The Talk of the Craft
The Talk of the Craft
Note from the Club
Leather is culture. The experiences of human living are often shaped most by the things we do each day. These practices become habits, those habits lifestyles, and those lifestyles influence and express who we are, individually, and culturally. Throughout history, it has been very much the same, especially when it comes to the tools we use and the things we make, including with leather.
From early hunter-gatherer cultures, leather items, then often hair-on animal hides, were used for warmth and protection. It was a function of survival and growth of the community. As time went on, local natives around the world would use leather items for function, decoration, clothing, ceremony, and living. The items reflected the styles and aesthetic tastes of the people that made them. Naturally, different regions of the world produced different types of items, all made of leather, and most of them hand-made.
As cultures expanded through exploration of lands new to them, colonists used leather in many of these expeditions. The handmade items gave way to some produced more with advanced tools and some machines. These items, too, would be functional including boots, shoes, armor, accoutrement slings, horse tack, protective trunk covers, pouches, bags, gloves, and clothing.
As colonists expanded their reach and fought amongst native people and other colonists, military use of leather expanded. Items were now mass-produced, in large scale, and to high standards. As often is the case, military use of items usually leads to civilian use of the same or similar items in the future. Leather craft, though the expansion of these cultures around the world, also was an expression of those cultures’ needs, functions, interests, and values.
We would see these regional uniquenesses more and more in different types of items. In shoe style, saddle styles and decorative themes, clothing shapes, cuts, and leather types, and notably, in art.
Art is an incredible expression of human creativity, values, skills, and interests. Leather art from around the world often embodies some of the highest proficiencies of skills in the craft, while also being reflective of the local cultures, customs, and values in which it is created. Ultimately, leather, and people. Or more, leather, that reflects the people of its time – locally, regionally, by country, and around the world.
Each of us, in our shops around the world, contribute to that on a daily basis. It is pretty special to be a part of that, contributing each in our own way, to something today, and connected with crafters who have been doing similar in their cultures, for thousands of years.
It’s fun to think that while we might be making a belt, or keychain, or saddle, or art, that we’re learning from, building on, and continuing a human tradition that is as timeless as the cultures it comes from. A tiny part of something bigger, we are each part of the craft, and its culture, around the world. Thanks for being a part of it, and contributing special things.
In This Issue
Statistics & Trends
What's New & Popular
A nice leather wallet has always been a staple item for a lot of leathercraft stores and nowadays crafters are putting a new school twist on old-school designs. There are a lot of ways to craft a wallet, but adding your own unique style to it can be a fun way to spice up a traditional design. People have been using exotics, creative stitching, and laser engraving to create some really beautiful wallets.
Tooling can be tedious and work-intensive, but if you’re looking for a fun alternative and want to add some unique designs to your leather, using ink stamps on leather has been gaining popularity in the leather crafting community. Amazon or any hobby store usually has a ton of designs and ink colors to choose from and you can get as creative as you’d like. Unlike tooling, you can apply the stamp directly onto the leather without using an acrylic base beforehand and the leather takes the ink really well!
It’s that time of year again when the smoked turkey legs, fun costumes, and cosplaying as a knight is back! Renaissance faires are always sure to be a blast and can be found across the country throughout the summer. If you’re looking to cosplay as a knight, you’ll need to make some armor from some heavy veg tan. Or, if you prefer to sit and watch, there are a ton of designs for corsets, skirts, and other outfits so you can fit in with the rest of the folks.
Careers in the Craft
Andrew VanZyll - Grimbeard Leather
By Dan Snyder
Some people get into leather work because they need a hobby, others are introduced through necessity. And then there are those that are brought into the world of leather through family at a young age.
Andrew VanZyll, owner of Grimbeard Leather, falls into the latter category. When his father went to prison when he was 12 years old, a family friend brought Andrew under his wing and introduced him to the craft. Cal Olson was a friend of Andrew’s father and was really good at tooling, so he would hang out with young Andrew and show him the ropes.
Eventually though, like most teenagers, Andrew’s interests migrated toward Magic the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons and other games that his friends were playing.
“He (Cal Olson) was really really good at tooling and kind of just taught me a little bit about it, and I got into it and then slowly it went away when I became a teenager,” VanZyll said. “I just wanted to play Magic the Gathering and D&D and all these other games.”
It wasn’t until Andrew got married that he started picking it up again. The urge to create something cool took over and he tooled a Celtic design that he still has today. Then he started making journals where he’d have a store cut a ream of paper in half, drill holes in the paper, add some twine, and then wrap it with leather.
But as life often does, it had other plans for Andrew, but it eventually led back into leatherwork.
“From there, I just kind of let it fly off the radar a little bit, got into web design, became a police officer and did that for about seven, eight years. And as an officer, those guys use a lot of leather stuff. So I got back into it. I was like, hey, I kind of enjoy this. So I started making all sorts of stuff out of leather, but it didn’t really bring me any joy.
“I wasn’t having fun with it. I made a few bucks here and there. But once I made the jump and figured out that I need to make stuff that I like not what other people like, that’s when my brain just exploded with creativity, I’m starting to focus on more of the nerd culture, making dice bags and dice trays and journals with like eyeballs all over them and stuff and just just really cool weird stuff.”
All of that creativity culminated on August 10, 2020 with the creation of Grimbeard Leather.
“I spent about two weeks coming up with the name. We just wrote down different words. I still have the papers that we used. We just wrote down all these different words that I liked and came up with misty mountain leather and white dwarf leather.
Grim was one of the words and I had a beard. And so they just kind of messed together. So it was kind of a cool thing that we thought was a perfect fit.”
Between stints working for a large pharmaceutical company and at the nearby Springfield Leather Company, Andrew worked on Grimbeard. The process, the inventory, the structure. Eventually he decided to make the jump and run Grimbeard full time.
“I said, ‘you know what I can make this work. I can do this,’” VanZyll said. “My shop started picking up, I started getting more shops where word-of-mouth spread around. People are contacting me for stuff, like game shops and comic book shops and it was really cool but it took a lot of effort on my part. I started out with a little shop here in Republic, Missouri, called Cards and Stripes. Steve is the owner’s name and Brandon is the manager, and they both kind of took a chance on me.”
Armed with a few journals and adorned with three or four dice bags, Andrew walked into Cards and Stripes and asked if they could sell his stuff.
“And I was like, hey, I don’t know if this stuff will sell, but if you’re willing to take a chance on me and throw it in your front case, that would be awesome,” VanZyll said. “I didn’t have any idea what I was doing and it sold in two days. All of it, just gone. So they contacted me back up and I’m like, yeah, I have a few more things. And I was like, all right, I’ve got something here.”
Andrew spent early mornings and late evenings working on his products to continue to craft fun and nerdy stuff that he liked.
“And then after work, I came home to work a little bit more so it was very time intensive but I loved it,” he said. “So it didn’t feel like work to me. I made a bunch more stuff, made some more journals and dice trays and I brought them up to Metagames in Springfield and started selling them there.
The highest form of flattery to me is when I walk into a game shop, I’m spreading my stuff out and they give me money for the stuff that I just made. Like it’s just like, you appreciate it enough to give me cold hard cash for what I just did. And this is a pretty stinking good feeling.”
Now when Andrew walks into a game store, he lets them know he’s coming and people show up to look through his stuff before the store buys it.
“When I walk into these stores there’s my name,” he added. “It just feels good. It’s very humbling to me. And it’s very, I don’t know, I never expected that to happen. That’s really cool. Yeah, so that’s how I got to full time in a nutshell.”
But with all the success, there were definitely lessons to be learned along the way.
[I learned to] not to be too hard on myself with the output of products,” VanZyll said. “A lot of the things that I make, every single item I make is unique.”
I may have a tray that has a gold foil embossed dragon on the front. All black leather and white stitching and the next tray is going to have blue stitching and maybe the same pattern and same leather. But the stitching is different or I mix up the leather and I’ll use different embossed leathers.”
In addition to the dice bags, backpacks, journals, and keychains, Andrew adds a foil design to his products by using a foil embossing machine–each time embossing the designs personally like a chef adds a bit of garnish to a plate tying it all together.
“That took me over a year to figure out the leather because it is a challenging thing to put on. It’s not just getting a stamp and stamping it on the leather,” he said. “Every single leather is different. Every stamp is different. The size makes a difference. [I have] two machines here that I’ve kind of rigged up like with full beds on them, they’re adjustable heights, I can move the beds around based on my jig.”
Another selling point for Andrew is the unorthodox method of buying back his merchandise if it doesn’t sell.
“I tell all of my shops and all my customers, I have no issues buying back merchandise from you,” he said. “Almost every time, I go to game shops, I buy stuff back or trade it out. One shop sells out of journals and dice bags and another shop sells out of wallets.I can just give them to the other shop and they’ll sell them, they’ll move. So it’s a business tactic. It also lets me know what stuff isn’t selling, what isn’t going to move and I don’t want to put product into a business or into their hands that aren’t moving, that doesn’t do them any good, it doesn’t make them profit and I don’t want to be producing things that don’t sell.”
When you ask Andrew about what makes a business successful, it isn’t the amount of dollars on the books.
“Honestly, being different,” he said. “I’m developing relationships, I’m not trying to sell you as many journals and dice bags as I possibly can. I’m more there to be about them. I want them to be successful. I want to be successful too, but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
Fortunately for him and nerds everywhere, it’s a model that definitely seems to be working.
For more about Grimbeard Leather check out his website.
Embracing the Future of Leathercraft - Boundless Creativity
By Martin Grabovac
Hey, my leather-loving friends! Today, I’m taking you on an exhilarating ride through the realm where craftsmanship meets artificial intelligence. Hold onto your stitching needles because we’re about to dive into how AI is revolutionizing design in leathercraft, unlocking a world of endless possibilities.
Imagine this: You’re seated at your workbench, surrounded by your trusty tools and leather. Crafter’s block has you fumbling over what to make next, but with the aid of AI, you now have the opportunity to take your designs to a whole new level, breaking free from the confines of traditional methods. Let’s set aside those old graph papers with “Dream bag” sketches for a second, and welcome the era of AI models like Stable Diffusion and Midjourney.
Stable Diffusion, Midjourney are cutting-edge models that harness the power of AI to create images based on text. If you can put your thoughts into words it’s like having a seasoned master craftsman designing projects with you. Sure, there might be a learning curve, and not every idea generated by AI will be a masterpiece. But that’s the beauty of it—it pushes us to experiment, to embrace failure, and to keep refining our craft. Here’s an example of an AI generated bag by@OALeatherSupply, a cheeky cheeseburger bag that dared leathercrafters to take on the ultimate challenge of bringing it to life.
It allows you to visualize your leather creations before you even touch a single piece of leather.
But here’s the real game-changer: AI will not only assist us in designing projects but will also generate new patterns based on those very designs. Simple designs like tote bags are able to be designed today, but in the future complex handbag or wallet designs will be available for crafters. With each passing day, the AI models are becoming more refined, and more capable of capturing the intricacies of our style.
It’s like having an AI apprentice, learning from your style, your preferences, and your artistic flair. This symbiotic relationship between human creativity and artificial intelligence will give birth to an infinite array of designs, patterns, and possibilities.
Now, I can already hear the skeptics among you, concerned that AI will overshadow our craftsmanship, reducing us to mere operators of machines. I believe it’s important to remember that while AI-generated image models are remarkable tools, they’re not meant to replace our creative instincts or the magic that lies within our own hands. They’re here to enhance our artistic abilities, to amplify our visions, and to inspire us to explore uncharted territories of creativity. The magic lies in how we blend the skills we have with the computational genius of AI.
So let’s not fear the evolution of our craft but embrace the boundless potential that AI offers, empowering us to push the boundaries of our creativity and unlock new levels of artistic expression. The artistry lies within our own hands. As leathercrafters, we possess an irreplaceable understanding of the material, a tactile connection that no machine can replicate. It’s through our hands that the true magic happens—the transformative touch that turns raw product into cherished family heirlooms, the intricate tooling that tells stories and evokes emotions.
Let’s embark on this exciting adventure together. Let’s seize the opportunities presented by AI, as we blend tradition with innovation, and as we continue to evolve as artisans in the ever-changing landscape of leathercraft. The future of leathercraft is calling, my friends. Are you ready to answer?
Wishing you boundless inspiration and artistic breakthroughs,
Pioneers of the Craft
Sergey Neskromniy - Leather Stamps Tools
By Dan Snyder
Over the last seven years, Sergey Stamps have become synonymous with quality and detail in the leather crafting community. The man behind them, Sergey Neskromnyy–a Kazakhstan native, now creates, machines, and produces his stamps along with his former students (now colleagues) in their workshop in Varna, Bulgaria. A former professional typographer for 15 years with a degree in graphic design, Sergey started his own successful handmade paper business before gaining an interest in book binding and, eventually, leather working, which led to him developing and starting the first leather workshop in Kazakhstan at the time.
Over the years he has relied on his expertise and experience to create beautiful brass stamps with incredible details that come together on a piece of tooling leather like some sort of magical leather jigsaw puzzle. The ILJ got a chance to talk to Sergey via email to learn more about him and the process behind his craft.
My name is Sergey Neskromnyy. I was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I have a degree in graphic design and I’ve been doing professional typography for about 15 years. But I always wanted to create something exclusive and I became interested in paper molding and opened my own atelier where I used to make handmade paper of the highest quality under the name of the brand “Neskromnyy’s Handmade Paper”. I used to really enjoy the process, so with my team I created personalized sheets of paper for commemorative notes, invitations to important events, diplomas and awards.
I was looking for the exclusivity and significance in each piece and wanted to emphasize it with the very material used in the making process. It’s just that after working in typography, where there is a lot of repeating of the same things over and over, I wanted to make unique things, and as it turned out, there was also a huge demand for them among my customers.
Work in typography led me to being interested in bookbinding and restoration. Book binding and leather working turned out to be closely connected to each other and of course I got into leather working with great enthusiasm.
Back then I was struggling with finding tutorials or any information about leather working at all because in my country it wasn’t a very popular business and I had to collect the information bit-by-bit from the internet. I stumbled upon the Leatherworker.net forum and it became my main source of inspiration and information for a while. I bought a few courses, watched master classes and lessons about various techniques. I remember a course about creating a saddle really well, I even made one!
And that’s how I came to the leather business.
People started coming to me looking for a teacher, so I started giving lessons. In Kazakhstan, I have been doing this for more than 8 years. I created the only leather workshop in my country at that time, where I gathered the most talented of my students and we used to take commissions for leather goods, bookbinding and restoration, and handmade paper casting as well. We used to have many customers and we became pretty popular. I even created my own Kazakh style of ornament for engravings in the leather.
So, my family and I decided to move to Bulgaria to the city of Varna – the sea capital of this country. I took some of my tools and materials with me of course. (By the way, I left my good old workshop in Almaty under the supervision of my friend and my student, and it is still working to this day.) But in a new country I was completely unknown to anybody and there were not many orders for leather items. So, I had a lot of free time and I started experimenting.
Almost immediately I ordered my first (for the new workshop) CNC machine – I thought it would be for my personal use only. In Varna, I also gathered a good company of students, they got better and better with time and quite soon started working on some leather commissions. Once they didn’t need my help that much anymore and started taking their own commissions, I became interested in 2D and 3D graphics and started making 3D models for the stamps. When I made the first 15 stamp models, I decided to share them on my Facebook page. Interestingly, at that point I already had a lot of FB friends – leather workers from different countries. So as soon as I showed my stamps there, I immediately received my first orders from my friends who wanted to have the same tools. And once again I was attracted by a new business idea. I learned 3D modeling in detail, I started drawing and making sketches everywhere: at home, at work, on a tablet on the beach, I was so into this! My students (who are now my colleagues) and I opened our first and still very popular Etsy store, created a website and entered other selling platforms. And in seven years our company has grown into what it is now.
We now have over 1,000 items in stock and to be honest it’s getting more and more difficult for me to find new interesting designs!
In the very beginning, I launched some ready-made stamps that I had for personal use in my workshop, but then I started looking for new cool textures and subjects to turn them into stamps. That’s when I realized that we are actually surrounded by different ornaments and patterns in our everyday life.
I never paid attention to them before, but I started to notice them literally everywhere, for example, I’ve made stamps inspired by paving slabs, origami, wicker baskets for berries, there are some of my own ornaments that I invented, I remember drawing them and modeling on my tablet every evening. And I have to say that not every ornament makes a good stamp, this is a time-consuming process to figure out how to make them match and work. Only one in a few variations ended up being added to the stock.
For example, it often happened that when I thought I was making a masterpiece (in my own opinion of course), the stamp ended up being really unpopular, but a sketch drawn in 5 minutes as a quick warm up became our best selling item. You never know!
I model all of these stamps in a 3D program, this is the most time-consuming part of the whole process. First, I create a design in 3D, I try to take into account all the nuances, but when I cut a stamp on the metal, it turns out that it does not fit or there are some unexpected problems, then I redo the file again and sometimes it takes up to 20 test versions of the stamp before I get one that I’m satisfied with.
All of our stamps are CNC cut, and to me it is the best technology because this way each stamp has the same amazing quality and sharpness, unlike casting, where with time the quality of the mold is eventually getting lost during the copying process. Also, CNC machines are capable of cutting small enough elements that are not available with casting. Each stamp is being polished, washed and its number is being engraved on the handle with a laser.
Looking back on my life, I believe that I have developed a unique set of skills for making tools: I am a graphic designer, I have been doing printing for a long time and after working with leather for years I had all of the needed skills to start this business and these skills gave me a good start and knowledge for the production of stamps.
Around the year 2000, I first learned about and became interested in the leather business. As you know, the internet was quite a different place back then and there was little to none information about leather yet. For a long time, this hobby became a way of life, work and business. I looked at the world through the eyes of a man who is trying to create something original. I was interested in designing bags, purses, backpacks, and belts. I saw literally every handbag, and in my mind I tried to “disassemble it” into sewing patterns, looked for original ornaments, learned how to draw them, and at that time created my own style for leather engraving which I called the “Kazakh Baroque.”
Then for six months I’ve been learning to make leather shoes, from a good master, and I created 5-6 pairs of shoes, and this gave me a very good experience in working with leather.
And it was extremely exciting that I created the only opportunity to make a leather studio, and I had a lot of orders from influential people in Kazakhstan.
I devoted 10 years of my life to leather art and its development in my country. I had a school from where many of the very talented leather workers came from, who still reach this level of craftsmanship. And I hope that in some way they will also influence the history of leather making in this country.
Of course, I do believe that new technologies allow us to create better and more detailed tools, thanks to which we can get more interesting products. Also, thanks to the development of computer modeling, we can create more and more new designs. If we compare the CNC technologies from 15 years ago with the modern ones, then this is like earth and heaven as we say.
Technology allows us to improve the quality of the product, but at the same time we save more time, and this can lower the price, which will allow us to sell our product to more people. This applies to both leather tools and leather products themselves.
In no way do I want to “remove” the “handmade” statute, in any case we make unique and one-of-a-kind products, we put our soul into each product, which makes them precious in their own way. The use of technology only makes our lives easier and frees up time for something more important. For example, our families.
People have been using leather since ancient times. This is a very reliable material; leather products can be worn and used for years or decades and they do not lose their functions and appearance. It’s a 100 percent natural product after all. During the years that I was engaged in leather working, I saw how much this art has grown, initially it was popular mainly in the United States, but now it has developed in so many countries and now there are so many talented masters around the globe.
As for Kazakhstan, I put a lot of work and effort into the development of this business there, many talented students came out of me. I think that our business will develop further and further, of course thanks to new technologies and the Internet, where we can easily get information and lessons. This craft is not easily affected by the quick fashion changes and it will always stay in trend.
My favorite stamps are #67 and #163, and these are definitely some of my customers’ favorite stamps as well. For the basis of the stamp #67, I took a picture of a real snake (a viper I believe) and modeled its scales. I wanted the scales to look as realistic as possible. I am really happy with the result and I think that (especially on the belts and straps), it looks like a real snakeskin!
I can also say that our customers are very fond of our stamps from the basket weave and scales series. Our stamp # 62 – “dragon scale” throughout the years from its creation has remained our sales leader, although, as I already mentioned, it was just a quick warm up sketch at first.
We have a lot of unique and unique designs from “my head”. Not a single manufacturer makes our 3D stamps as we do. These stamps give you a complete 3D picture with lots of volume and realism to the appearance. Such stamps are very popular among the dog owners and those producing dog accessories. Fun fact is that the stamp #294 -French bulldog – Édith Piaf is a real Frnech bulldog dog who is a champion of many dog shows. Its owner didn’t mind us adding it to our shop so now the dog’s image is also a popular stamp.
We also have some classic stamps, such as #36. But when creating such stamps, I always want to add some of my own ideas, increase clarity and depth, so that the product with these stamps looks even more beautiful!
Most of our stamps are made of brass, but there are also some stainless steel ones. Brass is a very good and durable material; I know this from the time I had the printing house. Brass is easy to work with, and brass tools do not lose their qualities after repeated use, which is why I chose it as the main material for my tools.
Bikers and manufacturers of motorcycle accessories certainly love our skull collection.
We also produce custom logos and personal stamps. So many great leather craftsmen brand their products with stamps made in my workshop!
I am very pleased and proud to see on Facebook and Instagram posts with wonderful products that are created with the help of our stamps. These are the moments I feel that I am at the right place and on the right track!
Other than stamps, we also produce belt rollers, swivel knives, bookbinding tools and conchos. Any leather worker from any field of this craft can always find something for themself in our store.
Now we have assembled an excellent team that creates stamps, and we are glad that customers appreciate us!
If you think you don’t have any talent, just sit back and wait for it to show up – that’s my worst piece of advice.
Patience, perseverance, hard work and a little luck is all you need for everything you want to work out!
Pick good teachers for yourself and appreciate people who are always there for you!
Tools, Techniques, & Leather Types
By Bob George
The newer modeling spoons have a rubberized ergo handle with a small spoon (or sometimes stylus) on each end made from stainless steel. There are a variety of sizes of both spoons and stylus to choose from. Modeling spoons are not just used for leather projects, but also for clay projects as well. The spoons can be used to add impressions or even detailed lines and markings to leather carvings. Those with a small stylus point are also useful for tracing patterns onto cased leather.
If you can find a vintage or custom made modeling spoon, they will have a wooden handle instead. Either way, they work best on cased leather. One useful way to utilize a modeling spoon is to remove incidental scrapes or marks from your project. I have had projects get marred up by something as simple as my fingernails. You can gently rub the area to smooth out the lines / cuts with a modeling spoon. It won’t make it disappear completely, but will help hide the harsh lines from being easily seen.
Most leather stores carry modeling spoons or you can find them on other online shops. Also, if one is crafty, these can be made very easily using bolts or nails fashioned to one’s liking and inserted into a wooden handle.
When I started in the world of leathercrafting, I had the luxury of having a Tandy Leather Store around the corner and was able to peruse their wares. This is where I got my own modeling spoons. They have the ergo rubber grips and I really like them. I got two different ones and have not seen a need to increase my inventory. One is a dual stylus; a larger point on one end and a smaller one on the other. I do a lot of pattern tracing and it works well for that. The other one is a dual spoon; medium / large round spoon..
If there is not a Tandy store nearby, they can be purchased from Amazon or other online retailers. Here are the links to the ones I have.
Techniques - Finishing the Stitch
By Bob George
DISCLAIMER: The following information applies only to hand sewn saddle stitching. It may apply to others.
Saddle stitching may be one of those things you really dread, or in my case, may be super relaxing, almost meditative. A project clamped securely in the stitching pony, a cup of coffee sitting near my cigar is a relaxing afternoon for me. As a rule of thumb, I normally lay the thread over the stitching holes to get a measurement of the thread, then quadruple it, then add a couple inches for good measure (gives me room to tie off the thread on the needles).
There are many videos and books (I think of Al Stolhman’s book, “The Art of Hand Sewing Leather”) that explain in detail how to get the perfect stitch, but not a lot of information on how to finish the stitching – and have it look good.
One method is to back stitch, meaning when you reach the end of the area to be stitched, you backtrack through the last few holes (preferably 3-4). While coming up on the last few holes, prior to starting the backstitch, I pull the thread a little bit tighter in them so when I backstitch over the existing thread it is less obvious there are 2 threads going through the hole. When I finish the last backstitch, the thread gets cut so there is about an ⅛” of thread remaining.
If both sides of the stitching are viewable, I will ensure both ends end up on the back side of the piece. Using a lighter, the ⅛” of remaining thread is heated up and shrinks back into the hole. Using the lighter or other hard object, press down on the hot end to smooth it out with the surface of the leather.
If one is stitching, say a belt loop on a holster that will then later have an interior layer of leather hiding the loop stitch, make sure both ends the backstitch thread end up on the inside. This way when you glue in the interior piece, there are no ends showing.
Another method of finishing a stitch is to tie a knot in the thread, between the layers of leather. Using this method can be difficult if you are using contact cement on your project. If you are using a different type of glue, it may be easier to get a little separation on the edge of the project in order to make the knot.
However you finish your stitch, it is important to remember, that the way you finish should not take away from the beauty of your project. Make it look as neat as possible and call as little attention to it as one can. This image below is of the same image as the close up of the burned end. Notice how it is barely visible? This is what you are looking for in a finished stitch.
By Dan G
After trying various exotic skins throughout years of leather crafting, there was one type of skin I never felt ready for — stingray. I had heard about the difficulty of using it and how many saw it as a knife’s worst nightmare. After finding a piece on sale, however, I knew this would be the best time to test it out.
Stingray leather is a material created from the upper portion of a stingray. It has distinct hard, round bumps, making it challenging to work with, yet the ridges also create a highly durable and scratch-resistant surface. These calcium nodules are extremely hard, often compared to human teeth, and were used as armor for the samurai in years past.
Most thicknesses available for stingray will be on the thinner size, 2oz (0.8mm)–4oz (1.6mm). These more delicate skins, along with their smaller size, keep the leather goods that are made from them to smaller sizes. Sanded stingray skins typically do not lose much, if any, thickness in the process.
Despite its rough surface, stingray leather is fairly flexible. This is partly due to the leather’s thin skin. The calcium nodules that make up the surface of the leather do not go through the entire hide, so they do not restrict the leather’s flexibility. Sanding stingray leather also helps break down the fibers in the leather to create a more flexible piece to work with.
There are many issues when it comes to sewing stingray leather. The tough skin makes it difficult and potentially dangerous to punch through. The bumps on the leather make it hard to keep a straight line. Also, even if these two issues are avoided, passing the needle through the hide can cause it to tear from the broken calcium nodules that become sharp after penetration.
Stingray leather is easily one of the most durable leathers for crafting. When it comes to maintenance, the natural durability and resistance of stingray leather means it will not need to be treated as often as other leathers. Its unique surface can also be cleaned more easily. Using a damp clean rag to wipe the leather is recommended. It can then be lightly conditioned to keep it healthy.
With daily use, stingray leather can be expected to last decades, 30 years, or more. This is due to its high durability. Stingray leather is extremely wear-resistant, and unlike most leathers, it is also scratch resistant. Not only will your stingray leather last a long time, but it will also stay looking good. Regular maintenance work is required to ensure the most out of this leather.
Most stingray leather is chromium tanned, opening it up to various colors and patterns. Black is a common color for stingray leather as it highlights the main part of the hide. However, there are endless possibilities for colors. Some more interesting patterns mimic tigers, zebras, or other animals.
Stingray leather is a more costly leather per square foot, but the smaller hides keep the prices much lower than other exotic leathers. A hide of stingray leather can range from $40–$150 depending on size, color, and quality. However, since the average size of a stingray hide is 3 square feet, prices are $13–$50 per square foot. Similar to that of many luxury leather types.
If you’re looking for a unique and fun leather to work with, it’s great for wallets, watch straps, belts, shoes, and small bags.
Stingray leather offers a unique experience for leather crafters looking to challenge their skills or just try something new. A project made from stingrays will provide a beautiful, distinct pattern and a durable surface that can be enjoyed for decades.
Ten Lessons Learned
Ten Lessons Learned with Carswell Leathergoods
By Peter Wagner
Peter Wagner is a talented crafter and writer whose insightful interviews have brought the leather community some incredible leassons to help in their journey. His series is called Ten Lessons Learned, and this is his piece on Carswell Leathergoods. Enjoy 🙂
Martin Carswell. Carswell Leathergoods. Melbourne, Australia.
Yeah I remember it pretty well actually. Early 2013 I had recently started walking again after four and a half months non weight bearing on my left leg. I was at University and needed a hobby for my spare time.
I had a knife I’d made and it needed a sheath so I bought some leather, rivets, dye, a speedy stitcher awl, and a hole punch and I was ready to go!
I made it on the kitchen table with a wooden chopping board as a cutting mat and I used a fork to mark my stitch holes. I used rivets all the way around the edge because I’d seen it done on a factory sheath I owned. I made the sheath then dyed it, and it was rough! I used much too thin leather, but it did the job of protecting the knife and it’s still on it to this day!
I loved making that sheath so I looked for other things I could make. I made dog collars and things then just jumped straight into a double gusset briefcase that I used for years. It’s funny to look at now but I actually did a pretty good job considering I was completely self taught at the time. So that was my first foray into leatherwork and I was hooked.
Yeah I lived in Hong Kong for all of 2016, and I asked all over Sham Shui Po (Tai Nan street is the leather street) for someone to teach me high end leatherwork, and finally came across Oscar, through Angus at Aurora Leathercraft (Instagram). That was the moment I went from an amateur to having technical proficiency in so many skills. There are too many skills to list that I was taught, but my most used and highly regarded would be awl stitching, hand skiving, correct glue technique, and burnishing as well as a myriad of briefcase specific skills. Making that briefcase handle blew my mind, and was probably the thing that really got me completely hooked on leather work.
Back in those days there weren’t any YouTube videos that could teach you high end leathercraft techniques, or even paid video lessons like there are today, so you had to find an actual craftsman to teach you in person. I think it’s better than learning from a video, because you get instant feedback. You may think you are doing it right but some small corrections from the teacher can really make a big difference. Oscar was really strict and didn’t let me get away with anything that was less than perfect. I think that really made me work the way I do now.
I have my briefcase I made in Hong Kong, and another bag I made to sell, but ended up using. I make my own wallets, but they are very simple.
In general, I don’t do leatherwork now unless I’m being paid. It’s a job, not a hobby now. The transition happened soon after I went full time back in 2017. If I was going to spend days making something, it needed to earn me money or I wouldn’t be able to continue the business. I still enjoy the work but it can get stressful doing high end work. Especially custom orders where you never make the same thing twice.
I occasionally make things for family or friends, but nowhere near as much as I used to when I was starting out.
For me I think I actually need to make a few items for display in the workshop. When clients come in to select their leathers for their dream bag or item, it’s always nice to show them the quality of my finished goods in person. Sometimes they’re lucky enough to see me working on a nearly completed item or I may have something ready to ship out or waiting for pickup, so they can see the quality of my work and be reassured they’re going to get a great item. So having workshop stock is a goal of mine.
If you don’t make mistakes you’re missing out on a lot of learning experiences. That doesn’t mean they don’t suck when they happen though. Mistakes will force you to re-evaluate your processes to refine them and avoid the same mistakes in the future.
A big mistake I made once was deciding to remove the lacquer from a brass briefcase lock, AFTER I’d finished the briefcase. A tiny drop of acetone hit the front panel and after two weeks work, I had to rip off the front panel and make and fit a new one.
“Don’t cling to your mistakes because you spent a long time making them.” Heard that many years ago and I live by that. Just move on, don’t think about how much time you wasted. It was all a learning experience so the time wasn’t wasted.
What it taught me was how to repair my own bags. Since then I had a screw on a Sam Browne stud break, the day my client picked up his new bag. It was inside the front panel, hidden under a full lining and multiple pockets. I didn’t stress too much because I know how to disassemble my bags and remove linings to repair anything that needs it. I build in a little extra margin onto my edges for repairability.
Some people may stitch 3mm from the edge, I like to move that a little further on bags, like maybe 4mm, so that if the bag gets pulled apart and reassembled, the sanding required to refinish the edges won’t sand through my edge crease and get too close to my stitching.
Is there anything you’ve been wanting to make but haven’t had the opportunity to (or time to) make it?
My dream has always been to make a double gusset briefcase entirely out of crocodile leather, and with turned or bound edges everywhere. I don’t like edge paint if it’s possible to avoid it.
It would be stupidly expensive to make, and would take me a month or so, but would be so nice… a man can dream.
The other things I would like to make are: a crocodile leather attaché case with engraved hardware and a lush interior done entirely out of croc leather. That’d be wild but finding someone to pay for these wild projects is the reason they’ll never happen. I’d also like to create a really nice ladies handbag design that could be a classic design I’m known for.
On the more realistic side of things, I’d like to make an every day cross body satchel style bag made from natural veg tan left raw to patina. I would love to make something really simple for once, maybe no lining, just rustic and raw. But finished to a really high standard. That would be nice. Natural veg tan would be my choice of leather, if I could only have one for the rest of my life.
Changing to Ecostick 1816b water based glue. I used to use solvent based cement for everything and it still has its uses, but having a fume free workshop is a dream. It’s not as good as solvent-based in a few ways but it’s quite strong and works much the same way.
Other cheap things that will help but aren’t recent for me: grease-proof paper. Goes on the workbench if a piece of leather will be face down on the cutting mat to prevent scratches. Cheap as chips, throw it out when it’s cut up.
Barnsley paring knife. Less than £10 and you’ve got the best skiving knife out there for bang for your buck. Amazing geometry, flex, size, but lacks a few things. Comes blunt, edge retention isn’t great, edges are square and rough on hands, but sharpens very quickly, I think because the hardness of the steel is very low.
My dad told me once that it takes a lifetime to gain a good reputation and a moment to lose one.
That’s a driving principle in my leatherwork and my life really. Because my name is going on my leatherwork, I can’t put out anything that would ruin my reputation. If I make something and it breaks or isn’t suitable in some way, I will take it back and fix it free of charge or replace it completely. It’s better to do that to protect your reputation, because word of mouth is a real thing and extremely important for a small business like mine.
I’ve never thought about that before. I guess you’d want to find a leatherworker who’s skills are on par with your own. If you worked with someone who’s skills were much better than your own, your work would look bad in comparison. I can’t really imagine a situation where I wouldn’t like to complete the item all on my own.
What I might like to do is get someone who is great at tooling leather to do some panels on a briefcase as a showpiece. The best Australian to ever tool leather is a guy called Peter Main (Facebook, IG, Website, Book). Really nice bloke. Very generous with his knowledge and phenomenally talented. I’d get him to do it for sure.
When I glue leather I use a plastic spatula. I don’t use any other method ever. When I finish gluing whatever item it is, I’ll wipe off the excess with some quick swipes on the underside of my bench. It was only when I went to move workshops that I realized how much glue had accumulated. It’s still there in big thick clumps over an inch thick. That’s pretty weird I guess.
Hmm, I’d say start slow, keep your day job while you work on your skills, and also spend your spare time looking for a niche you can exploit. Let’s say your hobby or area of interest is camping. You could create a range of camping related leather products like pocket knife pouches, hiking packs, firewood carriers etc. Have fun with it and use your knowledge in that area to create a useful product that does the job well and looks good. It’s better to work on stuff you’re interested in than products you’re not. For example I find wallets really boring as an item. I have no interest in them. As a consequence, I find making them quite boring. On the other hand, I love knives, so when I make a knife sheath I get right into it because I’m interested in it.
A small niche is all that’s needed to keep one person busy all day every day. I could do knife sheaths all day every day if I wanted but I’m not the type of personality that likes to do the same thing every day. It’s good to know those sort of things about yourself first.
Maybe you’re the type of person that wants to make lots of money and doesn’t mind repetitiveness. You’d better buy a lot of machinery and set up a fast paced workshop where you can move bulk product through your doors. There are many successful businesses like that out there. Doing it slow with only custom work like my business is a good way to barely be able to pay rent. Haha.
Some advice to ignore is worrying about your branding and logo and stuff. I see so many people starting out and they’re all asking about logos and where to get them made and designed as if it’s the most important thing there is. Then I see their work and their stitching is wonky or some other thing is lacking.
When starting out, skill building is what you should be focusing on. Get good enough that people will appreciate the craftsmanship. They won’t even notice your logo. I still don’t have a logo as such. I used the standard letters that came with my Kingsley machine to spell out Carswell for the first three years of my business. That was fine. Now I have a nice cursive script with my name machined but that’s it. I don’t need a picture of a mountain or crossed awls or something to make someone want to buy my work. I could go on about packaging too. But I won’t.
For me it’s the money pressure that gets me back into the workshop. If I don’t work I don’t pay rent and my business will go under. Sometimes I couldn’t think of anything I’d like to do less than start the next project, but I have to put food on the table. Generally when I’m feeling like that it’s because it’s a project I’m either not really interested in, or it’s incredibly complicated and I’m procrastinating because I know it’ll do my head in once I try to start making it. That’s a thing I’ve got to try to figure out how to do too, and that’s how to say no to a customer. If someone wants something and it’s within my ability to make it, and they can afford it, I’ll make it. Even if it’s ridiculous and going to be a headache. I need to stop that and just say yes to the projects I’m interested in. I have more than enough work to keep me busy with stuff I’m interested in but I never learn.
One thing I find helpful and I actually did it today, was sit down with a pen and paper and draw and design some projects I’d actually like to make. One day in the future I’d like to have a small range of standard products alongside my custom work so I designed a tote today that should be really cool when I work out all the intricacies. That’s what gets me motivated to get out into the workshop.
Minimalist Wallet Collection by Lost Skeletons
In this issue, we have a creative and stylish collection (yes, so many great ones!) of wallet patterns, designed by Stacy David Wallingford of Lost Skeletons, based in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. They are digital patterns and can be printed to be used for hand-cutting. Stacy shares about his inspiration:
“As I scroll through places like Instagram and Pinterest, I started to notice products made with my cut files. Seeing another makers online store selling products using my cut files is one of the most fulfilling feelings I think I’ve ever had. The idea that I get to have any kind of impact on someones ability to create something themselves, and be fulfilled in their life as well, is an ultimate joy that I will always chase. If creating fulfills you, I hope I can in some way help you along that journey. You have a purpose, it intersects with your fulfillments and you’re supposed to live it.”
For more patterns from Lost Skeletons, click here to view his etsy, and to see his leather goods, click here to view his website. There are some really great designs. To jump into the minimalist wallets, you can get the patterns right now by clicking below.
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