The other day I pretty much taught myself how make stuff out of real leather. Or at least, I began to teach myself. I’m sure there is a lot more to learn in order to master the materials, but the basics are pretty simple!
So, I bought a very small piece of vegetable tanned scrap leather on clearance. It was a fairly thick piece, so I figured that I could make some pretty hardy accessories with it. First, I used my sewing skills to make pattern piece on a simple white piece of printer paper. Again, I didn’t have enough leather for much other than experimentation, so I needed to keep my accessories small. I drew and cut out my pattern pieces, drawing on my knowledge of sewing and how three-dimentional objects are drawn flat.
Then I cut the shapes out of the leather using an exacto blade on a self-healing cutting board. I smoothed the edges by running my blade perpendicular to the edge of the cut leather. Then I formed the leather using only water and heat! Acrylic paint can also be applied to metal grommets to change their color as long as you seal them with a varnish as well.
It was really simple; all you do is get the leather thoroughly wet, until it turns a darker color and becomes soft and pliable. But not too wet, or it will be limp. Then you form the leather into shape with your hands. If you like, you can build an armature out of clay, plaster, or tinfoil. As long as the material can withstand heat, you can use it as a leather armature. I didn’t use an armature, and simple formed the leather with my hands and around my own body. Then, apply heat until the leather is dry. You can do this by putting the leather in the oven on an armature on low heat, or by using a hair-dryer like I did. It was super easy! If the shape is simple enough, you can just hold the leather in shape while you run the hair dryer over it. You want to move the heat around so that you dry the whole piece of leather evenly. When the leather begins to dry, it will start to turn back to its original light color. You want the whole piece of leather to stay the same color throughout the whole drying process, as in, you don’t want part of the leather to be dry while another part is still wet. Apply heat until the leather is dry, stiff, and back to its original color. You will feel the leather harden in your hands as you dry it. for a small piece, you only have to dry it for about ten minutes.
If you were working with a bigger piece, or one that had a complicated shape, I would recommend using an armature and the oven.
I then left my basically-completely-dry piece of leather out overnight in a safe place to let any remaining moisture evaporate. Just in case.
Then came the painting! I recommend acrylic paint. You can do lots of things with acrylic paint, and when it dries, it dries waterproof. You can use paint from a tube, which will be textural, you can use spray paint, with which you have less detail control but a very even coat, or you can be like me and use liquid acrylic inks in layers. The inks come in transparent and opaque, and you can mix colors and opacities to get the exact effect you desire.
You can apply the paint with brushes, or sponges of varying textures. There are rough natural brushes, which will leave strokes in the paint, or find synthetic brushes, which are my preference because they do not leave any brush marks in wet paint. Smooth synthetic sponges, like the kind you apply gesso with can also be used to lay down acrylic paint in a smooth and even coat. For a little surface interest, you can use coarse natural sea sponges for a worn or splatter effect. You can also splatter paint on the leather with a toothbrush.
You can decorate your leatherwork with jewels, glitter, beads, feathers, trim, fabric, or anything else that can be held on with glue.
To seal your leatherwork, and make it waterproof (which you want to do since water makes the leather loose its shape) you can use an acrylic varnish. You want a transparent varnish, so that your design won’t get cloudy, but it is up to you whether you want a matte or glossy finish. I chose a glossy finish for these items.
To attach pieces of leather to one another, you have to poke holes in the leather, and thread lace, string or cord through the holes. To lace the posture collar together, I first had to put grommets into the leather. Grommets finish and accentuate the holes that you make and can also serve as a decorative element. But if the holes you make are not important to the design, they can be left small and unfinished. You can make holes in the leather with a leather hole punch, or a lot of work. I’d imagine that a drill would work, but I didn’t go that route. I went with the a-lot-of-work-route. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I basically forced my way through the leather with sharp things and spread and shaped my holes to the exact size that I needed with a carving knife for ceramics. With the right tools, the hole making would have gone faster, but it just goes to show that you can still poke holes in leather without proper tools if you put a little muscle into it!
After making my handful of accessories from a super tiny scrap of leather, I am surprised that more people do not work with leather. It is honestly, the easiest material I’ve ever taught myself to work with. Like ridiculously easy for how expensive finished leather products can be to purchase! Leather forming is not hard, and no one should be intimidated by it! Just do a little research online, try out a practice piece or two like I did, and then go for it! Make whatever your heart desires!