HAND-CRAFTED LEATHER GOODS
Hand-crafted, and decorative leatherwork. How is it done? - continued
Tracing film is not like tracing paper. It is designed to take a tracing which can then be transferred to the leather. It is made of an acetate like plastic that will take a pencil or marker pen, and it is flexible. When tracing from it on to leather you use a stylus to impress the design into the leather firmly enough to be clearly visible. Once the design is transferred, shallow lines are cut into the leather following the impressed lines. If you should stray from a line do not go back; never make a second cut; continue as closely as possible to the original outline.
In these few illustrations below are some of the impressions that can be made by alphabet, as well as number, stamping tools. They range in size from ¼" – 1".
They are impressed into the dampened leather in the manner I have explained in a previous page. This has to be done, more often than not, before any of the project has been dyed, let alone assembled, using a marble slab as a stable, solid, hard surface beneath the leather. On the back of the marble slab I use there is a thick, solid, same size slab of rubber, to help deaden the noise of all the pounding. Every leatherworker, who is a leatherworker, has at least one slab of marble of minimum two inches thick.
Early leather decoration was made with small wooden or ivory stamps which were gradually replaced by alloy ones, mostly bronze or brass, with wooden handles of differing lengths. The use of metal led to new techniques to make impressions, and was called blind tooling. Leather no longer needed to be damp for it to be impressed. As early as the 15th century, the tools, which varied in size, had a great range of decorative patterns based on the natural world as well as fantasy. Blind tooling used heated tools. The technique known as cuerro gofrado, rather like "Blind Stamping", laid the leather atop a heated metal design, and was pressed down on to it, creating a multilayered effect. It seems to have not been common beyond Spain and Italy. Great care was needed when heating the tools. Excessive heating would have burnt the leather and insufficiently heated ones would not have ensured a clear, distinct impression.
A small finishing tool originally made of hardwood, called a panel stamp, was engraved intaglio, and bore simple patterns like crosses, quatrefoils and rosettes. The roll came into use alongside the stamp. Scandinavian in origin, it consisted of a metal cylinder of variable thickness, the circumference of which was engraved intaglio or in relief with thin fillets or decorative patterns. Once heated it was run over the leather in order to make repeating strip patterns along its border much more quickly than with the small tools which had to be impressed one by one.
Like other finishing tools, the roll was provided with a long wooden handle, which enabled the craftsman to exert as much pressure as necessary. Like medieval seals, the rolls for blind tooling were cut intaglio so as to impress leather with a pattern in relief. Decoration with gold leaf, involved using rolls having a design in relief, so as to impress the leather very deeply.
The blocking press was a finishing tool used in Flanders from the 13th century. Operated through a screw press, it was cut in iron or bronze, with patterns in intaglio or relief. Set in a wooden or metal framework, the blocking press ensured that the cover of an octavo or a twelvemo volume was rapidly decorated in its entirety, or, as was the case with quartos and folios, about three quarters of a cover.
In the early days of gilding, gold was used in liquid or powder form, eventually it was beaten into very thin sheets of variable purity, known as gold leaf.
Gilding carved leather
When gilding a carved leather surface use an under-finish to seal the pores of the leather first. The antique red one specifically sold for gilding seems to be a thin water-based acrylic paint, very similar to Cova® dyes, in that it dries thinly and preserves surface detail without filling it in, so a Cova® dye could be used for the under-finish.
Dye the background of your carving with a standard leather dye before applying the under-finish. The under-finish is largely opaque, and will cover dye on the carving itself if you want to save some time and dye the whole piece one colour at once. But it is slightly translucent and will affect the colour of the under-finish marginally, depending how heavily it is applied. Dyeing only the background seems to work best when you want to preserve as much detail as possible. The extra wetting of the leather resulting from being dyed raises the natural texture and grain of the leather slightly which shows through the leaf once it is applied.
Use a fine artist’s brush to apply the under-finish only to those areas that will be gilded. This layer of finish is the foundation of the gilding. If a small mistake with the paint brush results in under-finish where you don't want it wait until it’s nearly dry, then it can be carefully scraped or lifted off the leather with a fine-pointed knife blade. Touch up the background dye afterwards if necessary.
Allow the under-finish to dry completely before continuing to the next step.
Gilding size can take from 1 – 24 hours to become sufficiently tacky on the glass surface on which you hold the leaf. ‘Tack’ times vary, but those sizes with a stated time of an hour are ideal.
Apply the size with a fine brush only to the areas covered by the under-finish. Remember that every surface you touch with size will have some leaf stuck to it in the end so be careful.
The gilding in principle is fairly straightforward. Remove a leaf from the book and put it over the area that's been treated with the size, and pat it down with a bundled piece of soft rag.
The proper tool for lifting a leaf is a leaf brush, which looks like a fine comb made of long brush hairs. Stroke the brush on your clothes to gather static electricity, then when touched to a leaf it clings to the brush as a result. Use a very dull knife (with no sharp spots or burrs) to score and cut the leaf while it rests on its bed. It's simple to lift the leaf and move it to where you want to apply it.
When the leaf is uniformly stuck down, use a stiff, wide (¼" - ½") artist’s brush to tamp the leaf into the carved detail with the ends of the bristles. Take especial care to tamp down the leaf at the edges of the size or you won’t finish with a sharp edge.
Remove excess leaf from the edges of the size. It will come away easily with bits and pieces of leaf coming free. Save the pieces for touching up areas that lost leaf while burnishing.
Rubbing the applied leaf gently with a soft cloth at this point will burnish the metal, bringing out a bright shine and smoothing the odd wrinkle.