As I've said before, Steampunk fashion doesn't have to be expensive or difficult. And, owning/creating unique leather accessories is not as intimidating or as costly as one might have you believe it has to be. You really don't need to spend a fortune on tools and specialty products. With a little black permanent marker, a few products around the house and a few minutes of time, these old boots renewed and transformed.
I found this pair of leather boots at the thrift store awhile back for like $2. I was drawn to the side embellishment that reminded me of the buttons on Victorian spats. But, my new-to-me boots were a bit abused. It looked like a kitten had climbed up one leg and used it for a scratching post. There were tiny scratches all up one side of one boot. They weren't deep, just deep enough to damage the finish, so I gave the boots a chance. (The steps I go though below were to clean and repair, and decorate my used/damaged boots. Some of these steps can be skipped, if you find boots that are in varying condition.)
Leather Cleaning - When I got home the first thing I did was clean the boots with Saddle Soap and replace the insoles. I just happened to have the leather soap around. It's not terribly expensive and can be found at leather and possibly feed stores. This stuff is just a soapy substance with oils in it to prevent the leather from drying out. You can use any other leather or shoe cleaner or even Murphy's Oil Soap. Note though, if you chose Murphy's, you may not want to use it regularly to clean your leather items unless you intend to oils them as well. It may dry out the leather.
Once the boots were clean, I could better see what the damage was. I sanded down the scratches. There were also some small stains and scuffs.
Removing the Finish - I wanted to get the old finish off as best I could, which would also help remove the appearance of stains and other surface damage. Plus, the surface would better accept whatever I decided to do to it (This step is not necessary for permanent markers). The Saddle Soap is great for removing dirt and grime, but I wanted a nice even, non-oily surface to draw on. I did some quick research online and found out that most of what they sell as "dye prep" or "deglazer" is actually just stuff you can get over-the-counter at any discount or grocery store for way less. You can safely use acetone (nail polish remover), non-acetone nail polish remover, lemon juice, rubbing alcohol or even pretty much a mixture of any of these to "deglaze", or prepare, leather for dying or in my case drawing. All these fancy words mean is taking the finish off of the leather to restain or refinish it. (Yes, these chemicals can also remove the oils in the leather, so use sparingly and with caution.) After stripping the leather, you'll want to wipe off any residue with a damp cloth. You'll know the stripper is working if water penetrates the leather quickly. I wiped my boots off thoroughly and let completely dry.
Permanent Markers - After the boots were dry, I colored the black portions with a fat tipped black Sharpie marker and let it dry. I've also used fabric dye, water colors, acrylic paint, etc... to decorate leather. But, markers are another inexpensive and less messy way to add color and interest to plain objects. It may take a few markers to cover large areas. And, you may need to go over them a couple times, preferably in different directions to avoid streaks and stroke marks. You can also use finer tipped markers to get in tight spaces. (Beware that black markers can vary in color slightly, even within the same brand. Test your markers before using on your project.)
Conditioners and Sealers - The last step I chose was mink oil. Again, I conveniently had this around. You can use any other finish or sealer for leather or shoes. Just be mindful not to smear the marker with your choice of sealer. The mink oil didn't seem to affect the marker in any way. It's always best to test it out in an inconspicuous place first. You can also seal with acrylic sealer from the craft store, but I didn't want my boots, being used and older, to crack at the ankle. Eventually, I may recolor and seal with acrylic, as well. But, the good news is, since I used a marker to decorate these boots, I can use the marker to touch them up if they gets scuffed or worn off, too.
So, now I have a unique pair of boots to wear with my steampunk outfits that cost me less than $10 including the supplies! Hope this will inspire you to see the potential in plain ordinary items. Until my next post, be crafty!