A series of crafty articles written by Stained Glass Artist Amy Orangejuice
Leather has been a valuable material since the days of the caveman and even in our modern age of synthetic fabrics nothing is as flexible and hard wearing as leather; always fancied making your own bag or purse? Then read on, for inspiration and good tips for learning how to work with leather.
Leather work always appears a highly skilled craft which would take a long time to learn and Artisan Leather has taken a traditional route to learn her craft, ” I was a pony-mad kid who also loved making things, so I decided to combine these interests and train as a saddler. I did a traditional apprenticeship straight out of school, and worked in the saddlery trade for years, making and mending horse tack…Eventually I felt the need for more colour in my work (horse tack is usually black or brown!) and the freedom to create my own designs, so I studied Art & Design as a mature student, and Artisan Leather was born!”
Cosybag has no formal training, which has lead to a more experimental approach to leather work, “I’m a self-taught sewer and used leather almost immediately. It’s very tactile, strong, versatile and not as tricky to work with as you’d think. I use a sturdy domestic electric machine but started out on a 100-year-old hand-operated Singer, which I still use. As with most materials, it’s a case of trial and error and finding methods that suit your way of working. Since I started doing patchwork and quilting I’ve applied the method of cutting to my leather work – so I’ve swapped the scalpel and metal ruler for a rotary cutter and quilting ruler, which I find more comfortable”.
Artisan Leather is clearly very inspired by making personal items for people to cherish, “I most enjoy making my hand stitched leather notebooks: Not only are they pleasing to create, but they often become a very special keepsake to their owners, especially when given as a gift. My customers have bought them as a journal for gap year travels, for writing poems, and even for collecting old family recipes to pass down the generations. It’s this personal angle that makes them so rewarding to make”.
Cosybag is inspired by vintage fabrics and patterns and incorporates these into her work, “I hate throwing away any leather scraps so that influences my designs with lots of stripes and squares, and I’ve just finished a range of purses inspired by patchwork blocks” and she doesnt find leather as hard to work with as it may seem, “..For straightforward purses and straight bags I just measure and cut, and for bags with curved edges I use patterns, which I either tape to the leather with masking tape or just hold and draw round. I’ve never been on a course so not entirely sure if I’m doing it right, but I’ve picked up tips and advice from other leather sewers and I go with what works for me”.
So where do you go if you want to learn yourself?
Artisan Leather has shared some useful resources, “Most people come into the leather trade via saddlery or bagmaking. Some art & fashion colleges run leatherwork courses. (London college of Fashion does fantastic evening classes too!) Some leatherworkers run intensive weekend courses – Valerie Michael in Gloucestershire is very talented, and she’s also published a really good book, with lots of photos and clear step-by-step instructions. www.leatherworkcourses.co.uk”
So get on the internet and see if there is a course near you! or if you are in Devon then you can visit Artisan Leather at the fabulous Cockington Court near Torquay, where she has a workshop, for more information go to www.artisanleather.co.uk
Artisan Leather has a range of supplies for sale in her shop, or recommends Le Prevo for a wide range of leather and fittings.
More about our columnist
Take a look at some of the other fascinating handcrafts that Amy has tackled in her Inspiring Creativity series.
Thanks for reading, we look forward to hearing your comments.