Growing up in a creative household and with a passion for all crafts, Caroline Strecker was perhaps always destined to ‘make things’ as a career. But it took a chance “experiment” for her to realise her passion and, as they say, the rest is history. The Somerset creative now makes beautiful hand-stitched bags from vintage saddlery and English bridle leather in her Bruton studio.
Caroline: "I made my first leather belt from a goat hide that I bought in Seville in 2005. I started Rag of Colts in February 2017. The plan was actually to create a line of dog collars and accessories using repurposed equestrian bridle leather for Los Angeles-based company Lost Explorer, but after making a few pieces I decided to experiment with a bag – for myself. That weekend I went out with the bag and immediately got two commissions. It moved very quickly after that and I didn’t make any more dog collars!"
When you look at a saddle or a bridal, it doesn’t automatically scream ‘hand-crafted bag’ – so why did Caroline decide to use them?
Caroline: "I have always loved old leather, whether it’s a suitcase or wonderful beaten up leather armchair – I love the patina, the character, and the story each piece tells. I particularly love bridle leather and often bought bits and pieces of ancient harness leather with no idea what I would eventually do with them! When I made my first bag it was just a completely natural step to include a lovely vintage strap."
Using old equestrian leather is a unique choice, so it is fitting that Caroline chose an equally unique name for her business.
Caroline: "Rag of Colts is an old English collective noun which has fallen out of use. I first came across it about five-years ago whilst doing some research for a project I was working on and immediately fell in love with it. When I started making the bags it felt like a perfect fit."
Caroline’s lifelong love of making, creating, and designing was inspired by her family, and her family still plays an important role in her business today.
Caroline: !I grew up in a creative household. My grandmother taught me to knit and to weave – my mother made lots of our clothes. I couldn't tell you when it started but it has always been a passion and sometimes an escape. I am never happier than when I am making something. Now my Rag of Colts designs are all named after family members."
Caroline runs Rag of Colts single-handedly so where does she get the inspiration from for her designs?
Caroline: "It began by making my perfect bag – the bag I wanted but couldn’t find, and the result was Meg. I think she is still my favourite, although at the moment I am really loving Lockett, the messenger bag. In theory designed as a men’s bag but I’ve been taking it everywhere! I think the stand out feature that makes my items different is the use of old leather, and I use traditional products and techniques. Absolutely everything is done by hand. I don’t use a sewing machine – I use a stitching awl, two needles, and high quality French linen thread which I coat with bees wax. There are no shortcuts but I love the process."
Caroline admits that making each bag is a time-consuming process, but it’s this attention to detail that means all of her products are completely individual. And she also offers a bespoke service, with customers able to choose details such as strap colour and buckle style.
Caroline: "There is a lot more preparation to do when reworking old leather. Finding the right piece, the most complementary colour and texture, then cutting down to size; removing old stitching or damaged areas – and sourcing a corresponding buckle all takes time, but it also means that each bag is one-of-a-kind and the creative process doesn’t become mechanical. The small Meg bag takes about two-and-a-half days to make, not including sourcing the vintage elements. Noverre, the rucksack, takes four days to make. I am inspired by the functional simplicity and beauty of classic saddlery. I also offer a made-to-order service with your preference of strap colour, brass or copper rivets, and your choice of buckle – either the classic curved Swage or the contoured Crown buckle."
Although she’s a relative newcomer to Somerset, Caroline has fallen totally in love with the county she now calls home – but why?
Caroline: "I love Somerset. I love everything about it. I have only lived here for two-years and I found my way here by accident. I moved on my own, knowing no one, with my dog Flash. Friends and family thought I was crazy, but I have literally loved every single second and never looked back. I grew up in Scotland but moved to Somerset from LA, which was quite an extreme change! I don’t really know how to capture in words what it is that I love but I am captivated by Somerset. From the landscapes, the trees, the walks, the markets, the friends I have made, and the inspiring people I have met… I could go on!"