Material Reality: Sophie Truong

Sophie Truong is the mastermind behind Stitch and Tickle and a 2015 Craft Show artist.

How did you start working with leather? What drew you to this medium? 

I'm a mixed media artist and over the last decade, my artwork became more and more tactile and almost inevitably involved stitching. So when I was looking for new ways to make a living a few years back (I had worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for years, doing product development for their shops), I knew it had to be something that I would make, by hand, and that involved some type of sewing. I experimented with textiles. One day, I couldn't find on the market a purse that I would want, so I decided to make myself a bag with some leather I had in the studio, and Stitch and Tickle was born. I fell in love with the tactile aspect of the material, the fact that it's organic and resistant, and that you could make products that are beautiful, long-lasting and functional. 

What were some of your early experiments, and what did you learn from them?

I started making bags right away but quickly figured out it wasn't going to be easy without any formal training or equipment. Classes were scarce so I had to research online and in books. I'm pretty much self-taught. The biggest challenge for me was that learning curve as I often felt I was reinventing the wheel. I still use very few machines and that can be challenging when it comes to executing designs for which you need special equipment. But dealing with those limitations has helped me develop my own style. I've always favored things that are simply designed and well made, and that show the hand of the maker. 

Another challenge has been sourcing the right leathers. You can have a design in mind but if you don't find the appropriate leather, the bag will come out very different from the initial idea. So I've had to work with that while still developing a style of my own.  

What is the sign of highest quality when it comes to leather work? What are some consumer misconceptions about it?

Because leather is an organic material, it comes with some imperfections such as scars, insect bites, stretch marks, etc. Those often  remain visible in full grain (top quality) leathers and, in my opinion,  add character to the finished product. However, some customers are used to manufactured bags produced by the fashion industry where natural marks are discarded, generating huge waste. I personally want to minimize waste and believe that while doing so, you can still make bags that are beautiful. And I hope to slowly change that misconception about flaws. 

What has surprised you about your own work, and/or people's reactions to it?

The most amazing thing has been the customer's response! People have really responded positively to the quality, aesthetic and simplicity of the designs, and their continued support is truly humbling. 

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