Reclaimed leather. 8 out of 10 cows prefer it.

Doris

I’m sorry. Did I keep you hanging on?

There is a new sofa on my bench, so get ready for some good times. Let’s hear it for DORIS. Doris was a disco queen through and through. Men swooned at the sight of her funky chicken and her disco finger was as legendary as her spangly platform shoes. Often to be seen in top-to-toe crimplene, her love of polyester only slightly eclipsed her passion for John Travolta and Elnette hairspray.

As she strutted around the floor in her metallic jumpsuit, her free-range breasts looked like a pair of tiny quails trying to escape from tinfoil, but watch out, any admirers getting too close would have their eyes poked out by her pointy collar.

Doris was always on the look out for her Six Million Dollar man. While other divas may have judged a man on the size of his bell bottoms, the sight of a gold medallion nestled in some unruly chest hair was what gave her the night fever. She liked to admire those manly wide lapels from a distance – with everyone wearing man made fibres, close contact was contra-indicated in case the resulting friction caused a disco inferno.

Doris was a sad sight when she came to me. Quietly humming ‘Don’t leave me this way’, her once perky cushions were saggy and there was no heart left in her hustle. With a bit of love, though, she realised she would survive and after a wash and a massage she is determined to give you the best of her love.

Albert

I’m sorry, have you two met? How rude of me. Let me introduce you to Albert.

Albert was abandoned by his previous owners when they bought a new sofa. Unwanted, it looked like he was going to end up in The Dump until a kind man with a van dropped him off to me. It’s been a long road. He arrived tired and undernourished and there were signs that at some point he had really offended a cat. He needed a bit of TLC: a wash and a massage with some homemade leather lube, some soft music and candles (soy of course, I’m not a neanderthal) but in to time at all he was looking 20 years younger and the spring in his step and the twinkle in his eye had returned.

Albert is a distinguished elderly gentleman with a taste for single malt whisky and pipes. He likes his routine and has found the change of environment and the transition to his new life difficult. I did offer him counselling but he said he didn’t believe in ‘that kind of mumbo jumbo’. Although he has tolerated being made into bags, he found the close proximity to ‘ladies bosoms’ as he was being carried a little uncomfortable and thinks that being turned into a belt is much more appropriate for a gentleman of his advancing years.

Beatrice

Please put your hands together for the new addition to the family. Her name is Beatrice. Let me tell you a little bit about her.

This little lady came to me about teatime one evening and her modest appearance didn’t give any clues about the trouble she would cause. More of that later though. Beatrice is the master of disguise, a corporate chameleon. She is the kind of girl who goes to a fetish club at the weekend and then buttons herself back up to go to her high powered corporate job on the Monday, fuelled by vodka and red bull that she sips from her bodum reusable coffee cup. Beneath her tailored suits and crisp white shirts, she wears diamond studded nipple clamps and a leather thong (from Freckle + Hides bondage business: Freckle + a Hiding).

She has a specially designed handbag with a secret compartment for her handcuffs and a collapsable feather duster. It would never do for those to fall out when she reaches into her bag for her iphone. During meetings she keeps everyone in check with her steely gaze, whilst all the time hiding Kevin the coffee boy, naked, in her filing cabinet ready to tickle him into submission later.

Carl

Are you getting a whiff of Davidoff Cool Water mixed with brylcreem?

Then let me introduce you to my latest acquisition. His name is Carl. Carl is suave and sophisticated, at least that’s what he thinks. He is a little older, and a little heavier, than his ego will allow him to believe. He still thinks he’s ‘a catch’ and will lavish the opposite sex with the attention he thinks they covet. His manners are as impeccable as his hands are wandering. He is a big fan of a silk cravat usually worn with a pink shirt that is a little bit too tight and unsuspecting victims are often treated to a glimpse of a tan so fake he looks like he has been tangoed. When Carl isn’t name dropping, his use of superlatives is nauseating and he pauses regularly to make sure his audience appreciate how hilarious and well connected he is. Despite his lounge lizard antics, his heart is in the right place although frequently his dick is not. Commitment does not apply to him.

Since he came to stay with me, he has struggled with the lack of social life and, for the first couple of days, tried to chat up anyone who came within letching distance. His tan has faded considerably and I have had to resist his constant entreaties to rub gravy granules into his skin to keep his mahogany glow alive. He is obviously well educated, and is generous in his knowledge of fine wines and fast yachts, first class travel and the perfect way to make a dry martini.

Carl is going to make some amazing bags and accessories. He has taken good care of himself over the years and his good genes and excellent breeding are becoming more obvious as I buff him up. But first, he is going to help me with a bit of charity work. It’s about time he was giving rather than receiving!!!!

Where did Albert come from?

How did I end up with Albert? Let me tell you about a few things I have learned since I started doing this:

  1. Just like everything, there are trends in furniture. At the moment people are getting rid of large, bulky sofas and buying furniture with more of a mid century feel to them.
  2. Once they have bought their new sofa (or just decided to get rid of their old one) they put their old leather one up for sale thinking it will have held some of it’s value – it cost over £2000, surely someone will be willing to pay £500 for it? Invariably they don’t sell. The price is unrealistic because the second hand market is flooded with identical unwanted sofas and doesn’t include arranging for the (usually very heavy) sofa to be moved to it’s new home.
  3. The price of the unwanted sofa will get lower, and sometimes at this point they are bought, but more often than not even a free sofa isn’t enough to outweigh the hassle of getting it moved.
  4. At this point there is a realisation that instead of making money from their old sofa, they might have to pay someone to take it away. They phone charity shops to see if it could be donated. Unfortunately charity shops have become selective. For a start, every piece of furniture sold must have an attached fire safety label. Often these labels are in an inconvenient place and are cut off by the owner. Secondly, the charity shops don’t want to take on a piece of furniture that they can’t sell because it then costs them money to dispose of it. So even sofas with relatively little damage are rejected.
  5. After exhausting all the options there are only a few channels left. If they have bought a new sofa, a lot of companies will collect the old one for free. These will then (sometimes) be offered to charity (who are still being selective) or disposed of. If the owner has access to a van, they can take the sofa to the dump themselves or pay a man with a van to do that. Unfortunately, sometimes the sofas don’t even make it to the dump and are abandoned at the side of the road or in a field. The last option is to pay the council for a bulky item collection, which is a chargeable service that some people aren’t prepared to pay for.

Every year in the UK we throw out 1.6 million tonnes of ‘bulky waste’, 42% of which is furniture. A new sofa is the most purchased item of furniture (28% of people in the UK bought one in the last 3 years) and yet only 17% of old sofas are actually reused.

And so there are lots of sofas like Albert. He has had a good life and obviously a bad relationship with a cat at some point in time. With a bit of TLC he could have carried on as a sofa but there are so many other ‘Alberts’ out there no-one is interested in spending the time to get him looking his best again. The leather industry is so damaging, both to the environment and to the people who are exploited to work in it, that to let Albert just be dumped is abhorrent to me. But this story has a happy ending (and if you have made it to the end, well done!!) because Albert is going to have a new life as lots of little Alberts. Watch this space!!

p.s. – unfortunately, I don’t have picture of Albert before he was rescued so this is another unloved and unwanted sofa

Albert + Beatrice

I work from home and although my family are very tolerant, there are only so many old sofas sitting around that they can cope with. Usually I wouldn’t have taken another sofa whilst I will still in the process of stripping one but this was an emergency so I pulled out all of the stops. Adding to the complications, my parents were over from New Zealand and staying with us for 3 weeks (Yes, I am Scottish, they emigrated. No, I don’t have much of an accent, I lived abroad a lot when I was growing up. Yes, my sister and her family also live in New Zealand. Yes, I think it probably does show that my parents love her more than they love me. Yes, the cruel abandonment by my family when I was a mere 22 years old probably does contribute to my need to save abandoned sofas, give them names and talk about them like they are real. Wow, this facebook thing is better than therapy!!)

So anyway, I will still in the process of stripping Albert when Beatrice turned up. I could tell at once they weren’t going to get on. Beatrice was right in his face as soon as she got her wooden feet through the door. It was early evening and I decided I would finish stripping Albert and leave Beatrice in one piece to be stripped another day. Then I made a fatal error. The first thing I do when I am stripping a sofa is turn it upside down so I can rummage in it’s insides and remove the bolts/nails/screws/staples/cat hair/sometimes all of the above that holds the arms to the main carcass. Unfortunately, when I cut Beatrice open there was another secret ingredient. Lots and lots of feathers.

I was really confused because I could see the bottom of the foam cushions from my vantage point peering into in Bea’s guts, but it honestly looked like an albino bigbird had mated with a feather boa. And since what goes in must come out, the small porch I use to strip the sofas quickly started to look like the set from White Christmas. At this point I realised there was no going back. I was going to have to metaphorically rip the plaster off and strip her that evening.

There are probably easier ways to skin sofas but I like to reclaim as much of the leather are humanly (inhumanly) possible so I skin them piece by piece, cutting through each individual seam. Think of it as a cross between samurai sword skills and full body contact yoga. It involves turning to sofa several times and should definitely not be carried out by anyone with a heart complaint or, in this case Pteronophobia (fear of feathers – I looked it up, it is an actual thing. And I also learned that pterodactyl literally means ‘winged finger’. Who says this page isn’t educational). By this point it was getting quite late and sweary words will falling from my lips as fast as the feathers were falling from Beatrice’s insides. I was going to have to call in reinforcements.

This time, reinforcements came in the form of my 76 year old Dad who looks like a cross between a member of ZZ top and a skinheaded santa claus. He had been desperate to get stuck in, so wearing his M&S action slacks and armed with his trusty swiss army knife we faced the feathers together. Except we still didn’t know where the feathers were coming from. I had already taken out the back cushions and they were the usual foam type. It wasn’t until we finally opened the belly of the beast that we found the issue. Nestled on top of the foam seat cushions was a 2 inch layer of down. I am sure that in it’s hay day, Bea’s feathery secret had been the toast of all discerning bottoms but, over the years, those bottoms had caused a breach in the fabric that encased the feathers, and now those feathers were EVERYWHERE.

It is one of my greatest regrets that I have no photos of that evening. I am sure we both looked a sight, with feathers sticking to every sweaty bit of exposed exposed skin making us look like yetis who had run out of leg wax. After filling it up several times with feathers, my dyson went on strike and we had no choice but to go old school with a dustpan and brush. The leather itself had feathers imbedded in the underside which had to be individually plucked out like unruly chin hair. So as you see, from the moment she came into my life Beatrice has been trouble. We have been working on repairing our relationship, I comfort her as she cries about the chesterfield who dumped her for a leggy ercol chair and after a few pints of snakebite she tells me that she is going to change and be better in her next life. I’m not sure how much I believe her. You have been warned.

Albert’s belt

Leather isn’t just ‘one skin fits all’ you know!!

The leather used in my products has generally come from unwanted and unloved sofas, and after many years of warm bottoms sitting on them, by the time they come to me the leather is soft and supple. So tactile you will find yourself petting your F+H bag under the table when you are out for dinner, or passing it round like a new baby so all your friends can ‘have a shot’ and be jealous of how cute it is.

However, there are some disadvantages to working with such a supple material. I have always shied away from making belts, worried that the leather I use just didn’t have the structural rigidity to hold a pair of trousers up. The consequences of the belt failing to do it’s duty, and the subsequent full moon, just don’t bear thinking of. I’m pretty sure that’s not covered in my public liability insurance. But I had a request just before Christmas from a woman who wanted a bit of Albert in belt form for her husband.

Belts are usually made from ‘veg tan’ leather, which is stiffer and more rigid than the ‘chrome tan’ used in sofas so creativity was required. When making bag handles, I sandwich 2 bits of leather together, stitch them, and sand and polish the cut edges and this was my starting point, but I was still concerned any belt made this way might suffer from erectile dysfunction. In the end, I added a firm core of interfacing material between the two layers of leather (dragon heartstring made the belt too heavy and I couldn’t get my hands on unicorn hair at this time of year) et voila. It was a lot more work than the standard method, but Albert thought being a belt was more distinguished and fitting for a sofa of his advancing years.

Choose bags

Choose bags. Choose wallets. Choose handmade. Choose reclaimed leather. Choose a f@£$*&@ big tote that holds the half bottle of vodka you want to sneak into the pub. Choose bumbags and fanny packs, keyrings, wash bags and purses. Choose who you buy from.

Choose not to buy a cheap handbag that will end up in the bin in a couple of years. Choose to think of the future. Choose a rucksack for all the shit you carry around. Choose a shoulder bag that just holds your lipstick and phone. Choose rainbow stitching and crazy linings, multiple pockets and a comfy strap.

Choose to buy something that will make your best friend jealous and your sister drool.

Choose to have something unique.

Choose Freckle + Hide.

Plant Hangers

Until about a year ago the only plant I owned was a bonsai tree which which was so unaffected by my constant neglect, scientists are now studying it to see if it holds the key to immortality. Then I managed to grow an avocado plant from a stone and I was hooked.

I’m now an such an obsessive plant mummy that the kids think I prefer the plants to them (I haven’t the heart to point out that the plants always do as they are told, never answer back and when they grow they only require a new pot, not a whole new wardrobe). So I have been pottering around working on plant hangers designs-this one is reclaimed leather, ends of macrame string from my brief macrame foray last December (#serialcrafter), and an wooden curtain hooky thingy (the real name escapes me!!).

On trend and the perfect wee present for the plant lover in your life.

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