Wet your Leather and wet it good!
Usually that's a saying all of us leather workers cringe at. It reminds us of people who don't really take care of their leather goods and bring them to us crusty, cracked, hardware falling out and stitch lines hanging on for dear life. But there is a method here to the title and I'm talking about casing. Casing your leather is one of the big mysteries of working leather we all deal with , as beginners and pros since so many factors come into play. I'm going to do my best here to clear it all up and get casing under your control no matter what the conditions.
First things first, water. Always use a water filter no matter where you think your water is coming from. In the city you have massive amounts of chlorine, in the country you have run off from farms and fertilizers, in super rural areas you can have an over load of copper and iron. All of which are horrible for casing leather with. All of the above will alter the state of your leather, from giving you an unknown squeak when you cut lines,
to leaving you with a resist to dyes and oil you never expected. Using a good water filter is the beginning to getting smooth cuts with any swivel blade that's sharpened, and great results with color and finishing after. I use a 4 stage reverse Osmosis that in the 4th stage adds proper levels of minerals back in , you can find them for around $200 online. No metal bowls, please, not even stainless , the metal will leach into your sponge and water. Use a plastic or glass bowl, I use plastic since I usually knock into it while reaching for my coffee . Speaking of, always have coffee at hand its an important ingredient to any artist's bag of tricks.
If you sponge or use the sink your results will be the same of course, unless you're using a hide conditioner additive. Be careful with these, anymore than a few drops and your hide will stay wet forever, it'll become overly soft and not hold tooling leaving you
with beveler marks and art that looks like summer roadkill. Ivory Liquid soap in a pinch works the same. Its the glycerin you want. If you use the sink pass the top under the water 2-4 times until the surface color is evenly dark, don't hold it there pass it under like you're passing your hand over a candle flame. About that speed. Do the same with the back side. The back side will hiss and bubble and get warm, that's when you know the water is going where you want it. Its the same process with sponges, my preferred method. Sponging though, as you pass the sponge , squeeze it , making sure the color gets evenly dark, on both sides. Don't forget to case your edges too, they will pull lots of
water inside. At this point you can leave it out or bag it up if you want . Watch it at this point from time to time,if you see it gets light super fast? if it does, Case it again using half the amount of water/passes as the first. It should come back to color evenly not with light spots on the surface. Each hide is different so each one has its own attitude towards water. Light weight hides sponge only, test a small piece and see how it reacts until you're used to working with it. Anything under a 5 0z sponge only if your tooling, if you're forming and shaping, go ahead and dip it until the bubbles stop. For tooling pieces that are half hide or 3/4 of a hide in size don't use this method. To tool something big its a completely different process, like I used on the Continuum Center Piece Table. I'll cover that in a future post.
For LARGE tooling projects case overnight in a bag you can seal, blow air into it and seal , press down to make sure no whistles or hisses happen. In the am one quick top wipe and you're ready to go. For small projects an hour or two is usually ok but it depends on your climate. Don't force dry either, schedule your tooling. Once its
returned to almost its natural color you're ready to carve! well maybe... check your moisture, using a piece of scrap you cut from the same area of the hide, all hides differ in themselves every few inches, try and cut a piece at the edge of your pattern cutout each time and case it at the same time to judge whats happening with your moisture content. Do a few small cuts and see how it feels and how its cutting. Once you're happy with how its behaving, now you can get down. As you tool its obviously going to dry out a bit, especially if you have the heat on, a wood stove or live in a dry climate,
then you should be using a humidifier while you tool, and also in your storage area where you keep your leather. 50%-65% humidity is a good number to hit for storage if you have hides that sit for a long time. Museums recommend no higher than 65%, a good rule of thumb to stay around. Just find a small one with a meter.
So now your tooling and the areas you're not tooling at the time are drying out, ugh, I know it. So what do we do? we add more water! not so fast. Remember this is skin so the more water you add the bigger the pores get, just like you sitting in a hot tub. So, whats the best way? Add water from
the bottom in small amounts, not too much or it will make its way through your cuts and soak through leaving you with a soaked area you cant touch for hours. Why from the bottom? water evaporates up^ so case from the bottom gives you more time to work and moistens the area you actually want the water in, the center. Wipe the top surface with your sponge to even it all out as you go, quick swipes wont raise grain or pores just add it in small amounts and when it comes just about back to color, its time to Jam. Just repeat this as you move along. If you need to take a break for food, a smoke, or stretch, bag it up. Each time, the lower the number of times you case the better your leather will behave, look, feel and take finishing products like dye, oil and top coats.
The worst thing you can do is over wet, wetting too much and wetting it good are
seriously different. Soaking is not what you want, soak a piece of hide and you might as well throw it out, it will take forever to dry up to where you can work it and by the time it does, its gotten 30% tougher to work, then if you re-case it only gets worse. Never hit the saturation point when you case and you can case for days , seriously, if you case right you can work the same piece with no issues for a full week. be mindful as you work your art, take the middle way and not the extreme, remember to listen to your leather when you work it. It will tell you when you hit the ditch or when you're one with what you're doing.
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