This month in the British maker hotseat is Carla Risdon the matirach of Risdon & Risdon. Taking us behind the scenes and into the process of making some of the world's finest aprons and her passion for improving on Risdon & Risdon's already faultless products.
SGB: Hello Carla. Let's get down to brass tacks. What first inspired you to start Risdon & Risdon?
CARLA: Since a child, and with a mother who used a sewing machine, I have always made things. As an adult looking to leave the unfulfilling job I was in, I started making aprons at home – I loved the simplicity of them. At first they had floral designs, then I started using ticking fabric but after a trip to San Francisco seeing the baristas in the coffee shops wearing stylish denim aprons with leather straps, I knew I could make something similar for a British market.
SGB: So how did you turn that thought and inspiration into Risdon & Risdon?
CARLA: I already had a little shop space within the wonderful Shrewsbury Market Hall and so invested in some leather making tools and an industrial sewing machine. I then had to call on the help of my two sons Alex and James because it became apparent that they were better at certain things than I was! Alex quickly mastered the leather work and now is a great asset to the business making the most beautiful aprons, belts and knife rolls. James was able to carry the business forward designing our logo, taking great photographs and building the website. And so in 2015 the two generations became Risdon & Risdon.
SGB: How many designs did you create until you found the final shape and fabric of your aprons?
CARLA: I wanted the aprons to always be made from top quality materials but they also had to be very practical. Unlike the aprons I had seen in America with their leather straps riveted on and not practical for washing we needed to find a better method for attaching the straps. Not wanting to compromise on the aesthetic we designed our own snap fasteners to have the look of screw heads. The fabric had to be a heavy enough weight to do the job well and come in beautiful colours. The design got tweaked along the way needing reinforced corners where the straps go and also giving the lap pockets a comfortable slant for ease of use. So the vision was always the original design, but with a long list of amendments!
SGB: With Alex and James your sons also in the family business, what is a typical day in the Risdon & Risdon workshop?
CARLA: David our Workshop Manager will print out the orders and place them on the board. Melinda will be at her machine sewing. Val will be cutting out fabric. Alex will be finishing of a custom leather order. Joe will be preparing leather straps. Katy will be responding to customer emails. James will be editing some photographs. Naomi will be creating an Instagram post. And I will be doing a bit of everything!
SGB: Can you walk us through the process of making an apron?
CARLA: The apron starts off over one side of our workshop in the sewing area. The fabric is laid out on one of our large cutting tables and the pieces cut out using templates. Each of the pocket pieces are then folded-in and steam pressed to give a neater finish once sewn on. The apron is then sewn together: reinforced corners are added where the straps will sit and double stitching is used to put the pockets on. Custom wash labels and our logo are added and then the apron is handed over to the other side of the workshop. The next part of putting the apron together is to mark up where the snap fasteners need to go, these are then applied using our traditional footpress, as well as rivets applied to the pocket corners. Finally the leather straps go on – these will have been cut to size, holes punched in, buckles and metalware added, as well as the Risdon & Risdon logo branded into the neck strap.Can you walk us through the process of making an apron?
The apron starts off over one side of our workshop in the sewing area. The fabric is laid out on one of our large cutting tables and the pieces cut out using templates. Each of the pocket pieces are then folded-in and steam pressed to give a neater finish once sewn on. The apron is then sewn together: reinforced corners are added where the straps will sit and double stitching is used to put the pockets on. Custom wash labels and our logo are added and then the apron is handed over to the other side of the workshop. The next part of putting the apron together is to mark up where the snap fasteners need to go, these are then applied using our traditional footpress, as well as rivets applied to the pocket corners. Finally the leather straps go on – these will have been cut to size, holes punched in, buckles and metalware added, as well as the Risdon & Risdon logo branded into the neck strap.
SGB: There is a lot that goes into a single apron but what is the most satisfying part of the process?
CARLA: When we hear from our customers how delighted they are with their aprons. Knowing we created something which makes a positive difference to someone is very satisfying. Being an online business it’s not always easy to convey the feel of what we make and it’s not until they get hold of the apron and smell the leather that they know they have made a wise investment.
SGB: A lot of makers have a favourite tool that gives them satisfaction when they us it. What is your personal favourite tool in your arsenal?
CARLA: When the apron is near completion one of the final tasks is to soften the edges of the leather neck strap. Like everything this is done by hand, an edge slicker is used to ‘polish’ or burnish the rough fibres down to a smooth finish. This most basic wooden tool gives our aprons the final finishing touch so that the apron feels comfortable from day one.
SGB: With all this in mind what details of your aprons make them special?
CARLA: The first thing is something possibly never noticed – the thread – our aprons are sewn together using extremely strong thread and are built to last. Then it is the little touches: a hidden pocket on the inside, slanted pockets for comfortable use, snap fasteners we designed ourselves. There are lots more details that make our aprons stand out – we actually have a whole page on our website ‘What makes our Original apron so special?’.
SGB: What craftsmanship methods do you utilise to achieve this?
CARLA: Our leather worker uses a selection of hand tools and techniques to prepare the leather straps: a round knife for cutting, hole punches for the various holes to hold buckles, the neck strap edges are bevelled and burnished for a comfortable fit. Our logo is then heat pressed into the strap as a sign of authenticity.
SGB: When it comes to inspiration what makes you want to create?
CARLA: It might be a customer request – a jewellery maker came to us wanting a very soft leather apron for working in but one that looked smart in the showroom – he chose a beautiful suede which was a real pleasure to work with and the final apron looked amazing. Then it might be a fabric…there are so many beautiful fabrics we still want to use. With each fabric comes its own range – so we have plans for hardy wax cotton aprons and beautiful linen aprons.
SGB: Do you have any brands, designers or makers that inspire you?
CARLA: I really like what the Cambridge Satchel Company have done. Taking an item that everyone is familiar with and often has used, and bringing it up to date. They have taken an iconic design and made it so much more accessible, all while promoting British manufacturing. Another brand is Elvis & Kresse who craft reclaimed materials into beautiful luxury bags and accessories – they are most known for repurposing decommissioned Fire Brigade hoses.
SGB: How do you make the Risdon & Risdon's workshop an inspiring place to work?
CARLA: We are lucky to live in Shrewsbury which is such a beautiful town full of listed buildings, our workshop is in an old Victorian warehouse located down a cobbled alley, so even arriving fills you with a sense of purpose and nostalgia. The building has large windows bringing in a lot of light and this also help nurture creativity.
SGB: How do you want people to feel when they use/wear one of your aprons?
CARLA: With their apron, we hope people feel a greater sense of purpose and achievement in the work they do. An apron is often an additional part of their tool kit – it is the start and the end of a job - it’s what connects people to their passion. Owning an apron that has seen you through every learning curve, every success and failure, and has been on a journey with you is extremely gratifying and brings a sense of pride.
SGB: Can you let us into any future plans for Risdon & Risdon?
CARLA: People who love our aprons often ask if we will be doing more bags and backpacks so this is something we are looking to develop. We can’t wait until we’re all carrying round our things in a Risdon & Risdon bag!