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leather volume


craft b asics

1 / apr il 2014

table of contents learn the basics 1

continuing tradition









editorial by tess woodward a little history

choosing your leather

choosing your dye

choosing your finish

plan your piece running stitch with no gap running stitch step-by-step





prepping for patterns

give it a good whack

basic projects 9 10

what can i make? the sky is the limit

stamped belt what you need how to do it


decorative flowers


book cover

what you need how to do it

what you need how to do it

tory pg 1 a little his

3 leather pg

g5 stitching p

8 g9 projects p

learn the b asics continuing tradition editorial by tess woodward My brother has an old leather wallet, dark brown with black stitching. A desert floral pattern is carved into it, a common subject matter for leather pieces. It had been worn down and the design is not as prominent as it once was, but it is still beautiful. My great grandpa made the wallet over 40 years ago. We found it while cleaning out the house he shared with my great grandma after she passed away later on. The change tucked away in one of the folds looked more run down than the wallet itself. Leather has this wonderful quality of getting better as it gets older and worn in. Although I don’t know the full history of leathercraft in my family, I do know that the knowledge has been passed down from family member to family member. Currently, My younger cousin and I are carrying on the tradition of leather carving. It is so fun and even better because my Dad showed me the ropes. I feel very strongly about the importance of passing along traditions to our youth. When I say traditions, I mean beyond leaving carrots for Santa’s reindeer on Christmas 1 the basics 2014

Eve. The traditions I am talking about are these “trade” crafts, such as leathercraft. The first project I ever did was to create a similar wallet to the one my great grandpa made. I was only a baby when my grandpa passed but, in that process of making my own wallet, I felt close to him. My Dad expressed similar feelings as he pulled out his own leather kit to give to me. He went through old pieces and tools telling me about the memories they held. I don’t have kids, so I don’t have anyone to really pass along my skills to at the moment. I can, however, share my talent with others by giving my pieces away. Nothing makes me happier than giving someone a piece of leatherwork that I worked so hard on and having him or her appreciate it and even becoming interested in the craft themselves. Not only will passing down our skills create a family bond but, if more craftsman exist, a better appreciation for handmade goods will result. In our fast-paced world, we can get whatever we want, whenever we want. So why would someone want to wait several weeks for me to

make a handmade, leather journal when they could go to the store and buy one? I say it is worth the wait! The pride I feel when I make a wonderful piece transfers to the owner. I want everyone to feel that their money was well spent and in return they receive a beautifully crafted artwork they can keep for generations. Let us create rich traditions and instill the love for well-made items in those around us.

“family history is not just written down, it comes to life in the things we make, collect and cherish.� There are many rich traditions to be passed down and if leathercraft is it for you, I hope it brings all the happiness it has brought me. Keep in mind the skills that can be shared amongst love ones and the great impact it can have on the generations to follow. Family history is not just written down. It comes to life in the things we make, collect, and cherish.

a little history In recorded history, pieces of leather dating from 1300 B.C. have been found in Egypt. Primitive societies in Europe, Asia and North America all developed the technique of turning skins into leather goods independently of one another. The Greeks were using leather garments in the age of the Homeric heroes ( about 1200 B.C. ), and the use of leather later spread throughout the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, the Chinese knew the art of making leather . The Indians of North America also had developed great skills in leather work before the coming of the white man. At some time, by accident or by trial and error, man discovered methods of preserving and softening leather treating animal skins with such things as smoke, grease and bark extracts. In primitive societies, the art was a closely guarded secret passed down from father to son. As civilization developed in Europe, tanners and leather workers united in the trade guilds of the Middle Ages, as did the craftsmen in other fields. Royal charters or licenses were issued permitting people to practice leather tanning. Tanning turned to tooling and as steel tools became more common, tradesman developed leather carving as we know it today.

pictured left: a man plans out his piece, carefully plotting his next cut/stamp.

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leather choosing your leather The most economical way to purchase leather is to buy a belly or shoulder. Watch for sales. The disadvantage of buying a large piece of leather is that you must cut it to the shape you want. Cutting can be done either with a very sharp knife or leather shears. Square and rectangular shapes are easy to cut. Anything with curves is more difficult. Try to cut with a smooth, continuous motion rather than many short cuts. The type of leather you choose depends on the project. Below are the common options for leathercraft projects. Other materials may also be implemented.

non-stamping leather Non-stamping leather scraps and vinyl can be obtained quite easily in fairly large quantities from businesses that decorate the interiors of vans and private airplanes, or upholster furniture. On most projects that call for non-stamping leather, vinyl can be substituted. This leather is commonly used for interiors of a piece or “tendon� pieces to attach carving leather to. Non-stamping color comes in a variety of colors and patterns.

stamping leather Stamping leather is more difficult to obtain. It usually must be purchased from stores such as Tandy or the Leather Factory. Some general craft stores will have limited supplies of leather craft materials. Stamping leather must be thicker to be tooled without ripping and punch through happening.

leather thread leather threads are recommended for using in leather projects. The techniques for stitching often required thread that is thick and can withstand the friction of threading. Some alternatives such as suede are usable but sometimes fails when being used with touch leathers. You don’t want your stitching thread to break in the middle of a project. Flat and round shapes are available as well as a variety of colors and thicknesses allowing for customization.

dyes choosing your dye Most vegetable tan leather that you buy at your local leather store comes in pinkish/tan. Some of the leather may come pre-dyed with pigments introduced by the tannery. But when it comes down to taking a leathercraft project from start to finish, choosing and adding color with dye can help push your leatherwork to the next level, from simple and mundane to exciting and professional. Not all dyes are created equal. There are a wide variety of choices available and it can be overwhelming to choose a dye, let alone choosing how to apply it. Nothing is worse than having a piece be ruined by a bad dye job. So to help guide you, here are your options for adding color to your vegetable-tanned leather:

oil-based dye

Full cow skin. Most professionals cut their leather from large to full skins but is harder to get. Most people can find half skins or shoulder pieces. These are smaller skins easier to handle and buy.

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These dyes usually consist of a blend of oil and spirits. They have great penetration and have natural oils that aid in treating the leather. This is the best option for professional looking finish. The one disadvantage is that the dyes usually come only in either various shades of brown, or black. Despite the lack of color choice, oil based dyes give you coverage that other dyes simply cannot.

spirit-based dye These dyes lack the oils of the oil dyes. They go on fine and penetration is sufficient for most projects. However, while they are cheaper than the oil dyes, it usually takes more to cover your piece. Use spirit dyes on edges and smaller detail work. These dyes are good for beginners still getting the hang of laying on an even coat of dye and covering the entire piece.

water-based dye These types of leather dyes are just like they read. They are water based and generally better for the environment than other paints or dyes. One advantage to water-based dyes is that they seem to come in a much wider array of colors if you’re looking for a variety. There are mixed reviews on how well water based dyes penetrate and cover leather.

to maneuver or leather that may be intended for wearing. The wax tends to soften the leather and makes it easier to work with. Leather balm needs time to sit, it is not the quickest option.

neatsfoot oil Neatsfoot Oil is made from the shin bone of a cow. It interacts well with the leather and provides natural protection from natural elements. It can be used as a preparation for dye or as a leather finish applied at any time to rejuvenate your creation. Neatsfoot is the professional way to go as the natural look and feel of the leather can not be matched with other leather finishes. It is intended to be reapplied often after completion of the piece to keep the leather protected and looking nice.

finishes choosing your finish

cutting/carving tools

Finishes protect your leather pieces and keep them looking great even after years of heavy use. The finish also keeps dyes and glazes from coming off on things the leather may touch. a good finish goes on smoothly and dries clear. different finished may yield different results. Here are a few choices:

These tools are used to make prep cuts to your leather. It is important to keep these tools sharp to cut through leather smoothly.

acrylic resolene Using the box instructions will leave your leather streaky and plastic-looking. The trick to making resolene work as a leather finish is dilution. The ratio of 1 part resolene to 3 parts water gives a better end result. Use a wet sponge and apply it to your piece, taking care to wipe it off and buff it up after drying. You may have to repeat this process several times for the desired look. You may still have some streaking but not nearly as

calf lace Leather lace is used for stitching. There are other options for stitching but calf lace is the best option.

bad as using the resolene straight out of the bottle. leather balm with atom wax

This is a milky substance that is wiped on, left to dry, then wiped and polished off. It leaves the leather with a mellow satin look. This also acts as a great conditioner. Your leather will change color slightly which needs to be considered for the final result. Leather balm is a good option for thick leather that may be tough

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stitching plan your piece Before applying your pattern you must take into consideration the space you will need for your stitching detail. If your pattern runs to close to the edge your stitching will mess up your carved piece. This can cause your finished product to look unprofessional and cut out essential pieces of your design. Stitching can vary between pieces.

stitching hole punch This tool is used to punch holes in leather to prep for stitching. It is easy to get even clean holes exactly where you want them.

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running stitch with no gap step one

step three

step two

step four

Push needle through first hole in top piece only, leaving about 2� tail of thread between the pieces of leather. Stitch through second hole in both pieces of leather and then through third hole. Continue stitching in this manner to the last hole, pull tight.

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When you reach the last hole, turn and begin stitching back to starting point, filling in alternate stitches. Stitch to beginning hole. At the beginning hole, go through the bottom piece only. Bring needle up between two pieces, tie a finishing knot and tuck the ends in.

running stitch step-by-step step one Thread the needle and then pierce the opposite end of the lace with a sharp knife leaving a slit of 1/8�. Begin lacing from flesh side in first hole. Pull lace through, leaving end with slit on flesh side.


step two Go through the next set of holes grain side, making sure the grain side of the lave is on the grain side of the leather. Push needle through slit end of the lace and pull stitch down tight. Push the needle through next set of holes from flesh side. Pull stitch up tight to lock the lace.


step three Continue stitching in and out to the end hole do not twist the lace. Always keep the grain side of the lace on the grain side of the leather. Be careful not to pull too tightly, if your leather breaks you may have to restart your stittching with a new piece of leather.

step four Lace to the last hole and leave a loose loop in the second to last hole. Be sure to keep your stitching tight and even through the process. You may find it helpful to occasionally untangle your leather as it tends to want to twist up.


step five Push the needle through the last hole. Spread leathers; push needle through next to last hole bringing needle up between leathers. Using a crochet hook makes the process easier if you have troubles pulling the lace.

step six Pull the loose loop tight and continue pulling all the slack out of the lace. Be sure to keep your thread grain side on your leathers skin side.


step seven Pull all stitching up tight and pull end of lace tight. Cut off the end of the lace close to the leather and tap all stitches flat with a smooth mallet. You are done!


The running stitch is your most basic stitch. Once you get the hang of it you can move on to the double loop stitch.


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“stamps are an easy way to create beautiful customized pieces�

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prepping for patterns

give it a good whack

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 re-moisten. 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. Don’t let water stand on your piece in small pools, this will cause unevenness in your final design as well as permanently stain your leather with a water mark.

Stamps are an easy way to create beautiful customized pieces. 3-D stamps come in a wide variety of designs like animals, pictorials, symbols, etc. There are a few staple stamps you will want to own but stamping is where leather craft can be very personal. There is a technique to stamping other than just wacking away with your mallet. Refer to the steps listed below for the proper way to stamp that will hold the best outcome.

for best results 1 Make sure leather is moistened evenly and ready to stamp. 2 Place leather on top of a firm surface like marble. This will help you create deep impressions that maintain their shape.

3 Properly position stamp(s) on leather being mindul of spacing. 4 Place handle in stamp securely, make sure it is tight. 5 Make sure you hold the handle down firmly while striking with mallet. This will prevent the stamp from bouncing.

stamping tools Stamps are a must for leather work. They come in many different patterns and are great for customizing your pieces. Left pattern design.

Right pattern design.

Shown above is an example of what a leather patterns look like. They are simple line drawings, like coloring book pages. If found online, you cn resize the image to exactly what you need. Patterns in kits come pre-sized so all you have to do is trace. You can even draw your own patterns to transfer to your leather. Just be mindful of your sides and leave enough room for any stitching or detail work you may want to include by the end of your project.

wooden mallet Mallets are used to strike your tools into the leather. Never use a metal or rubber mallet as they can ruin your tools. Wooden or leather bound mallets are the best options.

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basic proje cts what can i make? the sky is the limit Now that you have a basic knowledge of leathercraft you can start making things. Any thing for that matter, the sky is the limit! Take what you are passionate about and create leather pieces around those things. You can customize anything from bags and purses to bike seats or even a guitar strap. Leather pieces make wonderful, customized gifts for loved ones and can even be sold if you want to really get into the craft and start selling your work. Let you imagination run wild with your new found love of leather. In the following pages, we will demonstrate some of the most common leathercraft projects that anyone can do.

belts pg 13

Another classic leather project is a belt. Rodeo guys wouldn’t be caught dead without a fancy belt to display their prized buckle and, of course, keep their pants up. Belts require a smooth transition of patterning and symmetry. Although it seems simple, belts can be one of the more difficult projects out there but one of the most fun. It is easy to customize a belt with colorful dyes, studs and beautiful belt buckles and clasps. Practice repeating stamping patterns on scraps first. Planning is everything when it comes to making a belt. 9 projects 2014

leather decoration pg 12

A more modern project is to create 3D pieces, such as flowers out of leather as a kind of decoration. These types of projects allow the creator to be more adventurous in color and design. Use a stud to attach the decorative to a carved piece and you will have something really special. These projects involve a lot of cutting, s be sure to get yourself some good shears and beveler so your piece comes out perfect.

book covers pg 10

Take your favorite story and keep it safe forever in a handmade binding created by you! It is easy to carve a piece of leather, include the book title and recreate a beautiful cover out of leather. They just don’t make leather bound books anymore but now you can! Makes a great gift for any avid reader. Clasps, stitching and other decorative elements can be added later on for a truly special housing for that favorite book, bible or other bound keepsake.

stamped belt what you need leather

3-5oz veg-tanned leather

supplies leather belt blank buckle tape measure x-acto blade hole punch tool wooden mallet leather dye neatsfoot oil leather conditioner scrap of marble for pressing assorted metal socket wrenchs

how to do it

moistening it. Dip it in water for a moment or two, then wrap it in damp paper towels and leave it overnight. This makes the inside of the leather damp and soft, but allows the outside to dry out a bit – the perfect consistency for tooling and stamping. Determine your belt size. Snap the buckle into the belt blank before you measure, because the buckle will add length, and you want to get the sizing precise. The fastest way is to use a belt you like as a reference, but you can also use the tape measure. Belt size generally is your pant size, plus 2”. Take that number and then add 6-8” for the holes and spacing at end of the belt. Use the punch tool to make holes in the leather at each one of your marks. Be sure the holes are large enough to accommodate the buckle. Once the holes are punched, remove the buckle from the blank for the rest of the steps. This is the most creative part: Decorate the belt! Set out the piece of marble, then lay the belt face up along the top. Choose a bolt, and hold it in place on top of the leather. Keep it as still and straight as possible, and then hit it evenly and forcefully with the wooden mallet. To make the best impression, strike the bolt only once, very deliberately. Cover the entire length of the belt with as many stamps as you like. Dye the belt. Set out paper towels to

protect your work surface, and wear gloves to keep your hands clean. Wipe the dye onto the leather until you like the color saturation. Hang the belt and let it dry per the dye manufacturer’s instructions. This will take at least two hours. After the belt is dry, buff it to remove the excess dye. Rub and agitate the leather with a clean, soft cloth, until the dye stops coming off on the cloth. The best way is to buff the belt dry, but if necessary you can rinse the belt with water to help remove the dye. If you do use water, be sure to let the belt completely dry (at least overnight) before moving on to the final steps. Give the belt a few hours to fully absorb the oil, then seal it with a leather conditioner that contains beeswax. This final step protects the belt and gives it a nice shine. To apply the conditioner, coat the belt, wait a few minutes, then wipe the excess off. Buff the belt multiple times over the next hour until it is no longer tacky and has a perfect shine. If any dye comes off, continue buffing until it has all been removed. Once everything is done add a buckle and you are done.

leather dye There are many different brands of dyes that give you different results. Pay attention to sample swatches and try out several types.

leather splitter This tool has many different uses. Most often, it comes in handy during stitching to spread your leather apart or if you need to pull open leather some way. This tool definitely will save you in tight situations.

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decorative flowers what you need leather 3-5oz veg-tanned leather


craft knife or shears rotary hole punch rivet setter edge beveler hair blade tool rapid rivet, medium, brass dye, orange dye, turquoise


To apply some color to this project use a colorful dye like the turquoise and orange used in this project. Apply dye once the leather has dried completely. Apply the color with a brush. Wait until colors are completely dry, and then apply a finish. Apply a thin coat of finish with a brush and let dry


To assemble the flower, stack the petal shapes largest to smallest from the bottom aligning the rivet holes in the center. Insert the rivet post from the bottom of the largest piece through all three pieces. Place the cap onto the post. Place flower with rivet onto a hard surface, place rivet setter (concave side down) over rivet cap and strike sharply to set the rivet. Apply flowers to another piece to give it some extra decoration.

how to do it

Layout your leather grain side up on your work surface, then place templates onto the leather and trace around the template with a stylus. Another way is to layout the leather grain side down, and trace around the template with a pen or pencil. Carefully using a craft knife cut out your leather flowers. Using the rotary punch, punch a hole large enough for the rivet in the center of the flower.




Prep your leather pieces for design work, by dampening the leather. For an extra touch you can bevel the edges on the back with an Edge Beveler as shown. To shape the petals just pressed them between thumb and forefinger while the leather is still damp. Drag the hair blade tool across the center to add some addition texture.


Flower pattern set-up.

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book cover what you need leather

3-4 oz veg-tanned leather


tooling pigskin lining leather leather utility Knife non-Skid Ruler modeling Tools drive Punch australian Strander jumbo perma-lok needle tanner’s bond spray contact adhesive leather weld 4oz

how to do it

Traditional style leathering pattern.

The first step is to be able to develop a pattern for your book. Fold a piece of paper around a book so that the paper extends at least ½” past the edges of the book. The flaps are usually onehalf the width of the book. Lay out the paper pattern onto the leather. Cut out the leather




Apply a design to the cover and flaps if desired. Be careful to leave plenty of margin around the cover so it doesn’t fall off the edge. Book covers provide space to do patterns, scene, beautiful lettering or even a combination of those three. You will also have the option to decorate the inside of your piece using interior leathers that come in many different colors and textures. You can match your exterior or throw in something unexpected.

Traditionally book covers come in deep brown tones and rich colors but this is the fun part where you can be as creative as you want. Covers even present an opportunity to paint your scene using different colored dyes to create a multicolored scene. Apply a finish to the cover and flaps. Cement the oversized lining to the cover and trim. Punch holes along the edge of the cover, at least ¼” in from edge of cover. Thin the interior edges by skiving with the Safety Beveler. Cement the edges of the pocket to the cover between the holes and the edge with Leather Weld. Cut ½” Florentine lace from thin leather or fabric. Lace the edges of the cover with the Florentine lace. Insert book and you are done.

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by tess woodward Thank you for reading through our publication. We would love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact us about products, tutorials or questions. We are so happy to provide leathercraft basics to those interested in creating beautiful leather work.

website: email: Phone: 801-333-5545 Fax: 804-495-3949

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