The raw beauty of traditional leather craft

The raw beauty of traditional leather craft

The Apprenticeship artist, Eleisha Nylund, is a leathermaker, designer and jeweller working under the brand ‘Nylund–handcrafted design’. After experimenting with leather as side project, Eleisha was immediately drawn to the warmness and beautiful subtly of leather. Soon after, leather making quickly became Eleisha’s primary body of work.

Leather working was traditionally learnt through a saddlery or cobblery apprenticeship, which is rarely taught today. With the lack of apprenticeships available, Eleisha learnt basic leather crafting techniques through a mentor and continued self-learning traditional leather-crafting skills through modern platforms such as YouTube. She combines traditional leather crafting techniques with modern technology, to produce durable and timeless pieces that hone the beauty and quality of the handmade which has been lost through mass production. They are designed and built to become part of your story and bear the signs of a life alongside of you.

The Apprenticeship curators, Richard Stride and Aaron Barton, recently visited Eleisha’s shop in Paddington to discuss her journey into traditional leather making and the future of traditional leather crafting skills.

We are also very excited to announce that Eleisha will be sharing her incredible traditional leather making skills at our third workshop for the year! Eleisha will teach you how to make a leather purse and keyring and show you the basics of working with vegetable tanned leather, including oiling, dyeing, saddle stitching, stamping and hardware fitting. Learn more about the workshop here.


 

How long have you been working with leather, and what drew you to it initially?

I have been working in leather for almost four years. I was drawn to it because of its raw, natural, and unpredictable nature. I had been a jeweller for 8 years prior and was looking for a medium that was warmer and completely different to what I had become used to working in.

 

View More: http://thetsudons.pass.us/cbl

Photo by We Are The Tsudons.

 

What has been your favourite project or product and why?

I love the projects that give me the freedom to experiment. My favourite customers are those amazing individuals who come to me with complete trust in my skills and ability to translate their desires into physical form; those who says “create whatever you think it needs to be. Just make what you think will be perfect”.

 

Slayer 0001 for St Ali Coffee Roasters - laser etched leather panel by Eleisha Nylund. Walnut panels and features by Specht Design.

Slayer 0001 for St Ali Coffee Roasters – laser etched leather panel by Eleisha Nylund. Walnut panels and features by Specht Design.

 

What pressures do you think have led to the traditional pathway of leather craft becoming problematic today?

I think society’s increased desire to want things immediately and for cheaper has led to the traditional ways of making leather goods inconsequential. Leather working is a very time and labour intensive skill to master and producing the product involves the same level of labour and time; therefore, as society has moved towards the mass-produced the handcrafting skills have become less relevant.

 

How did you learn the techniques and theory behind your craft?

I learnt the basic skills of leather craft via the man I like to call ‘Uncle Rod’. He was one of my jewellery students, who did leather craft as a hobby. I asked if he would be willing to show me the basics, so one weekend a group of us sat down around his workbench and he taught the basics of saddle stitching, staining leather, and finishing leather. Since then I have been using google and YouTube to further my knowledge of the basic concepts, plus lots of experimenting. Nothing is ever a failure, but a massive learning opportunity.

 

Photo by We Are The Tsudons.

Photo by We Are The Tsudons.

 

You’ve established working with leather as a viable living. How long did this take?  And how challenging do you think it is for others to achieve this today?

 I have been able to establish working in leather as a viable living for approximately 18 months. I have been able to do this by combining traditional handcrafting techniques and modern technology. Finding the balance here was particularly important for me. I wanted to produce a product that honoured traditional leather handcrafting skills but enabled me to produce things faster. Acquiring a laser cutter has meant that I am able to achieve precision and speed with pattern making, however am still able to hand stain, saddle stitch and hand finish every piece. As a result, I am able to retain the traditional techniques that produce a leather product that has the durability and functionality that will last a lifetime.

 

Shot of Eleisha's shop in paddington. Image courtesy of the artist.

Shot of Eleisha’s shop in paddington. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

What do you think an apprenticeship for leather making might look like that gives makers the skills they need to establish themselves today?

A revised version of an apprenticeship or mentorship would be an ideal way to learn the craft of working in leather. There is something distinctive about having that one master; there is almost an intimacy where you can observe the skills and the techniques that they don’t even know they do. The tiny flick of a finger when pulling a thread through a stitch hole, or the way they hold the leather whilst creating tension in the thread, is a finesse that is unteachable. But through submersion with an expert these details become prevalent.

 

Leather products such as belts, purses and bags are also produced on a large scale by mass-production. What has the mass-production of leather goods meant for the design and quality of these products?

The products I make are mass-produced and, unfortunately, this has meant a significant decrease in quality. In mass production thinner, compressed, and chemically treated leather is used, as well as thinner and weaker thread for machine stitching. This results in a product that lacks longevity and contributes to mass consumption and environmental issues.

 

Eleisha Nylund, The classic wallet. Vegetable-tanned leather and waxed thread.

Eleisha Nylund, The classic wallet. Vegetable-tanned leather and waxed thread.

TheKeyClip-2

Eleisha Nylund, The key clip. Vegetable-tanned leather, waxed thread and nickle.

How has today’s marketplace, with abundant mass-production, affected what you make and how you make it?

The abundance of mass-produced leather goods has led to a lack of understanding and respect for the traditional methods of producing a leather product. Consequently, it is within my practice to educate the consumer how and why my leather goods are constructed the way they are. I aim to produce a product that withstands the test of time, something with the durability and longevity to last a lifetime; therefore, I need to educate my consumer on how I do this and why.

 

TheJournal

Eleisha Nylund, The journal.

 

 

Is there a revival of the traditional means of production in leather craft today, and if so why do you think that is? Are makers creating new value in traditional production methods or are consumers now simply perceiving value in it?

There is a revival of leather craft. I believe this is because of the how the individual is becoming more aware of the impact they are having on the earth. The desire to consume less, contribute less waste, and have less of a negative environmental impact is playing a role in people wanting a product that is going to last a lifetime, and not just a fashion season, therefore, the consumer now perceives greater value in the craft.

 

Brown-Open

Eleisha Nylund, The satchel. Vegetable tanned leather, waxed thread and nickle.

 

Satchel-clip

Eleisha Nylund, The satchel. Vegetable tanned leather, waxed thread and nickle.

 

What skills have been important in contributing to a revival in leather making in today’s economy that were not historically a part of this work?

The ability to educate my consumer on why I do what I do has played an important part in the revival of leather craft. I have done this via videos on my website and Instagram, as well as always making pieces whilst I am at design markets so my consumer can see how they are made.

 

As a contemporary craftsperson, how are you making leather craft relevant and shaping it for the future?

The balance I have achieved between combining traditional handcrafting techniques and modern technology is reinventing leather craft. I have found a way to produce a product that honours traditional handcrafting methods whilst utilising modern technology to speed up the production process and increase the level of precision and detailing that is possible.

 

Eleisha Nylund, The travel tag. Vegetable tanned leather, waxed thread and nickle.

Eleisha Nylund, The travel tag. Vegetable tanned leather, waxed thread and nickle.


Eleisha’s work will be on display in The Apprenticeship from 19 April to 25 June 2016.

 


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