If you work with leather you know the pain of having boxes full of leather remnants and offcuts which are too small to use for your product but yet it is a shame to throw it away. They get piled up for months or sometimes years and even small projects like making little thing (keyrings, bookmarks, bracelets, etc) don't help to clear the space out.
Well, here is a fun project for you to utilize those pieces of leather. It will make your leather work almost waste free and help you with the ideas when you are looking for a great gift for your family or friends or even an item for sale!
If you are not a leatherworker and do not have a box of leather pieces staring at you from the corner of your room you still can make this rug. There is always plenty of old leather items from gloves to handbags to bags, jackets, boots and lots of other things which you can use to get your leather pieces from. Old leather furniture which is not usable any more is perfect, too. Ask your relatives, friends and neighbours if they have anything old made of leather that they can part with. And of course, there is such thing as internet where you can always get great deals on leather offcuts and remnants!
I work with vegetable tanned leather and I dye and finish it myself. Vegetable tanned natural leather gives an option of stamping and tooling. Chrome tanned leather comes already colored and finished and unless it comes with a pattern on it you can not stamp it yourself.
This is fully hand stitched project and I would recommend you not to use the machine (even if you have one for leather work). First, it will be too big to stitch with a machine. Second, if you are planning to use it as a cover for an armchair or a sofa or as an actual rug on the floor you want the stitches to be as strong as possible. Sewing machine does a good job and it will do it with a lightning speed of course, no arguments about it. But if you want something special and long lasting nothing can beat saddle stitching. Even if one or two stitches get torn (for whatever reason) the seam will stay strong and will be holding the leather like nothing happened. If a machine made stitch is broken the whole seam line gets loose and the pieces fall apart (well, that is if they are not glued together). So yes I would recommend the saddle stitching by hand but I should mention that it is a tedious work and you will need a lot of patience. Believe me, it will be worth it.
This rug can be a great space saver if hanged on the wall. Add a few extra pieces of leather (large ones) on the top of a finished rug, stitch them to the rug on three sides and there you have pockets for shoes, keys, gloves, slippers, shopping bags, etc. Hung it on the wall near the door using strong hooks (make a few loops stitched to the rug). This leather is strong and will hold a lot of weight. Extremely handy for students or in small apartments as it will save a lot of space. You can make it in custom shape and size and the pockets can be also custom sized accordingly to the things you want to place in them. Near the door it can be shoes and gloves, placed on the wall in a bedroom it can be a holder for pyjamas or towels or hair brushes or head phones or just anything else that clutters a room, especially a student's room. Notebooks, pens and pencils, phone charger cables, DVDs, even a can of soda to keep nearby when needed. Everything can go on the wall into pockets of this rug and it looks cool and presentable. You can cut symmetrical pieces and stitch them in some geometrical order, you can color pieces in bright colors or even don't color at all and let the time create a patina which will be just like natural antique.
Make really strong hooks and leather itself will take care of the weight of the items in the pockets..
So here it is, the Leather Rug aka Space Saver.
Step 1: You Will Need:
~ Leather offcuts (the larger the better because small pieces means more work)
~ Leather knife (rotary knife is what I am using)
~ Leather antique dye (if you are using vegetable tanned leather offcuts)
~ Leather finish
~ Stamping tools (if you are using vegetable tanned leather)
~ Leathercraft cement
~ Stitching needles x2, Waxed polyester thread 1mm
~ Pricking irons or stitching punches
~ Stitching pony/clamp
If you are using chrome leather you do not need any coloring stuff as chrome leather is already dyed and finished. Use any colors you want/have
Step 2: Preparing the Leather
Go through the leather you have and select those pieces which are the largest. The smaller they are the more work will be required. In any case embrace yourself for you are going to gain a good hand stitching experience :-)
Sort leather by thickness. It is better to use pieces of the same or almost the same thickness but if you have to mix it is still fine.
Use a cutting ruler and a rotary knife (or round leather knife) and cut square and rectangular shapes out of those pieces. Try to make minimal waste.
Arrange the pieces on the floor side by side just to figure out approximate size of the future rug. If you think it is too small - add more leather.
Now use your hands to knead the leather, especially thick pieces. Fold a piece together grain inside (top surface inside) and roll it pressing hard where the fold is. Roll in all directions to break in the fibres and make the leather softer. This process will create a web of small wrinkles crossing each other. When antiquing later it will make a nice pattern.
Step 3: Decorate the Pieces
Skip this step if you are using chrome leather. This is for vegetable tanned natural leather only.
First you need to case the leather. Use a sponge to apply clean water. Not a lot but enough to get the leather wet half way deep. Than leave it to dry for awhile (maybe half an hour). When the surface look dry but is cold to the touch it means there is still some moisture left in the fibers and that is what we need.
Now is the time to use your imagination.
You have a lot of options here:
1) Leave the leather as it is. Let the natural pattern speak for itself.
2) Use any kind of stamps to add impressions to all or to some of the pieces. You don't even need the actual leather stamps, you can use anything from the coins to chain to cogs from watches (any kind of gear), the tableware (especially the old silver spoons, they have beautiful engraved handles), or basically anything that can leave an impression will work. You can use rocks to hit leather and they will leave nice prints, too. You can put leather under the wheels of your car and drive over them, you will get an instant pattern. Well, use your imagination.
3) You can use a wood burning station and burn something nice here and there.
4) You can engrave or tool leather (will take time)
I just added some stamping to a few pieces here and there and that is all.
If you have and want to use your logo stamp it is time to do it now.
Step 4: Applying Antique
Skip this step if you are using chrome leather. This is for vegetable tanned natural leather only.
I am using Eco Flo Antique Gel which I bought from Tandy. I am using Dark Brown and Saddle Tan colors. My offcuts are from different hides of leather, different tanning, different thickness, different animals, different age, etc. This will result in different absorbing characteristics and give a lot of shades and tones. I could use only one color and still get a few tone variations. This is why you almost never get identical coloring on your handmade items especially when you use antique.
Pour some paint in a bowl and using a piece of sheep wool apply it on leather in circles. Do the same on the flesh side of leather. Use paper towel to remove the excesses of paint, wet the towel a little bit if the paint is already too dry.
Let the leather dry for a few hours then buff the leather with a piece of sheep wool or t-shirt.
Now use any acrylic leather finish to seal the paint. it will pick up some color but it is ok. Leave everything overnight to dry off.
Step 5: Assembling the Pieces
Now as all your leather pieces are dry and ready to use sort them out by shape. This is just for easier assembling. Start with larger pieces. Arrange them side by side using those which match the most. When you arranged 3-4 of them and are sure this is where you want them glue them together edge over the edge. I am using water based leathercraft cement (from Tandy). Rough out the sides of those pieces which will be connected approximately 8-10mm from the edge. Apply the glue. Let the glue dry until tacky and then connect them together applying some pressure.
Step 6: Stitching
Use a pair of dividers to mark a stitching line 3-4mm from the edge. Punch the stitching holes with a stitching prongs or pricking irons. Usually just marking the holes would be enough because you would normally finish the holes with the awl when stitching. But in this case I would recommend to actually punch the holes through the leather before you start stitching because it will be hard to manage with the awl later when the rug gets bigger.
Take two stitching needles and waxed polyester thread. You can use any other thread, like linen, it is not a rule.
Follow the photos to thread the needles, each on one end of the thread. Fix the leather pieces in the clamp and start stitching. You want to level the needles after the first stitch so you have an even length of thread on each side. Left needle goes through the first hole and the right needle goes through the same hole to the opposite side. First stitch is done. Then again, left (used to be right) needle goes through the second hole to the right and the right needle (used to be left) goes to the opposite side through the same hole. Tighten the second stitch. Follow the photos. In this manner stitch all the way to the end of the two pieces. Then make 2-3 stitches back in the opposite direction and pull the thread to the flesh side of the leather. Cut the thread short or tight the double knot.
Use a hammer to tap the seam.
Step 7: Carry on Stitching All Pieces.
Add piece by piece figuring out which goes where better. You can create some geometrical/symmetrical design but in this case you would need the leather pieces to be of particular shape and size which would mean you would still have a lot of leather wasted. best thing is to just use leather as much as possible even if it means you make uneven patches of different shape and size. It will still look great. Patchwork always does, especially on leather.
Step 8: Finishing Up
If you use square or rectangular patches you will get more "tidy" lines. If you use patches cut diagonally you will get more abstract stitching. Both look great to me but if you don't want "untidy" look cut leather pieces with all corners being square.
Leave a few long pieces to finish the rug. Stitch them around like some kind of frame adding a finished look. If you want a fancy rug on the wall you can tool and color these 'frame" pieces before they are antiqued. Here in this tutorial of mine you can read how to tool and how to add a unique antique looking design:
It will make the rug even more unique.
Cut the edges straight using a cutting ruler (watch your fingers!)
Turn the rug over and fix the thread ends. use matches or lighter or wood burning pen to melt the tips down or if you are using linen thread add a drop of glue to each knot and let it dry.
Step 9: Freshening Up
If you want distressed look you can use sandpaper to scrap the patches a bit. You can do it before you start glueing and stitching them together or you can do it now at this finishing stage. If you are doing it now you only need to do it in the center area of each piece. Don't scratch the thread.
Then use any leather conditioner to clean and refresh the leather. I happened to like LEXOL.
Step 10: Done
Your unique/antique leather rug is finished. The beauty of this project is that it is ongoing. You can add more patches in a week or a month or even a year when you have time or desire or more leather. It can start with a small table cover and with the time grow to a large leather patchwork rug which will cover all the floor in your living room.
The properties of the vegetable tanned leather are wonderful. It will darken with the time and develop a unique patina.
You can hang this rug on the wall, you can use it as an armchair or sofa cover, you can place it on a small door table, you can have it on the floor in your library or even make a cover for your car seat.
It is also great as a gorgeous gift for someone's B'Day or other occasions. It is great for any purpose you might possibly want!
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! Good luck with your projects!