Different Types of Leather

1. Tooling Leather – this is a very thick, stiff piece of leather predominantly used for Western saddles.  It is thick enough to tool, carve and stamp designs onto as a real life Western saddle would have.  I’ve only ever been able to find this in natural colour so you will also need some leather dye – unless of course you’re making a natural coloured saddle!

2. Suede – Suede is mostly used in tack making for covering seats as it is available in many different colours.  It is not suitable for making saddles themselves as it is slightly stretchy.  However it is extremely supple so can also be used for making clothes for your rider dolls.

3. Chamois – Chamois is beautifully soft feeling and also very supple.  Use it for lining Western saddles to prevent the underside of the saddle scratching your model.  It also looks a great deal like sheepskin which is used on the real thing.

4. Cowhide – Cowhide is a thicker leather which can be used for English saddles and is just stiff enough to be a good choice for attempting a Western saddle without having to buy leather dye too. 

5. Lambskin – This is a far softer leather than cowhide and is again brilliant for English saddles.

6. Skiver – This is a paper thin leather which is perfect for making Stablemate scale items.  I also use it for doing padded knee-rolls on saddles as it so flexible.  Other uses include covering the shoulders of Western saddles as well as making real leather boots for rider dolls. 

7. Leather Lace – Strips of leather generally in black or brown, I probably get through more of this than any other type of leather.  It is a must – you will use it not only for bridles but saddles as well (stirrup leathers, girth straps, breastcollars etc).  When using this, always skive off the ends (if not all) of the strap you’re using before adding a buckle, this will prevent your piece of tack from looking too bulky for your model horses’ head.  The most common sizes are 1/8” and 1/16”.  The thinner type you will need for bridle straps, the thicker for making harness, breast collars, saddle straps or thicker nose and browbands on bridles. 

Tooling Leather:
Always tool your designs onto your leather before you dye it.  A tooled design is created by first cutting a design onto your leather then using various tools to give different parts of the design a raised or sunken look.  1. Decide on a design (check the internet, leatherwork books etc) and trace it onto a piece of tracing paper.

2. Dampen your leather with a cloth and place the tracing paper over it in the correct position.  Trace over the designs with a ballpoint pen giving enough pressure to dent the leather but not tear the tracing paper.  When you have finished and have removed the tracing paper, the design should be visible on your leather.  If not, repeat this step and apply more pressure with your pen.

3. Trace carefully over the design with a swivel knife  – be very careful your don’t cut right through the leather – you only need to slice the grain of the leather.

4. Gather your other tools such as beveller, pear shader etc and and begin to add depressions to the design.  Make sure you have a hard work surface underneath.

5. When you are happy with the results, you can then dye and finish your leather! 

How to Dye Leather:
Always read through the instructions on your bottle of dye before you start for more detailed instructions on using that particular dye.  These are just general directions – oh, and get yourself a pair of rubber gloves of some kind as this stuff takes forever to remove from fingers!! 

1. Choose a leather dye appropriate to the leather you are using.  Vegetable-tanned leather is the most absorbent so works best with leather dye.
2. Dampen the surface (shiny side only) of the leather with a damp cloth or ball of cotton wool.
3. Apply the leather dye in even strokes to the leather so that the colour shade is even across the whole piece.  Keeping applying more layers until the colour is what you want to achieve.
4. Whilst the leather dye is drying (can be 1-2 hours depending on leather and dye), flex the piece of leather regularly whilst it is drying to prevent it stiffening up.
5. When it is dry, buff the leather with a soft, clean cloth until it regains a shiny, polished look and removes any residues of the leather dye. 
6. Apply a coat of leather finish.  You can get these in both bottles or spray cans.  So either spray the piece of leather evenly or apply with a ball of cotton wool if you’re using a bottle.

Written by Caroline Hodges- Stonewall Saddlery