She has interpreted designs for a wide variety of stage productions – both period and modern, involving sourcing fabrics, toiling and flat pattern making, constructing garments and fitting actors. Sometimes the clothing would need to look worn so fabrics were dyed, manipulated and changed to look realistic and authentic for each character.
Her skills span prop making – wigs, hats and masks and also accessories. This is where her love of working with leather really began. First leather gaiters for a production of Tartuffe, next an eighteenth century waistcoat with embossing, bound buttonholes and lacing.
Thompson continued to make leather items on a freelance basis, until one afternoon looking around The Bluecoat Display Centre, the Director noticed her bag and asked if she would consider making a collection for them. Fifteen years later, Thompson’s career has shifted its focus to crafting leather goods for galleries, her online platforms and at shows such as the Selvedge Fair, Bath.
We interviewed Sally-Anne Thompson to find out more about her business, textile practice and inspirations.
My Bernina sewing machine. Couldn’t function as a maker without it. A present from my mom for my 18th birthday and it’s lasted through college, theatre and freelance work all these years. I adore it – and like all good designs it remains as efficient and joyful to use today as ever.
A book from my friend about the designer Vivienne Westwood. An inspiration indeed from punk to panniers.
I rarely buy new materials! But I do have a smart new roll of silk ribbon to add a pop of lush colour and decadence to my dust bags.
View through the skylight of the workshop on a clear day. Clear, inspiring and reminiscent of a favourite Kate Bush track – ‘symphony in blue’. I can look up to stretch out after sewing and breathe in fresh energy from that hopeful colour above. The light it brings to the worktable is invaluable as I sketch, cut and stitch away.
What is your first memory of a textile?
Little red leather Mary Jane shoes. About age 3. Brass buckle and strap with punched hole fastenings.
Can you put into words what you love about textiles?
Yes – the wide variety and never ending choices there are to explore in life and work. With leather, it’s how each piece is individual and has its own character asking to be a certain shape or style of bag.
Where is your most inspiring place to create?
In the quiet light of my workspace with my familiar materials, tools and machines around me. Looking out through the window over the garden wall to the green beyond is the perfect green backdrop to get lost in creative endeavours for sure.
What has inspired you lately?
Re-watching Downton Abbey and my favourite film ‘Atonement’
What is your most cherished textile and why?
A framed clasp leather handbag which was nanna Lilian’s. It’s 1930’s.
Where did you learn your craft?
I learnt my craft from industry experts – so tailors, pattern cutters, milliners and prop makers. When I specialised in leatherwork that came from a period tailor at college called Liam Rodden who had worked as a prop maker at English National Opera. I supplemented this with continued reference to ‘The Leatherworking Handbook’ by Valerie Michael – an absolute must for traditional leather craft techniques and bag making.
When and why did you open your store?
I started selling my work online and through galleries in 2012 because people kept asking me to make them bags which were original one-off designs.
Apart from Selvedge where else do you sell?
I sell at The Bluecoat Display Centre in Liverpool 1, New Brewery Arts in Cirencester and Mostyn Gallery Llandudno. Also to commission.
Can you tell us a bit about your neighbourhood, why is it so special?
I live near Penny Lane in Liverpool with my husband Simon who’s a ceramicist and our cocker spaniel Florrie. The nearby parks are great for walks and local independent shops are vibrant and friendly. There’s always a tune ‘in my ears and in my eyes’...
Can you tell me about one of your loyal customers?
This has to be Linda Jeanne Jones, a jewellery designer and long-standing friend. We met in the late 1980’s at Friends of The Earth meetings and she has supported and encouraged me since then in many, many ways. I’m sure she didn’t really need quite so many leather bags!
Answers and images © @handmadeleatherbags
Find out more about Sally-Anne Thompson:
Sally-Anne Thompson will be exhibiting at the Selvedge Fair, Bath on 9 September 2023. Find out more at on the Selvedge website: