By Martin Carswell, founder of Carswell Leather Goods
Becoming a leather craftsman had not always been the plan. I was a qualified electrician for six years, however a motorcycle accident during my travels, left me unable to walk for four months. During the recovery process, I stumbled across leathercraft when I decided to make a sheath for a knife. Leather is such a great product to work with. I love the texture and feel of it, and there’s nothing more satisfying than feeling that burnished or painted edge, and seeing other people’s enjoyment of what you have created.
After gaining an initial interest in leathercraft, I spent five years improving my skills through reading, watching videos, and learning from a Japanese leather master in Hong Kong. This leather master made briefcases for Hong Kong’s elite by hand, and the traditional Japanese techniques he used resulted in very clean and neat work. He instilled in me a highly refined aesthetic and appreciation for fine, traditional skills.
The training I had in Hong Kong has really influenced my leatherwork style, and it is also why I am drawn towards making items like briefcases. If I could only produce one item in my workshop, I would choose a briefcase. There is a surprising amount of complexity to a fully lined, semi rigid briefcase with burnished edges. They take me around two weeks full time to make, and there is more than 20 hours of hand stitching in each case.
Signature piece – double gusset briefcase made in the traditional Japanese style.
During those five years of improving my skills, I had always discounted the idea of taking the craft on as a profession, due to concerns regarding whether I would be able to make a living off it. In that time, I completed a Geology degree and also started my pilot training. However, after gaining the leatherwork experience in Hong Kong, I couldn’t shake the idea of starting my own leatherwork business. I decided life was too short to not follow my dreams, so I bit the bullet and started looking for a space to start my own leather business in Melbourne. That’s when I found Space Tank.
Collaboration with Aidan McKinnon from Cut Throat Knives.
Starting at Space Tank has been good in a lot of different ways. I love having the physical space for the workshop, and having the freedom to fit out the studio exactly how I want it. I have access to the whole woodworking shop and welding bay, where I can make jigs and fixtures, and with the available laser cutter I can draw up designs, cut templates, and make engravings on the leather for custom orders. I also have available to me a multi axis milling machine and 3D printer.
One of my favourite pieces that I have created, which also uses a lot of the techniques I learned in Hong Kong, is the Madigan bag. Large enough to fit a laptop, modelled on vintage binoculars cases. This bag can’t be replicated by machines, as the box and butt stitching can only be done by a skilled craftsperson with an awl and needle. That’s the unique value in the design.
The Madigan Shoulder Bag – features box stitching and modeled on vintage binoculars cases. (Photography by Rebecca Newman)
Other products in my range include wallets (traditional and modern slim front pocket), belts, sunglasses cases (soft and hard), and larger bags (totes, duffels, and briefcases). I also offer a shoulder harness that can hold your phone, wallet, and keys.
Wallets and sunglasses cases.
At this time, other tenants at Space Tank include knife makers, mould makers, sculptors, furniture makers, welders, and CNC operators. As you can imagine, having all of these professionals working in the one space creates a great supportive network. I have obtained work through networking and word of mouth, worked on collaborative projects with some of my fellow tenants, and have enjoyed being able to share knowledge and opinions (both ways). It also been great catching up over a quick coffee or occasionally heading down the road for some lunch!
Custom ordered wallet featuring laser engraved inlay of the clients pet dog.
A good ongoing collaboration I have is with Bastion Cycles, who started at Space Tank and have since expanded into their own factory. I developed an under saddle tool roll that accommodates all the needed tools, and has a laser engraved pattern that matches the bicycle frame. This product has been popular amongst their customers and we also have other projects underway.
The handmade saddle tool roll for Bastion Cycles.
My ideal clients are people who can appreciate the time, process, and commitment it takes to use fine techniques to create high quality products that will last a lifetime. My five year plan is to perfect my range and have this range available in high end exclusive stores and boutiques. However, I do enjoy the creative and practical challenges of custom orders, so plan to continue offering this to my customers. Although becoming a leather craftsman had not always been the plan, I love my work and could not imagine doing anything else.