HAND-CRAFTED LEATHER GOODS
Moulding leather - continued
A one piece moulding is a simple, straightforward, basic procedure for what are usually simple shapes. But just as shoe uppers were once made by stretching the leather over a wooden former or last so this method of shaping leather into a three-dimensional shape can also be used to wet-mould it into quite extreme shapes.
Use a carved wooden mould and stretch the wet leather, which is larger than the finished size, over it, tacking it (without driving the tacks in too far as you are going to pull them out several times), using brass or steel tacks, into position. The leather will stretch much more than you might at first suppose so that the tacks will require to be repositioned several times until the shape you are after has been achieved.
Once it has dried naturally it can be cut from the mould, not forgetting to leave a seam allowance if one is required, for making up into whatever the shape is intended for.
This way of shaping wet leather into a precise shape is by putting it into a two-piece mould, rather in the manner of a sandwich, and leaving it there until it dries naturally. Shields in particular were most probably made using this method and leather wall hangings most certainly were.
These illustrations fit more or less both methods of moulding that I've been describing.
To make a bag, a purse or spectacle case with no sewn in gusset the method you use is the three-piece mould. By forcing a former between two pieces of leather which have been sewn on three sides it is possible to shape the sides permanently to give them width.
Immerse the leather completely in warm water until soaked, then using two pieces of wood shaped to the desired width of side, push them inside the sewn leather pieces and force a central wedge between them. The size when fully expanded being equal to the inside space of the finished article. Allow to dry naturally before removing the wooden mould.
Typical example of 3-piece mould
This is a successful method but only for shallow forming. If
the work is to be cut edge, the pieces of leather are cut the width of the
former, plus its thickness, plus ¹/8" as a sewing allowance. Where the
shape is semi-circular ended, the allowance is the same all round. Where the
shape has corners of a shallower radius it is necessary to cut the leather
closer to the former's corners.
Below is the Italian, Mask of Pulcinella, c. 1700, moulded leather mask from a Commedia dell'arte theater troupe, The Theatre Museum, London. Pulcinella was traditionally a stupid servant, recognisable from his big beaky nose, hunchback and the wart on his forehead. As the 17th century progressed, the role of Pulcinella became more interesting and more diverse.
By the time this mask was made, he was not necessarily a servant, but might be a peasant, a dentist, a physician, a painter or a soldier. The mask also changed. Whereas earlier versions had a moustache and beard hiding most of the actor's face, this is a half-mask. Pulcinella was the figure from whom Punch in Punch and Judy puppet shows was derived.
You can make a wearable mask using the traditional Italian
methods for these street theatre masks that are illustrated above.
The masks are compressed onto wooden moulds using a cow horn hammer. This method (detailed below) allows you to mould into hollows (eye sockets and wrinkles) — and over bumps (eyebrows, noses and cheeks) — no stretching is used. The leather takes on all the characteristics of the wooden mould.
Leather is the best medium you can use for positive cast methods
and the following instructions are for the "Master" mask-maker process used to
create the Italian "Commedia dell'Arte". Arlecchino or Harlequin is a crafty
servant character who wears a black mask with raised eyebrows. Pantalone is a
miserly old man who wears a mask with a big nose and bushy eyebrows. (Soak the
leather, drape it over the form and let it dry.)
If it is not your intention to make quite as detailed or extensive a mask, you can use the method similar to the sized fabric, only you don't need any glue (you can size fabric by infusing it with glue, this is the method used to make buckram. While wet, it will have no intrinsic support of its own, so you need a form to shape it over or a mould to shape it in.). The process described below is for a much more detailed and durable mask.
It is a time intensive process, so you must allow several hours to complete the task, and you absolutely cannot stop with the intention of coming back to it later. Important things to note, you should use vegetable tanned leather! The instructions call specifically for a piece of the cow belly. You want this to be in one piece. (Splicing in leather to create un-stretchable shapes, like a really long nose, is a whole new ballgame.)
Italian Leather Method
Create a firm form using a material such as wood, for the mask. It must be wood as it has to absorb moisture, withstand hammering, and the ability to have tacks, preferably of brass, nailed into it. Immerse the leather (vegetable tanned cowhide belly) in quite hot water and allow it to soak for ten minutes or until such time as it is completely saturated. Then you can rub, wring and twist it to get it fairly soft, then dunk it again briefly in water.
Next, drape the wet leather over the form and ensure it gets pushed into all the bumps and hollows of the mask former. Tack the leather on the underside of the mould and into the eye sockets. Tacks, other than brass or copper should not be used as ordinary iron tacks will discolour the leather. Brass and copper tacks do not have that unfortunate propensity. Place your tacks at the centre of the sides, working out in the direction of the corners.
Ensure you leave sufficient leather on the front of the mould for it to reach in all depressions. Excess leather can be reduced by the simple method of making small "v" cuts (but only on the back) to diminish this extra material allowing it to lie smoothly. Press the leather into all grooves and depressions of the mould with your fingers and/or a wooden spatula. Make sure to keep your weightiest strokes running into low places rather than from them.
Tack, if necessary, into areas such as the eyes, nostrils and so on. This could take some considerable time. Remove nails and finish the outer edges (trim and turn overlap [if you need a wire reinforcement], and glue in place, as this is where, and now is the time, when it would be inserted). Seal interior with varnish, and if desired, colour the exterior with leather dyes and paints.