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Experimenting with Leather – Wet Molding for Jewelry

January 11, 2017 , In: Inspiration, Mixed Media, Tutorials
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Since I’ve been experimenting with leather for the Component of the Month, I thought it might be fun to explore a basic leather working technique with you all, and discuss how it can be applied to jewelry and components.  

Wet molding how to – a basic primer:

***To do this you need to find a source of vegetable tanned leather.  It comes in different weights, measured by thickness in ounces.  My recommendation would be to see if there is a Tandy store near you and hit them up for some scraps!  If you have pieces of leather that are already colored – garment, upholstery, baggage, etc – it is likely chrome tanned leather, and is inappropriate for wet molding.***

There are only 3 steps to this basic technique.  First, cut out your shapes.  Next, put your leather in some water to saturate – wait until bubbles stop coming out of the leather and it becomes pliable.  Last, mold the leather – it really feels similar to clay, somewhere between the wet and leatherhard stages.  You can stretch, drape, twist, sculpt, mold and anything else you might do with a sheet of clay.  Once you reach a shape you like – let it get bone dry.  Then you can color and finish the leather however you wish!  It really is as simple as that.

Here a few ways you can mold leather:

Doming – This is the way I made the cabochons.  I cut out little shapes, soaked them, and once saturated used one of the large punches in my dapping set to push the leather in to a domed shape in the palm of my hand.  You don’t need a special tool for this – You can use any roundish item you have lying around – a rock, handle of another tool, or a marble are all pretty typical items for molding leather into a domed shape.

Twist or corkscrew – I’m sure you’ve seen twisted leather fringe before.  It is typically made with leather cut into fringe, dampened, then rolled between your fingers or one hand and a flat surface.

Corkscrew curls can be made by rolling soaked leather around a pen or other cylindrical item.  You could use something like this  as a slide on a bead, kumihimo, or other rope, as dangles or charms, or what ever else you might dream up!  I wanted this particular curl to roll a bit tighter than the leather would oblige, so once I got it tightly wrapped around the rod, I rolled the whole thing in a paper towel to both keep the curl in place and pull moisture out of the leather faster.

Ruffles – I’ve been wanting to try this for awhile!  Wouldn’t it be fun to have an embroidered brooch with a smooth ruffled edge?  Or a fin for a fish?  Or a piece of undulating leather worked with beads in and around the peaks and valleys?  Thinner leather will work best for this, as you will be able to pinch it in your fingers to make the ruffles as tight or wavy as you wish – pretend you are crimping a pie crust…

Sculptural – all of the techniques above can be combined with many more to create more 3-dimensional, sculptural items.  Flowers can be assembled petal by petal in layers, or simply from a molded flat shape.  Little animals can be folded and rolled.  Leaves, feathers, shells, any small dimensional shape you can dream up, as long as you can cut it from a flat piece of leather.

Then, color, finish and tada!

Molded leather items (clockwise from top left) – Mask, Corset, Shoe, Wings, Armor, Tarot card bag, Bowl.

These basic techniques are also used for making larger scale items such as masks, vessels, bags, holsters, corsets, armor, shoes, costumes, accessories and endless other items!  I hope you had fun reading this and will give leather molding a try!  If you do, please share – I would love to see what  you make!  Also:  If you wish to play along with this month’s Component of the Month challenge, I have a few leather cabochons available over at the Art Elements Extras destash!

 

 

 

Lindsay Star

Lindsay Starr is a beadwork and mixed media artist currently based in Nashville, TN. She spent her early childhood in Alaska, and her school age and college years in Oregon. Lindsay has a great appreciation for history, science, and nature and is consistently inspired by insects, sea life, color, and the significance of beads and beadwork throughout human history. She spends her days beading, walking at the zoo, and practicing yoga. Lindsay loves to share her knowledge and passion for beads and beadwork to hobbyists of all skill levels.
  1. Reply

    Neat! About a month ago I was gifted a biggish box (1.5’x1.5′) full of leather scraps from a woman a once gave a micro loan to through Kiva.org (NadiraBag on Etsy – plug, plug!). I’m going through a rough patch in my life these days and it really made my day. I might even get my creative spirit back because of it. I’ve been thinking about what I could do this stuff. Although much of it is already colored, I’m sure there’s some vegetable died leather in there somewhere. Something to look forward to, yay!

  2. Reply

    Great tutorial, but I am sorry I have to correct you. Wet moulding is very much possible with chemically dyed/ tanned leather. Infact it is also possible with leather that has a finish like printing, coating or foil on it. I have successfully moulded several flowers for large bouquets, accessories and jewelry.It just has to dry naturally in Sunlight. Spirit moulding is also possible, but color bleeding might occur.

    • Terri Del Signore
    • January 11, 2017
    Reply

    Awesome post!! Love the twisted fringe and the sculptural idea!! Thank you for sharing!!

  3. Reply

    Apologies if this is a double post.

    Neat! About a month ago I was gifted a biggish box (1.5’x1.5′?) full of leather scraps from a woman a once gave a micro loan to through Kiva.org (NadiraBag on Etsy – plug, plug!). I’m going through a rough patch in my life these days and it really made my day. I might even get my creative spirit back because of it. I’ve been thinking about what I could do this stuff. Although much of it is already colored, I’m sure there’s some vegetable died leather in there somewhere. Something to look forward to, yay!

    • Donovan Soland
    • January 11, 2017
    Reply

    Great article, and thanks for the use of my mask and a link to my Etsy store. I’ve been working with leather for almost twenty years. Alot ofy techniques are trial and error and just talking shop with other leather workers. Leather is a great material to work with, and also to bring life back into it.
    Thanks,
    ~D~

  4. Reply

    This was fascinating to read. I’d never thought about how leather is molded for things we take for granted, like shoes and purses. Thanks for explaining the process!

  5. Reply

    Finally getting around to commenting on everyone’s posts for the past few weeks… I just love this idea of using leather to create cabochons. I have a huge stash of leather but no vegetable tanned leather except a very small piece that I used as a base for placing rivets in other leather pieces. I will definitely be getting some more to try molding it. There are so many possibilities! Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. Reply

    I very much enjoyed your article!

  7. Pingback: Art Elements COM | Linda's Bead Blog & Meanderings

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