Saturday, May 9, 2009

Like butter, baby

Here begins a tutorial on leather buildups.

Earlier I discussed buildups using resin, which is a much harder medium and better for sharp, defined shapes.
Leather is much more flexible, and can cover a greater area much faster and with a more even result.
I use veg tanned insole leather 3ml thick. Cut the desired shapes and soak them in a bucket of water.

Sharpen your knife on a stone. I do this many times a day depending on what I'm working on. This knife is my bestest friend, apart from my lasting pincers, and I look after it like a treasure.
Skive the edges to be blended into an even contour. This skiving process can be done with a machine prior to soaking the leather, but I am such a fan of hand-skiving. I use my skiving machine when I'm making belts, when the edge is over a meter long and has to be even, but if I have smaller pieces of leather, or thick chunky pieces, I prefer to do it by hand.

You are literally slicing sections off the edge, resting your work on glass or marble so that the knife can glide over the surface and not get damaged. The longer you soak the leather, the softer it will be, and potentially more stinky.
I recall days when I worked at Preston Zly Design, we had a big bucket of soaking leather heel stiffeners, they would get really stinky but they were so soft and a real pleasure to hand-skive!

It is interesting to notice different textures in the leather. Obviously certain parts of an animal perform different tasks, and the texture of leather often reflects this. While I'm hand skiving, I may come across a really hard, shiny, tightly textured section which has me cursing and sweating, and then I'll be working on a really soft, buttery, loose textured piece which is a dream to skive.
Also while whittling the edges down to a fraction of a millimeter, you are constantly using your fingers to feel for irregularities, or even-ness, to check how accurate the blend is. I am always reminded how important all of the sense are when doing this, I often close my eyes to almost heighten that sense of touch, and am amazed at how much information one's fingertips can receive.

Then after skiving I tack the leather onto the last where it is required, and put them in the sun to dry. You can see that these lasts have already been built up considerably, they are for a pair of slippers for Uncle Bill, he is a diabetic with a lot of swelling in his feet. There are two layers of leather under these smaller top sections, which has been wet moulded using the previous process. Ah the joys of taking two dimensions and turning them into a sculpted 3D form!
Once the leather is dry I trace the outline of the piece onto the bottom surface, take out the tacks and glue the buildups back into place. Hammer the bejeezus into them to get the edges sitting down nicely, and often I use my sanding machine to get the blend really smooth.

Listening to: A Tribe Called Quest - Butter coincidentally Phife from ATCQ is also diabetic!