Back in November sometime I booked a place on the Intro to Hand-Stitched Leather Workshop at Duke Studios. The workshop was run as part of their November Taster Sessions where attendees are invited to learn something new in a manageable bitesize piece and for a super affordable price.
The class I’m going to tell you about had snuck into December, because thanks to the extreme popularity of the first taster sash which sold out in record time, it demanded a reprisal. Some of the other sessions up for grabs during November included Gin Tastings, Stitch-Up Knitting Intros, Natural Wine Tasters and much more. Keep an eye on the Duke Studios Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds to catch the next ones before they sell out.
Now, it’s a true Lil tradition to try something creative once a year. 2014 brought the excellent Wreath Making Workshop with Katie Laura Flowers and before that it was the short-lived Stitch ‘n’ Bitch group at work where I made a William Morris tote bag with a leather strap that was only big enough to hold a bottle of wine (arguably, that’s all you need). In 2015, it was the turn of the hand stitched, hand dyed leather purse and boy, let me tell you, it might’ve been my most successful yet. For your information, I think 2016 might be the year of Mindful Colouring – I’ll keep you updated.
The workshop was run by Ruth Pullan, a local lady who makes beautiful leather goods out of her home in Ilkley. Take a look, please, because the satchels, purses and belts she makes are gorgeous and really different from the others you find on the web. This isn’t your mediocre Cambridge Satchel Company shiz, you can really see the love and craftsmanship that goes into each item and they’d make for lovely, unique presents – for yourself or a special someone.
Ruth started us off by setting us each a place at the table in the Duke Studios Conservatory (available for hire, and totally the right environment to get those creative juices flowing after a long day at work), complete with all the tools we’d need to make our purses. Ahead of time we’d let Ruth know whether we’d prefer to make a coin pouch or card wallet. I’d chosen a coin purse, ideal for a night out or when you’re carrying a tiny handbag or clutch.
I failed to snap a pick of the natural leather shape we were provided with, but with that in hand we headed over to a table covered with both oil and water based stains. We were given scraps of leather to play around with and shown how to apply the stains for an all over colour, layered effect or use a cotton bud to create a more intricate pattern. Inspired by one of Ruth’s examples, I went for a mottled effect, using cotton wool to dab on blotches of yellow, green and blue dye with overlapping edges. My lack of artistic talent meant I threw caution to the wind and hence I was the first to finish, while much more artistic brains ummed, ahhed and perfected their designs. Mine had lots of time to dry! After staining, we used an old rag to rub oil into the leather, giving it the softer, shinier finish it would end up with.
This was maybe the most satisfying part of the whole process for me. We used a tool to turn the edges of the leather into smooth curves. We wiggled the exciting bevelling tool (pictured) into the leather at a corner before pushing with purpose to sheer off the sharp edges. Kinda like when you just push the sharp edges of your scissors through wrapping paper at Christmas, it felt awesome. Very satisfying and therapeutic, I could literally do it all day.
On these newly cut edges we then took this excellent smelling gum stuff and rubbed it on with our fingers on all the edges that weren’t going to be joined. We then rubbed the surface we’d just coated with a rag, because as I understand it, the process of burnishing is the softening of a rough surface via a “sliding” contact with another object. It smooths the surface/edges of the leather and makes it shinier.
Next up, we used a huge clamping device to make holes for our studs to go through which meant the flaps of our purses could fasten to the body. My very weak forearms somewhat failed me on this and I had to battle with the machinery to make my marks, which were then a bit wonky… more practice needed!
I’ve probably forgotten a step or two here, but I think what we did next was use an excellent diamond shaped poker to make small holes along the edge of the leather where Ruth had helpfully made marks for us. This is where stitching happens. Next we glued the edges of the purse together where they should join to give it a bit provide the purse with a bit more strength and to give us stitchers a helping hand before we began. Then we picked out some thread/twine from the beautiful selection of colours and materials that Ruth had with her, I went for brown – everyone else went for white!
Stitching was hard and I fell behind pretty quickly. I am in no way an adept sewer or knitter and my eyesight is not so sharp, so even threading the needle seemed to take forever for me. This ain’t no ordinary stitching either. You have two needles, one at each end of your thread and with your purse clamped in a handmade wooden vice popped between your legs, you work with both hands to create this super strong, super pretty stitch pattern. It was awesome but I definitely need some more practice – mine could be tidier! Ruth moved at a really realistic pace which meant I still enjoyed the process and didn’t beat myself up for being rubbish, no matter how many times I asked for help!
The Finished Product!
Once we finished the stitches, we burnished the newly joined edges and as you can see, I ended up with a pretty awesome coin purse. I absolutely loved working with leather, and I really enjoyed working with other people to see how they approached the same set of instructions – it was so interesting to see how everyone’s came out! Some people chose a straight-up, all over colour wash, and some of us got a bit funky with patterns. Overall it was a great three hours and I would definitely do it again – Ruth was a very relaxed, laid back teacher which made me feel comfortable going at my own pace, and it meant I could enjoy the experience without feeling rushed to keep up or risk missing the next step.
As I said up top, keep an eye on the Duke Studios feeds because I believe Ruth is coming back this year to teach some more workshops. This one only cost £20 which I think is a complete bargain considering all your materials are included, it’s three hours long and you get a purse to take away! I’d definitely be interested in making something else next time.
I can’t stress enough that if you’re new to Leeds, you’re self-employed or you just want to meet new people and get creative after working all day in an office job, I think these kind of workshops and classes are awesome. I know when I moved up north nearly five years ago now, I was aching for ways to meet people and put myself out there, without having to reach out to someone I barely knew and say “Hey man, let’s go for a coffee!” – this kind of thing would’ve been fab!
Obviously, from February-ish my movements are going to be pretty restricted thanks to two little bundles of joy (aka tears, sick and poo) dropping into my life, but after the class Ruth emailed around the attendees and said she’d been thinking about putting some starter kits together including pre-cut and marked leather, a couple of the necessary tools, some thread and some dye etc – basically everything you need to get going at home, the way she did (Ruth isn’t formally trained, but discovered a talent for working with leather at a workshop and took things from there – v inspiring). I’m seriously considering investing and turning my dining room into a makeshift workshop between feeds and nappy changes… what do you think? Unrealistic?
Disclaimer: I’m a resident of Duke Studios and I’ve rented a workspace there for around three and a half years now. I absolutely love the place and was in no way paid or asked to recommend these sessions – I paid to attend with my own cash and just think there’s some great stuff on offer down there – check it out, and give me a wave through my studio window if you’re visiting!