I am a hand stitching zealot with very strong views about this! Saddle stitch is key to everything we do and every product we make is entirely hand stitched. Saddle stitch is conceptually a simple stitch, but it takes years to become both good and fast, and a life time to be anything like great. I would look for a thread size and stitch pitch ppropriate for the item in question, perfectly even and correct thread tension on both sides of the work and a regular stitch angle throughout, along with small, neat oles made by the awl. Its been our experience that these skills are impossible to recruit for, even from the technical colleges, so we had to form an apprenticeship scheme to train them in house to get the stitch quality we wanted. As with all things the stitch is truly formed not by the fingers but by the brain, the person stitching has to care about every individual stitch in order to develop a good technique – to enjoy and care about the process and each step that makes it up, not simply the outcome being a line of stitching that is technically correct.
How would you describe a typical day?
I tend to spend my mornings designing, working on non leather creative work, such as photography and dealing with correspondence and my afternoon at my workbench. My non work time is around family life, looking after our two year old, walking the dogs or feeding the horses. I tend to carry a camera everywhere so a certain amount of time is spent on photography too.
What would like to make in the future that you have not made yet?
We’ve only just scratched the surface so far! Anything that is possible to be made beautifully from leather and wood is fair game, and I doubt I will ever run out of things that Id like to make. There will be plenty of things left for Bertie to design when I have retired I suspect!
What does ‘quality’ mean to you and how a person can recognize quality?
This is very difficult to answer simply because the overall quality of a product is dictated by the qualities of all the individual components to make it up, so amazing leather in 90% of a product could be let down by the remaining 10%, or the thread or metalwork could spoil something otherwise amazing. I would encourage people first of all to think holistically though, to judge an item on their first impression. Amazing leather (and metalwork) should look, feel and smell like amazing leather, if on first glance it looks amazing it’s worth then thinking more about the details and constituent parts. If people are interested in leathergoods it’s well worth their time to develop an eye for good leather, how it moves, behaves when flexed, how it should look when viewed closely. Its difficult now because so much leather is bad, but pick a brand who you believe is trustworthy, even if far out of your price range and learn from what they use and do and apply that knowledge to other items.
How does the bespoke service works?
It depends on the customer really, but for true bespoke someone comes to us with an idea, we draw it, exchange swatches of materiel by post, make it in coloured card to make sure it looks and works as its owner would like and then make it in leather. If the item is destined to be in an exotic leather we may well make a non exotic version first to make sure the owner likes their design in the flesh so to speak before we execute the design in alligator or other precious leather. True bespoke, where both us and the customer as we must both commit to getting all the details right which can be very complex in a large product. We also customise our existing designs for a semi bespoke product, for instance adding or subtracting card pockets or note compartments to our wallets and that’s a fairly straight forward process of us being sure of the customers requirements and as we know the designs of the wallets intimately we’re able to modify them quite easily.
Which other craftsmen do you like?
Instagram is an excellent source of inspiration and pictures of others work, and I like the images of Simaprague and my friend Peter Nitz, as many people do for instance. I enjoy the work of Hermes, who have a background in saddlery like we do and have amazing attention to detail and quality of leather in their high end pieces. Much of my favourite work is from the old saddlery firms from before World War 1 though, probably the height of the saddlery trade, in my opinion.
What are your favorite places to spend your evenings?
At home! My evening routine is putting our son Bertie to bed, and then a little time to relax with Dawn.
What is your favorite word?
A very hard one! On balance I’d say “can”.
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)?
Light and beauty, quiet and good design. I am lucky that I’ve been able to create a life where these things are the rule rather than the exception, though light never cooperates fully!
What turns you off?
Ugly, badly made things and mediocrity in general. I have no time for them and cull them from my life at any available opportunity
What is your favorite curse word?
I tend not to swear, at least in public! If I do it may be the word “Bugger” though – I am English after all..
What sound or a noise do you love?
What profession would you not like to do?
Probably anything that forced me into a path of mediocrity or making plastic tat. Anything done well is some satisfaction though, so maybe I could make the best plastic tat in the world. I’d prefer not to try though I think..
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Hello Charlie, let me hold the gate open for you.
See also Part 1 of the interview