The great possibilities of art leatherwork as a money-earning occupation are even now only beginning to be realised. The outfit required is not very extensive, the work can be done on a small table, and makes no litter or mess.
The absolutely necessary tools, are a tracer, two modellers (one with fine ends and one with broad), a cutting-knife, background punch, two ring-punches of different sizes, a metal ruler, small hammer, and set-square. The punches, modellers, etc., vary from lod. to 1s. 3d. each, the hammer is 2s. 6d., and ruler 6d. The worker should also be provided with a marble slab, about 12 by 10 inches, which any stonemason will cut for about 2s. 6d. to 3s., and a small sponge.
Leatherwork is not a very cheap hobby. The leather, a somewhat serious item, is a specially prepared cowhide or calf-skin, and the trade will usually not supply less than "half a cow," at a cost of about 40s. to 60s., or a whole calf for about 14s. The learner should, to begin with, obtain cowhide, as it is not so easily spoilt by ignorant use of the tools. Anyone taking up this pastime should have a certain knowledge of drawing, and be both painstaking and accurate.
How to Make a Book Cover
The easiest thing to make at first is a book cover. Supposing the size of the book to be 7 by
5 inches, a piece of tracing paper should be cut fully an inch larger each way. and the exact size of cover drawn on it by means of the ruler and set-square. The design must be selected - a floral one, with rather large flowers and leaves, is perhaps the least difficult.
Place the tracing-paper over it, and trace through, being careful to see that it fits in and is square with the marginal lines. A piece of leather, allowing half an inch extra - i.e., 7 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches - must now be cut, placed face upwards on the marble slab, and the surface damped all over with the sponge, which should be previously squeezed out of cold water, so as not to be too wet.
The tracing should now be fastened down over the leather by means of drawing-pins at the four corners. Care must be taken to put these at the extreme edge of the leather, or the holes will show after the cover has been made up.
The design must be followed completely with the tracing tool, sufficient pressure being used to indent it evenly on the leather. The paper being then removed, the lines must all be cut with the knife. During this operation the knife must be held absolutely upright, and propelled forwards by means of the first finger of the left hand pushing it from behind. It is best to practice cutting lines and curves on a waste strip of leather before attempting the design, as the manipulation of the knife is by no means easy at first.
A Fault to be Avoided
A new knife is usually very sharp, so care must be taken not to cut too deeply, as it is a fault difficult to remedy, and gives the work
U a rough, unfinished look; on the other hand, unless the incision is decided and even, it is impossible afterwards to depress the edges sufficiently to get the required relief. The lines must then be "opened" by inserting the fine point of the tracer, and running it along the grooves made by the knife. If the design is to be embossed in high relief, the parts to stand out specially should be pressed out from underneath with the broad modeller. The Padding
The "padding" must then be prepared. This consists of rye-flour, obtained from any baker, and the very finest sawdust procurable, mixed in equal proportions, with sufficient water to make it adhere so as to roll up into a ball.
The leather should be placed face downwards on the slab, and small portions of the mixture pressed down on the parts to be embossed. This should be covered with a piece of tissue-paper to keep it in place and prevent it sticking to the slab when working The leather should now be turned over and all the outside edges of the design be firmly pressed down with the modeller, particularly those which surround the raised portions.
The design should now stand out in relief. The veining and shading of flowers and leaves should be marked with the fine modeller. It is in this that the artistic taste and skill of the worker comes in, as there is such wide scope for the display of individuality. The sunken background should now be worked in by tapping the background punch with the hammer, so that the impressions run one into the other, producing a rough surface completely covered with indentations. The marginal lines should be ruled in rather deeply with the fine end of the tracer or modeller, and, if wished, an edging punched round as a finish. A piece of leather for the back must be cut exactly the same size, and may be ornamented according to the fancy of the worker. A simple and effective way is to rule oblique lines at regular intervals, and punch rings either at the junctions or in the centres of the diamonds thus formed. Staining the Leather
If it is wished to stain the leather, it can be done without much trouble. A wide, flat brush of hair (not bristle) such as is used for enamel paint is best. And this, fully charged with stain, should be quickly and evenly passed over the whole surface. It dries very rapidly. Dark green stain is most suitable for cases or covers.
The method of working in calf-skin is very similar, but it requires even more care in cutting, and if the design is small, with narrow lines and difficult curves, it is better to omit the cutting and endeavour to produce ' the effect with the fine modeller alone. Cowhide should always be used for larger articles, such as blotters, book-covers, telegram-cases, or bags, while calf is more suitable for letter-cases, card-cases, small bags, purses, etc.
Latterly a great deal of what is called velvet hide has been employed. It has the appearance of suede leather, and being generally supplied already stained (in various art colours), must, of course, never be cut, or the edges would show the original buff shade.