One thing that is going to add a ton of class to your work is padding your leather.
It’s a skill that’s a lot like tying a tie. Not that hard to learn (sorry if your tie impaired), and it might take a YouTube video or two to help you figure out what you’re doing, but once you’ve got the basics putting on a tie is easy, quick, and adds a lot of class.
Recently I made this goal board to practice my padding, but mostly just for the hell of it. Because of the project itself, I wouldn’t describe the padding as ‘class,’ but it does look a lot better than just stitching the word goals into a flat piece of leather. To prove that padding really makes projects look classier, here’s a picture of a bag I recently made that is padded (see above).
All that aside, I’ll be using this goal board to show you how to pad a project, because the skills are transferable to pretty much any leather project you’re hoping to pad.
Step 1: Choose the Size and Thickness of Your Padding
Whether are you are doing a weird letter project like I did, or you're padding a bag similar to the one at the top of the page, it's important to know to choose the right leather to achieve the look you're wanting.
You can pad your project by using two pieces of leather that are the same, with a different piece of leather sandwiched between. This is what I did the the briefcase. Other times, especially when using thinner leathers on the surface of your project, you'll want to have two different leathers picked out for the bottom pieces to go with your thin top piece. This way you're able to give the bag (or whatever you're making) some strength, while getting to use thin leather ( which really works the best when padding). This is what I did for the goal board, which is covered in a very thin pig skin.
Whichever method you choose, it's important to pay attention to the weight of your leather.
Thin Leather on Top (1-2oz or less): For instance, if you are using a very thin piece of leather for the top piece you can expect the padding to look just like it looked underneath the leather.
Thick Leather on Top (3oz+): However if you use a bit thicker of a leather, expect things to be less defined and a little more round. If you're doing lettering, the lettering will become bigger when you add the top layer, instead of being the same size.
For the Padding Itself (3oz-ish): I typically use 3oz leather for the padding, and have used 5oz leather once or twice in the past for a more dramatic difference. I think 3oz is the sweet spot though. Much smaller than that and there isn't much of a noticeable difference. Much more than that and it get's a little ridiculous looking and is hard to form the leather above around the padding. Keep in mind this is only a general guide line. For example, if you're just using 2oz leather, you might want to consider using padding under 3oz.
Alright, now you can hopefully make an educated choice on how to choose the right leather for a padding project. If you're still having trouble making a decision, my personal rule is the more flexible the top layer is the better.
Step 2: Cut Out the Leather
This part is pretty straight forward. However, when you're deciding the length and width of your padding theres a few things to keep in mind.
The bottom piece will always be cut to the size you need for your project. If you need a 4x16in gusset, then the bottom piece will measure 4x16in. It's preferable that this piece is the most study piece of leather of the 3 pieces used. If you have a whole hide, cut this piece out from what was the back of the cow.
For the top piece of leather, I always cut it out bigger than I need. It's difficult to account for the extra length and width needed to cover the padding, and therefore better to make a piece that's too large and trim it afterward. It's helpful if this is a stretchier piece of leather. If you have a whole hide, cut this piece out from the belly area.
The middle piece of leather use for padding depends on what kind of leather you are using for the top piece:
Thin Leather on Top: As mentioned above, if you choose to go this route, the padded area will be the same size after you put the top layer on. This means you want the padding to be right up to where you stitching line will go. As an example, I usually set my stitching about 3/16th in. In this instance, the padding I cut out would be 3/16 shorter than the piece underneath it on every side. As a side note, I would avoid setting your padding too far back because it looks really odd.
Thick Leather on Top: For this you'll want to make the width and length of your padding a bit shorter to compensate for the thicker leather on top. If I'm using 5oz piece of leather, which is about 1/8in in thickness, I will take 1/8in off every side of the padding.
Step 3: Glue it All Together
You'll want to start by gluing the padding to the bottom piece of leather. Once the glue has dried, cover those pieces with glue and set the top piece on top. If you're using a thicker leather, I typically wet the surface a bit to help it bend around the padding a bit easier.
Step 4: Bone Folder
Once the top piece is placed, you'll need to make sure that it is formed to the padding underneath. All you need to do to pull this off is use a bone folder and press the leather around the padding. After it's been formed around the padding, make sure to apply pressure to the edges while the glue dries.
Step 5: Stitch
If you are stitching padding, the stitching is pretty straight forward. The only thing to keep in mind is making sure your stitching is up against where your padding ends.
I thought stitching wouldn't be that difficult for the lettering. I was wrong. So I figured I'd share some of the things I learned while doing it.
1) Make sure your font is big enough. If my font would've been much smaller the stitching would've gotten ugly.
2) Create holes at the corners first. If you don't make sure the clearly define the corners of each letter (for the letters that have a corner) then they end up not really looking like letters. I created the holes on the corners first and then spaced the holes in between as evenly as I could.
3) Be Aware of Inside Curves. This was especially the case with the 's.' On those tight inside curves, you have to make sure that your holes are placed perfectly. They need to be placed so curve still looks like a curve while maintaining your evenly spaced stitches. If I did this again, I would start on the inside curves of the 's' with my stitching.
Whether you're making some weird lettering project like I did, or you're adding padding to something to make it a little classier, I'd love to see what you're making. If you want, drop a link to your instagram account in the comments below, so I can check out your stuff. Or you can just tag @goldbarkleather in one of your photos.