The name Leatherwork denotes the art of decorating leather with some kind of ornamentation either by modelling or by stains, or of fashioning the finer leathers into ornamental designs. This was formerly called Cordovan-work, from the fact that the original workers in ornamental leather were the natives of Cordova. In process of time, the name became Cordwainer, and was used to designate all forms of shoe-making, saddlery and fancy leatherwork.
The imagination can suggest innumerable forms of leather-decoration in calf, suc.de, basil, &c. used for everything from ladies’ jackets to fancy match-stands. Space will not admit of anything exhaustive, so we will confine ourselves to describing the most attractive form of the art— repoussd, or leather modelling.
The accessories required can be reduced to a modeller of either metal, bone or wood—the modelling ‘thumb’ at one end, and a tapering (slightly blunted) point at the other, a light long-handled hammer, a short cylindrical metal bar for ‘putting down,’ a sharp knife, a polished sheet of ^–inch glass (about 2 feet by 1 foot 6 inches) and a thick felt mat of the same size. In addition a bottle of photographers’ mounting paste or a good supply of flour paste should always be on hand, and also some oxalic acid solution should be kept in reserve. Beginners should be careful in using the latter, having regard to its deadly poisonous properties.
For mere experimental purposes, a piece of clear stout calf should be obtained, about twelve inches square, free from any blemishes and of a regular thickness.
The design to be modelled should be drawn on a sheet of thin paper ; a simple design, not too intricate, of bold, outstanding figures. A cluster of apples or pears will suit admirably for a start. The piece of leather should then be damped and laid quite fiat on the sheet of glass, which in turn, rests on the felt pad. Then lay the paper on the top of the leather and trace the design through, with the point of the modeller. On removing, it will be found that a clear impression of the design is clearly impressed on the calf. The index and middle finger of the left hand should then be placed around the principal figure in the design—the largest apple, if this is the subject—with the thumb curved round the leather to hold it firm ; and with the ‘thumb’ end of the modeller grasped firmly in the right hand, the shape of the apple should be modelled by scraping and forcing upwards from the back of the calf. If the leather is kept fairly damp, and some pressure exerted, the outline of the apple will soon come up in high relief, but will be somewhat shapeless. Next, the paste must be generously shovelled into the cavity to form a cushion, a slip of tissue paper placed over it, and left to set partially. Meantime, proceed with the other figures, stems and leaves. Stems are formed by modelling with the sharp end of the tool, and leaves (needless to say) do not require such high relief as the fruit. When the paste has partially set, turn the leather over and place, face upwards on the glass bed, and with the modeller carefully fill in the detail. After this take a stippling tool—a metal punch with a blunt point—and by a series of sharp,, short taps with
J12 the hammer thereon, ‘put down,’ that is stipple, all the backgrounds, particularly round about the margins of the design. The stippling may trail off towards the edge of the leather. Be careful not to hammer so hard as to break the glass bed, although it should stand a fair amount of hammering, if the felt mat under it is thick enough.
Now give the finishing touches to the work with the modelling tool and bring out the outlines sharply. Always be careful not to cut the leather with any tool ; it should only be bruised.
Finally, with a clean piece of cotton wool, thoroughly clean all dirt and finger-marks from the leather, dipping it in the oxalic acid and applying sparingly. N .B. Don’t put your fingers near your mouth when doing this operation.
A delightful mahogany stain can be made for application to the leather by mixing a strong solution of potassium permanganate and applying with a brush, but , care should be taken to get the stain on quite evenly. If a variety of colours are required, these can be obtained ready mixed from most of the bigger leather manufacturers, in almost any shade —price, about Is. 6d. per bottle. It is a mistake to use too many colours, however. The best effects are obtained by varying the tones : generous applications of the colour in the centre of a fruit or a leaf, trailing away to a very dilute one towards the edge, gives a most lifelike blend of shades. For all practical purposes, the only leather dyes required are the primary colours.