Five years ago I was working as Finance Manager in an IT company. It was a job I was very good at, but the joy and satisfaction had gone out of it. Many days were full of frustration that I was spending my working hours looking at a computer screen, wishing I was doing something else. But what?
On holiday in Vietnam, I picked up a holiday read, one of the few available in English. All about a Yorkshire farm who used heavy horses in their everyday work. “The Last Horsemen by Charles Bowden” was that book. It was a line about their saddler being due to retire inspired me to consider saddlery. I had an idea!
Back in the UK, I discovered that Capel Manor College in Enfield, a mere seven miles from my home, ran the only full time saddlery course in Europe. I now had a plan!
Two years later I had enjoyed many lunch breaks sitting in the serenity of the college gardens. Learnt a bit about saddlery and leather goods and lorinery as well. (hint think about the metal used in saddlery and harness)
I learnt to select the right leather for each item, how to cut the leather, edge, crease and polish it using traditional techniques and hand tools. We learnt to stitch in different ways, including machining. But, most satisfying of all was the hand stitching. The traditional saddle stitch using an awl, a single linen thread with needles at each end in a figure of eight pattern is really satisfying when you get into a good rhythm.
I left college having been to many places I never ever thought I about in my earlier career – The Worshipful Company of Saddlers, The Worshipful Company of Loriners, visiting the workshops at the Royal Mews, the Royal Veterinary College, Abbey England’s foundry, saddlery manufacturers in Walsall. All of this was a long way from a computer screen in an office.
I made saddles, bridles, harness, head collars, girths, leather accessories and had weathered cuts and bruises, some frustrations, but I loved it all.
Oh, I also completed the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers’ Diploma in Saddle, Harness and Bridle Making. Along the way I also completed the Society of Master Saddlers Level 2 skills tests in all three disciplines – Saddle, Bridle and Harness. I was trained!
My Southern Cross themed Show Harness Bridle was awarded 3rd prize in a competition judged by a Master Saddler from the Royal Mews. In February my In-hand Stallion Bridle won 3rd class and a premium award in the National Saddlery Competition held at Saddlers Hall. I won prizes!
You can never learn enough, so I have completed additional training since leaving college – I attained Level 3 bridle skills, completed a pattern cutting course at London College of Fashion, Leather Restoration and Repair Techniques at Michaels and Macgregor, and several one day events with the Society of Master Saddlers. I am still learning!
Now those skills are being utilised as I spend my time designing and making beautiful hand stitched leather goods and bags. I love using the best of materials – English Bridle Leather, waxed linen thread and solid brass fittings to construct my products. Working with such quality items gives me immense pleasure, and rather than being reluctant to head to work, I get so involved in what I am doing that I have to drag myself away from the workshop at the end of the day.
An excellent Life Change!