Thursday, November 22, 2007

Leather Instruction Manuals

My Manuals are available from this Sales Page: as Downloads & form part of the series of 7 Manuals planned to cover all aspects of Commercial Leather Craft as practiced since the Victorian Era when individual Craftsmen created Leathergoods mainly by hand, with the assistance of Sewing Machines & other small hand operated machinery. This was mainly done in small Workshops in London & the Major Provincial Cities, this continued until the end of the last war in the UK,
After the war the number of these old firms that often originated in the Saddlery Trade & used the same techniques & standards that had evolved from earlier times began to decrease Companies sprang up mostly on a more mass production set up employing more staff, some using leather others working with the newer synthetic materials. The trend at first was to employ Bench Hands to perform part of the assembly & pass the articles on to another person to do the next bit. A skilled Craftsman was usually employed to oversee the production.
This worked reasonably well & standards did not suffer, the old Skilled Craftsmen began to retire but were replaced by Competent young blood provided by the two main Leather Colleges one in Walsall & one in London (Corwainers) where I was HOD until I retired. But that excellent 2 year full time Leathergoods Course is now defunct due to lack of Government funding. Which means that no more of those Students who were taught the traditional skills are emerging.
Now a hand full of those old specialist companies are still trading but finding it hard to find skilled Craftsmen (I wonder why). The Larger companies that were using Bench Hands have maintained their standard by ensuring that a College Student took over or a suitable employee was trained up prior to their old skilled Craftsman's retirement. But even some of these Large Production Companies have closed or re-located abroad due to the competition.
Worryingly from the point of view of traditional skills newer companies have emerged with none of the original know how. They use methods & finishes that bear no resemblance to those taught over the centuries, with simplicity, quickness, & a need for less skill plus as much mechanization as possible. I understand the reasons & the need to compete. Their products cant be faulted, they may be made using the quickest method & even some unique construction techniques. But the product serves the purpose it was made for, dose not Fall apart, & will last until it's owner discards it as it is made to fit a price margin
So why am I concerned or even bothered I live comfortably in retirement & I am possibly one of the few remaining Craftsmen of the old school that uses a computer extensively. I decided to produce these Manuals to preserve the old methods before they are eventually lost. This is not going to happen in the Saddlery Trade as they took steps to Ensure that their traditional Skills were adhered to with proper Training & Testing. Saddly this was missed by the Leather Industry.
A parallel Amateurs Craft developed in Night Classes taught by amateurs who had taught themselves from Books written by other enthusiastic amateurs Most of these Books originated in America. the techniques used were mainly what we referred to as Native Crafts. This was not a derogative reference to lack of skills but referred to the basic methods used by the Red Indians making their traditional articles from leather.
For those Traditionalists in America reproducing the unique Articles made & used by the various tribes this is great. & resembles the Re-enactors. However when the amateur methods are transferred to more modern articles the Thonging on bags & wallets produces a chunky article which has a limited market. Their work could be vastly improved by using Skiving, Turnovers, & Stitching, whether that be hand Stitching or machining. Now if I can add to their knowledge & expand their skills I will have helped them as well. I have not mentioned their Surface Decoration (We referred to this a Tooling & leather Carving). Again this evolved from the American Native Tribes. It is an Art Form & some of the exponent are also Brilliant Artists.