( Originally Published 1932 )
Long before the world knew the art of weaving cloth, leather was used in many ways. The sun-cured, shaggy hides of animals felled with club, trap, and stone arrows by our ancient ancestors gave them shelter, clothing, footwear, and even their drinking vessels.
Today, animals still contribute their hides for coats, hats, shoes, gloves, belts and many other necessities for our comfort. They contribute to our pleasure, too, by making possible our beautiful pocket-books, coin purses, desk sets, book covers, portfolios, bill folds and numerous other articles which are so often classed as "leathercraft." It is with this type of work that we are interested.
The working of leather is not a difficult craft to master, but it does require a knowledge of basic principles and close attention to them during the process. There are a number of ways to decorate and make leather articles. The one explained in this chapter was chosen because of its simplicity of method and the ease with which the beginner can grasp its process.
For her convenience, a small coin purse of simple lines and construction is used for illustrating each step of the work. A careful study of these illustrations, together with close attention to the instructions which accompany them, will well repay the reader. Before attempting actual work, read the entire chapter making sure that you understand each point as it is presented, and no trouble should be had when creating your first leather project.
The first step in the work is to cut a paper pattern of each piece of leather to be used in its construction. This should be the exact size and shape of the piece it represents. As our coin purse is made of a single strip of leather, we will require but one pattern. This pattern is cut to size so that it can be used as a template, or guide, for cutting the leather. Great care should be taken to see that it is given the proper dimensions, as leather costs money, and an error in cutting might prove expensive. When ready to cut the pattern, fold the paper in half. In this way, both sides of the pattern will be alike.
Actual dimensions have been avoided on purpose, so that each reader may follow her individual taste. It may be made any desired size, although its approximate proportions should follow those shown in Figure 59, A. When the pattern is cut to size, it should resemble the general lines of those in Figure 59, A.
Note in this same illustration that the piece is divided into three parts. The bottom is folded up to form the pocket, the center becomes the back of the purse, while the top one forms the flap. The small border around the piece with the punch holes in it must be left clear of all designing. This border is a fourth-inch wide. It can be easily marked by holding the finger against the edge of the pattern as a guide, while the pencil draws the necessary margin line. This method of marking is shown in Figure 57, A.
When this has been done, the design should be chosen, and drawn or traced within the margin lines on the pattern. This design should be divided into three parts, as shown in Figure 59, A. The space between the designs is shown in white, and the dotted lines running through their center merely indicate where the leather is bent in forming the purse.
These spaces should be about half an inch wide between the designs. Plan your design to fill within these spaces and complete the pattern. It should now have the appearance of Figure 59, A, except it is on paper instead of leather, as shown. We now obtain a linoleum die block.
Obtain one slightly larger than the size of your pat-tern. Full instructions for tracing the design on the block and cutting the linoleum are given in the chap-ter on "Lino-Block Printing," page 45. The linoleum must be mounted on a one-inch wood block. These may be purchased already mounted at any art supply store, or gray battleship linoleum may be obtained at any department store and glued to a wood block.
Trace the design on the block with typewriter car-bon paper, and carve out the design, as shown in Figure 53. When cutting the linoleum, it should be re-membered that the die represents the negative form that the leather will have when printed. Areas and lines left untouched, or high, on the die will appear depressed on the leather. Those that are cut low on the linoleum block will appear in relief when printed on the leather.
We are now ready to obtain the leather of which our purse is to be made. The leather recommended for this work is tooling calf. It lends itself to this type of embossing, as its surface is treated in such a way as to make it susceptible to fine marking. Tooling leather is soft and yet firm, and will retain impressions indefinitely. There are many types of leather on the market, and if tooling leather cannot be bought for any reason, another type may be used if chosen with care.
A simple test to give unknown leathers is to wet a scrap of it, and with a tooling awl, mark lines over it. If the leather retains these after other marks are added, it can be used for this work, but if the surface appears spongy, it should not be used. Certain shoe leathers prove effective, but should be carefully tested before being bought. Tooling leather can be purchased at most leather shops or from dealers supplying leathercraft materials.
When measuring for the necessary amount, allow for about a fourth of an inch around the pattern. In buying a piece for such an article as our purse, scrap material may sometimes be found large enough for its construction, as very little is required. We are now ready to take proofs of our design.
These proofs are made before applying the die to the leather, as a last minute test of our design and its correctness. They will save considerable trouble if our die should prove defective in any way.
Several thicknesses of dampened paper toweling serve splendidly for making proofs. Such paper can be embossed much in the manner of the leather, and the results obtained with it give a close idea of what to expect when the leather is used. If toweling cannot be obtained, any heavy paper of soft texture can be substituted.
The method of embossing the design on our leather is a simple one if care is exercised in arranging the die formation before the pressing is attempted. Our paper proof also serves the purpose of showing if our formation is correct.
By "formation" we refer to the arrangement of the die and leather in the press, or vise, where the design is "pressed" into the surface. Place the linoleum block on a flat surface with its die facing up. On this die place the dampened paper, and over the pa-per, a layer of felt, cloth, or papers, which form a "cushion" for the leather substitute. This is shown in Figure 54. Over the cushion, a block of wood about the thickness and size of that on which the die is mounted, completes the arrangement.
This is now placed in an old letterpress or vise, and as much pressure applied as possible. Keep it in the vice for ten minutes and then remove. Examine the paper proof. If the design has been embossed too deeply, it indicates that too much "cushion" has been used. If it fails to be deep enough, more cushion must be added. The proof should also be examined to see if the die has been cut properly. If not, it should be corrected and other proofs taken. If the embossing is not as desired, change the cushion according to the instructions just given and take another proof. When a perfect proof results, we are ready to emboss the leather.
The leather should be soaked in water until it be-comes well. saturated, which will make it soft and pliable. Care must be taken in handling it when in this state, as its surface will be susceptible to the slightest scratch or dent. Place it carefully over the die block, and when once iii position, do not slide or move it over the surface of the design. When applying the cushion over the back of the leather, make sure that :it is the same one which gave a perfect proof. Add the wood block to this formation, place carefully in the vise, and apply all possible pressure. This is shown in Figure 55.
After the pressure has been applied for ten minutes, release from the vise, remove the leather from the die, and allow it to dry while on a perfectly flat surface with the embossed side up. Such a piece as described here should be given at least three hours for drying. Do not apply forced heat other than the natural temperature of the room in which the work is being done.
When the leather has become thoroughly dry, a careful examination of the design should be made. It is possible that some of the lines and areas will need touching up. If this is needed, a small tooling awl should be used. These may be bought at any leather supply house, or one can be made from a nut pick. File its point round and finish smooth with a bit of emery cloth. The leather should be dampened slightly over the place where it is to be hand-tooled, but do not dampen the entire piece as this may cause the embossed lines to fade.
We now need our pattern once again. Place it over the design on the leather so that every line corresponds, and with a pencil trace its outline by closely following the edge of the pattern all around it.
The excess leather is now cut away. This may be done with a pair of sharp scissors or a sharp knife. When finished, the leather should have the appearance of Figure 59, A except for the thong holes. These are punched at this time.
As will be remembered, a fourth-inch margin was left around the entire piece of leather to accommodate the lacing thongs. Another line is now made around the piece through the exact center of this fourth-inch margin. This would then be an eighth of an inch in from the edge. Make this line in pencil as the first one was done. This is shown in Figure 57 A. The holes are punched a fourth of an inch apart.
Mark these off along the margin line just made with rule and pencil. At each point where one of these lines crosses the outside margin line, a hole is punched.
To do this, an ordinary leather punch should be purchased at any leather supply house. They are equipped with a revolving head which has a number of various sized punches, which give the worker her choice. (Figure 57, B.) However, if such a punch can-not be obtained, the holes may be made with a nail and hammer. Place the leather flat on a board, file off the end of the nail until it is flat, center it over the hole mark, and strike sharply with the hammer.
When punching the holes by either of these methods, always hold the leather right side up, allowing the punch head to go through the right side and out on the reverse side of the leather. Lacing leather may be purchased at leather shops by the yard, and usually shoe stores handle certain sizes. For this piece, the width of our lacing should be about an eighth of an inch.
Many leathercrafters prefer to cut their own lacing, but it is not recommended to beginners. To deter-mine the length required, measure the entire length you wish to lace and multiply it by five. While these methods of measuring are not constant, as the distance between holes, thickness of leather, and size of thongs effect such a calculation, they will be found fairly accurate. The above instructions cover only the type of binding which is used for our purse. Other methods require other measurements.
The layover stitch, which is given here, is considered one of the simplest known. It is shown in Figure 58. The thong is passed through the pieces of leather, up and through the last loop, and then over itself be-fore passing through the leather again for the next stitch. Study the illustration carefully before at-tempting to lace your piece.
Fold the bottom section of the leather up to form the pocket (Figure 59, B), and starting at one end, bind the sides together by continuing the stitches all the way up one side, around the single thickness of the flap, and down the other side. Both ends of the thong should be finished by cutting them to a thin tapered point and running them back through several stitches. Do not pull the thongs too tightly, and keep them straight so they cannot twist.
When the lacing is completed, place the edge along a smooth surface and pound the laces flat with a wooden mallet. The snap for our purse may be purchased at any shoe repair shop, and for a few cents they will attach it.
A polishing with regular shoe polish completes the project. Many leather workers desire color tones on their-work, and these may be easily added. Slightly dampen the design, and apply any good liquid dye with a soft camel's hair brush. Each coat should be given plenty of time to dry before the next is applied.
If each of the steps that have been discussed here are completely mastered, any girl should be able to design and execute articles in leather of such beauty and usefulness as to well repay her for becoming "leather-minded."