While learning how to tool leather, I did not know how to practice. Starting out, I would simply draw freehanded, which often led to incoherent work. After watching videos on improving, I finally decided to try using leather tooling patterns. This completely changed how I worked as they provided much-needed guidance.
Leather tooling patterns are design templates that are traced onto leather to help guide the tooling process. Found in design books or on printable pages, patterns are an outline for crafters to follow. Individual designs can be found online at no cost or for up to $5, and project books cost $12+.
Tooling patterns can help even the most experienced crafters tackle new designs. Let’s explore the popular types and uses of leather tooling patterns.
What Is a Leather Tooling Pattern?
A leather tooling pattern is a premade design that is traced and used as a guide when tooling leather. Typically they can be found in a tooling book with multiple designs or as a single printable page online. The goal of a tooling pattern is to provide practice through guidance.
Since the tooling pattern is already complete, crafters just have to follow the steps to complete it, simultaneously honing their skills with the various tools. Tooling patterns can also help inspire crafters to design their own art in the future by providing them with ideas of what is possible with their tools.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- When You Might Use a Leather Tooling Pattern
- Leather Tooling Pattern Quick Reference Table
- Leather Tooling Pattern Types and Variations
- Leather Tooling Pattern Characteristics
- Leather Tooling Pattern Pros
- Leather Tooling Pattern Cons
- Leather Tooling Pattern Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
- Leather Tooling Pattern Costs
- Alternative Options to a Leather Tooling Pattern
- Experienced Tips for Working with a Leather Tooling Pattern
- My Personal Research with Leather Tooling Pattern
- Leather Tooling Pattern Care and Maintenance
- Helpful Leather Tooling Pattern Insights
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
When people think of tooling in leather craft the first thing that often comes into mind is floral and western style artwork. While this is a traditional and well-represented way to tool leather, it is not the only one. For those wanting to tool leather but prefer more modern artwork, plenty of patterns are available online.
This can help encourage those looking to get into tooling by providing designs they want to improve on rather than a traditional style. With tooling being an art form, it is not limited by a specific design. Tooling patterns are used to build fundamentals or add fun designs to a project. The wider variety of art patterns available can help bring more people into the craft.
When You Might Use a Leather Tooling Pattern
Tooling patterns are extremely helpful for those new to tooling leather. Coming up with a design to place on leather can be difficult. Unlike other canvases, leather has defining qualities that can impact art. From depth and texture to the drag while cutting lines.
A good tooling pattern will consider everything, expanding on the leather’s properties without forcing designs to work. New crafters can be confident in the design by having ready-made art to add to the surface.
Similarly, having a guide to work from places the focus on honing tooling techniques. Patterns are not limited to new crafters; even veterans can enjoy using different designs. Tooling a premade pattern is a fun activity, and season crafters can also learn new design elements, further improving their personal work by expanding their horizons.
Leather Tooling Pattern Quick Reference Table
|Tool||Leather Tooling Pattern|
|Component Materials||Light tracing paper|
|Common Sizes||8.5” x 11”|
|Cost Range ($)||$0–$45|
|Recommended Storage||Laid completely flat and away from heat|
|Common Uses||Adding designs to projects, practicing tooling techniques|
|How Long It Lasts (on average)||Lifetime|
Leather Tooling Pattern Types and Variations
Leather tooling patterns can differ quite a lot, as many different people design them. The most common type of tooling is western or floral-style tooling. As the names suggest, these designs focus on flowers and feathers and mixes in paisley flair. These are very traditional tooling designs, with many patterns available.
Alternatively, tooling can be contemporary. While it may be more difficult to find these designs in books, many crafters have created their own styles when tooling. Modern tooling covers a much larger variety of subjects, from pop culture to abstract art. While these tooling patterns look much different, they serve the same purpose as traditional designs.
Leather Tooling Pattern Characteristics
The only material used for leather tooling patterns is paper. Printed paper can be used for tooling papers found online to copy the design onto the leather. However, books may provide tracing film. The film makes it easier to see through the page when transferring it onto the leather.
Alternatively, more prominent tooling aspects, such as leaves or feathers, may have a template created using cardstock or other heavy material. This allows crafters to trace around the object, ensuring the design is consistent each time.
Tooling design sizes are dependent on the designer and the area available. Most designs are made for an 8.5” x 11” standard sheet, which is easily printed or turned into a book. However, leather tooling patterns can be expanded or shrunk if necessary.
With the goal of every tooling design being to flow and enhance a design, patterns can change to fit projects. Belt tooling patterns will focus on being much wider yet shorter, while designs made for wallets will be more rectangular.
When looking for leather tooling patterns, you often see two main types: a western floral design and more contemporary art. Western or floral designs are the traditional style of leather tooling that became popular due to cowboys. These designs focus on flowers, feathers, and other western imagery, with flourishes throughout.
An alternative type of leather tooling pattern is contemporary designs. These tooling patterns break away from tradition, using leather as a medium for limitless designs. Commonly seen are animals, or pop culture figures, used to present the craft in a more modern way.
Leather Tooling Pattern Pros
Having premade leather tooling patterns can be a great learning tool for beginners. Not only does it teach the basic way to design for tooling on leather, but it also provides practice material. Tooling leather is a delicate part of leatherwork that will require practice. Crafters can guide themselves through the learning process by using leather tooling patterns.
Patterns are not limited to beginners, however. Even veteran crafters can use leather tooling patterns to speed up their work or provide a new outlook when designing. Practical uses aside, leather tooling patterns help add art to leather without trial and error. Patterns also allow for the preplanning of design placement.
Jennifer Tabi Sefaah, Eric Apau Asante, and Kwadwo Fosu Duako, from the Department of Educational Innovations in Science and Technology, College of Art and Built Environment, in Kumasi, Ghana, discussed tooling leather as a way to work with blemishes in vegetable tanned leather. Tooling patterns can be placed to cover the areas with the most flaws or plan on how to avoid them altogether.
Not only is tooling premade patterns a fun activity, but season crafters can also learn new design elements, further improving their personal work by expanding their horizons.
Leather Tooling Pattern Cons
The biggest con with tooling leather patterns is their limitations. Tooling patterns are pre-designed and will likely not have what a crafter is exactly looking for. They are also designed to fit specific parts of a project. While the sizes of tooling leather patterns can be modified, it can change the design’s final outcome.
These patterns can also begin to hinder creativity if not broken away from. Crafters can find leather tooling patterns much easier than creating their own designs, and never fully express themselves in their work. Pattern costs may also add up quickly. A book can cost up to $45, or individual patterns are sold at $5+. While designs can be reused, expanding a pattern library can be costly.
Leather Tooling Pattern Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
When designing a leather tooling pattern, two main goals are considered. “How should it look” and “how much space is available” determines the final design. A drawing program will be used, setting the margins to the determined size. From this point, leather tooling patterns are drawn by the artist.
Experienced pattern creators will understand how ideas will look on leather, limiting smaller lines and creating backgrounds for stamping. Once finished, the pattern will be printed, traced, and tested on leather.
Although the design may work perfectly when drawn, leather can provide a separate challenge as it reacts differently when tooling. Through testing, designers can optimize their work for the material. Once all the corrections have been made, the pattern is ready to be used or sold.
In this helpful video by Tandy Leather, Dominic Davis shows us how he creates a Sheridan floral pattern, offering plenty of tips during his step-by-step demonstration.
Leather Tooling Pattern Costs
Tooling patterns are uniquely priced compared to other leather supplies. First, there are a lot of free options available online. These only require being printed before they are used. Similarly, many contemporary designs can also be found online, sold at around $5 for each pattern.
Some traditional options are available for leather patterns as well. Books with plenty of patterns are available for as little as $10. Tooling books may also provide helpful information and trace patterns to be used with the provided designs. However, books mainly focus on floral and western style tooling.
Alternative Options to a Leather Tooling Pattern
Since tooling leather is an art form, alternative patterns can be found in abundance. Objects can be traced onto leather to provide templates or organic shapes. Freehanding a design is also possible. By first using a leather pencil on the leather, you can draw out your design before committing to tooling it.
Last, leather tooling patterns can be created by an individual rather than purchased. Even using simple notebook paper, a design can be drawn and placed onto a leather project later.
Experienced Tips for Working With a Leather Tooling Pattern
- Tape down the pattern to prevent it from moving while tracing.
- Always have a good light source or lightbox to help trace the pattern onto the leather.
- Consider the size of the leather being used before picking a pattern.
My Personal Research with Leather Tooling Pattern
Since leather tooling patterns are common in leathercraft, I decided to look through various discussions and videos to see what makes a good leather pattern. I also learned tips from those who design and tool leather patterns.
What Makes a Good Leather Pattern
With the number of leather tooling patterns available, some being completely free, I wanted to better understand what made a good pattern. When talking to community members, the most common response was the design of the pattern.
To them, a good design flows not only within itself but with the overall piece. It is a perfect size, and it connects seamlessly if the pattern is repeated. Many crafters pointed at Joe Meling’s tooling patterns as excellent examples.
When talking about his patterns, they often discussed how clear they were. With plenty of negative space, the patterns never felt cluttered but still contained many beautiful elements. Leather tooling patterns are meant to accompany the project, so giving crafters the choice of how to fill in these spaces lets them determine what is right for them.
Designing a Leather Tooling Pattern
When researching tips for creating leather tooling patterns, I came across multiple videos by Tandy Leather and Bruce Cheaney. These videos took a similar approach to design. They would trace out the project they were planning on drawing to determine how much room they had — going as far as to add a stitching line to prevent the pattern from interfering when completing it.
Next, they would find the center points where they would draw their designs. If a single flower were to be drawn, it would be in the direct center, while two or more would cause them to split the leather into thirds. Many different rules and templates were used to draw out perfect circles with evenly spaced lines. Regardless of how nice a design is, it may create an odd final look if it is asymmetrical.
Once they had completed their guidelines, they could add more natural shapes, like petals that were similar in shape due to the circle guiding their size. From here the philosophy seemed to be less is more. While they added stems or flourishes, the details were limited, leaving room for textures or backgrounds to be added once it was applied to the leather.
After learning more about leather tooling patterns from veteran crafters, I was able to appreciate them a lot more. The designs may seem simple, but the process of creating them considers elements I had never thought of.
Equally, I was surprised at how they presented techniques for those who are less artistic. By using rulers and stencils and focusing most on creating a symmetrical piece, they broke their artwork down into a guideline to be followed by anyone.
Leather Tooling Pattern Care and Maintenance
How to Clean a Leather Tooling Pattern
Leather tooling patterns will typically not need any cleaning, including after use. Since a stylus is used to trace the pattern onto the leather, there will only be slight creases on the pattern page. However, if a leather tooling pattern is dusty, it may be best to wipe the dust away with a dry cloth before placing it onto the leather to avoid dirtying it.
How to Maintain a Leather Tooling Pattern
The best way to maintain a leather tooling pattern for multiple uses is to be gentle with it. Use very little pressure when transferring the pattern onto leather, and avoid using pointy tips to prevent the page from tearing. Once the tooling pattern has been used, set it aside completely flat not to crease the page.
How to Store a Leather Tooling Pattern
The two most important things when storing leather tooling patterns are keeping them flat and clean. While pattern books will have their own cover, loose pattern sheeting should be placed in a folder to help protect the pages from building up dust. At all times, the pages will need to be as flat as possible to avoid damaging them. Additionally, since tooling patterns are paper, they need to be kept in a dry environment.
Helpful Leather Tooling Pattern Insights
What are patterns for tooling leather?
Patterns for tooling leather are premade designs that help guide crafters while tooling. By tracing a leather pattern onto projects, every line will simply need to be cut with a swivel knife. Leather tooling patterns make a great learning tool or a fun way to add tooling to leather without the need to create your own design.
What are modern leather tooling patterns?
When people are talking about traditional or modern tooling patterns, they are referring to the design of the artwork. Modern tooling patterns break away from the western floral design and instead provide various art styles. These can be anything the artist wants, including pop culture designs or abstract art.
What are leather belt tooling patterns?
Leather tooling patterns are not limited to large square designs. Since belt making and tooling are popular in leathercraft, they have been combined. Belt tooling patterns take the same principles as a regular tooling pattern but focus on making shorter yet wider designs. This allows them to fit in belts without the need for any modifications.
- Leather tooling patterns are a great learning tool for beginners and veterans.
- Tooling patterns can be designed by anyone in any art style they desire.
- Some leather tooling patterns may be free online, but alternatively, leaves or other objects may be traced when on a budget.
Tooling leather is a very satisfying part of leathercraft but can be challenging for those new to it. The process becomes much simpler with the help of tooling patterns, allowing them to be used as both a training exercise and a way to decorate your projects.
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