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Still Made In Britain – Factories in Walsall, UK

18 Apr

Followed by the successful visit to shoe factory of high-end label T&F Slack Shoemakers London, the next tour will happen on 15 May to Walsall, guided by our bag-making tutor Lesley Taylor!

Worker at the factory of Ettinger

Worker at the factory of Ettinger

To book this tour, click here

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About the Factory Tour series at Prescott & Mackay School of Fashion and Accessory Design:

Prescott & Mackay is proud to celebrate the launch of a unique ‘Made in Britain’ Factory Tour schedule, especially tailored towards students who value the rare experience of going behind the scenes of some of the UK’s most well respected and long-standing heritage brands.

The school has teamed up with key manufacturers to showcase the rich cultural history of the UK leather goods industry and help draw a greater insight into the process that makes the kind of quality product they produce so revered across the globe.  Attendees of the tour will be guided by Prescott & Mackay tutors who themselves have vast experience of working with manufactures in their own practice and of course a personnel from the factory who will lend their own knowledge of the production facility and help make this special opportunity one to remember.

Making the bag … literally

13 Dec

Making the bag … literally

Student Kate recently took our Two-Day Beginners Bag Making course and sent us a warm message after the course:

Just thought I’d forward to you a quick blog post I just did about my experience at the Beginner’s Bag course a few weeks ago.  Lesley was a really good teacher and I got a lot out of the class (including a new bag).
Happy Holidays
Kate

Check the link above to see what she has learnt and made! :)

Student Success Story: Sarah’s Bag Brand Ruxx

29 Jun

On a belt-making course at Prescott & Mackay I met Sarah Ward-Hendry, who was wearing an eton blue cardigan. I noticed that her watch was also in the same bluish green.  “This is my favourite colour,” Sarah smiled.

Sarah in the Belt Making class

Sarah was obviously not a fresh hand. The way she cuts the leather, punches the holes and burnishes the edge of the belt all shows her experience. When I am still working on my first belt, she has nearly finished her second one.  All this was explained when Sarah later told me that she has her own bag business – Ruxx.

We got together during lunch break and looked at Sarah’s company leaflets. The collections have a very clear selling point: rucksacks, all designed by Sarah. According to Sarah, only the finest leathers are used on her collection and every stitch is done in the UK.

Ruxx: backpacks

Sarah then told me her story. “Before attending P&M, I had started my business and had started sampling but I was struggling on some techniques that I had no knowledge of.  I had not been on a course for bag-making before this but had attended a short course (10 evenings) in shoemaking which helped me understand how to work with leather.”
“Then I found P&M and first attended a bag-making course with Lesley about a year and a half ago to improve some of my techniques. Lesley is so knowledgeable and the experience you gain on a 1 day or 3 day course is fantastic.  The courses cover so much in such a short amount of time but with tutors who have a commercial experience as well as skills-based one.  It has gone from strength to strength and the knowledge I gained from P&M was invaluable.”

Well, I couldn’t agree more. Every tutor at P&M is among the best in their areas, but what makes P&M unique is that students are given the opportunity to be taught by these professional practitioners. Things like how to solve the real problems students will meet in production and the source of suppliers are not taught in universities’ lectures.

Tutor Lesley is demonstrating one of the traditional leatherwork techniques: saddle stitch

So how does Sarah produce her bags? “I have struggled to find manufacturers in this country and when I started to look to find someone to sample my designs I thought it would be quicker and cheaper to buy the equipment and do it myself and that is how I started. I now make all my own samples and some stock but have a small producer I found by chance who does quantity for me.”

Sarah in her studio - in her garden shed

Then why Ruxx? “Ruxx is just a beautiful name that says it all, it relates back to my core product ‘the rucksack’ but I just love the look of the name and I think it represents quality too. It combines clever design with luxurious leathers, making rucksacks desirable not just practical.”

When I asked Sarah why she still came to the belt-making course since she has already got so many skills, she said: “I am now just gaining further knowledge on belts for my accessories section.  I love P&M and will continue to use them for furthering gaps in my knowledge.”

Just when I am writing this blog entry, I received an email from Sarah telling me that her Ruxx bag was on Grazia Daily today. Well done Sarah!

Jessie bag from Ruxx

See more RUXX bags from Sarah:  www.ruxx.co.uk

The Craftsmen – Endangered Species?

18 Apr

More than 70 years ago, the leather luxury brand Valextra was born in Milan. It’s famous for using exquisite, precious leather, and maintaining a consistantly impressive level of quality.  In an interview with “The Business of Fashion”, Valextra president Emanuele Carminati Molina told them how he revitalised the company in 2002 by approaching former Valextra craftsmen and convinced them to come back to work for the brand, believing that craftsmanship is the key factor in maintaining the brand’s soul. Now he is facing a new problem: as his highly-skilled workforce approach retirement age, who can replace them?  This is a big challenge because, according to Mr. Molina, there are very few young people who have the patience for this job,  and it takes years to learn the skills and a lifetime to reach the highest level.  

Valextra leather bag - photo via Womens Wear Daily

 

Valextra Slim Tundra Bag - photo via Bagbible.com

While Mr. Molina is worrying about the education of young people and his legacy of leather craftsmanship, things aren’t quite the same in London. More and more people are showing strong interest in developing crafts skills and taking up courses such as the ones provided by us at Prescott & Mackay, especially those emphasizing traditional leather craftsmanship.  Our school always focuses on teaching technical skills and product development techniques.

In P&Ms Advanced Bag Making course, student Marion is working on a white tote bag

Starting from idea research and sketch to pattern cutting skills, students learn from industrial experts from the very first day of the course. Stimulated by their own works, many of them have discovered a passion for leather craft and have gone on to persue careers following this new interest. 

The handle detail

We hope if Mr. Molina visits our school one day, he will see how much love is held towards craftsmanship, and will be convinced that the craftsmen will not be made extinct.

The Wonderful Leather Bag I Made

11 Apr

I have read one or two bag-making books that I bought from Amazon before taking P&M’s Beginners Bag Making course. Those books are more about sewing techniques than constructing a bag – in most cases you just cut two pieces of fabric according to a pattern as the body of the bag, then cut the lining and make two fabric handles, and sew together.  But that kind of bag can’t satisfy me. I want my bag to look handcrafted but more like a store product than something made at home. I am also particularly interested in learning how to make leather bags,  and tutor Lesley has proved to me that this course is the right start!

There were five of us in the class. First we chose materials. Tracey has brought a piece of dark pink tweed fabric that she bought a long time ago from Liberty, but had no idea what to use it for. Elizabeth and Tim have brought their own leather, while Wendy and I chose vegetable-tanned calf hide from the studio. My leather is very pretty calf skin in fawn, and my lining is white canvas.

the cut pieces of bag body and lining

The difference between the beginners’ course and the advanced one is that we have to use patterns prepared by the tutor in the beginners’ course, and with less complicated designs, mainly due to the time limitaions. But even a simple one like this still has a lot of processes involved – you will be stitching the leather facing and lining together, positioning and attaching the pocket and adding your own personal touches if you have time!

The advanced course is often held in conjunction with P&M’s bag pattern making course (One-Day Shape Making for Bags), so that you can create your own design.

sew facing, linine and pocket together

The pattern I chose has an oval flat base. After the lining is sewn, it looks like this:

the lining looks like a bag already!

I worked quite fast so I had a bit of time to add some personal touches to my bag – hand-sewing a label with my name on it!

my little leather label

Leather is very different from fabric. To tidy up the edge of the bag we did a lot of gluing and cutting. This is a view of my glued leather facing…

neatening the edge

Following nearly the same procedure, I constructed the body of my bag - all leather with a flap!

structuring the body of the bag

Then we need to decide the shape and style of handles – that’s my favourite part! My handle is a single strap on which I used a lot of techniques that I learnt on the belt-making course.

leather handle belt

I put the lining bag into the body bag and sewed them together, then riveted my belt handle on. My bag is complete! Althought the pattern I chose seemed to be very simple, the whole bag looks amazing when finished! I am so proud of my bag :) The slim leather strap is actually the leftover calf hide from my handle.

my finished leather bag!

Make a clutch in 1 day

27 Oct

Is it possible to make a nice leather bag in one day? Yes, if you make a clutch at Prescott & Mackay.

leather clutch

a leather clutch completed via the course

This structured clutch requires many essential techniques of bag-making including materials assembling (upper and lining), edge finishing, skiving (making the edge of the leather thinner so that it is easier to sew), gluing, stitching, U-shaped gusset, and attaching studs/magnets. In order for you to learn all these in one day, tutor Lesley Taylor, our leatherworking expert, has prepared all patterns for you.

leather cut based on the available patterns

You can make either a fabric clutch or a leather clutch. Many students prefer to bring their own materials so the bags are exactly what they want!

fabric clutch bag material

one student's materials for a fabric clutch bag

fabric clutch with leather lining

fabric clutch with leather lining

Materials included/available for use in this courses are:

  • limited choices of upper and lining materials – fabric or leather
  • pattern paper
  • big leather board – supporting the back panel
  • all necessary tools and equipment for bag-making and leatherworking

You don’t need to have a good experience of using sewing machines to take this course, as long as you can sew straight lines.

sewing the gusset

using domestic sewing machine to sew the gusset

The clutch made out of this course is a fully structured one that you can proudly bring to any important occassions.

fabric clutch

fabric clutch

The first handmade clutch course: January 23, 2011. Click here to book

Other available bag making courses at Prescott & Mackay: 
One-day Shape Making for Bags
Two-day Beginners Bag Making Course
Two-day Advanced Bag Making Course
Five-day Intensive Bag Making Course

A combination of Shape-Making and Advanced Bag-Making

16 Aug

Nicole and Liz both took two bag-making courses this summer. Let’s have a look how they took advantage of the three days!  

In the first one-day shape-making course they brought to the class their design inspirations including photos of bags, notes, their sketches about their ideal bag (by the way, you don’t need to draw to an artistic standard at all!) and showed them to the tutor Lesley.  

Lesley in class

Tutor Lesley is explaining bag structure

Lesley then explained the basic structure of bags to them and taught them how to realise their design on pattern paper. There are a lot to consider for a bag – the weight of the stuff which will be in the bag, the lining, the handles, how to close the bag… – so that you won’t make a bag but find that it can only be a decoration!  

After they have finalised the patterns, carefully drawn them on paper and cut them, they need to use some ordinary fabric to make a mock-up according to the pattern. It helps further prevent possible mistakes from happening when you cut the real (and maybe expensive) materials based on the pattern!  

 At the end of the day, each of them had a mock-up bag and patterns of their unique designed bag.
  

Bag-Making

The Mock-up of Liz is on the right side

The second and the third day were the Advanced Bag-Making course. A lot of cutting, gluing and sewing was going on.

Ready for cut

Nicole's pattern laying out on her leather

bag-making: glue the zipper and sew
Lesley is teaching Liz how to attach the zipper

 
If a student hasn’t taken a pattern making course he or she could choose from Lesley’s prepared patterns. If using fine fabric they might need to attach interfacing on it for reinforcement.

interfacing

You can see the interfacing is ironed onto the fabric

 
In the next picture we could see Liz’s bag almost come into shape!

Parts of Liz's Bag

Liz is going to assemble her bag!

If the material of the bag is fabric, mainly domestic sewing machine will be used. For leather bag the students have many chances to use the skiving machine and industrial sewing machine in the P&M studio. The skiving machine could magically get rid of the flesh side of the leather, reduce the thickness of leather, making gluing and stitching much easier.
Liz and Nicole’s bags are finished! We all gather around them and marvel at how pretty they are.
Liz's finished bag

After three days, Liz's bag is completed!

Nicole's bag

Nicole's bag has three leather tassels

To achieve a similar result, we strongly suggest you think carefully about what kind of bag you like and visualise a shape in your mind. Why not start looking for your favourite bag types now and get ready to create your own?

———–
View photos from Beginners Bag Making course here

View photos from Advanced Bag Making course here

 
Prescott & Mackay has the following bag-making courses:
One-Day Shape Making for Bags, London, UK  - for pattern making
Two-Day Beginners Bag Making, London, UK  – mainly fabric is used
Two-Day Advanced Bag Making, London, UK - mainly leather is used
Five-Day Bag Making – Intensive, London, UK - for all levels, including pattern-making and bag-making, you can choose leather yourself in one of the top London leather merchants
Hope to see you in the class soon!

Lesley Taylor

17 Mar

INTERVIEW: Lesley Taylor

As is true of all Prescott & Mackay’s teaching staff, bag making’s Lesley Taylor manages a successful career alongside her teaching, working as head designer at British heritage brand Brady. In this, the first of a series shining the spotlight on our talented team, we quiz Lesley on her life in leather and what makes her tick as a designer

Lesley is the tutor for Prescott & Mackay's bag-making course

 

 

How have you learnt your craft?

I am partly self-taught and partly trained. At 19 I was fortunate enough to get a job with a local leather merchant and leatherworker in my hometown of Newcastle, which proved to be a great start in the business. My employer was hugely encouraging and supportive and during my time there I gained a broad knowledge of the different types of leather and their end uses as well as leatherworking skills. To a certain extent I would also try to work things out for myself, taking on all sorts of repair projects that weren’t viable for the merchant, and then spend hours at home figuring out just how they should be done. When I set up my own business – an invaluable learning experience in itself – I’d continue to take on a variety of repair jobs which I always found taught me a lot. I learnt not only about how things were put together, but also about where they were going wrong. My first formal technical and design training came during my time on the footwear and accessories degree at Cordwainers College in London. I was part of the course’s first intake and upon graduating I joined luxury accessories brand Mulberry, with whom I had done my final year industry-linked project. I worked there for five years before moving on to my current job at Brady in 2002.

What led you to working in leather goods?

Initially it was a love of sewing. I’d always enjoyed sewing but I’d ruled it out as way of making a living after doing some pretty poorly paid work hand sewing repairs for a local antique textiles dealer. Happily though, when I first got the job with the leather merchant I realised that I could actually make a living from my passion if I learnt the skills required to sew leather. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the potential that leather could offer, and meeting the many varied customers opened my eyes to the vast number of opportunities within the industry.

If you had not discovered bag design, what do you think you might have become?

I think that I would have still ended up in a job that is craft-based, like an upholsterer or a stonemason. I am fascinated too by marketing and graphic design, but I’m lucky that I do get to do elements of these in my job [at Brady], despite being a latecomer to the world of computers. In reality there are many other routes I might have taken within the world of leather goods if I hadn’t become a bag designer. As I said, the make up of the industry is so varied. I considered training as a saddler at one point.

What is the most satisfying aspect of designing bags?

There are lots of things that make my job satisfying. I love working in a team of such skilled and talented people that creates fabulous things. And when a design concept is turned into a well finished, beautiful product, after what can be a difficult and frustrating process, it feels great to stand back and think wow, we made that! I also actually get a real kick out of production, seeing the idea that you’ve made once, then ordered and manufactured in quantity – I suppose we all want others to appreciate what we do. Seeing something you have designed featured in a good magazine is naturally very rewarding too. I had a few best sellers that were featured during my Mulberry days, and now at Brady Bags – where things are more low key – every new article or feature feels like even more of a success and a breakthrough for the brand.

One of the "Discovery"range that Lesley designed for Brady

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

 

I find inspiration from many things. Often it is the materials themselves that inspire me. Finding just the right piece of leather or a fitting that you know is perfect to make a certain item is really satisfying and inspiring. Another source of inspiration comes from looking at old vintage leather goods. I love to study really top quality handmade pieces to see how they have been constructed and take inspiration from that master-craftsman finish. Also as a bag designer, I’m often thinking about function or finding a gap in the market. I am, like most of us, hugely susceptible to trends but it’s important for me to always keep in mind customer requirements.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Getting my first job with the leather merchant at 19 and realising that I could work and enjoy it!

When teaching at Prescott & Mackay, what is the most important thing you’re trying to impart to your students?

The main thing I try to impress upon my students is that, in essence, nothing in bag making is that difficult. Once you gain a basic understanding of how products are put together, each element can be simply achieved with the right know-how. In terms of design, my classes are really more about bag making than design, but a good understanding of how something is made and what to make it from is hugely helpful to anyone interested in design.

What is the most important thing you have learnt?

I have learned just how little I know! When I was first working for the leather merchant doing leatherwork, I thought I was extremely knowledgeable as I was learning so many new techniques. But now, twenty years on, I am aware of how much more there is to learn – every day I can learn a new piece of relevant information, fact or technique. I am still learning.


www.prescottandmackay.com

 www.bradybags.co.uk

Two Day Beginners Bag Making

Two Day Advanced Bag Making

One Day Shape Making For Bags

Five Day Intensive Bag Making

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