For Arts sake: Hats and Coats for Many Seasons
PUBLISHED: 11:18 15 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:09 20 February 2013
After a sabbatical year, Loddiswell-based artist Peet Leather is back in her workshop making her flamboyant felt hats and coats
After 14 years of non-stop making, selling, making, selling, I decided to do what many artists and makers do and take a sabbatical to recharge my tired old batteries. Events quickly forced my hand when I took a tumble down a cliff, then soon after found myself with severe whiplash after a car accident, thus putting paid to any wriggling out of the proposed year out.
After my sabbatical in 2009, I returned to work in the New Year completing a delayed coat commission and a couple of new ones. Its terrifying but exciting to produce a coat for a customer, especially when the whole coat goes into the washing machine to shrink to size, but they were all very happy, so I was encouraged to finish a couple for exhibitions this year. All my coats are different and each is a journey for me as I make it.
Since then I have been back at my trusty sewing machine with my recharged batteries full to bursting. My usual annual hat crop is tumbling out of my workshop with new vigour and there is an added surprise element. Men, even outwardly conservative men, are buying my hats in numbers that astonish me. Before my break I was constantly asked if I made hats for men, so something must have sunk into my inner design department.
Its terrifying but exciting to produce a coat for a customer, especially when the whole coat goes into the washing machine to shrink to size, but they were all very happy, so I was encouraged to finish a couple for exhibitions this year.
All my work is made by me from 100% reclaimed materials, using my own method of felt construction. I stitch, insert, overlay, appliqu, roll, and finely snip and finish the entire piece before shrinking and often dying it in my much abused washing machine. There the fibres mesh together, shrinking and thickening, hiding all the careful work Ive done into the subtleties and beauty of felted textile. I then spend hours removing much of the surface layer to bring the pattern back into focus, before final stretching, shaping and finally inserting hatbands, webbing, labelling, etc.
My hats are seriously practical, timeless and versatile. They can be worn in wet weather, for winter weddings, windy days at the races, posh nights out, skiing, cool summer nights at festivals, collecting the kids from school, walking the dog, and at any age its the wearers choice. Theres no age limit theres a wonderful 98-year-old client who proudly wears my hats to church and small children who even wear them in bed! I still have customers wearing the hats they bought 17 years ago, so they are built to last. Coats prefer not to be drenched, but are warm and very distinctive and can cope with drizzle.
I also design and make one-off wall hangings, the largest to date being a triptych 11ft long by 7ft 6in wide.
Here in Devon, artists and craftsmen are struggling to compete with very cheap arts and crafts imports. Highly skilled artists and craftsmen working in low-paid jobs in factory workshops in the Far East make these artworks. They often copy designs from original artists in this country. There are several ways artists and craftsmen can confront this situation, some more positive than others.
We can sub-contract some of our work to outworkers abroad, thus allowing us to charge a lower price here. We can up the ante and produce truly wonderful art pieces which are difficult to reproduce. We can live on tax credits and earn less and less whilst working harder and harder. We can try to ensure we have a highly waged partner to subsidise us so we can charge an unrealistically low price for our work.
What we havent done very well is to educate the buying public about the economic realities of making truly handmade work as individual artists in this country. Personally, I am quite unable to do anything but my own work in my own workshop, sometimes with help, but I do all the stitching, design work and finishing, so I try to stick to my guns and keep original.
A debate is starting this month, hosted by Devon Guild of Craftsmen and Stroud International Textiles, to try to get broad consensus on these pressing issues. I personally hope this will result in a kite mark or standard for work wholly produced by an artist within this country, accompanied by a strong informative publicity drive. If we as a country wish to maintain the high-quality arts and crafts that are being made here then transparency about their origin can only help.
Peet Leather, Ham Farm, Loddiswell, Kingsbridge, TQ7 4RX; 01548 550861; peetleather.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Riverside Mill, Bovey Tracey, Devon, TQ13 9AF; 01626 832223; crafts.org.uk; email@example.com
Peet is exhibiting at:
Crux Craft Fair, Rattery Village Hall, Rattery, South Brent, Devon TQ10 9LD (cruxcraftfair.co.uk) 26, 27 and 28 November
Brownston Gallery Christmas Exhibition, Fore Street, Modbury, Devon from 7 December
For other events outside Devon visit her website. To visit her workshop contact her by phone or e-mail.