Leather Impressions: In Search of My Perfect Hair Barrette

barrettes how its made leather


As a life-long maker, artist, and designer, it was a real surprise to me when I learned what an amazingly versatile material leather is to work with. But before leather, there was clay. For me anyhow. 

If you’ve ever worked with clay, you may be familiar with the term “leather hard” and there’s a reason for this!


Before it is dyed and sealed, raw vegetable tanned leather acts a lot like leather-hard clay, taking stamps, and impressions of various found objects.

I discovered this while trying to make myself the perfect hair barrette. I love the simplicity of putting my hair up in them. Elastics just don’t work all that well for me, I just can’t get the hair to sit the way I like it in front. But I get annoyed by finding cute or pretty barrettes at craft fairs or even at Target just that don’t seem like they were designed to hold my full head of hair. Some pinch some were put together with hot glue and fall apart after a few uses, and some just don’t hold. I wanted a barrette that would hold all of MY hair, and I wanted it to look pretty. 

I was actually seeking a material that I could either print or laser engrave digital images on. I definitely didn’t want it to be plastic; ceramics were just too heavy and fragile. I was looking for other ideas. So one Saturday morning, I started to experiment with an old leather strap leftover from one of my husband’s projects, some stray hardware from a 70s stereo that my son had recently taken apart, various glues, and some barrette clips I had ordered a few years earlier to experiment with. Once I got it to hold together, I tried decorating it with some silver printing ink. It was definitely not the perfect barrette, but I could see potential. And my obsession was born! 

I quickly found my local Tandy Leather store and paid them my first visit. I spent a lot of time asking their staff questions, and attended a couple of their free workshops, which are a really amazing offering. The staff at my store is really is so knowledgeable and helpful! I would not have made it far down this path without them. 

The most amazing discovery was that wet vegetable tanned / undyed natural leather can be “tooled” to create embossed patterns. And once dyed and sealed, the patterns remain in place. I loved the concept but wanted to figure out how to do it my own way and have continued experimenting since then.

I started embossing with trials in my pasta maker, which had potential but the leather I wanted to work with was just too thick, before moving on to an upright vice.

I tried to make a press out of marble cut-offs from my local countertop supplier. But eventually my husband convinced me to purchase a hand press that was actually designed for cutting and embossing. It took a bit to fine-tune the set up, but now that we’re there, it is amazing! I can now get very predictable results, which means I can focus more on design rather than technique. 


As a long-time plant nerd, and plant photographer, I was absolutely amazed to discover that many of the plants growing outside my back door could be embossed into this wet leather, leaving their lasting plant impressions, and I feel in love with the result. Not all leaves work well, and some leaves are only available for a short time each year. And not all my designs come from leaves. Found objects can also yield beautiful textures. 


I now have a box of barrettes that hold my hair perfectly in a twist or ponytail. I have sent hundreds (so far) around the world to customers, many of whom also say they are the most functional barrette they own; and others simply comment on the designs. Feel free to take a look

So I still get to keep experimenting, and each new discovery continues to bring me joy. I’d love to hear ideas from you on what to try next!

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