Archive for the ‘Leather’ Category

9 Months Later…

Exactly 9 months ago, on October 11, 2010, I put on a leather bracelet. Rather, I sewed it on making it a ‘permanent’ bracelet. I bathed, swam, sweated, cooked, scuffed and scraped and never it came off. I had oiled it just a little bit with some neatsfoot oil before putting it on, otherwise it was raw veg-tanned leather.

It slowly began to darken and the color got richer. I made no effort to take care of it or treat it nicely, nor did I purposefully try to scratch, scrape, or abuse it, I just treated it like part of myself, the occasional scrape notwithstanding. It got darker and began to take on a waxy finish, the leather fibers slowly wore off until it had a dull sheen.

Now, exactly 9 months later, I began to notice it smelled a bit like an old shoe, a moldy boot or a stinky foot. I don’t suppose most would have noticed this, it isn’t noxious and is very subtle. In fact I wouldn’t have noticed either if I hadn’t had the habit of occasionally smelling the band to enjoy the rugged leather scent. However, I decided after 9 months, the test was over and it was ready to be born, perhaps as something else. The cycle of craft complete.

Making Vinegaroon

Disambiguation: This article refers to leather “dye” not Vinegaroon the arachnid.

One of my primary interests in leather work is that is an old craft and a natural material.  Modern leather work uses all sorts of harsh chemicals for both tanning and dying.  Traditional artisans didn’t have access to all of these methods and had to use other ways to dye and tan and to achieve the results that they sought.  One of these processes is the usage of vinegaroon to “dye” leather black.

Vinegaroon is basically ferric acetate, formed by dissolving steel wool in plain white vinegar.  Chemically the mixture that I make from steel wool and vinegar is far from [Fe3O(OAc)6(H2O)3]OAc (OAc is CH3CO2).  But for the purposes of “dying” leather it’s splitting hairs.  So why do I keep saying “dye” in quotes?  Well technically there are no pigments in the vinegaroon that are dying the leather, but rather a reaction forms between the ferric acetate and the tannins present in the leather from the tanning process to create a rich dark black color.  This creates a rich permanent change in the color of the leather that won’t rub off or stain anything it comes in contact with.

My first attempted batch I bought some stainless steel pot scrubbers and soaked one in vinegar for 2-3 weeks.  The scrubber was mostly untouched by the vinegar and I realized that 1) The thickness of the metal was rather large and 2) the stainless steel was rather impervious to the light acid of the vinegar.  The result was useless and I tossed it.  I had mostly forgotten about it when I found some steel wool at the dollar store!

The steel wool that I got came in a 12 pack for only $1 and came in #2, #1 and #0 sizes, four pads of each gauge.  Steel wool can be found in even finer gauges like #0000 for even faster dissolving.  I took one pad and pulled it apart a bit to maximize surface area and dropped it into a spare jar of about 12oz of plain white vinegar.  I poked a hole in the lid to let off any pressure and after dating it, put it in a dark cupboard to do its thing.

After only 1-2 weeks the liquid had turned dark red/black and I couldn’t see if there was any steel wool left or not.  I was busy with other projects so I just let it go extra long for almost a month.  Today I filtered it out through a paper towel and tried it out to see how it worked. There was very little sediment remaining after the filtering.

Just as expected it dyed the leather intensely black, even in bright sunlight.  I’ve read that if you desire a darker black you can soak the leather in brewed black tea to increase the tannins in the leather so that it will create a stronger reaction.  You may also wish to neutralize the pH of the leather in a baking soda and water solution briefly so that the acid doesn’t damage the leather.  That’s all there is to it!

First Items up on Etsy!

I finally posted up two items on my Etsy store! I’m excited to have some items up now, but I have a lot more work to do to get into the rhythm of making items and posting them.

One of the items was the dinosaur cuff from the previous post and the other was a new cuff I made today. I realized after cutting out several basic cuffs from my template that I shouldn’t make all of them the same size, ie just so they’ll fit me. So I measured my wrist, asked my girlfriend to measure hers, and looked around online for sizes other people had used. The second cuff I made in a small size. Pictures of the new cuff are below.

Tutorial: Making of Stitched Cuffs Part 2

In the previous post I showed how I took the concept of cutting a cuff in pieces and stitching it back together and sketched out some ideas of how that might work. Today I took one of my four favorite proofs and made it into a cuff. I honestly wanted to get more than one of the proofs done today but other things distracted me and I ran out of time. Below are pictures of how I took the design and turned it into a finished piece.

First I transferred the design to a paper template and then cut it out of the leather.

Cut out very carefully as both sides will be used in the cuff. For this kind of cut there is NO “trim area”.

Edge profiles are sanded round.

Stitches are marked.

Holes are punched for stitching. If I was doing a lock stitch with the awl I would have sewn this with the stitching awl, but because I wanted the flat parallel stitches I pre-punched the holes and stitched with a large embroidery needle by hand.

Dyed and good to go.

This little dino is stitched and looking happy!

Brass snaps are attached and set. You can’t really see it in this image but a wax finish was also applied here.

Wide view of the finished dinosaur cuff!


Tutorial: Making of Stitched Cuffs Part 1

Lately I’ve been daydreaming of making some cuffs that are stitched together from multiple pieces of leather.  The basic rectangular shape is maintained, but then it’s cut and put back together.  The forms reflect each other, but within the boundaries.

Tonight I did some brainstorming about what sort of forms, designs and techniques would work well with this concept.  Images of that process follow.  Freehand drawing isn’t really my thing, but the brainstorming process is still vital despite my lack of fine motor skills.  It helps you figure out what works and what doesn’t early on.

initial scribbles

added a little color to see how that would go

These final proofs look like they will work well in the leather, but I won’t know for sure until I actually try it. Tomorrow I’m going to take some of these designs to the leather and see if they’re as cool in real life as they are on the page!

final photoshopped proofs of what I think will work well as a cuff

Tutorial: Making of Bird Mask

Okay so I do have a bit of info in regard to the making of the bird mask, but this will be a little bit light in regard to a tutorial because I’m writing it after the fact. After looking closely at some the masks at Faerieworlds as mentioned in the previous post, I began to think differently about what was possible with leather. This was Summer 2009.

Fast forward to October 2009, several days before Halloween. I got a last minute invite to a pre-Halloween party, and word was, it was going to be SWEET. I needed a mask, and quick.

With this in mind, I knew that I wanted a long narrow hooked beak, and lots of tree branch type shapes at the top, possibly some feathers. I banged out a design without time for hesitation or regret. I wet formed it and stuck it in the oven to dry on the quick. After it came out of the oven, I hit it with some Eco-Flo Java Brown leather dye. (Eco-Flo is water-based, environmentally friendly, 100% biodegradable, etc.) A couple quick coats of Fiebing’s Tan-Kote sealer (so the dye doesn’t bleed and stain your skin) and I was off to the party wearing a ridiculous costume that didn’t make any sense. At least I could hide behind this awesome handmade leather mask that I made start to finish in about 1.5 hours.

I drew out my design on some paper notebook paper to test the shape and see if I could accurately approximate the final shape I had in mind. I used a technique I had seen of drawing eyelashes into the design so I could fold them up later during the wet forming.

As it turned out, while at the party a random girl came up to me and said “Is that mask of a leafy sea dragon?! It reminds me of a leafy sea dragon!” (See leafy sea dragon.)  Well, no it’s not a leafy sea dragon, but in retrospect I can see why it would remind her of one. The more you know. I met a new friend because of it.  That’s the power of creativity.

Bird Mask

The first few posts are all items I’ve made prior to launching the blog and this one is no exception. In the future I plan to post some WIP photos of uncompleted projects and also more about my process and inspiration. Probably some tutorials too. Much of what I post will be the first time I’ve tried something, so keep in mind I’m learning here too.

This is a bird mask made of leather. My inspiration for this one originally came from many styles of leather masks that I first saw at a Faerieworlds event in Eugene, OR.  I was fascinated and unaware that any such thing could be made with leather.  I went home read up on forming leather, the wet forming process and cuir bouilli.  I also took some design aspects from venetian bird masks and the result was this mask.

front view

quite the hooked beak

note the eyelashes

other eyelash detail

Leather Book Necklace

I was messing around the other day and thought I’d try my hand at bookbinding.  The result was this tiny necklace book.

I made 6 tiny signatures of 6 sheets each and sewed them together with a regular needle and thread.  I had this skull and crossbones concho thing lying around and some suede lacing, so I just popped in the eyelets and glued the pages into the veg-tanned leather and pressed it while the glue dried.