The Ultimate Observing Sketchbook: Part 3

In the previous post in this series, we selected our ugly denim fabric, and stitched the frame that will hold the tablet computer inside the sketchbook.  In this post, we’ll complete the sketchbook cover and take it for a test drive.

Outside Cover

I started work on the outside first.  I drew some chalk lines to delineate the back, front and spine.

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The front cover has a flap at top and bottom to hold a piece of sketch paper. I finished the edges of each flap, then pinned and stitched the flaps against the top and bottom edges of the front cover.

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The back cover has a series of pockets for holding pencils.  Each finished pocket is 3/4 inch wide.  The fabric flap offers 1 inch for each pocket.  I began by making markings for each pocket on the cover and flap, matching markings and pinning into position.  The flaps extend out to the edge, where they will be caught in the seam allowance when inside and outside covers are joined.

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I put a line of basting stitches in the seam allowance to get all the pockets to fall the right way.  That completes the outer front and back cover.

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Inside Cover

Next, I finished the inside cover.  First, I attached negative Velcro (sorry, “hook-and-loop tape”) to the frame, then edgestitched the tabs down to the inside right cover.

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I also added a flap to the top of the tablet pocket with positive hook-and-loop tape.  I’d like to say I also sewed the positive hook-and-loop tape to the inside left cover at this point, but sadly I forgot to do that and had to do it less conveniently farther on in the construction process.

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Joining and Binding

I placed right sides of both outer and inner cover together (with all the pockets on the inside) and stitch around three sides, leaving bottom open.  Then I clipped corners and turned the whole thing right-side out.

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Unfortunately it was at this point I forgot about the positive hook-and-loop tape on the inside left cover.  I also had to stitch again along the tabs in order to get a tighter fit for the tablet.  So this was a bit of inconvenient sewing.  Glad my machine has a free-arm.  I also stitched down the lines for the spine, creating a spine-sized pocket ready to accept backing.

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I went to Tap Plastics and ordered three pieces of plastic cut as backing.  Total cost was $3.65. Two 1/8-inch thick pieces for front and back cover, and a 1/16 inch thick piece for the spine.  I rounded the plastic corners on sandpaper, then inserted the plastic backing pieces.

I had originally planned to hand-stitch the final seam shut, but since I was in a hurry to get it done for an observing session that evening I folded in the bottom seam and edgestitched it into place on the sewing machine. It came out a little bit messy, partly because I was going through several layers of denim along edges and corners – which are hard to get through the feed dogs. But it turned out well enough.

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Test Drive

I took the finished product out for an observing session this past Saturday. Comet PanSTARRS beckoned from our observing site at Mount Tamalpais State Park, CA. While we didn’t get to see the comet (low clouds on the horizon at sunset blocked our view), I did successfully use the notebook during my evening observing session.

Normally it’s a chore trying to keep track of several items in the dark; having it condensed down into one item, and being able to easily switch from charts to drawing, was very successful. I was worried that the texture of the denim backing would provide a poor surface for sketching, but that problem is easily solved by placing a few sheets of sketch paper in the front cover.

It was windy at our observing site Saturday night, and the sketchbook was a delight.  Normally the wind blows around the pages of a regular sketchbook, but the fabric flaps held everything in place.

Some things I would definitely do better and/or differently on the next go-around:

  • I would stitch the tablet frame as a plain old patch pocket.  The outer piece would be the patch pocket.  I would cut the center window, finish those edges, then stitch on the rubylith on the inside.  I would not bother with an inside piece, or separate fabric tabs for the edges.  These are remnants of the pattern for the first tablet folio I made, and they are just too fiddly – and too hard to finish – in the context of this project.
  • I would keep outer and inner pieces separate, then baste on the covers (perhaps holding them in place with some adhesive or tape).  Instead of stitching the seam and turning inside out, I’d fold the (and perhaps baste) the edges and edgestitch all four sides from the right side.  This would eliminate the bulky seam allowances that are trapped inside the fabric upon completion. I forgot to trim my seam allowances, but even if I had done so it still would have turned out bulky.
  • I would consider two elastic strips to hold in the sketchpaper, rather than the denim fabric flaps I made.  It is less fiddly to construct and the elastic would perform better at holding.
  • The inside cover as a place to hold a vinyl window for an observing list is definitely something worth considering.

For now, I’m going to get some experience with this first version while I move on to other projects.

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