Blame it on the Leather, Man... | A Guest Blog by Graham Richards

What is the one material that mankind has worked with, adapted and utilised for probably the last thirty thousand years or more?


What is it about leather that makes it so appealing to the majority of people?

That’s up to you!

The fact is, leather has provided for us in so many ways, from clothing us, enabling us to make tools, shelters, weapons to hunt for food and tools to grow food, because of this it is now part of our psyche. Oh, I forgot, it smells blooming marvellous too (although that’s actually the resins and natural chemicals used in the tanning process)! Long before humans learned to spin and weave materials, leather was the one thing we had to survive with.

So leather is part of who we are as people. It’s also 100% naturally sourced. It has a low impact on the environment (although we need to question the “industrial” nature of cattle production for meat in some countries) by using environmentally friendly processes to tan it and it lasts…and lasts, so we get a very efficient amount of usage out of it. Unlike plastics and other man made materials, it is also biodegradable, although it may take some time to break down, it will eventually return to the earth.

Now when a person dies, they are either cremated or buried. Some may leave a financial legacy, others may leave a cultural, academic or philanthropic legacy and very special people make a huge difference by donating organs, but generally speaking, once we’re gone, we’re gone! However, take the humble cow. It’s born, spends it life chewing the cud, provides milk and eventually enters the food chain (aka it meets it’s demise). But that’s not the end, because its bones are used for various purposes, including making fertilisers to help grow more crops and it’s hide is sent off to the tannery to be turned into leather. Now that leather will be used in many ways, to make furniture, clothing, shoes, industrial parts for machinery, belts, books, parchment, safety equipment, etc. So when we die, little or nothing remains, but when the humble cow dies, it goes on providing in multiple ways for many years to come!

I have loved leather since I was a child. I was given a child’s sporran made of deerskin when I was about six. It went on holiday with me every year, to hold my precious spending money! As a teenager, learning to ride western style in Essex brought me into contact with beautifully crafted and embellished western saddles, equipment and clothing and a fellow “cowboy” called Bill, who made a lot of these amazing leather goods himself. That was in the early 1970s.

Then one Sunday afternoon on the 7 October 2012 I walked into a western outfitters, The Appaloosa Trading Co, in the small southern Colorado town of Durango (an attractive, sleepy town with a real frontier feel nestling in the mountains) and a conversation with the shop assistant changed my life. He told me of a website where I could buy leather-making equipment, tools and supplies.

The rest is history. I bought some basic tools, went on a weekend course and started making my own leather goods. Two years on I’m still learning, but I found I had a flair for it and a passion that went back 40 years. I’m loving the creativeness of designing my own wallets, card holders, phone holsters, belts, etc. I made myself a guitar strap, which led to 3 commissions for guitar straps in 24 hours after I shared it on Facebook! Each one is totally unique. I’ve started carving and tooling leather, which is where leather work crosses into original artwork.

Who knows where it will lead? I do know that when I retire in a few year’s time, I’ve got a passion to keep me focussed and active; a skill that satisfies me creatively and a hobby that will, at least, pay its own way! If you’d like to know more about how you could learn to work with leather, get in touch via my Facebook page.

If you enjoyed this blog and want to know more then check out the short film we shot featuring Graham and his amazing craft here...