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The Dream Workshop 2.0

Now some of you may remember a blog I posted last year about my less then ideal workshop. Although it was lacking in a number of areas, it did serve me well and I found ways round lots of the challenges it presented me with. However, if the last year has done anything for us, I think it has taught us that we really need to focus on what truly is important to us. I also think it has shown us that we should do the things we want to do while we still can. Now before you go and get excited, no I am not doing anything wild like jumping out of a plane or travelling the world, I just updated my workshop!

The past year has given us all lots of time to think, and as you can imagine, I have spent even more time than usual stuck in my workshop. A number of issues have been bubbling away under the surface for a while now but what really cemented the need for change was inviting my sister into the workshop for a day. I have recently had a lot of people asking me about whether I offer leatherwork training, and I thought I could test this by inviting my sister in for the day to make a belt. It quickly became apparent, that although I have managed to adapt to my set up, it really isn’t ideal. As I sat and watched her struggle to punch holes the only advice I could give is “The wobbly bench doesn’t help as it adds too much vibration, you could try punching them on the floor?”

I suppose it’s also the time of year where we are reflecting on the last year and thinking about our goals for the new year. It goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic this year has definitely stopped us all from doing the things we would have liked to. Personally, I believe that 2020 was a great learning curve for us in so many ways and I have decided that 2021 is going to be the year to “go big or go home!”

 

So, stage one of the new motto was setting up a better workshop. This mainly consisted of a proper work bench and a change to the layout. The new workbench not only allows me to work in a standing position but provides a much larger working area (which means I no longer have to cut new hides on the floor!) It also provides much better storage for my leather and tools which means they are all easier to access. The new workbench is also positioned along a different wall so I have more light from the window, plus I can watch the squirrels skipping along the fence! I’ve also added a few more practical additions such as a whiteboard for my “to-do” lists and order details and some hooks for hanging up bridles and other leatherwork. (The hooks were made for me by “Horseshoe Hearts” using my horse Victor’s old shoes.) There are a few small additions I plan to make over the coming months, and it still isn’t the idealistic workshops of Instagram dreams, but you know what I blooming love it!

Looking on to the new year, I shall have to remind myself of my new motto. I don’t for one minute believe that when the clock strikes midnight on the 31st, all of our troubles will disappear. I am sure we all know that this pandemic is far from over. However, this is just another challenge life has thrown at us and instead of letting it defeat us we should look for the small window for opportunities we CAN find in these dark times and grab them by the horns!

Happy New Year!

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Making small changes

Global warming. Something we are all very familiar with. While it’s difficult to completely transform your ways of living, there are so many small changes we can make to just do a little better! We are all getting very used to reducing our single use plastics, recycling and reducing emissions but we can also be selective about who we buy products from.

As a business I feel conscious that I should set an example and I am always working to ensure my products are as sustainable as possible. For example, my current packaging comprises of 100% recycled tissue paper and recycled cardboard boxes. These materials are perfect packaging, storing and transporting my products and can be recycled again once they are no longer needed.

In terms of the products themselves, I am always being asked about the sustainability of leather as a material. Although there is a fair amount of controversy on this subject, I do my best to keep up to date with the news. The majority of the leather I use is cow hide which is taken as a by-product of the meat industry. Now the tanning processes of leather do have the potential to be damaging to the environment as harmful chemicals are often used and not always disposed of responsibly. I always try to opt for veg-tanned leather because rather than using chemicals, the leather is tanned using plant matter. These materials can be recycled after the tanning process and have little impact on the environment.

I do my best to know where my leather is coming from too. Personally, I think that English leather is the best, but I also prefer to buy English leather to reduce emissions from transport. I tend to buy from only a couple of suppliers, so I know where my materials are coming from.

Furthermore, if high quality leather is used and looked after, it can last a really long time. I think a great small change we can all make is to buy higher quality items, so we only have to buy once, thus reducing the amount of waste we produce. Even when leatherwork starts to become worn, it can often be repaired or have sections replaced rather than needing a whole new item.  The added benefit of using genuine veg-tanned leather is that it’s biodegradable, so when it finally is time to throw it away, it isn’t going to have the same impact on the environment as a synthetic version.

Now I do appreciate that some people would rather not use leather and I totally respect that. I am trying to keep up to date with alternative materials or “vegan” leathers. As far as I am aware, at the moment there isn’t any appropriate alternative material. The majority of synthetic leathers are plastic based, and I think we are all trying our best to reduce the amount of plastics we use. The processes used to create some of the plastic polymers used in synthetic leather, can be extremely damaging to the environment and obviously plastic materials cannot biodegrade so the waste has more of an impact too.

That said, I know that there is a lot of work going into developing new alternatives. From using materials like plants to make synthetic leathers, to growing leather in labs. I am doing my best to keep up with new ideas and look forward to trialling some of these materials once they are more readily available. However, for now, I’m happy to stick with the real stuff!

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The Dream Workshop!

As much as I try not to be, I am a social media fan and spend a fair bit of time scrawling through posts and pictures. Recently though, it’s been getting me down. I follow lots of other small businesses and see a lot of beautiful workspaces; picturesque views, clever storage solutions and rustic furniture and equipment plucked straight from a showroom.

 

I couldn’t help but feel a bit bleak looking around my workshop. To start my business, I moved back in with my parents. The room I work in used to be the children’s playroom so hidden in a cupboard you can find old pieces of Playmobil, the sofa wears a pair of rather fetching shoes (apparently a child’s dream…!) and the view from my window is of a rather dull fence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for my parents’ support and workshop space help, but it’s hardly the stuff of Instagram dreams…

 

It got me thinking about social media in general. Posting pictures of items I’m making and of the things I am doing is a crucial way of getting my name out there. When I’m taking a picture of a lead I’ve made for example, I do take some time angling it in a way that will make it look best, accessorising with some autumnal leaves or putting it on an attractive live model (thanks Beano and Ivy!). I’m selling things that I have worked hard on and am proud of, so always want (and want others) to see them in the best light possible. And sadly, that’s not often with the backdrop of my workshop.

 

I can’t be the only one wanting to make things look the best they can on social media. I am seeing beautiful workshops – who knows if the people posting those pictures even work in those perfect surroundings?! A lovely hut in the country might be beautiful, but maybe can only be an efficient and comfortable workspace for a maximum of a couple of hours since heating is limited and that rustic stool is incredibly uncomfortable!  They could all be in similar workshops to me, a room that’s used for multiple purposes, just altering their online image to something more idealistic.

 

It goes deeper than just businesses portraying products in a certain way. We all have that friend brunching with cliché avocado toast for the third time in a week, or that couple we know who are on holiday for what seems like the hundredth time – we can’t let this make us feel inadequate, we are only getting a glimpse into their lives, not the whole story.

 

So this blog is a quick reminder to not let the beauty of certain images make us feel less worthy – I may work in a small, crammed room that isn’t the perfect workshop, but it doesn’t stop me creating some beautiful things.  Don’t measure yourself by what others ‘appear’ to be doing; be proud of who you are, how you work and what you believe in. I’m going to continue to be proud of my workshop – so keep an eye out, you may be seeing more of it in the future!

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Can we just all be a bit nicer to each other?

Recently the horse community has been getting me down a bit. I find it really sad that this group of people who have so much in common, seems to be so judgemental and full of anger and hatred towards each other. Now before you all come at me, I know full well that it is only a minority of people causing problems, but the negative always seems to make more of an impact than the positive.

Everywhere I go, people are judging others for their riding ability, tack choices, what shoes they put on their horse, if they don’t put shoes on their horse at all, whether they turn their horse out, what colour rugs they buy, if they choose to go un-rugged, the list just goes on! At the end of the day, the one thing I’ve learnt about horses over the years, is everyone has their own way of doing things. Now isn’t this the same as everything in life, we all do things our own way, and if that works for us, what is the problem? It’s like marmite, you either love it or you hate it, but neither is wrong!
I appreciate people have the right to an opinion, but there is no need to push your opinion on others in such an aggressive way.

On the other hand, I have recently got first-hand experience of the best side of the horse community. I posted on a Facebook group last week, looking for some advice. I have been having some motivation issues since the retirement of my horse. (I won’t go into all the details now but if you’re interested let me know and I will write another blog about it.) I posted fairly cautiously, fully expecting to receive a number of judgemental and blunt responses. In fact, the response was so heart-warming I could hardly believe it. I received numerous kind words as comments on my post and a few people even took the time to privately message me. The vast majority of people didn’t judge or pry into my choices or decisions, they simply expressed empathy and shared personal experiences.

So please, can I just ask that we’re all a little bit nicer too each other. Rather than judge how others choose to do things, let’s just be supportive and encouraging. It’s great that we have such a huge community of crazy horse people and we should make the most of it!

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“How did you become a saddler?”

A question I get asked a lot, is “how did you get into saddlery?” The short story I tell people is that I stumbled across is by accident while trying to avoid going to university. That may sound like a bit of a joke, but it is the truth!

During my time at school I always did well academically, what I struggled with was motivation in subjects I wasn’t passionate about. Unfortunately, at school the advice we got was all based around university. Alternative routes weren’t really covered and there was a bit of a stigma around not going to university. So, I did as I was advised, looked at university courses that interested me and applied to universities.

A Levels are a stressful time, with the pressure of making important life decisions and being told that your exam results will determine your future. While I knew I didn’t WANT to go to university, I was constantly being told that it was normal to feel anxious about it and it was the best thing to do. I was fortunate to get an unconditional offer to study at university which took the pressure off my exams, and then I decided to defer my place for a year to give myself time to think without losing my place.

I am fortunate enough to say that my parents have always been very supportive. While they have always said I should do something that makes me happy, they also didn’t want me to miss out on opportunities or settle for something just because it was the “easy option”. The deal was, if I was going to turn down my place at university, I needed to have something else lined up. So, from the moment I left school, I was on a mission to find my way out of university!

During this year I also planned to do a lot of horse riding while I had so much free time. The horse I had at the time was an interesting crossbreed, which meant that he didn’t really fit the conventional, shop bought equipment. I was planning on competing a fair bit, so he needed to have a smart, well-fitting saddle and bridle. This is when my mum suggested I find a saddler to custom make them for me, and it was like someone had switched on a light-bulb! It sounds so stupid when I think about it now but somehow, I had never even thought about saddlery being a career, let alone a potential career option for me! Two of my greatest passions were horses and crafts, and this seemed to combine both.

Luckily, as I was on a gap year, I had far too much free time! This gave me time to research saddlery as a career option, but all my research pretty much brought me back to the same place. The saddlery world isn’t that large, and the only way to qualify as a saddler is to find an apprenticeship or go to college. I was lucky enough to find a couple of Master Saddlers to chat to, who gave me some brilliant advice and before I knew it, I had turned down my place at university and enrolled on the Saddlery course at Capel Manor College.

The further in I got, the more my passion for Saddlery and Leatherwork grew. Once I completed my course at Capel Manor, I was incredibly lucky to be one of the three students that year that was offered an apprenticeship with a master saddler. Feeling more determined and inspired than ever, I packed my bags and moved myself, and my lovely horse Victor, 150 miles from home to Shropshire. It was something I never thought that I would have been brave enough to do, but my passion for saddlery and leatherwork just seemed to overwrite everything!

After completing my qualifications in Shropshire, I decided to move back home to Hertfordshire and set up Lucy Ellis Leatherwork. This has given me the time to work on some of my own designs and the chance to be a bit more creative with my work. Although the reason I chose saddlery was largely due to the equestrian aspect, I have found a passion for all sorts of leatherwork and really enjoy making and repairing all sorts of items. While I don’t know what the future holds, at least for now I can say that I genuinely enjoy my work.