Leatherworking 101

Our new years resolution to blog more is getting off to a slow start, but we're still here.  We've been more active on our Facebook page as of late, so if you haven't liked us over there, please do so.  We are always willing to answer questions and provide more information about anything we post, so feel free to comment and join the conversation. Awesome belt!

Late in the fall, Kristl had an eye out on Groupon and noticed a deal for half-off an Introduction to Leatherworking course at The Chicago School of Shoemaking.  We have long talked about saving up to take the basic shoemaking course ($900 a person!), but that's not currently in our budget (speaking of which, we recently started hardcore budgeting and it's been awesome, but we'll probably cover that in a later post).  However, throwing down $35 a piece for an intro class seemed like a fantastic use of a Sunday afternoon.  We both bought the Groupon, as did our friend Owen, and we all planned to go together. We were originally scheduled to go to class before Christmas, but the class got rained out and we had to reschedule for January.  The only reason I bring that up is we were originally going to have our class with the fabulously bad-ass Sara McIntosh, the founder of The Chicago School of Shoemaking.  She is self-taught, and basically learned to put shoes together by taking them apart. She is a working cobbler and teaches classes in her studios on the weekend.  We were psyched to have her as a teacher, but it didn't work out.  However, Tammy, who taught our class, was awesome, and incredibly patient with the struggles of her students.

We arrived at the location of the school, but it didn't look like a business because it is in two un-connected garden apartments of a large residential building, on a cul-de-sac. The location is unassuming, to say the least, but once we found it, we were instantly swept into the world of leatherworking and never looked back.  We had the option of making one of five items, 1) a clutch, 2) a wristband/cuff, 3) a fancy keychain, 4) 1-2 small pouches, or 5) a belt.  Kristl decided to make a clutch, and Owen and I went for the belt option.  There were three other students in the class, and they made a clutch, a belt, and a cuff, respectively.

Tammy told us the correct thickness and quality of leather to use for our projects and then set us loose with templates and cutters and punches and hammers and all these other seemingly-dangerous things. Kristl used a template to cut out the basic shape of her clutch and then glued it together, with rivets to reinforce the glue.  Owen and I picked buckles and built our belts based on the size of the buckle.  We cut a strip out of heavy duty leather and then trimmed it down and beveled it with x-acto knives and rotary cutters. Then we had to use a skiver, which is essentially a leather shaver, to reduce the thickness of the belt on the buckle end.  This was so it would not be too thick when we folded it over to rivet the buckle in there.  Using the skiver was the most frustrating part of the class because the one we started with had an old blade in it and wasn't really cutting.  Once we got a sharp blade, it cut through the leather like butter.

I have taken intro classes to other skills in the past, and I found that, in comparison, the work with leather was pretty forgiving.  Aside from the original cut of the strip for the belt, I found that most things I did a little wrong, I could fix without too much drama.  It was awesome to use tools I have never used before, like an anvil or an awl, and the finished products were really awe-inspiring.  The belts that Owen and I made really looked like belts that you could buy somewhere, for $50-75, but also they looked hand-made in a way that a $50-75 belt from Macy's never could.  Kristl's clutch, photo below, has real late 80's early 90's charm and actual 2014 functionality (whatever that is).

Awesome clutch!Overall, our experience with The Chicago School of Shoemaking was awesome, and hopefully you can find a Groupon or take a class of your own volition. The Leatherworking 101 is $75 regular price and is 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon.  Try something new, make your own leather item, and leave with a practical skill, what's to lose?

We don't know how this organization sources their leather, and while I think there are things to be said about the use of leather in crafting, in terms of environmental impact, we're not looking to enter that discussion here.  The pure act of refusing to "just go to Target and get a new one" of whatever you need is central to our philosophy of living.  If you can make one instead, and make it to last, it's 100% worth the cost and time put in.

Thanks for following us on our little leather working journey, we hope it inspires you to try something new too!