The MADE NORTH Gallery presents new and experimental work by established and emerging northern designer/makers. We aim to promote a range of northern designer/makers and provide opportunities to find out a little bit more about how they work and their sources of inspiration.
Ruth Pullan makes handstitched leathergoods from British hand dyed vegetable tanned leather from her workshop in Ilkley. We are very pleased to be showing a range of Ruth’s work at MADE NORTH Gallery in our Launchpad space. We caught up with Ruth to find out what influences her work.
A satisfying realisation came soon after a leatherwork course at the Cumbria School of Saddlery a few years ago that leather was the medium I wanted to work in. It’s a slow, thoughtful, almost meditative process, quietly stitching away in my workshop, without the hum of machines and the cursing that comes with them.
I take great care in choosing the materials for my products and try to keep the designs as pared down as possible to allow the quality of materials and finish to stand out. The leather I use is vegetable tanned leather, traditionally pit-tanned in Bristol which I then hand dye to the shade required. I then condition the leather with my own blend of fats and oils to create a beautiful sheen to the leather. The pieces are cut by hand using a saddler’s knife and then stitched by hand using the two needle method using waxed linen thread, a traditional way of manufacturing leathergoods and one which stands the test of time. The brass hardware I use is sand cast in Walsall at the last remaining buckle foundry in the United Kingdom
Who or what inspired you to become a designer/maker?
I think primarily it came from being a frustrated consumer. I could never find the clothes or accessories in the shops that I liked, resorting to using my Mum’s old bags and satchels from the 70s which had stood the test of time with good design and beautiful materials. I started to make bags and clothes for myself and this, coupled with a love of heritage crafts which was building at the time, led me to study bridle work and leather goods manufacture up at the Cumbria School of Saddlery in Penrith. I think another main thing which has and will continue to inspire me is meeting other craftspeople who have made a living from their work and lived simply and well for many years. These people are the salt of the earth and need to be treasured! I have also recently found out that my Great Grandfather was a boot-maker in Bradford with his brother and father at the turn of the last century, so leather must be in the blood.
How would you describe your work?
Simple, classic design, made to last a lifetime, for people who are also frustrated consumers who want to make a change!
Where are you based? Please describe your studio.
I have a workshop in Ilkley. I’m not the tidiest of workers, so tend to be surrounded by books, sketches, tools and foraged acorns, leaves and pebbles from walks and journeys. I’m not sure how this reflects on my products as creating a beautifully neat, hand stitched seam is one of my prides in my work but it’s a lovely space to create in.
What piece of work are you most pleased or proud of, and why?
I really think that if I have learnt from something I have made, I am proud. If you want an actual thing then the first pair of rolled handles I made which are waiting to be stitched onto an overnight bag I’m slowly making for myself. They’re tough to make!
What is the most satisfying part of the work you do?
I think it’s knowing that I can start the week with an undyed shoulder of leather and finish it having made a beautiful bag which will be used for years to come.
What would be your dream project?
I don’t know if I have a “dream” project for my leatherwork, but in a broader sense I would love to have a workshop with some fellow makers and a little gallery where we would be able to showcase some of the very talented people who are out there in the world of craft.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently experimenting with surface finishes to leather, so screen printing onto it and carving into it to produce patterns and textures. We’ll see what happens!
We are creating a MADE NORTH designer playlist, what track/tracks (max three) would you include?
Gosh, this is hard, far too many to choose from! I’ve really loved listening to Rick Redbeard’s album
No Selfish Heart this last year so I would choose “Now we’re Dancing” from that album. Another one would be Calum Stewart and Lauren MacColl’s “A Highland Lamentation” which is just beautiful and finally Cahalen Morrison and Eli West’s “Red Prairie Dawn”. All tunes for a little Northern roadtrip!
When you’re not working what do you like to do?
I love growing my own vegetables and have a large plot where I attempt to and sometimes succeed in growing sweetcorn, squash, sprouts and spinach, among other things! I also love to just get out into nature and have a good walk, find a rock with a view and read a book, nothing else can beat that!
What does the north of England mean to you?
The North to me has a sense of freedom with everything being at your fingertips. Two hours away in one direction you have London with all that has to offer and two hours in the other direction you are in the middle of glorious countryside. We really do have the best of every world here, culture, countryside, history and a real sense of pride and belonging which I think is very important. It’s serious but without taking itself too seriously — something I think reflected in its people!
Find out more about Ruth here.