Leathercrafting--A Fun Craft

Leathercrafting and the many ways there are to make something beautiful.

Leather craft is the art of making articles from leather that are both useful and beautiful. It is one of the oldest known crafts. Early man made foot coverings and clothing from leather. Throughout time, leather was used in many other ways. In the middle ages people drank from leather cups, wore leather armor, and rowed in leather boats.

As the use for leather grew, so did people's skills in working with leather. The craftsmen began to decorate the articles that they made so that they were not only useful, but pleasing to the eye. Americans Indian woman would make practical garments from hides of deer and bison. Porcupine quills were then dyed and sewed in for design.

Today most of the leather shoes, belts, and jackets that we wear are made in large factories. There are still some skilled leather craftsmen that continue to make fine articles by hand. These include saddles, harnesses, belts, and wallets. Many children and adults enjoy leathercraft as a hobby.

To make a simple bookmark, cut a strip of leather about one inch wide and six inches long. You can use it just as it is or you could cut decorative fringes at one or both ends.

You can decorate the bookmark further by tooling. This involves pressing a design into the grain or finished side of the leather with a special modeling tool. The leather must be moistened before it can be tooled. Place your leather on a piece of marble, tile, or stainless steel. Moisten the flesh side of the leather with a sponge until the piece is thoroughly wet but not sopping. You should not be able to squeeze water out of it when you press your fingernail against a corner. Turn the leather over so that the grain side is up.

Draw a design on a thin piece of tracing paper. This does not have to be difficult or complicated. Put the paper over the leather so that the design is centered. Trace over the design with a pencil. So not press down to hard or you may go through the paper. Remove the paper. Then, using the pointed tool, go over the design to deepen the lines in the leather.

You may press down the area around the tooled initial or design so that it will be raised and it stands out. This is called modeling. To do flat modeling, you will need a modeling tool with a spoon-shaped end. Working on the front side of the leather, rub the area surrounding your design with small circular motions.

You can raise the initial or design even more by tooling it from the back. This is called embossing. Turn the leather over and use the spoon end of the modeling tool to push the design out from the back. Hold the leather in your hand as you do this, working against the palm of your hand.

You could also make the design stand out by texturing the back ground. For texturing you will need a strippler. This tool looks like a cluster of nails that are set into a handle. To use a stippler, press the pointed ends of the tool into the moist leather. This leaves a group of dots. The more you stipple a certain area, the finer the texture will be. If you do not have a stippler, you could use the end of a blunt nail or even a ball point pen that is empty. You can also texture an area by stamping it with a background tool. One end of this tool will have a fine texture imprint on it. Place this against the moist leather and strike the other end with a wooden or rawhide mallet. (All stamping must be don on a wooden surface.)

Another way of decorating leather is by burning. A special tool will be used for this. It will look like a small electric soldering iron with a fine tip. You must plug it into an electrical outlet and let it become hot. Then use the burning tool as a pencil, drawing directly on the grain side of the leather. You can either do this freehand or you can trace your design on the leather beforehand. The hot tool will scorch the leather. The harder you press, the darker the impression will be.

Leathercraft is a hobby that everyone can enjoy. Beginners can make simple things like bookmarks, coin purses, or key cases. There are kits that contain the leather tools, and directions that will be needed to help you complete your project. The parts will be precut and ready to assemble. All you will need to do is lace them together.

A more experienced craftsman can make wallets, handbags, and many other interesting things. They will also be able to decorate the things that they have made in many interesting ways. Tooling or pressing a design into moistened leather is one of the most popular ways of decorating leather. Calfskin, goatskin, cowhide, and sheepskin are just a few of the materials that can be used.

You can buy your leather from a hobby shop or from craft-supply firms that will sell by mail. You should send for a catalog so that you will have the information that you need about the different leathers and the tools.

For each thing that you plan to make, cut a template or pattern out of heavy paper or thin cardboard. Place the pattern on the piece of leather that your are working with. Trace around the pattern with a sharp pencil.

You must cut your leather with a very sharp knife. You can use a knife that has been especially made for leathercraft or you can use any other knife with a sharp pointed blade.

Always cut your leather on a smooth-grained piece of pine or maple board. You should avoid any surface that has knots in it. These will turn the knife blade as you are making your cut. Use a metal-edged ruler as your guide for cutting straight lines. Make sure to hold the knife firmly and bear down so that you cut through the leather and into the wood. Curved lines must be cut freehand.

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