Ever wondered how those lovely inscriptions get on my personalized leather pieces? A lot of people do, and I have gotten an incredible variety of guesses over the years. So, here’s the answer, along with a brief explanation of the techniques I don’t use!
Are they engraved? Nope. Engraving is something you do to a hard, flat, surface (think metal, glass, and the like). Engraving incises (cuts) a fine line into the surface of the object to create the word or pattern. It’s been used in printmaking, jewelry, and other mediums, but doesn’t doo much to leather. Leather is too soft, and the lines of an engraver too fine, to make anything very visible (trust me, I tried).
Are they tooled? Stamped? Carved? Nope, none of these. I put them all together because people generally mean the same thing, or subtle variations on the same thing, when they ask these questions. The tradition of leather tooling involves using hard metal tools and a mallet to compress parts of the leather, creating a pattern. Carving is easiest to explain as a “freestyle” version, using tools to create pattern and shape, whereas stamping uses metal tools with letters or shapes at the end (some can be repeated to create a pattern such as a basketweave) to create the design. Leather tooling can refer to stamping or carving. These are obviously great ways to mark leather, but they don’t give you the fine line that I need.
Are they embossed? Nope, not that either. Embossing involves applying heat and pressure to create a raised pattern. Each embossed design requires two dies – a male and female that fit together, and are pressed with the leather or other material between. Not totally feasible for all the custom work that I do, since it would either be a letter at a time, or every piece would require a custom die set.
Are they drawn on with pen? Nope, definitely not that one either. Assuming we all know what pens are (please tell me I’m not old enough that pens have become antiquated!), I won’t go into the process this would involve. But I will just say that drawing on leather with pen isn’t an elegant option for creating a custom piece. It may stay for a while, but it will look like you drew on it in pen, which you almost certainly will not be happy with.
So, what do you do? I brand. Also called pyrography (though don’t ask me to say it), leather branding is a fantastic way to get a fine line on the leather, and allows for an infinite variation of patterns and styles. Since everything I do is done with a red-hot pen, directly on the leather, I have the freedom and ability to customize the leather with your choice of inscription. And, the handwriting you see in the Smokey pattern pieces – that’s my handwriting.
The one thing I’m seldom asked is if I use a laser to put my patterns on the leather. Maybe it’s because you all can see the rustic charm from the pictures, or maybe you’ve figured I’m really not that tech savvy, either way, it doesn’t come up much even though it seems to be the way of the future. I absolutely treasure the hands-on experience of making leather pieces and can’t imagine doing it in any way other than the traditional way. So I’ll stick with the branding iron, tooling leather, and my studio – oh, and handmade.