An Artist’s Approach to Emboss­ing Leather for Books with Bon­nie Stahlecker – Day 2

I started today off by running my puff paint plate through the press. Here’s what happens when you forget to follow directions:


I was supposed to send the plate through on a piece of plexiglass. Because I didn’t, there wasn’t enough pressure and my image came out too soft. Once I remembered the plexiglass, I ran it through the press again. This is what happens when you forget to follow directions:


I didn’t check the pressure on the press and there was too much – as a result, my leather got pressed too hard. To quote my husband, “Mistakes are part of learning.”

We reconvened as a class to watch our first demonstration. The first task of the day – prepare and sew the text block. We had six sections with five folios in each one and two sheets of paper in our end sheet signatures. We had to trim our signatures after folding, but the guide on our Kutrimmer was missing. Bonnie improvised one for us with a metal triangle and some blue tape.


Bonnie gave us a couple of tips for punching holes in signatures:

  • Get in the habit of keeping all of the heads to your left.
  • Flip over the signatures with the holes away from you after you’ve punched them.

She told us that we should thread our needles with the end that we cut off the spool so that we’d be going in the direction of the twist. We sewed our text blocks using the French link stitch. To help keep from over-tightening the kettle stitch, it was suggested that we back up our fingers an inch from the end of the text block – it helps keep the stitch looser.

We chiseled a bit off the corners of our text blocks so our headbands would have a place to rest. Next, we pushed our knuckles into the fore-edge and worked the spine until we created a small round.

We compressed the text blocks using two boards and a couple of clamps. We then propped them up in between some bricks and created a makeshift lying press. We applied a layer of glue to the spine, working it into the gaps. After that, we applied another layer of glue and a spine liner of Kozo paper – this consolidates the spine. We worked the paper into the glue with our fingers.


I spent most of the afternoon working on a large linoleum cut for one of our two books. I decided to base my design on a map of the Ox-Bow campus. At lunch, I had gone to the local library to enlarge a copy of the map. I traced it onto tracing paper, then sandwiched some transfer paper in between it and the sheet of linoleum.


The white lines you see in the image below are from the transfer paper. Carving the linoleum took a long time – there are a lot of thin lines!


Before doing the final embossing on leather, it helps to do a proof on paper first – we used Somerset etching paper. After soaking the paper for a hour, you take the paper out and wait until it stops dripping. You then put it between blotter papers and roll it with a rolling pin to get out the excess moisture. Place the paper on your linoleum and then layer three felts on top of it. Into the press it goes!

After I did my proof, I ran my leather through the press. You lay the leather on the linoleum and layer three felts on top of it. Here’s the final result:




I was pretty darn pleased with myself after seeing how the leather turned out. Then the time came for us to make headbands. We made our headbands out of leather and string, and we had to pare down the leather to do it. I don’t have a lot of experience with paring and it showed today. Here’s the Scharf-Fix that tried to kill me:


And here’s the piece of leather that survived my paring (it took three pieces to get it right):


After paring the leather, we tied a string around a piece of bookboard to use for the core of our headbands. We glued out the leather and slid it 1/3 of the way under the core. Next, you fold over the top edge of the leather over the string and run your bone folder along the edge to tighten it. Push the edge of a ruler up against it to make sure that it’s straight.


The leather headbands sure look a lot better than those ones you get off the roll. I’m excited to see how this one looks on my book!

6 Responses to “An Artist’s Approach to Emboss­ing Leather for Books with Bon­nie Stahlecker – Day 2”

By Amy - 20 May 2014 Reply

Your map on leather is just gorgeous! I like your husband’s quote about mistakes 🙂

By Elissa - 22 May 2014 Reply

Amy –

While I like my husband’s quote, it’s still hard to hear when you’ve freshly made a mistake. It settles in better after some time has passed.


By Janet - 21 May 2014 Reply

Your account of your experience at PBI is priceless! Will we get to see the leather book when you’re finished? Thank you so much.

By Elissa - 22 May 2014 Reply

Janet –

Yep, you’ll get to see the book. 🙂


By Velma Bolyard - 21 May 2014 Reply

i !ove your use of the map–that’s a great memento for your “learning book”.

By Elissa - 22 May 2014 Reply

Velma –

I came up with the idea as a way to keep from overthinking the design. It’s often hard for me to be creative and technique-focused at the same time.


Leave a Reply to Elissa

Cancel reply

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This