Lasting essentials: a West Coast leatherworker’s pursuit of quality form and function

Qi Huang of Coast Craft started teaching herself the art of making beautiful, durable wallets and cardholders in 2018, working at her kitchen table in Franz Josef. Her leather goods are built with care to be accessible, functional, and long-lasting essentials that age gracefully and uniquely to every owner. These days she does have a dedicated workspace, which she describes as “my spaceship in the universe.”


 

 
What do you make?
I hand make leather goods such as wallets, card holders, glasses cases, keychains, belts, and pretty much anything else people want me to make!


How did you get into your craft?
I was always drawn to the patina (a soft sheen that develops through use and exposure on the surface of the material which provides a character, a personality, to the product) of aged leather products, they are so unique and each piece carries a different story. I first started crafting leather wallets because I was never able to find a wallet that I really loved.

So, there it started. The idea came to me one day – why don’t I make a leather wallet and use it, just to see how the patina develops? I went out and bought some tools and a piece of leather and then got into it. I had so much satisfaction when I finished my first wallet, I was amazed by how a piece of leather could turn into something I could actually use.

From there my love affair with crafting leather goods blossomed. I went from making one wallet for myself, to multiple wallets. I had a stall at a craft market, people were giving me such great feedback and they really loved my work. I had multiple people wanting custom products which I then went about making, from there I was getting people contacting me with other items they wanted. I then started teaching myself to make many other things.


 

 

 
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
No. I have self-taught and have learnt many lessons through trial and experimentation. I also study different leather crafting techniques to better my work.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My favourite leather is vegetable tanned leather, it has a very earthy smell that attracts me. Vegetable tanned leather refers to the tannage, or method of tanning the cowhide into leather. It’s called “vegetable” because of the natural materials used in the tanning process like tree bark. Since vegetable tanning is a natural process, it’s also eco-friendly.

Pueblo leather is my favourite among all the veg-tan leather, produced by the world famous Badalassi Carlo tannery from Italy. Pueblo combines ruggedness with elegance and has a unique rustic appearance. And it is the leather that gets used most in my work.

My favourite tool is the Japanese Nobuyoshi leather knife, very smooth and sharp, cutting leather like slicing a piece of butter.

My favourite step is burnishing the edge of the leather. Once burnished with wooden burnisher, the natural oil forms a glossy layer on the leather edge, making it shiny and neat, it would be way different if you leave out this step.

Also I got a laser engraving machine recently and can’t wait to try it out!


 

 
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces

I hand sew with saddle stitch. It is a hand stitching technique commonly used among saddle makers, possibly the strongest stitch we know of, which takes and lasts a much longer time than machine stitch.

Hand stitching is one of the most important steps in the work because no matter how nice the previous steps you’ve done, it is always about the stitching. To create a nice straight stitch is not easy and it requires much practice. Even the strength of the push and pull of the needles, this is vitally important.

“Hand-stitching items lengthens their longevity over machine stitching.”

What inspires you?
Quite simply, nature. I love combining my leather work with different colours. Such as Olive and Tobacco, it reminds me of leaves and soil; Navy and Orange, just like the sea and the sunset.

Is there a philosophy behind your work? It takes time to make a good wallet and takes a lifetime to test it.


 

 

 
Describe your creative process:
If I am developing a new product, I always seek out what people need and what the functionality of the item is. I always test new products myself for some time and often make items that I give to other people to use so I get their feedback also. Quite often when I make something new, I want to keep it myself!

Your favourite feedback from a customer: “Really chuffed with my wallet thank you very much!”

What are you reading now? Our Inner Conflicts by Karen Danielsen Horney.

A favourite quote: Get busy living or get busy dying.

Describe your workspace: My spaceship in the universe.


 

 

 
Tell us about your pets:
Oreo, my cat, a little girl with a cute moustache. She loves hiding under my table while I am working and keeping my feet nice and warm.

What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?
I am very happy that people love my work. It means a lot to me that people appreciate the time and effort that I put into each and every item that I craft.

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
If you love what you do the rest will come, what you really need is a true passion for your craft. The old saying “if you love what you do, you will never work another day in your life,” might be corny but it is so true!

Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
Keeping it local and handmade is the key to living a sustainable future. Hand-stitching items lengthens their longevity over machine stitching. The hand saddle stitch, no machine can make it, and it is very strong that it should last for many years.

The difference between small batch handmade goods is you get to choose what it is you want; different colour thread, customise your favourite logo or your name on it. No wallet is totally the same when handmade, each has its own uniqueness.


 

 
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I bought a clay bowl from a craft market in Queenstown. Perfect size and unique colour. It actually makes my meals taste better!!

Find my market stand at Warbirds Over Wanaka 2020 at Easter! Come say hello if you are around. Talk soon!

Prize draw!
Qi has kindly offered a lovely prize for one lucky Felt reader of this gorgeous Coast Craft card holder (see below). To be in to win just leave us a comment below telling us what you like about Qi’s story and creations.

The draw closes at 5pm Monday 2 March 2020 and is open to New Zealand residents only.


 

8 thoughts on “Lasting essentials: a West Coast leatherworker’s pursuit of quality form and function

  1. I love the the colour palettes of these designs!! So natural and stunning!

    Also, I know nothing about working leather but I zoomed in on that flatlay of the tools and materials to admire them!

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