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How to Make Things Out of Leather

How to Make Things Out of Leather

  1. Choose your leather. 
  2. Appreciate that the thickness of the leather and how it will behave.
  3. Think about top grain, suede or nubuck.
  4. Experiment with printing on scrap pieces first. 
  5. Learn the basics of cutting and sewing.
  6. Use the right tools for stamping.
  7. Glue using either leather glue or contact cement depending on the size.


You do need proper leather working tools for a job such as this. They are so much cheaper online and you’ll have a much greater choice!
Leather working tools

How to Make Things Out of Leather

Knowing how to make things out of leather is about the manliest of artistic expressions! The smell, the feel and strength makes leather a great medium to work with. The following ‘how to’ talks you through the basics.

Photo Credit: Designlazy.com


1- Choose your leather. Before starting on any leather project, it is important to choose the right type of leather for making it. Leather comes in different textures and different thicknesses. These affect its pliability as well as the overall look and design of the item made. Basically, you need to think of what the leather item will be used for and in what way. I believe in a Form-Follows-Function method: designing the look of the item according to its functions. Think in terms of measurement, fastening, compartments, then translate it into texture, shape and color and choose your leather accordingly.

2- Appreciate that the thickness of the leather and how it will behave. Leather can be very stiff or more pliable and flexible, depending on its thickness. Thickness is indicated in ounces (oz.). Higher numbers indicate thicker and stiffer leather (suitable for making saddles and upholstery). Lower numbers indicate a more pliable and flexible leather, suitable for making garments and accessories. I prefer using leather up to about 3 oz. thick, as it is both suitable for printing and for sewing the printed leather into fashion accessories and gadgets, using my humble home sewing machine.

3- Think about top grain, suede or nubuck. You can roughly divide leather types into two main groups by texture and feel of the hide: Top Grain which is made from the upper layer of the skin, this leather type has a perforated texture due to the tiny pores of the skin. Split, Suede and Nubuck which are made from the inner layer of the skin or by sanding the upper layer, these leather types have a more velvety surface. Top-Grain leather is more porous. Suede, Split and Nubuck are more velvety.

4- Experiment with printing on scrap pieces first. When it comes to leather printing, the printed image comes out a bit different for each leather type: The top-grain porous texture applies to the image and usually gives it a more vintage “seeded” look, while the velvety texture of Suede and Nubuck results in a sharp image.

5- Learn the basics of cutting and sewing. For almost any project, start by cutting a paper pattern in the shape you need. Adhere it to the good side of the leather, avoiding imperfections or very thin areas, with bits of tape — not pins. Trace the pattern with a ballpoint pen, and then cut it out using scissors for curves and a rotary cutter and ruler for straight lines. Thin leather can be sewn on a home machine; use a needle and settings for heavy fabric. Be careful not to stretch or pull the leather as you sew. Instead of ironing seams open, smooth flaps with a bone folder and secure with leather adhesive.

6- Use the right tools for stamping. Creating impressions in leather requires a few tools from a leather-crafts specialist or a crafts store: an awl to mark patterns, a metal stamping tool (there are hundreds to choose from), and a mallet. Thick leather such as cowhide will take the pattern best. Practice on a scrap first to get a feel for the technique and then work on your design: Lay your piece of leather, good side up, on a cutting mat. Use a ruler and the awl to lightly “draw” your pattern. Follow these tracings with your stamping tool and mallet, holding the stamp against the leather and striking it in firmly with the mallet for a sharp impression.

7- Glue using either leather glue or contact cement depending on the size. I use leather glue for most smaller projects, but I recommend contact cement for the larger ones, such as the headboard and armoire front. Measure and cut your leather carefully to fit your intended surface. After cutting your pieces, brush adhesive evenly onto the surface you’re covering. Then carefully lay the leather on top, and smooth into place with your hands; you might want to use a bone folder to ease the leather into any corners you’re working with. Cut off excess leather with a utility knife, or wrap and glue your leather around any contours. The glue will set in about 5 minutes.


I used to make leather goods for a living, so just a couple of pointers on stamping leather. Bridle or oak tanned leather works best for stamping. Wet the leather with water on a sponge before stamping, after stamping you can burnish the leather with a smooth wooden block or bone folder, and then dye it when dry.


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