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Interview with bag making tutor Rachel Orme

11 Aug

We are so proud to have Rachel Orme joining our lecturers’ team. Trained at the London College of Fashion, Rachel is the Founder and Creative Director of the brand Rachel Orme, designing and manufacturing her own range of leather accessories as well as providing sampling and production services to designers and brands.

Rachel and her brand are passionate about preserving and developing traditional craft techniques. All the products are made by hand in London using the finest quality materials including Italian and Belgian leathers and Liberty fabrics.

We had the chance to have a chat with her and asked her a few questions about her career.
Prescott & Mackay: What do you love the most about being a bag designer and maker?

Rachel Orme: I love creating the initial design, sourcing the leather and fabrics that will complement the bag’s shape and function. Working with leather is very special and I get a lot of satisfaction from making my bags and accessories.

Rachel Blog one

P&M: Why did you decided to create your own brand and what makes Rachel Orme so unique?

RO: I come from a family that was involved in the retail business since the late 1800s. Unfortunately during the ‘80s much of it had dissipated. I became passionate about accessory design and working with leather whilst studying at London College of Fashion. It has been exciting creating my own brand and my family history has made it all the more poignant. I love using embossed leathers and my products are lined with Liberty cotton, the combination makes my products unique.

P&M: How do you translate your inspiration into the accessories you make?

RO: I am constantly inspired by the arts and crafts movement and Britain’s unique design heritage. There’s something special about the combination of eccentricity, quality and timeless classics that fires my imagination. My use of interesting embossed leathers is an example of referencing a period lost whilst creating a product that is perfect for modern women.

P&M: Do you have any special project you are working on at the moment?

RO: I’m currently working on my next collection which is the best part of the job.

rachel blog two

P&M: Many of our students wonder whether attending fairs can help them to achieve their goals. Lately you have been showcasing in London, what are the advantages and disadvantages of doing so?

RO: As someone starting out with their business I would strongly recommend attending one or more of the vast selection of fairs happening in London or the UK. It is great for so many reasons, including as a market research exercise and seeing which designs, leathers, colours people like. I think the person who knows your product best and has the most vested interest is yourself, and this can be great when selling direct to customers. But it can be physically exhausting and tiresome transporting your wares around and for those designers wanting to sell wholesale there are viable alternatives, including trade fairs and focusing on growing your brand through the web and social media.

P&M: You have already taught a few courses at Prescott & Mackay. How did you find the experience?

RO: I enjoy meeting new people and sometimes running your own business can be a little lonely. Teaching is great to meet people from different backgrounds who share a common love of creating. I love to see the range of designs students create, leathers they choose and seeing the final product.

rachle blog 3

P&M: What professional challenges do you see in your near future?

RO: My great challenge is always time. Trying to balance bringing up 3 daughters with a growing business is never going to be easy! You also have to wear a lot of different hats and juggle priorities – from financial planning to sales and marketing, so I’m constantly learning new skills and adapting to new challenges.

Rachel Orme has been already teaching some of Prescott & Mackay bag making courses. You can have a look at our online album to see what students made with her during the class. Rachel is teaching the next Five-Day Intensive Bag Making Course (15-19 September) and the new Bag Making Evening Class (from 23 September).

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


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

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:

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

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


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