by Liv McClintock
I spent 23 years in the IT field before deciding to start a family. Up until then, sewing had been used mostly as a stress-relieving pastime and a mode of decorating my home. But six months after my daughter was born, I got back into sewing and discovered a new-found love of leatherworking, too. I never thought it would eventually become a full-time career.
I spent a lot of winters in my youth sewing fabric, which ultimately gave me a strong foundation for sewing leather. My mother loved quilting and taught me how to hand sew when I was eight. That skill carried over into the summers I would spend with my aunt in Wilmington. Having trained in the ’40s as a seamstress in New York’s garment district, she taught me how to sew with a machine and use commercial patterns. I learned some basic leatherworking from my brother, too. He used to make custom belts for himself because he didn’t like the fit of most store-bought belts. He taught me how to cut leather and how to hand buff it with a piece of cotton canvas. I’d charge him $5 a belt to help him out. Those skills helped keep my wardrobe fresh through college while on a student budget.
I pursued Information Sciences in college rather than fashion and went on to start a Wilmington-based tech firm. Leatherworking didn’t become a true passion of mine until many years later when I went searching for a leather computer bag for work. I needed something that could fit all the things I needed – including breast pump supplies – and blend with the suits I wore to client meetings. Dissatisfied with the choices available online or in any of the shops I explored, I decided to make my own. I drafted the pattern from scratch based on what I wanted the bag to carry. The finished bag started my passion for bag design and rekindled my love of leather as a material.
Eighteen years into running my tech firm, I made a big change and I sold my business after deciding I needed to be home with my daughter for her needs. Leaving my company was a very demanding, emotional and intense process for something I built from scratch over 18 years. I loved the field, my customers and staff, however, my family’s needs superseded that. My re-interest in leatherworking happened during the two-year transition out of IT. It took a year in between businesses (2012) for me to envision Town and Shore Handcrafted. I started Town & Shore Handcrafted in 2013 to begin selling to a few wardrobe stylists who wanted exclusive items for their clients. It allowed me to wade slowly into starting an artisan-made leather goods business.
Learning a Lost Art
While my 20+ years of sewing skills did transfer their use to leather, high-end results required further research. That’s why my first years with the business involved chasing down every bit of leather-working and case-making education I could find, and it has taken years for me to hunt down modern knowledge and techniques. I started by using manuals written by saddle-makers, then moved on to doing open sewing sessions with other leatherworkers in areas like Baltimore and Lancaster. I pursued every lead I could on leather training, and eventually, the internet led me to pockets of teachers in pattern-making and leather craft in California, Nevada, Chicago, Texas, and outside the US. Even today I continue to get training from other sources at least 1-2 times a year in order to learn new techniques. I love pattern-making, leatherwork, and garment-sewing because of the precision and attention to detail that it demands. It is a constant task of learning that keeps my mind and hands busy.
The Work Behind the Work
The art of traditional leather-working has been dying off for decades in the US, mostly due to mass production and outsourcing of the garment industry to overseas manufacturing. However, a small community of fashion artisans committed to the laborious process of leatherwork still endures. It may take a couple of days or weeks to get an idea from sketch to pattern if there is a lot of complexity in the design and construction. Then several sets of mockups must be done before moving to the sample stage with real leather or other expensive materials. This is because leather may be an amazing material, but unlike fabric, it is not forgiving. Once the needle has punctured the leather, the material will never be the same and the hole will never go away. If I sew a seam incorrectly, I cannot just remove the thread and start over as I would with fabric. It must be restarted with a new set of materials. Resewing the same area could create more holes and compromise the strength of the seam, leaving the customer with a substandard item that would eventually result in torn, unrepairable leather. To avoid unnecessary waste of material, a design must be well-tested, adding plenty of time to the ‘design’ stage that the craftsman will never get compensated for.
While leatherwork is extremely labor-intensive, there’s a lot of pride that comes with each product. When someone is wearing one of my pieces, I want them to feel like the piece fits their style or helps them define it, leaving them feeling confident, pretty and chic. For women with a strong fashion sense, my pieces will easily inspire their wardrobe and the looks they pull from it. For those who may still be developing their style identity, I want to give them the confidence to bring out their personalities in their dress. I design with a sense of duality that I see in nature. Modern women have many roles to play, and I want us to be unapologetic if we choose to dress well for them.
I’ve never been one for sitting idle long and combining motherhood with a small business certainly keeps you busy. My daughter joins me occasionally in my studio or during a photoshoot. It is a wonderful feeling to know that she can witness how art can turn into a business. My husband has been so supportive, too. He still works in technology; talking to him about the industry keeps me connected to it. He has been a saint in putting up with long weekend conversations on areas he’s not so familiar with, like color and design, and my constant business challenges, from staffing to equipment. It is tough sometimes to support so many demands, but it is never a bore. I think the keys for me have been to focus on my business strategy, on developing the quality of my work, on not being frustrated when my vision exceeds the number of hours in a day, and on keeping my first priority – family – always in mind.
HAC Member, Liv McClintock, is a dedicated mother, businesswoman, and leatherworker who owns and operates Town & Shore Handcrafted in Delaware. Learn more at https://www.townshorestudio.com/