I love learning new things. I relish nothing more than sitting down and taking the time to learn a new skill; be it dip pen and ink illustration, crochet, or even using an app to learn Welsh (dych chi eisiau mynd i’r dafarn?), it seems my brain is in constant need for some brand new information from time to time.
I’d been following Leather Needle Thread for a time on their beautiful Instagram account, and took the opportunity one sunny Friday morning to pop up to Cox & Baloney on the Cheltenham Road to satiate my brain’s nagging cravings for information and teach myself a new skill – making my own leather handbag in Leather Needle Thread’s ‘stitchless’ leathergoods workshop.
Run by the lovely Esther, Leather Needle Thread specialise in leathermaking workshops in the Bristol area. Having studied bag design at the London College of Fashion, Esther has been working for 9 years creating her own pieces, and now brings her skills to teach others to make their own unique, wearable creations. Take a look at Leather Needle Thread’s website for upcoming workshops – from full-day intensive courses at the LNT studio in Redland to half-day workshops, there is something for everyone.
Settled into the cavernous underbelly of the Cox & Baloney basement, myself and the three other lovely ladies on this particular workshop got about choosing which leather we would craft our bags from, and which shape we wanted them to take. Esther has a few templates to choose for the stitchless leathergoods workshop, but we all opted for the same; a versatile, long oblong shape with a flap-over top, fastened by a beautiful little metal toggle. Perfectly practical for everyday wear.
I wanted this to be a bag I could use every day, and to go with everything in my wardrobe, so I stuck to inky black sturdy saddle leather to craft my bag from. Again, there were lots to choose from, with a beautiful pale mushroom grey coming a very close second choice.
Armed with a copy of the pattern and a ginormous bit of beautifully dyed cow-hide, the first step was to cut out the basic template of my bag. Being ever-so-slightly uncoordinated this was easier said than done, but a few wonky corners later and voila! The first step was complete. Of course, Esther was on hand to give us all tips and pointers of how best to go about doing it, but already I loved how hands-on this course was; I have been to ‘craft’ workshops in the past where all the hard (fun) work has been done for you, and all you end up paying for is sticking a few bits together. Little did I know that Leather Needle Thread workshops are all about getting stuck in, and the best was yet to come!
Being a stitchless leathergoods workshop, the patterns were worked in one piece to be threaded together by a long strip of leather at the end. The bag took its shape by a series of holes down the side of the bag, which needed to be punched out… by hand. I was promptly given a punching tool and a heavy mallet and got to work. It took some effort to firstly, muster up the brute force to punch them all out, and secondly, to get them all in a straight line! After some very noisy bashing, phase two was complete.
Half-day workshops usually take place in the mid-morning til mid-afternoon, with a bit of a break in the middle for a snack and a cuppa. We all got to choose one of Cox & Baloneys stunning cakes, and after a pot of breakfast tea to wash down the ginormous slice of Victoria sponge I chose, it was right back to work.
Two strips had to be cut out of the leather – one for the strap, and one to ‘stitch’ and weave the whole thing together. Esther gave us a demonstration with a fancy cutting tool which was spectacularly satisfying to use – gliding it through the leather like butter to produce a long, perfectly formed strip. Of course, my first attempt did not turn out anything like that! It seemed to taper to one end, so we collectively decided that would be my weaving piece, and I did a much better job on the one which was destined to be my handbag strap. Phew.
Before putting the whole piece together, we took a few more minutes to personalise our creations by embossing our initials on the underside of the bags. Because I have such a ridiculously long name, I decided to get all five of my initials stamped, so I could be 100% sure that this was most definitely my bag, but also mainly to show off a bit, really.
The next step was probably one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my life – choosing which colour of metalware I wanted to adorn my bag, which was coming together rather nicely. The trouble is, EVERYTHING looks good with black; after a very long time deliberating I went with good ol’ fashioned silver for a more understated look. Yellow gold and rose gold looked beautiful too, but I wanted this to be more of an everyday kinda bag, and I guess I wasn’t feeling too fancy that particular lunchtime.
Fixing in the handbag clasp with yet more malleting, it was time to assemble. I cannot begin to describe the immense satisfaction of witnessing something you’ve been working on all morning finally begin take shape, folding the whole thing together like origami to make a beautiful, wearable piece. I was a little slow with the whole riveting process, but Esther was incredibly helpful with getting me to finish on time.
Ta da! My little creation was complete. Again, I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to have something you made with your own fair hands (in just a few hours!) which can be used time and time again. I was showing everyone my new bag that afternoon, proudly exclaiming “I made this!” at every given opportunity.
In fact, I enjoyed my workshop so much that I’ve booked a friend on the same one, and signed myself up to do the full-on, intensive handbag in a day workshop in a couple of weeks’ time. I’ll let you know how I get on!
I was invited along to this workshop for the purpose of this review, but all words and opinions are my own. A massive thanks to Esther for inviting me along.