As a teacher for many years now, I am in the unique position where I can place a finger on the pulse of the leathercraft community to get a reading.
And if I’m right, I have figured out one of the biggest roadblocks I see with students. Regardless of experience it seems.
The roadblock I often hear is this: 'I don’t have the *insert: skills/tools/desire* to work with any material that isn’t leather'.
This isn’t everybody of course, but a large number nonetheless.
There comes a time in most crafts, when in order to make something technical, new, creative, or to push the boundaries of design, you must look outside the materials you are most accustomed to using.
A master leatherworker is not always judged by their craftsmanship with leather itself, but also their use of design and other materials that can be integrated into each piece.
In leatherwork we are used to our projects coming to life using a very specific selection of materials:
Dyes and paints
In a typical project, not much more than that is used. This is because 90% or more of the leather accessories we make can be created with these ingredients alone.
But what if we want to make something more challenging, different, or entirely new?
As you advance your journey in leathercraft and you wish to progress your knowledge and take on new challenges, you may find yourself looking for something different to integrate into your projects.
For example, more advanced materials can be, but not limited to the following:
Of course some materials require a lot less skill to use versus others. For example, it is much easier to utilise wool felt under the leather on a jewellery box, than it is to construct a metal frame from scratch for a doctor's bag. So it is to be expected that new skills may need to be practised.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the materials that I see people struggling to use in their leatherwork.
Wood and leather go together like best friends. There are even some natural leathers that get mistaken for wood!
Wood can be used in leathercraft in a number of areas, such as forms (shapes that a project is constructed around), carcasses (a wood foundation that leather is glued onto, i.e. boxes), rigid reinforcements for cases and trunks, frame formers for bending metal frames, and many others.
Woodworking is a skill by itself. It also requires a few specialist tools too. A vice, various saws, files and sandpaper are normally needed. Luckily, many households already have these, so you may already be equipped to tackle some timber.
As far as materials go, wood is arguably one of the easier materials to work with. It generally does what it’s told and is quite predictable, unlike leather.
Having worked in both carpentry and leatherwork professionally in my career, I can tell you two things; wood is easier to work with, and most people that can work with leather can also work with wood to a basic level.
The machinery needed for certain woodworking tasks can put many leatherworkers off, however, much can be done with a mitre box and a tenon saw, especially for small box making.
Practising woodwork safely can open up a whole new world of opportunities for your leatherwork, and you may just get inspired to try new ideas along the way.
Perhaps the most challenging material to work with for many leathercrafters, as there are little to no tools that cross over from leatherwork to metalwork.
Specialist cutting saws, drills, files and polishing equipment are often needed to carry out certain tasks.
But if you are looking to make a custom frame for a top frame bag, or you’re looking to reinforce the top of your briefcase where it meets the handle, rarely are their going to be ready made parts to buy and use.
So having the ability to cut, drill and file metals like steel, brass or even aluminium, will be an asset to your ability to make advanced and long lasting projects.
Perhaps simpler to use within leathercraft than the previous two examples. Board in almost all its forms can be cut quite effectively with a sturdy blade (given enough passes).
Board can be used for creating a very firm design, as can be seen with certain attaché cases, jewellery boxes and bag bases.
Some types of board are very hard and stable such as the aptly named hardboard, with medium firm alternatives such as case board, or there are softer and easier to manage boards such as greyboard, bookbinders board and mill board.
Given its density, many leathercraft tools will work it into almost any shape you desire. Cutting, skiving, even edge beveling is usually no problem.
So in conclusion, the moral of the story is this; if you want to progress you craft, work towards mastering this art, and create truly one of a kind projects that last generations, it may be time to add non-leather materials to your skill set.
If you are interested in integrating alternative materials into your projects, the latest course 'The Leather Tote Bag' is one of the simplest ways to have a go.
The bag uses two hardwood rods to bring shape and structure to the top of the bag. This makes for a one of a kind design, and a durable bag too!
Check out the course preview of video one (of three):