By Heather Large, Express & Star.
Deborette Clarke first fell in love with leather craft when she was a student and now she aims to inspires others by sharing her passion.
As well designing and making small leather goods under her label B18 Leather, she also runs workshops for all ages teaching the skills needed to make their own different bags, purses and keyrings.
While next month she is launching her own social enterprise where she will help a group of 16 to 18-year-olds to develop, make and sell their own textile product.
“I’ve always been a creative person, rather than an academic. I like being hands-on and learning as I go.
“I think it’s so important to share the skills that I learn with others especially young people and show them that if they want to be creative, there are plenty of paths they can take. I’m passionate about what I’m doing and giving young people opportunities,” says Deborette, who hails from West Bromwich.
After teaching design and technology at secondary schools for 16 years, she now runs a studio in the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.
She set up her business two years ago having been inspired by a pre-owned leather sewing machine and a desire to experiment with the material.
“I had worked with leather while I was at college and I was impressed with it’s versatility.
“I love the fact it’s durable and will go on and on. Something that is made with leather is made to last. As long as you make it well and use it well, it will last forever.
“Different leathers will have different characteristics. You can get some that is tough and thick as canvas and some that is as fine as silk to cut.
“You have to respect leather and respect that it’s a natural product and may not always act the way you expect.
“But as long as you respect the leather, it will work with you and help you to create something beautiful,” says Deborette, who is a member of Leather UK, a trade association which represents and promotes the interests of those who produce, support, supply and use leather.
She uses both mineral and vegetable tanned leather which she purchases from reputable merchants across the UK, including in Walsall, which has the largest concentration of leather workers in northern Europe.
“I do get a bit of my leather from Walsall but as it’s mostly used for saddle making, it tends to be a thicker leather than I usually use.
“I try to buy as much of my supplies from the West Midlands and the rest of the UK as I can as I think this is very important and it’s good to support other small businesses,” says Deborette, who has previously run craft workshops at Walsall Leather Museum and the Black Country Living Museum.
Mineral tanning involves the leather being treated with agents such as chromium, aluminium, zirconium, titanium and iron salts while in vegetable tanning oak and spruce bark is commonly used.
Some of Deborette’s pieces have been hand painted using a variety of methods such as marbling while she has also taken inspiration from artists such as abstract painter Jackson Pollock.
“I enjoy experimenting with different colours and techniques. Recently I’ve been doing screen printing and I was able to use the facilities at STEAMhouse in Digbeth, which is a creative hub. It’s a great resource and there is support there in print, digital, metal and wood workshops,” explains Deborette.
There are no secrets to her work as Deborette says she likes people to see how a piece has been made and the skills that have been used.
“For me traceability is paramount – each piece I produce has a visual narrative. You will see its journey from raw cut pieces through to the finished article,” she says.
In August she will launch her social enterprise and has been attending training sessions run by Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs programme, which is in partnership with School for Social Entrepreneurs.
“A lot of young people aren’t getting the chance to be creative as part of the school curruciulum any more, a lot of schools have dropped design and technology.
“I think it’s important to offer them opportunities outside of the curriculum. It will help them to build their confidence and teach them to work as a small team. They will be learning practical skills by designing, making and then selling their product at an event,” explains Deborette.
Deborette, who is also part of the Quartermasters collective, enjoys sharing her enthusiasm at her workshops which attract participants from across the Midlands as well as further afield.
“It takes patience to learn a new skill but it’s something anyone can have a go at. I love the whole process from starting with a flat sheet of metal to the finished product.
“Everything I make has a purpose. I’ve found that leather craft is very inclusive and all generations love it. The youngest child I’ve taught was five and the oldest student has been in their 80s. The kids love stamping and the older ones love sewing.
“I make sure that everyone who attends a workshop goes home with something they are proud of and something they will want to show their family and friends and say ‘I made this’,” she tells Weekend.