Measure twice, cut once: Clutch making with girlfriends in Chicago

Walking into Chicago School of Shoemaking and Leather Arts for a girls night out with friends, I quickly realized that the Leather Work 101 class may be slightly more serious than my group was prepared for. We had come stocked with a mini styrofoam cooler full of summer shandy style libations after having planned for an afternoon of BYOB-induced laughter combined with a few quick cuts, folds of leather and an end product. But the dramatically lit studio walls lined with shoes and leather shaping tools, and students of the craft at almost every table quietly cobbling leather, was a little intimidating. 

We were quickly assigned two tables, one for our refreshments and another to use as our workstation. In the center of our workstation, we found sample clutches, sample cuffs and a few sample belts. We then got to choose which project we intended to complete over the next two hours. Full disclosure, we were late to begin because we were busy tasting our variety pack of shandies.

Let me help frame my group of friends for you. We laugh loud and long. We aspire to enjoy every moment to the fullest, so this serious studio was in for a treat. Fortunately, our instructor Yohan was prepared to match wits with us and guided us through each of the following steps. 

Step one: Choose your project

Of the five of us, four chose to make clutches and one chose to make a belt. Templates are available based on the type of clutch you want to make or you can free hand it. The belt seemed most laborious but did allow my friend the most individual attention, both from Yohan and even from the owner. 

Step two: Choose your leather

Oh, this was the most difficult part as the leather selection was amazing. It wasn’t your standard black and brown. Matter of fact, not one of us left with a black or brown clutch. They were each so unique. This isn’t like a guided canvas painting where everyone leaves with an interesting interpretation — your clutch is yours to design and love.

Step three: Create

When I tell you that we had SO much fun creating these clutches, it’s an understatement. Eventually other students came over to see what we were creating, the owner got involved with coaching us and we managed to somewhat contain our outrageous laughter. All while measuring and cutting leather, adding rivets and embellishing with other leather pieces. Most of the clutches were completed with time to spare; only the belt took a bit longer. 

Step four: Photograph

Clearly I brushed over some of the technical aspects of the clutch and belt making, but I honestly can’t even go into detail about everything that the five of us accomplished in two short hours, including annihilating a container of fresh guacamole from Mariano’s and not spilling one single drop of beverage anywhere.  

The team at Chicago School of Shoemaking and Leather Arts is amazing and has a great concept here for an amazing afternoon of fun with friends. Bring your closest friends, a pack of shandies, and a nosh plate. I guarantee you’ll have a blast. 

An additional perk is that once you’ve taken a course, they offer studio time for $10 an hour for you to come in and create other items. I saw a woman making a ballet slipper and a man looking very serious about whatever he was sewing. Can you imagine being so well versed in leather that you’d be sewing at a machine? A girl can dream.

If you go:

Chicago School of Shoemaking and Leather Arts

3717 N Ravenswood Ave. #113

$89/person. Materials, hardware and use of tools included.

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