Please feel free to use as a source, with appropriate attribution.
Leather was commonly used for all kinds of objects throughout history. So, once you learn some basic leatherworking skills, it opens the door for you to make all kinds of useful things. Everything from shoes, to clothes, to many types of containers were made from leather.
Sure, you could wear a modern belt with your costume, but it will look like you’re wearing a modern belt. Why not make your own historical looking one instead? And where are you going to carry all of your modern stuff – car keys, money, driver’s license, gum…..? There are probably no pockets in the costume you’re wearing, so wouldn’t a nice leather pouch be handy?
Types of Leather
Most leather that we use comes from cows. You can also buy leather from pigs, goats, elk, moose, deer or really any other type of animal used for food. You can also buy more exotic leathers like alligator, ostrich, water buffalo etc. Each type of leather is a bit different and has particular characteristics that might work for various types of projects.
There are basically two kinds of leather that you’ll see most often—chrome tanned leather and vegetable tanned leather. They’re called this because of the tanning process that’s used to make them.
Vegetable tanned leather (often called veg tan or oak tan), is historically one of the leathers that were used. The advantage of this type of leather, aside from being historically accurate, is that it can be tooled (like stamping or carving), and it can be dyed. Veg tan is usually a natural light brown/tan colour.
Chrome tanned leather is a modern technique that uses chemicals to speed up the tanning process. Chrome tan skins come in a wide variety of colours and textures, can’t really be tooled or dyed, and are definitely not historically accurate. That being said, you can find chrome tan leather that passes the “ten foot rule” (in other words, it looks appropriate from about 10 feet away). Since it’s often less expensive, it’s a good place to start unless you want to do leather tooling and dying.
These are just some basic common ways that leather is worked:
Sewing - Most things you’ll want to make will involve some hand sewing. There are different types of needles and sewing materials (thread, leather lace, sinew and artificial sinew etc.) depending on the project. There are also many different types of stitches depending on what you are making.
Tooling – Leather tooling involves using tools and stamps to cut and impress patterns and designs into leather. You’ll often see these techniques on shoes, pouch flaps, belts and even armour.
Leather dying – Historically there were much fewer dye colours available than we have now, but coloured leather was available. The most common colours were of course brown and black, but red, blue, green, and yellow were certainly available, and even grey and purple dye recipes are known. Tooled leather was often painted as well to help highlight the carved patterns.
General Leatherworking Resources
Leatherworking ABCs from Tandy Leather
Projects and Guides for Leatherworking from Zelikovitz Leather (local leather store in Ottawa)
The Art of Hand Sewing Leather by Al Stohlman
Some Pattern Sources:
Period Patterns #93 – Bags, purses and pouches (Good resource, well documented)
Butterick B5371 (Costume patterns – not as fully researched)
Excellent source for pictures of historical objects, including many types of leather objects
Purses in Pieces - By Olaf Goubitz
Stepping Through Time – By Olaf Goubitz
Knives and Scabbards – By Jane Cowgill, M. de Neergaard, N. Griffiths