This month sees Earthworks Journals in our 20th year of business. 20 years! 20 years making leather journals and binders, day in, day out. That’s a lot of journals we’ve made and a lot of journals being used all over the world. I remember, back when we first started, I bumped into an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time and in the general small talk of such an occasion he asked what I was doing for a living these days; I replied “Me and Sam make leather journals”. After a brief pause he said, “ What? And you can make a living doing that?”. I replied with something along the lines of, “Dunno, but it will be fun finding out”.
And it has been fun, mostly. Obviously we don’t earn a great deal of money, we knew we were never going to be rich doing this, so we do have money worries sometimes… but who doesn’t? Mostly though, it is fun.
We love making the journals and binders and I can’t really ever see us not making them but, with us being in our 20th year, we’ve been having a bit of a think about what we do. We’ve been feeling a need to mix things up a bit, to still make the journals as always, but to extend our range of leathergoods. When we first started making things to sell at craft shows around 25 years ago, before Earthworks, we did it just for the pure joy of making things, we didn’t set ourselves boundaries as to what we were making or even to what materials we used; being a hobby at the time we had the luxury of being able to experiment. Obviously, we finally chose the path we were going to concentrate on and Earthworks Journals was born. Over the years our customers have often asked us to make other leathergoods for them (which, so far, we’ve politely refused) but this feeling we’ve been having of late has led us to the decision to finally start making things other than journals.
The first ‘extra’ we’re going to include will be leather belts (those of you who follow us on social media will already know that we’ve been working on this recently), and we’re really quite excited about it!
We plan to introduce a whole range of belts in the future but we wanted to start with a classic all-rounder of a leather belt. One with a simple design but made from really great quality materials. The sort of belt that is smart enough to wear with a suit yet rugged and hard-wearing enough to go backpacking around the world with.
You can see the belts on our website here:
There are really only three components to a belt, the leather, the buckle and the style. So, let’s have a look the Earthworks Classic Leather Belt.
We only ever use vegetable tanned leather in our work. There are essentially two ways to tan a hide (this is the process of converting the raw skin into a useable leather) one is using vegetable based products and the other is using chromium. Vegetable tanning is less harmful to the environment and produces a higher quality and longer lasting leather, but it’s a much longer process which means the leather is more expensive. Chrome tanned leather uses chromium and various other acidic salts and chemicals in the process which are more harmful to the environment and produce a lower quality leather, but it is a very fast process so the finished leather is much cheaper. Foolish we may be, but we were never in this for the profit, so the better quality leather is the natural option for us even if it is more expensive.
The vegetable tanned leather we use for this particular belt is ‘full grain’. This is as natural as you can get when it comes to leather; it’s where the grain side (the side you see on most products, as opposed to the ‘suede’ side) remains in its natural state, this includes the wonderful growth marks, wrinkles, scars and ‘defects’.
This vegetable tanned, full grain leather is aniline dyed. This means that, rather than having a uniform dye painted onto the surface, it is dyed through with a soluble dye which delicately complements the natural variations found in the hide. This process gives a much more natural feel to the leather. When you have such a wonderful leather it would be shame to cover it up with a shoddy paint job!
And finally, this vegetable tanned, full grain, aniline dyed leather is finished with a blend of oils and waxes; this gives a beautifully soft feel to the leather and a slightly distressed look. Where the leather bends or wrinkles, the colour will lighten to give a non-uniform look across the surface. Another added benefit is that those oils and waxes really protect the leather and make it very hard-wearing. This is the sort of leather that will develop an incredible patina over the years (and it will last for years and years!).
We’ve gone for a good chunky style buckle for this one and it’s available in solid brass, aged solid brass and solid steel. They are just solid metal and forged in a British foundry. The solid brass is unfinished and will develop a patina over the years but if you prefer the look of shiny brass then it’s easy enough to restore it with a quick polish. The solid steel is just that, solid stainless steel, and should retain its simple good looks for as long as you need it to.
When it comes to the aged brass, you know when you get something that’s labelled antiqued brass and it’s not really, it’s just a painted on antique brass looking surface that always looks a bit artificial and ends up chipping off? Well we don’t do that here at Earthworks, we’re dead against that sort of thing. Our aged brass buckle is the exact same buckle as the solid brass one only we accelerate the ageing process by exposing it to ammonia fumes, this gives it a genuine aged appearance that will also develop a patina as you use it; some areas that rub against clothes or where the belt is pulled through may get naturally polished and go a little lighter, other areas may go a little darker. Some may say, “Why don’t you just buy the ready-made ‘fake’ antique buckles, it would make your life a lot easier”, but I would say to that, “How dare you, sir! An easy life is a life unlived!!”
We wanted to go for an everyday belt for our first one in the range; the sort of belt you reach for when you’re getting dressed as a matter of course; the sort of belt that goes with anything. We’ve cut the strap at a 1.5 inch width so it’s nice and chunky without being too chunky and it will fit through most belt loops. There’s a choice of three colours – brown, dark brown or black and there’s a choice of three shapes for the strap end – skew, spear or stub. As mentioned before, there’s a choice of buckle too – brass, old brass or steel. So, although it’s a classic style, we’ve left a few options open to our customers so, if you decide to buy one, you have the choices there to make it right for you.
Then we come to the belt keeper, the loop that keeps the strap end nice and neatly held in. We nearly went for a metal belt keeper, one which matched the buckle, but it didn’t seem quite right for this belt; a little too heavy? A little too ostentatious? So we’ve gone for a simple hand stitched leather belt keeper to match the belt. (Don’t worry though, we’ll also be making belts with metal belt keepers in the future).
Then there’s the heart of the belt, the bit of work where the leather is folded, the bit that attaches the buckle. Some people like to rivet these, some prefer to stitch them. Here at Earthworks, we tend to be ‘belt & braces’ people (if you’ll pardon the pun) and we’ve gone for both rivets and stitching. The rivets, of course, match the buckle. Now, the stitching, you know when you have a favourite leather item, a bag or a favourite pair of boots, and the machine stitching finally wears through? You know how annoyingly difficult that can be to repair? Well, we’ve taken that into consideration as we want your belt to last as long as you need it to. We’ve used a thick and strong waxed cord, so it’s highly unlikely it will wear through anyway, but just in case it does, we’ve used simple single stitches alongside the rivets so that it’s easy to repair yourself. If you can sew a button on a shirt then you will be able to repair the stitching on your belt. Besides the functionality of the simple stitches, we think it looks quite cool too!
Finally, I should say a few words about the actual strap of the belt. Some people like to stitch along the entire length of the belt to prevent it stretching (or, more commonly, because they’ve used a thin surface leather on a cheaper backing); personally, we think this is the worst thing anyone can do to a belt. If made from a decent leather then the belt should be allowed to stretch, that way it will gradually form a natural curve as it forms itself to the shape of your body and become so comfortable that you don’t even notice that you’re wearing it. Just remember to put it on the same way round every time you wear it and it will become the perfect shape for your unique body.
So that’s the first of the belts and perhaps the start of a new chapter for Earthworks. We plan to introduce a lot of new items, both journal related and non-journal related, to the website over the coming years. As always though, time is the enemy, and with there just being the two of us and a lot of customers to keep happy, it may be a long process! But we’ve got the first 20 years under our belt (if you’ll pardon the pun, again!) so perhaps we can afford to relax a little. And when I say ‘relax’, I mean work more because, weirdly, that’s how we do it here at Earthworks!
Come and visit us:
~~~ x ~~~
There’s something else that we’re keeping under wraps at the moment, a new shop where we’re making things completely unrelated to Earthworks. Something where we can really let our creativity run wild…and it’s at the very heart of what started us on the journey of Earthworks in the first place, all those years ago. Our shared love of folklore, history, myths & legends, archaeology and comparative theology… we are called Earthworks, after all!
But more of that later!!