The Truth about Crafting Leather

If you tell me to pick a favorite material, then the answer would be leather. There’s something about it that makes anything made with leather appear tough and classy in my eyes no matter how weary they are. Yet anything made out of leather always falls into my “too expensive” list in grouping items to buy.

So when I did my research for the trip to Yogyakarta on TripAdvisor and found Kaula Leather Workshop, it was like finding a gem. I thought about how cool it would be to make something out of real leather and customizing it for me instead of buying them in malls – plus, I would get to see how leather is crafted in hopes of understanding its pricing rates. So I gathered up my sub-standard marketing skills and managed to convince my dad to add it into our itinerary.

Kaula Leather Workshop takes place at SaeSae Hostel in the Suryodiningratan area of Yogyakarta. Owned by a leather artist, Abenk (with the assistance of his brother – Boy – who became my teacher for the class), there’s also a whole rack of leather products that he had made on sale in the workshop space. The place itself has this lovely chill, artistic vibe to it with a crafting bench located right in front of the entrance and a dining table for the hostel guests right around the corner of the aforementioned bench. As there’s only one crafting bench for the class to take place, you have to share it with whoever’s taking the class with you and it became a great place and occasion to start conversations with fellow travelers.

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There are several class packages that you can choose from, depending on how much time you want to spare for making leather throughout your trip and what do you want to make in class. Our family went for the one-day class to make leather jewelry. We asked Mas Boy about the price and he furrowed his brows for a while, as if trying to decided on a price and said that it’s IDR150.000 for each person (even though the website says it’s IDR350.000.) He then showed us the showroom for his brother’s leather collection and a catalog which allow us to decided on the basis of how we want our leather jewelry to look like. I went for a braided leather bracelet and my sister went for a pair of earrings and according to Mas Boy, both would take approximately two hours to make.

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We started out with raw leather, still having a fleshy color in one side and a brown tone on the other. Mas Boy measured my wrist and asked me how thick I was planning my bracelet to be and how many layers of braiding do I want it to consist of, then proceeded to measure out points in the leather which would be cut to form the braided strands. I did the drawing of the lines and cutting for this first part.

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A quick lesson I learned in this step is that leather is a really sensitive material and requires a lot of great care in crafting – something which I genuinely lack as a klutz. One small scratch, cut, or mistake will stand out on the product. My first try was deemed a failure by Mas Boy because I accidentally cut one of the strands the wrong way and scratched the material. I was honestly okay with it because craftsmanship is something I’ve acknowledged to be lacking of, but Mas Boy said “you know what, let’s start over.” He cut the strip which I screwed up with and drew some other dots based on his measurement and actually taught me how to hold the knife when cutting leather.

It takes a lot of patience to allow anyone to start over when making mistakes with a material as expensive as leather and for him to actually help me start over and improve my product is a great mark of how patient of a teacher Mas Boy is.

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After Mas Boy approved my work, it was time to paint that strip I had just cut off. Again, he let me choose the paint and I went for a rich, coffee brown. He gave me disposable gloves to paint with and a piece of cardboard for all the excess paint. With those, I sat on the floor and started painting.

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Apparently, the reason the workshop takes two hours is that it takes about an hour alone for the paint to dry – and whether it will be less or more than that depends on the presence of the sun. I spent that hour giving recommendations to a Danish woman who admitted that it was her first time in Indonesia and teaching Bahasa Indonesia while sharing travel stories with a French guy. I told you it’s an awesome place and occasion to strike up conversations.

Once the paint dried, it was time for the braiding – the step I dreaded most about making that bracelet. I have this high ability to get confused with steps in doing anything crafty and it showed. Mas Boy had to repeat his instructions to three times and ended up guiding my hands to where each strand needs to be. Still, he was patient through the entire thing.

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Mas Boy

Finally, it was time to polish the leather with a special coat of polish and some sponge and hammer a hole for the metal button of my bracelet. The hammering part was – err – interesting. When the Danish woman was hammering holes for a fringe bag she’s making, I advised her to unleash every negative emotion she has on the process. I practiced what I preached and ended up hammering the nail into the crafting bench – as if I hadn’t cost his brother’s leather shop enough damage that day by wasting material that I had to destroy the bench too  The couple of minutes I spent trying to pry that nail out in hopes of Mas Boy not finding out were some interesting minutes. But I ended up being able doing it properly in Mas Boy’s standards – even after the whole hammering-the-bench fiasco.

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The special spot on the bench for hammering which I literally nailed.

I finished off the entire process by polishing it again and asking Mas Boy if it looked alright – to which he nodded his head. I put it on with pride because it took a lot for a klutz like me to be able to produce something like that. In case you’re wondering how awesome Mas Boy is as a teacher as well as an artist, he gave me a demonstration of all those steps while holding a cigarette in one hand. I had two free hands and couldn’t even do it right.

Mas Boy then surprised me by allowing me to pick one more jewelry item from the rack and take it home for free. Yes, what the catalogs label as IDR60-100.000, Mas Boy gave to me for free. As I was picking what to take home, I just kept thinking “God bless this man” because he went a couple of extra miles for sure.

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Turning raw leather into a product actually gave me a sense of how hard it is to work with leather and appreciate the craftsmanship of those who do that for a living. It gave me a reason as to why leather goods are expensive because each piece of leather product needs finesse in producing them.

If you like arts and crafts or are willing to learn a new skill or want to make something and engage with strangers while going on a trip to Yogyakarta, I highly recommend this class for you. My next goal is actually to stay at Hostel SaeSae to interact with more people and hopefully, make more leather goods.

Kaula Leather Workshop | Jl. Pugeran Timur MJ II / 594 a |Suryodinigratan Area, Yogyakarta 55141, Indonesia | +62 857-1259-8388 | Opening hours: 10 AM – 5 PM

Ps: I’m in no way sponsored by Kaula Leather Workshop nor have any affiliations with Mas Boy or his brother. This review is purely based on my opinion because it was that good of a class.

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