With all that is happening to disrupt our normal jobs this last couple of months, I got to thinking about some of the varied work I have been engaged in. Chairs, trolley handles, binocular cases are amongst the many items that have been on my workbench in recent times.
Of the bespoke bag orders and accessories, and my best sellers have been belts, small box bags and satchels. You can’t beat a belt that has been made to measure, there is no worry about the belt being too tight, and there won’t be a long piece of excess belt to be tucked into the belt loops.
The small box bags are popular because they have interchangeable short and long straps and can be used during the day, or as a clutch bag in the evenings. Meanwhile the dual colour combinations on the medium and larger box bags are stunning and prove popular.
Satchels are the most items most often customised. Horseshoe shape anyone? Can I get an extra pocket to the rear to take a laptop? I need it to take my work kit, can you make it slighter bigger? I don’t like buckles, do you have other fittings that are suitable? All questions I have been asked when designing satchels for customers. Most people go for the large version, and there have been some with handles, some with a shoulder strap only. One buckle, or two. All this before I even get down to choices of leather, thread and linings.
I have been asked to repair lots of loved small items often with huge sentimental value. It is a real privilege to be entrusted to work on items like a WW1 binocular case that came from a family member who had used it in service. Finding a balance between repairing and restoring is a fine line, but if you have watched the BBC’s The Repair Shop you will be aware that getting it right can bring great satisfaction for the craftsperson, and more importantly joy to the customer.
Then there are the chairs. I seemed to have a run of chairs brought in for repair. First I had a set of Ladderax dining chair whose the seats had become worn, stretched and stained from use. New seats fitted all round.
Anna Cornish, the very talented designer of www.EssentiallyWood.com then asked me to do some leather work on her sling back chair design. So I got to learn a bit about upholstering chairs, and then worked with her on creating a back that looked both stylish and fitted the look she was after.
At Canopy Market, Kings Cross in London, I was asked if I worked with hair on hide. The customer had a pair of le Corbusier armchairs that needed worn seats and backs replaced, and could I do it with hair on hide. I learned that hair on hide is called “pony” despite being mades from cow skins. It also turns out that working with patterned hides is a bit more complicated than a butt of my usual Sedgwick’s English Bridle Leather. Trying to get a balanced look to two seats and two backs from a hide is an exercise in patience itself. And as for hand stitching, it is definitely harder to find my stitch marks.
Then there was the set of six dining chairs that needed new seats and backs similar to those on a directors chair. The existing leather was a bit mix and match, and had dried and cracked so it wasn’t safe to sit on them. The client looked around the items in my studio and really loved the leather on one of my saddles, and put in a request for something similar, but not quite so heavy. So off I went around the leather merchants, and duly ordered some leather which arrived just as we were about to go into lockdown. Most of the work on the project was completed in my garden studio at home, and stitching the seats with them clamped to my dining chairs.
But as a cricket fan, the job that excited me the most was being asked to prepare the handles for a hospitality trolley that was to be used at …. Lord’s. The trolley was to be designed and made by Scena and could I please cover the two handles with red leather and stitched like the seams on a cricket ball.
The joy on working on this project almost made up for the Black Caps losing the World Cup final to England in that blasted super over. And to make it worse, it all happened while I was watching a big screen on Wimbledon’s court 2 watching as Djokovic defeat Federer in a fantastic match that went to the super tie-breaker. Still at least the Silver Ferns defeated the Diamonds in the World Cup, so there was one result to cheer me up.