a brush. Do not use too much glue as it will get all over the inside of the case and ruin the repair. Do not glue the bottom back down until all stitching is finished.
      Once the stitching is done, you're ready to polish the leather. Start with Meltonian shoe cream in the small glass containers. This is actually a dye and will help color your cotton thread. You will find this at your local shoemaker. This comes in a full range of colors. Use this on the tan thread to color the new thread. If possible, cover this polish with a hard paste polish of the same color. Then cover these coats of polish with clear shoe polish. This makes a hard polished surface and blends your new work with the original case stitching and coloring. If you take your time and do a good job, the final result is a really nice case to go with your beautiful classic camera. The best part is you finally got it together. Now that you're finished you may place this case on the table and see the fine work you've done. I rest my case. I hope this article kept you in stitches.