Numerous methods of working leather have been used, of which a few will be mentioned here. Apart from sewing and riveting used to assemble three-dimensional leather structures, leather has been fastened to rigid foundations using animal glue to cover boxes, coffers, caskets, sword hilts and scabbards or stretched across frames to produce litters, sedan chairs, coaches, wall panels, screens and chairs. Skins were prepared and applied to forms both in a wet and dry state by stitching, riveting or gluing. The marked ability of vegetable tanned leather to conform to a mould when wet and to remain permanently set on drying with moderate heat has been known as cuir bouilli since at least the fourteenth century and exploited for the production of a large variety of domestic and industrial objects. Leather for moulded objects has also been laminated, either alone or with canvas or paper. Decoration of leather has been achieved using lines impressed into the surface with hot metal tools and by modelling, cutting, punching, incising or bruising over a relief in wood, blind stamping and gold tooling. The practice of gilding all over was used for panelling and hangings but although gold leaf was sometimes used it is more common to find silver or tin foil adhered to the surface with shellac or white of egg and covered with yellow varnish (see Figure 3.4 and Figure 11.5). Specialized tools were developed for stretching, cutting, skiving, finishing edges and joining and for creating decorative surfaces on leather (see Scholten, 1989).
Stretched leather was used for seats of chairs and stools in Egypt but its use for fixed uphol-
stery is not definitely known to be older than the mid-seventeenth century (Waterer in Taylor and Singer, 1956). Quilted leather is one of the earliest forms of layered upholstery (see Figure 3.1). Eighteenth century, down-filled cushion cases have been made from alum tawed leather and drum seats from rawhide.
'Spanish' leather was popular all over Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for chair seats and backs, hangings, screens and many other purposes. French, Flemish, Spanish and Dutch leather were embossed using large wooden blocks cut in relief. Embossing was done after gilding but before painting or varnishing. Many seventeenth century examples of rooms panelled with this type of leather survive. Towards the end of the eighteenth century embossed leather was replaced, particularly for screens, by painted leather.
Leather and skins continue to be used in simple upholstery systems such as sling/platform or woven seats, backs or bed bases or as top covers in more complex systems. The materials are used on furniture for functional reasons. For example, a desk top where the
pressure of writing is absorbed by the resilience of the skin, or as the cushioning material on castors, which can be renewed when worn. George Hepplewhite's Cabinet Maker's and Upholsterer's Guide of 1788 recommends leather as a covering for dining room furniture because of its resistance to food smells.
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