The Perfect Blend of Traditional Craftmanship and Rugged Individualism that Redefines the Artisan Leather Bag Niche
Patina is a film which develops over time on leather, making it dark and supple. Aged (patina) leather is appealing to many people because of the custom, comfortable tone it adds. Patina items have been composed and created, rather than stamped out in a production line.
Every stage of a patina is critical, and requires both patience and skill.
Reinventing leather demands surgical precision in every aspect—including preparation. Before even considering your color scheme, analyze the leather you’re working with. Unless you are lucky enough to start with nude/unfinished leather, the preliminary step is to decipher how it was initially dyed.
When creating a custom patina, whether it’s a briefcase or a pair of shoes, you have to strip off the original layers of wax and dye that were applied at the factory or workshop of origin. This is a particularly nasty process because of the harsh and noxious chemicals that are keys to stripping the leather down to its original, bare state. Yet as toxic as this chemical peel/de-glazer is, it does not ruin the leather—unless you fail to follow up. The leather must be moisturized immediately after the stripping process so that it is re-nourished, lest it start to dry out and crack soon thereafter. Personally, I prefer Saphir Renovateur, and let it soak in for a good 10-15 minutes.
Periodically moisturizing the leather throughout the entire process (starting from the stripping of the leather, until the final step of polishing the finished product) is tremendously important. In addition to keeping the leather moist, the moisturizing cream or oil is valuable for blending hues of dye between applying coats. Leather is very porous, making it a challenge to fade and blend the colors evenly…
Colors Should Flow and Blend as One
To accomplish this, you have to choose the areas in which the lighter colors will show through the darker ones. Those darker areas must then be blanched enough to make the edges cloudy, allowing other colors to show through.
When working with nude leather, the colors chosen for a particular bag or shoe will turn out the same every time. Tanned or used leathers tend to complicate things. Dark leather can only be lightened to a certain degree, so the hues will come out differently. But that isn’t to say that dark leather can’t be lightened—it can. Conditioner is an important aid in blending two colors, and when transitioning to a lighter shade of a certain color. When you are familiar with blending colors, you’ll understand the value of pre-treating leather with conditioner to make it less absorbent later. This allows smoother transitions between colors and their shades.
Color mixing (i.e. blue and red) isn't as daunting as it may seem. After many years of experimenting on old shoes, I’ve created my own palette. Now I can just consult my recipe book, and know the exact measurements of each hue to apply to certain types of shoes. Note that, when you apply a coat successively to another, the previous coat will be reactivated and blended with the current one.
For example, a black shoe can be lightened with acetone and dyed with cherry red. The result: oxblood, a deep, dark red. Just recently I blanched a dark brown pair of boots up to a nice tan color using this same procedure.
Effectively Applying Dye
I use a combination of my bare hands, brushes, and cloths—each producing different effects—to apply every layer of dye. Most of the layer is applied with different styles of paint brushes, but a rag or soft towel (dampened with moisturizer) helps to soften areas of harsh contrast and streaks left from brush strokes. To avoid glaring brush strokes, dye should be applied in thin layers. Mixing dye-thinner in with your dyes can really help with that.
After each layer, let the piece dry for 15-20 minutes. Before moving to the next layer, wipe the entire piece down with hard with a cotton cloth to remove any excess and prevent the dye from caking. Painting on the dye, blending the shades together, drying, and wiping the leather down can be repeated as many times as necessary until you’ve reached your desired color. This is where patience is required: don’t resort to thick coats of dye in an effort to hurry the process along.
After completing the desired patina, the dye must be sealed and protected.
You can use a crème polish of the same or different colors from your dye, depending on the desired outcome. I usually apply either multiple coats of a light colored/neutral wax polish, or with a resoling/acrylic sealant. Sealant will do a better job of protecting the patina, but it will not allow the leather to breathe as well, nor allow the same penetration of moisturizers in the future. Each has its own pros and cons, but unless specifically requested, I stick with shoe wax/polish. In general, wax ensures that a leather product that will keep its color and suppleness over time. If water marks do appear after long use, they can usually be removed or lightened with another application of your trusty moisturizing product. For a high shine, the protective coating will need to be applied quite a few times.
Patina is an art, and every artist has his own methods, styles, and products of choice. If any steps heretofore seem vague, it’s because there is no exact method to creating a work of art. Crafting patina is my passion and my livelihood. I hope to have shed some light on a form which is still in its infancy, as arts go. If you have any tips, suggestions, or questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Frieschskys, or me directly.
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