The DOuble card holder

Leather resurrection

 
vintage leathert

Good things come to those who wait.....

As a long time lover of old fashion quality and in particular leather goods I was dismayed at how many of these beautiful pieces were being consigned to landfill. Mainly because the stitching had rotted, the strap had broken, the lock had jammed, the handle had snapped, or merely the item was no longer in fashion. However, the leather itself, because quality manufacturers traditionally used high grade, veg tanned leathers still had years of life left in it.

 

The death of the cobbler

I think one of the contributing factors is the demise of the old fashioned 'cobbler'. Once a familiar establishment in every village and town the traditional cobbler was a skilled multi-tasking tradesman capable of pretty much-repairing anything made of leather. He operated during the times when it was a very much make do and mend culture. Do not mistake him for today’s high street chains purporting to be Cobblers who effectively are retailers of cheap trophies, key cutters using automated machinery and staplers of rubber heels on shoes. The true cobbler would stitch, patch, replace, stretch, repair, restore and generally make good so that the item could continue to serve a useful purpose. Unfortunately, these wonderful skills have rapidly disappeared off our streets this together with modern manufacturers using cheap low grade and synthetic leather materials we have added to today’s throwaway society.

high street cobbler
 
leather

Timeless fashion or throw away the high street?

As an avid collector (some would say hoarder), I began to collect and store pieces of old leather, old handbags, battered and worn briefcases, unwanted horse saddles, discarded bridal wear, broken belts etc. etc. Whenever the pile became too high, I would spend time removing all the pieces that were unusable, cutting away any rotted leather, stripping off any brass work and linings until I was left with a much smaller and flatter pile of reusable leather pieces.

With my preferences for slow fashion and recycling, rather than today's high street throwaway society, I thought it would be fun to see if I could use some of my stash of reclaimed veg tanned leather. I aimed to recreate a new product that was suitable for use today and would mean the old leather would continue its journey but in another form. For me there is nothing comparable to the patina, feel and sheer luxury of quality vintage leather. It develops a patina that cannot be replicated through dying or chemical staining. You simply cannot create the look and feel of leather that has been handled and used for many years

 

Modern technology to preserve the past

So with that thought in mind, I began my journey. Through research, I discovered that for the leather to be reusable it would need to be clean and supple to stop it from splitting and tearing when it was worked and re-stitched. So I set about the task using products recommended on Internet blog sites and forums together with advice from friends and colleagues with many years of experience working within the leather industry. I can guarantee that I am not in receipt of any recompense from any supplier whose products I may mention. Also, I am no expert on the subject, so if anybody wants to contribute any advice and guidance on the matter I am always willing to learn and pass on that knowledge

leather restoration products
 
lanolised leather soap

The Transformation Process

I first gave the leather a good clean using saddle soap and a soft wet toothbrush. There are many different suppliers of Saddle soap that can be easily purchased online. I chose ‘Lincoln Lanolised Leather Soap’, which did an excellent job, and using a soft toothbrush helps loosen and lift the dirt and grime without damaging the surface of the leather. The saddle soap also contains lanolin that begins to replace some of the oils that are lost from the leather as it dries out. The lanolin will start to make the leather more supple and easier to handle. As the dirt is lifted by the soap simply use a clean cotton cloth to wipe away the suds making sure you go over the entire surface of the leather several times to remove as much residue grime as possible before putting it to one side to dry naturally.

Once the leather has had the worse of the grime removed using the saddle soap you can move onto the next process of renovation. For this, I use a product from the ‘Fiebings’ range of leather products called ‘Four Way care’. This can be sprayed onto the leather or applied with a clean cloth. Gently work it into the leather and use a second clean cloth to wipe off any remaining grease and dirt. This product will not only clean and improve its suppleness, but also strengthen the leather and avoid splitting.

When the leather has dried, it should now be clean and supple and is ready to be worked.

 

The unlikely marriage of plastic and vintage leather

To make my first product using this recycled leather I decided to recreate a simple two-card wallet holder. I sat down with the designers at my local bag manufacturer Owen Barry in Somerset, who I had worked with before, and we agreed on the specification. From this, they created a pattern and produced a sample that I was happy with.

I explained that as long as the wallet was fully functional, I was not concerned if the wallets showed the stitch marks and various shades of leather from its previous existence as this would add character and would mean each wallet would be unique.

The pattern for the wallets, together with my prepared leather, was then passed to their highly skilled artisans who would cut out and stitch the wallets. Finally, my own tortoise shell logo was hot pressed into the born again leather. I agreed that I would be responsible for the final processes, which would include sealing the raw edges of the leather wallet called ‘edge kote’ and the final polishing and burnishing before they would be ready for use.

adler sewing machine
 
edge kote

The Edge Kote and polishing by Lord Sheraton

When veg tanned leather is cut it leaves an open fibrous edge, which ideally, needs to be sealed to make it waterproof. This process is called edge kote. Traditionally, this is achieved by using a Gloy waterbased paste and a clean cotton cloth. Using either your finger or a small piece of wood wrap the cloth around it and dip it into the paste then rub the cut edges of the leather firmly and quickly up and down to create heat from the friction. The heat melts the glue into the leather fibres fusing them to create a waterproof sealed bond. Although this can be a time-consuming process, it does form a very pleasing finish. An alternative and much quicker way is to paint the edges using another product from the ‘Fiebings’ range called ‘Edge Kote’ which you paint on the edges with a small brush and allow to dry. It's best to apply several coats to build up a perfect finish.

The final process is to restore the original sheen and patina of the leather by using a good quality leather polish. This will also help protect the leather. The leather polish I use is ‘Lord Sheraton leather balsam’, but there are many very good leather polishes available on the market so it's just a question of finding the one that works best for you. I find this final polishing stage the most satisfying as you get to see the benefits of all your hard work.

 
 

The double card holder

Now available to purchase is this super tactile and practical "two card" slim wallet holder. It has been crafted from recycled and restored vintage leather making it the ultimate in eco friendly design and our commitment to slow fashion. The quality leather retains its beautiful patina obtained through over fifty years of working history. 
The wallets are 100% designed and manufactured by skilled artisan craftspeople working in the heart of Somerset, England. They are then hand burnished, gently polished and buffed to reveal the true lustre of the historic leather.
Each individual wallet is entirely unique and proudly displays its honest past with original tooling, stitching and character deliberately exposed.
Every wallet has been embossed with the JohnLowin trademark of a tortoise shell depicting our continued commitment to creating uniqueness using traditional workmanship. Preferring to contribute to longevity and slow fashion rather than adding to a throwaway society.

Thanks for reading

John Lowin

Owner of JohnLowinbags.com