Eventually in your costume work, you might want to do something in leather. Maybe you have a medieval hero that is going off to fight goblins. Maybe you think he would look great in something like this outfit I found online:

leather armor

leather armor

So, let’s look at how to get started.

First thing to talk about is the type of leather. If you wish to carve fancy designs in your leather (it is called tooling), it can be done. You can take little tools and stamp fancy letters or symbols in your leather design. But, only if you use Vegetable Tanned leather, which looks like this:

vegetable tanned

vegetable tanned

See how raw it looks? This is tanned with vegetable based processes. It is basically raw. It has no dye or real finish. It feels stiff and rough. It is sometimes called “tooling leather”.  This type of leather can be carved or stamped.

tooling leather

tooling leather

We will look at tooling leather later. The big thing to remember is if you want to carve designs in your leather, or dye it fancy colors then you must use vegetable tanned leather.

Now all the rest are tanned with chemicals. And it really doesn’t matter if you know what chemicals. They usually look something like this:

other leathers

other leathers

These leathers are what you would see in car upholstery, leather boots, gloves, and jackets. They are usually already dyed, and finished. So, they are easy to work with, and are great for garments or even armor pieces. But you can not tool them, or dye them as easily.

This diagram shows how a hide is cut up and sold. You can buy any part shown, or the whole hide.

hide parts

hide parts

I usually buy one hide a year for my leather working projects. I buy the whole thing. I just got one a few months ago as a holiday gift from my dear wife. My whole hide was 50 square feet of leather. It is huge. It looks like a small sheet.

I always buy my leather from Brettun’s leather online.


The last hide I bought was $160. This is their write up for the hide I bought.

Our new Big Grizzly full cowhides don’t have anything to hide – these hides are natural looking, and around here that means they
have scratches, bug bites, brands, scuffs, etc, because each of these hides were tanned just the way they came off the animal.
No grain correcting, no troweling on pasty goops to fill in divots, no heavy spray-on finishes.  Natural leather, in all its glory.
Big Grizzly hides were tanned and finished here in the USA and run 5 to 6 oz in thickness – these are heavy hides.
This leather will accept more dye if you’d like, or wax or oil or pretty much anything else you want to throw at it.
Average size is about 40 to 42 sq ft per hide, and we have two colors available:  Brown and Dark Brown – your choice.
Big Grizzly hides are priced at $185 each, 48-state USA shipping included.
We also have some hides that are Second Quality at $160 – they’re smaller or have large holes but maybe you’re cutting small pieces so save some loot “

This is their sales picture of the hide I bought.

my hide

my hide

And a closeup.

close up

close up

So, my hide is chemically tanned. It is great for armor, which is what I am going to craft with it. I will show that as it progresses. It is NOT vegetable tanned. I can not tool it, or dye it any lighter. I do plan to try dyeing it black in sections though.

All I can do with it is cut it, sew it, rivet it together. I will walk you through all of that.

As you follow along with my leather posts, you might get inspired to try some of your own. If you decide to buy some leather, you can always contact the people at Brettun’s leather with any questions.

I will also add that Tandy leather online also sells leather, and lots of hardware and tools. They are the other company that I deal with online.

Go ahead, make a mess, make your own armor, have some fun.

One response to “Leatherwork

  1. Alicia DR Hankins

    Wow! I love leather! Even just like this. Can i have a purse, covered in rivets?


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