Updated: Apr 9
Jinny Wessel has been sewing in leather for most of her adult life, however a decision to learn how to make bags entirely by hand changed her career and she launched her own business in 2015. She now handcrafts stunning, classically-styled Italian leather handbags and accessories from her home near Castle Cary, and credits Somerset for inspiring her creativity.
Jinny: "I started sewing in leather years ago when my husband, who makes modern concert flutes, asked me whether I could make the leather gig bags for the boxes that contain his instruments. I drew up a pattern to his specifications and got started. I still make these bags today using an industrial sewing machine. Several years ago I decided that I wanted to learn to sew leather entirely by hand using traditional hand-stitching methods and vegetable tanned leather. I went on a short course to learn the basics then had intensive one-to-one lessons under the tuition of Bill Blaike, a traditional leather worker based in Somerset. I now sell my work to many parts of the world. I set up my company in 2015 when I launched my website offering bespoke handbags and other small accessories. The company is just me so calling it simply Jinny Wessel made sense."
Over time, Jinny has developed her skills and expanded her range to include handbags and other smaller accessories, and she is very particular about the raw products that she uses in her designs.
Jinny: "I currently make all my products in six gorgeous colours in high quality, fully aniline leather which I source direct from a tannery in Italy, and the very best linen thread which is French. My designs are fairly classic, the styles suitable for both town and country. I like to restrict the use of hardware, fitting it only where it has a practical use. The making process starts with an idea that I might have for a bag or accessory. I start by making a dimensioned pattern from manilla card which is thick enough to be shaped into 3D to see whether my ideas will work in practice."
Jinny’s bags come unlined, as she prefers to let the "natural beauty" of the whole skin be seen. This also cuts down the weight of the bag. It’s this attention to detail which sees Jinny carefully consider things such as the stitch length and thread thickness, which she adapts and adjusts to suit every project.
Jinny: "My husband, Stephen is an invaluable help lending me practical and artistic advice and has turned the attic in the house into a workshop for me. I don’t have a favourite design, I like them all but if pressed I would say that my shopper is high on the list followed by the large travel wallet. A handbag can take two or three days to make, depending on its complexity. I cut the parts out by hand, prepare and mark the leather for stitching before assembly. Hand-stitching takes longer than by machine but the hand stitch is a beautiful thing in its own right and clients end up with an item made uniquely for them."
Jinny believes that with regular cleaning and protection her bags and accessories will last for many years, improving with age. And although she sells her items across the globe, she values the support of communities and events within Somerset.
Jinny: "To help protect this beautiful naturally tanned leather from water spots, I apply a leather care product especially formulated to treat vegetable tanned leather, which complies with the latest European REACH legislation. This treatment does not change the look or the colour but rather helps the leather retain its inherent natural beauty. In time vegetable tanned leather will darken and soften, developing a lovely patina. Inevitably the leather will take on a few knocks and scratches along the way but I think this adds to the character of the piece. I sell most of my products online and I currently have some of my work in ACEarts in Somerton. I generally hold a small stock of various items, exhibit my work at an exhibition locally, and this year I will be taking part in Somerset Art Week with Pylle Painters Plus."
Jinny's passion for her products and her craft is clear, but why does she love Somerset?
Jinny: "Somerset for me has everything, from the maritime on the north coast, the Quantock moors in the west, to the coal fields of the east Mendips. The World Heritage city of Bath in the north, honey-coloured ham stone houses in the southern part of the county, and of course the unique Somerset Levels in between. All this beauty and diversity feeds my creativity."