About/History

IMG 6550

Heather first got hooked on working with leather when, about to go and live and teach in Australia, she visited friends in Norfolk to say good bye. Chris showed her into his shed where he worked with leather and at that moment she began her own journey, and has worked with leather in so many ways since that day. She began evening classes in Australia where she learned to work with vegetable tanned  leather, to carve and tool it, and then began making all sorts of things as a hobby. The teaching contract finished after two years, and prior to her & Tony setting off travelling  Australia in a Landrover, Heather gave her first ever leatherwork workshops at CYSS - Community Youth Support Scheme. Once on the road, to bring in some cash, she took her leather and tools with her in a big trunk on the pack rack. Many early mornings before the sun became roasting hot, she'd be in the shade making belts, stubby (squat beer bottle) holders, place mats, whatever, all dyed and carved. She would take orders and commissions wherever she went, including from customers in the bars she occasionally worked in en route - did great trade in Alice Springs - and sold everything she'd made at a craft auction in Broome, West Australia. She made her first pair of sandals ever under a gum tree in the Northern Territory.

After a year's travelling, the question was what were they going to do for a living, having decided not to go back into the State education system. They wanted to be able to live wherever they chose, and make useful things out of either wood or leather--- there was plenty of Heather's leather around so OK, everyone needs boots and shoes, they would go for that. Much experimenting began and given they were making it up as they went along, they didn't know of the existence of lasts on which to form the shoes, or of the difference between veg tan and chrome tanned (shoe) leathers. So the footwear they made was heavy and the two shoes were inevitably different shapes having been stuffed with old denim jeans or newspaper to shape them. One pair they gave to a friend actually made it up Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, but not down.

They needed to learn the proper way of shoe making and so went back to the UK to visit friends and family and some handmade and low production shoe firms. They learned a lot and ordered their own set of lasts, then headed back to Australia. There in followed a year of trial and ever and through their own great conviction and the equally great foresight of the local employment office who agreed to give them a year on benefits whilst they learned their trade, as promised, a year to the day they were off benefits and in business, trading as 'Elfin Boots & Shoes'. 

All footwear was sewn on old treadle machines. An editorial and advert in 'Grass Roots' launched the predominantly mail order business, enabling them to later work on a piece of temperate rain forest land they had bought down a 2 km dirt track, living first in a tipi, later in the small cabin they built . Their workshop was a tiny wooden shack which they precariously transported down the long track on the back of a low loader.  A once a month advert in same magazine, and once a month stall at the local Gellibrand market (Otway Coastal Ranges, Victoria) gave them enough work for a modest living. After 4 years they sold the business and came to Wales for a year and to have their first child, during which time they decided to stay in the UK and set up a new bespoke business 'Summers & Summers Makers of Fine Boots & Shoes'. They scoured the country for old industrial hand and treadle machines and entered another steep learning curve making city brogues and serious walking boots. Mail order and prestigious craft fairs gave them  a good reputation and an award. 

The partnership split up in the nineties and Heather then set up 'L for hEATHER' making quality handmade sandals and leather goods. This was another mail order business, a made to measure service on treadle machines. Heather  would sell  the goods and take orders at festivals where she would  also perform as musician in various bands, music and teaching it being the other string to her bow. All the leather journey has been accompanied by a simultaneous music journey. However, music performance, the charity and women's music festival Women In Tune that she founded and directed, and the teaching side of her life took over;  she stopped most of the making side of her  leather work, and now concentrates on teaching leather craft, as well as music making, working with diverse groups in the community, as well as running workshops for the general public.


© Heather Summers 2015