Leathercraft is one of the oldest professions in the world dating back to when skins were tanned in bogs and worn or used for shelter. Yet surprisingly many people you come across will have never heard of our wonderful craft.
Although leathercraft has gained in popularity over the last 5-10 years, it remains a relatively niche craft compared to woodworking, photography, jewellery making or other popular pastimes.
This is both great and challenging at the same time. Great in a sense that people won’t actually believe their eyes when you tell them you made that bag (they probably don’t know anyone else that can do that!), yet challenging when books and resources on the subject of leathercraft are relatively rare by comparison to other interests.
So where do you start in leathercraft and what do you need as a beginner? That’s easy, you start with the right foundations!
So let me take you through the three most important foundations for leathercrafting beginners.
Foundation 1: Choosing the right leather.
The two most common types of leather that you will come across are chrome tanned leather and vegetable tanned leather.
Many blog posts, forums and articles will have you believe that chrome tanned leather is inferior in quality, but this is simply not true at all.
Chrome tanned leather is cheaper to produce, so naturally you will see it in the cheapest leather goods available. However, a high proportion of the world's most expensive handbags and shoes will be made from high quality chrome tanned leather due to its low maintenance, superior scratch resistance, consistency and of course water resistance.
That being said, if you are reading this as a beginner, vegetable tanned leather is definitely the way to go. ‘Veg tan’ is usually much firmer which makes life easier for cutting, stitching and edge finishing - techniques that you need to develop as a beginner.
Chrome tanned leather in my opinion is a leather best kept for when you have learnt the basics and you want to open up to different types of textures and ‘feel’ in your designs. Handbags, laptop cases, totes and wallets made from ‘chrome tan’ are beautifully consistent and usually buttery soft.
Foundation 2: Deliberate practice.
I’ve said this to many beginners over the years and I’ll say it to you now. The first hide you ever buy should be sacrificed to the gods of practice, so that you may save future hides from ruin.
Take that almost biblical quote and memorise it as you go hunting for your first shoulder of veg tan!
Too often people get ahead of themselves and try to make something whilst attempting to learn the fundamentals at the same time.
To borrow a term from scuba diving, ‘task loading’ or taking on too many thought processes at the same time can lead to failure. Breaking down each task into bite size chunks will allow you to focus on one thing at a time.
This will speed your learning and allow you to observe your improvements much sooner.
Later, once you have mastered the basics, you can combine many tasks at the same time with much less mental fatigue or frustration.
Simple practice sessions of cutting, marking, stitching and edge finishing can make a huge difference to the outcome of your work.
The best master craftsmen in the world are usually people who have put the most time and practice into their work. In essence, you need to get those hours in now!
Foundation 3: A simple tool selection.
‘Simple’ really is the key word here. The less tools you have in the beginning, the more time you will have to master the use of each tool.
Much like task loading, ‘tool loading’ can lead to overwhelm. You only have so much time in the week to use your tools on leather. So, if you divide that time by 12 tools, you will spend more time with each tool, compared to having 47 tools starting out.
Now, I have hundreds of tools, but it didn’t start out that way. Tools are acquired gradually over many years as your skills and needs develop. You can then take the time to properly master each new tool that joins your workshop.
Soon I will be launching the Leathercraft Beginner Class. A series of 9 videos which will take you through the basics of leathercraft in great detail, at a much slower and deliberate pace compared to the Masterclass.
This will enable you to discover the essential techniques such as stitching, cutting, marking, edge finishing, and the use of basic tools.
In this beginner course you will see and understand 5 different ways to stitch leather, from the unbelievably simple, to moderately challenging techniques. Multiple camera angles filming the front and rear side as well as what the stitch looks like above from your point of view.
Be the first to get notified about the new course when it drops by clicking here to enter your email (plus instantly get the 'Tool Buyers Guide' AND 'Leather Selection Guide' absolutely FREE).
I look forward to seeing you in the workshop!