Monday, 7 October 2013

A little more detail - Leather

Left this a little longer than planned, sorry!

Last time I tried to give a bit more background regarding my skills and experience with jewellery work, so today I shall be talking about leather.

Working with leather is comparatively new to me, and unlike the jewellery work I am completely self taught. Although I say 'new', I've still been working at it or 4 years now? Can't actually recall exactly when I started, although I do remember that I started off with a piece of chamois leather from a D.I.Y store and some waxed linen thread and glover's needles from a haberdashery.

I made this:

I still kinda like it, and I still haven't gotten around to adding a strap or belt loops or anything else that might allow a person to use it in any capacity other than some sort of 'clutch' purse.

After that I ended up buying a bag of off-cuts on Ebay and then a few key hand-sewing tools from a leather stockist. I discovered that although I like the finish on hand sewn things, the sewing itself can take an alarmingly long time if you're working with fairly flexible leather and can't grow an extra pair of hands to help hold everything.

I now have a few books on the shelf which help with techniques and design ideas, and this year I have started working much more with 'veg-tanned' leather. I now feel I should explain 'veg-tanned' for those who don't have a clue what I'm on about, so here is the simplified version:

There are two major tanning processes - 'chrome' tanning using various chemicals and 'vegetable' tanning using more traditional natural tannins. If I buy chrome tanned leather, it is usually very flexible, already dyed through with a solid colour, and is the kind of leather suggested for clothing, fashion bags & accessories, upholstery etc.
If I buy veg-tanned leather, it is often thicker, much stiffer, and comes un-dyed. This leather can be stamped, carved and molded to shape - unlike the chrome tanned stuff.
If you want a longer (better) explanation, check out the article on good old wikipedia.

So having started off with simply sewing things together out of bits of chrome tanned leather, starting to work with veg-tanned leather has been a whole new learning experience. It's actually a bit like the switch between using silver plated wire and sterling silver wire - I have new surface decoration options, new molding techniques and new finishing techniques to learn and understand.

Unlike the wire work, however, I still work with both types of leather. I may not be able to stamp patterns into the chrome tanned leathers but some of them are thin enough for me to put through the sewing machine - which allows me to make some quite nice little bags and pouches without spending a ridiculous amount of time hand stitching each seam.

I think a summary may be in order here...
I've been learning to work with various types of leather for a few years now. Style-wise, I tend to go for simple designs with hand stitched or laced details, although I have been branching out into stamped designs when using veg-tanned leather more recently. I'm entirely self taught, which does nothing at all for my self confidence, however I'm starting to feel like I might actually know what I'm doing after all!

Tara for now,

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