This section is from the book "Feeling Better? Amusements and Occupations for Convalescents", by Cornelia R. Trowbridge. Also available from Amazon: Feeling Better.
THE craft of working leather goes back to the caveman who first made clothing from the skins of the beasts he had killed for food. Its primitive forms survive among the nomad tribes wandering the deserts with their herds, the Indians, and the Eskimos of the far North. What occupation can it offer to a convalescent? What materials and tools are needed and how can they be obtained?
To buy leather by the skin is not wise for a beginner. It is better to order it from some reputable dealer cut to pattern. The leathers most used are the soft finished suede, the smooth calfskin and the steerhide, often called bookbinding leather, which has a grained surface. All of them come in a variety of colors. The prices are based on the square inch.
For tools, if one is to do anything except the simplest braided work, one needs:
1 A sharp-pointed instrument like a shoemaker's awl.
2 A ruler with a metal edge or, better still, a transparent ruler, invaluable in all kinds of work requiring accuracy and to be had wherever drawing outfits are sold.
3 A spring punch, preferably a 4-hoIe rotary punch.
4 A tool for enlarging holes without breaking the leather, for which purpose an embroidery stiletto or steel knitting needle will answer.
5. A good knife, such as a shoemaker uses.
6 An oilstone for sharpening it and some machine oil.
7 A cutting board about 8" x 10", sawed from the end of a plank, or a piece of very heavy cardboard.
8 A wooden mallet or a chunk of wood to pound with.
9 Rubber cement, such as is used for mending the inner tubes of tires, or Duco Household Cement.
Laced articles are very good things to begin with- bill-folds, purses, picture frames, cases for playing cards, matches or cigarettes. Suppose that you decide on a folding frame for two pictures made of suede,
A Laced Picture Frame steerhide or bookbinding leather. The dealer will send it cut out by a stock pattern or to your specifications, from the leather chosen, and with it lacing, which should be of goatskin 3/32 2 of an inch wide or of kidskin 3/8 of an inch. If he does not send a piece of lining to be cemented smoothly behind the openings in the frame, you can paint the background to match the finish of the leather. The holes for lacing may be already marked. If you have to mark them yourself, be very sure that it is done accurately. Make a paper pattern the exact size of the leather and calculate carefully the spacing that will bring a hole squarely in each corner. From center to center the holes should be Ys to 3/8 of an inch apart, depending on the width of the lacing. Remember that the holes along any two edges that are to be laced together must exactly correspond. The center of the holes should be Ys of an inch from the edge. After spacing the holes on the pattern, lay the pattern on the right side of the leather and with the awl mark them on it. Then punch them with clear, sharp blows of the spring punch. They should be slightly smaller than the diameter of the lacing.
The simplest lacing stitch is plain over-casting. Take a piece of lacing, not more than three or four feet long, and shave the tip of it to a point. Lace over and over the edge of the leather with it, as in over-casting a seam. Run your stiletto or knitting needle through any holes too small to admit the lace easily and use it also to loosen or tighten stitches. See that the lace does not twist; keep its smooth surface uppermost. When it is necessary to join the lacing, shave thin the two ends to be joined so that thev overlap half an inch and cement them together. Finally work the free end of the lace under the other stitches or between two pieces of leather and trim it off.
Should you prefer to experiment on something smaller before making a picture frame, any good dealer will sell scrap leather by the pound and supply patterns for small articles to be cut from it and will furnish lacing by the yard. The familiar button-hole stitch works out well in leather. One can go on, of course, to many articles of more elaborate design and to more intricate lacings, create one's own designs, cut them from skins and add decorative details.
If you want to try a belt made with any of the braidings described in the chapter "What to Do with a Piece of String," or to braid a dog leash or watch fob, dealers supply the leathers already split and buckle ends or swivel snaps with directions for attaching them. For a belt order give the waist measure and ask to have allowance made for the amount taken up in braiding, which varies with the number of strands. Pyrostrip, a new material stiffer than leather, is recommended highly for belts.
Tooling designs pressed into the surface of leather is a craft by itself, useful for decorating almost any articles of leather. It is not too difficult to practice in bed if you have a firm table to work on, an accurate eye and a steady hand. The equipment necessary for it is:
1 A tooling slab of glass, slate or marble, at least 12 x 15 inches.
2 A pointed implement for outlining, like a hard pencil or a knitting needle.
3 A modeling tool with curved ends. These tools come with ends of different widths and as you attempt more difficult designs, you may need a larger stock of them. But for first experiments one will be enough. You can even begin by using a nut pick.
The best leather for tooling is Russian calfskin. The surface of the leather must always be moist. It can be dampened with a cloth wrung out in water. It must be kept evenly wet or water marks will show on the finished article. The design to be tooled is first drawn on tough paper or on good tracing paper. The leather is laid on a smooth surface, rough side down, and the pattern is fastened firmly over it by bits of adhesive plaster or, if there is a free margin, by thumbtacks. The design is then transferred to the leather by going over it with a very sharp, hard pencil or a metal point, like a steel knitting needle, and so marking it in faint lines on the leather. If the design contains straight lines, indicate where each goes by dots at the ends and draw them in by a ruler's edge after the pattern is removed from the leather. When the tracing is completed, the leather, still damp, is placed on the tooling slab and the lines are deepened and broadened by the modeling tool. A narrow bevel around a design will bring it out. To make the bevel hold the tool at an angle of forty-five degrees, the point following the outline, the handle away from the center of the design, and press the leather down all around the design evenly. Outline tooling is very effective, if well done. In flat modeling the design is worked into relief by using the broad end of the tool with a rotary motion to press flat all the background. You will see that tooling demands deftness and accuracy and that you must sit erect enough to work to advantage.
In hospitals where disabled soldiers have learned useful crafts leather work has been very popular. A good craftsman finds pleasure in the firm, smooth texture of fine leather, its softness and pliability and the beauty of its surface.
Leaf her craft. Graton and Knight, Worcester, Massachusetts. 1933. An excellent manual for beginners.
Projects in Leather, Boy Scout Service Library. National Council, New York. 1930.
Leather craft for Amateurs, Leonore E. Bang. The Beacon Press, Boston. 1935. "Written in the workshop." Clear and detailed. Leatherwork, Adelaide Mickel. The Manual Arts Press, Peoria, Illinois. 1927. A useful pamphlet, giving a number of patterns. Leatherwork, F. R. Smith. Pitman Publishing Corporation, New York. 1929.
In Craft-for-all Series. Clear and detailed directions and good designs.
Artistic Leathercraft, Herbert Turner. Pitman Publishing Corporation, New York. 1926. A reprint of an excellent English manual.
Graton and Knight, Worcester, Massachusetts. The foremost dealers in leathers for handicrafts. C. W. Dannenhauer, Philadelphia. Lester Griswold, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
All supply houses for crafts for schools and camps.