I was trained as a silversmith and Jeweller at Sheffield School of Art in the 1970's where Keith Tyssen was head of department. A leatherworking friend was moving abroad and wanted to sell her tools etc and asked if my friend Annie Barnett (nee Cole) wanted to buy her equipment. When we ceased trading, we split the business and I went forward with the leather tools etc. Keith heard that I was working with leather...
Keith was invited by Jonathan Silver, the owner of Salts Mill at Saltaire near Keithley to make a series of 50 belts. Keith had asked me to make the belts to put onto his buckles in the past, he was particularly specific about a Coffee colour that I mixed specially for his belts. On a few occasions he popped round to the house at Bents Green Ave to discuss what he needed when visiting his mum who lived nearby.
I think Jonathan may have seen Keith’s buckles at a show and had an idea to order fifty as a promotion for his new venture on the third floor of Salts Mill. Johnathan had made his name in Carnaby Street in the 60’s in mens outfitting and he had then moved onto other ventures. However, he had spotted an opportunity to buy the derelict Salts Mill and many of the properties in the model village, which was very pioneering at that time.
He had turned the huge ground floor of Salts Mill with its coffered brick ceiling into an extraordinary space with art books, art cards, Victoriana mixed with modern art pieces on display with opera blasting through the space, it felt like no other space I have ever been in.
I highly recommend a special visit.
Johnathan then decided to open the third floor as a mens outfitters with top quality mens casual ware. He approached Keith to make the belts, and then contacted me via Keith to discuss the leather part of the order.
He was very specific, they were to be lined and stitched and had the Salts Mill logo stamped onto the leather. I visited the mill while the conversion of the floor was being carried out and it was fascinating to see part of the process. There was a very funny moment discussing sizes, as Johnathan wanted four sizes. So he asked his team what size they were. He then got out his tape measure and measured them, they were all bigger than they claimed, so that determined the quantity he ordered in the different sizes - more lager sizes. That knowledge has stayed with me during my leather working career!
Johnathan was a childhood friend of David Hockney and he launched the shop with an exhibition of his work in another extraordinary space on the same floor as the outfitters, behind a new cafe on that floor.
Jonathan exhibited Hockney’s design sets for opera and pictures of his friends and muse Celia Birtwell. I think these were two separate exhibitions as I was invited to two of the previews. I went to one with my ex husband and the other with Pat Hodson (batik artist) who is a great fan of Hockney. I remember that the Champagne flowed on both occasions and many of the famous people who were in the paintings were present including Celia Birtwell and David Hockney. Richard Whiteley of Yorkshire Television was reporting live from one end of the Mens Outfitting area, with a white curtain backdrop. I also spotted actor/director Barrie Rutter who was a couple of years ahead of me at my senior school in Hull, and still kick myself for not having the nerve to say hello to him.
That connection launched my leather working career because Jonathan asked me if I could make other coloured belts and cheaper, which was fine as I found sourcing suitable leather linings and stitching difficult to price correctly - I didn’t charge enough for my time and materials! He ordered 200 belts in many different colours for the launch of the shop and offered to pay up front as I couldn’t afford the materials at the time. He also asked what else I made and he ordered one of my organisers and he commissioned a document bag for a friend.
I continued to make belts for the shop for a few years.
My children were very young at the time, Tom the youngest was a few months old. As they became a little older I was able to take part in local craft events and experiment with the type of leather that I was using, the start of my leather practice!
Jonathan died tragically young in his forties, and his family continue to run the extraordinary Salts Mill.
So its thanks to Keith for making the connections that launched my leather working career!
Here is the photo that shows Hockney wearing one of the belts. Jonathan told me that he had given him a belt. You can just catch a glimpse of the buckle and you can tell its my leather because I dyed the leather black, its a surface dye, and the leather is pale coloured where the holes are punched. (Johnathan ordered black belts.)