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September 2008
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How To Craft Leather

OK Guys – We hear ya!  We have been swamped with emails from everywhere wanting to let us know how much they like our blog, love the personal interview spotlights, love the special articles from the newspapers regarding new businesses, industry news, etc.   Then they go on to say ” you have the greatest projects, tutorials and things – could you possibly do TWO posts a day instead of one (wink wink) in order to add more projects?

We’ve decided to make Sunday our “Surfin’ Sunday” post, and we’ll bring you some of the most interesting projects we’ve found while “surfin’ the net”.

There are two of us here, you know, and we kinda take turns at things, and since today is my turn, I’m going to give you a project that my partner Denise has on a Squidoo Lens — How To Craft Leather and simple leathercraft projects.

How to Craft Leather 

A beginner should always choose a simple design, one that has mainly straight lines.  You can create your own, choose one given in this lens, or select a design you like from a magazine or book.  You should start by making a paper pattern the same size as the item you’re planning to make to be sure your design will fit your intended use.  Make any necessary allowances for lacings, snaps, or folds on the pattern before you begin cutting your leather pieces.

Make a temporary guide for cutting your pieces by laying out your design on cardboard and then trace around the outer edge of the pieces.  Cut around the outside lines carefully, making sure that all edges are smooth.  Lay the cardboard pattern pieces out and your leather and mark around them using a hard white piece of chalk or colored pencil to mark dark leathers, or a lead pencil for light colored leathers.

Its important that you use a sharp knife and a good cutting board to cut out your pieces.  Stop the knife about 1/16 inch from each corner when cutting and reverse the direction of the knife by placing the point directly at the corner before completing the cutting.  This will keep you from accidentally cutting past corners and allows for less wasted leather.

Tooling calf and most other leather must be made pliable by moistening or it will not hold a good impression.  Moisten the flesh or unfinished side of leather with a clean sponge and cold water.  Sufficient moisture has penetrated the leather when the grain side begins to darken.  No matter how small a portion is to be tooled, it is necessary to moisten the entire piece. Be very careful with the leather after moistening it because the slightest impression will show, even fingernail marks.  Leave the dampened leather on a flat surface, such as a glass table top, piece of marble, work table or hard board so it will dry in its original shape.  Never put wet leather in strong sunlight or in an oven to dry.

Now you’re ready to trace your design on the leather.  Center and place the design face up and on the finished or grain side of the leather. Place masking tape across corners to hold the design in place. For a tracing tool use a nut pick or orange stick like a pencil. Use a ruler for all straight lines and edges and remove the pattern once all the lines have been traced.

Outline tooling is one of the easiest ways to decorate leather.  Place the leather on a smooth flat surface and go over the outline of the design lightly.  When tooling, work from the corners toward the center of the design so that the leather doesn’t become stretched.  Continue tracing over the outline, increasing the pressure each time, until the design is clear and the lines are of sufficient depth.  The head of a finishing nail can be used for filling in the background – hold in vertical position and tap pointed end lightly with a hammer.  Edges of the design can be rounded by using the broad end of a modeler to smooth them off a little.  This is called flat modeling and is considered a little harder to do.  The design is just opposite that of outline tooling, for the design stands out and the background is depressed.

Stippling the backgrounds of designs makes the design stand out beautifully.  The ball point modeler is used in a tapping motion to enrich the background.  Be careful and do not puncture through the surface of the leather.

If you’ve made any mistakes in the tooling, place the pointed end of the modeler under the leather with point up and push up the part this mis-tooled.  If you make these corrections before the tooling is completed, the part that is pushed up should hardly show at all.

Leather must be skived in nearly any project you’ll make, which simply means thinning or beveling the edges that are to be laced or sewed and the thinning of leather at folds to make them more pliable.  For a good skiving job, the knife must be very sharp to avoid leaving any ragged edges.

If the item you’re making will be laced, use a leather slit punch or awl.  Any small object similar in shape that can be found around the house, such as an ice pick, can be used to make the slits.  Place the leather right side up on a flat surface to make the slits.  Hold the awl in a vertical position and tap it lightly with a wooden mallet.  Be sure that all slits go completely through the leather, spacing the slits evenly as you work your way around the design.

Two of the most popular lacing stitches are the whip stitch and the single buttonhole stitch.


Whip Stitch – this particular lacing is used mostly for decoration or on edges where there will be no excessive wear. It takes about three times as much lacing as the distance to be laced. Make sure the edges to be laced have been skived, punched and are ready to be laced. Never use too long a lace as it stretches when it is pulled through the slits. To begin, take about a yard long length of lace and skive one end on the flesh side back about 1/2 inch. Cement this end to the inside or between the lining and cover at any started point (see dotted line on illustrations). Or the end may be threaded under several stitches on the back at the finish of the lacing. Point or shape the end of the lace and dip in clear nail polish, household cement or glue to hold the end firm while lacing. Now bring it over and insert it in the first slit. Work from left to right, holding the finished side toward you. Open slits slightly with an awl if necessary. Pull lace through until it is tight against the edge of the leather. Bring lace back over the edge and continue the over and over stitch. When you come to within an inch or two of the end of the lace, splice leather lacing as follows: skive ends of laces back about 3/4 inch, one on right one on the back. Put a thin layer of rubber cement on both skived ends and allow to set a few minutes, then press the ends firmly together. Plastic is spliced by vulcanizing skived ends with the heat of a match. It is necessary to go twice through one or two of the slits for a rounded corner. The same tension and slant must be retained to make lacing uniform. End lacing by going through the first slit a second time, then run it under several stitches on the wrong side and glue down. Plastic lacing cannot be glued to leather, but should be woven through the beginning stitch and pulled to the inside.

Single Buttonhole Stitch – this type of edge lacing can be used on almost any project and is the most popular of all lacing stitches. It requires approximately five times as much lacing as the distance to be laced. With a one yard length of lacing, start the lacing at any convenient place and fasten as previously described. Point the other end and stiffen with glue or nail polish. Hold the item in your left hand with the finished side toward you, lace from left to right. Insert lace in the first slit with finished side of the lace toward you, pull through to form the first loop. Now bring the lace toward you, keeping the end or point of the lace to the left. Insert lace in the loop just formed, going from left to right (see illustration). Pull the first loop tight and make sure to keep the lacing straight. Tighten the second loop and finish tightening it by placing thumb of left hand over the entire stitch and pulling the thumb down toward the slit as the lace is tightened. Bring lace over and insert it in the second slit to begin a new stitch. Continue as before, pulling all stitches alike so as to keep the same slant. Two stitches may be taken in one or more of the slits at each corner. Join lacing to starting point by opening the second loop of the first stitch with an awl and pull lace through it tightly, then insert it through the first slit until a half inch remains. If lacing double thickness of leather, pull through one layer of beginning slit – leave 1/2 inch and cement to inside (see dotted line on illustration). The lace may be drawn through to the back and threaded under several stitches and then cemented in place.

The second method of splicing is faster and best when lacing two or more thicknesses of leather. Leave about 1 inch on old lacing and pull through one layer, turn and lay along edge (see illustration). Insert new lacing through other layer at the same slit (see dark lacing on illustration) and continue as before.

In order to bring out the beauty of any item, it must be finished properly. Place the laced edge on a hard smooth surface and tap lightly with a smooth faced hammer. This makes the lacing uniform and smoothes it out. Now apply a small amount of saddle soap to the leather with a damp cloth. Let it dry a few minutes then polish with a soft cloth.

How to Make a Leather Bookmark, Eyeglass Case & Belt 

Steps For Making a Bookmark

  1. Cut cardboard pattern same size as bookmark above.

  2. Trace design on leather and cut out two pieces with sharp razor or
    knife, using a ruler as a guide.

  3. Trace design onto tissue paper, making two tracings – one for each piece
    of leather.

  4. Moisten leather and put on hardwood board or work table.

  5. Center design on the leather and tape down to the work surface with
    masking tape to hold both the leather and the design in place.

  6. Use a tracing tool to trace the design onto the leather.  Remove
    paper only after checking to be sure all the lines are plainly visible on
    the leather.

  7. Deepen all lines on the design.

  8. The background may be done with a deerfoot tool or a stippled effect may
    be attained by using a ball point modeler.

  9. Use a punch or an awl to make slits all around for the laces as shown in
    the diagram.

  10. Skive the edges that are to be joined by lacing, leaving the open sides
    as they are.

  11. Start at point A on the diagram and on one thickness only, follow the
    arrow and lace with whip or buttonhole stitch to point B.

  12. Match the slits of both pieces and starting at point B, lace the pieces
    together as shown around to point A.

  13. Lace remaining open edge from A to B.

  14. Place bookmark on a smooth surface and tap lacing lightly with a hammer.

  15. Wash and polish with saddle soap and you’re ready to mark a page!

Eyeglass Case

Enlarge the diagram above until the squares are one inch, or 1 1/2 inches
each for larger glasses.  Make your pattern pieces, cut, tool and lace as
previously described.

Belt Design

To make this attractive leaf design belt simply transfer the design to
tracing paper and repeat it for the desired length of your belt.  Cut the
leather to the length desired with a slight point at one end and tool in the
outline only, or you can depress the background instead if you prefer, using the
methods previously described.  Add your choice of buckle to the end of the

While you’re thinking about the leather projects, you might want to visit the Squidoo Lens (page) using this link, and read a little about her, then mosey on down on the side bar and “favorite” the page and leave her a thank you note in her guestbook.

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About The Author

Pattern Maker, Instructor & Author


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