Leather School students learn traditional handcrafting techniques

Traditional techniques which have been used by craftspeople for centuries excited and inspired students at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s Leather School.

Taught by skilled craftsman Charles Laurie, who runs his own company selling luxury bespoke luggage and bags from his workshop in Rutland, the school saw 10 talented students taken through the basics of working with leather.

Bag 1

The course, which is supported by The Leathersellers’ Company, one of the oldest livery companies in the world, included a visit to a tannery, learning about environmentally-friendly natural dyes, hand stitching, leather embossing, printing and experiments with the different kinds of leather available.

Charles, who began his career as a saddler, said: “I think it’s so important to keep these skills alive. Hand stitching techniques which we have covered this week, learning and using the tools these are all skills I learned when I trained and can be adapted whatever you are making.

“They have done some amazing work this week, there has been a lot of new techniques but they’ve all taken to it well. I hope it has inspired them.”

The week began with a visit to the Institute of Creative Leather Technology (ICLT) at Northampton University to see a tannery in action producing leather material using traditional methods and understanding the variety of skins.  

The students’ time in the ICLT labs included an understanding of different ways leather is worked around the world, as well as a heightened awareness of the laws protecting the justifiably banned exotic species and a wider comprehension of the sustainablility of leather.

Then it was back to campus where the students were taken through a five day school of leather construction methodologies via hand and machine stitching in the DMU Footwear Design workshop. By the end of the week, each student had produced a completed tote bag.

main bag

Mature student Toni Fazaeli, who is studying a Fine Art degree part-time at DMU, said: “I’m going to apply the techniques from this week into my sculptural practice. I have learned such a lot and I am passionate about us using more leather. 30% of hides end up in landfill, which is so wrong when it could be used for such brilliant shoes, bags and clothes.”

Contour Fashion students Funmi Ogundimu, Meryn Parry and Priscilla Brown all said taking part in the summer school had helped them plan their final collections.

“I’ve loved this week,” said Meryn. “I have learned so many transferable skills from what we have been taught.”

“I’m more used to working with delicate fabrics in contour so leather has been a challenge,” added Priscilla. “I’m definitely been inspired to use some of the techniques we have learned this week in my final collection and I’m giving my sister the bag, she loves leather.”

Bag 1

Funmi added: “I like working with leather because it is strong and hardwearing. Whatever you make with it is going to last and it’s not going to be wasteful. I think it is a very sustainable material.

“I have worked with leather before but what I have enjoyed this week is learning more about the technical side of things, and the traditional techniques.”

Final-year Footwear student Maja Sharratt has just finished a year on placement with Puma, Germany. “I’ve never hand stitched before that is completely new to me. For my final year I have some ideas about what I want to do and I’ve enjoyed learning from Charlie who is so talented.”
Posted on Wednesday 25th October 2023

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