I have been leather crafting since 2010 now - I still have not attempted to wet form ANYTHING that I have made out of leather - up to this point.
Wet forming leather is a relatively basic technique which is commonly used for making knife sheaths and holsters. I have not made any of those either...
What is wrong with me?!
I'm like Jon Snow at this point - I KNOW NOTHING - about wet forming leather! So, I read through several of my books and then found a helpful instructable, Fitted Leather Holster by seadraggin, which proposed an interesting method for wet forming leather via a food vacuum sealer. This author had a brilliant idea. And I thought "Hey - I have one those - I gotta give it go!"
That was last year - don't judge me.
So, this is my process (finally) but make sure to check out that original instructable I found too. That author made a holster. I am just starting with a simple card case - for my business cards - that should actually carry a decent amount of cards!
Step 1: What Ya Need to Get It Done!
So - if you are reading this then most likely you have the vacuum sealer. Please follow the instructions for operating your particular model. Also, please do not hold me hostage if you break your sealer. I was afraid I'd mess mine up too - they aren't cheap - that's part of the reason why I procrastinated for a year. So, if this method freaks ya out, I don't blame ya - don't do it! Otherwise, here is the rest of what you might need.
The components to this project are: Back Panel, Front Panel, Flap, Closure Strip
Basic Materials & Supplies
- 8-9 oz. Vegetable Tanned Leather Piece - approx. 1/2 square foot for front panel
- 5-6 oz. Leather Scrap* - approx. 1/2 - 1 square foot for back panel, flap & closure strip
- Water & Container
- Vacuum Sealer and Bag
- Form - 2 1/4" x 3 3/4" x 1/2"
- Waxed Thread and Needles
- Thonging Chisel
- 5mm Tanner's Bond Adhesive Tape
- Neatsfoot Oil & Soft Rag
- Stamping Poly Mallet
- Quartz Slab
- Rotary Cutter & Mat (or heavy duty scissors)
- Leather Marking Utensils
- Poly Cutting Board/Pondo Board
- Sandpaper, 60 -120 grit
Optional Materials & Supplies
- Stamping Tools (your choice)**
- Edge Dressing & Applicator
- Edge Beveler
- Strap End Punch
TIPS: Yay! for permanent adhesive tape - it is much less messy and much more convenient than using glue to line up edges for punching & stitching. It probably won't save money but it will save time. I made my form from scrap wood - easy peasy - than wrapped it with painters tape to semi-waterproof it.
NOTE: Most of my leather tools/supples I used for this project were purchased via my local Tandy's Leather shop - except the following. *I used awesome embossed bison leather from Acadia Leather. **I used this alphabet stamp set from Springfield Leather.
Step 2: Make the Components for the Card Case
Tools/Materials Needed for this Step: Vegetable Tanned Leather Piece, Leather Scrap, Marking Utensil, Straight Edge, Scissors and/or Rotary Cutter & Mat, Creaser, Sandpaper
2a - Cut the Front Panel from the 8-9 oz Vegetable Tanned Leather Piece
- Square up leather by cutting at least one straight edge to reference from
- From that straight edge, measure and cut out a 3 1/2" x 5 1/2" rectangle to create front panel of case
2b - Cut the Back Panel from the 5-6 oz Leather Scrap
- Square up leather by cutting at least one straight edge to reference from
- From that straight edge, measure and cut out a 5 1/8" x 5 1/2" rectangle to create back panel of case
2c - Make Closure Strip*
- Take the back panel just cut and lay it out vertically
- If using a "pull-up" type leather, scrunch it up first to distress it - it looks cool and its just plain fun to do
- Trim a 5/8" x 5 1/2" strip off from one side to create closure strip
- Remaining back panel should now measure 4 1/2" x 5 1/2"
2d - Shape the Flap**
- Lay back panel out horizontally, flesh (ugly) side up - chose an end to angle the corners off to create flap
- Mark points up 1 3/4" and over 1" from one of those corners
- Draw a reference line between those points then cut on that line
- Fold the back panel in half, vertically, and duplicate that cut on opposite corner
- Use tip of creaser (or something similar) as a template to round off corners then cut with scissors and shape smooth with sandpaper
TIPS: I cut a larger than needed front panel for ease in wet forming in the next step. Also, leather can stretch when wet so your beautifully square piece of leather will likely no longer be square or the same size after wet forming. Trimming to square it back up will be necessary later.
NOTES: *Leather referred to as "pull-up" - meaning that when you fold, crease, pinch or scrunch it up, a lighter tone magically appears on the surface. Sha-Zam! **It took several attempts to get the correct angle on the flap corners to tuck under the closure strip - some pictures do not show the accurate measurement in case ya noticed that.
Step 3: Prep & Wet Form Front Panel Leather
Tools/Materials Needed for this Step: Water & Container, Vegetable Tanned Leather, the Form, Creaser, Vacuum Sealer & Bag, and of course...electricity!
3a - Case Front Panel*
- Fully submerge veg tanned leather piece in water - watch for air bubbles rising
- Once there are no more bubbles - leather is completely cased and ready
- Blot off any excess water
3b - Pre-Shape Front Panel to the Form
- Lay cased leather out horizontal - flesh (ugly) side up
- Align top edge of form on center to top edge of front panel
- Lightly crease/fold each of the three sides upward over form edges
- Pinch the two corners
3c - Vacuum Seal**
- Prep appropriate sized bag (sealed at one end) and machine for vacuum sealing as per machine instructions
- Place leather wrapped form into bag, leather down - pushed all the way against bottom bag seal
- Operate machine as per machine instructions
- Hold the leather wrapped form in place up against bottom seal while vacuum sealer is running
3d - Finish Up
- Crease along the edges and corners while still sealed in bag
- Let leather rest inside sealed bag for at least a few hours
- Cut the bag open to allow front panel (with form still in place) to dry and set up
TIPS: ONLY WATER should be used to case leather; distilled water is best for casing as it is very pure, free of minerals, but not necessary. You can check out my vacuum sealer in action for this project posted on my FB page - 3PD Handmade Leather Goods.
NOTE: * Vegetable tanned leather has a very firm hand. Saturating this leather with water, "casing" it, breaks up the fibers in the leather allowing it to become more pliable and acceptable to change. Do not case the leather until ready and setup for the forming. This leather has to be freshly cased to mold to the form properly. **I did not go over how to vacuum seal as every model/machine may have different instruction for operation.
Step 4: Optional Step: Jazz Up the Front Panel
Or not? Move to next step...
Tools/Materials Needed for this Step: Formed Front Panel, the Form, Leather Stamps, Strap End Punch, Poly Stamping Mallet, Quartz Slab, Poly Cutting Board, Water & Container, Marking Utensil
4a- Add a Finger Notch
- Find and mark center along top edge of front panel
- Flip it flat side down and use strap end punch to cut out an approximate 1" x 1/2" finger notch on center
4b - Determine Stamp Layout* (no picture)
- Keep design simple enough to fit within small flat area - best to stamp on the "face" of formed leather, not around to the sides
- Determine how far flap comes down and where closure strip will be stitched in at during construction - account for these in layout as necessary
- If using a repetitive stamp, like a basket weave, lightly mark a center-line across width for a starting point
4c - Stamp Away**
- Once veg leather has dried back almost completely to its original color, it is ready for stamping
- Lightly re-dampen formed leather with water - only if necessary
- Reuse form for support (on top of quartz) during stamping
- You can check out one of my previous instructables, DIY Leather Memory Book Steps 4-7, for more detailed instruction on using stamping tools
TIPS: Layout is important. I obviously did not determine my layout before I stamped my maker's mark - so, it was hidden during construction. Yikes! I learned from this mistake though - I made sure to layout an area for my initials after deciding to add them later.
NOTE: *There is not much room for a super involved stamping design - most of it will be covered by the flap anyway. Tons of other single stamps designs would work great on this project. **I let my formed leather dry/set up overnight, so I had to re-dampen it a bit for stamping.
Step 5: Construct Your Leather Card Case
Tools/Materials Needed for this Step: Front Panel, Back Panel Flap, Closure Strip, Waxed Thread & Needles, Thonging Chisel, Poly Stamping Mallet, Quartz Slab, Poly Cutting Board,Tanner's Bond Tape, Neatsfoot Oil & Soft Rag; Optional: Sandpaper, Edge Beveler, Burnisher, Edge Dressing & Applicator
5a -Trim & Clean Front Panel Edges
- Square edges back up first
- Reuse the form as support under front panel and align with back panel - measure overlap
- Mark measurement of overlap along the three outer sides of front panel
- Trim off overlap
- Snip a 1/4" 45 degree miter cut at the two corners of front panel - so that they cooperate better later
5b - Prep & Punch Stitching Holes
- Using Tanner's Bond adhesive tape, attach front panel to back panel aligning edges - flesh side to flesh side
- Mark an inward 3/16" stitching line around front panel
- Line up closure strip 5/8" down from top edge of front panel then affix in place using the tape
- Mark center (along stitching line) on bottom edge of front panel, begin punching holes out from here up to each corner
- As corners are approached carefully space/place last hole and stop - this last hole needs to be fairly close to miter cut, but there still needs to be enough leather so thread won't rip through when its pulled tight
- Where back panel flap intersects with front panel top edge, position thonging chisel so that one hole is punched above and next hole is punched below intersection - continue stitching down to corner, repeat on other side
- Go back and place one punched hole within the space of the miter cut at an angle for each corner- this hole will be punched only through the back panel - it will not have a corresponding hole in front panel
5c - Stitch Panels Together*
- Two needles + one length of waxed thread + even tension = beautiful and strong hand-stitch (saddle stitch)
- Double or triple stitch at high stress points - flap to front panel interesections and corners
- Don't forget to back stitch a few holes to tie off end stitch and trim off close
- Lightly melt ends of trimmed thread with a lighter and push in to make a little plug for hole
5d - Optional Part: Bevel, Burnish & Dress Edges
- Smooth all edge junctions first with sandpaper to help make junctions disappear
- Bevel along all edges of front panel only
- Dampen all edges and burnish: Greater speed = friction = glass like finish
- Carefully apply 1-2 layers of edge dressing to finish - let each layer dry in between for best adhesion
Please - Give that beautiful leather case a good rub down with neatsfoot oil - it lost a lot of natural oil during casing!
TIPS: 5a is easier said than done - fussing and cussing is a strong possibility in order to keep or get the trimming square. You may have to trim several times to get the right fit. Don't have an edge beveler but still want the smoothed look of the beveled edge? Use sandpaper and roll around the edges as you smooth them. If edge beveling/burnishing, bevel/burnish the top edge and finger notch BEFORE construction - its just easier that way. If applying edge dressing, apply to closure strip BEFORE 5b.
NOTES: *For this type of hand-stitch, the length of thread should be cut at 3 times the total perimeter length of the stitching line.
Step 6: All Done!
I still know nothing - like Jon Snow. But, I have a completed wet formed leather card case now! My finished leather business card case holds approximately 40 of my business cards and measures approximately 4 1/2" x 3" x 7/8" (full and closed). Over time, the leather will break in and should accommodate a few more!
If you know any other neat ways to wet form leather - please share in the comments below. This was a fun experiment - I'll have to try it the traditional way soon.
Thanks for coming along!
Second Prize in the
Leather Contest 2017