Leatherwork: The Art of Working with Leather

by lakeerieartists

Working with leather combines artistic talent with craftsmanship.

Leatherwork consists of objects made of dressed animal skins. Because the structure of leather is a vast random network of coil-like molecules linked in fibrous strands, leather is one of the strongest flexible sheet materials known. It resists tearing and puncture, yet it can be stretched. As a porous substance, it can absorb moisture and "breathe", and it has insulating qualities. Also, leather is easily worked. It may, for example, be wrapped, rolled, molded, or folded. It may be puckered, crinkled, pierced, sewn, embossed, tooled, stamped, branded, carved, braided, knotted, glued, nailed, or woven.

Leather's Versatility

In addition, it is abundantly available in endless variety all over the world. The pelt must be treated to prevent decomposition and stiffening before it becomes workable leather.

In view of these advantages, it is readily seen why leather is widely used for such things as clothing, shelter, upholstery, hangings, harnesses, saddles, receptacles, and bookbindings. Often these objects are decorated to produce works of art.

Leatherwork as a Craft

leather messenger bagThe leather craftsman first decides what functional object to make- for example, a handbag-and constructs a paper pattern. He then chooses leather to suit the purpose of the bag and the requirements of the pattern. The leather is cut out with shears or knives and is usually lined for increased bulk by laminating two pieces together. The seams are joined by hand or machine sewing or by hand lacing. For handwork, holes are made first with punches or awls. Functional line stitches are set in from the edges of the leather; functional and decorative edge stitches loop over them. Straps of leather, rope, or chain may be stitched or riveted in place.

The bag can be fastened by drawstring or snaps, buckles, or other hardware.

Leatherwork as an Art

The leather craftsman, especially in the past, may also be an artist who embellishes his work with any of a variety of techniques. He can work the surface of leather that has been dampened for greater flexibility.

For example, he can stamp a clearly depressed image on it with stamping tools, cold or hot, like cattle brands. He can incise designs with pointed instruments or carve away parts of the surface with gouges to build a relief design. He can tool (press) the surface with smooth instruments or emboss it from the back to create relief, texture, and shading. He can also paint, gild, or embroider leather, or decorate it with appliqueed leather pieces or metal plaques or with studs, rivets, or nails, or trim it with knotting, fringe, or braid.

Modern Leatherwork

The contemporary leather craftsman may use leather to make pure art objects, especially sculpture. Layers of leather laminated into a solid block are then carved. A leather skin covers a skeletal core or is cemented in sections to fo rm a hollow geometrical solid. Thick leather is wetted and bent or molded into sculptural forms.

In addition, leather is woven with other materials on looms, built into collages and reliefs, and tied into macrame-knotted three-dimensional forms.

It is also used as a painting surface or as a negative, from which sandal soles or other shapes have been decoratively punched or cut.

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Learn More About Leatherwork

Leatherworking Handbook: A Practical Illustrated Sourcebook of Techniques and Projects

Valerie Michael-a founding member of the Association of Design Leatherworkers-has created the definitive guide to this popular and age-old craft. Oriented to the beginner, it th...

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How to Work Leather. Leather Working Techniques with Fun, Easy Projects.

Learn everything you need to get started with leather craft in one afternoon - even if you are a beginner!Leather working is a satisfying and fun hobby. With this quick-start gu...

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The Art of Hand Sewing Leather

Stiching techniques with valuable information on tools and materials needed to get started.

View on Amazon

Updated: 09/27/2014, lakeerieartists
 
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belinda342 on 05/01/2013

I've worked with leather before. It's fun, but it sure can get to be expensive. Of course the results speak for themselves. Who wouldn't want a hand crafted one of a kind leather purse?

dustytoes on 03/15/2013

When I was growing up my next door neighbors owned a leather shop where they did all their own work and sold moccasins, purses, and other things. We used to receive nice little gifts from them.

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