Emma in the workshop
Photo: Malcolm Scott
My journey with leather began as a happy accident in the 1980’s. I was at a loose end so I took a short residential saddlery training course with a Master saddler and was hooked! Following this taster experience, I enrolled and continued my professional training at the college in Walsall, gaining my City & Guilds qualifications in saddlery and bridle-making, then gradually diversified my range of products according to demand in the following years.
I’ve been involved with showing and training dogs and horses for most of my life, and have been able to combine traditional saddler’s techniques with this knowledge to design and produce a wide range of leathergoods. My intention has always been to develop and produce leathergoods that were very practical but also smart and durable, using British materials.
Over the 30 plus years since I first embarked on this journey, I’ve now built up a large collection of collar and lead designs for dogs, unisex belts, traditional show halters for cattle and sheep, along with producing bespoke saddlery and commissions.
Most of the time I work alone from a home-based workshop set in the beautiful Herefordshire countryside. But in ‘normal times’ it’s wonderful to regularly catch up with friends and meet my customers in person at shows and events throughout the year. Sadly all of my events and shows were cancelled in 2020 and just hoping that some may go ahead later this year.
It’s generally pretty peaceful in my workshop, just the sheep and wild birds for company…..and occasionally one of our cats will come and inspect what I’m working on! My first workshop was an old stone out-building in the middle of one of our fields. We usually had a few of our horses grazing there too so I’d regularly have ‘visitors’ when the door was wide open in warmer weather!
That’s the pleasurable part of running your own business – actually creating useful things out of a selection of materials. It’s so satisfying to start with a beautiful new butt/bend or back of leather then gradually working through the stages using traditional saddler’s hand tools, until you’ve transformed that untouched flat piece of leather into something completely different….something beautiful and useful. The quality of the end product relies on top quality materials and the skill to create it.
I mainly work with the heavier saddlery leathers rather than the fine lighter leathers used for smaller leathergoods like wallets and watch straps. The quality of the materials is so important and I mainly use the exceptional British bridle leathers produced in the Walsall tannery of Sedgwick & Co, world renowned for their quality and fabulous to work with. The brassware and metal fittings also have to match this high standard so I use the Abbey Foundry, also in Walsall. It was founded in 1832 and still used traditional techniques to produce the best quality buckles and fittings, all hand finished. Beautiful to look at but so strong and hard wearing.
Like any craftsperson, you never stop learning and there are still so many more designs, leathers and products that I’d like to experiment with when time and space allows!
I am often asked if the stitching is done by machine but I don’t own a leather stitching machine – wherever possible, hand-stitching is stronger and more durable, though for practical reasons some things do need to be machine stitched (though not by me). There’s no substitute for leathergoods that are produced in the traditional way using saddler’s hand tools, techniques and methods including hand-stitching. A well made, correctly fitting bridle, cattle or sheep halter can make all the difference in the show ring! It is certainly more time consuming but immensely satisfying to produce an item from scratch and be confident that it will outlast any mass produced pieces.
When you buy my leathergoods, you can be sure it has been individually handmade by me alone, using traditional hand tools and techniques, hand-stitched and finished to a high standard.
I offer a commission service for bespoke items and you are welcome to visit my workshop by appointment, to discuss your requirements. Sometimes bespoke items take a little longer to design & produce, but the wait will be worth it! I also carry out re-stitching and repairs when I can fit them in! You’ll find a selection of bespoke commissions that I’ve made on the Commissions and Repairs page.
In 2010, I was commissioned to make a range of hound collars for Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood film, and in 2008, I worked with silver buckle-maker Ed Wiltshear to produce a set of commemorative belts for the Team GB eventers, Mary King, William Fox-Pitt, Tina Cook, Daisy Dick & Sharon Hunt.
2015 saw another request from the props department, this time Warner Bros. I was commissioned to produce a couple of collars for the lead dog in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them written by JK Rowling, released in November 2016. This was a very exciting and a top secret commission until the film had been released!
My foray into film props continued…… in December 2016, I was commissioned to produce a selection of collars and leads for the new film comedy version of Holmes & Watson starring Will Ferrell, Ralph Fiennes and Hugh Laurie, and also a period collar and lead set for the film ‘Colette’, based on the life of the French novelist and staring Keira Knightley. Both films were released in late 2018 so looking forward to seeing more of my work on the big screen!
I’ve just completed work for another film being made by MGM and hopefully due for release in 2021, pandemic permitting…..still top secret so no more details about it yet!
I’ve also carried out repairs and restoration work on leather items for the National Trust, and had fun being filmed in my tiny workshop by BBC Countryfile, who had been filming for a feature on rural crafts. I’m also featured in a lovely book published autumn 2015 by local Herefordshire publishers Logaston Press, with photography by Malcolm Scott, ‘Images of Creative Herefordshire’ featuring Herefordshire craftsmen, artists and musicians. I’m lucky to live and work in such a rich area of creativity in both contemporary and traditional arts and crafts.
For many years, I’ve been involved with one local Herefordshire co-operative not-for-profit group, the Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen, as a member and part of the organising committee. We collaborate in various small and large events throughout the year, giving a platform for our members to showcase their work and share ideas, which has been really rewarding over the years.
I meet so many lovely interesting customers who provide me with a huge variety in the leathergoods that I produce, so there’s really no risk of getting bored……just leaves me short of precious time to try out and develop new ideas and products!
Away from work commitments, I’ve been lucky to share my father’s passion for horses. Over many years we’ve bred and ridden some wonderful horses who’ve all been a big part of our family life. Most had successful show careers and in recent years we’ve had wonderful fun and success with eventing too. I love the great outdoors so walking and gardening fill any spare time as well as cooking, and sharing time with my family and friends, in normal times! I just wish there were more hours in the day……
RHS Malvern Spring Festival 5 - 9 May 2021
|May 5 - 9||RHS Malvern Spring Festival CANCELLED||3 Counties Showground, Malvern, Worcestershire|
Smallholding and Countryside Festival - 15 - 16 May 2021
|May 15 - 16||Smallholding and Countryside Festival CANCELLED||Royal Welsh Showground, Builth Wells, LD2 3SY|
Hay Festival - 27 May - 6 June 2021
|May 27 - June 6||Hay Festival - Digital only|
h.Art Week - 4 -12 September 2021
This year I'll be taking part in the annual h.Art week - a week long festival of the arts, crafts and designer makers across Herefordshire.
I will be joining a collective exhibition at the historic Lion Ballroom in the centre of Leominster.
Opening times to be confirmed later....
Frampton Country Fair - 12th Sept 2021
Frampton Country Fair - Frampton on Severn, Gloucestershire, GL2 7EP
This is a wonderful country fair that I have been exhibiting and selling at for over 25 years! I look forward to returning this year, you'll find me in the Crafts marquee.
Malvern Autumn Show - 24 - 26 September 2021
September 24 - 26
A welcome return of this fantastic show, extended to 3 days this year! Location to be confirmed, but I'll be exhibiting as a member of the Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen.