One of the perks of working at Bas Bleu is that we get to meet and work with writers and artists whose passion shines through in the wonderful products they create. In our Autumn 2015 catalog, we debuted the Leather Librarian Tote, a luxurious bag created by Julia Sumner at Sissipahaw Leather Company in Taos, New Mexico. It’s a small business in the truest sense of the term: Sissipahaw’s leather goods are produced entirely by hand by Julia and her intern in her small home studio, lovingly crafted for a lifetime of durability and beauty.
Bas Bleu: How did Sissipahaw come to be?
Julia Sumner: I started Sissipahaw Leather Company in the fall of 2011 on my living room floor with an exacto knife, kitchen scissors, and a box of old, ugly, upholstery leather that I’d been toting around for about 10 years.
I turned that ugly leather into my first purse and was pleasantly surprised that people loved it. Pretty soon I had friends commissioning me for purses and accessories and it’s been non-stop ever since. I chose the name Sissipahaw because when I started this venture I was living in a tiny old mill village on the Haw River in North Carolina called Saxapahaw. Saxapahaw was originally inhabited by the Sissipahaw Indians up until the early 1700 when they dispersed into larger tribes. I wanted to pay homage to the natives who lived there long before I did.
BB: What’s your take on the value of handmade goods in today’s consumer economy?
JS: Where do I even begin? Consumerism is never going to diminish as long as this Earth is inhabited, but I believe that the least we can do is cut back on supporting mass-produced products that not only lack love and a personal touch but are also made in factories that pollute our home [and are made] by people who can’t even thrive on their paycheck. Where is the personality? I love being able to look around my home and know the history that went into everything I own, the work and love that went into it. I love knowing that when I spend money on something I’m spending money on quality and helping out another individual who is living their dream.
If everyone stopped shopping at big box stores and started shopping small from independent makers, farmers, etc. the world would flourish. When you spend a lot of money on a unique, high-quality handmade item you are spending money on something that will last a lifetime. When you spend a tiny amount of money on something mass produced you will likely have to buy that something over and over and over because the quality is generally so poor it will only last a minimal amount of time. If you ask me, I’d rather spend a lot once on something I can cherish for a lifetime.
BB: How does the handmade aspect of your products contribute to their durability?
JS: I pride myself on never using machines, ever, on anything. Because of my use of hand tools as well as stitching I get to be very precise during every step of the process, from hand cutting out the pattern to smoothing the edges, to punching the holes, and finally to hand sewing it together. The saddle stitch that is used in hand sewing is much more durable and longer lasting than the lock-stitch used by machines. For example, if you snag a thread on a hand-sewn saddle stitch, not only will it not unravel but it will also only fray that one spot on the side of the snag. Whereas if you snag a lock-stitch made by a machine it will unravel the whole row on both sides. Additionally, with hand sewing the stitches can be pulled really tight while machines can only get it so tight.
Our thanks to Julia for taking us behind the scenes in her studio and guiding us step-by-step through the crafting of this beautiful bag!