With plenty of hard work, determination and a creative mind brimming full of ideas Hide & Hammer’s Nu Shearman is a force of nature. We caught up with her to discover the story behind the beautiful leather goods she makes and how the realities of life have all ultimately played a part in her career.
Photo credit: Nigel Armitage
You’ve had quite the journey getting to this point with Hide & Hammer – can you share your story with us?
I’ve never been one for sitting still. Things started out as Nu-Red, a company I started over ten years ago, making small leather and knitted items. I’d been through a pretty turbulent time after university and had moved back to the village where I grew up, working in bars to get money to pay the rent on a damp (but pretty) cottage. Prior to having to pack my life into storage, I’d bought some leather-carving tools, and, when I thought I’d hit my lowest point, out came the tools in this tiny cottage. I started learning through trial and error, as well as little snippets people had posted in videos, which I paused and stared at for ages on the pixelated screen of my laptop desperately trying to work out how on earth these things were made!
But it wasn’t until I moved to be with my now-husband in Stroud that I really started to work creatively. I had a small amount of work with a bespoke luxury cordwainer in London that took me on to make fine crochet detailing on the uppers of some pretty incredible shoes. This gave me a little confidence and I realised that working in a creative industry might not pay well but it was very rewarding. I later applied for an apprentice position at a local saddlery and this is where I really learned how to work, stitch and manipulate leather. I learned from other apprentices as well as my teacher and master saddler Emily. With her help and the help of renowned bridlemaker Issi Hodges, I managed to get to a level where I was very happy with my work. It was in Issi’s workshop that I made the first leather knitting bags and the prototypes of what is now the #03s and #04s.
I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that having a child turns your life upside down... and I’m not ashamed to admit that after my daughter Eve was born I had a tough time coping. I needed space and so Eve went to nursery one day a week and I decided to give this Hide & Hammer thing a go. It was a change of direction from my initial plan (making dog collars, leads and handbags), but I knew there was a market for the bags as I’d been lucky enough to sell through a friend at shows... But what if I could go it alone?
I guess they say ‘the rest is history’, but I now know that saying this is a massive cop-out for ‘Well I’ve sort of forgotten what happened in the middle I was that tired/stressed/juggling all the things at once’. I know there are some pretty massive milestones in there and I’m really lucky to have the support of some fantastic friends, customers and a wonderful husband. This is a dream come true.
Photo Credit: Issi Hodges
There's always a huge buzz around your designs – as a one-woman business how do you keep up with demand?
In truth I’m not, I’ve been looking into hiring someone to help me in the workshop but I feel like I’d be cheating them as it just feels wrong asking someone to do all the jobs that I want to delegate (I know I’m my own worst enemy)! I have a whole notebook full of designs that I would love to work on, but at the moment I just don’t have the time so I guess that’s the squeeze point. I’m lucky to have Eve’s nursery just next door to the workshop – having her close means maximum time making and working. But I would love to have more time to make, work on product development and host more regular updates.
Your bags are not only beautiful-looking, but they are also very well-thought-out for everyday use. Was this trial and error or did you create the bags out of necessity?
I don’t like too much faff... I wanted something that was going to behave well and last. I got fed up of bags claiming to be well-made only to fall apart, not be washable and just generally not adapting to my life. I needed something lightweight that would fit into handbags or strap onto the outside of my bag, didn’t add a lot of extra weight and was water-resistant so that when life happened it would adapt to it. My #03 bag came about like that – as my knitting evolved from socks that were easily portable to sweaters that needed more room, there wasn’t anything on the market at the time that matched the image I had in my head. It took ages and a lot of research to find the right materials, bolts and pieces but I’m so pleased I took the time – I’m really proud of the #03 bag now.
The #04 had a similar design process, the need for a bigger but still lightweight bag won over. I hate large bags where you lose everything at the bottom, hence the popper on the #04... It creates a base when you need to sit the bag up and knit from or find things at the bottom.
You have some really stunning colour combinations – we love the simplicity of the #03 bags with the colourful leather straps, as well as the canvas shades in general and the leather wristbands. Where do you draw your colour inspiration from?
I like to work with what’s available but, more than that, I find the materials sort of tell me what they want to be. The canvas is milled in the UK by a Scottish company – they’re superb but sometimes run out of a colour for months, so I often need to get creative... Working closely with UK companies means a lot to me, the leather industry, in particular, is struggling in the UK. The wristbands are the next step in truly showing your colours and waving them high! This leather is buttery soft when worn next to the skin and improves with age too. The #WINGINGIT pink leather cuff is currently my favourite accessory.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out or thinking about working with leather?
Do it! Absolutely go for it, even though it’s hard but rewarding... And ignore the snobs online who only post half the information about how they make something, and won’t give away the name of the tannery or the glue they use.
There is an enormous wealth of knowledge out there and I recommend starting with Jo Heard (J.H. Leather) – she has some fantastic videos and she runs courses too. When you learn how to do something properly (from a trained saddler like Jo) only then can you learn the shortcuts, but remember there are rarely any shortcuts that will give you the same quality and finish that will set you apart.
More practically, I would say buy smaller amounts and get the best leather and tools you can afford. You can’t make amazing pieces from bad-quality leather – all it will do is dishearten you when you don’t get the quality of item you want. We are at an amazing turning point at the moment, the last of the old UK toolmakers closed when I was training but there are some amazing new tools coming from the USA, Europe and Japan, it’s a very exciting time.
Finally, I would always say go with your gut and your own designs. Don’t give up quickly because you think everyone else is doing it better... If you enjoy it keep doing it at your own pace and find your groove.
As well as working with leather, you also love to knit. What’s currently on your needles?
At the moment I’m working on the last sleeve of my Miara [designed by Renée Callahan] jumper that I started in 2019. I’m also working on my Rose [designed by Andrea Mowry] cardigan – it’s been one of the most fun knits. Also, there’s a mash-up that I’m not sure is going to work, but after taking a Kate Atherley class on fitting and adjusting garments I’m determined to put this knowledge to good use. It’s a seamed version of the Nurtured jumper by Andrea Mowry, using a basic sweater pattern by Amy Herzog... If it doesn’t work we’ll never mention it again!
Here at AYS, we’re big advocates of creativity as stress relief. What aspects of making do you find most satisfying?
The thing I find most satisfying is making leather bags and pattern rolls, they look a complete mess for ages and then suddenly they’re all together and finished ready to go! Stamping the shiny gold logos on the leather is amazing – it fills me with the most incredible pride to think that my brand is going on out into the world. I also love my workshop... It’s total chaos right now as I’ve been moving it round in the hope that more shelves will make a big difference, but instead I seem to have filled a lot of the space with my other love – plants!
What's next for Hide & Hammer?
I’m excitedly working on a smaller version of the #03 at the moment, as well as a couple of ideas for over-the-shoulder bags and backpacks. The problem is creating things that are unique, well-thought-out and user friendly takes time... Watch this space!
I should also mention that I’ve released a collection of videos on making your own Azuma Bukuro triangular tie-top bags (by hand or using a sewing machine). I love making these bags and I’m really looking forward to sharing them, along with ideas on how to personalise them.