Monday, March 3, 2014

Leather Coronets

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Last year, I was honored to donate my leatherworking skill to my local SCA group, the Barony of Cynnabar, by making our Baron and Baroness leather coronets (they provided cost of materials; I provided labor).

Before getting into the beautiful photos that Ann took as I was making them, I want to say this: I happily take commissions!  If you are interested in having custom-made leather coronets, or any other custom leather work (including repairs), please let me know.  I will discuss the design with you, and once a design is set, the price of the piece(s).  

Here is a photo of me, working on the tooling of the elephants.  At this point, the outline would have been cut out with the swivel knife already, and I would be using a beveler to pound flat the edge on one side of each line (making the other edge stand out).  This must be done with the right size beveler for the space, and in the correct order, so that the lines overlap the way I want them to.


During tooling, I will also often set the mallet down and use the beveler to smooth out lines.  This also sometimes involves using it to gently re-lift some of the lines that have been pounded more flat by the overlapping lines (where one part of the elephant goes over another part - at the point where two lines meet, the one tooled first will get pressed down when the second line is tooled).  


Here is the elephant when the outline has been cut by the swivel knife.  Before this, my pattern (I drew the elephant on a piece of paper) is laid over the leather, and the lines pressed into the leather with a pencil or pen with no ink in it.  Then, I go over the lines with my swivel knife, cutting a groove into the leather.  This is all done on wet leather.  Wet leather swells and softens, which means that all impressions/cuts go deeper and look better on the finished piece (they stand out more).  This picture is taken when the leather had already dried, I believe (the tracing and cutting done on a previous day).


Next, the lines are all tooled with various bevelers.  A beveler is a tool that is like a tiny wedge.  I put the tip of the wedge in facing the side that will stay lifted, so the butt of the wedge will press down the other side when the belever is tapped with a mallet.  All tooling is also done on a very hard surface - I have a hard plastic tooling square that all my tooling is done on.  This way, all of the force goes directly into the leather, shaping it, instead of being absorbed by whatever soft material is underneath the leather.

There are six elephants on the coronet (underneath the six points on the coronets that landed Barons/Baronesses get).  If you think that the elephant above is not the same as the elephants below, you are correct.  I took pictures of the different elephants as they were in different stages of the tooling at the time.


Below is the tooled elephant once it has dried.  Now, you can see a little the lines where the beveler was hit (the little lines perpendicular to the cuts, on the impressed side).  I did smooth them out some with my beveler by hand.  These can be gotten rid of in two ways:  Either by tooling the groove over and over very carefully to try and blend out the line perfectly (difficult to do, but will probably become easier for me as I get more practice at is), or use a background tool to completely pound down the background and fill it with random noise (cross-hatches, dots, little lines, etc) so that these lines aren't noticeable.  

I did do some of the first method, but not enough to completely smooth out all the lines.  I didn't want to fill in the background completely for two reasons: it would've taken a long time, but mostly because I was trying to make the leather coronet look as much like metal as I could.  This meant that I wanted the surface to be smooth, not textured with background tooling.


Here are some pictures of the coronets completely tooled.  They have also been thoroughly soaked in water, and then dried in the oven (at 200 F with the door propped open slightly by a wooden spoon, since some of my sources on heat-hardened leather say to do it at about 170 F) laced to a flared pyrex pie pan to make it rounded and flared.  This caused the coronets to shrink slightly (expected) and darken a little.  They are also now fairly stiff to the touch and hold this shape, though they give when pressure is applied, like I wanted them to.




Then I very carefully painted them.  I used the shiniest gold paint I could find.  I cut a shallow groove behind each point and glued in a metal pin attached to a 'pearl' bead.  I glued a piece of soft leather over the pins, to both hide them and secure them more firmly.  After the painting was done, a glossy clear acrylic finish was painted over all of it to add even more to the shine of the coronets, as my goal was to try and make them look like metal at a glance.  I wanted these to look rich.





I really need to print some of these photos and start a portfolio of my work.  They are really pretty!

Project Synopsis:

Materials:  Vegetable-tanned leather, acrylic paint, non-veg-tanned leather (to hide and secure metal pins), thin metal rod, pearl beads, glue, lacing.

Tools: Rotary cutter/mat and swivel knife for cutting out the initial leather shape.  Rounding tool for making the edges smooth.  Tooling: water spray bottle, rawhide mallet, several tooling stamps (different sized bevelers, mostly), swivel knife.  Shaping: pyrex pie tin, oven, leather lacing.  Painting: tiny paint brushes for detail work, larger paint brush for gold areas.  Attaching pins: needle nose pliers to cut the metal rod and turn the end, swivel knife to cut groove for pin to rest in.

Cost:  If I remember correctly, materials cost about $40.  In reality, they probably cost a little more than that - I already had most of the paint and the tools, and I usually manage to get my leather on sale (I pay close attention to leather sales).

Hours:  Maybe 40?  I didn't count.  A lot.  About half of that went into tooling, and the other half into shaping and painting.  

What I love:  How beautiful and shiny they are.  At a glance, they almost look like metal, which was my goal.  I also love the detail work in the paint and tooling on the elephants - they look three dimensional and wonderful.

What I would change next time:  
  • Making the lacing try to look the same as the rest of it didn't work very well - the painted leather lacing just was sticky and stiff.  I would replace the lacing with something else that works better (Their Excellencies replaced it with simple white ribbon).  The coronets were also made to be adjustable (for future Baronial heads to wear) - custom coronets for a particular person could be fit to their head size.
  • Speaking of fitting to head size: these were shaped by hardening them on the edge of a glass pie pan, in order to make them rounded and have the flared slant.  This circular shape fits decently, but not perfectly.  Next time, I need to do one of two things: either pad the inside rim of the crowns so the padding is more comfortable, or get myself a mannequin head to shape the crowns on.  That would have a more appropriate oval shape, and I could hopefully build up the flared slant by adding cardboard to the mannequin head to get the shape I want.  Or I need to visit a milliner and figure out what more appropriate tools they use to get the nice head shape.  Anyone know any milliners I could learn from?
  • Use barge cement to glue down the leather around the pins.  When I made these last year, I was not familiar with what types of glue to use for leatherwork, and guessed.  I guessed wrong, and the leather was not sticking well over time, I'm told.  Now I have spoken to other leatherworkers, and found that barge cement is the glue of choice to make sure leather never becomes unglued (used by shoemakers and leather maskmakers).
That's what I know!  Please contact me if you want to commission some leatherworking, be it design work or repair work.  :)  ~Kelly/Birke

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