What Can You Do With Leather?

Recently I embarked on a project that entailed a collar made of metal. I wanted something very different than your average collar and was going for more of a fantasy type. Something you would see in a movie or fairy tale book. The metal collar that I had ordered didn’t work, too stiff and not quit the right shape.

mteal collar

Metal will only do so much. So I started researching a technique a couple of friends turned me onto called Cuir Bouilli, which I still can’t figure out how to pronounce properly. There are several different spellings. This could be a french term referring to boiled leather, a technique used in ancient times for everything from water bags to armor; But is also in the Oxford English dictionary referring to the same process. There is not a definitive source on how to do the process from ancient records as they have been lost but rather references to the technique. So in modern time’s many re-in-actors such as the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronisms) and Larper’s (Live Action Role Players) have experimented in the technique to try to achieve the end results that can be seen in many museums today.

My own experiments went a slightly different route seeing as how I am a clothing designer and have a few different tools and my main form of process is to drape clothing. I started out by wrapping my dress form in saran wrap as I didn’t want to ruin it with the vegetable dye from the the leather I was working with. I then tried a couple samples one of which was to soak the leather in rubbing alcohol and shape it then let it dry. The end result was nice but not as hard as I wanted. I needed something that would be stiff enough to hold thirty or so crystals and not crinkle or bend. I ended up using my clothing steamer which puts out about 120 degrees of steam. I did this after shaping an oversized pattern out of muslin then cutting a decent sized piece of the leather into the basic general shape of what I wanted it to be. Then it was a matter of creating two different pieces which then had to be fitted and re-steamed several times to get them to match up and dry in sync. Carving, shaping and gluing the two pieces after they were dry was a whole nother step in the process and while I still don’t have quite the look I am going for I know more now than I did when I started.

It has given me many, many ideas of how to use this application. The one problem I found with the steamer was that it is so hot that when you re-steam several times it ends up shrinking the leather more and more. I ended up with a portion that resembled a mushroom top at one point. A possible desired look should I be looking to create something with that texture in the future. It’s all food for thought for me and I hope for you too.

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