Working with Leather - Leather Types, Basic Techniques and Tools

Leather tools | leather working kit

Table of Contents

  • The main stages of leather creating
  • Types of leather depending on the processing method
  • Leather tools
  • Leather techniques
  • The second life of leather

Leather is one of the most ancient materials that human has learned to work with. The first leather products were purely utilitarian. Even Neanderthals used scraped animal skins as primitive clothing and shoes.
Unfortunately, hide is not the most durable material, so there are few archaeological proofs of products made of processed leather before our era. For example, a leather shoe with lacing discovered in Armenia is about 5,500 years old, and in Leipzig archaeologists found a leather bag decorated with many teeth.
Over time, leather and fur products began to acquire image significance - in the Middle Ages they were already a distinctive feature of the nobility. With the advent and development of writing, leather began to be used for the manufacture of books.

Vintage leather bag | Leather crossbody bag

People choose leather for its aesthetics, strength, elasticity, a variety of textures and processing methods.

The main stages of leather creation

In order for the animal skin to turn into the leather we are used to, from which we can create a durable product, it must undergo a long processing: the preparatory stage, tanning, re-tanning and polishing.

Leather manufactory | leather creating

At the preparatory stage, dirt, blood, and hair are removed from the skin. Then it is soaked in an alkaline solution - chemical process leads to the fact that the skin becomes softer. Then it is cleaned mechanically. After that, the thick skin can be divided into two parts - the grain and the split. The process is called splitting. And at the last stage, excess alkali is removed from the skin with the help of acid.

Leather manufactory | leather creating

The main task of tanning is to preserve the collagen fibers that make up the skin from rotting, while maintaining its elasticity and increasing elasticity and thermal stability. This is achieved with the help of tannins - they bind to collagen and give the skin new properties. The tanning is carried out in large rotating drums. At the end, the skin is squeezed out, passing through felt pads.

Leather manufactory | Large piece of leather

Tanning can be aldehyde, fat, plants and combined - depending on the chemical composition that is used during processing. Each type of tanning gives the skin a set of unique properties.

In the process of re-tanning, the skin is treated with a weak solution of alkali, stained, greased and broken (kneaded).

Polishing - the final stage of processing, the surface of the skin is polished; pigments and a varnish coating are applied to it.

Types of leather depending on the method of treatment

Not every type of leather goes through all four stages of treatment - it all depends on the final purpose of the leather.

Raw leather (char, raw materials) is a material that has passed only the preparatory stage. This is a soft leather at first, which after drying becomes firm and durable. In the old days, it was used to make armor, shoes, upholsteries and jewelries. Currently, it is used rarely - in particular, membranes are made of it for some musical instruments made by hand.

Raw leather

Rawhide - After the preparatory stage, the rawhide is thoroughly kneaded with hands and with the help of wooden devices, then treated with sour alum and fattened. Now the raw material is used in the manufacture of orthopedic devices, and the manufacture of saddles and harnesses - where thick, soft, tear-resistant leather is required. Rawhide does not tolerate the effects of moisture and heat; it needs to be periodically treated with fatty compounds.

rawhide | whole piece of raw leather

Tanned leather ranks first in popularity in the leather industry. It is strong, durable compared to previous types, resistant to moisture and sunlight.

Leather tanning | Vegetable tanned leather & chrome tanned leather

POPSEWING's leather crafts are well chose tanned leather, with well pre-treatment and pre-cut, you don't need to worry about the quality and buy extra tools, check our leather working kit here.

Leather crafting tools

Professional leather work needs an impressive set of tools.

Overstitch spacer wheels outlines the holes for manual stitching. The pitch between the teeth determines the length of the stitch.

Leather tools | Overstitch spacer wheels

Wing divider will help in marking up the details for cutting.

Wing divider | Leather tools

Adjustable Groover - allows you to make a special groove for the seam. Then the thread will be located below the surface of the leather and will not wear out when used.

Leather tools | adjustable groover

A knife with interchangeable blades for cutting leather. There are roller, straight, crescent-shaped  knives. The latter, in addition to the cut, is used to thin the leather at the place of the intended bend.

Leather tools | Knife for leather cutting

A plane for leather is useful for shearing large surfaces where it will be inconvenient to work with a knife.

Swivel knife - used to cut a pattern on the leather (embossing).

With the help of curly scissors, a zigzag or wave pattern can be formed on the edge of the leather.

Leather tools | curly scissors

Punch is designed to form holes in the leather. They can be round or curly. To create holes for the seam, lowercase (step or fork) punchers are used, with a different number of teeth.

leather punches

Needle - the most convenient way to work is a special needle for leather with a triangular tip. Such needles can be used both for manual work and for a sewing machine. If you sew leather on a regular sewing machine, you will need a Teflon foot or a foot with a small roller on the sole of it so that the leather does not get stuck.

With an awl, you can punch small holes or dissolve an unsuccessful seam.

Leather awl | POPSEWING

A hammer (mallet) will be needed when working with stamps, glued areas, punches.

Leather hammer | Mallet

With the help of a slicer (polisher, ironer), the edge of leather is thinned. The slicer can be manual, or in the form of a drill attachment.

All of POPSEWING's leather kits are well prepared with complete leather sewing tools, such as thread, needle, scissors, clip, rubber finger cover, punch, thimble, check our leather working kit here.

Leather techniques

There are plenty techniques for artistic processing of leather. They can be used individually or combined - depending on your idea and the purpose of the product.

Embossing allows you to create a relief image using mental stamps. There is cold and hot stamping methods. To work in this technique, it is recommended to use vegetable-tanned leather - the pattern obtained on it will remain for a long time, while the pattern made on chrome-tanned leather may eventually lose its clear contours.

Leather embossing | POPSEWING

Perforating. With the help of holes of various shapes and sizes on the leather, you can create original patterns. For perforation, you will need punches - when using an awl, you will not be able to make a smooth hole.

Weaving. From leather strips, you can weave a bracelet, a string for a pendant or a belt. And if combined with perforation, you will get a bag or purse. You can cut the leather into strips manually, using a cord cutter or buy a ready-made cord.


Pyrography. The drawing is done by using an electric scorcher or a heated stamp. In production conditions, laser burning is used - it allows you to achieve greater accuracy and detail. There are also portable laser engravers that can be used at home, but it's expensive.

Leather pyrography

Engraving. This technique is suitable only for thick leather - a pattern is applied to it with a cutter, then the slot is expanded and filled with paint, most often acrylic.

Application. Pieces of leather are glued or sewn to the base, collecting a pattern from them. Fragments can overlap or be tightly joined by edges. The option with docking is called intarsia.

 leather application

The second life of leather

A bracelet is a watch strap or a fashion accessory. It can be performed both in the weaving technique, pre-cutting thin strips from the jacket, and one-piece - laying the fabric between two strips of leather so that the product does not stretch. You will only need to buy a small buckle and, if desired, decorative rivets or grommets for decoration.

Leather bracelet

Wallet, phone case, keys or glasses case. The simplest option can be made from two parts. If they are the same, then it is better to use a zipper as a fastener, but if you do not want to bother with sewing a zipper, make one part larger, then the product will be fastened overlapping, and you can put a magnetic clasp or a button to fix it.

You can weave a belt, make an original hairpin or brooch, bookmark or a chic book cover, fit buttons on clothes - it all depends on how much time you are ready to devote to a new hobby.

What does POPSEWING do with leather

Mastering leather crafting work is not an easy thing, but it's fun and enjoyable process. POPSEWING's goal is making complicated leather craft work simple for every DIY lover, including beginners and people who isn't very familiar with a needle and thread. With POPSEWING DIY leathercraft kits, every could make a beautiful leather bags/bag charm and everything else. Immerse yourself in a new hobby - leather working isn't hard and complex as you might think.

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