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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.