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Ok, Becca convinced me to make a tutorial of some kind and since I’ve had my share in dyeing leathers I decided this should be the topic. Although this is actually more about sharing my experiences on the matter than a “how to” guide I hope some of you will find it helpful!

Dyeing leather is a really big chapter involving a lot of techniques and materials so I’ll keep this around the base of the subject.

As I have mentioned I dye 98% of the leathers I use. That is for a number of reasons but the main ones are that good quality ready dyed leathers don’t come by around here and that the available ones have a poor range of lifeless colors. I use almost solely water based aniline dye. Alcohol based aniline is also an option but is harder to control, messy and the clear alcohol is somewhat expensive, especially if you dye often. Water based aniline is easier to apply, blends in the leather better ,it is cheap and comes in a variety of colors that are easily combined to produce an endless palette. Furthermore it is more suitable for making large quantities.

The aniline comes in dust form so be very careful to not let it get on leather or other surfaces while you prepare it. It is very hard to come off!

Alright, you’ve bought and made the dye and are ready to enter a coloring frenzy! WAIT!- first we should take a look at the leather. The leather, in order to accept the dye properly and be suitable for binding, must be a decent vegetable tanned leather, goatskin or calfskin. Calfskin has a smoother surface which will show clearer the dyeing results so I suggest to experiment on goatskin first if this is your first time. Also keep in mind that buffed and “glossy” leathers will not take the dye so inspect your piece well before you bye/use it. Before you start dyeing remember to dampen the leather lightly  with a soft wet sponge,this will greatly help the dye to penetrate the leather deeper and faster. Also keep in mind that thicker leathers will need more dye  to reach the desirable color.

Always pare the leather before you dye it. The leather becomes a bit stiffer (depending on how much dye you used) so it is very hard to pare it afterwards and  make the turnings around the bookboards. I’ve shredded quite a few pieces before I realised the dye was causing this and not the quality of the leather.

Take a soft wide brush and apply the dye in vertical and horizontal passes. Do this a few times in both directions  if you want the color to have a uniform appearence  or else it will form some kind of “grain” towards the direction you moved your hand. Many use sponges for dying as well, you can try that out too.

At first the color of the dyed piece will be quite dark but eventually it will settle in a lighter tone so I suggest you apply some dye (you will know how much after a few times) leave it overnight and then come back to see the results. You might then decide you want to stop or continue applying color. It usually takes a day to dry, but that can vary depending on the climate conditions in you area.

Some colored scraps

Many suggest the use of a dye fix to seal the color. I haven’t found that necessary in aniline except for the color black. The only case you will have a problem with color rubbing off is if you apply more dye than the leather can absorb so be mindful.  Alcohol based dyes rub off much easier so sealing the color is advised.

And there you have it! Get out there grab some dyes and start giving life to those leathers!