A Little Competition…In Custom Leatherwork

If you don’t push yourself you won’t grow.

It’s true of any skill, job or art form.  Whether you want to grow in your job, a sport or in art, if you don’t push yourself to reach new heights, learn a new skill or refine what you do, you will just be stuck in the same place.  Stagnant.

A custom leatherwork notebook with floral carving.
My World Leather Debut entry, a custom made leather notebook cover.

That is why I enter the World Leather Debut show in Sheridan, WY.  I have no illusions that I can actually win at this competition.   It is filled with the art work from some of the best leather workers in the world.  Not just the US but exceptional artists from Japan, China and Europe. Their skills and styles are diverse and they bring a full lifetime of pursuit of their art to this show.  For people like me that make artwork in leather, this show is the pinnacle of our art.

Custom Leatherwork

Whenever I am making custom leatherwork I am always trying to do my best.  Each item is made uniquely for that particular customer and I try to make each item as special and exceptional as possible.  But making something like this notebook for a competition that includes some of the best craftsmen and women in the world definitely pushes you to another level.  It also makes you look more critically at your work.  You examine and put more thought into each detail.  You know how high the bar is and you think about how you can improve each step so you can get closer to that bar.

Back cover of a leather notebook cover with floral caring design and geometric stamping
Rear panel of my World Leather Debut notebook.

So while this notebook didn’t win any awards, I know it is some of my best work.  And I believe I will carry the lessons and insights learned in making it into each custom leatherwork piece I do in the next year, so that next year my work will have leveled up just a little bit and I will be that much closer to that high bar.

If you are interested in a custom leather notebook or journal similar to this one, contact me and I will be happy to make something like this for you.

Spring Shop Update

Spring is making it’s way to all parts of the US, so it must be time for our Spring Shop Update!

Spring is time for renewal and growth, and it’s also a time to look forward to gifts for some of those major upcoming spring and summer events.  Spring and early summer are popular times for weddings.  Mother’s Day is also just around the corner, followed by Father’s Day the next month.  All of these events are popular times to give custom handmade leather items as gifts.

Custom Leather Wedding Guest book with floral carved design
A hand carved leather wedding guest book personalized for the couple.

Last year I was honored to make a couple of custom designed wedding guest books for the couple’s special day.  These were very satisfying projects and my customers were really wowed by how I could create the perfect guest books that brought their designs into reality.  If this is something you would like now is the time to order!  Since my order’s list is currently running out about a month out, letting me know as soon as possible is a good idea so we can have time to make your wedding guest book a reality!

It’s a good time to think about Mother’s Day too!  Custom leather wallets or handbags make excellent Mother’s Day gifts.  They can be personalized for your Mom and will be one of a kind gifts.  Again, these take a while to make.  Hand crafted quality is not quick and my order lead times are about a month out, so now is the time to get your gift order started.

A soft leather handbag with a carved front flap.
Cross Body Bag

And let’s not forget about Father’s Day.  It’s a month beyond Mother’s Day but it’s not too early to think about gift ideas for it too.  Does Dad need a new custom leather belt?  Or a new wallet personalized for him?  Contact us to talk about options and to get your personalized leather gift started.

 

Jesse Smith Master Saddle Maker

I didn’t want all of February to get by without making a post.  So today I want to take advantage of leap day to post about a very talented saddle maker and one of my main influences, Jesse Smith.

The video below was filed more than a decade ago but Jesse is still at work making saddles and other leather goods.  Jesse is a master saddle maker who has made hundreds of saddles over his career and is responsible for training dozens and dozens of aspiring saddle makers over the years.

While I am not a saddle maker (I would love to make one someday though!) Jesse did teach me much of the basics of floral carving when I was starting out and I learned the style of floral carving I make, called the Northwest Style of floral carving, from him.  I owe a lot of my style and success to Jesse.

Veg tan leather carving
Floral carving in leather.

This is an example of my own carving in the Northwest Style of floral carving.  

In many ways saddle making is the pinnacle of leather work.  It involves all the techniques for solid construction of a working leather item and must withstand the elements.  It can incorporate the highest forms of leather art in the carvings and decorations that adorn the saddle.  It also is an important piece of safety equipment as both the rider’s and the horse’s health and safety can depend on how well it functions.  It really brings all the skills and techniques of leather work into one project.

Jesse has spent a lifetime developing his skills and knowledge, and he has always been happy to share that knowledge with others. He has been a teacher for many years and has influenced some of the best makers in our field.  I am very thankful to have had him as a teacher and to call him a friend.

Happy National Leathercraft Day August 15th!

National Leathercraft Day was created in 2018 by Tandy Leather as a way of celebrating the art and craft of working with leather.

Hand Sewing Leather
Hand Stitching a Leather Wallet with a traditional saddle stitch.

Leather has a long history going back to the stone age.  Leather was probably one of the first materials mankind learned to work and take advantage of, and it’s been a major part of all our lives ever since.  As time has moved along leather work has developed from being utilitarian to being an art form and form of expression.

Leathercraft is still a viable craft practiced by people all over the world.  For some of us it is even a business and profession.  But it’s also a hobby that is open to all ages and skill levels.  4H has classes for kids to start working with leather as do Boy and Girl Scouts.  There are also leather supply stores like Tandy or Standing Bear’s Trading Post that have regular in person classes for people to try their hand at various skills.  There are Leather Guilds across the US and the world dedicated to expanding the art form and that have regular classes or meetings with the purpose of educating people who are interested in the hobby.  And of course there are many online resources like videos and tutorials, including several here on my site.

So today in honor of National Leathercraft Day I invite you to try out leathercraft for the first time or work on improving some skill. Maybe you would like to make yourself a belt.  Maybe you want to make a sheath for a knife you have.  Maybe you have always wanted to learn carving or stamping leather..  Give it a try!  I have tutorials here on my site and Tandy Leather sells some of the best beginners books out there. There are tons of video resources by leather suppliers.  Springfield Leather is not only a good source of supplies but they are one of the largest producers of online teaching videos.  There are a lot of resources available to everyone these days and picking up the craft is easier now than ever.

For my own little contribution to National Leathercraft Day, I’ve got a free carving design for you.  This is a corner floral design you can feel free to use however you would like.  

Floral Carving Design free to use.
Floral Corner Design

I’ve included a PDF version of the design here.  You can download the JPEG image above or the PDF version by clicking the link below:

Corner Design

Use it however you like.  And if I get enough requests I might even do my own carving tutorial video for that design.  Enjoy the day and get to the bench and make something!

Wayne Jueschke Geometric Stamps

When I post my work on my Instagram or Facebook pages, one of the consistent questions I get has to do with some of the geometric stamps that I use.  People see stamps like the ones below and they send me messages asking “who makes them and where can I get them?”

Wayne Jueschke stamp on leather
Wayne Jueschke stamp and a row of it’s impressions.

I don’t blame people for really liking these stamps.  I remember the first time I saw any of these and how I fell in love with them right off the bat.  

I’ve known Wayne Jueschke for more than 10 years now.  I first met him at a Rocky Mountain Leather Trade show in Sheridan, WY where he is perennially a vendor.  I was immediately struck by the quality of the stamps and the crispness of their impressions.  Despite the fact that they are expensive, I bought a couple that year and I’ve bought a few every year since when I go to that show.

Wayne is a retired machinist and his desire for precision and quality definitely show.  I feel that Wayne Jueschke geometric stamps are some of the finest stamps in the business and he has some unique designs that no one else is making.  I’m especially fond of his box stamps but Wayne makes basket stamps (that are outstanding too, I have a couple) as well as bevelers and border stamps.  And I have a couple of his flower centers that are really nice too.

Wayne Jueschke geometric stamp on a custom leather wallet
Closeup of a Wayne Jueschke stamp on a leather wallet.

The tricky part about getting Wayne’s stamps is that he does not have a web site, doesn’t sell on line and in fact he doesn’t even take credit cards.  If you wanted some of his stamps you pretty much had to run into him at a show or call him up and place an order, and then be prepared to pay by cash or check.  It’s one of the reasons that I get so many questions when I post my work using his stamps.  They just are not that common and someone is usually going to ask me 1) who makes that stamp and 2) how do I get one?  For years all I could do was give them Wayne’s phone number or tell them look for him at the next trade show.

Fortunately now there is a website you can order some of Wayne Juescke’s stamps from.  Bruce Johnson who normally sells vintage tools on his website is now carrying some of Wayne’s new stamps and mauls for sale.  He has a dedicated page to these tools and he will take credit cards and ship internationally, so those of you who follow me overseas now finally have an option to get some of Wayne’s stamps!

If you would like to call Wayne (he’s a great guy to talk to!) to place an order you can reach him at 775-738-4885.  He’s based in Elko, NV.  Tell him Bob Blea says hi!

 

What Goes Into Making a Custom Leather Belt?

The Artists Method (for Custom Leather Belts Anyway)

So you’re in the market for a custom leather belt?  Wondering why they cost so much more than a belt from the department store?  Read on.

Hand carved leather belt with floral design and silver and turquoise buckle
Hand carved leather belt with floral design and silver and turquoise buckle

Having a belt custom made to your specification takes a surprising amount of work.  This is especially true for the carved or stamped belts that I make.  

Usually the process starts off with a question about making a belt with a specific kind of design.  Maybe it’s a basket weave design or maybe something more complex like a floral carving.  One of the first important questions is what length the belt has to be.  There is a specific process I follow to make sure the belt is the right length for your waist and it goes beyond just knowing what size jeans you wear.  People are usually surprised to find out their belt length is longer than their pants waist size!

Once we work out the belt dimensions it’s then a matter of determining the design.  Sometimes this is easy as the customer is ordering a standard design from my shop such as one of my standard floral designs or a particular geometric design.  But sometimes they are looking for something more custom.  I’ve had a request for a grape vine design from someone that owned a vineyard.  Or someone might want me to make a design that matches something else I’ve made for them like a carved notebook or wallet.  In those cases I need to draw a belt design that will work on the size of belt they want and that matches their request.

A custom belt design including carving artwork and belt templates.
Custom belt being designed on my bench.

The width of the belt is a consideration too.  Some people like wider belts and some like narrow belts.  Or maybe they want something that is mostly wide but is tapered around the belt buckle.  We can do that too, and those changes in width may need to be taken into account when designing the artwork for it.

And do they want it personalized?  Maybe they want their name on the back or initials on the billet?  Maybe they want their brand on the belt?  These are all considerations when working with a customer to develop a custom belt for them.

So there are a lot of design steps and things to consider.  This is what you are paying for when you work with a professional leather crafter who is making you a custom belt, and it is reflected in the price.  But the end result should be a belt that will last you many years and that you will be happy to show off.

If you want your own custom leather belt, contact us now to get the process started!  We would be happy to work with you!

Just back from the Rocky Mountain Leather Trade Show!

Mid May is a special time of year for us leather workers, especially those living near enough to Wyoming that we can easily travel to the Rocky Mountain Leather Trade show in Sheridan, WY.

The Premier Leather Trade Show in the US

A view of the show floor at the 2023 Rocky Mountain Leather Trade Show.
A view of the trade show floor.

Every May some of the best suppliers of tools, equipment, hardware and of course leather gather in Sheridan for a week long event that includes classes and a leather artwork show that usually attracts some of the best artisans from around the world.  As a leather worker this is an excellent chance to see the work of some of the best leather workers, purchase specialized tools and get some of the most unique leathers on the planet all in one place.  It’s also a great chance to learn from others and improve our skills.

This has been an event where in the past I’ve taken classes to improve my skills and where I’ve met some amazing people.  The leather worker community in the US is really a very friendly and supportive group as a whole and the leather workers at the Sheridan show really exemplify that.  They are a community that will support each other and freely share their knowledge.  A great example of this is a free class taught on Saturday afternoon to kids to introduce them to leather work.  Master leather craftsman Jim Linnel of Elk Track Studios has given his time for many years to introduce this art to the next generation and to further its traditions.  It’s this kind of openness and community that make this show such a special event in my life and the lives of many other leather workers around the country.

I came back inspired by the amazing work I saw at the World Leather Debut, an art exhibit that is part of the show, as well as the amazing friends I’ve made over the years who are real leaders in this art form.  Now I’m back with a few new tools, a few new ideas and some beautiful leather.  

Timeless Leather Decor for your Home

Remember Leather Decor?

I remember a long time ago traveling for work and staying in a small motel in central Kansas.  The motel had a western / cattle drive theme and I distinctly remember the room having carved leather artwork and picture frames along with other kinds of western themed decor.  I really liked the place and since I had to visit this customer several times I always made a point of staying at that same motel.

 

 

 

Carved leather picture frame with floral carving design and a brand.
Hand Carved Leather Picture Frame

“Leather decor items are a timeless form of decoration for the home and they aren’t limited to western themes.”

This was all long before I knew anything about working with or carving leather.  But it shows how I was interested in the western design motif and leather carving in general.  As a fan of western history it all points to my eventually becoming a leather craftsman and my focus on western floral patterns.

So when I got a chance to make a leather decor item I jumped at it!  A few year’s ago a customer requested a carved picture frame as a wedding gift.  She was looking for a floral design with the happy couple’s brand centered on it.  The final result is shown here and they were all thrilled with it.

It was a fun project and I’ve wanted to make more things like it.  I have an end table in my house that needs the top redone and I want to make an all leather top for it with a carved design.  One of these days I’m going to make the time to do this for myself.

Leather decor items are a timeless form of decoration for the home and they aren’t limited to western themes.  When I was young it was more common to see leather decor items in homes.  Usually they were not western themed though it make sense for the motel I was visiting.  Often they were just meant to signify luxury.  While I like western floral designs myself, there is no reason these designs can’t be Celtic, Victorian or any other theme you prefer for your decorating style.

If you have any ideas for a custom leather decor item you would like for your home, let me know.  I’m always happy to work in a  different style and I would be thrilled to make more items like this picture frame or a leather table runner.  Just contact me and let me know what you have in mind.  Together I think we can make a really cool family heirloom!

PS:  Looking for a unique western motel?

Speaking of motels with a unique western history, try checking out Loveland Heights Cottages,  These unique cabins are located along the Big Thompson River near Estes Part, CO.  They have one, two, and three-bedroom cottages with fully equipped kitchens and many with decks that are right on the river. They are one of the best vacation values in the Rocky Mountains and I’m happy to have them as sponsors.  Give them a call today to book your summer getaway!

Historic Western Saddles at The Don King Saddle Museum

Rows of historic western saddles at the King Museum in Sheridan, WY
Historic western saddles at the King Saddlery Museum in Sheridan, WY
Al Stohlman's leather work bench at the Don King Museum, Sheridan, WY
Al Stohlman’s leather work bench at the Don King Museum, Sheridan, WY

The Don King Museum

Hidden away in northern Wyoming is a treasure of a museum dedicated to the art of leather work and western saddle making. The Don King Museum in Sheridan, WY is home to one of the best collections of historic western saddles in the US and is a tribute to the art of carving leather.

 

Started by noted saddle maker and leather artist Don King, the museum is the result of a lifetime of collecting saddles from the past to study both the construction and carving artwork made by saddle makers of the past.  The collection goes beyond just saddles and includes western memorabilia, firearms and old leather tools.

 

The historic western saddles, some of which are over a 100 years old, are an inspiration for a leather craftsman like me.  Not only can I see how they made things but also the carving and stamping designs they used back then are a great source of ideas for me as a leather artist.  The techniques they used back then can still inspire someone and their own creations a century later.  It’s definitely a place that I can spend hours in looking at the works of past western artists.

 

The museum also includes a section dedicated to Ann and Al Stohlman, pioneers in both the art of leatherwork and in teaching the craft to others.  Al Stohlman partnered with the Tandy Leather Company in the 1950’s to bring out many books on leather work as well as tool designs for refining the art of carving leather.  His ideas were revolutionary at the time and he and his wife Ann introduced leather carving to a much wider audience.  Al Stohlman made an indelible mark on the art and craft of leather work that is still felt to this day.  At the museum you can see some of his original creations, artwork that became the books he would publish and even his entire workbench and tools are on display.

 

As a leather craftsman walking through the museum is an inspiration.  I’m not a saddle maker but I know enough to be able to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into these saddles and the different approaches to the artwork on them always gives me new ideas.  It also is amazing to think that these works of art were also working cowboy gear that spent many years on the back of a horse in all kinds of weather riding the range.  Oh the stories these saddles could tell!

 

You can find our more about the museum or the saddlery and rope shops by visiting their website www.kingssaddlery.com

 

Saddle seat and cantle from an old saddle at the Don King Museum, Sheridan, WY
Saddle seat and cantle
Saddle bags from a historic leather saddle at the Don King Museum, Sheridan WY
Saddle bags from a historic western saddle.

 

Outstanding Custom Leather Belts

Making Outstanding Custom Leather Belts


Leather belts can be a very personal part of your wardrobe.  They can range from a plain but elegant dress belt to something carved and personalized with your name, and anything in between. 

Here at C and B Leather, while we can make a plain dress belt for you our specialty is a more personalized and artistic approach.  Our custom leather belts are made of Full Grain leather and usually have a design stamped or carved onto the belt.  The leather we use is tanned by a specific process that allows us to make carving designs on the surface of the belt that have depth and will show off the artwork extremely well.  It’s also leather that will last for many year’s of service.

Many of the belts that you get at departments stores or big box general merchandise stores are made with lower quality leathers.  They will be marked as Genuine Leather, which is actually a very low grade of leather.  It is also usually just a thin leather outer layer and the bulk of the inside may be a fabric or even cardboard! See my recent blog post about the different kinds of leather that you will find in most retail stores.  Genuine Leather doesn’t wear well and it cracks and breaks after only a little while of use.  It is an inexpensive product but its also not something that will last.

The Full Grain leather we use has all the strength and durability that leather is known for.  Each belt is made to fit your waist.  We tailor it to your measurements.  After carving or stamping your custom design into the leather, we treat it with multiple finish steps, each applied by hand, to enhance the artwork while conditioning and protecting the leather.  This allows your belt to have many years of looking good and serving you well.

 

Quality Custom Leather Belts are available now!

If you are ready for a quality custom made leather belt, tailored to your waist and that fits your style, we are glad to help.  Contact us with your ideas so we can get the process started.

Hand carved leather belt with floral design and silver and turquoise buckle
Hand carved leather belt with floral design and silver and turquoise buckle