About two years ago, we wrote a blog on the subject of creating the next generation of leather crafters. In just 24 months, the industry has experience a significant growth in the number of teaching methods accessible in saddlestiching (the practice of using no machines in sewing leather). Without fail, whenever Beau Satchelle displays leather goods during public events, admirers are astounded at the preciseness and detail of the stitching all done by hand. Then, to be educated on the commitment and duration of training it takes to learn this century’s old craft is mind-boggling for novices. To become an exceptional leather artisan involves zen-like patience, thousands of hours of practice, intense attention to detail and a hunger for perfection.
Connoisseurs or owners of a bespoke luxury product appreciate the quality and craftsmanship that it takes to build products out of cow leather and exotics skins. An artisan trained in saddlestitiching can choose to specialize in one product category or cover a number of similar items depending on their talent and skill level.
Leather is incorporated in many items that are obvious or not so obvious which tends to elevate the value of the product made including:
- Travel bags
- Clothing and footwear
- Fashion accessories (Jewelry, watchbands, belts, gloves)
- Small leather goods such as wallets, valet trays, gun holsters, dog leashes
- Home design and furniture accessories
- Automobiles and Yacht interiors
- Sports accessories
- Book Covers
A student will learn many elements and nuances in the process of creating a leather product: understanding the differences in hides and the tanning processes; the ability to take an idea and begin with a design on paper; creating templates for the initial model; followed by cutting and preparing every piece; selecting the finishing hardware; and meanwhile becoming accomplished at utilizing diverse hand instruments needed for the cutting, sewing, edging and burnishing processes. Some artisans will adopt other techniques to expand their skills which may include dyeing, painting images, carving, and molding/shaping.
At one point in the 19th century, the advent of the industrial revolution, technological advancements in manufacturing, and generations of older artisans not being replaced with up and coming new talent, was responsible for the art of leather crafting gasping for life. In the 20th century, parents of leather craft shops tended to guide their children into the business or marketing side of the luxury business as oppose to the centuries old profession of working with their hands. For many of the larger fashion houses and leather brands who needed technical talent to design and produce, it became somewhat of a crisis to find highly skilled and gifted artisans.
In attempt to put the brakes on a downward spiral of dying talent, European brands such as Bottega Vanetta in Italy, Berluti in Paris, France, and Loewe in Madrid, Spain have devised their own rescue plan in the form of in-house company-run schools. These technical schools were able to advance and graduate trained craftspersons who either would eventually stay under the company’s roof or perhaps, strike out on their own for other opportunities. Some schools have been known to actually sponsor students or even pay for a student’s room and board to grab the best and brightest in the industry.
With regards to the growth of leather artisans in the United States, Europe maintains its position in the high-end luxury market, yet there are smaller U.S. leather brands who have emerged as contenders. In the U.S., formal school training is still not as plentiful as in Europe, however, there is a steady growth of Fashion Institutes and a few colleges that offer courses and degrees and several leather schools across the country that provide training in specific styles ranging from western goods to luxury handbags.
Of course, students of the trade now have access to online video training at companies who are in the business of selling leather to consumers such as Tandy Leather (who also offers in-store workshops) or Fine Leatherworking (which schedules Master Artisans to teach specific leather product workshops throughout the country).
There are sewing courses that can be found in Chicago, Texas, Oregon and other west and east coast states local leather shops or community college campuses. One school offering high end leather training is Amblard Leather Atelier in San Francisco which runs a 1 year program to learn luxury leatherworking. The school was developed by an Hermes trained Master Artisan, Beatrice Amblard who has over 30 years of luxury leather crafting experience. For students of the craft who desire to excel, it may come to creating your own apprenticeship with a willing Master Artisan in your locale (if you are fortunate) or internationally.
There are also several exceptional bespoke leather artisans who have created online Youtube videos or subscription services courses from A-Z in learning the trade that include LeatherCraft Masterclass , Armitage Leather , and Peter Nitz.
Needless to say, the art of luxury leather craftmanship has regained its position among artisans as a viable profession, either as a solo entrepreneur or being hired into a brand such as Shinola or other leather accessory designers. Just perusing Etsy or similar type website will confirm an impressive number of beautifully hand sewn leather products as artists re-embrace the traditions of saddle-stitching. -AJ
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