I have always thought of leather work as a craft too difficult to just dip in to on a whim. I imagined that leather itself is an expensive, hard material to work with and without specialist tools and professional help it is not something for the amateur to play with.
Boy oh boy how wrong I was. Leather working is brilliant fun and the results are spectacular. In terms of bang for your buck this is a hobby that really pays dividends.
So, what got me started? It was a costume emergency.
I needed a ‘bell holder’. Somewhere to put my handbell when dressed as a Town Crier. I owned a wide leather ‘baldrick’ belt worn over one shoulder and wanted to be able to hang the bell safely on the end of that . Worse, I needed to have this in a couple of days time and so I figured I had better get on and make a leather bell holder myself.
Making a Template
To make a template I simply wrapped my handbell in a sheet of newspaper, and then took scissors to it to create a rough template of sorts. I tidied this up and drew a neater outline on a piece of leather from an old satchel.
Using heavy shears I cut it out. This was so much easier to do that than I had expected.
To make the edges nice and smooth I rubbed them down with sandpaper.
So now came what I thought would be the tricky part. Joining the two straight edges together. I would have to use saddle stitch working two needles on one length of cord or waxed cotton. Apparently this is one of the key strong stitches for leatherwork and it is not difficult.
I went online (as you do) to read a few websites and watch a few videos on how to sew leather together and what to do with the ends. It all looked easy apart from making the holes. According to what I read you should make the holes first and then sew the thread. There is nothing like a good ‘how to’ video to give you confidence to go ahead and start something.
Now leather is a good strong material so to get through it you need a very sharp needle or awl (specially made for the job). The other option is to punch out the hole with either a punch and mallet or punch pliers. One of my friends lent me his punch pliers.
I dampened the leather and waited a few minutes. Then I drew a pencil line and marked the points where I wanted to put the holes. I pressed a groove along my pencil line with a ruler and empty ballpoint pen so the stitching would not sit proud on the surface of my piece. Once dampened and left for a few minutes, the leather becomes quite soft and will take an impression easily. This was a revelation. I started playing around with a scrap piece of leather to see what shapes I could put in to the leather surface. But getting distracted wasn’t getting the job done.
Back to making holes. Using the punch pliers was pretty close to using an office or classroom paper-hole punch except the force needed to get through the leather was obviously quite a bit more.
I chose the smallest setting on the rotary leather punch, figuring I could always make the holes bigger later if needed.
So now I had a row of holes. I lined up the other side of the piece and did the same thing there so that the two lines of holes lined up.
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I got my waxed cotton and needles and began joining the two sides together. Again, it was so much easier than I thought and within a couple of minutes the job was done.
Wow. I had a piece of fully functional, reasonably nice to look at leatherwork I had made myself.