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Monday, February 1, 2021

Leather Sewing Machine Needle Folder

Updated March 16, 2021:  

I am still tinkering with needle folder ideas.  The case pictured above has a padded lining to hold loose needles instead of the narrow pockets, pictured below.  The new pattern is available for free download here.  If you don't want to sew your own, there are several with padded lining in my Etsy Shop!

I have a fairly organized drawer of sewing machine needles.  Even so, I find myself going through stacks of needles to find the one I want.  Last fall, I started looking at ways to organize my needles.  Since then, I have made six or seven needle organizers in one form or another.  A few did not work at all.  I made three versions of this folder before deciding to share the pattern.  This folder may not be the last in my search for the perfect needle organizer, but, for now, it makes me happy to pull this from my sewing drawer!  Here's why it works for me:

  • It holds a variety of needles so I don't search through my full supply to find the size I want.  When I use the last needle in a case, I replace it from the larger supply.  If I move the last case from supply into the folder, I know it's time to order more.
  • I can see at a a glance if I have a used needle.  I know some people do not re-use needles, but I occasionally switch a couple times in a single project and I know the needle is still good.
  • It folds flat and fits nicely in my needle drawer.  
  • If it gets shuffled around in the drawer, the needle cases, my needle changing tool, and the clip I use to remind me of what needle I am using all stay in place.   

One of my new leather samples (thank you, Jan!) was the inspiration for the size and shape of this folder.  The pattern can be adapted to different materials, and any size with as many pockets as you want.  

This folder has 12 pockets for small needle cases and 12 narrow pockets for used needles.  If you don’t keep used needles, or if you store them in empty needle cases, you can eliminate the narrow pockets.  

I have edited some of the instruction out of this blog.  I will dwell more on why than how.  Download free PDF instructions here!  All feedback is welcome!  


  • 1 - Leather: 10-3/8" x 9"
  • 1 - Leather strap: 1-1/2" x 9"
  • 1 - Lining fabric  11-3/8" x 10" (I used Cordura 500D nylon)
  • 2 - Stabilizer: 4-5/8" x 8-3/8" (I used Decovil light)   
  • 1 - Stabilizer 1” x 4” Decovil light for strap
  • 3 - Transparent vinyl: 1-1/4" x 11" (3 each pocket strips)
  • 3 - Transparent vinyl: 1-1/2” x 9-3/4” (3 each flaps)
  • Heavy duty thread, either bonded nylon or polyester.  
  • Snaps and rivets for strap closure

Prepare the Leather Exterior

My Bernina sewing machine dictated several of the design decisions.  It will sew some leather, but not through several layers as would be needed for making a bag.   Some things that help me sew through a leather project:  

  • Round corners vs. squared corners help eliminate the extra folds when you sew the lining to the leather.  
  • Keep stabilizer out of the seam lines. 
  • Attach the strap with rivets rather than sewing it in the seamline.   


In an earlier version of this pattern, instead of gluing the Decovil to the leather, I attached it to the lining.  It seemed to make more sense because sewing the pockets would help keep the Decovile in place.  But, the finished folder did not look as neat.   This thinner leather needs a bit of stabilizer.  

I have several glues I use for bags and wallet, but my favorite is Rowley Fringe Adhesive.  It is low odor, sets quickly and cleans easily with water.  It’s a little expensive, but lasts a long time.  I order the large 16 oz. size and fill a small needle nose squeeze bottle that I use for most applications.  

Make Leather Strap Closure

The leather sample I used for this folder had an end that was hemmed for hanging.  I cut that end from the leather, removed the stitching resulting in a 1-1/2" x 9" piece of leather with needle holes on both sides.  I folded it in half to make a 1-1/2"x 4-1/2" strap, stabilized it with Decovil and sewed all the way around through the previous needle holes.  I did not backstitch.  I started sewing at the short raw edge end and stopped sewing exactly where I started.  I left long threads at the beginning and end, pulled the threads to the back of the strap and knotted them.  This is where the strap will be connected to the folder, so the knots will not show.         


Last October, I replaced my hammer and anvil with the Kam Snaps press.  Installing snaps and rivets has never been easier.  I love it!  My only regret is that I waited so long to buy it!  


As you install your snaps and strap, there are a couple things to keep in mind.  

  • Strap and snaps aligned
  • Snaps are far enough away from the edge of the folder so they don't get in the way when you stop stitch the lining to the leather.  
Here's how:

To install the male portion of the snap, place the leather folder on your work table, right side down with the long 10-3/8” edges running horizontally.  On the left hand (9" side), measure the center from top to bottom and mark at least 1" from the edge.  Punch the hole but don’t install the snap yet.  Close the folder, make sure the edges are even, and use a pen to mark through the hole onto the back Decovil.  This will help you align the strap on the back.  Now, install the male portion of the snap on the left. 

Determine where you want your rivets on your strap piece and punch those holes first.  With your leather folder still wrong side up and the male snap already installed on your left.  Place the strap on the opposite edge of the folder at least 1" from the edge and centered over the pen mark you just made.  Using the pen again, mark through the rivet holes in the strap onto the Decovil.  Punch the holes in the folder. Place the strap on the outside side of the folder, align the holes in the strap and folder, and install the rivets.   



 Your leather exterior is done.  Set it aside for now.


Prepare the Lining

I normally use a fabric marker that disappears with heat.  Because direct heat cannot be used near the vinyl, I chose to make my marks in the seam allowance and use masking tape as a stitch guide.    

Mark the lining for pockets and flaps:


The marks pictured across the top are made from the left edge and should also be marked across the bottom.  

The marks along the left hand side are measured from the top and should be made on the right side as well.

Remember to make your marks inside the 1/2" seam allowance. 

Sew the three 1-1/4” x 11” vinyl strips along the horizontal lines:

These longer strips are 1/4" narrower than the flap strips because I found it was hard to grasp the used needles out of the pockets.  If you are not going to store used needles in this fashion, you could make all the strips 1-1/2" tall.  The sewing line marks stay the same.  The flaps simply overlap an extra 1/4".

The marks are the stitch line.  Lengthen you stitch to 3.5 or 4.  Place one of the long vinyl pieces just about 1/8" over the line marked at the edges.  You can tape the vinyl in place or just carefully hold it as you stitch from the mark on one side to the corresponding mark on the opposite side, catching the vinyl with about 1/8" seam allowance.  I backstitched inside the seam allowance at the beginning and end.  


Repeat for all three vinyl strips.


Sew vertical lines to create individual pockets: 

Some tips to make this easier: 

·    Sewing from the bottom to the top helps keep the vinyl flat as you sew across each strip. 

·    To sew a straight line without marking the fabric top to bottom, I positioned the lining under the needle at the most right vertical line.  I placed a piece of blue painter's tape on the bed of my sewing machine at the very edge of the fabric so I could follow that line as I sewed from one edge to the other.  Backstitch in the seam allowance at start and end of each line of stitching.  


Move to the next vertical line, moving the “edge guide” piece of tape and sew from edge to edge, backstitching within the seam allowance at beginning and end.  Repeat until all vertical lines have been stitched.

Sew vinyl flaps: 

The flap strips are shorter to keep the edges of the flap out of the seamline when you sew the lining to the leather.  Make sure they are about 5/8” from the edge of the lining. 


Starting with the flap for the bottom pocket, place one of the shorter vinyl strips (1-1/2" x 9-3/4") centered horizontally and abutting the upper edge of the flap to the bottom edge of the middle pocket strip.  Stitch 1/8" away from the edge that is abutting to the middle pocket. As you sew, gently push the flap towards the edge of the pocket strip so there’s no gap between the two pieces. 

Do the same with the next strip, centering horizontally, and abutting the top edge of the flap with the top pocket strip.  

The top flap will be aligned 1-1/4" above the top vinyl pocket strip.  Make sure it overlaps the top pocket by about 1/4". Sew in place as you did the others.


Sew lining to leather

This next step is the most difficult part of sewing the folder.   Double sided tape around the edge makes it easier.  

If you use woven or cork exterior instead of leather, simply cut the exterior the same size as the lining.  Follow these directions to this point.  Place the exterior and lining right sides together and sew a 1/4" seam all the way around leaving a gap to turn it right side out.  Top stitch all around and you're done.  I may try that next!                         

Remove DST protective paper one side at a time.  Fold the lining under so the edge of the lining meets or is just a hair inside of the leather edge.  Clip it as you go.  Do this on all four edges.  The corners need some manipulation to make them smooth.  You are going to sew this together from the leather side, so make sure the edges are as closely matched as possible without the lining showing beyond the edge of the leather.  


With the leather side up, sew 1/8" all the way around.  Do not backstitch at beginning or end.  Stop sewing where you started and pull the threads into the seamline between the lining and the leather.  Knot it.  Using a needle, pull the threads through the seam allowance.  Don’t let the needle puncture the leather or vinyl!  Snip the thread ends.  I use a teeny drop of glue at the knotted area.