The Ultimate Observing Sketchbook: Part 1

It’s time for me to seriously tackle the project that got me into sewing in the first place: the Ultimate Observing Sketchbook.

Amateur astronomy is another hobby I enjoy.  I like to go into the middle of nowhere (or right in front of my house, depending on what I’m looking for), set up a telescope, and share the view with others. These views include the Moon, Sun, planets, comets, star systems, star clusters, galaxies, nebulae – all the wonders of the universe, in short.

Like sewists with computer-driven sewing and embroidery machines, most astronomers nowadays use computer-driven telescopes. They automatically locate any celestial object via commands from a laptop, tablet, or keypad.  And many astronomers now have sophisticated digital cameras that photograph objects much fainter than the eye can see.

I’m a little bit of an oddball in my hobby. My telescope has no computer; I navigate by hand using paper star charts.  One compares star patterns in the eyepiece versus those on the map, then gradually nudges the telescope towards the desired location. When I find the object of interest, I typically draw what I see through the telescope with pencils and a sketchpad.

To give you an idea, here’s a sketch I made of the planet Jupiter, after it was impacted by the remains of comet.


I have modernized recently; I now use a 7-inch tablet computer with star charting software in place of paper maps.

So a night at the telescope works like this: grab tablet, use it to find an object, set it aside. Grab pencils, clipboard and sketchbook, draw sketch, set all that aside.  Repeat.  In the dark, that gets more complicated. Once you set something down, it’s hard to find it again!

So if I had a sketchbook that combined everything I needed to find and record celestial objects in one place, it would make my nights at the telescope a lot easier.


Some of the things the sketchbook would need to do:

  • Be easy to find in the dark
  • Hold and protect a 7-inch tablet computer
  • Cover the front of the tablet computer with transparent red plastic (aka rubylith) – this is to keep the tablet’s screen from being too bright in the dark
  • Hold a piece of 5.5 x 8.5 inch sketch paper
  • Provide a firm, stable backing for the sketch paper
  • Hold the tools needed to sketch – pencils, erasers, blending stump
  • Easily switch from finding (tablet) to sketching (sketchpad) use

As you might guess, there’s nothing commercially available to do all this, since it’s a product with an audience of one. But it is something that’s easy to create if you have a sewing machine.

Previous Projects

Right after I got my sewing machine, I made two projects which incorporated aspects of my sketchbook. One was the “9 to 5 Folio” from the book Sewing in a Straight Line, by Brett Bara.  You might recognize the fabrics from some of my newer projects: the earphone case and the tablet sleeve.




The other project was a tablet folio case, which I made from a pattern I purchased on Etsy.  The pattern was originally for a 10-inch iPad; I altered the pattern to fit the 7-inch tablet and its companion pen.





But I never followed through and made the final observing sketchbook.  By the time I finished the tablet case, I was unnerved enough by all the detail stitching and construction (it was a very challenging project at the time) and needed a break. I then went into other projects and never came back.

But now it’s a new year, a new observing season, and I really want the sketchbook.  And sewing projects like this one are no longer intimidating.


Here’s some sketches I made on the tablet pictured above, that show what I have in mind for the sketchbook.

The inside of the sketchbook has a frame for the tablet, very similar to the one in the tablet case in the photo above. The tablet is covered by red rubylith plastic.  The other face holds the sketchbook.  Close the book, and they face each other and are both protected.



The front cover features a series of pockets for sketch pencils.



And finally, the back cover displays a quick-reference card of astronomical stuff, like eyepiece magnification charts or an observing list.


But after thinking about it a bit more, I realized the following arrangement would work better:

  • Outside front cover: sketchbook
  • Outside rear cover: sketch pencils
  • Inside left: observing reference
  • Inside right: tablet

This arrangement groups everything together by its intended use.  Use the tablet to find something, close the cover, and then you have sketch paper and pencils ready to go.

Time to make the first prototype.