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Sew What?Odds and Ends

Body Armor for a Kindle
(But It Works for Other Vulnerable Electronics, Too!)

By Tamia Nelson

February 22, 2011

It's a funny thing, but buying new stuff often leads to your buying even more new stuff, immediately if not sooner. Paddlers know this all too well. Buy a new boat, and you'll probably want to buy a new paddle — and maybe a spare, into the bargain. You might decide you need a new PFD, too. And then there's a long list of must‑have accessories, beginning with a spray skirt (if your new boat is a kayak) and float bags, not to mention little things like rope for painters and a sponge or bailer. You might also discover you need another roof rack, and you can even find yourself having to build a new storage cradle in your garage. This sort of thing isn't limited to boats, of course. Electronic equipment is a notorious consumer catalyst. Buy a new computer, and you'll probably end up with a least one new external drive, a new printer, and a bunch of new software, along with an extra flash drive or two, just to be on the safe side.

That being the case, I was under no illusions when I recently bought a Kindle 3G. I worried that it might be the first of many related purchases. And I had good reason to worry. Of course, the Kindle is eminently portable right out of the box. That's why I bought it. But it's not exactly robust. It needs body armor if I'm going to take it into harm's way. A heavy‑duty ziplock bag protects the screen from greasy hands and scratches at home, but something more is needed when I stuff my Kindle into a pack, dry bag, or ammo can. So I considered the options, and quickly decided that what I wanted was a simple neoprene sleeve. I found a couple that fit the bill, too, but at USD20 or more — not counting tax and shipping — they seemed a bit pricey. The upshot? I put my credit card back in my wallet while I thought things over.

And I was still thinking things over when, a few days later, I was grubbing around in a closet, where I unearthed a couple of boxes of odds and ends left over from past DIY projects — stuff that I keep on hand on the off chance that I might discover a use for it. Then I noticed a roll of nylon‑backed neoprene in one box. That was my eureka moment. My search for body armor for the Kindle was at an end. My credit card could stay safe in my wallet. Instead, I'd…

Make a Custom Kindle Sleeve

I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier. I come from a long line of skilled sewers. My mother made many of the clothes I wore as a girl, and my grandmother on my father's side was an inveterate needlewoman, embroidering everything from tablecloths to pillow cases, not to mention knitting the mittens, scarves, and sweaters that kept me warm all through my childhood. The only stumbling block? I'm a rough seamstress at best, more comfortable using a sailmaker's palm than an embroidery hook. But I figured that stitching a protective sleeve was well within my abilities. I began by cutting a strip of neoprene from the roll I'd found in the closet, though only after taking two sets of careful measurements. (The carpenter's adage — measure twice and cut once — also applies to bosun's work.) Then, once I had a strip of the right length, I simply folded it over and stitched up the sides, leaving the top open. Simple, eh? Here's the final product:

Kindle Kover

I told you it was a simple. The sole decorative flourishes are the rounded upper corners, and they owe more to practicality than panache, slipping in and out of packs more easily than square corners. There's no flap or strap over the top, either — and for the same reason. Rudimentary? Yes. But my DIY Kindle cover meets my needs, at minimal cost in time and materials.


OK. That's the executive summary. Do you own a Kindle or similar e‑book reader? And would you like a custom cover to call your own? Then just…

Follow These Easy Steps

The list of essentials is mercifully short, and you won't have to use a sewing machine. In fact, few home machines can cope with nylon‑backed neoprene. But that's not a problem. Here's what you will need:

  • Nylon‑backed neoprene
  • Heavy‑duty thread
  • Stout needle
  • Scissors
  • Marker pen

A tattered old wetsuit — if you happen to have one lying around — will supply the raw material for many Kindle covers. Unfortunately, I don't have any worn‑out wetsuits I'm ready to cut up, but as I've already mentioned, I did find the remnants of a roll of 6‑inch‑wide nylon‑backed 1/8‑inch neoprene in a closet. If your closet isn't so accommodating, however, you can buy similar stuff from some outfitters, though dive shops are probably your best bet. Keep any scraps that are left over, by the way. They're handy for impromptu wetsuit and spray skirt repairs.

I intended to make a paper pattern first, to insure that I made best use of my material, but since my neoprene turned out to be just the right width, I was able to move straight from measuring to cutting, as these photos illustrate:

Cut to Measure

You'll notice that I drew a line with a permanent marker to insure that the critical cut went exactly where it was supposed to. My kitchen shears did the rest. (Any heavy‑duty scissors world work equally well, though to insure a clean cut, the blades must be sharp.) If you think that the corners look a little ragged, you're right. I rounded them off by eye. A more fastidious workman would have used a guide of some sort — the edge of a coin, say.

Know When to Fold 'Em

I decided to fold the neoprene so that the skid‑resistant skin side would face out, leaving the Kindle‑kindlier nylon on the inside. Now it was time to finish the job. I used a sailmaker's needle. Almost any stout needle will do, however. It just has to be strong enough to punch through the rubbery neoprene and sharp enough to cut a clean hole. But you don't want it to be too large. Oversized stitch holes in neoprene are prone to tearing. And if you're worried about driving the eye of the needle through your hand, rather than sending the point through the neoprene, you may want to use a thimble — or better yet, a sailor's palm. I didn't bother.

Life at the Sharp End

The thread I chose for the job was a heavy, cotton‑wrapped polyester. It's nothing special. You'll find something similar in any HyperMart or craft shop. Measure off a length equal to two and one‑half times the length of the long edge of the (folded) sleeve. Now thread your needle, line up the top and bottom halves of your soon‑to‑be cover, and begin stitching at a point just above the fold, about ¼ inch from the outer edge:

Keep 'Em in Stitches

It's not quite as easy as it sounds. Neoprene is springy stuff, and once you've made the first stitch, you'll need to anchor it. As the three lower panels in the photo above show, I tied a simple square knot around the thread and pulled the resulting sliding hitch closed. (I used a hunk of granite to hold the fold, but anything heavy will do the job.) Cut the tag end off, if you want, but don't cut it too short.

Now continue stitching. Place your stitches about ¼ inch apart, being careful to press the corresponding edges together as you go. Pull each stitch taut. (But not too taut. You don't want to cut the neoprene.) I used a simple running stitch, pushing the needle through on one side and then the other, in a continuous over‑and‑under motion. A lockstitch would be more secure, but lockstitching is a fussy business, and as I intended to backstitch along the entire seam, I didn't see the need.

Running Stitch

Here's a look at my first few stitches, with a ruler for scale:

Staggered Seam

You can tell at a glance that I'm no seamstress. My line of stitches wavered from the start. Still, neoprene isn't the easiest material to work with, and my stitchwork improved a bit as I went along. Then, when I reached the point where the rounded corner began, I finished off the seam by looping a stitch over the edge …

Over the Edge

… and immediately began backstitching, using the existing stitch holes and "filling in the gaps" left by the first line of running stitches. In effect, I superimposed the two lines of running stitches, and this photo illustrates the result:

Back to Where You Started

Soon I was back where I'd started, with only a few inches of thread left on my needle — just enough for a short back‑backstitch. (NB If I'd run out of thread partway through the seam, I wouldn't have panicked. I'd just have tied off the end, gotten some more thread, and resumed stitching, overlapping a couple of stitches to begin with.)

Finishing Touch

That was that. One side was done. It only remained to do the other, snip off any loose ends, and admire my handiwork:

End Product


Not bad, if I say so myself, though I bet you can do a better job of stitching than I did. So, what's…

The Bottom Line?

E‑book readers and tablet computers are naturals for on‑the‑go types, but they need a little protection before you take them into the backcountry. You can buy a padded cover, of course. Or you can do what I did: grab needle and thread and start stitching. You say you don't like basic black? No problem. Neoprene can be had in many colors. There's no limit to how fancy your stitchwork can be, either. Want a flap or security strap? Just add one. You can make your sleeve as elaborate as you please. A word of caution, though: Damp is as much of a threat to electronics as hard knocks, and you can't count on a neoprene sleeve to keep the water out. Nor will it protect the screen from grit. And the answer to these problems? Defense in depth. Except when I'm using it, my Kindle lives in a ziplock bag. This protects it against stray drops of water and scratches. Then, when I pack for a trip, I slip my Kindle‑in‑a‑bag into its neoprene travel sleeve. But that's not all. Before venturing out on the water, the sleeve goes into a dry bag or the ammo can that holds my photo gear. Now I can defy the waves to do their worst. My Kindle (and my camera) are well‑protected. And that really is the bottom line.

Have you recently acquired a Kindle or other e‑book reader? Do you want to take it along on your next paddling trip? Well, why not? Portability is the name of the game, after all. But handy as these compact gadgets are, they aren't indestructible. They need body armor to cope with the rough and tumble of life in a pack. Maybe you don't like any of the pricey covers offered for sale, however. If that's the case, you're in luck. There's a simple remedy: Make your own. It's easy to do, and you can be sure you'll get exactly what you want. Sew what's wrong with that? Nothing, that's what. Nothing at all!

I've got more projects up my sleeve. Keep your eyes peeled for the next column in the "Sew What?" series. In the meantime, if you have any DIY ideas you'd like to share with other paddlers, just drop me a stitch … err … line. I'd love to see what you've been doing.

Copyright © 2011 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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