The Finest Handbags, Made by One Man


The Journal offers a closer look behind the scenes of the label, reports on recent developments and news of upcoming events.

Tools a'plenty


The recent move to New York has been a big undertaking - not least shifting the studio across the Atlantic. The tools I’ve collected over the years are constant companions, each one refined, amended or otherwise improved as time has gone by. One of the joys of working only with hand-tools is the relative ease with which they can be transported. After many months of clarifying exactly what to take I was surprised with how small it all packed down - I managed to bring everything in a single suitcase, admittedly one I could barely lift. Needless to say I was incredibly relieved to see the suitcase arrive safe and sound in NYC.

  1. Four awls, each for a different purpose. On the left is my main awl, a tool with a sharp diamond-shaped point used to pierce leather. This one is tuned to cut just the right sized hole for the thickness of linen thread I most often use. Its handle is the tip of a reindeer antler given to me by a Finnish blacksmith many years back. I’ve always found a non-round handle gives better accuracy and control. Next is my ‘large’ awl. Exactly the same geometry as the main awl but slightly scaled up for slightly thicker thread. This tool, along with the next along (my ‘small’) have thumb holes carved into them to allow for more accurate positioning. Last is a shoe-makers tool, something I don’t often have a reason to use. When I do, say if I need to stitch on a flat surface or in a tight corner, it’s the perfect tool for the job.

  2. The second image shows three of my rolling pins which are used for pressing leather flat on a slab of marble and for burnishing smooth surfaces. They’re made of brass - the perfect material for this tool as it’s strong and light, doesn’t rust, crack or pick up dust and is simple to polish.

  3. The third image shows the hammers I use most frequently. The first is a double-headed hammer - one side is copper and the other rawhide, it’s used to strike the heads of steel tools, the slightly softer material ensuring that the tool isn’t deformed after a few thousand strikes. The brass hammer is a shoemakers tool, bought in the Fez souk many years back. The last is the head of an engineers’ hammer - the different faces make it useful to tap stitches flat in tight corners.

  4. The knife on the left is my go-to blade for most tasks, anything besides the finest work or the tightest curves. I forged in from an old file many years back, it’s been re-ground and re-profiled many times since then as it reveals what it’s good for. The tool at the centre is a classic English ‘half-head’ knife, a pattern used by saddlers for centuries. Very thin and very sharp it’s a great tool for cutting larger panels in thicker hide but a little scary when working on small pieces. On the right is a shoe-makers knife I cut down as a test; this general pattern is much more common in
    Asia and is surprisingly stable, even when cutting tight radius’ (radii?). It was the precursor to the knife on the left.

  5. On top is a scalpel, something we’re all familiar with. Razor-sharp and very thin, scalpels are excellent for cutting round perspex patterns but tool flexible for free-hand work. The knife in the middle is the one I reach for when the scalpel is too delicate; it’s honed very thin so doesn’t offer much resistance in the cut but, as there’s lots of support behind the cutting edge, it’s perfectly rigid and so always cuts straight. Lastly is a kiridashi, a traditional pattern from Japan, given to me by a friend who picked it up in Tokyo. These knives are asymmetrical (they only one bevel rather than the more usual two) so are perfect for cutting up against rulers, ensuring straight lines. As always it’s a case of the right tool for the job.

  6. A hog-hair brush and two ‘folders’ in polished bone. Leather and bone have a long intertwined history - bone tools have a been used to scrape, press, fold and burnish hide since prehistory. Even to this day a finely polished bone folder is the best choice for working leather. There’s something satisfying about working using exactly the same tools as our ancestors used thousands of years ago.

  7. From the left - a surgical clamp, used to pinch a postage-stamp sized square of fabric to be dipped in burnishing solution when sealing edges. A pair of Swedish pliers, used for pulling tight the last few stitches on a row. These were made in Eskilstuna, the centre of tool-making expertise in a country of expert tool-makers. A cut-off tool, again made in Eskilstuna. The asymmetric legs are a nice touch - they allow the user to immediately grasp the tool the correct way round without even looking. Lastly, a curved pair of surgical scissors, perfect for snipping linen thread neatly.

If you’d like a more frequent look behind the scenes in the studio check the @TALLOWIN instagram account.

Mark Tallowin