Imprinting on leather is a popular craft, used in creating western gear, motorcycle gear, and fine furnishings. It is a fairly simple technique that requires a few specialty tools, chiefly mallets and stamps. Imprinting is suitable only for vegetable-tanned, unfinished cowhide; it's impractical to attempt to imprint on a finished leather item, like a saddlebag or couch. For that you might want to embellish your item with conchos or acrylic instead.
Things You'll Need
- Ballpoint stylus
- Sponge or gauze
Select a pattern for your imprint. Most free or commercially available patterns detail which stamps you'll need to buy to reproduce the pattern.
Hundreds of stamps are available. Some create repeating patterns like barbed wire and Celtic knots; others are used for individual stamps, like letters, numbers, musical notes, acorns, and leaves; Stamps like bevellers and shaders are used to shape the leather or create textures.
Cut your leather according to your pattern. If you are making something like a wallet, saddlebag, or belt, you may instead buy a kit with unfinished leather cut to size. Apply a light layer of rubber cement to the back of your leather (the rough side) so that it lies on a piece of cardboard or work surface without moving.
"Case" your leather with water. Dry leather will not take an impression. Using very clean, clear water and a sponge or gauze, dampen the leather lightly and evenly. Don't soak it. Allow the water to dry just until the leather appears dry. It should feel cool to the touch.
Lay your pattern atop your leather piece and, using your ballpoint stylus, trace firmly over the lines. Remove the pattern. You should see a simple version of your pattern, much like a coloring book picture, embossed in dark lines on the leather.
Practice on a scrap piece of leather. Case your scrap piece. Then, using a leather crafter's mallet, which is usually made of rolled leather, a poly material, or wood, tap once with your stamp. You should stamp only once or else you will get a "blurred" effect. Tap firmly but not as you would for a nail; you don't want to penetrate or deform the leather, just create an impression on it. If the stamp is a pattern, like a rope or Celtic knot, move the stamp to connect to the first impression, and tap again. This way, you should be able to create a repeating pattern.
Repeat the process with your project leather. Case it anew and begin tooling with your stamps. Start near the center of your pattern and work outward. If part of your pattern is meant to be in the foreground (for example, a letter on a pebble grained background), then shape the foreground first and the background second.
Tips & Warnings
- Change your water frequently to ensure that you don't stain your leather.
- It will seem wasteful to practice each stamp, but leather is an expensive material. You may spend a few extra dollars on scrap leather, but your finished project will be better for it.
- Do not use a metal hammer, which will damage your stainless steel stamps and create too much bounce.
- "Leatherwork Manual"; Al Stohlman; 1984
- "Leatherwork Tools"; Al Stohlman; 1984
- "Leatherwork"; R. L. Thompson; 1947
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