Leather Play

On this great day of Friday I find myself looking at something I made a while ago.  A time when I was just starting off.  A project that I consider to be my first major one.  The largest and most complex item I had made to date.  As I sat today, reminiscing in the company of my hens and the calls of their male friend, I had the thought of sharing my thoughts with the world.  What does anyone have to gain from my thoughts?  I don’t know.  An insight perhaps.  Some entertainment I hope.  Or maybe someone is interested in leather bottles!  Today I am relaxed.  I let my fingers loose on my keyboard!

There used to be a great interest in leather bottles up until the industrial revolution.  There were many guilds dedicated just to leather bottles, flackets, costrels and the like in London alone.  It seems that we have forgotten many aspects of our leather craft heritage.  Leather vessels were a big deal not so long ago.  All sorts of fluids were transported across the ocean and enabled people to traverse many a land and ocean.  Tough enough to have lasted two hundred years both in use and in death.  Some skills in leather vessel making have been completely lost and some remain unfound.  There are some historical leather vessels that were made using techniques we can only guess at now.  Humans across the world found ways of carrying water and other essential fluids for thousands of years.  All used leather in some way.

Back to the present.  What do we have here?  The first photograph was taken secretly by a cheeky friend while I was checking the route for our country walk near Redditch UK.  A lovely spot and while I gazed at the screen (I admit it is a smartphone), this friend takes a snap.  I have on me, in this photograph, my leather bottle, leather pouch, leather penknife holder and leather watch strap.  Mostly made with lovely Sedgwick bridal leather.  The idea is to carry my essential day walk items in style and securely outside my pockets.  The pouch contains a few plasters for the kids, some string, safety pins, my minimalist card holder and a few other bits and bobs.

The leather was given to me by a very generous leather craft enthusiast.  His condition was that I was to go off a play.  So I did play and the first projects I used this leather for are show in the photographs below.  All of these items with the exception of the watch strap, were stitched, wet molded and then edge finished using beeswax.  The bottle was made using russet and has darkened due to the beeswax that was used to waterproof and seal it.  I think the colours match quite closely.  I total fluke I reassure you.

In those early days I didn’t have much idea of materials, their quality, their qualities and their applications.  I am still learning till today.  Having said that I am glad to have used 1mm nylon thread and stitch length of 5mm (app 6spi).  Although linen thread would have been used in the past, nylon thread is less prone to rotting and the choice of materials has lead to a bottle that has remained waterproof and rot free for over three years of regular use.  Knowing what I know now, I would use pure linen thread for future bottles.  Another unexpected outcome was in relation to the bottle I made for a customer.  He saw mine and wanted one.  Despite spending a good half an hour telling him how to take care of the thing, he stored his bottle in his conservatory.  The sun came out and so did the beeswax sealing it.  There was white stuff inside and out.  A panicked phone call and another half an hour convinced him that this is expected, is safe and can be fixed.  I allowed him one free repair and all is now well.  This account is a testament to how utterly amazing leather is.  It is also a reminder that leather is a ‘living’ material that has needs.  It requires love and care.  Not too often but for sure.  Even though it does not have a soul (some would disagree) leather goods are like skin.  They need to be protected from drying out and cracking and they need to be used within their limits of intended use.  Something people forget when using items made with natural materials.

Many people throw away old or damaged leather possessions not realising that most of the time they could have been repaired or refurbished.  Many people throw away leather items because they get bored of them or don’t need them anymore.  Like a fashion coming in and then out.  What a shame.  This material really is very valuable.  Fret not though because unlike most man made materials such as plastic, leather will be sent to land fill and will rot into compost and not pollute the world for the next 100 years.  Furthermore leather does not require as much energy to produce as materials such as plastic and metal.  The moral of the story?  Buy pure leather goods.  Even bottles!  And keep them or pass them on.  Please.

Where do we go from here?  I do not generally make leather bottles to sell although it is something I really enjoy making.  Through experience I have realised that there was a reason why leather bottles always had similar shapes.  They usually didn’t have sharp corners unlike the one depicted in the photographs.  When corners are wet molded they distort and the pressure applied by the stitching along the sealed edges becomes unevenly distributed.  This makes it harder to waterproof and seal.  Yet my bottle below is still watertight.  I have lots of design ideas for leather water bottles, mainly in relation to the outdoors, and perhaps at some point I will start turning those designs into reality.  For now I concentrate on making leather items that will help my leather journey on to the next stages.  It is not yet time to go back to play.