Leather, one of mankind's oldest natural resources, is a foremost gift to man from Mother Nature. Without it man might not have survived.
The history of leather is closely merged with the progress of mankind. Long before man devised a written alphabet, he communicated through simple drawings or sign language. Many of these "messages" were done on skins of animals which he killed for food. With the skins of animals he was able to clothe and shelter himself. Modern archaeology has uncovered leather articles and artifacts from cultures dating back over 33 centuries and found them to be in an excellent state of preservation.
The ancient Romans used leather as currency, and the style and quality of a Romans sandals conveyed his status in society.
When man realized the importance of recording his thoughts and knowledge in books which he could carry and store more conveniently than stone tablets, he began to express himself on parchment leather pages.
During the Middle Ages, however, only the wealthy could afford boots, capes, saddles, etc. made of leather. Leather workmanship was limited to a very narrow section of society. A secretive lot, Leather Guildsmen closely guarded knowledge of their art which they handed down from father to son.
When Cortez conquered Mexico in the early 16th century, leather artistry came boldly into the New World. The Conquistadores brought horses and with them came the need for saddles and other horse gear. Spain had long been a leader in leather artistry and the skilled craftsmen who came over to the New Land coupled their vast knowledge with the inspiration they leaned from the beautiful floral patterns to be found all about them. Thus came the transition from basic geometric designs dating back to medieval times to the floral patterns of modern artistry.
Today anyone can enjoy leatherwork, the art of creating beautiful and useful articles of leather. Just as early man learned his "ABC's" on leather, this section is designed to teach you some of the basics of working with leather.
To decorate leather by carving, you need a small group of specially designed tools: swivel knife, camouflage, beveler, pear shader, veiner, seeder, backgrounder and mallet. These tools enable you to create basic leather articles. As your skill and enthusiasm grow you will want to add more tools to your collection. Of course you also need leather.
Leather is unique, different from any "cloth" put together by man, for it is the actual skin of an animal that grew as the animal grew. The skins of bovine animals (cows, oxen, etc.) provide most of the leather for carving. These skins must be vegetable tanned so that they will readily absorb moisture, allowing you to mold and form the leather easily.
Leather is usually sold by the square foot and is measured by special machines at the tanneries. The number of square feet is usually marked on the underside of the hide with a marker, chalk or machine stamp. Known as a skin, the complete hide of the animal may be left whole or cut into sections: sides, bellies, backs and shoulders.
The thickness (or weight) of leather is usually measured in terms of ounces. One ounce equals approximately 1/64" in thickness. Thus, 7-8 oz. means the leather is 7 to 8 oz. in weight or 7/64" to 8/64", making it approximately 1/8" thick. Lighter weight leather such as calf or kip (large calf) range from 1.5 oz. to 3-4 oz. Heavier leathers, 4-5 oz. to 10-11 oz. and more are from the hides of mature cattle.
To make leather a uniform thickness, the hides are run through a splitting machine. Since animal hides are not of uniform thickness and since they are wet when put through the splitting machine, the thickness of the leather will not remain the same throughout the hide. There will always be slight variations and that's why leather weights seldom measure out in exact 64th's of an inch. This is why leathers are usually shown as 4-5 oz.,
6-7 oz., etc.
Now that you have been introduced to the history of leatherwork, you are ready to begin to learn to create luxurious leather articles. Start with a billfold or key case. Soon you'll be making handbags, bowling bags, sporting goods, etc. Or, you may wish to begin your leatherwork hobby by making a pair of moccasins or sandals, or decorating your home with wall hangings and other accessories.
For centuries, leather has fulfilled a great need in man's life. So, full speed ahead. You'll be entering a fulfilling, creative hobby you'll enjoy all the years of your life.
How to Moisten the Leather
Vegetable tanned tooling leather must be moistened with water before you can work with it. This procedure is called casing. As you wet the leather, the fibers swell and soften, thus enabling you to stamp and shape it. Leather is moistened by rubbing a damp sponge on it. Be sure your hands are clean. Rub the damp sponge on the flesh side and then on the grain side. Apply the water as evenly as possible. When the leather begins to return to its natural color, begin stamping. If your leather dries before you complete the tooling design, it will be necessary to remoisten. Be sure you case the entire piece to avoid water spots.
Caution: Always use glass or plastic containers for the water. Metal containers may cause the leather to stain.
How to Use Craftool Stamps
Enhance the beauty of your leather projects with Craftool stamps. These may be used to create original designs or for embellishing the beauty of your carved design. Use a wood or rawhide mallet head to strike the top of the stamp to obtain its impression in the leather.
Caution: Never strike Craftool stamps with a metal faced hammer, as this will damage tools.
Hold both the mallet and decorative stamping tool upright in a secure, but relaxed manner. Hold the mallet in the center of the handle with your fingers rather than the palm of your hand.
Using Craftool Alphabet and 3-D Stamps
Alphabet stamps are a quick way of personalizing your leathercraft projects. 3-D stamps come in a wide variety of designs like animals, pictorials, symbols, etc.
For best results:
1. Make sure leather is moistened (see page 1).
2. Place leather on top of a firm surface like marble. This will help you create deep impressions.
3. Properly position stamp(s) on leather (Fig. 1).
4. Place handle in stamp (Fig. 2).
5. Make sure you hold the handle down firmly while striking with mallet (Fig. 3). This will prevent the stamp from bouncing. Bouncing creates undesirable multiple impressions on the leather.
How to Apply Leather Finish
Leather finishes are applied to protect the leather and preserve the qualities and appearance. Before applying leather finish, there are several points which you should know:
• All tooling of the design must be completed before finish is applied.
• Be sure the surface area is dry and clean of any dirt, dust or other matter.
• Leather finishes must be applied prior to assembly.
1. Press a sponge dampened slightly with water to the top of a bottle of leather finish and tip the bottle so a little finish flows onto the sponge.
2. Apply a light coat of finish to the carved side of the leather, moving the sponge in a circular motion over the leather. Work the finish into the cuts and impressions.
3. Let the finish dry thoroughly, then apply a second coat if you desire a shinier finish. Allow the piece to dry thoroughly.
4. If a high gloss is desired, buff the leather with a piece of sheepskin or a clean, soft, lint-free cloth. The project is now ready to be assembled, either by stitching with waxed thread or by lacing with leather or plastic lace.
How to Lace
Lacing puts the finishing touch to handmade leather articles. How good the finished project looks depends very much on the lacing. Thus, how you lace will have a great deal of importance in the appearance of the finished project. With the following instructions and illustrations, plus a little practice, you will soon be doing a neat, smooth job of lacing.
Note: Always lace with stamped or finished side of the project facing you.
Threading a 2-Prong Lacing Needle
Note: You should load two yards of lacing in lacing needle at a time. Working with longer pieces of lacing will be difficult and can cause the lacing to wear and become frayed as it is pulled through the lacing holes.
How to Lace & Splice the Double Loop Stitch
Recommendations: Use 3/32" or 1/8" lace with the same sized slits or holes. Double-Loop Lacing uses 7-8 times more lace than the length of the project (ex: 2' will need 14' to 16' of lace).
Sewing a Running Stitch
The amount of lace needed for the running stitch is 1-1/2 times the distance to be laced.
How to Lace the Whipstitch #1 The following instructions for the Whipstitch are for use on a project with separate beginning and ending points.
The amount of lacing required for the whipstitch is 3 to 3-1/2 times the distance to be laced.
How to Lace the Whipstitch #2 The following instructions for the Whipstitch are for use on projects with common beginning and ending points such as billfolds.
The amount of lacing required for the Whipstitch is about 3 to 3-1/2 times the distance to be laced.
How to Thread the Needle
Note: Attach a needle to each end of thread, following these instructions.
Using 2 Needles
The amount of thread required for Hand Stitch is about 3 times the distance to be stitched.
Using One Needle
The amount of thread required for Hand Stitching is about 3 times the distance to be stitched.
How to Set Line 20 & Line 24 Snaps
Use these snaps for holsters, straps, vests, etc. where a firm fastener is required. Line 20 is for 5 to 7 oz. leather. Line 24 is for 8 to 10 oz. leather.