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Sew a Customised File

This project was originally inspired by the large pattern sheets found in the center pages of sewing magazines such as Burda and Neue Mode that are commonly available in Europe. Each sheet is about 33 inches by 22 inches and on each side has a bewildering mixture of red and blue lines that represent the pattern pieces for over 40 different items of clothing and accessories.

Having acquired a few old copies of these magazines that had been put out for recycling it seemed a shame to throw out these wonderful patterns, especially when the design fits perfectly the theme of a SewUseful contest.

On the other hand old maps are also wonderful items to look at. I never tire of 'reading' them!

A further inspiration was a large pile of vinyl offcuts given to me by my daughters' teacher. It's the sort of vinyl used for making the tarpaulins used on trucks and for the huge cushions in children's soft play areas. Vinyl commonly available in fabric stores would be a good alternative although I give alternative material suggestions in the step 'Choosing your materials and styles'.

The files created in this project are a way of using these materials to create a beautiful, useful and very durable item that can be customized for its intended user in a way that no mass-produced item can be.

Choose Your Materials and Styles

The file can be made with a variety of different materials, internal dividers and fasteners. To illustrate this Instructable I created two different items that are slightly different. When giving a detailed list of supplies needed and measurements I give the details of the two items shown in the illustrations so that you can create these exactly. However I also give suggestions for using alternative materials and tips for changing the size.
Materials for the cover.
I have used a number of different materials which are glued together to create a single 'laminated' layer. These are vinyl, iron-on double-sided interfacing, paper and 'sticky-back'- or contact-plastic.
The vinyl I have used is the sort used to make tarpaulins or vinyl floor cushions for children's soft play areas. If you can find a local firm who will let you have their offcuts this is a great way to recycle them. Otherwise vinyl can be purchased in most fabric stores.
Iron-on double-sided interfacing
This is used to glue the vinyl and paper together. The sort that I have used is ironed onto one fabric first, in our case the vinyl, then the backing paper removed and ironed onto the second fabric, or in our case the paper. This is available from most fabric stores.
The paper is from old maps and sewing magazine patterns. These are large enough to make the cover in one piece. The sewing magazine pattern fitted particularly well with the SewUseful theme.
Other paper ideas would be;- a paper collage to suit the intended use and owner of the file, posters, magazine cuttings, newspapers, wrapping paper, etc.
For a new-born baby how about using a newspaper from the birth date? Then the cover could be made using the front page showing the date and headlines.
'Sticky-back'- or contact-plastic
This is typically sold in stationery stores and used to cover books and paper. Typically it comes in rolls with a waxed-paper backing.
Other materials
The vinyl can be replaced by fabric. As the cover needs to be fairly sturdy the fabric needs to be strengthened with interfacing. Choose an iron-on interfacing and select the thickness so that the cover is reasonably sturdy.
The paper and contact plastic covering can also be replaced by fabric. Decorate the fabric with embroidery, applique etc.
Materials for the internal dividers.
The two items created for this instructable use two different materials for the internal dividers. Decide for yourself which material you will use;-
The sewing pattern organizer uses stiff blue card. Divider 'tabs' have been added to the top edge of the card mimicking the filing tabs commonly available for files. Decide for yourself whether you want to add these or not. The clear plastic for the tabs comes from the 'window' of a pasta box.
The map organizer uses further sections of the map that have been laminated using a laminating machine. Laminating pouches typically come in different thicknesses. The thicker ones are best for this project.
Size of front flap and fastening
The sewing pattern organizer has a front flap that has a width of just over 50% that of the complete file. It is fastened using velcro. The velcro strip that has a sticky back to it is much easier for this project than the sew-in type.
The map organizer uses elastic thread that is threaded through eyelet holes and secured with buttons. For this type of fastening a front flap that extends to the full width of the file is best.
Size of file
This can be changed to suit your own project. First choose the size and number of the internal dividers that you wish to have. This will then determine the size of the cover and of the finished item.
The sewing pattern organizer is based on A4 card. The map organizer is based on A4 laminating pouches.
I have given exact dimensions of the cover and side pieces for the two organizers shown here. However I also explain how I worked out these dimensions so that you can create your own custom size.

You Will Need

for the dividers;-
1. Stiff card or paper and laminating pouches. This is for the dividers themselves. The Sewing file has 8 dividers of A4 card measuring 21cm x 29.7cm (8 1/4 x 11 3/4 inches), the map file has 7 laminated pouches measuring (21.5 cm x 30.3cm (8 1/2 x 12 inches).
2. Paper and enough sticky-back plastic to cover both sides of the paper. This is for the sides that join the dividers. I found that one roll of sticky-back plastic was more than enough for both the sides and the cover.
3. If adding divider tabs you will also need small quantities of;-
- card
- thin clear plastic sheet (for example from the 'window' of a food package or an empty laminated pouch)
- sticky-back plastic or clear tape.

for the cover;-
1. Vinyl. The width needed is the same as the long side of the divider (29.7cm (11 3/4 inches) for A4 card, 30.3cm (12 inches) for A4 pouches). The length is calculated as follows;-
a = front of file = the height of the divider, NOT including divider tabs if you have them (21cm (8 1/4 inches) for A4 card, 21.5cm (8 1/2 inches) for A4 pouches).
b = base of file = 3.5 cm (1 1/2 inches). If you have a lot of dividers you may want to increase this figure.
c = back of file = the same as front of file (a)
d = height of divider tabs if you have them (2 cm ( 3/4 inch)) OR 0 if you don't.
e = width of front flap. If using an elastic fastening this is the same as c + d, otherwise make it half this amount.
Add a + b + c + d + e to give the length of vinyl you need.
2. Double-sided iron-on interfacing.
3. Paper.
4. 'Sticky-back'- or contact-plastic.
The size of the interfacing, paper and sticky-back plastic needed are the same size as the vinyl plus an extra (2 cm ) on width and length just in case the edges are not flush. This is trimmed later.

5. Edging tape. I have used a 2 cm ( 3/4 inch) knit tape folded around the edge. Bias binding could also be used. The quantity needed will be 2 x the length of the vinyl + 2 x the width of the vinyl + tiny bit extra for an overlap and tucking in.

for the rest;-
1. String thread
2. Stick-on hook and loop fastening tape if creating a hook and loop fastening. You will need approximately double the width of the vinyl.
3. Two eyelet, two buttons and thick elastic thread if creating an elastic fastening. Of elastic you will need approximately 1 1/4 times the width of the vinyl.

Sewing machine fitted with needles for sewing denim
Marker pen for marking plastic
Paper clips
Laminating machine (if you are using laminated paper for dividers)
Tool for fixing eyelets (if you are using eyelets and elastic as a fastener)

Make Dividers

If you are using card then assemble the number of pieces of card that you need.

If you are using laminated paper then cut your paper to the number and size that you need and laminate it following the instructions given for your laminating machine.

If you are NOT adding divider tabs go to the next step, otherwise do the following;-

Find some plastic sheet that you can use for the front of the tabs. It needs to be see through, strong enough that it will not break in use but thin enough so that we can machine stitch through it. I found the perfect material as a 'window' on a pasta box but you could also use a laminating pouch that has been laminated with no paper inside, two pieces of stick-back plastic stuck back-to-back or buy a very small amount of clear vinyl.

Cut the plastic sheet into pieces 3cm x 4cm (1 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches). You will need one piece for each divider.

Place the plastic sheet on a piece of the card and machine stitch close to one of the long edges, 2/3 of the way down a short edge and then parallel to the first line of stitching. See the pictures for more detail. This will create a little 'slot' in which a card can be inserted to label the dividers.

Now cut out the card around the plastic sheet EXCEPT that on the short side with no stitching the card will be a little bit longer than the plastic. This is to make it easier to get a card label in and out the slot.

Place the tab on a long side of the divider — the 'top' side so that the 'flap' of card is on one side of the divider and the 'flap' of plastic is on the other. Stick a narrow strip of sticky-back plastic or clear tape along the top edge of the divider both front and back. This attaches the divider tab to the divider.

Prepare the Side Pieces for the Dividers

The dividers are fastened at both sides to pieces of plastic-coated paper that act as 'concertinas'. This step describes the preparation of these side pieces and the method for joining the dividers to them.

First decide how far apart you want the dividers to be. For my two files the dividers are 1.5 cm (3/4 inch) apart. The seams that join the dividers to the side piece are 2cm (3/4 inch) apart. It is this measurement, 2cm (3/4 inch), that is used to calculate the width of the side pieces. If you would like your dividers to be further apart or closer together, then use a different figure.

Cut two pieces of the paper that you wish to use for the side pieces. For my two files I have used pattern or map paper.

The dimensions of the side pieces will be;-

Height = the height of the dividers, e.g.

Width = number of dividers x distance of seam (2cm (3/4 inch)) PLUS distance of seam (2cm (3/4 inch))

So for a file with 7 dividers the width will be 16cm (6 inches). For a file with 8 dividers the width is 18cm (6 3/4 inches).

Using an iron on a cool setting, iron the paper to smooth any creases or folds. Coat both sides of the paper with sticky-back plastic. Trim any excess plastic from the sides.

For each side piece, mark the positions where the seams will be. These will be 2cm (3/4 inch) apart. See the first picture for more detail.

I have used a felt tip pen so that I can rub out the markings with a damp cloth later. Check before marking that your marker pen will allow you to do this. Otherwise if you are using a permanent marker, place the marks on the inside so that they will be on the inside of the folds and hence not visible.

Now fold the side pieces along the seam lines. All the folds should be in the same direction. See the second picture for more detail.

Join the Dividers Together

The dividers will first be joined at one side together in the following way;-

Take one of the side pieces and the first card divider. To join the first divider to the side piece, place the divider so that one short end sits inside the first fold. Hold in place with paper clips. The first picture shows this stage.

Machine stitch about 2mm (approximately 1/8 inch) away from the fold so that the stitching goes through all 3 layers, that is the side piece, divider and then the side piece again. See the third and fourth pictures for details of the stitching.

Now repeat the above for the second divider that will be stitched into the second fold of the side piece.

Repeat for all of the dividers. These will now be joined together at one end to the first side piece.

Now take the second side piece and repeat the above process at the other end of the dividers.
The dividers should now be joined at both ends using the side pieces.

Make the File Cover

Cut the vinyl for the front cover. The dimensions are described in step 2,"You will need".

Cut pieces of the following;-
- double-sided iron-on interfacing
- the paper you wish to use for the cover
- sticky-back plastic

Cut them so that they are slightly larger (1cm (approximately 3/8 inch) than the vinyl piece. The extra amount is just in case the pieces are not exactly straight when joined together. We will trim them later.

Now we will glue the vinyl and the paper together using the double-sided interfacing as follows;-

Place a sheet of waxed paper on your ironing board to protect it.
Place the vinyl right-side down on the waxed paper.
Now place the iron-on interfacing on top of the vinyl so that it completely covers the vinyl. Double check that the side that will stick is facing the vinyl and the side with the protective paper is facing up. Otherwise you will make a big mess of your iron. If in doubt check the directions for your interfacing.

Ensure that where the interfacing sticks out it touches the waxed paper and not your ironing board cover. Otherwise you will be ironing it onto your board cover.

Now follow the directions given with your interfacing to iron it to the vinyl. Usually this needs the iron to be on a cool setting and about 8 seconds of heat. Be careful not to have the iron too hot or to leave it in one place as the vinyl will get too hot. Move the iron smoothly from one end of the vinyl to the other to avoid air bubbles.

If you do end up with an air bubble or ripple, as I did, you can get rid of it by gently cutting the interfacing down the length of the ripple. The first picture shows me doing this with a scissor blade. Once the interfacing is cut iron this area again. There will be a slight gap in the interfacing but it is so small that it doesn't matter.

Now peel off the protective paper from the interfacing.

Place the paper right side up on top of the interfacing that you have just exposed. Using a cool iron again, iron the paper to the interfacing. Again be careful to not use an iron that is too hot. Keep the iron moving so that the paper and vinyl do not get too hot in one place.

You should now have the vinyl and paper joined together.

Now stick the sticky-back plastic to the paper smoothing it out so that you do not get air bubbles.

Join the Dividers to the Front of the Cover

First we need to fold the cover so that we have a front, base and back. This needs two folds.

Refer back to step 2, "You will need", to find the dimensions calculated for the front and the base of the file.

The front of the file will be the height of the dividers. For the files in this project I made the base 3.5 cm (1 1/2 inches) wide.

Hence for a file with A4 card dividers the first fold will be 21cm (8 1/4 inches) from one end and the second fold 3.5 cm (1 1/2 inches) from the first fold. The cover is quite thick so to make the fold, measure and fold in the correct place. Secure the cover at the sides with strong clips and use a ruler to press down and make a firm crease in the cover. The first picture shows the first crease being made. The second picture shows the cover after the folds have been made.

Now take the dividers that have been sewn together. From now on I will refer to this as the divider insert.

Place the divider insert so that the front of the dividers is facing you. Each of the two side pieces has a 2cm (3/4 inch) wide 'flap' at the front. These will be stitched to the front of the cover. The top corners of these 'flaps' need to have a small square cut out of them. See pictures 3 and 7 for more details..

Now place the divider insert inside the cover so that top of the dividers is at the top of the front part of the cover. The 'flap' at the front of each side piece will now be secured to the wrong side of the cover front so that the flap and the cover are placed wrong sides together. The pictures in this step show various angles of both the Sewing pattern file and the Map file at this stage.

Secure the flap and cover together with clips not pins. Using pins makes holes that cannot be reversed later.

Now sew the flap and cover together approximately 2mm (approximately 1/8 inch) from the edge. This stitching will be covered later with the edging tape so do not worry too much about neatness.

Do this for both left and right sides of the front.

Place Edging Tape on Front of Cover

Take the edging tape. This tape folds in half so that one half sits on one side of an edge and he other half on the other side. One single row of stitching can secure the tae on both sides.

Starting at the left hand side of the file place the tape around the edge of the cover and secure in place with the usual clips.

The exact starting point will be the back left hand corner of the base of the file. Continue forwards to cover the edge of the cover along the base at the left hand side, up the front of the cover on the left hand side, along the top, down the front of the cover on the right hand side and then along the base at the right hand side. Finish at the back right hand corner of the base but DO NOT cut the tape. The rest of the length will be fixed in a later step. See the first picture for more details.

Where the divider insert is sewn to the front flap the tape will cover the stitching already here. At the corners miter the tape as neatly as possible. I used a knitted tape that just stretched at the corner but if you are using cotton bias tape you might like to iron a miter in place.

Now machine sew approximately 3mm (approximately just over 1/8 inch) from the edge so that the tape is fastened to the edge of the cover at both the front and back. Stitch 3 or 4 back stitches at the beginning and end to secure the thread.

Join the Dividers to the Back of the Cover

Now fold the cover so that the cover goes around the divider insert at both the base and the back. This can be seen in the second and third pictures.

The 'flap' at the back of each side piece will now be secured to the wrong side of the cover back so that the flap and the cover are placed wrong sides together. See the pictures for this step for more details.

Secure the flap and cover together with clips as before.

Now sew the flap and cover together approximately 2mm (approximately 1/8 inch) from the edge. As with the front this stitching will be covered later with edging tape. When stitching have the inserts uppermost. To get the sewing machine foot and needle into the correct place you will have to push the inserts out of the way, that is towards the center of the file. Start stitching at the top of the file as there is more space here for the machine. Stitch towards the base.

Because the cover is now folded into its final position there is not much space towards the base and it will become increasingly hard to stitch. Stitch as far as you can, ending with 3 or 4 reverse stitches. The part that is not stitched will be finished in a later step by hand.

Do this for both left and right sides of the back.

Finish Edging Tape

Now continue with the edging tape around the rest of the file. As before place the tape over the edge of the cover and secure in place with paper clips.

Start where you left the tape at the end of step 8. Go up the back edge of the cover and along the side of the front flap. At the corner of the front flap miter the tape as neatly as possible, go along the front edge of the flap, turn the corner again, then along the side of the flap and down the back to meet with the beginning of the tape.

Machine stitch in place. This is easiest if it is down in two stages as there are places where it will be difficult to get the needle in place.

The first stage will be the first back edge. Stitch this from the top of the back with the divider inserts facing upwards and to the left of the needle. The outside cover will be facing downwards. As described in step 9 you will have to push the dividers out of the way so that you can get the needle in place. Stitch from the top of the back down the back and towards the base. You will find it impossible to stitch to the bottom. The missing part can be stitched by hand later.

The second stage will be from the top of the back where you began the first stage and will go the rest of the way around the file. Again stitch so that the outside of the cover is facing downwards. Then when you get around to the other back edge the inserts will be facing upwards and you can push them to the side to get the needle in.

As before you will not be able to stitch to the base. Go as far as you can and finish with 3 or 4 reverse stitches.

Cut the tape so that it overlaps the other end that is already fastened. If using thin bias binding you can fold the ends in for neatness. Otherwise dab clear nail varnish on the ends to prevent unraveling.

Using a strong needle and matching thread secure the end of the tape by hand. Push the needle through the cover and the tape on either side so that the tape is secured on both sides with the same stitch. Secure neatly.

Hand stitch the missing section at the other back corner in a similar way. HINT: Knitted tape makes it very easy to disguise these stitches.

Add Loop and Hook Fastening

If using loop and hook fastening follow this step, otherwise follow step 12 to add an elastic fastening.

Cut a length of the hook and loop tape approximately the width of the file. You need the stick-on type for this project.

Fold the flap down on the file and mark a position on the front that is approximately 2.5 cm (1 inch) up from the edge of the flap. Stick the hook part of the tape across the width of the file at this position. See the first picture for the detail.

Take the loop part of the tape and cut it into 5 equal pieces. Stick the first one to the inside of the flap so that when closed it will lie across and be perpendicular to the hook part. It should be about 2cm (3/4 inch) in from the edge.

Stitch the second piece of loop tape in a similar place at the other side. Place the other 3 pieces so that they are evenly spaced between the end pieces of tape. See the other pictures for more detail.

Congratulations! You have finished!

Add Elastic Fastening

If using elastic fastening follow this step, otherwise follow step 11 to add a hook and loop fastening.

Close the front flap of the file and mark the positions of the two eyelet holes on the front flap. Both holes will be approximately 7cm () up from the bottom of the front flap. One hole will be about 2.5 cm (1 inch) in from the left hand side, the other the same distance in from the right side.

Using the instructions supplied with the eyelet holes and the tools for the eyelets, fasten two eyelets in the front flap in the marked positions. I have used eyelets with an inner hole about 5mm (1/5 inch) diameter but you could use larger ones if you wished.

Cut a length of elastic cord. The length should be approximately the width of the file plus 5 cm (2 inches) for fastening the ends to the buttons.

Thread one end through an eyelet and fasten the end at the front to a button. Choose buttons that sit comfortably in the eyelet hole but are large enough that they don't pass through it.

Pass the other end through the other eyelet hole and again fasten the end to a button. At the back of the flap there will be an elastic loop. This can be passed around the back of the file to act as a fastener. If it is too loose then undo the knot on one of the buttons and move the button closer to the other one so that there is a smaller elastic loop.

The pictures show the detail of the fastening from several angles.

Congratulations! You have finished your file!


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