Sally Thompson Leather Couturier
Handmade Leather Art Objects & Handbags
Inspiration drawn from the harmonious fusion of nature and architecture
Designing and making from an engineer’s perspective
Dimensional and spacial understanding
Precision pattern cutting
A collection of Questions and Answers gathered from Open Studio Herefordshire Art week 8th – 16th September 2018
Q: Where did you learn your skills?
A: My formal training was at Cordwainers – London College of Fashion where I studied Technical Design for Fashion Accessories. I specialised in making handbags using complex construction methods combined with detailed integrated surface design.
Q: What is the Cordwainers thing?
A: Cordwainers is a seperate teaching department which is a whole building in Golden Lane London which is devoted to all things leather; Handbags, shoes and saddlery.
Q: What was your favourite part of the learning process?
A: Well, I loved every aspect of bag making; the research for the design, the experimentation, pattern cutting, mocking up samples and then putting it all together to make the finished article. But I suppose that my best bit was and still is the pattern cutting. That’s the real technical stuff, that is where your ideas come to life and it’s the bit I discovered came naturally to me.
Q: You say it came naturally to you; so how does that help you with your work?
A: I can visualise how to make a 2 dimensional pattern for a 3 dimensional construction in my head allowing me to work with quite complex shapes and construction methods; I enjoy making things that are challenging to produce.
Q: If your work is challenging to produce, doesn’t that make it difficult for you to operate commercially?
A: Yes! I realised quite early on that my work was difficult to reproduce but I didn’t want to compromise on my designs, I wanted to make things that were different to anything else. This means I produce limited quantities of each product because they are designed and made solely by me.
Q: So that’s why you’re operating more as a designer maker than a designer label?
A: Partly, yes but also it gives me creative freedom; I can make what I like, develope my skills and progress my ideas in a more organic way without having to conform to fashionable trends even though I love fashion and look at current and emerging trends.
Q: So does that mean you’re influenced by fashion?
A: Fashion is something I look at along with many other things and you will always be influenced by things you see.
Q: So what are the main influences that inspire your work?
A: I love architecture, particularly Gothic – and the way nature interacts with these manmade things, how it will reclaim it’s place while a building can become a ruin; and thrive by pushing it’s way through the tiniest crack between pieces of solid stone. I also look at a variety of open metal work, from bridges new and old to ancient ornate locks and hinge fixings.
Q: Where do you get your ideas for producing the shapes you use in your work?
A: I’ve always had an interest in creating structure through tailoring and manipulating materials to create 3d patterns; I enjoy the geometry of Origami and the forms that come from collapsing and folding…..I have used this method in my new work to create solid structures which is almost the opposite to actual origami where alot of the shapes will fold back down to flat. So this is where my bag making skills come in…I use the technical construction methods for bag making to make my slashed and folded designs stand up as strong architectural pieces. And yet because of the leather I use, each piece is really tactile and soft allowing me to gently mold and manipulate subtle shapes within the structures to give a depth of texture that creates tonal changes in the colours of the leather.
Q: Do you only work with leather?
A: Before I did my training at Cordwainers I had mostly sewn using fabrics of various types. I experimented with upholstery fabrics and knitted and crocheted panels that I used on my first bag designs. But when I started working with leather I felt I had a certain affinity with it….I discovered that there was so much I could do with it…it was really exciting and liberating.
Q: So have you always made bags then?
A: I think I made my first bag when I was really little; I made it on a weaving loom I was given for my birthday or Xmas but as I grew older I wanted really nice bags… so I bought leather ones. I only started making bags again shortly before I wanted to do an access to Art and Design Course in Camden and used my designs to get me a place…it worked and I found that despite trying all sorts of other things at that college, I really fancied making bags but I didn’t think they could be made professionally outside an industrial setting. So discovering the courses at the London College of Fashion where ‘proper’ bags could be made by normal people…ok… with special tools and preferably an industrial Barrel arm Sewing machine…but it was those specific skills that opened up my eyes to infinite possibilities which although now are not exclusively handbags..they are what everything I design eventually inspire.
Q: Is sewing with leather very difficult, did you learn special sewing skills at the London College of Fashion?
A: Sewing the leather is only a small part of constructing a bag. It is very different to working with cloth because obviously you can’t pin it together to keep it in place while stitching – we use rubber solution glue. And if you make a mistake there’s not alot you can do to save your work…once you’ve made stitch holes in leather, they’re there forever! The skills that we learnt mostly at college were the fine methods of producing something beautiful using professional methods that the best Italian workrooms and small factories would use….so it was more the tricks of the trade if you like but skill levels depended alot on how much care and attention you put into your work…having an eye for detail and seeking to make perfect products and being willing to accept when something you may have spent days making just isn’t good enough. I think you learn more from mistakes than successes, and sometimes it turns into something so much better. Everything is a learning curve. If you’re willing to put the time in… that’s when you start to make exceptional things.