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leather shapes leather shapes



Decoration of leather

In roughly the 8th century, Cordoba, (hence Cordovan, a native or inhabitant of Cordoba, also applied to the leather) the Spanish town, was famous for its leather. First white (white leather was the result of early methods of mineral tanning (or tawing as it was known) using alum) or dyed red and later, gilded. Thus the English "cordwainer", the early name for a shoemaker (cordewan from old French cordoan, (the present-day French word is cordonnier), and old Spanish, cordovan). Currently, cordovan leather comes from that part of the hide known as the shell.

Incising and modelling tools were developed during the Middle Ages, out of necessity, because of the evolving decorative techniques. Getting on towards the end of the 1500s Holland had become noted for fine leather embossed in relief, coloured, and used as wall coverings. It was also used for covering tables as well as smaller objects. Leather decoration was practised to a lesser extent in other parts of Europe, England  included.

As far as England was concerned this was particularly true for bookbinding (just as a point of interest, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, hand tools for bookbinding had reached a stage of development which differ little from those in use at the present day), sheaths for daggers and the covering of caskets.

The Spanish are credited with introducing the craft of leather decoration into South America. By the nineteenth century, Mexican saddlers who excelled in the art, taught the trade to saddlers of the border states. Hence the so-called Western saddle with its elaborate decoration.



western saddle


Three examples of the highly decorative, American, Western saddle

During the Industrial Revolution in England the art of decorating leather had declined. But from about 1900 there was a revival of interest partly due to the Crafts movement inspired by William Morris and his followers.

Today there is a quite considerable interest, both in this country, and certainly in the United States of America.

Carving/cuir cisele,  is a method of decorating leather in which the design is cut into dampened leather instead of being tooled or blocked. The design is first outlined with a pointed tool and then dampened. Sometimes it is then brought into relief by depressing the background, usually by stamping a succession of dots into the leather very close together by means of a pointed tool. Certain parts of the design are sometimes embossed from the flesh side of the leather, and in such cases the decorating must be done before covering.

Red goatskin cuir bouilli and cuir ciselé, with traces of silvering and gilding.

The lid and sides, of the two images above, are decorated with a tooled scrolling vine surrounding the coat-of-arms of Borso d’Este, duke of Ferrara, Reggio and Modena, consisting of  two fields of double-headed eagles and fields of three fleur-de-lys, against a coloured ground, and a central eagle, in a central cartouche with the letters "B", "D" and "M"; the reverse with the representation of the Holy Ghost above the paraduro; the interior lined with silk damask.

Applique refers to the techniques of attaching other things to the surface of the leather, to decorate it. These can include papiermache, other pieces of leather, decorative riveting etc.

When it comes to decorating leather, carving is the most expressive, allowing the artist to illustrate from simple letters to complex scenery or portraits and can add a very personal element to any article.


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leather shapes leather shapes