A long time ago (and not so long ago) I worked leather. I mainly made belts back then, but I also made buckles, and that was a lot more fun that belts. For buckles I used my wire-bending talents from the military to shape lengths of wire hangers into support frames, and designed it so that one end of the wire became the hook. I look back on those days and feel that I was pretty clever about it. Between long and no-so-long ago, I made belts for my grandkids. And more recently I made fobs for keychains. My father tooled leather, much longer ago, and that’s why I was interested in that skill of hobby. I was and still am fascinated by the methods of turning a length of blank leather into artwork. I have many, but not all, of the tools, from knives and skivers to stamps and punches to daubers and stains. But I have never had to repair leather until now, when my grandson, Rye, found that the wrist strap of his favorite catcher’s mitt had torn at the heal of his hand. A $500 glove is made useless from the ill-designed stitching in an area that is prone to tensile stress. Here in this future, I’m sure it was deliberately made that way. Without hesitation, I told him I could fix it. I didn’t know if I could, but I’m Papa, and from what I read on one of my gift mugs, I can do anything.
So be it.
But I had to order a leather sewing kit, and leather glue. The glue smelled to me like the concoction I made in the early 80’s out of Elmer’s wood glue and liquid latex. It dried durable but flexible, and I used it to attach various designs of tooled leather to metal, wood, canvas, felt, and leather backgrounds. The artworks I made were highly decorated family crests, and all the bits and pieces are still in place after forty years. So I was happy about the glue.
The kit came with several long spools of thread, all of different colors, mainly the tans and browns of autumn. About half were round thread, but thicker than the kind you use on a sewing machine. The other half were waxed, flat and wide. The ones I used, both, were of high quality as far as I could tell. But everything made of metal was crap! The awl, which is similar to an icepick, was blunted, the point of it looking like a very tiny nail head. I had to dig out my Dremel and use the rubber wheel to sharpen it. But the metal is so soft that the awl kept getting shorter as I tried to rotate the tip against it. Finally I got it right when I lowered the speed and quickly turned the tip left and right. Naturally, when it was perfectly sharp, the first thing I did was stick my thumb. I watched part of an episode of Smallville while pressing a tissue against the wound and holding my hand in the air. After two commercial breaks it stopped bleeding, so I got back to work. But to prevent that from happening again, I got a small strip of wood and a short length of belt leather from my hobby box, and used those against the opposite side of the glove when pressing the awl through. But the straight and curved needles were brittle. Even after poking starter holes with the awl, the wide eyes of two curved needles broke off inside the leather as I was pulling them through. Had to dig them out with small needle nose pliers. A third one snaped in half as I was pushing through a hole for a double stitch. Annoyed, I read the info on the box the kit came in and discovered it was made in China. So, they make excellent thread but lousy needles and awls. Why?
I trimmed a piece of thin leather I found in my box to cover the tear, hand-sewed it in place, inside and out, and dyed it to match as close as possible the original colors. Then I cleaned and buffed the entire glove with saddle soap. The tin it’s in doesn’t list the ingredients, so I looked it up. There are many different formulas, but here’s what I found as a recipe for making your own: 3 parts soap, 7 parts water, 2 parts beeswax, and 1part neatsfoot. It didn’t specify what kind of soap, bar or liquid, scented or not. And neatsfoot reminds me of the product Pretty Feet and Hands, which I’m sure you shouldn’t use on the dead skin of leather. I looked up neatsfoot, and it’s a yellow oil made from the shinbones and feet of cows. The word “neat” comes from an Old English word for cattle.
I don’t know if Rye will actually use that glove again. Baseball players are very superstitious, you know, and a patch on his first favorite will probably jinx it. Plus, he’s been breaking in a new glove, shaping it with a mallet that looks like a miniature bat, and wrapping it in some kind of tight elastic with a ball inside, and from his actually using it during games. But the old one is there if he needs it. I am honored to help.