I like to work in many different mediums and have taken lots of classes and courses over the years in woodworking, mask carving, dance, leatherworking, you name it. One thing that I’ve found absolutely essential to getting good at any craft is finding a great teacher. You can look around on the internet, read books and watch videos but nothing beats the live interaction of a teacher especially in making physical things. There are efficiencies and techniques of working that are hard to translate over a paper or digital medium and I’ve learned so much from classes but also simply watching someone who is really good at what they do work on a piece.
I’m always amazed at how fast and accurate a master craftsperson works and the benefit of learning directly from them is that you don’t have to spend years conceiving and perfecting ways of doing things. You can both see the end result and follow the same beaten path. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve ‘wandered in the wilderness’ trying to figure out how to make something on my own only to have it cleared up for me in a short one hour session with a teacher.
I should say that I’m not discounting the other options of books, video and online articles. If they’re the only options available, you can still learn a lot and I highly recommend searching on forums if you get stuck but if you can even supplement your own self-taught technique with a few lessons from a good teacher, it will improve your skills by leaps and bounds.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area- I highly recommend Amblard Leather Atelier. It’s where I take class and also where I also really started to see how good leatherworking can be.
The school’s teacher Beatrice Amblard has been working in leather for over 25 years and apprenticed at Hermès. In 1987, Hermès sent her to San Francisco as an “Ambassador” to their SF store and she’s stayed here ever since.
If you’re not in the Bay Area, Here’s five things to consider when looking for a leatherworking teacher:
This seems like a no brainer but often people don’t ask. Do they own a shop? How long have they been selling their own goods? Look for someone who’s been around for bit. If they’ve been selling for a while then they will know how to work fast and accurately, a must have if you are considering the same.
Their own learning experience
Were they self-taught or did they attend a school/ do an apprenticeship? You’ll want this to match the way you prefer to learn and your intended end result. If this is a past-time for you or if you’re looking to just have fun, maybe consider teachers who haven’t had super-rigorous training or high-end technique. If you’re chasing perfection then you’ll want someone who’s been there either by working for one of the great fashion leather houses or apprenticed under a well known teacher.
The things that they make
It’s probably a good idea to work with a teach whose work you like. There are some teacher who can separate style from technique but often they bleed together and there’s no sense in making it harder for yourself by rejecting the style that your teacher prefers. You can (and should) define your own style but pick a teacher whose work is at least is somewhat in line with your own style. If you’re still searching for your own themes, try taking class from other places until you find somewhere that feels right.
How they make things
If your teacher teaches sewing on a sewing machine, you’ll eventually need to get your own or have access to one if you want to work independently. When you’re starting out, it’s probably a good idea that you don’t have access to tools and machinery. Habits develop surprisingly quickly and if you putter around on your own, you might start to do things in a way that are hard to unlearn. Many of my teachers in the past have actively discouraged me from getting my own tools at the start and for good reason. Working with an unsharp blade, a misaligned square creates sloppy work and you’ll want someone there to point out when something is awry with your tools. That said, you’ll eventually need to get some stuff for yourself and you should realistically consider whether you’ll be up for springing for say, a walking foot sewing machine. This is not a super big deal and as previously mentioned you should try out a few teachers but tool selection is worth considering if you plan on taking class regularly.
Highly overlooked but you should like taking class from your teacher. He/She could be the absolute top, uber best of the best at what they do but if they’re a crazy *sshole, you will have likewise have a crazy love/hate relationship with your craft. (if you’re in to that kind of thing then feel free to ignore this) Lots of people who are masters at what they do are also eccentric, insane or ego-maniacs. That’s why a good teacher is truly a gift; they’re good at what they do but also nurturing and patient.
I’m sure there’s more than five considerations for finding a good teacher, feel free to add your own below.