Friday, March 14, 2008

Self-Made Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #334, March 14, 2008)

When I tell people I’m a leather columnist, many often assume I write about those cute little wallets they once constructed at summer camp from a Tandy Leather kit. Well, not quite.

But I don’t mean to disparage the practice of leathercraft. Where, after all, would the leather/BDSM/fetish community be without it—without people who know how to turn a hide into all the things that rock our world?

Charles Tandy, the entrepreneur behind Tandy Leather (and later Radio Shack), knew the value of leathercraft. His father’s business was a supplier to the shoe repair industry, and young Tandy suggested during World War II that leathercraft might offer new possibilities for growth of the business. Tandy noted that “leather was used in large quantities in army and navy hospital units and recreation centers. Leathercraft gave the men something useful to do; and their handiwork, in addition to being therapeutic, had genuine value.”

If it worked as recreation for soldiers in hospitals and kids at summer camp, you might find it fun, too. Disclaimer: Your humble columnist is not a leathercraft expert—far from it. But I have many friends who enjoy our community’s special flavor of leathercraft, along with the related hobby of toycraft.

Let’s look at toycraft first. At the last several Knights Tournaments, the Knights of Leather’s annual run, very popular classes in toycraft have been taught by local leatherman Bobbie Smith. In the classes he has shown many happy campers how to make their own leather/BDSM toys, such as floggers, restraints, blindfolds, gags and so on. The classes on Saturday have been followed by show-and-tell sessions on Sunday morning at which campers have displayed their creations, often with accompanying demonstrations.

Another member of the local BDSM community, Redline, has written and self-published a limited-edition book of BDSM and kink construction projects. Smith and Redline’s basic message: If you can’t find (or can’t afford) what you need, why not make it yourself to your own specifications? That way, you get exactly what you want—and it’s one-of-a-kind besides.

Assuming you have an idea for a fun new toy and you’d like to exercise your leather/BDSM/fetish creative bent, where can you find the raw materials? They’re all around you—the kitchen, the basement, and the garage can be good sources of “pervertibles,” ordinary items that, with a little ingenuity, can be turned into something much more fun.

If you can’t find what you need around the house, try your local hardware store, lumberyard or farm-and-fleet store (especially good for equestrian items). Or, for stuff you truly won’t find anywhere else and that often defies description, there’s always Ax Max Surplus, a local favorite of creative Twin Cities shoppers for many years. Wander the aisles of any of these stores and let your imagination run wild.

Now let’s talk about crafting leather items to wear. Unless you suddenly inherit a sewing machine capable of working with leather, you’re probably not going to choose a vest for your first project. But there are plenty of things to make that don’t require sewing: for example, armbands, wristbands, gauntlets, harnesses and even restraints.

To create these items you’ll need raw materials: leather and hardware (eyelets, rivets, studs, snaps, welded rings, lengths of chain). You’ll also need a few simple tools for cutting leather, punching holes, and attaching the hardware. A great local resource for leathercraft supplies is Gray’s Leather in south Minneapolis (<>).

Before you start an actual project, you might want to practice using your leathercraft tools on scrap leather. Then, when you feel comfortable, plan what you want to create and go for it.

Choose something relatively simple, like an armband, as your first project. Start with a strip of leather (probably belting). Measure the circumference of your arm to know how long to make the strip, allowing for overlap of the ends if necessary, and cut the strip to the proper length.

Now either punch holes in the leather and lace it around your arm with rawhide lacing, or install one or more snaps. Then, if you like, attach decorative studs, lengths of chain, or a pattern of welded rings or eyelets.

The crafting itself can be a fun and satisfying activity, and when you craft your own leather accoutrements the monetary savings can be significant. But even better, you enjoy the satisfaction that comes with wearing and using your own unique, custom-designed and custom-built creations.

MSDB premieres two new educational series

Two new series of educational seminars are kicking off in the next few weeks. On Saturday, March 29, MSDB presents the inaugural event in its new series of intensive workshops: “Killer B’s Invade Minnesota!” Presenters Padre Pugno and Mademoiselle B will focus on “bondage for sadism and humiliation” and “advanced decorative rope bondage.” For more information visit the events pages at <>.

Then, on Wednesday, April 2, MSDB begins The LAB, a series of educational events being held the first Wednesday evening of every month. April’s topic is Wrestling, presented by Ellie and Forrest. Future planned topics include fisting, yoga and CBT. For more information, e-mail <>.

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