How To Design and Produce Functional Items in Leather: Briefcase, Belt and Leather Suspended Chair

One of the interesting aspect in the field of Leatherwork is creatively manipulating the leather material to come out with aesthetically pleasing and functional products that can be used in playing various roles in our everyday life. This includes enhancing our personal outlook through the use of items for personal grooming like belts, briefcases for storage purposes and chairs for seating. The steps in producing these functional items have been discussed in this article.

a. Designing and production of a Briefcase

Tools; Lacing needle, knife, steel rule, rivet setter, and edge creaser.
Materials: Leather, lining, thread, cardboard, and rivet.


1. Make preliminary sketches of the briefcase.

2. Select the most suitable design and prepare the templates.

3. Use the templates to cut out the various parts of the briefcase.

4. Sew the various parts together to form the briefcase.

5. Finish the briefcase to enhance its outlook.

b. Designing and production of a Belt

Tools: Steel rule, square point knife, rivet setter, leather punch, edge beveller, and brush.
Materials: Leather, rivet, and shoe cream.


1. Use the draw gauge or any appropriate stripping tool to strip the entire length of the belt OR measure and cut out the length of the belt by the use of a square point knife and a steel rule.

2. Use the tooling, decorative technique to create some decorative patterns such as zig-zag patterns etc.

3. A revolving punch is used to punch the buckle tongue holes at the tail end of the leather after creating equally spaced holes with a marking tool.

4. Create a trimmed edge border around the circumference of the belt by the use of the edge beveller/creaser. Wet the belt and run the tool hard enough along the edge of the belt. When it is dried, the trimmed lines will be permanent on the belt.

5. Cut two small straps and fix them on the leather using the rivets.

6. The buckle is now riveted in place with the rivet setter.

7. The leather is finished by applying a shoe cream and polishing it gently with brush. Adding flexibility of the belt is achieved by working it back and forth across a wooden staircase rung or any suitable item.

c. Making and production of a Leather Furniture- Leather suspended chair

Tools: A pair of shears, a jig/band saw, edge creaser, revolving leather punch, a single sit lacing hole nipper, and mallet.
Materials: 8-cord polyester Dacron thread, heavy-duty rivets, leather contact cement, finishes, 8-14 ounce saddle leather/ smooth grained leather, and round solid brass rods.


1. Make preliminary sketches of the hanging or suspended chair.

2. Prepare a template for the base seat as well as the supporting strips.

3. Cut the round leather base seat after marking round the template.

4. Wrap and secure it around one of the round solid brass rods to be used as the base using the heavy duty rivets.

5. Cut the individual strips of leather and work on them, especially their edges as you would make a belt. The measurement for the strips must be uniform and straight.

6. Fix them on the two round solid brass rods at the top and bottom with the heavy duty rivets. Remember to leave a wide area to conveniently accommodate the butts of the sitter.

7. Suspend the chair on two arch-like solid brass rods tied at the centre with a metal wire. The leather suspended chair is ready for use.

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The Different Ways of Dyeing Leather

Dyeing is one of the major processes in the decoration of leather items. It is the process of permanently changing the colour of leather by the use of a liquid colourant. The core fibres of the leather which are porous in nature absorbs and permanently holds the dye solution. The whole skin can be dyed before it is cut for the production of leather articles or parts of an already produced item can equally be dyed. However, when a whole leather is dyed, there is an even penetration of the dye.

If articles are to be produced before the application of dyes on some parts of the article, it is advisable that holes in products such as belts, straps, etc. must be punched before the application of the dyes since dyes stiffen leather. Also, the dyes will colour and seal the hole edges making them uniform. Dyeing must be carried out before the fixing of any findings such as snaps, rivets, buckles, etc. The leather surface must be free from any foreign matter. The leather must, therefore, be thoroughly washed to improve the dyeing increasing the absorption and penetration rate of the leather.

There are several ways of dyeing leather and leather articles. In this section, the following techniques will be discussed:

1. Whole-hide
2. Reverse or flesh side
3. Induced grain
4. Cross
5. Laminated
6. Lace

1. Whole-hide-

This is the application of the dye liquor on the entire leather. It is important to have enough quantity of the dye that will be sufficient to dye the whole hide. If the dye runs out, it will be difficult to get the same shade of leather even after dyeing the remaining parts with the same colour of the dye. A large dye applicator can be used in applying the dye liquor to cover the entire hide. Another alternative is to immerse the whole hide in a dye bath. After the dyeing, the hide is stretched taut for it to dry.

2. Reverse or flesh side-

This is the dyeing of the flesh side of the leather. Often, the flesh sides of most tanned-dyed skins bought from the shop are left undyed. It is important to dye them, especially if the leather to be used for producing handbag flaps, belts, etc. where the flesh side of the leather will be shown. It must be noted that the penetration of the dye liquor is limited to the flesh side. The dye applicator for oil and spirit solvent dyes must be well bathed in mineral oil. The dye is then lightly brushed across the flesh side of the leather. This gives the flesh side a shallow surface colouring avoiding unnecessary bleeding to the already dyed grain side.

3. Induced grain-

This is the creation of a grained effect on leather by the use of dyes. In this dyeing technique, the dye applicator is left untreated because it gives the best grained effect. One way of creating the artificial grains on the leather surface is by dipping the tips of a heavy sheep wool and gently stroking only the tips across the leather. Another way is using a stiff wire brush to apply strokes across the leather. If the pressing is done hard enough, the bristles of the wire brush will groove the leather and create a textured grain on its surface.

4. Cross-dyeing-

This is the process of dyeing a leather with two colours combined (cross). The first coloured dye is applied on the leather after which the second colour is applied, resulting in a new coloured effect. For instance, red dyed over already dyed leather in the blue dye will give a purpled effect. Other cross dyeing effect includes:

Red over purple= Wine
Red over yellow= Scarlet
Brown over yellow= Light brown
Yellow over dull blue= Blue-green
Pink over orange= Deep orange

5. Laminated-

This is the dyeing of layers of leather to be laminated and used for the production of articles such as necklace pendants, wall reliefs and sculptural forms. Interesting dimensional effects can be created through the dyeing to enhance the general outlook of the articles.

6. Lace-

This is the dyeing of laces. A dye dauber is used in applying the dye liquor on the laces or the laces can be pulled along under the dauber to apply the dye on them. They can also be put in a small container filled with dye for the dye liquor to dye them. If the laces become stiff, they can be rubbed down with saddle soap or Vaseline petroleum jelly.

Dyeing is one of the best ways of enhancing the surface quality of leather products by using coloured dyes to create decorative patterns on them.

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How To Differentiate Between Natural and Synthetic Leathers

Natural and synthetic leather share strong similarities in many respects. Therefore, it is important that we know their unique characteristics to make it easier to distinguish amongst them. Also, the prices of high-quality synthetic leather items are somewhat similar to those of natural leather. Owing to this, one may even mistake synthetic leather as natural leather. This article unveils the unique features of both the natural and synthetic types while highlighting their strengths and limitations. This will assist leather craftsmen and clients who will be adequately informed about the types of leather to choose for the production of a particular article.

Some of the unique features of synthetic leather that would make its identification less strenuous have been stated below.

1. It is a chemical compound that can smell badly by false processing and become discolored by taints applied.

2. It is very cold, so it is not good to wear the garment even on a windy autumn day.

3. It is heavier in weight than sheepskin, but lighter than cowhide.

4. When it gets into contact with fire it burns out immediately, even with a quick touch of fire from a lighter.

5. Though it absorbs cream like natural leather, spots appear on its surface while natural leather absorbs the nutrients of the cream like the human skin without spots.

6. When synthetic leather is touched, its surface appears rigid and is very poor in terms of softness.

7. It has a strong irritating smell of plastic.

8. When synthetic leather is burned, it produces a pungent odor and forms a lump.

9. It tears easily.

10. It is not pliable or flexible.

11. It is also nonelastic. This implies that it is not capable of resuming its original shape after stretching or compression.

On the other hand, natural leather can be identified using four physical identification methods such as hand touching, seeing, smelling and burning.

1. Hand touching: touch leather surface, if smooth, soft, plump, flexible feel is the dermis; and a general artificial surface made of synthetic leather acerbity, rigid, and poor soft.

2. Seeing: real leather surface will have a clearer and more symmetrical fine pores and pattern.

3. Smelling: Natural leather has a leather smell while synthetic leather has a strong irritating smell of plastic.

4. Burning: Tear a litter fiber from the back of real leather and artificial leather, burning, the one issued by a pungent odor, formed a lump is an artificial leather; any given hair smell, not a hard nut to crack is the real leather.

These characteristics of the types of leather and the items they can best be used in their production must be known by the leather craftsman. This would enable him or her to professional recommend a specific leather choice for the production of a leather item to clients.

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Finishing Techniques in Leatherwork

Finishing is concerned with the improvement of the hand and appearance of a product so as to enhance its general outlook and maximize its marketability potentials. It is essential that Leatherwork articles are finished in any of the accepted finishing techniques to heighten their design and aesthetic qualities. There are various appropriate techniques through which leather products can be finished. Some of these techniques are burnishing, waxing, polishing, spraying, texturing, patenting. using conditioners, soaps, and cleaners.

1. Burnishing

This is a decorative process in which a smooth surface/tool is rubbed over the surface of the leather to produce a sheen. The leather is placed on a hard surface. Then a blunt, smooth tool, for example, Stone, bottle, bulb, spoon, marble or some smooth, hard object is used to rub over the surface of the leather on the grain side to produce a shiny effect. This is done by starting from a point and working gradually to all parts of the leather until a uniform sheen is produced. By this process, the rough surface of the leather and any wrinkles are smoothed or polished. This is done by rigorously rubbing the surface of leather with a tool such as a bone folder, plastic or wooden burnishing wheel, stone, bottle, metal spoon etc. to leave a fine shiny, glossy or smooth appearance.

2. Waxing

This finishing technique involves the application of wax to improve the surface quality, hardness, and water resistant ability of the leather item. The application of the wax can be done by the use of brush or foam to give a glossy effect to the leather product.

3. Polishing

This finishing technique also aims at improving the surface quality of leather products. Polish in the form of abrasives with varying colors and polishing liquors like lacquer or varnish are applied with either hard bristle brushes or foam to improve the surface quality of leather items. Sometimes wax is used to enhance the surface quality of the leather.

4. Spraying

This is the application of polishing liquors like varnish or lacquer on leather items by the use of spray guns or diffusers that spill the polishing agents in fine bits or dots on the leather item to improve its surface quality. Spraying avoids the brush strokes that sometimes mar the perfect application of the polishing liquors.

5. Texturing

This is achieved by the use of dyes, acrylics, and other coloring agents by incising, stamping, printing, spraying etc. These are used in creating patterns or textures on the grain side of the leather for decorative purposes.

6. Patenting

This is the application of lacquer or varnishes in layers on the leather to give the surface a waterproof effect and make the surface very shiny.

7. Using Conditioners

Leather conditioners soften and nourish the leather while providing a protective coating over the leather. This assists the leather to be able to resist scuffing and color fade. It gives the surface luster to leather after polishing. Examples and conditioners, their functions and application have been discussed below.

i. Saddler’s wax- It nourishes, cleans and polishes leather. It is used mostly on saddles, boots, and handbags. It can be applied with the fingers, a piece of cloth, a brush or a damp sponge.

ii. Melo wax- It is used for cleaning, polishing and softening smooth grained leather. It can be applied with a cloth or the fingers, allowed to dry and then polished with a soft cloth.

iii. Kiwi leather conditioner- It cleans, mellows, softens and preserves smooth grained leather. It can be applied with a cloth or the fingers, allowed to dry and then polished gently.

iv. Shoe Cream- It nourishes, cleans and softens leather. It is used on belts, handbags, billfolds, watch bands, bracelets, hair ornaments, etc. It can be applied with the fingers, a piece of cloth, a brush or a damp sponge.

v. Lexol- It makes the leather supple and gives a durable preservative finish. It is applied in thin coats by the use of sponge, a piece of cloth or the fingers. It is allowed to soak in for about ten minutes before it is applied.

vi. Vaseline petroleum jelly- It softens the leather, brings back its colour and provide a protective coating to help the leather resist scuffing. It is applied with the fingers. It is allowed to dry a bit for 15-20 minutes and then wiped off with a soft cloth. It is mostly used on belts and handbags.

8. Using Soaps and Cleaners

Soaps and cleaners are also excellent finishes that are used to clean and protect the surface of leather. It is applied with a wet sponge or brush. After its application, it is wiped with a dry cloth and then polished to a soft luster. Examples include Kiwi soaps, Belvoir glycerine soaps, Belmont soaps, Propert soaps, Castile soaps and Blue Ribbon soaps.

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