Week 3: Art from the Heart Artist in Residency

I think I may have been a little over ambitious with my content for this week’s art lesson with the kids. Although everything got done, the kids had fun and lots of mess was made, despite or maybe even thanks to the super windy weather coming through the art space (it’s open to the elements on all sides and it just happened to be a very windy day when I decided to do painting). 

We revised our brainstorming ideas from last week to get the kids thinking about our theme of family. Then we started our making activity. First was the background, inspired by the places we like to visit with our family. I had made stamps from bottle caps and wood which the kids used, as well as paintbrushes, to create their background. After that, we moved on to a drawing and collage activity, where the kids were able to create an image of their special family member. At the end, many of the artworks were still wet so we were able to just paste the collage straight onto its background, which saved on glue. 

One thing I learned from today is that when the wind is blowing paper everywhere and you’ve run out of room to hang your wet artworks, don’t discount the helpfulness of the humble rock to keep things grounded. 

Oh and another thing is that cleaning paint trays takes forever. I think I spent a full 45 minutes at the end just cleaning trays. I knew there’d be a mess, that’s part of the fun but I didn’t think it’d take so long to remove all the paint from the trays. A pressure sprayer would have been handy. Still, I can’t see any way around it when you’re painting, except to use different trays/ lids that are easier to clean. 

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Also, our 9 timber panels for the mural have arrived! After my last class I applied the base coat onto each panel, ready for drawing in a couple of weeks. Next week we’ll be doing some more painting (gulp!) and a little on colour and composition. 

Week 2: Art from the Heart Artist in Residency

Tuesday is now my favourite day of the week. Not only do I get to play with kids all day, but I get to see them have fun, be creative and experiment with materials and the world around them. For this week’s session we took inspiration from Choi Jeong Hwa’s Mandala of Flowers, an interactive installation currently on in conjunction with the Asia Pacific Triennial 8. You can read more about the APT8 exhibition here.

Prior to the project starting our aim was to collect at least 10,000 bottle caps. While we don’t have exact numbers as of yet (that’ll have to wait until we go through the boxes and boxes of caps), we do know that we have blasted our initial target out of the water and are somewhere at 11,000! Such as amazing effort for the school in 2.5 months!  

So imagine 25 kids, a plastic blue ocean and 1,000s of bottle caps spread on the floor and you can start to picture the scene. We began with a simple brainstorming session about family, which is the theme for our mural. After the kids came up with lots of ideas about people, places and things they like to do with their family, I switched gears and got them to experiment with creating family themed images using the bottle caps. We had lots of colourful bottle cap people, flowers, scenes of the beach, a few dogs, even a shark and a yellow school bus.

I’ve found that most kids are familiar with painting and drawing images but not with using 3D materials to create images so this activity was a good challenge for them to start interacting with the bottle caps and forming pictures in a new way.

Each of the temporary artworks the children created has been photographed and will be used to inform the design of our final mural. I’ll let the photos do the talking!

Week 1: Art from the Heart Artist in Residency

Term 2 started on a colourful note as we kicked off our bottle cap mural project at Sandgate State School. The school has been collecting bottle caps for the last two months so it’s exciting to see things finally start to come to fruition. I’ll be blogging regularly about my weekly art sessions with the kids until the end of term when the mural is complete and final installation occurs. Our team of artists includes 125 students spread over 7 classes of preps, Grade 1s and 2s. Together we’ll be creating a large scale mural of bottle caps to celebrate National Families Week on 15th May.

Our first session was designed to introduce the kids to creative re-use. We spent the day creating bugs from bottle caps, glue and plastic bits and pieces. We had lady birds, bees, spiders and many new species not yet discovered. The kids absolutely loved this activity, especially when I brought out the glitter and our bugs became glitter bugs. All our materials were sourced as waste materials either collected by the school or sourced from Reverse Garbage Queensland.

Part 4: Leathercraft Resources

Here is a list of helpful resources if you’d like to learn more about leathercraft and where to purchase leather tools and materials. There are many more out there but this is a good start. Also, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions, I’m happy to point you in the right direction. Happy leathercrafting!

Leatherworker.net
Online Leathercraft Community 

Dimensions in Leather
The ONLY leather conference in Australia where you can learn from master leatherworkers in a week-long smorgasbord of leather learning. 

The Art of Hand Sewing Leather
Fantastic book by leather legend Al Stohlman.

Leathercraft Tools 
Another book, also by Al Stohlman.

LEATHER SUPPLIERS

Packer Leather
Wholesale and retail. Based in Narangba, QLD

Birdsall Leathercraft
Wholesale and retail. Based in Sydney, NSW

Tandy Leather
Tandy Leather is one of the most well known suppliers of hides and leathercraft tools in the world. 

East Coast Leather
Wholesale and retail. Based in QLD 

Leffler Leather
Based in West Melbourne, VIC
 

PART 3: LEATHERCRAFT TOOLS

There are hundreds of different tools available for working with leather. Some leathercrafters have their preferred brand or make their own customisations to tools. It can be better to spend a little more on a decent set, and it doesn’t hurt to chat with other people to see what they recommend. I built up my own toolkit piece by piece based on the techniques I was interested in learning about. Below is a list of the most commonly used tools every leathercrafter should have in their toolkit. I’ve broken it down into basic tools to get started and other tools for more advanced techniques:

BASIC TOOLKIT
Shears – Like scissors but for cutting leather. I use upholstery shears which I bought from Spotlight. I get so much use out of them, it is worth investing in a good pair. 
Hole punch – These babies are much more heavy duty than their paper punch cousins and they need to be to get through that tough leather! Most hole punches comes with a variety of hole sizes which you can adjust depending on what you need to do. 
Marble Slab – This is exactly what it says – a slab of marble. This is your surface for stamping, tooling, riveting etc but more about that later. You may be able to find one at a tile outlet store. 
Mallet – These are made from rawhide or plastic and are used for hitting things like stubborn press-studs for example. Never use a metal hammer or you will damage your tools!
Cutting Mat – These are like magic! They self heal after cutting so you can use them again and again. These can be found in most craft stores. 
Setting Tools – There are many different kinds but they generally include a tiny anvil and setter for applying press studs, rivets and other metal components to your leather. These can be purchased from any good leather retailer. 

OTHER TOOLS (FOR VEG TAN LEATHER)
Stamps – These are metal stamps you can use to imprint onto veg tan leather. Anything from alphabet stamps, to bevels, flowers and basket weave motifs. 
Carving tools – these include your swivel knife which you use to cut into veg tan and a moulding spoon to smooth out your cuts. 
Edge Beveler – Shave off the edge of your leather with this tool for a smoother finish. Also paired with a burnishing tool, to burnish and smooth your leather edges. 
Strap Cutter – Allows you to cut a straight line through leather in various thicknesses. 

HAND STITCHING TOOLS
Stitching Groover - Use for hand stitching. Makes a trench in the leather which protects your thread.
Overstitch Wheel - Marks where your thread stitches will sit in your trench.
Stitching Awl - Creates holes in the leather that you can sew through.
Leather Stitching Needles
Waxed Thread

Next, I’ll share some resources and links for further reading on leathercraft, including suppliers. 

PART 2: Leathercraft Techniques

When I first started working with leather I was overwhelmed at all the possibilities. There are so many things you can do apart from the obvious. I was lucky to learn from award winning leathercrafter Cherryl McIntyre as well as other talented people such as Bob Beard and Peter Main during the Dimensions in Leather Conference 2015. In this way I was able to “shop around” for different techniques to find out what areas I was interested in pursuing further. I highly recommend doing a leathercraft workshop if you have the chance, it’s one of the best ways of getting inspired and learning a new skill. Below is an outline of the most common techniques used in leathercraft. Most of these require veg tan leather: 

CARVING
Vegetable tanned leather can be carved into using a swivel knife. Leather needs to be cased beforehand. Cased means wetting the leather lightly with a damp sponge, then waiting for it to revert back to its original colour. Wetting the leather first makes it softer and easier to work with. Try carving into uncased leather and you won’t get very far. Many people trace their designs onto leather first, then carve their design using the swivel knife. 

STAMPING
Stamping into leather involves using a metal stamp and pressing it into the leather with a mallet. Stamping or bevelling usually follows the cuts you’ve made with the swivel knife. Mastering this technique requires a lot of patience. It’s easy to make a one-off stamp, but bevelling requires a steady hand. 

LACING
When making coin pouches or wallets for example, some people like to add lacing to the edge of their project. This can be done by making multiple holes along the edge with a thonging chisel, then weaving the lace in and out of the holes. 

FINISHING
After carving and stamping are complete, you can add that professional finish to your work with a few simple tricks. Using an edge beveler helps to smooth your edges, as does going over this with a burnishing tool. You can also add metal components such as press studs, eyelets or rivets. Press studs are useful snap closures for items such as pouches and rivets are used to hold layers of leather together. Rivets are mainly decorative. You’ll need the appropriate setting tools, mallet and marble slab to set these into the leather. 

SEWING
Hand stitching leather using a saddle stitch is the strongest method to sew leather. A stitching pony can also come in handy to hold your work in place while you sew. For an easy to follow tutorial on stitching, see this Tandy Leather tutorial. Or, if you just want to get started straight away, you can actually use your home sewing machine to sew leather. Make sure you use a leather needle and get the right thread tension. You may need to practice first to get the settings right on your machine and I’d recommend using leather with a combined thickness of 2.5mm or less. 

As you can see, the possibilities for leathercraft are endless! Next, we’ll look at what tools you need to get started. 

PART 1: The Basics of Leathercraft

I first dipped my toe into leathercraft about three years ago but found it a little overwhelming as to where to start. I pieced scraps of information together but it was like a jigsaw puzzle missing half its pieces. I made a lot of mistakes and felt frustrated at not having the right tools or materials. It’s taken me a while but I’ve finally got an internal road map on leather - the terminology, techniques, tools and materials. While I have no illusions of grandeur as a master craftsperson, there are some useful things I’ve learnt along the way which I wish I had known when I was starting out…

First let’s begin with a run down on leather and the different types available. 

People have used animal hides since ancient times to fashion items such as clothing and accessories. In Mesopotamia between the fifth and third millennium B.C. for example, the Sumerians used skins to craft dresses and diadems. Later, the Romans would use leather to make footwear, harnesses and shields. Today, the process of tanning is still very similar to its origins despite advances in technology. 

Leather hides are most commonly sourced from animals such as cows, lambs and kangaroo, however can also include exotic animals such as stingrays, ostrich, toad and eels! Each animal hide is unique and contains its own imperfections, just as human skin is unique and different. 

The first time I saw a whole hide I was surprised at how big they are! Not only are they much larger than you think, they vary much more than you'd expect too. Leather comes from different parts of the animal and therefore has different characteristics. The hide thickness varies all over the animal, and to get it to the right thickness it is usually split on a special cutting machine or buffed to an even thickness. The main parts of the hide are shown in the diagram below:

PARTS OF THE LEATHER COW HIDE
The Butt - Fibres are tightly packed and thus the strongest part of the hide. Considered best for firm items such as belts. 
The Side - this is hide cut in half down the middle, and will include the belly areas.
The Belly - This area is quite thin and has a looser fibre structure than the back. May vary in thickness.
The Shoulder - The shoulder is thick and strong but may crease easily. It is a softer area of the hide, often used for making bags.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHROME AND VEGETABLE TANNED LEATHER?
Chrome and veg tan are the two most common methods of tanning leather. And no, tanning leather is not quite the same as spending time out in the sun. 

Chrome tanning: 80-90% of leathers in the world are tanned by chrome (also known as mineral) tanning. Chrome tanning is a fairly quick process that takes about one day to produce a tanned hide. Chrome tan leather is most often used for fashion and accessory pieces due to its bright colours and flexible characteristics. 

Vegetable tanning: This is a more traditional method of tanning hides. Unlike chrome tanning, vegetable tanning can take up to 40 days to produce a piece of dyed leather. This process uses natural ingredients such as the bark of chestnut trees to tan the leather. The finished product colour is usually a warm shade of natural brown. Vegetable tanned leather is used for moulding and hand stamping or carving techniques, which don’t work on chrome tanned leather. 

Next, we’ll look at what tools you need to get started and where you can go to buy leather and other resources. 

Dimensions in Leather 2015

I was privileged to be a workshop participant at this year’s Dimensions in Leather Conference, which saw leather enthusiasts from around the world gather to share inspiration and knowledge on the craft. I felt like I was doing a leather boot camp (minus the screaming instructors, although there was plenty of sweat).

Embossed Applique workshop with Peter Main

Embossed Applique workshop with Peter Main

It was an intense experience but I was blown away by the incredible knowledge of tutors and students alike and came away feeling very inspired. Learning how to set a stone in leather and viewing the incredible competition entries were definitely some of the highlights. Here are some photos of the event, which is held every two years in Brisbane, Queensland. 

The Hacker Space Brisbane: A place where anything is possible

Ever had a super awesome idea to build something amazing, but lacked the space, tools or knowledge to make it happen? I know I have. But now I've discovered a place where anything is possible, a place where big ideas and creative people come together to build amazing stuff.  

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Sustainable Fashion: 5 Things You Can Do To Make the Earth A Better, Greener Place

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Make Your Own 

In this era of craft and DIY, accessing the skills and knowledge needed to make your own clothes is as easy as pressing a button. On your mouse that is. There are many great courses out there where you can learn a new skill or dust out the cobwebs from that high school home economics class. Etsy is facilitating a series of online classes starting in November. Enrolments for the Sewing Party are now open!

Secondhand & Op Shop Finds

Now who wouldn't want to go op shopping? It has got to be one of THE most fun things to do. Every op shopper knows what I'm talking about when I say NOTHING compares to the thrill of rummaging through preloved fashions and finding THAT awesome piece at a bargain price. And the best part is walking down the street knowing that what you're wearing is unique and one of a kind.

Choose Ethical & Fairtrade

It's scary how little we often know about the way in which our clothing is made. For us as a consumer, the hardest part is usually choosing which piece to buy. But have you ever thought about where it came from, or whose hands made that cute little number? In the pursuit of profit, offshore manufacturers sometimes make employees work ridiculous hours in unsafe conditions. The Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh is a case in point, and served to draw much needed media attention to this issue.

Quality, Not Quantity

Investing that little bit more in your purchase will serve you well in the long run. Staple items such as jeans, leather jackets and winter coats will last longer if made from good quality materials. Back in the day, people spent less on fashion and so clothes were made to last using better quality fabrics. People were also more inclined to fix their fashions when something was worn, rather than throwing it out and buying something new.

Support Handmade

The handmade community is Australia is growing stronger and stronger. We have many talented craftspeople making their living from their craft – uni students, stay at home mums and those who have made it their full time career. Support your local handmade community by purchasing direct from the maker. Many crafters sell their wares at markets such as BrisStyle and online via Etsy. The beauty of handmade is you can find some truly unique and one-of-a-kind items, and know that no one else has anything quite like it.

What will you do to make fashion more sustainable?