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Mixed-media cuff

Stabilize custom-dyed and formed leather using functional embellishments of textured brass and copper wire

SUPPLIES

  • Natural vegetable-tanned leather, 8–9 oz. weight, 2 x 8 in. (5.1 x 20.3 cm)
  • Brass sheet, 20-gauge (0.8 mm), 1⁄2 x 7 in. (1.3 x 17.8 cm)
  • Copper wire, 16-gauge (1.3 mm), round, dead soft, 2 ft. (61 cm)
  • Sawing/Piercing toolbox
  • Wirework toolbox
  • 1⁄4-in. (6.5 mm) graph paper
  • Cutting mat
  • Utility knife
  • Painter’s tape
  • Awl
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Coarse wood file
  • Sandpaper, various grits
  • Spring clamp
  • Leather dye
  • Latex or nitrile gloves
  • Dye dabber or paintbrush
  • Shoe polish, clear
  • Shoe brush or soft polishing cloth
  • #0000 steel wool
Tip!
Leather is sold by weight, not thickness, and is usually given in a range, as an animal’s hide isn’t a univeral thickness throughout. This project calls for 8–9 oz. leather; the standard conversion is 1⁄64 in. (0.5 mm) per oz., so the recommended thickness is roughly 1⁄8 in. (3–4 mm). 
Mixed media cuff Photo 1
Photo 1
Mixed media cuff Photo 2
Photo 2
Mixed media cuff Photo 3
Photo 3

INSTRUCTIONS 

Create a template. Draw a 2 x 6 1⁄2-in. (5.1 x 16.5 cm) rectangle on a piece of 1⁄4-in. (6.5 mm) graph paper and sketch a long, curved design inside the box [PHOTO 1]. For best results, be sure the width of the design is at least 11⁄4 in. (32 mm) from top to bottom along the length of the rectangle, and make sure there’s room for a 1⁄2-in. (13 mm)-wide metal strip down the center of the design. Cut out the rectangle and set it aside.  

NOTE:  A 6 1⁄2-in. (16.5 cm) bracelet blank fits an average size woman’s wrist. Adjust the length of the blank for a larger or smaller size.

Cut the leather blank. Place a piece of 8–9 oz. vegetable-tanned leather on a cutting mat on your work surface. 

TIP: The scrap bins at leather outlets are great places to find inexpensive pieces of leather large enough to make a bracelet.

Use a utility knife with a sharp blade to cut a 2 x 7-in. (5.1 x 17.8 cm) strip. Place a heavy metal ruler on top of the leather and use its edge as a cutting guide; this will protect the section of leather you plan to use in case the knife slips [PHOTO 2].

NOTE: Cutting the leather slightly longer than the final desired measurement will make it easier to cut out the bracelet blank.

Use painter’s tape to attach your template to the soft side of the leather strip. Use an awl to firmly score along the template’s entire outline [PHOTO 3]. Remove the template, and fill in any missed areas with the awl. Do not discard the template.

Use the utility knife to cut along the scored line. Proceed slowly, making several light cuts with the knife until you have cut through the leather [PHOTO 4].

Mixed media cuff Photo 4
Photo 4
Mixed media cuff Photo 5
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Photo 6
Mixed media cuff Photo 7
Photo 7
Mixed media cuff Photo 8
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Photo 9
Mixed media cuff Photo 10
Photo 10
Mixed media cuff Photo 11
Photo 11

SAFETY NOTE: Your knife is far more likely to slip if it is dull, or if you try to cut all the way through the leather with one stroke. Change the blade if necessary, and use light pressure to maintain control of the knife.

Texture the leather. Use a spray bottle filled with water to spritz the smooth surface of the leather until it is damp, but not completely saturated [PHOTO 5]. 

NOTE: If the leather isn’t moist when you apply the texture, the texture will be uneven. Cracks and surface damage are likely to appear. Remember to wipe off your bench block when you’re done to prevent rust. 

Use a metal stamp or a texture hammer to evenly texture the entire surface of your blank (see “Stamping Leather”). 

I used a spring-loaded center punch to cover the surface with randomly spaced indentations [PHOTO 6]. When choosing a texture, test it on scrap leather before applying it to the blank.

When the leather blank is dry, use a wood file to clean up its perimeter and bevel the top and bottom edges [PHOTO 7]. Use 100-grit sandpaper to remove any remaining file marks or blemishes [PHOTO 8]. 

Punch holes in the leather. Draw a line down the center of your template. Mark points on the line at 1⁄2 in. (13 mm), 1 1⁄4 in. (32 mm), 2 3⁄4 in. (70 mm), 3 3⁄4 in. (95 mm), 4 5⁄8 in. (12.4 cm), 5 1⁄4 in. (13.3 cm), and 6 in. (15.2 cm). 

Set the template on the leather blank, and place the leather on a wood surface. Press an awl through the leather at each marked point, turning the awl from side to side while applying pressure [PHOTO 9]. Once the awl has punctured the back of the leather, use the awl to work from both sides of the leather in turn to enlarge each hole. Set the leather aside.

Prepare the brass strip. Use a jeweler’s saw with a #1 blade to cut a 1⁄2 x 7-in. (1.3 x 17.8 cm) strip of 20-gauge (0.8 mm) brass sheet. File and sand the edges. Use a finetip permanent marker to draw a line down the center of the strip, and mark points at 1⁄2 in. (13 mm), 11⁄4 in. (32 mm), 2 in. (51 mm), 3 in. (76 mm), 4 in. (10.2 cm), 5 in. (12.7 cm), 53⁄4 in. (14.6 cm), and 61⁄2 in. (16.5 cm) [PHOTO 10].  

NOTE:  These points are different than those on the leather template to compensate for the leather’s thickness. 

Use a center punch to make a divot at each mark. Clamp the strip to a bench pin or wooden block, and use a flex shaft or rotary tool with a #51 (0.067-in./1.70 mm) drill bit to drill a hole at each divot [PHOTO 11]. 

Align the center of the brass strip with the center of the leather. Insert a small piece of 16-gauge (1.3 mm) copper wire into the end hole of the brass and leather to line up the pieces. Use a pencil to trace the contour of the leather blank on the end of the brass strip [PHOTO 12], then extend the mark approximately 1⁄8 in. (3 mm). Repeat with the opposite end of the blank. 

Use the jeweler’s saw or shears to cut along the marked lines [PHOTO 13]. Use a #2 half-round file to bevel and smooth the ends of the brass.

Use 220-grit sandpaper to smooth the edges of the brass and around the drill holes to remove any file marks and burrs. Use progressively finer grits of sandpaper on the surface of the brass to remove the marker lines and any scratches.

Mixed media cuff Photo 12
Photo 12
Mixed media cuff Photo 13
Photo 13

Texture and form the brass. Use the round end of a ball-peen hammer or a texture hammer to texture the brass strip [PHOTO 14]. Then, form the brass around an oval bracelet mandrel using a rubber, rawhide, or plastic mallet [PHOTO 15].

If you wish, patinate the brass strip, then buff it with a soft polishing cloth.

Form the leather. Thoroughly wet the leather blank and form it by hand into the shape of a cuff. Check on it after about an hour to ensure the shape is right; if there are any distortions, wet it again and reshape it. Allow it to dry completely. 
Mixed media cuff Photo 14
Photo 14
Mixed media cuff Photo 15
Photo 15
Mixed media cuff Photo 16
Photo 16
Mixed media cuff Photo 17
Photo 17

Dye the leather. Spritz both sides of the leather blank with water until it is slightly damp. Put on latex or nitrile gloves. Pour a small amount (1⁄2 tsp.) of leather dye into a plastic container and dilute it with water. 


NOTE:  The ratio of dye to water depends on your preferences. Test the dye on scrap leather to see the strength of the color before dyeing the bracelet. I dilute my dye with water; you can always add more dye for a darker color, but once the dye is applied, it is permanent.  
Mixed media cuff Photo 18
Photo 18
Mixed media cuff Photo 19
Photo 19

Use a dye dabber or soft paintbrush to apply the dye to the leather in small, circular strokes [PHOTO 16]. Begin with the inner surface, then apply the dye to the edges and outer surface until the leather is fully covered. Apply additional coats until you are satisfied with the color. Allow the cuff to dry completely.

Seal the leather. Apply an even layer of clear shoe polish to all surfaces of the dyed leather and allow it to dry [PHOTO 17]. Use a shoe brush or a soft cotton cloth to buff the leather to a high shine [PHOTO 18].

Mixed media cuff Photo 20
Photo 20
Mixed media cuff Photo 21
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Mixed media cuff Photo 22
Photo 22
Mixed media cuff Photo 23
Photo 23
Mixed media cuff Photo 24
Photo 24

Create the staples. Flush-cut four 6-in. (15.2 cm) pieces of 16-gauge (1.3 mm) copper wire. Form each wire into a U shape. Set the leather cuff inside the brass cuff, and use the awl to align the holes. 

Locate the third and fourth holes from one end of the cuff. Thread one end of a U-shaped wire piece from the inside of the of the cuff through the third hole; thread the other end of the wire through the fourth hole. Use nylon-jaw pliers to pull the wire ends through to the front of the cuff [PHOTO 19]. Try to keep the wire ends even. Flatten the midpoint of the wire against the inside of the cuff so it sits flush to the leather. 

Repeat to thread a second wire through the fifth and sixth holes in the cuff.

Using your fingers or chainnose pliers, bend one wire end down at a 90° angle against the brass. Form the wire into a spiral and trim the end. Repeat to spiral [PHOTO 20] and trim [PHOTO 21] the other wire ends. 

Use needle files or sandpaper to smooth the trimmed wire ends [PHOTO 22].

NOTE: Filing the ends of the spirals works best if you bend the wire up, file it smooth, and then press it back down so that it’s flush with the brass.  

Repeat to set and spiral staples through the first and second holes and the seventh and eighth holes in the cuff.

Finish the cuff. Place the cuff on the bracelet mandrel, and re-form sections as necessary [PHOTO 23]. Check the cuff on your wrist for comfort. If necessary, file and sand the brass ends more until they are smooth.  

Use #0000 steel wool to buff the wire spirals [PHOTO 24]. If a patina is desired, use a small paintbrush to apply it to the wire, then polish each spiral with the polishing cloth to remove the patina from the high points. Use the shoe brush or soft polishing cloth to shine everything, including the wire and brass.

Tip!
It’s not recommended that you re-dye already colored leather; the results are highly unpredictable and seldom satisfactory. Instead, work with natural, vegetable-tanned leather. Test different concentrations of leather dye (diluted with water), and test them on scrap leather to determine what color you like best. Water-based dye intended for use for leather works best; it’s available from leather suppliers. 
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