Leathercraft Tips and Hacks

Ancient Leather Working Techniques

Ancient Leather Working Techniques

Leather, though seemingly contemporary to us in its vast usage in our day to day lives, has evolved from the archaic techniques from far back into the Ancient times. Leatherworking in the Ancient times was focused on the experimentation with the material to be utilised in the everyday.

ancient leather working techniques

When Primitive man hunted wild animals in order to sustain himself, he discovered a by-product of the animal’s meat that could be crafted into clothing, footwear and makeshift tents. The use of animal skins came from an innate need to not waste and has leant itself into the craft of sustaining natural products that we see today.

 The first recording of leather usage was actually in the Palaeolithic period in Spain and interestingly enough, it shows the use of bone tools used for scraping the skins free of hair. But though the Prehistoric man had managed to create a new material that was useful in nearly all domains in his life, the skins still broke down relatively quickly, and so the need arose for finding a method of preservation that would allow for longevity. 

There were several processes developed for tanning the leather: one of the most common was to soak the skins in order to remove the grease from within the skins, with urine that was collected for this very purpose from locals and would also be bated (or softened) in order to curate the material for wear. The materials that were used- like the urine and further, the animal brains- made it a task that was unsavoury to say the least, but seemed worth it in order to attempt to allow this beautiful material to thrive. 

ancient leather working techniques

When the aforementioned process didn’t work, with little or no preserving and softening action, the next method tried was to use the flames of a fire in order to  attempt to preserve the skins, and this combined with the infusion of tannin-containing barks and fruit meant a discovery in the natural process of tanning that sustainability focused brands like Nosakhari use instead of the chrome tanning favoured for mass produces leathers.

As the control and experience that leathermakers had over the material grew, as did the ways process that the leather went through, and what it was used for.

For instance, into the Medieval times, it becomes apparent that the want to experiment with the possible aesthetics of the material take a hold, as the first report are seen in the histography when it comes to colouring and dying it. The first two colours to really take a hold in the medieval times were black and brown, illustrated through various paintings and drawings from as early as the 1300s. The brown dye was created from either Walnut shells or wood dye, and was rubbed into the surface of the leather. There were various shades of brown available in the 14th century, with the shades altering with the difference I application. The deeper the shade of brown, the more times the dye was applied to the leather, and after being oiled to prevent the loss of colour when the owner stepped out into the rain. 

leather book binding

The black dye became more common in the later half of the Medieval age, with the black leather being featured in Renaissance pieces of work, with people still craving more natural looking colours even if they wanted to decorate the leather. The process for creating the black dye was far more complex than that of creating the brown one. The ingredients consisted of iron, acid as well as a tannin, with the ingredients remaining Is it would for the creation of ink. The leather was then soaked in the mixture when the acid breaks down the iron, and would turn all of the medieval leather clothing black, right through.

Softer leathers for gloving and footwear were usually dyed with alum, oil and a combination of both, but with the discovery of chemicals, the original methods of leather production slowly became overshadowed. In their place were basic chemicals such as lime and sulfuric acid, the growth of industrialisation in the 18th and 19th centuries created a demand for many new kinds of leathers, eg.  belting leathers to drive the machines being introduced into industry, special leathers for use in looms in the textile industry.

>>> Crafted By: Ayaan Artan <<<