Back from School

December 17, 2018 1 Comment

For the last 3 months, I was a full time student at Scuola del Cuoio in Florence, Italy. I spent 6 hours a day under the instruction of two master craftsmen in leather handbag production, alongside 18 other students from all around the world. The rest of the time was spent exploring the city, other areas of Italy, museums, building relationships with my international classmates and learning a new way to live (in a foreign country).

Transparently, while the headlining reason for me going was to hone my craft and learn from the masters (literally), I was also very much in need, as a small business owner, to take a step back and actually get a view of where my business is, where it's going, where I want it to go and then hopefully the "how" of what's next. 

As a self taught maker, it was astonishing to be able to learn my craft in a place that is oozing ALL things leather goods. Every street has some form of leather being made, repaired or sold. I was in the company of a craftsperson almost at all times; to the point where I began to feel deeply understood as a maker. 

The school itself is located in the Church of Santa Croce, tucked underneath their main leather goods shop where you can walk through and see all different types and levels of craftspeople working on the production of their goods. The setting still holds the charm of when it began in the 50's. The program I was a part of was a 3 month intensive led by Master Mao and Master Ted; two incredibly skilled craftsmen who taught us the elevated basics of making a leather bag, beginning from how to properly cut to using all the necessary machinery to the appropriate materials for the internal structure of a bag to almost 10 different types of leather goods and beyond. I cannot speak highly enough about these two instructors. They were patient, sharp, creative, attentive, diligent, helpful, corrective, kind, innovative and humorous. 

I am confident I will return to the school in the future to continue honing my skills and more specified study. I am deeply grateful for this classroom experience and I know it has already bettered me as a craftsperson and person in general.

However, not all of my learning was in the classroom. I would like to share more in depth of what I've learned but that may need to be unpacked over time. But here are some of the headlines of what I learned:

*Consistency is a must

*Bitterness is a barrier to growth

*Precision breeds excellence

*Humility of being a student

*Shame is a prison

*Process over destination

*Light is nourishing

*Routine brings sanity

*Pulling back doesn't mean moving backward

As for what's next for CHC, I don't honestly have the fullness of the answer. Having learned so much, I know that there are a multitude of "behind the scenes" changes I want to make and I am also looking to minimize and elevate the Dawn|Dusk Collection. For now, I am taking it one day at a time and chipping away at the mountain of bettering and growing this business. I want to figure out how to share this more openly as I've learned that perception can be a deceptive thing if not communicated well and I want to be a company and owner that communicates clearly and fluidly.

And now for the long explosion of pictures from some of my time and learning there...

The Church of Santa Croce, where the school is located.

The entrance to the school

My work station inside the school

Working next to one of my friends, Camilla (a craftswoman from China)

Michele, one of the leather artisans making parts of bags at his work station in the shop

Gold engraving, done by hand with tools dating back to the 50's

Francesco at his work station in the shop. There are tilted mirrors above each workstation so that you can see more detail of what the artisans are doing

A view of my workstation from the courtyard outside of the school

All of the students amidst a normal school day. The countries represented: China, Russia, Germany, Korea, Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, Belgium, Italy

Working on learning how to use the skiving machine without losing my mind

Gathered around, learning the next technique of sewing a pouch

Passport cases in the process of being made

Master Mao (left) and Master Ted (right) explaining some of the steps of making a wallet

Looking up close at the grain of leather through a microscope

Pieces of a pouch all in process

Overview of one side of the classroom

A glimpse inside Senatori, a leather materials shop

Pattern instruction sheets being passed out before learning how to make the next product

The beginnings of learning how to construct a variety of straps and handles

Installing the cork and shaping the internal structure of a handle

The beginnings of a handle taking shape

Coloring the edges of the handle

Stitched and completed

Master Mao (left) and Master Ted (right) explaining the details of a cork handle

Shaping my own cork handle

Edge painting the cork handle

A finished lace handle

A finished top handle

Samples of most all of the handles learned

Stitching a handle

Gathered around for the next project explanation

Inner details of a pouch

Pouch taking shape

Yummy leather lining

Levels of pieces for a structured clutch

Constructing the inside of the structured clutch

The full inside of the structured clutch

The internal and external pieces of the structured clutch

Second to last stitch of the structured clutch


Structured clutch next to it's sample

Another structured clutch for more practice


Second one being worn

The beginnings of an accordion structure bag

Hand-finishing stitches for security

Just before the external pieces goes on

The sample next to the final piece

Adding a crossbody strap

Master Mao assisting me with some hardware pieces

Another accordion bag for further learning including a new type of handle installment (I'm only minorly obsessed with;-)

The flipside of my new obsession



A few of the line up

Sampling for the next bag

A typical day at lunch with classmates

Installing purse feet

The external piece and all the guts of a bucket bag

A look at all the angles once it's assembled

Completed and among the reality of my station

The beginning, middle and completion of my last bucketbag

When a small line forms to get further help from the Masters

Typical view on an average day:)

Walking to school

The day we all completed the program

Master Mao: truly that...a master. He sees EVERY detail. He is a genius with structure and amazing to watch him work and rework a bag. 

Master Ted: so patient and so skillful. He was attentive to every detail and need and had answers to everything.

My class<3 of skilled makers from all over the world.

Random beautifully sunny day on a walk home from class.

My journey home; while not quite desired has left me deeply grateful for everything I was able to experience and learn.

My first Chicago DAWN upon returning! :-) :-) :-)



1 Response

juliet cella
juliet cella

January 30, 2019

That was the most gratifying thing that I’ve read, on line, ever!! The art, the skill, the process, the environment and the students hungry to learn. I hope to see any of these bags available. They are stunning.

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