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Leather stamping is a type of craft which involves the creation of patterns in leather with the assistance of stamping tools. Leather can be literally stamped with a large metal design mounted on a block, or stamped patterns can be carefully freehanded with leather stamping tools. Leather stamping is an easy craft to learn, but mastery can take several years. Stamped leather may also be known as tooled or embossed leather, in a reference to the process which was used to create it.
Leather is an animal hide which has been specially treated to resist decay. Leather intended for stamping is usually cut thick, so that textured designs can be created on it. To stamp leather, the artisan moistens the leather slightly, stamps out the desired design, and then allows the leather to dry before conditioning it with oils or creams to make it water resistant, which will help the pattern endure over the life of the leather.
Saddles, especially Western saddles, are often stamped. Stamped leather is also used to make belts, shoes, decorative bags, and badges or patches. Mass produced stamped leather is made with pre-cut dies and leather presses, allowing factories to quickly produce leather products to meet demand. Hand-made stamped leather can take many hours to create, and it is usually stamped with hand tools, rather than with a commercial stamp or die. Many art supply companies sell leather stamping kits which include an assortment of hand tools for making impressions, along with a mallet to gently tap the tools with.
In addition to being stamped, leather may also be carved to bring a design out into relief. Leather carving is accomplished with small, very sharp blades; a blade kit may include points ranging from thick needles for fine lines to more scoop-like blades for taking out big chunks of leather. Leather carving is a permanent process, since it removes part of the leather, so it is a good idea to proceed with caution while carving.
People who are interested in learning leather stamping can take classes at various arts and crafts centers, or experiment on their own with leather stamping tools and books. It is important to set up a clean workshop space, and to keep sharp leather stamping tools securely stored so that people who are not experienced with them will not injure themselves. As you refine your leather stamping skills, you might also want to integrate leather dyeing or burning to create further contrast in your designs.