Sunday, July 25, 2004

The History of Leathergoods Continued

I left off with three early examples of what would now be classified as leathergoods in the last posting.  I will start with the stone carving of a young Greek carrying a shoulder bag, this was an isolated piece and not part of a freeze, he was wearing the normal Toga. It was not practice in those times to carry a change of clothing or personal items as they traveled light in those days. It is more than probable that the bag was a game bag used for carrying birds and other small game taken on a hunting trip. (It adds to the theory that there are no new designs only variations and that most things have been done before). The carvings depicting water bags supported with netting, it is amusing that most archaeologists ponder over why they would want to use a net round the leather water bottle. It is even stranger that no one ever considered asking a leather worker why that might have been done. The answer is quite obvious if you are aware of the properties of leather.

They would have made the water container with the face of the leather inwards and the flesh outwards as used this way it would have been slightly more water proof, they may well have coated the surface of the leather with some form of water resistant treatment. (it was a practice in medieval times to make leather tankards and coat the inside with tar to make it waterproof) it is not known if they had that knowledge in that earlier period of history but a coating of Bees Wax would have provided some degree of water proofing without impairing the taste too much. However the water would start to work it,s way into the leather fibers, and what happens to leather when it is wet? It stretches and what better way to stop it sagging than to place a net round it.

The coin purse a large circle of soft leather with holes round its edge and a thong of leather laced through the holes was used from Roman times (and possibly longer) right through to the Middle Ages to carry the coins used for all forms of currency. These draw string purses were tied securely to a belt round the waist and can be seen depicted in many carvings and paintings. Merchants and the wealthy were more likely to use them. Thieves would use a sharp knife to cut the thongs while an accomplice distracted the owner and run off with the purse. They were known as a 'Cut Purse' things don't change that much, we call them 'Pick Pockets' these days. There is one main difference these days, they risked their lives if stopped in those days, now all they get is a caution.

All these personal items would have been made by the saddlers as a sort of side line from early times right up to and beyond the middle ages and the craft of the leather worker as such was still non-existent. That is quite understandable as personal items were few and did not present an opportunity for anyone to earn a living that way. But that was about to change and I will explain why in the next Blog see also www.theleatherconnection for other information. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

History Of Leather Goods

We established that Bronze and Iron Age Man made good use of leather for footwear and harness (saddles did not arrive until late in that era) all this is recorder in freezes from ancient civilizations around the Mediterranean. Bridles, Reins, and a basic form of Harness can all be seen, but riders were either bare back or sitting on blankets. Saddles began to appear late in that period and are generally attributed to the Moors in North Africa as they developer quite elaborate and highly decorated saddles which they eventually took to the Spanish area when it was under their rule. (The Spanish took it to America, Mexico and South America But the ornate carving became influenced by the Native Tribes developing into the more natural deviation of the animals, birds, etc that are now part of the art form in that area).

Back to our history of leathergoods there is little sign of any form of leather goods or Leather Workers in these early times, yes there were leather artifacts but most of these were weapon related items such as, holders with straps for arrows, sword scabbards, etc. Most of these were built on a system of straps or strips of leather and would have been made by the same people producing the riding equipment. So we had two main leather related trades developing Shoes and Saddlery. The history of shoes is a long and fascinating subject but it is one that is relatively easy to follow as it is as it started related to one area feet. Just for interest there were just 12 original Livery Companies in mediaeval London and 7 of them were involved with the use of Leather The Worshipful Company Of Cordwainers representing the shoe makers. In those days a Cordwainer was a shoe maker, (The name is derived from Cordova in Spain where the best shoe leather came from). A shoe repairer was referred to as a Cobbler hence the term 'cobbled together' would have originally referred to a badly repaired pair of shoes. More about those Livery Companies later. 

Back again to the early leathergoods there were only 3 items that I was able to identify as being able to be classified as leathergoods related. Some carvings particularly Greek depict men carrying a water bag on one shoulder which was supported by netting, a small draw string bag attached to a belt round the waist, (That would have been used to hold coins) and one Greek carving showing a young man with a shoulder bag that looked remarkably like the modern shoulder bags or flight bags. More about these later when I next return to this subject.

For other information about leather visit      

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Leather Craft

Further information on the history of leather & leathergoods.
The Hunter Gatherers (Early Stone Age Man) as stated in my earlier "Blog" killed for food and used skins for protection from the elements, at this stage the process of tanning leather was not known. That meant that the leather would putrefy in time, that was not a problem to them as they could easily replace it. (I would not have liked to be down wind of them). The first type of tanning developed was Bark Tanning, (a modern form of this is still used today). It is quite feasible that an item or piece of skin was dropped into a small pool of water that contained a fallen tree that was rotting away, the bark of which had turned the water tannic and preserving the leather. it only needed someone to pick it up realize it had been preserved, make the connection that the tree bark and water were the reason. 'Bingo' we had one of our first Tanner.
It is worth noting that the Inuit (Eskimos) chewed the leather as this not only provided some sort of tanning but also softened the leather. My view is that saliva may have some tanning effect but it is also feasible that putrefaction was slowed down by the freezing conditions.
As the evolvement of mankind changed from Hunter gatherers to Farming growing crops and domesticating animals little changed for centuries, clothes were made from material as thread and weaving developed as this provided more flexibility of movement. The trades or crafts of Shoe Making and Saddlery developed as this was the only means of transport available. As early civilization spread and metal developed we passed through the Bronze and Iron ages, leather was still used for horse tack shoes (Mainly a form of sandal) The Roman soldiers used it for hinges of linkage between their metal armour. It was also used as belts with loops for swords, hinges for doors on early houses, etc. But still no leathergoods as such. 
To Be Continued 

Monday, July 12, 2004

Leather Craft Information

Leather Craft, Leather Work, either amature or professional is an ancient craft which to some extent still uses the basic tools that were in use many ceturies ago. In fact it is one of the oldest crafts known to mankind. One of the artifacts found in early settlements of primitive man are bone needles. At that period the human race were 'Hunter Gatherers' Thread & cloth were not in use at that period of our history. Protection from the eliments was derived from the animals killed for food, the skins were made into clothing. As there was no thread the obvious choice of material to use with the bone needles was gut. Cat Gut to be more acqurate, it's source the stomach sinews (mostly sheep). When we encountered the first Eskimo tribes and the North American Indians they were in effect Late Stone Age people and were producing highly developed clothing using leather and sewing with bone needles.

I taught at a Leather College during my working life and lectured on 'The History of Leather' and I will return to this subject and provide further information as this Blog develops.

I am now a very ancient Master/Designer Craftsman from the Leathergoods Industry, still using Great Grandfathers tools. They say that everyone has a book in them, I have gone a step further than that I am at present writing a series of Craft Instruction Manuals to make these skills available to others before they are lost and while I am still on this planet. The first three are finished and available on my web site for purchase at a moderate cost. They are all written in a simple and straight forward and easy to follow format so that beginners will not find them difficult to follow. To my surprise fellow proffesionals are also purchasing them and raving over the detailed instructions. I set up my site mainly to distribute the manuals (built it myself) about 3 years ago, I added some suppliers, tanners, organisations that I thought might be of interest to my site visitors and like 'Topsy' it just grew with companies requesting to be included. it is now a large site with many categories and plenty or research and reference information as well as provision for the purchase of the craft manuals.

For those interested the site can be found at

I will continue on the history and development of leathergoods as this Blog develops but would like to remind all visitors that like our ancient forefathers all animals skins used today are killed for meat and the skins and hides are a by-product of the meat industry if we did not use those skins it would not save those animals. The skins would be burnt or placed in land-fill sites adding to general pollution. Yes there are exceptions with some animals being allowed to be culled which do not enter the food chain, but in general all protected spieces are not used for leathergoods or shoes. They are protected by law and anyone that uses them are getting supplies from poachers (mainly in Africa & South America and made up locally). In North America Trappers are licenced and they along with the Inuit (Eskimos) in the arctic do kill animals for their fur. it is quite possible for ladies to use artificial furs to go about in the winter in our nortern hemiphere. in fact Nylon furs even look better than the originals. Unfortunately for the servere conditions in the arctic regions they are no protection for the extreme conditions that exist. and animal furs are necessary to remain alive. there is another factor the economy of those regions the extreme conditions do not allow the inhabitants to grow crops and unfortunately the amimals of the region provide them with food and clothing even in our modern world. until the rest of use in the World provide the money to support these people with free handouts then they have no option but to carry on the way they have always done throughout the ages.

More Later