A Basic Guide On How To Dye Leather – Step By Step
Have you ever wondered how leather artisans get those bright colors or how the dark blacks and light browns come about? The answer, of course, is dye. If you are a hobbyist or even a professional leather artisan, dyeing leather may be something new. It is a process and you will need to practice, but this guide should help you on your way. Here is a basic guide on how to dye leather.
Step One: Don’t Dye your skin
Leather is skin. You are about to dye the skin of another animal. That being stated, you do not want to have your skin dyed. Put some gloves on (latex is best) and have a few to spare just in case you rip through them. While it may be a bit tiresome to change out gloves throughout the process, in the long run it saves a lot of soap and frustration.
Step Two: Open a window
As dye is chemically based, you will want to have a lot of ventilation. No, you will not dye incautiously if you do not ventilate the room, but you may get as high as a kite. Physically, the chemicals can cause headaches, vomiting, etc. if you are exposed over long periods of time. It is best to have a fan or something to circulate the air and to keep as many doors and windows open as possible.
Step Three: Chose your leather and clean it
The only real concern that you should have for the type of leather is in the treatments which have been done prior to it as well as to the grain. Yep, you need to consider about everything. First, if the leather has been pre-dyed then you need to look for waxes and other such things on the leather which will prevent the dye from setting. If the leather is untreated, then consideration needs to be made to the thickness of the leather (as the thicker it is the more dye will be needed to fully saturate the leather). Top grain leather should be noted as a concern as, by definition, the leather is on the top surface. This means that imperfections and defects will be accented when dyed.
Before you progress to the dyeing phase, you should clean the leather. Leather Cleaning in this circumstance does not necessarily mean using deep conditioners and such. You may be able to simply wipe it down.
Step Four: Avoid the water down
Some leather artisans have advocated that a water based dye can be watered down and applied to your product. But this is a bit counterproductive. If you add a water based dye, then you will need to add an oil based coat to put oils back into the leather once you are done, as overwatering can damage the leather. So, my advice would be just to find a color that you want and to apply the coats in thin layers, rather than trying to cut the dye.
Step Five: Add the first coat
Applying the first dye coat should be done in small circles. Use a non-abrasive cloth or a sponge and apply the dye from the left to the right. It is important that you keep a consistency to the circles. Do not make large and small circles. Additionally, you will want to overlap your circles. Typically a ½ inch overlap is sufficient. Do not neglect the edges of the leather. This is where that attention to detail will really shine. Even if you are performing a dye to an already died leather, such as a vegetable dye, it is crucial that you apply a base coat and that it is applied in a consistent method.
Step Six: Diagonal coats
After you have given the first coat a chance to dry, then apply a diagonal coat either from the left to the right or from the right to the left. The important thing is that you apply your coat with even strokes and overlap. The diagonal coat will cover up some of the circle marks from the previous coat. Let the first diagonal coat dry and then apply an additional coat in the opposite direction (so if you went from left to right, go right to left). Allow it to dry.
Step Seven: Apply a finish and buff
Once you are satisfied with the dye color, I use Fibbing’s Tan Kote to finish. After the finish had time to dry, buff the leather with cotton cloth to ensure that you have the consistent look. When the buffing is done, you want to look at the leather for any definitive lines in the dye. If you see that there are, then it is advised that you add another thin dye coat. Remember, you want the leather to have a clean and professional look.
Step Eight: Let it rest a day and then condition it
Let the leather sit and settle/dry for a day or two. You will not be able to tell right off the bat the effectiveness of the dying. It takes a few days some times to have the leather take on and absorb the color. Do not rush the process. The last thing that you want is to have your leather blotchy because you decided that this area and that area need more dye (which you should not apply to selected areas but rather do full coats to avoid this).
Conditioning and cleaning of the leather should be done only after you are completely satisfied with the end result. As these cleaner contain chemicals and weather proofing elements, it may be quite difficult to have dye adhere to the skin after application.
If you get stuck, ask a pro.
If you get stuck on the dye process, contact me directly via blog comment. Most importantly, practice often. It is a skill and it does take some practice to master.