24 December 2014

Guest Post: Filofax Surgery - Kate

Thank you to Kate for sharing this post with us. When I saw the email come in I wondered 'what has Kate been doing now!!!' There is a happy ending though!

Hi everyone!!
Thank you to Steve for allowing me to do this guest post!

Most of us are in search of the perfect binder. Many of the binders out there can be almost perfect- beautiful leather, the colour, the ideal ring mechanism size, etc. However, one thing may stop a binder being 100% perfect, such as an interior pocket layout which doesn’t meet your needs.

But many of us don’t have the money to buy a new one just because the one we have doesn’t have the perfect pocket layout. So how can you modify a binder to make it more perfect for you? (Answer: Carefully!!)

I have been looking at the Van der Spek Touch Me A5/Manager binders for a couple of months now, specifically for one of my work binders (not my day-job, but my independent academic research).

The Touch Me binders have amazing pockets, which is very tempting (see this blog post by Janet!). I did a quasi-scientific analysis of which pockets I really need in an A5 binder, and I worked out that I need one secretarial pocket which would accommodate A5 paper and some credit card pockets which would hold 3x3 inch sticky notes. Any other pockets would be a bonus.

What I did realise, however, is that most of the generous pockets in a Touch Me binder would go unused. In an effort to save money, I decided to employ one of my currently-owned binders- my A5 Brown Kendal.

On the left interior cover, the A5 Kendal has one full-length slip pocket and 6 credit card pockets.

The openings of these credit card pockets are designed to fit the slim side of a credit/business card, and so won’t fit the larger (3x3 inch) sticky notes that I need. I also find it difficult to slip paper into the full-length slip pocket without making the edges scruffy or the corners dog-eared.

Left interior layout of the Kendal

WARNING!! The rest of this post isn’t for the faint-hearted!

I realised that it would be quite easy (if not a bit scary!) to modify the pockets of the Kendal to become the secretarial pocket and credit card pockets that I need. And yes- this surgery would involve a scalpel!!

Using my metal ruler and my sharp craft knife on top of my cutting mat, I was able to do some cosmetic surgery to cut an extra opening on the slip pocket and three of the credit card pockets.

By carefully slicing along the top edge of the slip pocket, taking care to get all the way through the leather and the lining, but not to cut into the front cover of the binder, I was able to create a secretarial pocket.

This is only a small modification, as a secretarial pocket is a pocket with openings on two sides instead of one side like a slip pocket, so it was easy to do.

Secretarial Pocket
I held my metal ruler pressed against the leather exactly where I wanted the cut to go. I didn’t cut too closely to the stitching to make sure that the rest of the leather didn’t detach from the binder where it was sewn.

I used smooth, evenly-pressured, confident but careful movements with the knife along the ruler to steadily get through the leather, instead of pressing heavily on the blade in imprecise movements that could create a scruffy or jagged edge on the leather. It was difficult to tell if I was all the way through the leather, or if I was accidentally cutting the front cover underneath, so I placed a piece of paper folded several times inside the pocket so that I could pull it out every so often to see if I had got through the leather, and to make sure I hadn’t gone through too far.

Once I had finished cutting, I saw that there could be two problems- I had cut through the stitching on the edge of the slip pocket, which could then start to become unravelled, and also the inner cloth lining of the pockets which is usually held against the leather by the stitching would now be loose. In theory, you could cut the lining away, but I decided not to.

I solved both problems (hopefully permanently) by using fabric glue- I put some over the stitching where I had cut, and some along the inside of the inner lining to glue it against the leather. The ‘Wash and Wear Glue’ I used dries clear, so you won’t be able to see it.

I used the same techniques to modify the credit card pockets.

Effectively, the credit card pockets are now like mini-secretarial pockets. I will definitely be able to fit my sticky notes in there, and whatever else I’d like to store in there. Importantly, with the Kendal, I still have the 3 underneath credit card pockets left if I ever need to store things such as business cards.

So there we go! My modified pocket layout in my A5 Brown Kendal! This will serve me well for its purpose!

I suggest you really think hard about doing anything like this to your binder. These are permanent changes that can’t be undone. Make sure the modifications you want to make are a good idea before you do them. Chances are that you wouldn’t be able to sell your binder for anything like retail price if you decided to sell it in the future, and you wouldn’t be able to return the binder if something became faulty e.g. the ring mechanism.

Only do this if you are confident with your skill. Be very careful, not only with making sure you don’t cut yourself, but making sure that you don’t make a mistake.

Make sure you have the correct tools- a sharp, not blunt, craft knife; a metal ruler not a plastic one; and a cutting mat.

Thank you Kate. 


  1. Brave and brilliant! I have long been an advocate of making these binders one's own and therefore modifying them as necessary for user-friendliness rather than maintaining them in pristine condition for resale. I'm the same way about handbags and jewelry and furniture and ... :)

  2. Hi Kate.

    Would it be possible (after Christmas) to have an off-list email 'chat' with you re independent academic research, please? This is something I've been interested in for some time, lacking as I do the level of independent wealth necessary to register with an institution, since our Government and Opposition obtained their degrees before locking the doors behind them.....

    You can reach me via davidcpopely (at) gmail (dot) com - not my old email address, which you may have 'in memory' somewhere. I'd be delighted to hear from you, and even more so if you could spare some time to email a little.

  3. I actually did a few of these adjustments to binders ... a couple were total failures *blush* but I did manage to finally achieve planner peace by adding 1.5 inch rings to a Franklin Covey binder.

  4. You are confidence itself. Nice job. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Kate, you are one brave woman. My ideal binder would have a secretarial pocket on each cover. Solved that with a plastic folder insert. I'm currently using a Kate Spade zip. The rings are loose and have developed gaps. Considering surgery, but replacing with Franklin Cover rings. I actually prefer those tabs. Now, to do some measuring. I love this binder, but good solid rings would make it perfect for me. Thank you for your post. Inspirational.

  6. Great googly-moogly! You are brave beyond belief!

  7. So happy to have come across this old post by accident. I just happened to have bought a second hand a5 kendal, since I cannot afford a van der spek manager right now and this binder comes closest to what I meed within my current budget. I'll definetely do your secretarial pocket modification. As for the card slots however I think I will rather trim the post its that I am using a little.


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