There’s A Time and A Place To Skive

Whilst at the museum this week we received a planned visit from an over 55s club from Shorpshire/ Staffordshire.  A lovely group of ladies and gentlemen they were.  During the guided tour, which ends in the light leather goods room (my room), the guide mentioned something briefly about skiving.  He mentioned that the origin of the work ‘skiver’ is actually from the process of skiving leather.  The person who had the job of skiving leather had the pleasure of being seated as opposed to most other leather craftsmen and craftswomen who would have had to mostly stand while working.  Hence the person who skived was called a skiver by merit of his not having to stand for while he or she worked.  It goes without saying that I remained standing for the entirety of the visit.  And I wonder if the word ‘stitcher’ has any adapted use because the people who hand stitched while doing saddle stitching were also usually seated also!

From this both the guide and I gave an unplanned demonstration of skived edges after seeing some interest from the audience.  As he looked around for something to use to demonstrate the purpose of skiving leather, his gaze came to rest upon my cross body bag.  At the same moment I picked it up and seeing a nod of encouragement I proceeded to show the group my bag, on which I have one two layer edge skived down to look like one layer in thickness and also an edge that is two layers thick and un-skived.  The whole discussion went down really well it seems.

This inspired me to talk about skiving, something I never really came across in my early days of learning leather craft.  So here we go.

The part of the presentation made by the guide that led to my impromptu contribution, was about the skiving machine that is displayed in the light leather goods room.  It works and is over 100 years old I am told.  A piece of leather can be placed on the machine and in a moment the machine has taken a sliver of leather off the edge of the leather.  So skiving is when the edge of a piece of leather is thinned down forming a gradient on the edge.

Why Skive?

The purpose of skiving leather edges is to produce a more refined edge on a finished leather item.  For example, where there is a seam consisting of three layers of leather 2mm thick each, the total thickness of the seam will be 6mm which is quite thick for a smaller item such as a cross body bag.  By skiving one can reduce the bulkiness of the edge.  Another use of skiving is in the making of rolled edges in which case the edge of the leather is folded over and glued and stitched so that the surface of the leather forms around the edge of the leather.  It is a matter of neatness and refinement.  In my opinion fine luxury leather goods are defined partly by the amount of work that has gone into making the items appear to be in proportion.  For example, my cross body bag is made of 2.5mm thick bridal shoulder leather and the rearmost seam has three layers.  I wanted to use a heavy leather but I did not want seams as thick as 8.5mm.  It would just not look right.  So the rearmost seam on my cross body bag is about 5mm thick.  This is still quite thick but is more in proportion with the overall dimensions than without skiving.

Another issue that came up during the guided tour at the museum was strength.  The question was, “why is the edge of the front pocked skived to look like one layer while the rest of the edges on the bag are skived to appear as two layers thick?”  Excellent question.  The answer is that the front pocket is never going to carry much weight whereas the main compartment was made to carry bulky items.  For example I can carry, amazingly, all of the camera gear that I need, among other things, when out walking.  The DSLR body, a large lens, a small lens and a few other bits and bobs.  If the seams were skived they would be weakened.  the unskived edges enable me to really stuff my bag without fear of the seam coming apart.  So there are some considerations when skiving.  There are, of course, many other considerations but here I am discussing those aspects that came up at the museum.

I am currently working on a summer clutch bag for a customer and the photographs below show the skiving of the lining of the bag.  The edges of the outer leather are not being skived for the front and rear panels.  Only the lining is being skived.  The  lining material is on the thicker side so I had to be quite careful that I skived enough to make the seam sit correctly while not taking away so much material that the skiving is visible from the inside of the completed bag.  A little tricky because one must, in this case, make a judgement as to how much of the lining would be visible on the completed bag.  Thankfully the lining material is double dyed and I could find only one supplier in the UK for this leather.  This means that even if the lining is skived far enough to appear in the completed bag the deeply penetrated  dye of the lining makes the skiving invisible.

The edges of the lining are feather skived.  That is, they are skived to zero thickness.  The reason for this is to ensure that the lining material is not visible on the edges of the seams.  I.e. there is no sign of the lining on the outside of the bag.  This is an aesthetic consideration.  I don’t like the idea of the edges of a bag having smooth polished brown edges with a line of dull red running along the middle of the seam edge.  A funky wallet or card holder maybe but not on a luxury summer bag (in my opinion).

The photographs below show the goat kid suede lining material feather skived.  The interesting thing here is that the texture of the leather on the very edges has caused holes to form where the pores have been cut through.  And by the way, I have no machines in my workshop.  All of my skiving is by hand and not by machine.  So you can imagine how utterly sharp my skiving knife has to be.  It has taken some practice and perhaps I need some more.  But hopefully you will see in the following blogs some acceptable results.  More than acceptable!

Ps please excuse the slightly blurry images.  I used a two external closeup lenses to achieve the images and they give slightly less crisp images than the lens alone.

This is the grain side of the leather and one can see that the knife is sharp enough to slice through the pores or troughs in the leather making small holes.

This is the same edge from the flesh side.  The edge of the leather goes down to zero thickness.

Another angle of the flesh (skived) side of the lining leather.  The skived edge is approximately 8mm deep.  With the stitch line being 2.5mm away from the edge of the leather, some of skived lining will be visible from inside the completed bag.  However as you can see the colour is unaffected and the pinkness of the thinnest parts of the leather will not be visible from inside the bag as they will fall within the stitching.

A sign that the edge is feather skived is that the very edge starts rolling and curling.  The challenge with skiving goat suede is that the leather is quite pliable and stretches easily.  The knife must be extremely sharp so as to minimise the amount of stretching caused by the drag created when sliding the knife along the edge of the leather.  The final two photographs show further angles and perspectives of the feather skived edges.