Suitcase restoration project

I love old suitcases. They may be antiquated luggage, but they have so many other things going for them. I’m not the only one that feels this way. People like old stuff, they like objects that tell a story and have a history. But the connotations of travel bring another level of excitement to these already awesome objects. When you think of travel, you think; adventure, exotic sights, and the unknown.

I think that’s what drew me to start my collection of old suitcases in high school. At the time, my best friends were traveling throughout Europe and it made me start to day dream of what it would be like to go to a place so different from the small town where I grew up (which I eventually did, but that’s another story).

Most of my collection came from my Grandma White. You might call her a hoarder. Well, she has a lot of stuff, but she’ll also give you any of it if you ask, so maybe that’s not really hording.

She gave me this suitcase probably 10 or 12 years ago, and it’s in pretty much the same condition now as it was then.

I’ve always really liked it. I could tell that it was a diamond in the rough. It has good bones.

Recently I was scavenging in the attic looking for something when I came across my suitcase collection and decided that I was finally going to tap into its potential.

But how?

Though a little rough around the edges (literally), I didn’t want to really change the outside; it was the inside that was making this beautiful and interesting piece unusable. I didn’t want to use it for storage or anything else in the condition that it was in. The fabric was musty, ripped, heavily stained, and pulling away from the exterior (exposing old, sharp, hand-forged nails. Ouch!).

It had to go.

With the lining removed, the case already looked a lot better. I even liked that the lid was lined with an old newspaper. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a date anywhere on it.

It was at this point that I decided that this case could make a nice display/carrying case for my artwork when I go to shows. Since I would be using the case in the open position at shows, it was important that the inside be lined and clean-looking, despite the shabbiness of the exterior.

I had the perfect fabric for this project.  A gold, velvety material that I inherited during college, and I had just enough! The fabric and the case combined remind me of my old cornet case.

To line the suitcase I first cut out three pieces of book-binding board, to fit into the bottom of the case. This was a little tricky, but I eventually got the pieces to fit into the case nice and snugly.

Next, I covered the boards with the fabric. I used an iron-on adhesive to adhere it to the boards.

The covered boards fit very tightly in the base of the suitcase, so I didn’t bother gluing them down.  I want them to be easily removed in the future if needed.

For the lid of the suitcase, I cut down a piece of thickest piece of cork board I could find and covered it with the same fabric.  Then I tacked it to the lid using small nails, both original and new. The cork board is a way to easily attach products to the lid for display at craft fairs.

To keep the lid at a 90 degree angle, I attached some grossgrain ribbon in a contrasting chocolate brown.

I get a really deep satisfaction of a well executed DIY project, which I consider this to be. I got something that I needed (a display), used materials that I already had and treasured but wasn’t really using (the suitcase and fabric), and kept the integrity of the original piece while adding a bit of my own story to it.

Do you have a DIY project that you are especially proud of? I’d love to hear about it! Tell us about it in the comments below, or better yet, post a picture of it on zween’s facebook page.



Filed under Home, Travel, Tutorials

12 responses to “Suitcase restoration project

  1. Great job!! I love this suitcase….it looks so sturdy 🙂 My latest project that I loved was this rosette cocktail fan:

    • Very cute fan! I’m ready for some sun and a cocktail these days too 🙂 This project would be great for a summer evening get together with some friends on the porch.

  2. I have a small collection of antique suitcases too. The ultimate would be a large steamer trunk! I love what you did with yours. Great job!

    Let’s get together and craft soon. (know anything about upholstery?)

    • A steamer trunk would be awesome! though I don’t know where I’d put it…
      I don’t know anything about upholstering, though I wish I did. My Aunt has her own upholstering business and I’ve been meaning to chat her up about it. We totally should get together for a craft session soon, just let me know when you’re free!

  3. marc myers

    Do you have any other ideas/tips for re-enforcing the walls of the case? I have a vintage suitcase that is flimsy, and I am trying to sturdy up the walls a bit. I plan to use the suitcase to carry some guitar gear to gigs. Thanks!

    • That sounds like a great way to use an old suit case! As far as re-enforcing the walls, you might want to try doing what I did with the heavy book board, or if you want something heavier you might want to try masonite board. Otherwise you might just have to find something that is just more sturdy to begin with and find another use for the bag you already have.

  4. Christina

    Hi! Great ideas! I’m wondering how you attached the ribbon to hold the lid open? I’m also trying to avoid ripping out the lining in my case, if possible, so I’m really stuck on how to keep that kid propped open!

    • Good question. I believe I tacked the ribbon in place, since the case is wood and the original lining was held in place with tacks. I think I used the original tacks so that I know they wouldn’t go all the way through the case and stick out on the outside. Alternatively, you could use staples (make sure they are short enough) or you could sew the ribbon to your existing lining. I would probably do the later, just take care to finish off the ends of the ribbon so that that it looks nice if it will be seen. I always recommend sewing or tacking over gluing when possible. Gluing could cause discoloration to your lining material and might not offer a good hold. I hope this helps.

  5. The Urban Peddler

    You are a talented DIYer. I am a new blogger but old DIYer so am thrilled to find your blog. I’m in the middle of reviving suitcases for a closet storage solution. You certainly made your restoration look effortless. I need to muster up some courage and stop being intimated. I’ve restored steamer trunks….surely I can handle a few suitcases. Thanks for the inspiration! Oh, and Loved the idea about the corkboard! Genius!

  6. Elizabeth

    I have a vintage suitcase with the hanger section in it. It needs to be relined but the metal for the hangers is tacked in through the lining. Do you have any tips on how to do this project?

    • hmm, good question. If it were me I would just try to work around the metal rod as best I could, or even just try to remove it if it was something that I didn’t need anyway. Sorry, I’m afraid this is just a tricky situation.

  7. Jane weber

    I have a vintage suitcase that I got from a garage sale. It’s in great shape except for dirt. Any ideas how to do this?

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