There are a number of ways of decorating leather; smooth leather like calfskin or steerhide may be decorated in designs by stamping, tooling or modeling, carving, beading, or pyrography. Each method of decorating calls for special tools and techniques; these are described in the following sections.


This method of ornamenting uses wood or metal stamps with designs carved or filed in the end. It is one of the simplest ways to decorate leather.

Equipment and materials needed: stamping tools-these may be purchased, in Indian symbols or other designs, or handmade by (1) cutting off the point of a heavy nail, or using the head, and filing a design (Fig. V-32), or (2) cutting a design with a knife in the end grain of a hardwood stick (Fig. V-33); cutting board; rawhide or wooden mallet; tracing tool; water and sponge; tooling calf, sheepskin, or cowhide.

To make a design for stamping: a design for, stamping is usually an all-over design, or repeated pattern, as for a border. The design should be fitted to the place, i.e., a design with curves for a round area, a long repeat pattern for a belt, and one with straight lines for a rectangular space. Stamping designs should be clear and compact. The stamp may be used over and over, so repetition of the design is possible.


1. Dampen leather on both sides with sponge (not too wet). Place leather right side up on cutting board.

2. Mark with tracing tool where each unit of design will go.

3. Place stamping tool in place; hold vertical and hit top of stamp sharply with mallet to make impression in leather (Fig. V-34). Repeat as desired. Try to make first impression hard enough with first blow of hammer, to avoid "fuzziness" by repeated blows.

4. Practice on scrap leather to get even impressions, and to see how design works out, before using on article to be finished.

Commercial stamps, with Indian designs, are very useful in telling a story, Indian style (Fig. V-35).


This method of decorating utilizes metal tools known as modeling tools, to depress lines and areas in leather.

Equipment and materials needed: hard tooling surface of marble, masonite, glass, etc.; tracing tool or orange stick; modeling tools; rubber cement or masking tape; water and sponge; wax to polish; tooling calf, tooling sheepskin, or tooling cowhide.

To make a design for tooling: make it suitable in size and shape to the article. Tooling is a process of impressing lines and wider areas in the surface of the leather. Usually large areas are left high, and lines and small areas are depressed. Initials, leaves, acorns, campfires, etc., make simple first steps in tooling. (See designs for bookmark, Figures V-37 and 40).



1. Draw design on paper, and transfer as follows: lay leather piece face down on hard surface and dampen back. Turn over and dampen front. Do not soak leather so that water oozes out when pressed (Fig. V-36).

2. Fasten paper design on front of leather with rubber cement or masking tape.

3. Go over design with tracing tool (Fig. V-37).

4. Go over design with small end of modeling tool (Fig. V-38).

5. Using large end of tool, press down the background around the edges of design (Fig. V-39). Press harder near design, and lift tool gradually as you leave the design area. For greater detail in the design, use the small end of the tool.

6. If the leather dries, dampen whole piece, or water will leave a stain.

7. When tooling is finished, let leather dry, then polish with paste wax and rub with soft cloth or your hand.

Making Fringe

This type of decoration is used on ends of straight strips, such as a bookmark, and on seams of such articles as sheaths, jackets, and Indian costumes.

Equipment and materials needed: sharp knife or heavy sharp shears such as kitchen shears; awl; cutting board; ruler and pencil; material-part of the main piece, or extra piece of same material.

Steps For Straight Piece (As A Bookmark)

1. Mark line at each end for depth of fringe (Fig. V-40).

2. Mark dots for desired width of fringe, at each edge and at each line. Connect with light pencil mark and ruler.

3. Cut with shears, following marks.

Steps For Sheath For Knife, Etc.

1. Use shape of sheath, punched ready to lace, as pattern, and draw around edge on leather (line a-b, Fig. V-41).

2. Extend line at point of sheath and at top (Fig. V-41 x).

3. 1/2" or 3/8" above this line draw another line (c-d) to correspond.

4. Measure depth of fringe from line a-b, along x, and mark same depth for entire length by putting dots about every inch, the same distance from line a-b. Connect dots for outside edge of fringe (Fig. V-42).

5. Cut out shape of fringe.

6. With awl, mark through holes punched in sheath piece, for holes in fringe to correspond.

7. Mark off line for second row of holes below line a-b, putting dots for holes between the holes above this line (Fig. V-43).

8. On under side of leather of fringe piece, mark off with pencil width of fringe strands, keeping lines at right angles to edge of sheath or line a-b. When planning for strands at curve (Fig. V-42) cut out narrow slivers, wedge shaped, to make strands uniform width (Fig. V-43).

9. Cut with sharp knife and cutting board, or with shears. 10. Insert fringe between layers of sheath, and lace with overcast stitch (Fig. V-43).

Other Ways Of Decorating Leather

Of the several other ways of decorating leather, some are used extensively in certain parts of the country, as the carved leather of the West; some, as carving or beading, are more advanced than the steps already described. For campers who are ready to advance into new techniques, these additional methods will be of interest; any complete book on leathercraft will give details.

Carving is a method of decorating thick leather, such as cowhide, by cutting the design in low relief with a special swivel blade knife. A combination of carving and stamping is currently very popular in Western type belts and purses.

Other Ways Of Decorating Leather

Beading is a method of decorating by sewing beads on leather; it is often carried out in Indian designs and symbols. Several beads may be strung on a thread, and sewed in place; or in places receiving hard wear, beads may be sewed singly, or in pairs. Beads for borders are first sewed on a strip, and the strip laced in place on the leather, as on a belt.

Pyrography is a method of decorating by burning with a heated point, generally an electrically heated wood-burning set. Primitive tools may be fashioned from nails, heated in the fire. Cowhide, steerhide, and pigskin in natural colors are often used as the base for pyrography.

Finishing Leather

Smooth leathers may be finished with an application of either liquid or paste wax or leather shoe polish; the leather is hand-rubbed or polished with a soft cloth for the final finish.

Attaching Fastenings

Leather may be fastened with thread, lacing, thongs, snaps, eyelets, or rivets. The metal accessories are called "findings"; some of them require special setting tools. Buckles and straps are usually stitched on, though rivets may be used; "speedy" rivets are often used for straps, or to attach rings, such as D-rings. Split rivets reinforce leather at points of strain, as on an ax sheath.

Attaching Buckles

Buckles used for belts and straps are usually of two types; metal with tongues, or carved wood without tongues (Fig. V-44). These are attached in similar fashion.

Buckles with tongues require a hole punched near the end of the belt or strap, or in a separate piece of leather, for the tongue to pass through.

Method No. 1-to attach in end of belt: punch a slot of two or three holes along a center line; even off sides of slot with knife, if necessary; fold over at this point, and insert tongue (Fig. V-45). Mark off three holes for lacing, and punch with small punch. Spread inside with rubber cement, and clamp together while lacing. Lace in triangle and finish off by cementing ends under stitches on back (Fig. V-46).

Method No. 2-for separate piece, as with braided belt (see Figs. 11-50 and 51) : punch holes on edges of extra piece (Fig. V-47) ; make hole for tongue; cement, lace, and finish as above.

Buckles without tongues need no hole in the strip; slip strap over crosspiece of buckle, narrowing as necessary to fit; fold and punch, and finish as above (Fig. V-48).

Small buckles on straps and buckles for camera case straps or other equipment are attached by Method No. 1 above, or by sewing with one-needle cobbler's stitch (Fig. V-49).

Rivets are often used to fasten buckle straps, instead of lacing (Fig. V-50).

Belt loops or "keepers" are metal or leather loops inserted between stitches or between rivets. Leather loops are stitched with butt stitch (Fig. V-51) before being inserted (Fig. V-50).