Gold Leaf Techniques Applied to Leather
The gold leaf techniques for applying gold leaf to leather are different from gilding on wood or other
There are many different types of leather, from the soft, flexible vegetable tanned leathers used in bookbinding, to hard chromium tanned
leathers used in briefcases and saddlery.
With regard to bookbinding, in general the gilded decoration you see on a modern book will be either gold foil or gold leaf, genuine
gold leaf is reserved for the real quality leather bindings, and gold foil for cheaper work.
For those whose interest lies in bookbinding there is a fully illustrated step by step method showing the gilding
process in full.
Both methods of gilding involve the use of heat activated adhesives, gold foil has a built in layer of adhesive on the carrier film.
In traditional gilding, the heat activated adhesive takes the form of either the whites of eggs or a shellac based adhesive.
First the adhesive is applied and allowed to dry, then the leaf is laid over it. Heated brass tools in the form of lettering or decoration are
then pressed down onto the gold foil or gold leaf. When the surplus gold leaf or gold foil film is removed the letters or decoration are left in
You can of course use imitation gold leaf when gilding leather, it has the advantage of being very cheap and is
good to practice with, though the work has to be sealed with lacquer after gilding.
If there is a secret to success with gilding on leather it lies in understanding and working with the 3 variables involved, they are;
Heat, Pressure & Dwell.
The heat of your tools is fairly critical for success, also how much pressure you apply and how long you stay in contact with the work are
important and can best be learned by good instruction and a little trial and error.
With other leathers such as the type of sheepskin you might encounter when recovering desk tops, I suggest either using gold foil for cheaper
work and 23 carat gold leaf on a paper carrier for best work.
Saddlery leather or briefcase leather is best treated with a shellac/spirit based glaire (adhesive.)
Some materials are called leather just because they are made from reconstituted leather shavings held together with some form of resin, I
suggest using gold foil for this type of material.
As you have seen, the gold leaf techniques for applying the leaf vary according to the leather.
So far we have looked at imitation gold leaf in a craft context, but their are people who are using gold metal
leaf in their work as artists. Take a look at what can be done when imitation gold leaf becomes gold leaf