Leatherwork design lesson
When the student is thoroughly proficient in cutting and opening the leather, he or she must decide on the article to be made, the material used, and the style of design and method of carrying it out.
It is always best to choose something not too small to begin with and not too large to take a long time in working out, as the amateur always likes to see the finished effect of the work as soon as possible.
We will choose first a cover for a Bradshaw's railway guide; this can be cut out in one piece of cowhide the size of the book, and leaving a margin of one inch for pin marks and to trim the edges when finished. A loose cover like this can easily be made up.
Now, as this is a book usually lying on a table, the embossing of the front cover may be in high relief but the under one or back must be kept flat. The thickness of the book can also be decorated.
A formal or conventional design is most suitable for this object, as flowers seem out of place. An interlacing scroll-pattern, as shown in our September article on home industry on a card-case, would look well if colouring is used and some effective modelling in the bands.
In drawing the design care must be taken to have definite ends and joints to the lines, and not too many short lines, as they give a confused and finicky look to the work. The German acanthus leaf gives the most effective decoration on leather, as the round crisp edges and full curves catch the light and allow of plenty of modelling and relief. Animal forms can be introduced with this leaf and still be in keeping. Quaint dragons and objects, such as a ship, also look well, or even a conventional landscape to illustrate the subjects of the book, but this last idea requires a good deal of artistic skill to carry out, as it is for embossing and not etching that the design is required.
If the student can only procure a flat outline as a design the most satisfactory plan is to trace a part of the design on to strong paper and model it in plasticine with the same tools as used on the leather, and she will then see where the relief can be obtained by the most simple and effective method, and so prevent the possibility of over-working the leather. Too little modelling gives a poor unfinished look to the leather, and too much a confused uneven impression. Most designs look best when enclosed with a boundary line, and starting either from the corners or from the centre rather than from the border lines, or as a floating pattern. There are many leatherwork books on design from which one can get suggestions, and a little practice in enlarging and adapting drawings will soon give the student skill in designing and also add to the interest of the work.
Card-cases, and small articles to be handled and seen close, should have a dainty French style of design or natural flower forms, and more work can often be put on these cases than on a larger surface. Very fine thin leather should be used, and a little gilding and colour adds to the effect. There are sure to be a good variety of styles of embossed leather work shown at the Clifton Exhibition, and in many others held in different parts of the country, and if a student can visit a crafts exhibition he or she will see many different artists' work and soon be able to judge which looks best and gather some fresh ideas for her own. The design for a hairbrush back given with these notes illustrates many of the points named. The leather should be stuffed and fastened on with studs, but this is a matter I must deal with at greater length later.
Taking the next steps
This article is part of a series of helpful articles exploring the beautiful world of leather crafts. Each article looks at specific steps in the leather crafting hobby. We are inspired by the Victorian era designs and techniques shown. You may adapt these techniques for your own benefit. The Victorian arts and crafts movement is an inspiring period with a lasting legacy. Feel free to join into this movement to create your own beautful heirloom.