Homeland Craft: Veterans Turn To Art Therapy

By: Stephanie Bates from Military Travel Mama

Recreational therapy incorporating artistic designs can be very effective, here’s a site which goes into greater depth. To summarize, as it turns out, the designs of the mind can sometimes be “abstruse” or “oblique”, especially among those who focus on overcoming emotion with willpower, like military men, what lurks beneath the surface, can be hard to draw out.

Arts and crafts sort of sidestep direct conscious thought, allowing the subconscious to exorcise ideas otherwise kept hidden. Sometimes repression has deliberately pushed memories into the ether of the past. Sometimes certain memories play themselves on repeat in the mind of the veteran, and an art or craft can get the record out of the “loop”.

All these things being said, the kind of arts and crafts veterans will be drawn to may be somewhat counterintuitive to most therapists. While some adults may be perfectly content designing sculptures with clay, painting, or embroidering something, veterans may need a little additional stimulation. Perhaps their means of artistic expression involves metal work.

Maybe an enterprising officer prefers to make short films, take astonishing still photography, or write songs. Many veterans find themselves interested in projects which have an artistic nature not immediately apparent, like rebuilding a car or fixing up an old machine. Oftentimes sculpture that takes skill and responsibility for proper handling of dangerous equipment can be a good choice, like that involved in shaping metal coins.

Designing Challenge Coins

Starting hobbies for veterans is important because they open up so many opportunities for them to network and find new passions in life. There are many stories of such companies, that were started by veterans after finding their passion after coming back from deployment. One such story is Embleholics, and they even help inspire and motivate veterans toward therapeutic artistic creation.

Challenge coins can be customized easily, and you could make the craft about designing your own challenge coins. Veterans are no stranger to the kind of work which may produce a filigreed piece of metal for a special occasion, and they may even enjoy the task.

You might buy challenge coins as an example, and from there let the veterans put existing skills to work.

Realistic Considerations

The truth is, one-on-one therapy with the best counselors may yield nothing, depending on the individual. Especially with those who have seen combat, there exists a disconnect. They’ve been in “the trenches”, as it were. They’ve had to end a person’s life with their bare hands and face the utter horror of human ability—positive and negative. It’s not like in film and movies.

Between lost comrades and necessary duties, there are many stresses which come into the mind of a soldier, and at any level in the military. An officer must sometimes send men to their deaths and know he’s doing so in the act.

It doesn’t matter how mentally fit a person is, that’s something that will weigh on the soul, and which isn’t likely to be talked about in casual or therapeutic conversation. Still, designing a challenge coin commemorating a unit, or taking still photography, or making metal sculptures can let the mind release the painful memories through art.

Art Therapy

Artwork is therapeutic to those who make creation of such things their life’s purpose. Those who aren’t trying to make any statements can likewise find cathartic release, and sometimes may even find what they’ve produced resonates with the public.

Whether you’re working at the VA and looking for activities to stimulate veterans, or you’re working with someone in your family who has seen active duty, getting veterans involved with arts and crafts can have some positive collateral benefits worth considering.

Bio: Stephanie is the founder of Military Travel Mama; she is the wife of a military professional and mother to two children. Follow her blog for more about military life, military discounts, family trips, healthy eating, and parenthood.

In addition to more traditional arts and crafts, leatherworking is another creative outlet for veterans considering art therapy. Weaver Leathercraft offers a wide range of supplies perfect for both novice and advanced leather crafters. As a heartfelt thank you, Weaver Leathercraft is honored to offer a 5% discount to retail customers who have served or are currently serving in the United States military.

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As a manufacturer with 45 years of experience handcrafting quality leather goods, we’ve learned a thing a two along the way about the importance of having the right supplies for the job. When you purchase leather and supplies from Weaver Leather, you can be confident in knowing that they were hand-picked by our team of experts for the ultimate in performance and quality.


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Our team knows the right hardware can make all the difference in the beauty and function of your end product. Our team works closely with our suppliers to bring you hardware that meets our strict specifications and quality requirements. If you look closely at our hardware items, you’ll notice that our dimensions are oftentimes thicker than others you’ll find on the market.


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Swivel Knife Tips for the Beginning Leatherworker

By Jim Linnell, Elktracks Studio

Something I wish someone had shown me when first starting out is how to properly use the swivel knife. Learning how to work this tool is hard enough, but learning how to use it if were dull and not working right makes it even harder.

One of the first things you need to do is learn how to get it sharp and keep it sharp. Keep it polished up so that when you’re working, it’s not dragging in the leather and making it more difficult to control than what it would be.  Leather is tanned with a variety of oils and minerals, which can cause a build up on the knife and create friction when trying to pull the swivel knife through the leather. By stropping the knife regularly with jeweler’s rouge, you are polishing the blade to keep it working smoothly.

The next thing to note is that this is a fingertip-controlled tool. When you’re holding this tool, what I show folks initially in a beginner’s class is how to grab it, you hold it with just your fingertips. You place your forefinger into the yoke up to about the first knuckle and your thumb is on one side. Your other fingers are on the opposite side and I have my ring finger resting on the side of the blade here. That’s pretty much the grip.

Then I let the side of my hand here rest of the table or on the leather so that I get good balance with it. You make the cuts by sticking just the corner of the blade into the leather and drawing the knife towards you, making the cuts. It gets its name, swivel knife because the body of the knife turns. That’s what aids you in doing nice, smooth, curving cuts. When you’re doing these swivel cuts, you do all of the rotating with your fingers that are along the side of the knife and then you do all the pushing down with that yoke, with the forefinger that’s in the yoke up there.

That’s the basic grip and that will be something that you’ll have to practice with because you probably don’t use any other knife in that kind of a fashion. As you’re cutting, you want to try to follow the lines that you’ve sketched on the leather as closely as you can. You want to put enough pressure on the yolk so that you get good depth in your cuts. I usually try to get the cuts to go maybe 1/3 to 1/2 the thickness of the leather. That usually gets you a maximum amount of depth out of a piece of leather when you’re doing the other stamping steps. It gets the design to really stand out.

You need to always keep your leather turned so you can see what you’re doing. If you watch any of my videos, you’ll see that I rotating the leather frequently so I can get a good look at what’s I’m doing. Learning how to get good, clean cuts and learning how to do them accurately, is an important thing.

What’s even more important than that is you gotta do it. You have to do a lot of practicing.

I wish somebody had told me that early on, too. I’ve practiced a lot over the years but if I’d had put some time and effort into practicing how to really use this tool properly, it sure would have made a lot of that a lot easier. It would have made my projects better.  It would have saved me a lot of frustration if I had just practiced more regularly on some scrap leather.  Early leather instructors such as Lou Roth and Jim Gick would have their students practice just swivel knife control up to 30 minutes a day.  After 50 years of practice, I understand why they started their students that way.

You just have to be willing to take some time, take some scrap, and learn how to use your tools. Learn how to make them do what they’re supposed to do. If they’re not, then work at it until you can make them cut the way they’re supposed to, but the hand holding the swivel knife makes much more of a difference than the quality of the tool itself. You just have to spend time practicing.

Born and raised on a ranch in eastern Montana, Jim Linnell has had leatherworking in his blood ever since his first visit to the Miles City Saddlery. The sounds and smells of those visits are some of the most vivid memories he has of that early introduction to the leatherworking world. Now, after spending the last 47 years working with leather, those sounds and smells are still a part of his life. Jim has conducted classes or workshops on leatherworking in 42 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. He has also taught in Canada, England, Norway, France, Spain and Puerto Rico. Jim’s leather art has been featured on magazine covers, catalog covers, in galleries and at countless shows. In the leatherworking world, he has received some of the most prestigious of their awards. The Al Stohlman Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Master Leather Artisan award from the Academy of Western Artists are some of the better known.


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How to Wet Leather

By Jim Linnell

Something I get asked often is “What are some of the important things that someone should know when they first get started in leatherworking?”

One of the first and most important things that I wish someone had shown me was the proper moisture content in a piece of leather. Having it properly dampened, having just the right amount of moisture in a piece of leather, determines how well your tools react. It determines how much color and the burnish you get out of your leather. Getting the right amount of moisture in it is critically important. In leatherworking, we refer to the dampening process as casing the leather.

When I case my leather, I use just regular water with a sponge.  You want to avoid kitchen sponges because often they have soap added to them when they are manufactured, but other than that, really any sponge will do.

What I try to do when I first initially wet down a piece of leather is dampen it so that the moisture gets maybe halfway through that piece of leather.

It is important that you don’t start working with it right away. When you let the leather start to return to its original color, that’s usually when it will work the best. Then you’re ready to start cutting in your design. I usually only apply moisture to the grain (smooth) side of a piece of veg tanned leather. Applying moisture to both sides often results in your leather being too wet.

Leather that is too wet will take cuts and impressions easy enough, but cuts will want to close up and stamp impressions will not be crisp. Leather that is too wet will usually not give you that rich burnish in the impressions. The result is a design that lacks crispness and detail.

Leather that is too dry will be difficult to cut and cuts will not open up nicely. Your swivel knife will feel like it is dragging rather than gliding smoothly through the leather. Impressions will take a lot of force to get any depth and while they may have a little burnish, they will not have the rich color that they should. As you do more leather carving, you will learn to recognize these signs and learn how to keep your leather at that perfect moisture content that gives great results.

Another common question is “How do I know when I need to re-wet my leather?” Generally, I let the leather tell me since everything from humidity to elevation can impact the rate at which the leather dries out. Some people have different theories or techniques for figuring out if the leather needs to be re-moistened, however, I’ve found what works best for me is to look to see if the cuts are opening up like I want them to and if my tools are getting a good burnish. If not, the leather may either be too moist or too dry. This is something that you’ll get better at determining the more and more you work with leather.

To learn more, watch the video below: “Leathercraft Tips for Beginners with Jim Linnell”.