Wild for the West - Firefly Handmade Artisan Profile
Judy Cummins is a self-taught leather artisan and self-proclaimed Jersey girl who is just Wild for the West. She joins the Firefly Handmade community for the first time at our upcoming holiday market, traveling from Steamboat Springs, CO. This fervent artisan built her brand of carefully crafted handbags through trial and error, as well as a ton of passion. Leather is not an easy medium and while Judy found challenges at every turn, she tailored on, developing a unique relationship with the textile that allows her to easily visualize the best design for the scrap of material at hand. We can’t wait to have a hands-on experience with her gorgeous wares at the market, but in the meantime we were curious to know more about this artisan and what motivates her work. Read on to learn more!
You've been sewing since you were a child. What made you decide to choose handbags as your medium?
When I first started to sew clothing as a young girl, I made drawstring pouches and shoulder bags out of the extra fabric and notions. Over time, I experimented with more detailed designs and tried one on a leather scrap. I loved the feel of the leather and how the bag took shape. I showed the bag to a friend, and she asked me to make one for a fundraiser she was coordinating. That exposure led to more orders so I bought leather and a heavy-duty sewing machine from Ralph’s Industrial in Denver.
Can you tell us about the differences between sewing a piece of leather versus sewing clothing?
Cutting a pattern on fabric that is flat and straight is the foundation for a garment. Leather doesn’t lay flat or straight since it was never that way to begin with. I have to study the piece of leather to find the portion that will compliment my bag design. Leather is heavy and difficult to manipulate.
What inspires your designs?
I'm inspired by the authenticity of the American West. I love how items had a purpose and were made to last. With that in mind, my designs are often driven by function. I make them my own by modifying them to reflect my love of fashion and color. My goal is to produce something timeless, durable and fun.
How do you source your materials?
My primary source of leather for full hides is The Hide House in Napa, California. I also purchase partial hides and smaller pieces from Montana Leather Company in Billings, Montana. Leather is generally sold by the piece or square foot and scrap leather is often sold by the pound.
Are you completely self taught or do you go back to school to perfect your handbag making skills?
I have no formal training in handbag design or construction. I’ve developed my skills for sewing handbags through books, YouTube and lots of trial and error!
Do you hand-forge the belt buckles yourself or do you work with another artist?
I purchase hardware from a number of suppliers including Ohio Travel Bag. In addition, I do mixed media collaborative workshops with metalsmith and jewelry artist, Beth Liggitt. Her company is Wild Blue Studio and she's a Firefly Handmade Alum.
How do you want the audience to interact with your art?
When someone is shopping I want her to pick up a bag touch it, smell it, try it on and decide she has to have it!
Why are you proud to be a Firefly Handmade Artisan?
I had just started to work with leather when I met Beth in 2015 and learned about Firefly Handmade. I volunteered at the spring market that year and was very impressed with the talent of the artisans. I think it’s a privilege to be a member of this respected community.
Please help welcome Judy at the Firefly Handmade Holiday Market on December 16 & 17 at the NEW Embassy Suites Hotel on Canyon and 28th Street. In the meantime you can connect with Judy here:
In Person: Lincoln Ave at 9th Street, Steamboat Springs, CO