Around30 local 4-Hers participated in the summer program’s leather workshop this past Monday and Tuesday, where they learned all about the leather craft, from how to case and stamp to how to dye and weave.
At the start of the workshop, leather instructor Aubrin Rhem shared with the 4-Hers — boys and girls ranging in age from 9 to 18 — that he had been working with leather since he was in the fourth grade, and, like them, he was introduced to the craft through 4-H.
Now, Rhem works with The Tandy Leather Factory in Raleigh and regularly teaches workshops, many of them for 4-H clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Vacation Bible Schools, to name a few.
Deanne Flock, a local 4-H volunteer and a leader of the 4-H Homerunner’s Club, learned about Rhem and his workshops while attending the state 4-H Volunteer Leadership Conference in Raleigh earlier this year.
“We saw him giving a demonstration there and I thought it would be a good summer workshop,” recalled Flock. “4-H is very inclusive and there’s just so much you can do in it. The kids get to try a lot of different things.”
“We have had leather workshops in the past before I got here,” said Amanda Bradshaw, Extension agent for 4-H Youth Development, “but I think they were taught by some of us (the staff)…We met Aubrin at that leadership conference and I decided that I was a jack of all trades and master of none, so why not let a master come and teach the workshop. He’s really great with the kids and they’ve done really well.”
A former sixth-grade teacher, Aubrin encouraged the 4-Hers to be creative as they worked on their leather projects.
“I always tells my classes that your only limitation is your imagination,” said Rhem. “It’s true; I’ve even seen a leather toilet seat.”
During the workshop, the kids made leather bracelets, coin purses, and dream catchers. “Each project involves different aspects of the leather craft so that’s why we picked those three,” explained Bradshaw.
To get started, Rhem taught the children about the specific kind of leather they would be working with — vegetable-tanned leather. He explained that vegetable-tanned means that the leather was tanned using tree bark which allows the leather to soak up water, making it malleable and easy to tool, carve and dye.
“It’s not like the leather that is used to make leather seats for cars or leather jackets. You want those to be water-resistant,” noted Rhem.
Before starting on their projects, the children practiced with scrap pieces of the fabric. Rhem took the children outside to show them how to case, or wet, their leather so they could start practicing.
Once the leather was prepared, the children went to work on it with mallets in hand. Using the mallet, a granite slab, and a carving tool, they practiced marking the leather. They also experimented with using different kinds of stamps.
As they practiced, Rhem stressed that when working with leather “there is no leather eraser,” so once a hit is made, it is there.
After pounding away at the scrap pieces, Rhem gave the 4-Hers their wristbands to personalize.
“Make sure that when you get done your wristband says you, that’s important,” said Rhem.
Above the noise of the 4-Hers beating and banging the leather with their mallets, putting their own unique stamp on their leather bracelets, Rhem shared that he loves working with kids and teaching them about the leather craft.
“You know, the leather craft was dying out at one time but now it is coming back. It’s a craft where you work with your hands and there’s so much you can do with it,” noted Rhem as he watched the youngsters catch on quick to the craft. “It’s an addictive hobby.”
When asked how he thinks it benefits kids to be exposed to crafts like leather work, Rhem recalled a couple of former students. “I always tell people about Silas and April. When they first took my class, Silas was 10 and April was about 8. Now they are 13 and 11 and they have an online store. They sell leather bracelets, bookmarks, all kinds of stuff. They are little, pre-teen entrepreneurs so leather working can be fun and profitable for kids.”
Not even half way into the workshop, the kids already agreed that working with leather was fun.
“I just like making this kind of stuff,” said 4-Her Hannah Royal as she searched for another stamp, adding that hitting the stamps with the mallets to make designs in the leather was particularly fun.
“Yeah, it’s fun. I like the bracelet. I want to make another one,” added Brianna Devone as she proudly showed off her leather wristband which featured her nickname along with a sunshine and a polar bear.
The leather workshop is just one of the many fun and educational 4-H workshops scheduled for this summer. While most of the workshops are already full, interested persons can be placed on a waiting list just in case there are some last-minute cancellations. To inquire about workshop availability and the waiting list, please contact the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Agency at 910-592-7161.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at email@example.com.