Last week I was lucky enough to attend a “Sewing Machine Maintenance” module. Although I don’t own a leather sewing machine at the moment, I do use them from time to time, most often as part of my apprenticeship.
Although I am trained to hand stitch and I am a strong believer of hand stitching being better than machine stitching, I believe there is also a place for machine stitching in the saddlery industry and its important to have these skills. It was a really informative course, covering all areas of machine maintenance and also information about the different types of machines available and how they can be adapted for use.
To be honest, the best part for me was the location. The course was held at the Vale Brothers factory which is a big saddlery factory in the heart of Walsall (the home of English saddlery.) As an apprentice I have visited a few saddlery factories and worked occasionally in one, so I am familiar with the general form but it’s still fun to see new places.
Saddlery factories are not as high tech as people may think. Compared to my training and experience of smaller saddlery businesses, the factories have all sorts of genius machines and equipment but the do still require a lot of man power and many things are still assembled by hand.
The most depressing thing for me however, is seeing a machine do a job that I’ve spent the past 3 years perfecting, so effortlessly and far quicker than I could ever do it. For example, they have a type of computerised sewing machine that can stitch decorative patterns onto leatherwork in a matter of seconds when the same job would take me half an hour! I have to remind myself that there is a place for both, mass production from factories gives a wider range of people access to leatherwork at more affordable prices, but hand made and hand stitched work will always give a higher quality of item.