The International Leather Journal
The Talk of the Craft
The Talk of the Craft
I was looking to create something with my hands. To feel the human experience of taking a material and forming it into something else. Something meaningful, functional, and more useful than the parts it began as.
A timeless element of our creative nature as people is to envision, hunt, gather, and craft. There is an unspoken and deep satisfaction that comes from producing something; seeing an object reveal itself before us, coming solely from our own hands. The body and mind blend into a state of almost instinctual being as we’re deeply engaged yet comfortably relaxed.
The result is an item that provides new utility, something that exists only after we have made it. The essential element to this, beyond the materials, is us, the creators and crafters. It is comforting, soothing, and fulfilling to see with our own eyes that as individuals we have the special ability to create. And most importantly, the process is simply just enjoyable. That is why I got into leather craft and what it gives back to me, the distinctly human experience of creating.
Beyond that, what we create can have wide-reaching, and positive impacts on others. A quality saddle can help a rancher provide for their family, leather gloves protect firemen in the line of duty, or a fun leather stamping project help a grandad and their granddaughter build quality memories together on a Sunday afternoon.
Leathercraft at its most fundamental level is about being human, as is sharing that interest and connection with others, so we have created this platform. Our team would like to very warmly welcome you to the International Leather Journal, a digital publication for the leather community, culture, and craft. Around here we talk as friends, so most often we’ll just call it, ‘the Journal’.
You will find more than tips and guides (yes, those are in here too), you’ll find community, connection, and insights into the people of our craft, where we’ve come from, where we’re going, and things to specifically help you along each day of your own crafting journey.
Your voice matters a lot, and your interests do too. Share your opinions, what you would like to see, and what you would benefit from the most. We serve the greater good of leather working, to give back to what it has given us, and are so very glad that you are here.
In This Issue
Statistics & Trends
What's New & Popular
Acid Wash Hair-On Cowhide Rugs
Remember the 70s? Well for those that forget, acid wash was a big deal back then and it’s making a comeback. Recently Acid Wash Hair-on Hides have been making a comeback and we’re a very popular item at trade shows across the country. These hides come in a variety of colors and patterns and can be whole hide or a side. It’s the perfect rug to complement your lava lamp.
Usually made with chap chrome-tanned leathers, these trendy earrings are still a popular choice for a lot of DIY artisans. There are a lot of styles to choose from and can be personalized to fit any personality.
These shoes seemingly came out of nowhere but remain popular for their customization options and comfort. After talking to a local leather retailer, they told me that many people are buying leather to retrofit their HeyDudes. They have seen everything from people replacing the tongues of the shoes with hair-on pieces and tooled veg tan. A quick search on Etsy confirms that some DIYers are coming up with some really cool designs.
Perspectives on the Craft
LEarning from a Little Piece of LEather
By Dan Snyder, Amateur Leather Guy
About a year ago I found myself out of hobbies. If you know me well this would seem impossible for I am always doing something but here I was and I was bored. Luckily, I have a very adventurous 5 year old daughter and I live very close to a local, well-known leather and bead store.
So one sunny day with some time to spare, my daughter asked if we could go into the store with the big sign and the wood facade. Now don’t me wrong, I’ve been there a handful of times before but I always admired never acquired. This day though I spent it with my daughter looking at the cool creations–both manmade and natural–and after buying some rocks, a bag of sand filled with hidden gemstones to put in the sluice outside (yes, this place has an incredible geology section too), some hemp cord and beads for macrame, we picked up a free bag of upholstery leather complete with instructions to make a patchwork throw pillow. Well, I say we picked up the bag but it was mostly my daughter who thought it was cool and I thought ‘I’ll probably throw these away the next time I move.’
When we got home though, I sorted through the bag and found some cool pieces and perused the instructions. Me, being bored and out of hobbies, thought why not give it a shot? So, over the course of the next week I went back with the instructions and asked for the tools I needed to complete my pillow. A lot of hand sewing and trial-and-error later the pillow mission was a success and here it is in all of it’s beautiful patchwork glory complete with visible stitching and failed attempts by a newbie who didn’t know any better to stamp chrome-tanned leather.
Fast forward to today. You can see in the background of that photo that I have acquired some more tools and have completed more projects (and pillows! Five more to be exact, one of which I sold!). I have even landed a job at the shop cutting Hermann Oak and fulfilling orders. But the reason that I love working with leather isn’t just the fact that it is my job, it’s the heritage and the creativity and the awesome people in the industry. I’ve also found that it draws an incredible sense of community out of leathercrafters and most importantly, if you pay attention it will teach you something about life.
Nowadays after a hard-fought battle in the trenches of the leather gathering department (just kidding it’s an amazing place to work, although the holidays do get busier than a termite in a sawmill) you can find me sewing doll clothes for my daughter or practicing my tooling or making hats, bags, what’s-it’s, whose-it’s, and whatever-it-is-it’s out of leather.
Throughout this journey, not only have I found a new lifelong hobby, but a great network of friends and valuable skills. Leatherwork has taught me patience (always let your leather dry before antiquing), humbleness (my work always has flaws but that’s okay), and above all else a respect for those who share my passion for this wonderful world of leather. I have a lot to learn and will never stop learning. I have a lot to teach as well. My daughter loves to stamp veg tan with flower and butterfly stamps and is always asking me to make her things, which I happily accept as a new challenge because Barbie needs a new dress goshdarnit. I also learned to pay attention more. I watch those with years of experience and I ask questions, because no matter how dumb it might be a dumber question has always been asked before.
So, I guess I wrote all of that to tell you this, this magazine or e-zine or whatever the kids call it nowadays hopes to help you in the craft and we want to keep it light and fun but pay homage to the rich and storied history of leathercrafters. But besides all of those great things we wanted to bring to light the subtle and significant ways in which the craft can teach us positive and meaningful things about life, because we’re all living it right? Send us ideas or topics you would like discussed and we would love to see what you made too. We can all do with a little more togetherness in this world and we can all learn a lot from a piece of leather.
Heritage & Upcoming
Vintage Patterns & Project Ideas
Thousands of years ago our ancestors started “tooling” around with leather to make all sorts of things from shoes to clothing to jewelry. In recent times there have been some amazing leathercrafters like Al Stohlman, Gene Noland, Barry King, Don Gonzales, Bob Beard to name a few.
But if you’re looking to dabble into the tooling aspect of leathercraft, I would suggest an amazing resource, the Tandy Leathercraft Library. This collection includes vintage patterns by some of the greats and some contemporary projects like Steampunk Dragon Scale Gauntlets available for free, all you need is a printer.
What is really cool though is the sheer volume of all the old patterns published from the 1950s to 1998 called the Doodle Pages. These pages contain patterns and instructions from some of the greatest leathercrafters. It truly is a look back in time at the incredible work of these master craftsmen.
So if you’re looking for a new project or trying to find an old pattern from a 1988 Doodle Page, this site is a tremendous resource and a testament to the rich history of leathercraft.
Laser Cutting and Etching
Commercial laser cutting has been around since about the 1960s. Smaller, mass produced machines became more widely available in the 2000’s, and in the last 5 years or so portable and at-home laser cutting machines have become commonly available and affordable. For example, the popular Cricut machine can be had for around $100 used on eBay, and a more powerful 40-watt laser machine for about $500 on Amazon.
This opens up a new world for making precise, repeated cuts at home. Or etching detailed and accurate shapes and words into leather. While capabilities and results vary, it’s an incredible, accessible technology that allows us as crafters to experiment in new and fun ways. We’ll likely see future advancements in both technology and price making this something to consider for the shop.
Pioneers of the Craft
Where Special Things BegAN - with Kevin Hopkins, Founder of Springfield Leather Company
By Dan Snyder
In the last 23 years Springfield Leather Company has become a major staple in the leather supply world. You may have a package coming right now taped up with their distinct yellow tape or you may have seen owner Kevin Hopkins on their Youtube channel showing you how to double loop lace. We got a chance to visit with Kevin to ask him some questions to get a glimpse inside the family-owned, almost 100-employee business that all started with a guitar strap.
If I met the high school version of Kevin, what was he like?
Wow, while in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but when I got out, which was in May, if I recall correctly, I got tremendously mad at my parents for no good cause at all. I was so mad that I went to the big city with a friend of mine and we both enlisted in the Navy.
I knew I was not going to have a choice. I would have to go into some form of military service. That was in 1968 and that was no question. So, to make a long story short, that’s what we did, we enlisted.
How has that type of proactive decision making affected you in starting a business and developing Springfield Leather?
Well, that sort of proactive thinking wasn’t really a part of my makeup at that time. And I didn’t have to do any proactive thinking while I was in the military, it’s only after I got out that I found proactive thinking would be smart. And while proactive thinking might have been smart, I wasn’t all that smart.
So I got into drug dealing and various other bad things along with playing music in a band which wasn’t necessarily bad, but it wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done and it was only after I turned about 25 years old that I started realizing that proactive thinking was a good thing.
In other words, you should consider ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen in the face of this decision? What’s the best thing that could happen in the face of this decision?’ So at that time, I went to work for John Deere first, and that was a job, paid money. I was able to support myself. But the job that I had driving a forklift was pretty challenging. And in the venue that I drove this forklift, it was not conducive to good health. So, I quit and tried to rely on the band to support myself, but I didn’t last too long and then went to work for Tandy leather. That was much easier work. Much less pay, but I didn’t have a whole lot of ambition at the time other than to just be able to work, support my family and be okay and that was the extent of it when I started working for Tandy.
I’ve heard the story about how you wanted to make a guitar strap and that led you into a Tandy store and eventually you started working there and now here we are. How does it feel that one small decision to make a guitar strap has changed–I would say–thousands of lives?
Well, pretty good actually. You’re right that decision did make a difference. I actually made those guitar straps before working for Tandy and after starting work for Tandy, I continued on with that sort of leather craft because Tandy didn’t pay enough to survive. So I did leather work on the side and through my regional managers and other managers, I gained experience in how to promote leather craft and I discovered that I was a pretty natural promoter. I was good at that, and I had a lot of experience so that gave me credibility. As I proceeded on through my career with Tandy, I focused a lot on teaching young people in schools and also teaching customers where I felt that I could and helping people to do better and I have always wanted to do that.
I would definitely say that you have accomplished that. Are there any projects that you’ve done or assisted with over the years that bring to mind a moment of profound joy or satisfaction?
Hmm. Profound joy or satisfaction. That’s a challenging one.
You know, in the secular part of my life, it’s been focused on leather and leather craft. So gaining the ability to provide a product to people that are involved in that craft and actually help them to gain joy from their craft and to gain the ability to make a profit and to possibly forward their craft into a business. Having seen that happen, that’s a cause for joy.
The prison business that we have really has also provided a great deal of satisfaction for me, because it’s not that I have any special feeling for prisoners either one way or the other. But when a person is in prison, that’s where they are and they have to deal with their life from that point. So it’s always been kind of a desire of mine to use the prison business to create a win-win situation.
And, you know, people that are in prison, many times suffer from a lack of self-esteem along with a lot of other issues and providing them with a product and an option to take up a craft along with an option to support themselves and contribute to the support of their families that’s a win-win. And we’ve done that. So I get a lot of joy out of that and I’ve gotten a lot of response from people that have been in prison and now they’re running leather craft businesses of their own or doing whatever, but that’s been a good thing.
When you think of the last 23 years of SLC, about how much technology has changed, how would you say that you have embraced it from a business perspective?
I’ve embraced it mainly through other people because I have a hard time adapting to change, I’m hesitant to change and I don’t like to change. But at the same time I have always known that you have to change or things are not going to be good. So, as far as technology went, I mean, I was one of the last flip phone guys, and I didn’t really want anything to do with Amazon, but my employees did, and they just were so insistent and said, ‘Kevin, this is what you need to do.’
Well, I listened to them and we went ahead and they worked. So not being completely stupid I was ready enough to expand those areas and we did and it’s mainly because of other people having the ability to do that because I don’t. If it was up to me to conduct an Amazon or an Etsy or an eBay business, we wouldn’t have them.
What is the strangest, weirdest, most quirky product you’ve seen or sold in the leather industry?
One thing was the fact that we sold Bic lighters to prisons all across the country for years and years and still do. Well, they can’t have Bic lighters so we call them thread burners, and by calling them thread burners craft shops and supervisors okayed them.They said this looks like a lighter. Yeah, well it’s a thread burner and that was a strange thing. I also learned that we could sell paper clips, paper, sandpaper and sponges to people in prison and those things that people on the outside can get but people in prison don’t have access to.
As far as something strange and quirky, I think chicken shins; it’s probably the strangest thing that I’ve ever sold leather wise. It was a little piece of leather about five or six inches long that was the shin of a chicken. It was tan and you can make a watch band out of them.
Everybody always asks for your best piece of advice, so what’s your worst piece of advice?
The worst piece of advice that I could ever give, it’s a two prong thing. Number one, ignore your creator. And do not cultivate humility.
You have mentioned in other interviews, the importance of humility and helping others, what actions can other leather crafters take to help the future of the leather craft culture?
Oh, that’s easy. Share your knowledge.
This has been a major influence on the success of Springfield Leather because we never had any secrets. If you want to know where to buy something we tell you where to go to buy it or if you want to know how to do something, we tell you how to do that.
The leather world had become a very secretive place and I feel like we’ve changed that to some degree as has the internet. You know, the internet has certainly played a large part and I like to think we’ve contributed to that because we just don’t have any secrets and the more people that share their knowledge, the more people are going to be successful and the more people that are successful well that benefits me, it benefits them and benefits everybody.
If you could summarize the last 23 years in a few words what would those be?
It’s been a wild, crazy and far more than I expected ride. I never expected things to kick off to the level that they have. I had hoped for success and it went far beyond that. And now I have to try to apply all the advice that I give to others to myself.
What’s the next big thing for Springfield Leather?
It’s a very challenging time that we live in. Far more challenging than probably anybody ever counted on it being, but due to those circumstances, we have to come to grips with being able to take care of the business that is coming our way and that we have generated.
So, expanding our warehouse capability is an absolute necessity. Expanding our order filling capability is a necessity. There’s a lot of headwinds in front of us regarding those things but it doesn’t change the fact that those are the next big things.
Anything else that you would like to say to a customer or somebody reading this?
One thing I’ve really appreciated from our customers is the level of trust that they have extended to us. That is such a huge thing and I feel like it’s all of our responsibility to repay that trust by giving our customers the benefit of the doubt and doing our best to provide service and product to them. I think that’s a pretty big deal. As far as anything else, keep your priorities in life straight because that’s what makes everything work.
Tools, Techniques, & Leather Types
Tools - Swivel Knives
By Bob George
Swivel knives are the backbone to leather carving and tooling. Swivel knives come in many shapes and sizes, making it easy to find just the right one to fit your hand. In addition, there are many blade types and designs to allow for your style of “art” to be created in your project.
Most swivel knives have a ¼ – 5/16” diameter hole in the end to accept the shaft of the blade and are secured with a set screw. Make sure to get the proper diameter shaft for your knife.
The blades are typically made from two types of material; hardened steel and ceramic. There are pros and cons to both types of material. Metal blades are more durable and can take more abuse, but need sharpening often. Sharpening them is not difficult with a good strop or a whetstone, but definitely takes a skill to do so. A skill I struggle with…two things you need when sharpening a blade…patience and the ability to hold the blade at JUST the right angle.
Ceramic blades come very sharp and stay that way. There is no need to strop or sharpen a ceramic blade. These blades, as you can imagine, are very brittle and can chip or break easily if dropped or banged on your work surface.
Just like with any type of knife, there are endless shapes and sizes in which these blades come. The length of the cutting edge can vary from ¼” to ½” or more. There are straight blades, angled blades, and beader blades. Some have a wide bevel on the blade, while others have a narrow, or sometimes even hollow ground.
Whichever blade type used, it is always best to make the cut into leather by pulling the blade toward oneself. In most cases just the trailing edge of the blade is in contact with the leather surface. One advantage of the straight blade is that it allows you to use both edges during your carving (by flipping it 180 degrees from time to time, just like using a straight razor for shaving). By doing this, you only have to strop the blade half as many times. With an angled blade, you can only use the one edge.
A beader blade has two parallel blades. These blades are available with several different widths between the blades. Beader blades are typically used when cutting borders in one’s project. It really gives it a nice look and make it easier to keep the two cuts even around the project. Some craftsmen are able to duplicate this with a steady hand and a single bladed swivel knife. My hand is not that steady, beader for me please.
Blades vary in price from $5 and up. I have found that a ¼” angled blade is the best all around for general carving. It is small enough to get into tight places, and can also make the long, swooping cuts as well. Although I like the idea of ceramic blades, the hollow ground metal blades offer a much narrower edge bevel and allow me to make very delicate cuts. Stropping for me is not difficult, but I don’t look forward to having to take my blade to a whetstone…remember, I have no patience 🙂
Techniques - Antiquing
By Dan Snyder
Antiquing a tooled piece of veg tan is a great way to add contrast and highlights to your work, but have you ever wished there were more colors of antique cream or gel to choose from?
I recently was asked to make a wallet for a friend’s husband and he is a big Kansas City Chiefs fan so I thought it would be fun to carve the logo on the front and add some finish to make it pop, but I wanted to use a color closer to the team’s and couldn’t find it in any of the antique creams offered. I thought about just painting it but I really wanted to try something that I had heard about from an employee at my local leather store.
So I bought some Fiebling’s Antique Finish in Neutral, some Angelus Leather Paint, and a bottle of Resolene and got to work. The trick was easy enough, first apply a layer or two of an acrylic base (I used Resolene, but any acrylic-based product will work), and allow to dry. Then take some neutral finish, add a few drops of whatever color paint, mix together, and apply. Spoiler Alert! It wasn’t that easy.
I found out that while it is easy in theory, it takes some practice to get the consistency and mixture just right. The neutral finish will dull whatever color you are using, so you might need to add a few more drops to get a more vibrant color. I also learned the hard way that a little goes a long way. Just a few dollops of finish and 5-6 drops of red angelus paint was more than enough for my project.
Some colors take better and some don’t, but give it a shot and have fun with it. The red color I was going for really made my tooling show well and my friend was thrilled with the result. I think it was easier than painting and really showcased my work. Happy crafting!
Leather Types - 2-3 oz. Vegetable Tan Uses
By Bob George
So many types of leather, and so little time. Each type and style of leather has specific uses and feels. What draws most folks to leather is the smell, the feel between the fingers, and yes the sound.
Sure, the thicker veg-tan, chrome tan, and definitely the exotic leathers are very popular and are easy to show off because they are usually visible to those around us. Whether it’s a belt, holster, purse, boots, etc. others can see them as we pass by.
2-3 oz. (very thin) veg-tan is rarely seen, but used for a lot of leather articles. It is typically soft and very pliable. Most common uses are for wallets, coin purses, inner liners for journal covers, stiffener backing for exotic leathers, and perfect for bookmarks (doesn’t cause a large bulge between the pages, stretching out the binding). Unless you make it a point to wave these items around as you walk down the street (please don’t do that with your wallet), no one sees the beautiful creation.
Due to its thin nature, it can be difficult to tool or stamp without deforming the leather or pushing impressions through to the back side. In most cases, it is used with no tooling; just dyed and sewn, or hidden altogether as part of a nice, finished product never to be seen.
This thin piece of leather is so useful, but is the unsung hero in many cases. Used as a stiffener for exotic alligator or snakeskin, the ooohs and aaaahs will always be about the fancy covering applied to it. One of the times it will be noticed is if it is NOT used and a thicker piece is used in it’s place.
If you currently don’t have a couple feet of 2-3 oz. lying around your shop, wouldn’t hurt to pick some up or have some sent to your doorstep by your favorite leather shop. There are so many uses for it and nice to have around.
Bonus: The smaller pieces (some call scrap) can be used to make beautiful earrings for that special someone in your life.
Video & Giveaway
Check out this edition’s video on how to do two stitches, a butt and box joint, from Corter Leather and their sponsor Weaver Leather. These stitches really add a lot of versaltility to your leathercraft.
Card Holder Pattern
Each issue, we want to provide you with something fun and useful. For this edition is a pattern for a leather card holder. Lighter weight leathers can work well here, such as 2oz-3oz Veg Tan. This design allows for variation on the number of slots that can be included on each side. Happy crafting!
ILC Club News
To Great Beginnings
A Fast-Growing Leather Craft Community
The International Leather Club (ILC) began just last year. It’s incredible to think it’s already 2022, and also unbelievable how much the club has grown in that time. Here are a few highlights:
- 12-part HD video series added, taking new crafters from their first lesson through crafting useful projects
- Over 95,000 pages of journals, gazettes, and research reports about leather craft
- The Club Points program was added – earn gift cards through Club participation
- A dedicated Marketplace launched just for crafters of premium leather goods
- Membership steadily growing literally every day
For more, click below to visit the Club.
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