May 23, 2024


A huge thank you to Alison at Bespoke + Local for such a fantastic feature as this week’s Artisan of the Week. What an enormous privilege to be included alongside so many other incredible creative local Devon makers and businesses.
If you don’t already know about Bespoke + Local’s stunningly thoughtful and carefully curated bespoke gift hampers, make sure you give them a follow and check out their website for all the details.
In this feature, Alison delves a little deeper, Behind The Scenes at the Tanner Bates workshop...
Full interview below:

What are you making in the workshop today?

Today we are making one of our ever popular and bestselling Vixen Tote Bags, however this particular bag is a custom order for a special Japanese client of ours. We are using our locally sourced Devon Oak Bark Tanned leather – a bridle butt to be specific, from the world renowned J&FJ Bakers Tannery.
The sleek silhouette provides ample room for any excursion whilst the long adjustable straps make carrying tailored and comfortable.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the leather you have selected for this project?

We are passionate about provenance and keeping our legacy light on the planet. Therefore, we seek out suppliers whose values align with ours, small family run tanneries who produce full grain vegetable tanned leather in the traditional way in small batches, using hides from local animals, a by-product of the meat industry.
As we select only the finest full grain leathers, the hides are bursting which character, each natural mark tells the story of the animal’s life. We celebrate this, no two handcrafted Tanner Bates products are the same, just as no two living creatures are identical.
We believe that this not only lends itself to hand crafting a superior product but also goes hand in hand with so many environmental benefits. Afterall, our products are designed and made to last a lifetime and will ultimately return to nature.
It is the way we have always done things, but it is increasingly important to be mindful of our footprint.
The oak bark tanned Devon leather is a full grain bark tanned leather. This means that the surface of the leather has not been mechanically buffed or sanded, so every natural mark and blemish is visible, just as it was on the animal’s skin. Full grain leather is regarded as the highest quality of leather available as it is minimally processed, the leather retains maximum strength possible. This traditional tanning process is a slow and labour-intensive process, one which goes against the modern mass production and ‘grain corrected’ leather we have come to expect from so many brands. Tree bark, water and time are the only ingredients used in this natural process to transform the raw hide into world renowned leather.
J&FJ Bakers is the only remaining oak bark tannery in Europe, which just so happens to be just up the road in Colyton. Making the leather is a painstaking and labour-intensive process taking at least 18 months. The hides are all hand dyed and hand finished.
The hides are from Devon cows, a by-product of the meat industry and are tanned gently and naturally using only oak bark from trees coppiced in the Lake District and Wales, (another by-product), and water from the stream that flows beside the tannery. The tan pits are agitated by an ancient waterwheel – there has been a tannery on the site since Roman times. It is a truly phenomenal leather, known the world over.

What processes are involved in making this bag? 

There are a lot of processes involved, the photos and video show a little bit of everything. We tried to capture as many processes as we could to give an idea of what’s involved in crafting a Vixen Tote. From selecting the hide, and then which part of the hide to carefully marking and cutting each panel by hand, to stitching the bag together and turning it. Strap cutting, bevelling and burnishing the edges of handles, before attaching the buckles and hand setting the rivets to fix the handles to the bag.
Each artisanal process is considered, each a distinct step in the journey from hide to handcrafted finished article.

Why are you keen to share the detailed behind the scenes processes?

It is so exciting to be able to show the BTS processes involved with crafting each Tanner Bates piece. We love showing our customers what goes on in the workshop and bringing the making process to life. As all of our products are entirely handmade, it is important to be able to share the process with our customers. It is this story which sets our products apart from the mass-produced alternatives available on the market.
Each product is entirely handmade here in our small workshop. It is an intimate journey from hide to product involving many individual processes, each step is intentional and considered. Our products are designed and crafted to, with care, last a lifetime.

How do you come up with your ideas and where do you draw your inspiration from? What motivates you? 

We’re so lucky to be based in Dartington, it has always been a melting pot for crafts and creative makers.
We draw our inspiration from our surroundings – we are so lucky to have both the sea and the moors on our doorstep to draw our creativity from. We are motivated by creating the best products that we can, a product that will improve with age and become a treasured piece and familiar friend. With time and use and care, the unique patina will develop and tell the story of your journey together.
Our raw materials come from nature and will return to nature in a lifetime of years to come. There is nothing more special than being outside surrounded by the beautiful South Devon countryside and nature. From the moors, to the river and the coast, we have it all on our doorstep here in Dartington.
Many of our collections are named after local landmarks, such as our Dartington Belt, Vixen Tote Bag (as seen here) and Thurlestone Card Holder!
Now, more than ever, (and quite rightly), consumers are expecting and demanding more from the brands they choose to support. More transparency in terms of raw materials, being light on the planet and moving away from the unsustainable ways of fast fashion.
Telling our story and crafting unique classic and timeless pieces is how we’ve always done things and provides us all the inspiration and motivation we need – that and a regular dose of caffeine from the Almond Thief just across Webbers Yard!

What do you love about this particular project you are sharing with us? 

Making bespoke and custom pieces is core to Tanner Bates. We specialise in producing hand crafted pieces, whatever your needs, and love the challenge of bringing your ideas to life. Is there anything more luxurious than having a personalised, custom or bespoke piece handmade from scratch especially for you to your exacting specifications?
From personalisation to add a special touch, to a custom product or completely bespoke piece, the sky is the limit. It is always a pleasure to craft your vision into reality.

How did you feel about the end result?

It was a pleasure to make this bag, we were thrilled with the result… and more importantly, our customer was ecstatic! What do you think?
We loved working with this customer to craft their dream piece, and any excuse to work with the incredible oak bark tanned leather from J&FJ Bakers and make a custom piece for a special customer. This was a good day.
Enormous thank yous to our friends Tessa (AKA Headcake Photo), for capturing the processes, and Alison (AKA Bespoke + Local), for allowing us to share this with you all.


Watch Matt craft this custom Vixen Tote!



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