We are familiar with shoes and saddles (and the occasional superhero costume) but did you know that moulded leather has been used, in its time, to make objects as diverse as horse armour, fireman’s helmets, wine bottles, cups and theatrical masks?
In 1908 a fascinating leather shield moulded from a single piece of ox hide was found in Clonbrin, Ireland. This beautiful object was formed by stretching over a carved wooden mould, and has been dated to the Bronze Age, 13th Century BC.
It may not appear to be the accessory-du-jour, but this is the kind of object that inspired me to research the mouldable properties of leather at the Royal College of Art, nearly twenty years ago! Why did we not exploit this wonderful sculptural property more, I wondered?
In a matter of months, I was making moulded body pieces for the Italian fashion company Trussardi, and discovering how to learn on the job…
These days, with a revival of interest in craft and couture techniques, and the possibilities of uniqueness they can impart to precious objects, moulded leather is once again riding high in fashion. Statement clutch bags, Game of Thrones-inspired headgear and costume jewellery, and minimalist household products have all been produced using this ancient art, helped by technologies such as 3D printing and CNC milling, which make complex mould-making faster and more affordable.
The technology required is so simple - leather, water, a shape or former, and some elbow grease! (And a few clamps and staples don’t go amiss).
Of course, you have to choose the right kind of leather: vegetable-tanned hide. The tree-bark (traditionally oak) which preserves the leather gives it some of the strength of wood when dry, but allows it to become elastic with possibilities when wet - it can stretch to take on permanent form, and pick up the most detailed surface impression, texture or pattern.
Our Leather Moulding Weekend course not only shows you how to design and make a moulded leather bag, box or other product, but also introduces some intriguing ways to make your own moulds quickly and cheaply, using lateral thinking and a lo-fi approach.
For even more leather moulding inspiration, why not check out our Pinterest board: