Learning to Leather

The art of leatherworking

We make an eclectic bunch, sitting in a sunny D2 café on a Saturday afternoon: a motherly insurance worker, a young French architect, a vivacious quality assurance inspector and a writer. Together, we’re the Etsy version of the Breakfast Club.

What’s brought us here is a love of the handmade, turning raw materials into something useful, something more than the sum of its parts which in this case is leather and waxed string.

“I love that leather is flexible,” says Thanh, our workshop instructor. “You can use it for almost anything. Also, our hands are so amazing. From a simple concept, our hands somehow find a way to make it come to life. With machines there’s a limit. The creativity of the human mind is boundless.”

After earning a degree in Interior Design from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture, Thanh found herself bored after a year stuck behind a computer. After a short course on leatherworking at the Women’s Cultural Center, countless YouTube videos and much trial and error, Thanh decided to channel her trained aesthetics and attention to detail into starting her own leather workshop, Freewill Leather, some three years ago.

“I found that I could work with leather all day and not feel bored,” she says. “There’s something so natural and malleable about leather, requiring a completely different set of skills than working with fabric.” Her parents nurtured her newfound spark. “Follow your passion,” they counseled. “Then you’ll stick with it. When you work for money, you’ll only find yourself chasing after the next higher-paying job.”

Oi VietNam - Freewill Leather workshops - July 2018 - IMG_1283

To the soundtrack of slow French jazz in the sun-drenched café, Thanh patiently helps us learn the skills of grooving, measuring, cutting, punching, stitching and edging. We set off to work on our individual projects – a leather wallet for everyday carry for the beginners, a more complicated coin purse for those with some leatherworking experience.

Clustered around a long table covered with cutting mats, awls, snaps, mallets and other paraphernalia, we look like a table of elves gone slightly awry, brows furrowed, lips pursed in concentration, each lost in our own little world.

Happily, Thanh floats around the table, offering a word of encouragement at a crooked stitch, suggesting to turn a seam vertically to better eyeball its straightness and sharing further insight into certain techniques. “When you hand-make something, you can make adjustments that machines cannot,” she says as she shows us to start stitching further down the side. “That way, you can double-stitch where the side meets the flap, strengthening the point of contact where the product gets the most use,” she says wisely.

Oi VietNam - Freewill Leather workshops - July 2018 - IMG_1303

During the week, Thanh and her four helpers make everything from wallets and notebooks to crossbody bags and gorgeous luggage tags stamped with a map of Vietnam in her small Binh Thanh leather studio. “I just love it when customers get exactly what they want. They can edit dimensions, choose their own colors, have something engraved and find other ways to inject their own personality into the product, rather than just buying something ready-made,” she says.

Teaching the workshops is simply an extension of her bespoke philosophy.

“I remember being very nervous,” she recalls of her first attempts at leading workshops six months ago. “But as people experienced making leather products with their own hands, they were so appreciative. The whole experience was incredibly positive. Working in the studio requires total focus, but teaching involves both creativity and enthusiasm which I love.”

Oi VietNam - Freewill Leather workshops - July 2018 - IMG_1331

Thanh offers weekend workshops in various spaces around the city. See more at freewill.lthr on Facebook.

Images by Vy Lam

Share this story, choose your platform!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on tumblr
Share on google
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on vk
Share on email
About the author:

Leave a Comment

How Carpet Cleaning Enhances Carpet’s life and Value?

Carpet cleaning can be painstaking when you have a large house and many carpets. With that in mind, it is easy to understand why people require the services of professional carpet cleaning companies that can quickly clean up your messes. However, carpets are not the only things you might need to clean up. When it

Read More »

The States That Have Legalized Marijuana So Far 2021

Are you interested in the legalization status of marijuana, especially in the United States, and want to learn more? Do you want to know where in the United States you could visit and still be able to smoke a joint legally? The legalization of marijuana has been a hot topic in the United States for

Read More »

Understanding A Hoarder: Why Can’t They Throw Anything Away?

To provide an understanding and the process of hoarding, we must first understand its definition. Hoarding is defined as a single-minded urge of collecting and safekeeping unwanted items in great numbers. Most of the people afflicted with hoarding disorder find it hard to throw away items. A hoarder desires to save items that they know

Read More »

Vietnam War Student Protests

Where did the student movement begin? The US airplanes started bombing North Vietnam in February 1965 after North Vietnamese submarines invaded 2 US ships at the Gulf of Tonkin. President Lyndon B Johnson commanded the revenge attacks blasting armed targets in North Vietnam. There were some criticisms about how the government was battling the self-governing

Read More »

Instagram: different ways to post

Have you been away from Instagram for a while now and have come back to practically a whole new platform but have no idea what’s going on? Do you want to know what all of the various different features are the Instagram has to offer now and how to use them? Instagram is by far

Read More »

In Season: A List Of Colorful Plants To Plant in Your Garden

Planting flowers can directly benefit the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen to humans and animals. Thus, improving the air quality. Moreover, there are different types of flowers you can choose from depending on your preferences. You may choose based on its colors or based on its symbolism. The wide variety of plants

Read More »