The Craftsman: An Interview With Hollows Leather
Nicholas Hollows is the maker behind Hollows Leather, he’s been blessed with hands that make beautiful leather goods. The level of craftsmanship and quality that goes into his products means they’re bound to age beautifully. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Nicholas for an interview. In this age of the internet that means sending some questions his way via email.
Name, age, location:
My name is Nicholas Hollows, I’m 27, and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
When and how did you get started as a leather craftsman?
In 2007, I discovered a box of leather working tools in my in-laws garage. They were left by an uncle-in-law who I never met. He was a cop, and was killed while trying to stop a robbery at a hospital pharmacy while off-duty. He made some belts and saddles as a hobby, and left this box of tools and scrap leather. I’ve always been really into the idea that if you need something, you should make it yourself if you can. So when my self-made duct tape wallet from high school started to get sticky and nasty, I decided I would try making a new one out of leather.
What was the first leather piece you made? What’s the first you sold?
The first thing I made was that new wallet, I sketched it out and made it from scrap leather. The wallet I use now is the same layout as that first one, just nicer leather. The first piece that I sold was a really simple two-pocket card case made from natural veg-tan leather. I made a lot of really crude stuff before even thinking about selling something.
How was the initial learning curve and what did you do to perfect your craft?
The nice thing about working with leather is that even early on, you can make really durable and useful things, as long as you don’t mind how it looks. My friends and I still have a bunch of stuff from those early days. I cringe a little bit at how ugly they are compared to my current standards, but they still get the job done. It took a lot of trial and error to get better. I wasted tons of leather doing things all wrong, but I had fun in the process. I have a lot to learn still. I’m really excited about the idea of traveling to Japan and Taiwan to learn from some of the amazing leather workers there. The ceiling for leather work is very high, and I want to be able to push it into an elegant place, even though it’s a really practical thing.
What tools do you use?
I’m a huge tool geek, so I’m always trying new things, but I still use a lot of my uncle’s tools on a daily basis. If my apartment caught fire, I would grab my awl, ruler, and maul in a heartbeat. Beyond that, I’ve got a whole arsenal of edgers, groovers, burnishing tools, punches, thread, hardware setters, and cutting tools of all kinds. Almost all of it is specific to leather.
What resources are available for someone interested in learning about or becoming a leather craftsman?
Tandy is your best friend. If you’re even remotely interested in working with leather, you should find your nearest Tandy shop and go say hello. In my experience, the employees are universally friendly, bursting with knowledge, and eager to share it. They have scrap bins, which is a big deal because you don’t want to spend 200 bucks on a full side when you’re just dabbling. Most Tandy shops also host free classes. Start slow with the tools, get a good knife, awl, thread, needles, and a cutting surface. Making a few projects with just the bare bones will give you a really good idea of what you want to try out next.
What do you do when you aren’t making leather goods? Other hobbies?
I play the banjo a bit, and I’ve been trying to learn Japanese. I try to be outside as much as possible, hiking, camping, canoeing, swimming. I used to be a bicycle mechanic, so I’m really into my bikes and riding. I have vague plans to learn how to use a sewing machine so that I can work with cloth more. I’m excited about the possibilities there. And of course books. Lots of books.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these. Any last words?
I feel like everyone should know how to make something well. The medium isn’t that important, but there’s a unique sort of pride in being able to behold and then enjoy something that you made with your own hands, whether it’s a wooden spoon, a hand-bound book, a bowl of chili, or a bicycle frame. Learn something about everything and everything about something.
Head over to the Hollows Leather website to check out his products as well as photos of his worn pieces. Keep your eyes peeled here in the next few days, Nicholas was nice enough to provide a couple products for a giveaway to It’s Worn readers.
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