Catherine Edwards. Designer. Maker.


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Catherine Edwards began her working life as a Saturday girl for the local clog maker whilst attending Hereford College of Art and Design.

From there she progressed to Cordwainers College, the leather based design school of the London College of Fashion.

Upon leaving she was offered a rare apprenticeship with the prestigious boot makers Henry Maxwell and Co Ltd.

A residency as shoe maker at the Royal Armouries, Leeds, led to a collaboration with a saddler, from which came the inspiration for her current collection.

In 2010 I recorded an interview with Fiona Pattison, here is the text and below an audio recording:

 

Fiona:

Hello! I’m here in the studio with designer-maker Catherine Edwards. Hello Catherine.


Catherine:

Hello Fiona.

Fiona:     

Now for our listeners, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

 

Catherine:

Yes certainly. I started off when I was about 16, working for the local clog makers, as a Saturday girl. I basically outgrew him. I went up to London to study at a college called Cordwainers. It’s actually part of the London College of Fashion, Now: it was actually part of Central Saint Martins back then. There for best part of 3 years: studying how to design and make shoes, which was absolutely brilliant. It taught me a lot about the insides of the industry, lots of technical information. However, I wanted to very much to go down the handmade route, so I got an apprenticeship, quite a rare apprenticeship with one of the West End boot makers. It’s no longer in existence actually. Henry Maxwell used to make riding boots for the landed gentry. So when Maxwell’s folded, I got taken on by another company, also in the West End actually in St. James. It’s called John Lobbs as one of their in-house apprentices. I worked within the West End of London for about 4-5 years and eventually got sent up to West Yorkshire to complete my training.

I got an apprenticeship with a west end boot maker


A shoemaker’s apprenticeship is normally about five years long and as I say, I’d done about 4 years by that point. So when I came up here, I established myself here. I got my own studio and I began working as a freelance shoemaker. Amazingly, through a complete set of coincidences, got a placement at the Royal Armouries. I actually ended up being shoemaker to the Royal Armouries for 2 years, working with a medieval saddler who had got a contract for the Ministry of defence, making jack boots for the household cavalry and he had no idea where to begin with these jack boots; and because I'd come from that sort of background, I was his obvious choice to give him a hand, which is fantastic. It was my best job ever. Involving running around after various actors, sewing up their jerkins and one day I’ll be making shoes for the V&A, the next day I’ll be making shoes for the Globe Theatre down in London and then I’ll be back to making the old thigh boots for the household cavalry. It was my dream job really, it has to be said.

jerkins, shoes, thigh boots for the v&a, globe theatre and the household cavalry; it was my dream job


Once that finished, once the placement came to an end, I decided I really couldn’t go back to just full-time shoemaking. I needed another direction, which was for me making bags and making to commission. From there I took a stand at Harrogate Cloth Fair and really that was the making of me. That first year I got so many contacts I was actually rushed off my feet. The orders were just thick and fast; and for that whole year just doing that one stint at Harrogate sustained me until the following year. And thank goodness I did it because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you now.

Fiona:

It’s so interesting hearing your story and where you’ve come from and the fact that you really worked on a trade.

my new direction: making bags, required that traditional grounding

Catherine:

Yeah, the tradition kind of training that I had, which I think it’s kind of fundamental now. I think that I couldn’t do what I’m doing now if I didn’t have all those really substantial skills and that very, very sort of traditional kind of grounding that I had.

Fiona:

And it’s quite as rare as well, isn’t it to have that?

 

Catherine:

It is now, to have those skills. In some ways it’s a shame actually, the bag making has kind of taken over the shoe making but actually it allows me a lot more freedom. It allows me to work for myself and to work under my own name, which I can never do as a shoemaker.

Fiona:

Have you attempted to make a pair of shoes?

 

Catherine:

I do. I do. I do still make shoes very occasionally. I made my husband’s wedding shoes; I made my brother’s wedding shoes and my father’s shoes when I got married, when he was giving me away, all that sort of terribly romantic stuff. I just don’t make shoes for myself, really.

I do make shoes very occasionally, they'll last a lifetime

Fiona:

You should do. You should have a pair of shoes for yourself and I want one.

 

Catherine:

I’m very good at making them for men but I’m terrible at making them for women.

Fiona:

So have they still got those shoes?

 

Catherine:

Oh they still got them. They’ll last a lifetime.

Fiona:

So it’s something that they can pass on through generations. Where are you based at the moment?

 

Catherine:

At the moment, and probably for the foreseeable future, I’m based in the small West Yorkshire Pennine Town of Hebden Bridge. I have a fantastic little workshop all to myself in Brooklyn Studios within Hebden Bridge itself, right in the center of Hebden Bridge. I work with 13 other artists and arty people, mostly print makers and fine artists. We have a purpose-built gallery within our studio group and where we can put on our own exhibitions, which we do actually twice a year. We have a Hebden-wide event called Open Studios, which allows the public, the general public to actually come in and have a nosey around our studios. We’re normally closed to the public, so twice a year every year everybody gets to come and see what we do day to day and get to be able to buy straight from us pieces of work.

I work with 13 other arty people, doing very creative and original things

Fiona:

Fantastic. You find being in a studio with lots of artists, you find that inspirational.

 

Catherine:

Actually that is what inspires me. I would say that almost above anything else, it’s the relationship that you have with the people you work with and those around you and the fact that they’re all kind of doing very creative and original things. And just their sort of take on different aspects of your work as well can be quite inspirational.

Fiona:

Tell us CE Leathergoods and a little bit about what you do.

i work with a customer to produce the bag that they want: specifically tailored for their needs

Catherine:

Yes of course. I make handmade leather satchels, bags and accessories. I’ve also made luggage. They tend to be kind of slightly heavy and larger products, so maybe for more formal use. I do make day bags, things like that, less formalwear but what seems to go particularly well and what works really well for me are the satchels and the briefcases and the laptop bags, that kind of thing. I make a range of accessories as well, which kind of match the bags, which add a really nice sideline and also make really nice gifts for people and it means that people can own a little bit of Catherine Edwards even if they didn’t have to invest hundreds of pounds in a huge piece of luggage. I do quite a lot of commissions and take on a lot of customers through word of mouth. Quite a lot of time I’ll have somebody coming to me saying “my friend has bought a bag” or “I’ve seen a bag that somebody was carrying on a train going to Leads. I want to know where I can get one. Can I get one like it?” I work with a customer to produce the bag that they want specifically tailored for their needs.

Fiona:

Have you ever had any strange requests?

 

Catherine:

Oh God, all the time. Not really strange, but certainly people…a dog carrier, that’s probably the strangest I’ve had.

Fiona:

Oh that’d be lovely.

 

Catherine:

It was good. It was a gorgeous dog carrier but it was a dog carrier, which was kind of strange.

Fiona:

But I think because your leather is so sturdy and actually saying it lasts a lifetime and also it gets better with age. 

 

Catherine:

I think the structure is perfect for keeping a little doggy.

Fiona:

Oh that’s lovely. I love that. I love that image. When you come to first design a bag, what’s the first thing you do?

 

Catherine:

Quite a lot of time I’ll be working from something that already exists, so I might change the dimension. I might change the strap length, handle, design. Possibly sometimes it will start with the leather. If I get a new piece of leather in I haven’t had before and it is particularly beautiful, I think it will suit a particular design and I’ll just tweak it to make it look its absolute best. Quite often I’ll see bags, I’ll be out somewhere and I’ll see something and I think “that’s actually a really clever way of doing whatever it is, sewing up a side seam or making a buckle work” and I’ll incorporate that into a new design. The inspiration comes kind of in various different places. Quite often you’ll just be flicking through a magazine and you’ll see something and that’s fantastic. Maybe it’ll even just be a colour and that will inspire me to make.

i’ll tweak it to make it look its absolute best

Fiona:

Yes. I delight your place. You’ve got quite vibrant colours. You got the standard, obviously black and brown and things like that but often you’ll come out with these gorgeous reds and mustards.

 

Catherine:

Which is quite a new introduction actually. The more vibrant colours are very much a new direction for me. I always try to stick to very natural colours because there’s a particular way of dying the leather that meant there wouldn’t be vast amounts of chemical runoff, which is good for the environment. However, I have discovered a new source of leather which uses transfer printing, which means that just literally the surface of the leather is coloured and it’s coloured as if you were sticking a transfer on the back of it. That means there’s absolutely no chemical wastage whatsoever coming from that. It means it’s ethically aware and it’s ecologically sound.             

Fiona:

Oh good, I like that. So have you done The Art Market before?

 

Catherine:

Yes. I’ve actually done it twice before. This will be my third time.

Fiona:

Wow!

 

Catherine:

Yeah, which is fantastic. It’s being brilliant for me. It’s close to where I live. I love Holmfirth anyway. It’s just a lovely little town. It’s very similar to Hebden Bridge, so it’s like home from home. And the people who run The Art Market are so lovely and friendly. It’s literally one of the nicest shows that I’ve ever done and I’ve done quite a lot.

Fiona:

What do you love most about what you do?

 

Catherine:

I love so many things about what I do but I suppose mostly I love the sense of freedom that I have. The fact that every day I go into work and I do something different and if I don’t want to do a particular thing, I don’t necessarily have to do it. I love the fact that our private customers will commission me to do the weird and wonderful – make them dog carriers or golf bags or map holders, all the other bizarre things that I’ve had to make. I love it that they make my brain work and have to think through problems. I love the sense of history that I get with the actual practical work and the fact that I get to used the skills that I’ve learned over years and built up over years every day. I suppose I actually really like the business part of it as well. I like the fact that I’m evolving the business all the time. They never stand still. That I’m able to change my outlook, change my sense of direction and focus and if something isn’t working, I just change again, try something different.

private customers will commission me to do the weird and wonderful

Also I have two very young children, so I’m able to fit the business in around them and work when I can really, really hard and when I can’t, I’m able to just take that little bit of time to concentrate on them. And while they’re still so young I feel that’s really important. And as they get older, I’ll be able to grow the business more. I’m starting to work more and more and more now as they get older.

Fiona:

They can work for you.

 

Catherine:

They can work for me. I’ll apprentice them once they get to school age, in between going up chimneys and mixing concrete, that kind of thing. Obviously if they wanted to become what I am, then goodness me, far be it from me to stop them, I think it will be fantastic.

Fiona:

What shows have you got coming up?

 

Catherine:

The first one coming up at the end of September, the 25th, down in Betws-Y-Coed in North Wales. It’s the Contemporary Cymru fair, organized by Catrin Mostyn Jones, who’s a sculptor. Then Holmefirth Art market. I have a little local exhibition going on at the local National Trust Property, Gibson’s Mill near Hebden Bridge at Christmas, cross Christmas exhibition.

Fiona:

Oh that will be beautiful.

 

Catherine:

It will. I’m hoping it’s going to be twinkly and pretty and that kind of thing. It will be gorgeous. We’ve got open studios coming up first week in December. I have my biggest show, 4 days long, down in Hereford: Hereford Contemporary Craft Fair, which is really the big one this Christmas and the one I’m sort of working really, really hard towards. And then just before Christmas, 100% handmade in Ilkley, which should be my final show and I should be able to just relax.

Fiona:

Where can we buy your work?

 

Catherine:

Well there’s various different avenues you can go down but I would say the most direct and the easiest way to buy my work is through my website, which is www.ce-leathergoods.com and I’m quite happy to kind of communicate with you in terms of dimensions or specific commission for birthday present, Christmas present or whatever, because I like working with customers and it’s nice to provide something that’s exactly what a customer wants.

Fiona:

What’s next for CE Leathergoods?

 

Catherine:

Well Fiona, I have a few little projects on the go at the moment but one particularly I’m very excited about. I can’t say too much about it at the moment but it’s also running under investigation and just coming up with new designs at the moment and locating bits and bobs that I need to make it work. Watch this space basically. 

Fiona:

And before you go, can you tell us about your Royal Connection?

 

Catherine:

Ah the Royal Connection. Basically the company that I used to work for, I was apprenticed to, when I was in my very early 20s, John Lobb of London, St. James’, make Prince Charles’ shoes. They actually also make the queen’s shoes. So I have that connection.
But also my leather comes from the same saddlery that supplies the royal family with their leather, so there you have quite a distinct connection and there has been an interest expressed from the chap that I actually buy my leather in sending one of my bags to Prince Charles, who is a well known champion of traditional crafts and sort of keeping up with the old skills, that kind of thing. Apparently he would appreciate something that’s made by hand from top quality British leather.

prince charles would appreciate something made by hand from top quality british leather

Fiona:

Yes. I agree. It’s been lovely speaking to you, Catherine. And I look forward to seeing you at the Art Market. 

 

Catherine:

Yes. I’ll be there on the first week. It’s the 7th of November. I think I’m actually upstairs this time, so come and see me.

Fiona:

Lovely. Thank you very much.

 

Catherine:

Cheers!