An Artist’s Approach to Emboss­ing Leather for Books with Bon­nie Stahlecker – Day 4

Today was the last day of my class with Bonnie. Sad. The first thing I did was put a layer of varnish on my modeling paste plate, then I waited 1/2 hour for it to dry (longest 1/2 hour ever). Once the varnish was dry, I ran my plate through the press with a piece of leather.

Here’s how it came out:


I love the texture – it wasn’t at all what I had expected to happen. I tried several colors of shoe polish on a test piece of leather that was the color as my embossed piece – hated all of them. I decided to go with a clear-ish polish named Delicate Cream. It darkened the color just a smidge.

Next, I worked on my headband for the book. I have affectionately been referring to it as a shredband, based on how it came out. Obviously, I’m still not getting the hang of the Scharf-Fix.


Luckily, I had enough of a headband to use for my book. I also glued this thing wrong – it’s supposed to be doubled up only partway so that there’s a more gradual transition between the leather and the spine of the text block.

I glued on the headband to each end of the book…


…and completed the oversewing with waxed linen thread.


I dyed a piece of Tyvek with acrylic paint in yellow ochre – this would be used for my stays.


I glued down the map boards, trimmed the turn-ins to 3/4″ wide, and cut the corners. We used a different technique for the corners this time – we pared the edges of the leather so that they were beveled at a 45 degree angle. The turn-ins were then sanded down to reduce the overall thickness of the leather.


After sanding down the edges of a strip of Cave Paper, I applied it to the inside of the spine as a liner. We made two release cuts in the leather at the top and bottom of the spine. After massaging the turn-ins a bit, a glued them down using two applications of PVA. We lightly rounded the corners of the covers with a bone folder. The wrapper was then dried under weight for 15-20 minutes.

We infilled the covers with railroad board, which I had never heard of before – it has the feel of heavyweight poster board. We sanded the edge of the board that would be closest to the spine and glued it with the sanded side facing up. The edge of the infill was placed 1/16″ away from the edge of the railroad board.


Cave Paper was used for the paste downs – the edges of the paper were sanded. The paper was glued with the sanded side down and on the spine side of the wrapper. The edge of the paste down was placed at the edge of the map board.


The wrapper was dried under weights for 40-60 minutes. You can speed up the drying process by putting blotter paper up against the inside of the wrapper.


This book had only two Tyvek stays, one for the inside of each end paper. After tying the secondary tackets on the outside of the cover, my book was done! Here’s a picture of my finished book:

Handmade leather embossed journal

Front cover

Handmade embossed leather journal

Back cover

Handmade embossed leather journal


We met as a class for one last time. Bonnie told us that when you emboss leather, you need to use skins that are vegetable-tanned, not chrome-tanned. Apparently, chrome-tanned skins will not take embossing well.

She also told us that you can use polymer plates for embossing leather. The thing to know is that the plate will curl up after time – the moisture affects it. Bonnie recommended Photopolymer Plates as a good company from which to purchase plates.

She added that you can print on leather using oil-based inks. You can also sand the surface of leather as a decorative technique.

That’s the end of this class – I’m so glad I chose this one!

6 Responses to “An Artist’s Approach to Emboss­ing Leather for Books with Bon­nie Stahlecker – Day 4”

By Janet - 26 May 2014 Reply

This was marvelous. Again, thank you so much for sharing your experience. Your description of the process was perfect. Your finished books were awesome. I’m glad I got to attend thru your eyes and will most definitely be looking for a future workshop of Bonnies to attend.

By Elissa - 29 May 2014 Reply

Janet –

Not only is Bonnie a rocking good teacher, she’s also got this great, dry sense of humor. She’s fun to be around and has wonderful energy.


By Carol - 27 May 2014 Reply

I’m glad you chose this class too, it has been so interesting to follow your progress. Thank you for the excellent instructions. I especially liked this last piece of leather, though the one with the map is also stunning. Hmm, I’m impressed…

By Elissa - 29 May 2014 Reply

Carol –

Bonnie is a wonderful teacher. If you can ever get to one of her classes, I highly recommend it.


By Amy - 27 May 2014 Reply

Beautiful, Elissa! Thanks for the glimpse into PBI 🙂

By Elissa - 29 May 2014 Reply

Amy –

Thanks! There’s still one more class coming…


So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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