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Introduction to Leather Carving

Almeria Living Article (03/21)

First article placed by Border Leathers in the Almeria Living Magazine

Published March 2021

Today we’re taking a look at one of the oldest traditional crafts, leather crafting, and in particular the

art of leather carving.

When prehistoric man hunted for food, they realized that they could use more of the animal than just the meat. The hide could be turned into clothing and used for protection from the elements. While evidence for hideworking and tanning exists from hundreds of thousands of years ago, the earliest confirmed leathercrafting tools date back to the Stone Age in 5,000 BC.

Whilst the term “leather crafting” can be used to describe the entire gambit of constructing goods from leather, leather carving describes the specific art of giving a three-dimensional appearance to leather craft objects or works of art by cutting and stamping the surface.

The first use of hand carved leather is lost in history, but preserved leather items have been unearthed from 3,000-year-old Egyptian tombs and Roman burial sites. Hand tooled leather has been highly valued in most early civilizations.

In the Iberian Peninsula and Andalusia region some of the earliest and most influential examples of leather tooling was amongst the Spanish Moors who decorated their homes and armour with hand-carved leather.

With the Spanish exploration of the modern world the skills used in carving artwork into leather crossed the Atlantic and spread throughout Southern and Central America, where the Moorish designs became influenced by the Aztec leather working designs prevalent at the time.

Leather carving experienced a surge in popularity in the 1800s when leather tooling became popular among cowboys and ranchers of the "Wild West". Elaborately tooled saddles helped express status and wealth as well as identifying individual possessions among cowboys with no horses of their own.

Carving into leather

Nowadays leather crafting is still an important trade in Spain, with centres of excellence across the country, and more locally includes Elche and Igualada (both known for their tanneries and leather footwear).

Leather carving specifically remains a more artisan affair. Worldwide leather carving is still very popular in Morocco and the cattle sates of the USA, and more recently has been increasing in popularity in Japan. In this age of automated high volume production of disposable products there remains a demand for bespoke high quality leather products.

In Spain there is a small but growing community of leather carvers maintaining and developing this traditional craft and applying it to modern products.

Pic3: Example of a hand-tooled handbag produced at Border Leathers

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