They say, ‘every man deserves a shed’ – a bolthole, a place to think, a sanctuary. For Peter Thompson, 57, a semi-retired business advisor from Netton, Salisbury, his newly found passion for leatherwork gave him a new skill in his outdoor office, as he explained to NVBM recently…
I am not particularly creative, but I have decent reserves of patience, concentration and positivity: all three useful in life, but essential in leatherwork, so I’ve found. For reasons I cannot explain, I can spend an hour or two polishing shoes or dubbing boots, but barely have the patience to iron a shirt.
One day it occurred to me that I could do some of the basic repairs of my favourite old worn leather accessories myself. After all, I was able to sew on a button, so hard could it be? Sadly, my first foray into stitching leather was an unmitigated disaster. Father Christmas (my partner Eve) had initially brought me a one-size-fits-all leather sewing kit (in terms of quality, think 1970’s Woolworths) and my attempt to repair the butt of a leather gun slip was dreadful. In fact, it was so poor I have kept it ‘as repaired’ to remind me of how far I have now travelled. I had no idea how to stitch evenly or in a straight line and the results resembled the medical chart of an irregular heartbeat.
Picking up the skills
Feeling my distress, Eve took remedial action, booking me on an amazing residential leather stitching course. I spent a weekend immersed in both the theory and practice of cutting, burnishing and stitching, culminating in the design and build of an item of one’s choice. I made a boot case/bag for Eve’s walking boots – to everyone’s surprise it was serviceable and is still in use.
With hit (and plenty of miss) I then undertook a series of projects for friends and family, some never to be repeated, others forming the basis of my modest repertoire today: tote bags (for the uninitiated, a ‘large and unfastened bag with parallel handles’ – I didn’t know this at the time), log baskets, fishing reel covers, cartridge bags and key fobs.
My favourite is my log basket. I love the practicality of leather and want everything I make to be both beautiful and functional. I was aware that ancient water buckets were hand stitched in leather, but I couldn’t quite see how that would work. When I started to experiment with small cylindrical containers, I realised I could make a vessel that was both watertight and incredibly strong. My log basket is a much bigger (oval-based) cylinder, essentially two pieces of 3mm thick leather, stitched with linen thread. Although decorative, it is incredibly strong and could carry the weight of a small child. The body is 45cm high and 100cm in circumference and I really enjoy selecting a piece of leather with the right grain and texture.
I have a very basic garden shed with questionable insulation. The joy of not having anything in the way of machinery is that I can work pretty much anywhere with a solid table for my cutting mat and plenty of drawers and jars for the awls, needles, compasses, threads, knives, dye and brass work. But it is a messy business, and my desk fills up very quickly with leather offcuts, shavings, threads, bottles of dye etc.
Yet tidiness is absolutely essential as it takes very little to scratch the surface of the leather, and that can lead to scrapping the piece and starting again. The awl is a very useful tool for punching through the leather for stitches, but if you leave it lying around it will inevitably ruin your day. I’m a believer in Feng Shui and I try to tidy up at the end of every day.
I love the peace of creating something from nothing. I quickly lose myself in the ebb and flow of the stitching and crafting. No two days are the same and indeed no two pieces of leather are identical, so I have to be adaptable and patient. I also love the fact that I am progressing in terms of ability –- sometimes it’s through building an entirely new product (I had to unpick the 14 components of my own cartridge bag before I could work out how to make one from scratch…. very complex), at other times it’s simply about getting better at stitching through doing so much of it. I can’t deny am touched by wonderful feedback from customers, friends and recipients, and that is incredibly satisfying in itself.”
If you’d like to find out more about Peter’s work, or place an order, visit www.pecheleather.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.