Mr. Dupre, who taught industrial arts at the junior high school, was carrying a stack of Tandy Leathercraft kits to his office. I wasn’t a student of his – I had already taken industrial arts at Central Elementary (aka: Charles Drew High School before desegregation came to Eunice). But the striking yellow and black boxes of the leathercraft kits had so grabbed my attention that I pushed through my usual shyness* around people I don’t know and blurted out, “What are those?”
He explained what they were and that he was making them available to his students, but would be happy to sell one to me. I don’t remember what the whole kit cost back then, but I’m guessing it was under $20, which got you eight professional-grade leather-crafting tools, and eight leather items you would then make as you learned your new craft. Each item was pre-cut, and accompanied by a stamping pattern that you’d follow to decorate the leather; instructions about stitching the parts together; and how to finish the item with a layer of sealant.
The thought behind the kit was that, once you did these eight simple projects (a wallet, a key purse, a triangular coin purse, a luggage tag, and a comb case – the comb was included – among other small items) you would then graduate on to bigger leather projects you could order from the Tandy catalog. And that’s exactly what I did for the next several years.
I made belts, wrist-bands, men’s and women’s wallets, and several dozen handbags, which were a hot-selling item in Eliza’s Beauty Shop, where Momma was happy to share some of her merchandise counter space with me. Once I got the hang of the eight original crafting tools, I bought more tools, and refined the other components of the process. I bought interesting leather threads, colorful dyes, hardware (buckles, clasps, hinges, studs, etc.), and even graduated to having enough confidence to buy plain yards of leather on which I would have to cut out patterns I’d designed myself. In a very short time, I was able to keep the leather and related items coming in the mail from Fort Worth (where the Tandy company is based). Bill, whose job at Tandy must have been fulfillment, often scribbled little notes of encouragement on the receipts included in my order.
Unfortunately, those were the days of Polaroids and 35 millimeter cameras – and not of the instant digital magic on all of our cell phones – so I don’t have actual images from my time as a leather-crafter. The images here all came from the interwebs (I may end up in jail – but I figure I already have a craft, so I would be popular with my fellow inmates). That said, the photo of the leather camera box I made back then was taken on my i-phone just now. So you’ll have to trust me and lather up your capacity to imagine the styles of the ’70s that influenced my work: paisley, flower-power, and lots of psychedelic-ness everywhere you looked.
Eventually, I put away the leathercraft kit and moved on to other amusements. What’s your hobby? Are you crafty? Do tell.
*I know people who will wonder how I can describe myself as shy, but back then, though I was one of the class clowns, and was quite eager to make a spectacle of myself whenever the opportunity arose, inside I was just another terrified thirteen-year-old.
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