The Talk of the Craft
The Talk of the Craft
Note from the Club
Leathercraft is a creative experience. It incorporates ideas, influences, interests, and most importantly, inspiration. That inspiration is a key element to enjoyable crafting, and it can come from as many different places as there are crafters.
Some are inspired by function, others by aesthetics. Some by music, and others by the sounds or landscapes of nature. Through that, some crafters create art and paint, others tools, and others design new looks of classic items and accessories.
Have you ever seen a leather item that caught your eye? Something about it drew you in. The design, the shape, the colors, the combination of hardware and stitching. The person that designed it was inspired by something meaningful to them, and through the item, that inspiration passes through to you.
So as crafters, we’re more than just makers of things. We’re amplifiers of inspiration; of things meaningful to us, and of inspirations that are exciting to others. On your next project, when considering the design, thickness, materials, threads, number of pockets, and more, consider adding in an element of inspiration. It might just shine through the finished piece and be the inspiration for others 🙂
In This Issue
Statistics & Trends
What's New & Popular
Pets are part of the family, and like most functional and beautiful leather goods, making pet collars, accessories, and leashes are great projects. They can be easy, are relatively small, and reflect the personality of the crafter or the pet. From leather types, to coloring, tooling, or hardware choices, options are as varied as the imagination used to create them. You might even find that once you make them, friends and family will be asking for more.
Getting started in leathercraft or interested in trying out a new item type? Project kits are great ways to get started, and can even be more cost effective than buying all of the individual elements. Some kits include pre-cut material, tools, and hardware, saving the time of looking everything up, getting excess supplies, and then cutting and preparing all the materials.
Additionally, there are many kits that have detailed instructions, or even walkthrough videos that make it easy and fun to craft right along as you learn.
Knife sheaths are a very popular and functional project for beginners and experienced crafters alike. With minimal amounts of leather (usually veg-tanned), hardware or thread, and some time, great sheaths can be made relatively handily. Style and aesthetic appeal can be added with dyes, paints, or carving, and personal touches can make these great items and even gifts. Consider this as a new project idea to try out next.
Emerging Technologies in Leathercraft
Advancements in technology can often create opportunities far beyond the specific advancement itself. For example, the development of small, powerful batteries has allowed for all sorts of highly effective, portable devices to be redesigned to make use of them. In leathercraft, we’ve seen some incredible advancements in a few areas, based on developments in unrelated technologies. Let’s explore a few of them.
These are tools found mainly on computerized devices. Initially on desktop computers, quality drawing programs can now be found on tablets and even mobile phones, allowing for note taking, sketching, and even pattern making in the workshop or while on the go.
When used for sketching, these tools allow for input an iteration of ideas, lists, measurements, concepts, and all sorts of design exploration. Using a finger, stylus (on touchscreen devices), or a mouse, lines can be drawn and designs created just as quickly as with pencil and paper. These drawings can be saved digitally, and quickly shared with other devices and printers. Examples of these include: Sketchbook for desktop and mobile, Freeform (from )Apple, Adobe Illustrator (desktop and mobile) and even note-taking apps on most phones today allow for free-sketching with a finger. For free, most anyone can use and have fun with this type of digital drawing tool.
There are also more “formal” digital drawing programs, often used for drafting, pattern-making, and 2D/3D design. These programs usually have very accurate and specific grid patterns and orientations as part of their interface, making it easy to draw very detailed and mathematically-precise inputs. Since these drawings are so accurate, 2D drawings can often be used for pattern making (print it out at home), designs for die-making, efficient pattern layout, and template design. 3D drawings can be used for tool making, prototyping, and even 3D printing. And this can be done on most any desktop, laptop, and even some powerful (and common) tablets and mobile phones. Examples of these include: Adobe Illustrator, AutoCAD, Fusion, Inventor, and Sketchup. Some of these can be used free/relatively inexpensively, while more complex tools with extensive features can cost more.
Not that long ago, the idea of having a tool that could make precise cuts, quickly, was mostly only a reality for factories and high-level production workflows (with big budgets). Laser cutters have made that accessible to many more crafters.
Laser cutters use input from a digital drawing, to then etch, or cut, material using a high-powered laser. Similar to how a printer reads the lines of a document to print out with ink, the laser cutter reads lines from a document and outputs them via light. The lasers can often dynamically adjust their power as they are printing (based on the drawing and settings within it). This allows them to either etch (just cut a little bit into the leather, though not through it), and also cut fully through some leathers (depending on the thickness), based on the digital drawing settings.
For thicker leathers, the laser can make several passes (or “cuts”) precisely over the same area, thus allowing it to cut through thicker material.
The ability to laser cut leather offers an incredibly precise, consistent, and fast way to do a few things:
Yes, this is pretty amazing! There are also, as with most things, pros and cons to each tool. Laser cut leather tends to have some burn marks on the edges, and can also have a unique smell after being laser cut. For some designs, this is a deal-breaker. For some designs, the burned edge color can be a welcomed visual addition, and the smell fade with some time. Additionally, coatings or paints can be applied in some cases, removing most traces of the burning or smell. So it is very project and preference-dependent if you might want to incorporate a laser cutter into your work.
Ultimately, this tool adds a significant amount of capability, and opportunity for crafter creativity. And, they are getting smaller and less expensive so can likely find a welcome home in most hobbyist or professional crafter workshops.
3D printers take inputs from digital drawings, and using various print technologies, turn that drawing into a relatively precise physical piece of plastic. These can work well for prototyping parts, sizes, and pieces that can be used in crafting.
For example, if you need to design a unique type of metal ring for your new keychain concept, it can be much faster to draw it digitally and 3D print it (hours), then it would take to have custom rings made (weeks to months). This allows for less expensive design iteration, too, ultimately leading to more innovative products and happier customers.
Crafters can also 3D print elements to include in their finished pieces. Maybe you want to make a sturdy wallet with a thin leather, and include a thin, rigid structure within it of a very unique shape. That can be 3D printed and sewn right into the design.
While this tool would likely be less-used for the broad spectrum of crafters (in context to digital drawing programs and laser cutters), for a subset of crafters it can be extremely key to unlocking new creative opportunities in very fast, fun, and cost-effective ways.
Some folks might be very new to these technologies. If you are interested in trying them out, digital drawing programs will be very easy to try and are very accessible. They are also something that after a few days of practicing with, can very likely be useful to any crafter. Like most technology, they do not replace timeless techniques, yet simply become additional tools available to us in the workshop. They broaden the choices available to us, and the results we can produce.
When combined, these technologies currently open creative doors that we’re seeing more and more of in the types of products that are out there and items people are making. As they will continue to grow in significance, if there is any in particular you would find helpful we go more into, reach out and let us know. And while you learn and explore these, have fun! It’s an incredible time to enjoy these with crafting.
Pioneers of the Craft
Deyan Stefanov - DS Leather Goods
By Dan Snyder
Practice builds strength and commitment and in leathercraft that repetition can easily become an integral part to your craft and yourself. We caught up with Deyan Stefanov, 43, founder of DS Leather Goods, to get a glimpse of what goes into the design of the wonderful wallets and bags that he sells.
Located in Bulgaria, Deyan, a colorblind father of two, and former IT representative, dance teacher, and photographer, creates simple, elegant, and extremely creative designs for wallets, bags, purses, and leather knick-knacks. Apart from sharing the same initials, DS, Deyan and I both share the same passion for leather craft, but you’re not reading this for my perspective, so let’s hear what Deyan has to say. And hopefully–just like when working on one of Deyan’s designs–you’ll learn something.
My name is Deyan, and I am from Bulgaria. I am 43, father of two and husband of the only one. I am colorblind, with a bachelor’s degree in Finance, working in IT, former dance teacher, always a photographer and leather crafter and designer by heart.
How did I get into leather crafting… by accident! Back in the beginning of 2018, I made a camera strap out of paracord for my daughter and it looked pretty awesome. I wanted a cool camera strap for myself too and I started browsing online for leather ones. I stumbled upon some YouTube videos of straps being handmade and one leather crafting video led to another. A week later my beginner leather crafting tools set was already in the mail and so the DS Leather Goods brand was born. Since then, I have ventured into making bags, wallets, accessories, and other small leather goods. Even leather flip flops! *laughs*
With time and experience I have specialized into designing and making wallets that have been widely recognized among the leather crafting community and my customers. I wake up and go to sleep with wallets on my mind…It is a true passion that brings me happiness.
Neither actually. *smiles* I started with the mindset of making this a business from day one. While I was waiting for that first tool set, I was already designing my logo/maker’s mark. At this point I never expected that I would eventually fall in love with the process of crafting and designing leather goods so much. It is part of who I am now.
This will be probably the longest answer, but I need to go a bit deeper on this one. I am consciously pursuing to “disrupt” and elevate as much as possible the experience I have had both as a beginner and as an experienced crafter using other makers’ patterns. First is the learning experience. The Boat Wallet, a beginner pattern on mine for example, includes detailed instructions that explain how to use trim allowance to get flush and easier to finish edges that–once learned–crafters may apply across their works. Or in a more complex build–the Galleon Wallet–I have step-by-step assembly instructions and pictures on how to make seven card slots on one side of the wallet interior vs. the usual even number.
It is important to me that one learns something when building a design of mine.
Secondly, use conditions. Single person leather crafting businesses can sell the final products they have hand made using my patterns. I see crafters around the world successfully adding my designs to their product lines and I understand how this can make a difference for a small business. Then comes novelty. It is not easy to innovate in a craft that has been around for so many years, but it is possible, and I get really excited when I get “I wish I thought of that!” and “What a clever design!” type of feedback and comments on a new model.
Easy-to-craft is another significant factor and focus of certain designs especially for crafters that run a business and need a quick-to-build, functional product that will “fuel” their revenue numbers.
Last but not least is the crafters’ experience as customers. I strive to innovate and delight in that perspective too – from sharing tips & tricks and answering crafting questions in my Facebook group to implementing what I call “free pattern firmware updates”.
[So] what is a pattern firmware update? It is, for example, adding more versions to an existing pattern and distributing the update for free to crafters that bought it previously like with The Tinclad Wallet. Or with The Corsair Wallet – I added a bookmark and a key fob pattern so the panel of leather used for the wallet can be fully utilized and no leather is wasted. I also have multiple crafters with various skills test my patterns before they are released widely – a quality control process so to speak.
In conclusion, if one crafts a DS Leather Goods pattern and they can say at least one of the following “I learned something”, “I sold this and I will sell more”, “I have never seen such design before and I loved making it”, “This was quick to make, I can make a ton more”, “This was an excellent buyer experience” then I have achieved my goals. Crafters’ feedback I have received in the last year has been amazing (and inspirational!) and I am grateful for everyone’s support.
I draw inspiration both from within and outside leather crafting but first comes function. I usually start my “process” with who will be the end users of the products and what needs they may have. In the last couple of months my mind has been heavily occupied with designing for Field Notes users. We have all seen the usual “notebook on the right, couple of card slots on the left” Field Notes covers but it turns out that with some research there are more (or less!) requirements than that. For example, some customers need just the notebook and a writing device (then those card pockets are a waste!), while others want to carry their Field Notes in their everyday wallet (but can they go with just two card slots?). Some use notebooks to draw in and need more than just one pen, and so on… My Field Notes designs will be addressing those rather different uses *fingers crossed*. Of course, the tough part is coming up with a design that not only addresses the end users’ needs but is also pretty to the eye and is what I like to call “craft-able”.
[My] favorite pattern? That is a tough one, but I am totally nerding out over my fan-based Star Wars wallet designs –The Tie Fighter and The Bounty Hunter wallets. I hope 2023 will bring another one to the series –The Father wallet. May the Force be with me on that one! *laughs*
I work exclusively with vegetable tanned leathers. There are so many that I have tried (and so many I still haven’t) that I can hardly pick just one as my favorite. But if I was forced to use just one type of leather it would be simple natural veg tan. No dyes or paints, carving or stamping, just leather in its basic, primal form. As far as favorite tools, I love my Crimson Hides pricking irons.
I feel like I have barely scratched the surface even after years of crafting. But, this is also what’s great about leather working. Its rich heritage, the vast knowledge to acquire, and the many product possibilities out there will power my own learning and excitement for years to come.
That is a topic big enough for a separate interview probably. *sighs* I wrote a short article recently in my newsletter around this and my advice will be threefold.
First, never call it a hobby if you plan or even just secretly dream of making it a business one day. Secondly, find out what you like to make over and over again–no matter if it is wallets, bags, watch straps, dog collars etc.– and put all your focus and efforts there. Last but probably most important, compete only with yourself! [Focus on] how to make your craft and products better, increase sales and wow your customers. Comparing how others are running their business will only slow you down. In a more general sense, starting and running your own business is tough and a ton of work. Be ready to invest a lot of time and effort to make it successful… and never forget to have fun!
Ahahaha! Here we go! My worst piece of advice is: Buy cheap tools! Ahahaha!
Thank you, Dan, for the opportunity and the great interview. It was a pleasure! And to the readers of the International Leather Journal, I will say: leather crafting comes “packaged” with a great community. I truly believe that together, by striving to learn, innovate and share our knowledge with fellow crafters we will not only keep leatherworking heritage alive but bring it to new heights. Happy crafting! Deyan
Tools, Techniques, & Leather Types
By Bob George
An arbor press is a mechanical device that allows the user to press things together. Traditionally, it may be used to press fit bearings onto shafts or other machinist type activities, but it is also a mainstay in many leather shops. The arbor press is made up of several components. The frame itself, the base plate, ram, and lever. These work by setting the work piece on the base plate and pulling the lever, the ram comes down into contact with the work piece. To apply more pressure, just continue applying manual pressure to the lever.
How does this device and leather go together, you ask? Typically most stamps are struck with a mallet, leaving an imprint in cased leather. There are times where a stamp (maybe one you made from acrylic) covers too large of an area to effectively transfer the pattern with a simple mallet. This is where the arbor press comes in. In most cases, the arbor press ram is one inch square. If the pattern you are transferring to leather is larger than that, you may want to place a larger, stiff item (say a ¼” plate of steel or wood) as large or larger than the stamp between the stamp and the ram. This way even pressure can be applied across the entire surface of the stamp.
Prior to pressing the stamp into the leather, make sure the leather is cased well. In most cases, I will place the leather piece under running water for several seconds; casing it more than if I were carving or stamping with say a craftool stamp. Unlike a craftool stamp, a simple strike with a mallet won’t leave the desired emboss. One cannot just pull the lever on the arbor press until it makes contact, then raise the ram. To get a crisp, deep impression, it takes time and pressure. For an acrylic stamp that is 1” x 3”, I will pull the lever hard and hold it down for up to 20 seconds. I then check the emboss. If necessary, I press again to get the results I am looking for.
There are several places to find an arbor press and they come in many different sizes. For general pressing of leather stamps, I find a 1 ton press adequate. For a cheap solution, I got mine at Harbor Freight. When I looked recently, I didn’t see any listed there, but one can find them at Amazon.
One can also use something like a vise or even sandwiching work between hard surfaces and use vise grip pliers to get the same results. It is just a little easier to align your work when using the arbor press as your work is laying on a flat surface. The other methods mentioned have your work suspended and are susceptible to move around while you are trying to clamp your work. Give it a try, there are many sources for larger stamps. www.bunkhousetools.com or www.pastorbobleather.com to name a few.
Techniques - Proper Work Surfaces
By Bob George
When working with leather, there are many tasks that make up a finished product; cutting, carving, stamping, dyeing, and stitching to name a few.
Some have the luxury of having many work tables, each for its own purpose, but many don’t and have to transition their work surface from task to task. I will share how I have a multi-use workstation setup as an example.
I have a solid metal framed table with a 1.5” solid wood top. I think it came from Sam’s or Lowes. It is 72” long and 24” wide. It is raised so I can sit at it on a stool rather than a chair. On the surface, covering the wood, I have a cutting mat. It is approximately ¼” thick and covers the entire top of my table. I also have a piece of granite that is approximately 16” x 16” on the table top as well.
The metal framed solid surface table is imperative to support the work being done. When I am stamping or carving cased leather, I move the granite slab (these are easy to source from a local countertop maker or if you can stop by Springfield Leather Co., they have them stacked up next to the door when you walk in.) to the center of the work area and begin to create. When striking stamps with a mallet, if the work surface is not sufficient, the stamp won’t make a crisp impression as the table flexes under the blow of the mallet. Make sure to always move your sla out of the way so it is not used as a cutting surface for leather or contaminated with dye. It will dull your blade or dyes left on the granite may transfer to other projects, ruining them.
The cutting mat is important as well. I don’t want the top of my table getting cut up. I have used a work surface made of plywood. When making multiple cut directly on the plywood, it begins to flake off. It not only damages the table top, but can also leave unwanted impressions in the leather project on which one is working. These mats are sometimes referred to as healing mats. It seems that even after multiple cuts, they “heal” themselves, closing up the cuts so the surface is still relatively smooth. These are somewhat expensive and other options are available. One can get these at sewing supply stores. They are much thinner, but they are super resilient and withstand many cuts.
When dyeing leather, I simply cover the area of the table with paper towels to prevent the dye from transferring to the table top. It is not perfect and I have plenty of dye stains on my table, but it’s better than nothing at all. I have seen others lay down plastic wrap or trash bags or even butcher paper to prevent dye from getting all over the place.
It’s not typically considered a work surface but a stitching pony is your friend if you are hand stitching items. It is like another hand to hold the work, especially if you are doing saddle stitching. Whether you make your own (and I have seen some nice ones) or using one purchased at many fine leathergoods stores, make sure to cover the jaws with leather. This will prevent the jaws from leaving marks on your project. If you are like most of us, you have a full bin of scraps that will work well for covering the jaws.
Beaver Tail Leather
Beaver tail leather is a type of leather that is made from the tail of a beaver. The tail is harvested and processed to create a working piece of material that has a unique scaly pattern, similar to that of a fish or a snake. It is generally small, under 1 square foot, and has varying thicknesses throughout the tail.
Unlike most exotic leathers, beaver tails can be tanned using both vegetable and chrome tanning methods. The leather is scratch-resistant and provides excellent water resistance. It most often comes in thicknesses ranging from 4oz (1.6mm) to 10oz (4mm) and the largest workable size is usually about 5” by 12” (less than 1 square foot).
The estimated annual production volume is 25,000 to 100,000 and the biggest exporting country is the U.S. and Europe. The biggest importing countries are mostly in Europe. Given the size, it is a great option for smaller projects or inlays
For example, one might use it for:
When leathercrafting with beaver tail leather, it’s important to keep a few things in mind to ensure the best results. Here are some tips:
Some popular items made from beaver tail leather include:
If you’re looking for a new type of leather to make a unique project, beaver tail could be an excellent and creative option to explore.
Ten Lessons Learned
Ten Lessons Learned With Left Foot leather
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 Left Foot Leather. Enjoy 🙂
My name is Brad Hammonds and I run Left Foot Leather in San Antonio, TX.
Mostly, I make wallets and the occasional watch strap. I enjoy working on bifolds the most.
My best under-$100 (and most frequently asked about) tool would be my 90° angle jig. It’s perfect for gluing in linings to build a nice natural shape into bifolds.
It’s hard to pinpoint just one, but I try to look at each mistake as a learning moment—with “try” being the key word. Accidentally ruining a project right at the end has a way of sticking with you that makes it easier to remember to avoid the same mistake in the future.
Learning the techniques before launching a business. It seems that many leather crafters try to jump into both at the same time. I spent several years honing skills before ever thinking about selling or sharing anything. That was super valuable time that I wouldn’t trade away.
Not so much an odd technique, but more of a ritual: I completely clean off the workbench between every project, even if I know I’ll need the same tools soon after. I like to start each piece completely fresh. I enjoy the opportunities that come with a clean slate.
The biggest thing is recognizing that every step in the process is a move towards the final product, with a nice edge being a part of that. Clean cuts, good alignment, careful handling—all these go towards making that nice, smooth edge. That, and of course, lots of sanding!
This has been an odd year for everyone. In normal years, non-leather work takes me on quite a few trips abroad. This year, with travel out the window, it has been an appreciated time of focus. It’s also been a very uncertain year for many makers, so practicing patience and avoiding panic have been possibly the biggest struggles.
Invest in good tools early on. They don’t have to be the most expensive, but start with something quality. If you decide it’s not for you, sell them. That’s better than buying twice. Also, start simply and make you own patterns. Even an easy project will teach you a lot through the process of ensuring everything is just the right size.
It’s not necessarily a bad recommendation, but maybe more of a different approach or practice. I see folks focus on branding or efficiency or video tutorials or whatever, sometimes ahead of or at the cost of the craft. And that’s fine, follow your passion. But with a material as amazing and precious as leather, it’s hard for me to see prioritizing anything above making the best possible product.
I am very lucky to have a super supportive wife who is very experienced in bringing calm. Luckily, focus isn’t a problem when it comes to crafting, but I’m still learning the ropes of remembering the other aspects of running a business.
Leather Box Pattern
In this issue, we have an incredible and classy leather box pattern for you, by the creative duo Vasile and Pavel! Based in Romania, they develop some of the most unique and beloved leather patterns in the world. So many crafters have used and enjoyed their patterns, which are very well designed, and printable.
Additionally, they have a Youtube channel which features walkthrough videos of their patterns, so you can follow right along as you craft. For example, you can view the walkthrough video for this pattern by clicking here.
For more patterns from Vasile and Pavel, click here to view their Etsy shop (top rated with over 22,000 sales), and click here to view their website. To get crafting now, click below and download the leather box pattern and get started today.
ILC Club News
Latest from the ILC
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ILC Community Forum
We are always evolving the site to best serve members, visitors, and crafters from around the world. To help, we have more closely integrated the community discussion forum into the website. You’ll see several new features, a cleaner interface, and lots of great topics to explore. Head on over and share your latest project!
The Global Leather Directory continues to grow and covers a range of leather related businesses, shops, and people around the world. The latest additions include studios from Canada and Sweden. Click below to visit the Leather Directory and see what’s going on in leathercraft near you.
We have created a new, public Facebook Group for the ILC! You can look there for short videos, tips, insights, activities, and meeting/chatting with other great folks every day. Click below to check it out for more.
We owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to the people that helped develop the craft we get to enjoy every day. With a treasure of knowledge from Jim Linnell, we continue our Studio Stories series, in the latest episodes looking at the history of modern Leathercraft Founding Father, Lou Roth – educator and inventor Tandy Craftaids. Click above to view the video, and below to visit/join the ILC YouTube channel and get notified when new episodes are released.
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