LeatherThe leathery page

 


The leather industry in Cyprus has a large share of the export market of the island and good quality shoes and bags can be bought at a fraction of the cost here. 

High quality fashion accessories, leather bags and wallets, as well as CD pouches, leather jackets in many different styles are on sale from the many leather shops situated all over the island.

Leather bags and accessories from Cyprus 

 Designer bags - leather in fashion  Leather bag designs in Cyprus 
To see a larger copy of these pictures, click on them

If you are interested in importing quantities of leather goods from Cyprus please contact us here.

Further down is a description of how to work with leather , courtesy of the " net leatherwork association "

 


How to work with leather

 

You can get leather to hold a shape by wetting it, fastening it to a "form" that's the shape you want it to take (usually carved from wood) and letting it dry. That's the basic technique, but of course there are all sorts of nuances and opinions on how to wet it, how to dry it, how to fasten it, etc. Forming usually seems to be combined with other techniques as part of making a product.

There's also "cour boulli" (I'm sure I spelled that wrong), which is shaping and hardening leather for body armour, usually only practiced by medieval recreationists . Again, there are different techniques; some people advocate soaking, forming and then baking the leather on the form in an oven, others recommend applying melted beeswax, and others recommend specific mixtures of beeswax and other substances.

In general, the kind of leather - the animal, the tanning process, and the general condition of the leather itself - affects all leatherworking techniques in how they're applied and how effective they'll be. This goes doubly for forming, tooling and stamping, which work on the very fabric (so to speak) of the leather.

Tooling and Stamping

Just as you can get leather to hold large shapes by forming, you can use tooling and stamping to add finer, more detailed shapes to leather. Tooling and stamping are definitely outside my meagre area of expertise, but I'll try to give you the gist of it. Those more experienced can feel free to kibbitz.

Stamping is straightforward enough in application; you have a stamp, a piece of metal with a design or image embossed on one side, and you put it against the smooth (grain) side of a piece of leather and apply strong, abrupt pressure, usually by hitting it. Usually stamps are mounted on thin metal handles about three inches long and as thick as a pen or pencil, or they're designed to be fit onto such a handle. Typically you hit them with a special hammer, with either a rawhide or polyurethane head. Typically you rest the leather on a special, hard flat surface. A lot of people like slabs of granite for this purpose.

How exactly does the stamped image stay in/on the leather? The metal edges of the embossed design press down the smooth surface of the leather and compress and distort the flesh underneath to a degree. The whole process is almost, but not exactly, like tooling, just arguably a lot easier. On the other hand, if you're using a tiny 3/16" by 3/16" stamp head to add texture to a space several inches across, it's going to be rather tedious and require a lot of precision in placing and hitting the stamp.

Tooling is done by cutting a design into the smooth side of a piece of leather with a special, very precise knife called a "swivel knife", and then following up by using a stamp-like tool to compress or push up the leather. Again, this is usually done on a hard surface, often marble. The cuts are very shallow and only penetrate the "grain" of the leather, the thin, smooth surface layer, without going much into the flesh of the leather.

From what I've read and heard, tooling mostly is done on damp leather; leather that is carefully soaked all the way through, but not wet enough to yield water when you squeeze it. Most books I've skimmed say that the best way to get the leather ready is to use a damp cloth or sponge and press the water into the flesh side of the leather until it starts to show on the grain side. Some people on the leathercrafter's mailing list have said they find leather easier to work on when they wet it and then let it sit for a week or more. In any event, you can see that the line between tooling and forming is rather blurry, although the bulk of most people's activities seem to be focused on tooling.

I'm not into tooling because I like to build useful things with leather, not just cigarette holders and belts that are blanketed with a dense mosaic of western carvings and decorations. The first time I said that I put a little smiley face after it, but some people still didn't get the joke. I admire tooling for the grace and beauty it can add to a project, but for me it's something that _adds_ to the project, that supplements it. I'd like to do some, someday (I once saw some tooled Celtic knotwork with zoomorphic figures that'd knock your eyes out) but so far I haven't ventured into it. If you're interested in tooling, you're in luck, because it seems most of the info out there on leather crafting is about tooling.

Greg Gaub comments on tooling: "I like to think of tooling as the best way to include a design on a project that will never go away. We all know that paint can come off and dyes/stains can fade, but a tooled impression will always be there, even if it gets soaking wet or beat to hell."

Construction

I'm using the blanket term "construction" to cover the basic, conventional ways to build things out of leather. This includes cutting, skiving, strapping, sewing, lacing, braiding, gluing, riveting, snapsetting and anything else I may have forgotten to add. Most of my meagre experience with leather has been limited to this realm.

You start with a piece of leather, either a scrap, a half-hide or a whole-hide. You want to arrive at a finished thing, say a pouch, for example. To get there, you have to cut the leather into pieces of the right shape, length and width, perhaps skive the edges down to the appropriate thinness (essentially shaving some amount off the flesh side of the leather) in places, and strap out a length of leather to hang the pouch on.

There are several specialised and not-so-specialised tools for doing all of these. These days most people use one tool for each kind of cutting, maybe a precise, sharp knife to cut out the shapes, a "skife" or skiving knife to do the skiving or a lap-skiving machine to skive strap-ends, and a strap-cutter to cut long, evenly-spaced, straight straps. According to Al Stolhman, author of a number of excellent booklets on working leather and widely-recognised authority, many of these tasks and others (maybe even most of them) were done with a single tool in the old days, a head knife.

I've seen, handled and even worked a little with a head knife. A friend of mine got into leatherworking, and decided right from the start (after reading my copy of that Al Stohlman book I mentioned last paragraph) to learn how to do it all with ahead knife. Essentially a head knife is a wooden handle with a semi-circle blade perpendicular to the handle. Take a capital T, draw a half-circle across the top. The base of the T is the handle, the half-circle is the sharp edge. The top of the semi-circle is the part you use for skiving. The "wings", or corners of the semi-circle/T are used for intricate cuts. There are different designs of head knives, some with more swept-back wings, for example.

If you're not ambitious enough to tackle learning a head knife, there are a wide variety of specialised tools. The best way to learn about them is to buy Al Stohlman's tool book, which covers an astonishing variety of tools, including how to use them, care for them, and in some cases how to build them. See the suggested list of tools below for my thoughts on what you should get to start.

Okay, so now you have all of the pieces you'll need, but how will you fasten them together? There are a variety of ways to do it, including sewing, lacing, gluing, and riveting.

Al Stolhman has an excellent book on the basics of hand-sewing leather. Unless you're working with exceptionally thin, soft leather (often called "garment leather"), sewing leather is not like sewing cloth. Sewing leather boils down to making matching holes in two or more pieces of leather and stringing some kind of thread (or thong or leather lacing) through the holes.

The holes are usually made with an awl - sort of like a sharp, smooth, round-pointed nail on a handle - or thonging chisels (which are theoretically for use with thong or lacing, but that doesn't stop people from using them to sew). A thonging chisel is exactly that - a small chisel with a head a sixteenth or eighth of an inch wide, that you use to punch a slit in the leather.

You can also use hole-punches to punch round holes to string thonging or lacing through. Hole punches are either "drive punches", which are tubular blades in varying widths on the ends of metal handles like the thonging chisels, or "rotary punches", which look like the kind of hole-punch you used to use in school to make holes in paper. Most rotary punches have a number of different-sized punches on a rotating head, so you can spin it around to the size you need at any moment. A rotary punch can be incredibly handy, especially for field repairs, but in general I like drive punches better.

The thread is usually flax, nylon or cotton thread (very heavy compared to normal sewing thread), or sinew, or more likely artificial sinew (natural sinew comes in fairly short lengths and is difficult to obtain). The thread or sinew is usually rubbed with beeswax to make it grip the holes better.

Lacing and thonging are long, thin strips of leather. You can cut them yourself with a sharp blade (or with yet another specialised tool, a lace-cutter - but the ones I've played with are only good for light-weight lacing). You can get a surprisingly long length of lacing or thonging out of a a small piece of leather by cutting it out in a spiral pattern. Once you've cut it and stretched it out straight, the bend is imperceptible.

For everything but stiff thonging, you'll need a wide variety of needles and implements for pulling the thread, sinew, lacing or thonging through the hole. The needles I mostly use are nice, large needles with huge eyes I can easily thread a large chunk of sinew through, and nice, dull points that won't catch on the leather and make new holes in the wrong places. I've seen "special" leathercraft needles sold for ridiculous prices, so I'd definitely recommend shopping around before buying in any great quantity. Check out a sewing shop and similar places as well as speciality stores like Tandy. Get lots of spares, you'll always be losing them, breaking them, or not want to unthread them from one project to use elsewhere.

You can also glue leather with a strong rubber cement or leather glue. Barge glue seems to be the most widely recommended, and it's what I've always used. I don't recommend gluing as the primary means of construction, but it's useful for getting a tight, waterproof seam, or for making sure that small pieces and corners and the like stay where they're supposed to. I also like to carefully glue intricate projects together before sewing them, sometimes, so I don't have to worry about pieces slipping. This isn't always practical, though. It depends on the project.

Riveting is the use of metal rivets, like the kind you find on Levi's jeans (only in much wider variety, of course) to hold two or more pieces of leather together. Riveting is done with a special kit - a small metal anvil and a cut to hold the one half of the rivet in, and a special tool to press the other half of the rivet into place. This is again, one of those picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words situations. I don't like to rely solely on riveting - in fact I tend to be minimalist with riveting - but it's quite useful in some situations. There are also a variety of other metal snaps and buckles that can be useful for all sorts of things. In general this sort of stuff is called "findings". You can find them at the hobby stores, but you may also be able to find them at actual "findings" suppliers. Check out the business-to-business directory or yellow pages.

Honourable Mention

Lest I gave you the wrong impression above, it's possible to build useful things solely or mostly by cutting the leather. Unfortunately, this is one of those "a picture is worth a thousand words" things, and I can't easily put a picture in here.

You can also do a lot with braiding, for example the classic "mystery braid". Take a strip of leather, cut two slits down the length of it, starting a half-inch from the first end and stopping a half-inch from the other end. You end up with three strands of leather in the middle, connected on either end. It's possible to create a seemingly impossible braid of the three strands in the middle. Again, a picture would be necessary to explain this. More normal braids can also be quite useful for building straps and fasteners for projects.

Finishing Steps

In addition to basic construction, most projects should include a variety of finishing steps, like bevelling edges, slicking edges, You can get away without a lot of this, simply because so few people do go the whole way. I'd suggest you don't worry about it for your first few projects, at least. This is the icing on the cake. Worry about baking a good cake first. But once your comfortable with constructing things, start on the polish.

Staining and Painting

Leather comes from the tannery either "natural" or dyed a specific colour. I generally like to have leather dyed the colour I want it to be, since I feel that they do a better job of doing it than I can with my meagre resources. However, sometimes I can't get what I need, or sometimes it's just not available - vegetable-tanned tooling leather, for example, always comes in a light tan colour. That's when I get the stains out.

I only have two or three stains in my tool chest, which goes to show you how much staining I do. But stains can be quite useful for adding highlights and interesting colours to a project. One of my earliest projects was a holster (of sorts) that started with two different-coloured leathers. By using multiple applications of stain, I managed to get it all to a nice, red-brown wood-tone that worked quite well, matching the musical instrument that it was designed to carry.

You can also paint leather. In clothing this is called appliqué, I believe, and it has a long and, , colourful history. I don't know beans about painting leather. I've seen it done once, and I've seen several finished pieces, so what I do know is that it can be a powerful technique to achieve an effect. There's a lady who shows up at the Pennsic Wars (an SCA event held in western Pennsylvania every august) with masks that are formed and tooled and painted to look like various animals. They are impressive! I suspect that choice of paints and leather (how it was tanned, surface texture, suppleness) could be crucial in getting good colours, and in getting the paints to stay on well and last.

 

Things to Make

Belts, Pouches, Boxes, Sheathes, etc.

This is where most of what I do fits. Basic belts (which are fairly easy, although doing a nice, quality piece requires several finishing steps that most people leave off, like bevelling, edging, forming the belt around the buckle, etc), pouches, knife sheathes, and so forth. To get started in this, I'd suggest you pick up a copy of Al Stolhman's booklet on Hand sewing Leather. A Tandy Leather hobby shop should have a copy of it, or be able to order it for you.

Mr. Stolhman also has many other books, most of which are quite useful (the tooling patterns don't do me much good, but then again I'm not into tooling). I particularly recommend his book on leather crafting tools, which shows you the basic techniques in using the tools, and how to care for them properly. Just reading this gave me a much better understanding of the tools that are available and of how to properly use some of the tools I was mis-using.

Boots & Shoes

I'm interested in shoe and bootmaking, specifically for medieval recreation (in the SCA) and I've been collecting information (some good, some not so good) about it, but I have yet to get much practical experience with it. Cold feet, maybe :-) You can generally find some basic introductory material and kits on moccasins and the like at Tandy leather, but I personally haven't been too impressed with the quality of the resulting pieces. The whole point of making footwear yourself is to get the best fit you possibly can; most of these kits only get close, because like commercial, mass-produce shoes, the leather is cut to standardised sizes, and your feet generally don't come in those standardised sizes.

Garments

I don't do a lot of garment making with leather, because it's much more like sewing cloth than like the rest of leather working, and I've never found sewing cloth too easy. The leathers you use are generally a heck of a lot more supple and lighter weight than what you use for other activities, and aside from the peculiarities of the material, it's just like making clothing. Hence, if you're interested in this, you'd be better off learning first about sewing clothing, then learn about how to bring leather into your repertoire.

Everything Else

Of course, I've only touched on some of the things leather can be used for. There's an immense field of saddle-making and harness-making, not to mention whip-braiding, and that's just the first three things that popped into my head. There are an astounding variety of possibilities - and indeed of examples throughout history - for making things with leather.

My brother and I once had a conversation about this; he's put off by what he feels are contrived uses of leather, for example making chess pieces out of leather. What he failed to realise (until I showed him a picture of a Moroccan tooled leather chess board and pieces that date from the 15th or 16th century) is that until plastic was invented, leather was ubiquitous, used for most everything, just as plastic is used for most everything today.

Tools

For construction, I'd suggest you start with at least the following:

Knife - a sharp knife with a small blade. I generally use a utility knife or "box knife" (called so because they're usually used in shipping and such to open cardboard boxes). Anything that fits that general profile should do: mostly handle and a half-inch to an inch of blade, so the cutting tip is near your grip and easily controlled for precise cuts, yet allows you apply strength when necessary for heavier leathers. Some people use Exacto knives, but I find them too light for most heavier leathers.

Cutting Board - these come in plastic or hard black rubber. . I've never been too happy with what they charge for a square foot of the stuff, so I encourage people to look for alternative sources. I suggest you get a cheap piece of board to back the rubber with, tough, as it *is* possible to go through leather, rubber and into the table you're working on, by accident.

Hammer - some people swear by rawhide mallets,  others say Polyurethane is just as good and lasts longer. I used a $16 polyurethane hammer for two years until a friend borrowed it and moved to Texas. Now I use a hard rubber mallet. Someday I'll pick up a rawhide mallet just to try it out. You want something that's heavy enough to hit with a little weight, but not so heavy you have trouble controlling it for delicate work.

An awl to make holes in things. There are different shapes of awl heads, get at least a round one to start with, or get one of the ones with interchangeable heads. A fid, which looks like a dull awl, is immensely useful for widening holes without cutting any further into the leather and for pushing things through holes when they get stuck. Some thonging chisels and maybe a rotary punch or a small set of drive punches.

A spool of artificial sinew, a spool of thread. Lace-cutter (so you can cut some lace to work with, quickly and easily). A tube of barge glue. Large, dull needles and other speciality needles. A chunk of beeswax.  Anywhere that has candle-making supplies might have beeswax.

A straight-edge, preferably metal, can be useful when making long, straight cuts. A strap-cutter can be invaluable when you're doing a lot of belts or straps.

Now the only thing left to tell you is ...get on with it.

 

              

 

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