Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Love Affair With Leather
I wish you could reach through the screen and touch the leather in the photo. It is just ...so...luxurious. The orange is brilliantly saturated with color, and it feels like buttery satin. The lime green has a high gloss on the snake print, and a slightly firm 'body' that will help structure every purse. These are my skins for February -- citrus colors -- but I get excited every single time I buy. Yes, it's a love affair with leather.
My sister says, "With you, the answer is always leather." And it's true! I think that just about every challenge can be solved with this wonderful material. There are so many kinds of leather, and each has its own magical properties. So get yourself a cup of tea (or something with more spirit). This is a quickie leather primer.
My relationship with leather goes waaaaay back. I think I was 10 years old when someone gave me a bag of leather scraps to fool around with. Looking back, I now know they were cowhide suede, but I thought it was all wondrous and instinctively I began to make things out of them. My first creations were rings, with happy faces and peace signs. (Hey, it was the '70s.) I sold them to my friends for a nickel a piece. Leslie Ann Bordman wore hers to wash dishes and it came apart. I had to refund her nickel but I learned something -- leather is not plastic. It is a natural material with limitations...and incredible beauty.
In my mid-20s I had a small company, Kudos Accessories. I designed accessories in leather that were sold by my friends through the home party program. It was so successful it almost killed me, and eventually I closed shop because I was overwhelmed. But it was through Kudos that I began to really learn about leather. Here's what I can tell you without boring you to death:
Leather is not like fabric. Each skin is different -- from animal to animal -- and within the skin itself. For example, the center of the skin is the usually the thickest, but also the most beautiful. As you move toward the edges discoloration can occur, but the skin also thins, and this is what I usually use for shoes.
My main skins are lamb (mmmm...love those baby lambs!) and goat, which are really the only skins fine enough for doll work. Leather is sold by the square foot (you pay for the ragged edges, too) and its thickness is measured in ounces. I know that's strange, but once you figure it out, you get used to it. For example, in ancient times, a warrior's armor was made in 9 - 12 ounce leather. That's thick enough to slow down an arrow! For doll work I use 1.5 - 2 ounce scale. If you have leather furniture, it's probably 4 or 5 ounce, to survive the stress all that sitting. If you're looking to make something for yourself -- a purse or a skirt -- you'd be best off with the same weight as I use for dolls.
One of the challenges I face with doll shoes is that leather dye is deadly... and left untreated it will leach out into a doll's skin. I know this because my own dolls were the first victims! However, I've discovered a way to block this process, and you may have noticed that the shoe interiors are stiff and shiny. This is to protect your girls. They need not suffer like my early dolls!
Another challenge with leather is glue. For certain applications, nothing beats good old white glue (the kind you had in school). But to glue 2 surface layers together, well, that took space age technology: Krazy Glue Advanced Formula Gel. Yes, this is my secret weapon, and it's only been available within the last 10 years. A lucky thing for dolls! (However, I've glued my fingers together more times than I can count.)
The top layer of a skin, by the way, is called the pliver. Thick leather can be split into layers, and the paper-thin top layer has a lot of different uses, although it's not very strong. Some people use it for calligraphy, or Indian arts and crafts. I've used it for painted shoes, and bonded shoes. The Gucci Flora shoes were silk bonded to a pliver.
I continue to learn about this material I love, and it's all to the good. What I learn, I use to benefit dolls...and what better use could there be??