Sunday, May 25, 2008

The laptop case of doom

It started with a phone call from my neighbor. She needed a birthday gift for her business partner, but had been unable to find exactly what she was looking for in any store. She has a vision of a case that would fit a small laptop pretty snugly, that would lay open flat, and that looked stylish. I said rather skeptically that I didn’t think I’d be able to do it without a pattern. “No problem!” she says, “I can put together a pattern for you!” And so I agree, thinking to myself that it shouldn't take too much time/effort/etc. You see where this is going, don't you?

The next week, she comes over with a sketch. “Well, I know you wanted a pattern. But then I realized I don’t know how to do that. So I drew this instead.”
laptop case sketch
Fortunately, she has also done some research on the laptop and knows the dimensions. She also has a bag of materials, including upholstery weight grey corduroy, an orange upholstery weight suede-textured polyester, black stretch velvet(!), thread, peltex, and a parka zipper. I tell her I’ll do it for $50.

At this point, I’m kicking myself... what have I gotten myself into???

I spend many hours cogitating on the project. I finally commit to some measurements on paper. I buy additional materials—canvas and fusible fleece (because I just didn’t want to deal with the peltex, and the fleece seemed like it would provide more cushiness), some black poplin (to use as lining for the pocket), and a zipper (since I couldn’t figure out how to make the parka zipper work). And on Sunday night, I cut and sewed. Six hours later, I had this:
laptop case version 1
Yay! It turned out pretty well and looks just like the sketch. Then, I attempt to put a laptop-sized book into it. It fits. But just barely... like super-snug barely. I failed to account for the bulkiness of the multiple layers of fabric (and fleece and canvas)—so it just ended up too tight. Dang it!

I call my neighbor over to check out the case, make sure it is indeed what she’s after before I invest any more time in making another. She checks it out, and offers many compliments on how well-constructed it looks (and I blush proudly), but decides that the straps and the accent trim need to be narrower. I recalculate all of my measurements, making the bag bigger and the straps and trim narrower. I also figure out how to make the parka zipper work like a luggage zipper (where the two sliders meet in the center). Then I try again. Five hours later:
laptop case version 2
The inside (it even lays flat!):
laptop case version 2, inner
Compared to the first one:
laptop cases versions 1 and 2
I had to improvise a little on the outside pocket because I didn’t have enough fabric to do it in one piece. But I actually think it looks pretty snazzy.

Another view of the outside:
laptop case outer
My neighbor picked it up on Friday afternoon. She seemed really happy with it. Thank goodness.

This project caused me stress on so many levels, it wasn’t even funny. After attempt number one, my husband even suggested that I call my neighbor and just tell her I couldn’t do it—it wasn’t worth the stress, and definitely wasn’t worth the $50 for the hours of time and frustration. I practically yelled back at him, “That is NOT an option!” Sigh. Stupid, stubborn, Robin. But, in the end, I got it done. And, on the bright side, I even learned some things:

  • How to turn a parka zipper into a head-to-head slider zipper.

  • Painters tape is great for getting obnoxious fuzzies off of stretch velvet.

  • My machine can sew through multiple layers of upholstery fabric with no problem. (I think at some points, I had 8 layers plus zipper).

  • If I really put my mind to it, I can do some pretty cool stuff.


  1. I'm very impressed. I always wanted to be able to draw something on paper and then turn around actually make it. I have a long way to go, I haven't even gotten up the nerve to make a purse based on a pattern. Needless to say, I am inspired and in awe of your talent.

  2. I am seriously impressed with your laptop project! That you were able to do it without a pattern, and it turned out so nicely. And I'm impressed that you stuck to it after the first one didn't work. Great job.

  3. Oh my goodness - I nearly died reading everything you went through! I would have been pulling my hair out in frustration - especially when she wanted to change things lol! BUT it looks so great - I mean really professional. You did a fantastic job!