Basic Steps of Tang Grass Pattern Leather Carving

Written by: xiao dong sheng



Time to read 10 min

Carving is the foundation of decorative techniques in leather art, but it is also the ultimate skill in leather art. It mainly requires the maker to repeatedly practice and operate the tools proficiently in order to carve extremely exquisite patterns. The carved patterns look very complex, but as long as you learn the basic methods of using rotary knives and printing tools, practice makes perfect. Taking the most basic Tang grass pattern as an example, the specific steps are as follows

Here we have 6 steps:

1. Material selection

2. Line draft

3. Cutting line

4. Printing flowers

5. Carving decorative lines

6. Staining

Material selection

Selecting a suitable piece of leather for carving, especially intricate designs like Tang grass flowers, involves considering several important factors to ensure the leather is of the right quality and type for such detailed work. Here's what you should look for:

1.Type of Leather 

For carving, vegetable-tanned leather is generally the best choice. This type of leather is treated with natural tannins found in certain plant species, which makes it strong and durable, yet pliable enough to carve detailed designs like Tang grass flowers. It also accepts and holds tool impressions well.

2.Thickness of Leather

The thickness of the leather is crucial and depends on the project. For most carving projects, a thickness of about 3.2 mm (8 oz) is common, but this can vary based on the specific requirements of your project. Thinner leather might be easier to carve but won't hold as deep impressions or be as durable, whereas thicker leather can be more challenging to carve but will result in more pronounced carvings.

3.Smooth and Uniform Surface

Look for leather with a smooth, uniform surface free of scars, holes, or other imperfections. Any imperfections in the leather can interfere with the carving process and affect the final appearance of your design. A clean, smooth surface is particularly important for detailed work like Tang grass flowers.

4.Consistency in Color and Texture

 While this may not affect the carving ability per se, for aesthetic reasons, it's important to choose leather with consistent color and texture, especially if you plan to leave it natural or apply a light finish. Inconsistencies can distract from the carved design.

5.Moisture Content

Leather with the right moisture content is easier to carve. Leather that's too dry may be brittle and resist tooling, while leather that's too wet may not hold the carved designs well. Before carving, you might need to condition the leather slightly by applying water to make it more pliable.

6.Flexibility and Resistance

Good carving leather should have a balance between flexibility and resistance. It should be soft enough to carve easily but resistant enough to retain the carved shapes without warping or distorting.

When choosing leather for carving Tang grass flowers or any intricate design, it's also helpful to buy from reputable suppliers who can provide details about the source and treatment of their leather. This can ensure you get a high-quality material suitable for your carving projects.

Choose vegetable tanned leather materials of appropriate size, with the leather surface as smooth, without residue, and few lines as possible. Before carving, use a sponge to wipe or spray water on the front of the leather to moisten it. The degree of moisture should be suitable when water is about to infiltrate the back of the leather, and the moisture should not be too much or too little. If the leather is too dry, it will be difficult to cut; If it is too wet, the leather surface is too soft and the cutting marks are easily too deep.

Choose the right leather

Line draft

Drawing Tang Cao (Tang grass) flower and grass drafts on leather requires a delicate balance between precision and artistic expression, especially since this style is known for its flowing, intricate designs. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you transfer your designs onto leather with a pencil:

1.Prepare the Leather

  • Clean the Surface : Ensure the leather is clean and dry. Use a soft cloth to remove any dust or debris.
  • Condition the Leather : If the leather is too dry, lightly dampen it with a sponge or spray bottle. The leather should be just moist enough to take pencil marks easily without being wet.

2.Choose the Right Pencil

  • Soft Lead Pencil : A pencil with a soft lead (B or 2B) is ideal because it marks the leather without excessive pressure, which could damage or indent the surface unnecessarily.

3.Sketch Your Design

  • Practice on Paper : Before drawing on the leather, practice your Tang Cao designs on paper. This style often involves fluid, organic shapes, so getting comfortable with the motions is beneficial.
  • Transfer the Design : You can freehand your design directly onto the leather or, for more complex designs, sketch it on tracing paper first. Then, place the tracing paper on the leather and retrace the design, transferring the pencil marks onto the leather surface.

4.Drawing on Leather

  • Gentle Strokes : Use gentle, confident strokes to draw your design. If you're unsure about a line, it's better to sketch it lightly first and then go over it again to darken it once you're satisfied.
  • Keep It Light : While you want your lines to be visible, don’t press too hard with the pencil to avoid deep indentations that might interfere with the carving process later.
  • Adjust as Needed : Leather is more forgiving than paper in some ways. If you make a mistake, you can lightly dab the area with a damp cloth to lighten or remove the pencil mark, though do this sparingly to avoid damaging the leather.

5.Finalizing the Draft

  • Review Your Design : Once your Tang Cao design is on the leather, step back and review it. Make sure the composition is balanced and the details are as you want them. Adjust any lines or add details as necessary.
  • Secure Loose Edges : If you’re working with a piece of leather that isn't perfectly flat, secure the edges down with masking tape to prevent it from moving as you draw.

6.Ready for Carving or Tooling

  • After your draft is complete and you’re satisfied with the design, you can proceed with carving or tooling the leather, following the lines you’ve drawn.

Remember, the beauty of Tang Cao designs lies in their flowing, organic nature. Don’t worry if your lines aren’t perfectly symmetrical or if some details evolve as you work. Part of the charm of hand-drawn designs is the uniqueness and personality they bring to your leather crafting projects.

Use a round headed iron pen to print the patterns previously drawn on sulfuric acid paper onto moist leather. At this time, be sure to use the pen firmly and firmly, do not repeat the printing, and do not leave any lines. The patterns can be completed one by one in a regular manner from top to bottom, left to right, or one by one. Try to prevent any missed prints.

Line drawing draft

Line drawing draft

Cutting line

Use a rotary knife to draw contour lines that match the pattern marks printed on the leather. Stand the rotary carving knife vertically at an angle of about 45 °, then place the index finger's fingertips on the concave part of the handle of the rotary carving knife, and naturally support the grip part of the rotary carving knife with the thumb, middle finger, and ring finger. Cut into the leather at a depth of 1/3 to 1/2, and cut the lines inward, preferably all at once. When carving curves, the left hand needs to rotate the leather as needed to match the curvature of the right hand's rotation of the carving knife in order to create the desired curve. When drawing the cutting line, the hand should be stable and the force should be even. The thumb, middle finger, and ring finger should work together to make the handle drive the blade to rotate. More practice is needed to present a perfect and smooth cutting line .

Printing flowers

Use printing tools to strike the basic contours and shadows on the carved knife line pattern. Different printing tools can print different patterns, making the leather appear uneven and artistic. Printing tools can be divided into edge printing tools and decorative printing tools.

Carving decorative lines

Using a rotary carving knife to carve decorative lines and further embellish the leather carving work, making the picture rich and vivid.So after you've successfully transferred and carved your Tang Cao patterns onto leather, adding some basic decoration before dyeing can significantly enhance the final appearance of your project. This decoration phase includes adding background texture, beveling around the designs to make them pop, and possibly applying other decorative techniques to bring depth and interest to your work. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to proceed:

1. Beveling

  • Choose the Right Beveler : Select a beveler tool that fits the size of your lines and curves. The beveler's purpose is to compress the leather around the edges of your carved patterns, making the designs stand out.
  • Bevel Along the Lines : Gently tap the beveler with a mallet along the edges of your carved patterns. Work slowly and steadily, ensuring the beveler is always facing the right direction to create a smooth transition. This step creates a three-dimensional effect, making the patterns more pronounced.

2. Adding Background Texture

  • Select a Background Tool : Choose a background stamp or tool that complements your Tang Cao designs. There are many textures available, so select one that fits the aesthetic you're aiming for.
  • Moisten the Leather : If the leather has dried out, lightly re-moisten it to ensure the background texture stamps cleanly and evenly.
  • Apply the Texture : Using a mallet, stamp the background area around your designs. Work systematically to ensure an even application. Be careful not to overlap the textured areas in a way that creates a visible pattern, unless that's part of your design intention.

3. Smoothing and Burnishing Edges

  • Smooth the Edges : If your project includes edges that will be visible and handled, such as on a wallet or belt, take the time to smooth and burnish these. You can use an edge beveler to round the edges and then burnish them with a wood slicker and some water or gum tragacanth for a polished look.

4. Applying a Resist (Optional)

  • Why Use a Resist? : A resist can help protect certain areas of the leather from taking dye, allowing you to create contrast or highlight specific parts of your design.
  • Apply the Resist : Use a sponge or brush to apply the resist to areas you want to keep lighter or protect from the dye. Make sure the resist is evenly applied and fully dry before moving on to dyeing.

Decorative Line Draft

Decorative Line Draft


The carved leather carving work is in its original color, and is colored with alcohol dyes, salt based dyes, acrylic pigments, oily dyes, etc. When coloring, the process starts from light to dark, and each dye has its own characteristics and effects. Different coloring steps should be adopted according to different needs.

1.Dyeing Process

  1. Preparation : Ensure your leather piece is clean and free of dust, oils, or residues. If necessary, lightly dampen the leather to help it absorb the dye evenly.

  2. Choosing Your Dye : Select an appropriate leather dye for your project. Alcohol-based dyes offer deep, vibrant colors and quick drying times, while water-based dyes are easier to clean up and may be less toxic.

  3. Applying the Dye :

    • Use a wool dauber, sponge, or soft cloth to apply the dye to the leather.
    • Apply in circular motions to promote even coverage, working the dye into all carved and textured areas.
    • For more intricate designs like Tang Cao Hua, you may need to use a small brush to access tight spaces.
    • It's often best to start with a lighter coat and gradually build up to the desired intensity. Multiple thin coats are preferable to a single thick coat.
  4. Drying : Allow the dye to dry thoroughly. Drying times can vary based on the type of dye used and environmental conditions. Refer to the dye manufacturer’s instructions for guidance.

  5. Re-Dyeing (If Necessary) : If the color isn't as deep or even as you'd like, apply additional coats of dye, allowing for complete drying between applications.

2.Subsequent Steps

After dyeing your leather piece, the following steps will help seal, protect, and enhance the beauty of your Tang Cao Hua designs:

  1. Conditioning :

    • Leather can become somewhat dry after dyeing. Apply a leather conditioner to nourish the leather, restore its suppleness, and ensure it doesn’t crack over time.
    • Use a clean cloth to apply the conditioner in a thin, even layer, then let it absorb and dry according to the product's instructions.
  2. Applying a Finisher :

    • A finisher protects the dyed leather and can add a matte or glossy look, depending on your preference.
    • Choose from options like acrylic resolene, wax, or other specialized leather finish products.
    • Apply the finisher in thin, even layers, allowing each layer to dry thoroughly. This step also helps to seal in the dye and protect the leather from moisture and wear.
  3. Buffing :

    • After the finisher has dried, buff the surface with a soft cloth to enhance the shine and smoothness of the finish.
  4. Edge Finishing :

    • Clean and smooth the edges of your leather piece with sandpaper or an edge beveler.
    • Apply edge dye if desired, then burnish the edges with a wood slicker, applying gum tragacanth or water to achieve a smooth, polished look.
  5. Final Inspection and Touch-Ups :

    • Inspect your finished piece for any missed spots or imperfections in dye, finish, or conditioning.
    • Apply touch-ups as needed, taking care to blend any new applications with the existing finish.

Dyeing thread draft

Dyeing thread draft

By following these detailed steps for dyeing and finishing, your Tang Cao Hua leather handicraft will not only be visually striking but also durable and well-protected for years to come. Each step, from preparation to final inspection, contributes to the quality and beauty of the finished piece, making it a true work of art.