I have been considering taking up leather working because I think it would be fun to create items that are not only practical but also feature pyrography artwork. This bookmark met that criteria and, while it isn’t fancy, it was easy to do. Since it is easy and doesn’t require much leather, it’s a great beginner project to try burning on. This tutorial is going to explain how to assemble and burn the leather bookmark.
Keep in mind that I have very little experience in leather working. I came up with the idea after seeing a picture of an undecorated bookmark. It looked basic enough that I thought I could make my own without any outside instructions. If you are a leatherworker, I’m sure you will laugh at some of my mistakes. That’s okay as it won’t hurt my feelings, but please if you have any suggestions or tips on things I should have done differently please let me know. I’m truly interested.
Let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 1
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 2 x 5 inch (5.1 x 12.7 cm) piece of leather – vegetable tanned
- Leather Awl Haft
- 2 leather needles
- Approximately 20 inches (50.8 cm) waxed sewing thread for leather
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Leather Bookmark pattern
ABOUT THE LEATHER
- Must be vegetable tanned if you are going to burn in it.
- I bought a package of leather scraps from a leather working store, but I know you can get small sheets of leather at craft stores.
- Backside of the leather should be smooth. The bookmark forms a pouch that slides over the end of the paper. Pages catch on rough leather. This was my BIGGEST mistake with this project and I didn’t discover it until I tried to use it. July 2018 – I have since learned how to smooth leather. Here’s a tutorial that explains this: Smoothing and Prepping Leather.
This is a picture of the back of the leather I was using. I will admit that I have absolutely no idea if there is a way to smooth this out or if I should have used a different type of leather to begin with.
While I was at the leather store I bought a Hand Sewing kit by Tandy Leather. It came with everything needed to hand sew leather including instructions. I probably should have read the instructions BEFORE I did my project, but that would have taken precious time away from making mistakes on my project.
Here’s what the Awl Haft looks like. The kit comes with an assortment of awl blades
STEP 1 – CUT THE LEATHER
The first thing we need is to cut two pieces of leather to form the bookmark.
Coat the pattern with pencil, place the pattern onto the leather, and draw the outline of the shape. This is the same tracing method I use with wood.
Note – I did not trace the design only the shape.
Here’s what I ended up with after I cut the segment off from the main leather piece. I used a B graphite pencil and it gave me nice dark lines to follow on the leather.
Cut along the pencil lines with a knife. I used a box cutter. It was nothing fancy and has a blade that you can break off the end to get a new cutting edge.
Erase any remaining pencil marks.
Since I used rough backed leather I trimmed the edges. I already mentioned that my poor choice of leather hadn’t dawned on me until I tried to use the bookmark.
After cutting the two bookmarks, place them together to test fit them. I was making sure I didn’t have one that was noticeably bigger than the other and that the edges matched up.
STEP 2 – TRANSFER PATTERN
The pattern should still be coated with graphite, so tape it to one piece of the leather and trace over the design. I put the design on one side only as the design side indicated the page I was on.
Note – I put an alternate design on the pdf in case you didn’t like the design I used.
I used a small embossing tool (metal stick with a small balled end) to press firmly down along the stitch marks.
Here’s what it looks like thus far.
Note – you do not need to put in the stitch markings on the back piece of leather (piece on the left side).
STEP 3 – GLUE TOGETHER
Glue the two pieces of leather together, so that it will be easier to sew them. As I’m writing this tutorial, it has just dawned on me that I should have glued the pieces together before transferring the pattern to them!
I used some crafting glue I had on hand. I’m thinking that any glue that dries with a flexible finish would work like Liquid Stitch or other sewing glues. But glues that dry ridged (like hot glue guns) wouldn’t be a good choice.
Apply the glue along the corner or straight edges of the bookmark. Do not glue on the curved front.
Apply glue to the second leather piece. I’m using a silicone tipped ‘brush’ called Colour Shaper by Royal Sovereign. I like them because even if the glue dries on the brush it peels right off the silicon tip.
Assemble the two pieces together and press firmly along the edges to seal.
Don’t use your fingers to wipe off any glue that oozes out the end. If you have any dirt on your fingers that glue binds with it and transfers it to the leather. The red arrow is pointing out where I did that. By the time I noticed it the glue was dry and it wouldn’t come off. My fingers got dirty because of the graphite on the leather, so if I had glued up the pieces first I wouldn’t have had this problem. Still shouldn’t remove excess glue with your fingers though.
STEP 4 – BURN THE OUTLINE
With the writing pen tip on medium low, burn in the trace lines. I didn’t encounter any problems during this step, but I didn’t burn super dark.
Starting to burn the trace lines.
STEP 5 – BURN THE DESIGN
Burn in the design with a shader pen tip. Because of the small size I used a micro tight round shader.
Firmly rub over the design to compress the leather. I used a crochet needle. From previous experience I found this makes the leather surface firmer and easier to burn on.
This picture shows how the design is compressed down a bit. The light is striking it differently and it seems slightly paler in color than the rest of the leather.
My next leather project I will just compress the entire surface of the leather before I even transfer the design to the leather.
Burn in the pattern. I kept the design uniform in color.
NOTE – I did try to burn the design really dark, but I ran into problems with that. When the pen tip got too hot, the leather would just stick to the pen tip. Then I would have patches of raw leather underneath. If I tried ‘dotting’ the leather to make it darker, that worked slightly better but the leather still had a tendency to stick to the pen tip.
You can see the darker lines (marked with red arrow) I burned in this photo. I gave up as the smell of burnt leather was very unpleasant, I was getting frustrated, and it wasn’t producing the effect I wanted.
STEP 6 – STITCH MARKS
Use an Awl Haft to punch holes into the leather along the stitch marks. Try to keep the awl straight as you punch through both pieces of leather.
Here’s how the front looked after I did 4 holes.
Here’s how the back looked.
You might have noticed that my stitch marks are in a grooved channel. Since I was playing around with the stuff in my sewing kit, I decided to try out the adjustable groover.
Here’s a picture of the groover. There is a small cutter at the end of it and an adjustable bar that you run along the edge of the leather to keep the spacing consistent. Grooving helps the stitching sit more flush with the leather, but it is not absolutely necessary to do.
After grooving the leather I lost my stitch marks, so I had to run the overstitch spacer along the channel. If nothing else it gave me a chance to use the last tool in the kit.
Here’s a picture of the overstitch spacer. The kit comes with 3 different spacer wheels.
I tried pulling a threaded needle through one of the holes and quickly discovered they were too small. Even using pliers I couldn’t pull the needle through the hole! The fix was an easy matter of enlarging the holes with the awl by pushing the awl blade further into the leather. This photo shows the original holes on the left and the larger holes I had to make on the right.
This picture shows how you can now see through all of the holes after I was done enlarging them.
STEP 7 – SEW
Time for the hand sewing of the leather.
Thread a needle onto each end of the waxed thread. I had to squish or flatten the thread so it would fit into the eye of the needle. Leave about 1” (2.54 cm) extra overhang to ensure the thread doesn’t pull free.
This photo is from Tandy’s book and it explains the proper way to thread the needle so the thread is locked in place. There are a lot of examples available on the internet.
My estimate for the thread length was based on a highly scientific calculation of my own devising:
- Double the length of the project. I have two sewing sides that measure 2 inches (5.1 cm) long, so that gives me a length of 4 inches (10.2 cm). Doubling gives me a total of 8 inches (20.3 cm).
- Double that number since the project is sewn on both sides, so now I’m at 16 inches (40.6 cm).
- Add 1 inch (2.5 cm) per needle overhang so the thread doesn’t pull free. This brings my calculation up to 18 inches (45.7 cm)
- Lastly I factored in the need for working room and error, so I added another 2 inches (5.1 cm) and this gave me my total of 20 inches (50.8 cm). Working room means that I need enough thread to still be able to angle the needle into the stitching holes at the end of the project.
Grab one needle and push/pull it through the 1st hole. Which side you start on doesn’t matter. In this photo you can see I’m working one needle through the leather and the other needle is sitting on the table.
Pull the thread through until there is an equal amount of thread on both sides of the hole. Loop the thread around the end of the bookmark and then run the needle through the 1st hole again. Pull on both threads so the stitch is tight.
Start the next stitch by push/pulling the needle through the 2nd hole.
In this photo I’ve pulled the first needle thread through the 2nd hole, but I haven’t pulled the second needle through yet. Both needles will go through every single hole.
Now take the second needle and push it through the 2nd hole. The photo shows my just starting to push the needle into the hole. Again pull the threads so the stitch is tight.
Since the second needle was still in my hand, I push it through the 3rd hole.
After pulling the second needle pulling through the hole, drop the needle, pick up the first needle and push/pull it through the 3rd hole. Remember to pull the thread tight after completing the stitch.
This photo from the Tandy instruction book nicely shows what we’re doing in the stitching process.
Continued work. Notice how I have one of the needle’s thread secured over my finger to keep it out of the way as I work with the other needle.
Sometimes I had a hard time pulling the needle out of the hole, so I used small pliers and that worked great.
Once you get to the end of the bookmark, tie the thread around the end.
Tie the thread again to make a knot.
Snip off the extra thread.
NOTE – – I have since read the instructions in my Tandy leather kit and they have all sorts of information to give you a professional finish. Stuff that I obviously didn’t do like backstitching. Backstitching means there isn’t a knot where the threads end.
Plus the booklet has several different stitching methods, tips to make sure the stitching is straight and smooth, and there is even a section on how to properly use the awl to ensure the holes don’t rip out over time. Basically its stuff that you should do to create a better product and I think this would be especially applicable if you’re going sell your work. I will definitely be following their instructions when I do my next leather project!
STEP 8 – SEAL
Last step is to seal the leather.
I’m using a product called Resolene. Apply with a damp brush or sponge. Let it dry and it’s ready for use. I let the bookmark dry overnight.
Is Resolene the best product for sealing leather? I have absolutely no idea. I bought it because it came in a small jar, wasn’t too expensive, didn’t color the leather, and it cleaned up with water. According the label Resolene dries to a “flexible, durable water-resistant surface coating.”
This photo shows the bookmark opening that slides over the page(s) corner.
7/2018 – Many of the mistakes and problems I had with this project became a learning experience, and that is always a good thing. I have since experimented around and discovered ways to make leather much easier to burn on. Plus I’ve learned how to smooth the flesh (back) side of the leather. I wrote a tutorial on this: Smoothing & Prepping Leather
We’re done. While this project wasn’t filled with fantastic artwork, I did like how easy this beginner project was to do. I feel that this is a perfect project to try out working and burning on leather without investing a lot of time or money.
Just a few more words before I go. The bookmark measure 2 x 2 inches (5.1 x 5.1 cm) and it took me 1 1/4 hours to make it. Yes, make it. This means cut it out, assemble it, burn the design, sew, and seal it.
Until the next blog,
Sept 29, 2017
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