As someone who loves textiles and jewellery (and who has a bit if a thing about statement cuffs and bracelets), I had been looking forward to the leather jewellery day at London Jewellery School for quite a while.
Apart from wanting to make my own cuff like those pictured on the course web page, I was interested in the possibility of making leather embellishments for hats and bags – and possibly even leather stitch makers.
The workshop is taught by jewellery designer Hayley Kruger who uses leather and suede in a lot of her work.
When we arrived the table was piled with pieces of leather and suede in a variety of colours and it was all I could do not to rifle through it immediately. Hayley first explained about different types of leather and how to tell one from another – for example pig skin has pores on its surface and some leathers are more stretchy than others – and the different treatments that can be applied.
Then it was time to choose some leather for our pieces. I was very excited to spot some leather and suede that matched some of the colours in my Barnett Park scarf which I was wearing that day – orange suede and glossy brown leather. Plus there was some mustardy yellow thread that was perfect for some contrast stitching.
We also chose studs, eyelets and fasteners and started to plan our pieces with the aid of a cardboard template cut to fit our own wrists.
Once we’d decided on the size of our bracelets we drew out the shape on the reverse of our leather pieces and cut them to size using craft knives. A fresh sharp blade is essential, as soon as the blade begins to blunt it will drag on the leather, spoiling your straight edge.
Once I had the basic shape I used the cardboard template to work out where to place the holes and studs in my outer layer. You can punch plain holes or add eyelets to them which allows your lining layer to show through.
There were a range of large punches to make the holes but I definitely preferred the set with the blue handles pictured.
Once I’d punched the plain holes I’d decided on and made slits to attach my studs, I had a go at “bevelling” the edges.
This involves running a tool with a curved split end along the edges to expose a little of the undyed leather. You follow this by smoothing the edges, polishing with a damp cloth or using a liquid called edge kote.
I must admit that bevelling was the part I found hardest and the edges are not as I would like them. More practice needed.
Then came the laborious process of preparing your leather for stitching. You first mark up the stitching lines on your leather and then score those lines with an awl. Then you use a with a wheel to make the stitch hole positions and finally you use the awl to make the actual holes.
At which point you are ready to stitch – well almost.
You still need to prepare your thread. We used embroidery thread which we stiffened by running it through beeswax.
For leather stitching you use a needle on each end of the thread and in each stitch bring one end from the back and one from the front through the same hole. In the class we created our own needles using twisted wire but I think I’ll use leather hand sewing needles in future.
Once the stitching was complete I was ready to construct my cuff.
I attached the studs and then glued the orange lining layer in place and added fastening studs using the punches and stud tools again.
And my cuff was complete.
There was time during the class to work on a second bracelet but because I decide to stitch layers of leather together it still has a little work to be done.
And that won’t be the last of my leather working. Hayley has given me great instruction and left me with the confidence to start working on some ideas. Perhaps I’ll request a bag of leather scraps for Christmas.