The leather industry has been around for a long time, creating accessories, clothing, weapons, and more. But did you know organizations comprised of skilled leather crafters exist to teach, promote, and preserve leather crafting services? I will discuss leather guilds and how they can help you explore the beautiful nature of leather crafting.
A leather guild is a group of people interested in and skilled in leathercrafts. Leather guilds have been around for centuries and include saddle makers, hobbyists, and masters who share skills and knowledge about leatherwork. Types of guilds include leather crafting, medieval, and historical.
Are you interested in learning about leather but unsure where to go? Are you looking for help in improving your leather crafting skills? I will discuss what to look for and where you can find some of the best leather guilds in the world.
What is a Leather Guild?
A leather guild is a group of people with similar interests and skills in leather crafts. It consists of elected officers, including a president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary. Members are often found in leather stores, county fairs, and hobby shows. Leather guild members offer demonstrations of leather craft, enter their work in competitions, engage in social events together, and teach others the skill of leather craft.
History of Leather Guilds
The leather-making industry has been around for centuries. Our ancestors made footwear and clothing out of animal skins and eventually developed tanning to better preserve those hides as long ago as 5,000 BC.
According to Monica Sharma, Associate Professor of Guru Nanak Dev University, there is evidence of leather guilds in the 10th and 11th centuries in India. Leather guilds in the Middle Ages were an integral part of society’s social and political makeup, providing goods and services to members and society as a whole.
Guilds grew and developed to train apprentices, travel to deliver services, operate small businesses, provide protection, maintain pricing and quality standards, and provide charity to communities. Today’s leather guilds are internationally represented with novices, saddle makers, hobbyists, and leather masters who take pride in sharing their skills and knowledge.
All leather guilds meet with members, discuss leather craft skills and how to improve them and hold or participate in leather skill competitions.
Types of Leather Guilds
A few different types of leather guilds focus on various aspects of leather craft. For example, there is a leather guild that focuses on leather as a craft of the Middle Ages that recreates the arts and crafts and pathways to achieve new titles in their guild that were once part of historical guilds.
There are leather guilds that focus on leather crafts in general, with sharing of skills regarding tooling and dyeing leather for pictures, bags, shoes, and more. There are also leather guilds dedicated to promoting interest in leatherwork and sharing information on modern and historical leather crafting.
All leather guilds meet with members, discuss leather craft skills and how to improve them and hold or participate in leather skill competitions. So what do the competitions include? Here are some leather craft categories that are judged in an IFoLG competition:
- Cases-saddlebags, briefcases, holsters, purses, book covers, etc.
- Pocket items-billfolds, eyeglass cases, clutch purses, etc.
- Wearing apparel-belts, vests, jackets, jewelry, guitar straps, etc.
- Large complex items-saddles, bridles, chairs, harnesses, etc.
- Household items-walking sticks, baskets, pet collars, lampshades, etc.
- Motorcycle gear-saddlebags, utility bags, chaps, boots, etc.
So as you can see, if you decide to join a leather guild, there are plenty of skills and leather crafts you could learn! Next, let’s cover what you should look for in a leather guild.
What to Look for in a Leather Guild
If you’re interested in leather craft and in joining a leather guild, there are a few things you should look for. First, for a leather guild to participate in competitions and have voting rights, it must currently be part of the International Federation of Leathercraft Guilds (IFoLG). Second, you want to find a leather guild with local or online meetings you can attend.
Look for a leather guild that shares your interests and passion for leather. It’s also essential for a leather guild to be non-political as well as non-profit. This is how you know they are dedicated to the leather craft and sharing their skills with others.
The other thing to consider is annual membership fees, which should be reasonable for you and your family. Generally speaking, annual dues for many leather guilds range from $20–$35 for a single person, usually with discounts for families ($40–$50 for a family of four).
What Is the Best Leather Guild?
How do you know what the best leather guild is? Let’s check out some criteria:
1. The best leather guild is one that is open and welcoming of new members.
2. They have regular meetings with good local attendance and participation.
3. They help members improve their skills and foster interest in leathercraft.
4. Good leather guilds will have a regular publication that shares membership information, events, and community activities.
5. The best leather guilds will have members who share their skills, teach others, and help others learn and improve their leather craft skills.
6. A good leather guild will be well established, having been founded more than two years ago, and is also current in membership with the IFoLG.
7. Online resources are a good thing to look for with good leather guilds. Online meetings, project ideas, video tutorials, discussion boards, etc., are great resources for anyone interested in leather crafts.
8. Most importantly, the best leather guilds will have members and leaders who are passionate about leather craft and sharing their knowledge and skills with newcomers.
My Research on Locating Leather Guilds Globally
I performed online research to locate the U.S. and international leather guilds. I found the following current listings for leather guilds with meeting dates and contact information listed on their websites:
- Society of the Middle Ages
- Portland Leather Guild
- UK Leather Guild
- Leather Crafters Guild (WI)
- The Leathercraft Guild
- Lone Star Leathercrafters (TX)
- Gateway Leather Guild (MO)
- Pitt Pounders Leather Guild (PA)
- Columbine Leather Guild (CO)
- International Federation of Leather Guilds IFoLG Member Guilds, including all current national group listings and contact information, can be found at Weaver Leather Supply. https://www.weaverleathersupply.com/learn/ifolg-member-guilds.
Check out this interesting video of leathercraft guild member Al Sheldon in his 54-year-old leather studio in California.
How large are leather guilds?
Leather guilds can be pretty large, with international members globally. While there may be only 10–15 people attending meetings in person, there may be dozens more who live in other countries.
Do I have to be local to join a leather guild?
No! The beauty of the internet is that it gives you access to leather guilds locally and internationally.
Do I have to be an expert to join a leather guild?
No, you do not have to be an expert to join a leather guild. You could be a beginner in leathercraft or just interested in the industry and join just about any leather guild.
If you’ve ever had a keen interest in leather craft, you probably hadn’t even considered joining a leather guild. There are many opportunities for interacting with and joining leather guilds, with thousands of people keeping the leather craft alive. From local meetings at a church to online groups on social media outlets, the possibilities are endless! What type of leather guild will you check out first?
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