We’re celebrating the talented leathercrafters in the Artisanry Co. community that prioritise sustainability. Roslyn Whiting is one of our makers that uses traditional craftsmanship and prioritizes sustainability in her work, giving you a piece that will age with you.
In this blog, Roslyn shares her journey to becoming a leathercrafter, as well as the efforts she makes to ensure that her products are sustainable in nature. You can browse and buy Roslyn’s stunning work at our online shop.
What inspired you to work as a leathercrafter?
I had the opportunity to learn how to hand-tool designs onto leather when I was 13 at a youth camp. I had never tried it before. The first session I struggled to use the tools but by the second session it all clicked and I loved it.
I was hooked and won in house awards at the camp for leather work. Leather is such a tactile material to work with, it feels and smells great. I love that it’s a natural product and that no two hides are the same, making each product unique. Once I started my leatherwork business, I learned to use other traditional methods like hand-stitching and hand burnishing. Because I have come to leather work from the creative hand-tooling side, I see leather as something to be creative with as well as making products that will last.
How do you balance quality in your craft with sustainability?
Leather work is the original form of recycling/upcycling, going back centuries. No animal is killed for its leather. Leather is a by-product from the food industry and would otherwise go to landfill.
Stitching methods and material
I use traditional leather work methods which also makes it sustainable. For example, I hand-stitch and hand cut every item, so no electricity is used. Hand-stitching using the saddlery stitch is like having two running stitches and therefore is stronger than machine stitched leather, making my products last longer.
Hand-stitching can also be fixed, so I can restore much loved family pieces, making them usable again. I use natural linen thread to sew with and wax it with beeswax to make it easier to sew with and it also protects the thread.
I only work with vegetable tanned leather, where they use tree bark to preserve the leather. This uses less chemicals than the more common chrome tanning. The leather I use for my belts is made from British leather tanned using oak bark. Using oak takes longer, up to 14 months, but it makes a stronger leather. The oak bark is sourced from the Lake district and collected in a sustainable way using the coppice technique.
This way of managing a wood is great for biodiversity because the wood has trees that are different ages and therefore supports more wildlife. This tannery is based in Devon and uses hides from Devonshire farms. It’s great being able to source materials from a tannery that has the same values as myself. I source most of my leather from British tanneries. British leather is of high quality and has not travelled as far. My buckles are British-made solid brass buckles.
Packaging, stationery and offcuts
Sustainablity is even important for my stationery and packaging. My branded stationery is letterpressed in Britain and made from British made cotton cards. This is a card that is made from recycled cotton, so no trees are cut down to make it. My branded boxes are made by a company here in Scotland using British paper. I save up the bubble wrap I get and reuse them for my own deliveries. I don’t want to throw out something I can use.
As I hand cut all my products, I am careful how I do it so that I can make smaller items with the offcuts from my larger products. For example, my keyrings are offcuts from my belts and the page cuffs from the offcuts from my wallets and card holders. This means that the same quality of leather, care and attention to details goes into my smaller items as with my larger items. I use quality leather and don’t want to waste any of it. Quality products and sustainability are important to me. I want my customers to enjoy using my products for many years.
What role does sustainability play in leather work?
I believe sustainability is very important in leathercraft. We need to look after our environment for this and future generations. The traditional way of doing leather work is very sustainable but over time it has become harder to do things the traditional way.
There aren’t many tanneries left in Britain that still use vegetable tanning. There used to be a tannery in most major towns but now there are only a few nationally and even less that use the vegetable tanned method.
Most tanneries used to use oak to tan the leather and now there is only one tannery in the UK that uses oak bark. It can be difficult to source things locally and made in Britain. This can make my materials more expensive but they are still of very high quality.
Join the Artisanry Co. community
Roslyn Whiting is one of the many talented makers in the Artisanry Co. community that uses the online shop to connect with makers and sell her products. She also benefits from the supportive network of like-minded, UK-based makers and our marketing guidance.
If you’re looking to support local makers, then you can browse our online shop and discover the many impressive works available, ranging across a variety of creative disciplines.
If you’re a small and independent maker in the UK, then you can join our community and enjoy the same business benefits.