THE LEATHER IS THICK, almost stubborn. Jack Lloyd’s hands work with the precision of a surgeon—one slip and the needle might puncture his finger, one wrong slant of the thread and it’s a tangled mess. “This is the stuff I test out my designs with,” he says, hunched over an unfinished saddlebag, its loose corner hanging like a tongue. It’s vegetable-tanned, he explains, meaning the leather is soaked in a liquor of tree bark, twigs, leaves and water to take on its sandy, neutral color. And, of course, it’s cheaper than the rich, lustrous leather from top-level tanneries he uses to make the real product. “I like this color, but this is not high quality at all. I’m just doing it to see how it would look.”
Forget speed. There is not a single industrial sewing machine to be found anywhere in Jack’s studio, a lime-green-walled space in North Little Rock that was once his childhood bedroom. Instead, he’s using a thread looped into the eyelet of two needles on both ends. Pushing the needles through the same hole from opposite sides, he makes a knot and pulls it snug, and then moves to the next hole. He does it so intuitively, head bent, not even tempted to check the underside. It’s a technique called “saddle stitching,” something of a forgotten art kept alive only by a few brands, like Hermès, and artisans like Jack. The stitching itself takes hours, not to mention the holes he punches by hand with a diamond chisel around the edges, on the sides and sometimes even on each of the multiple layers of leather.
He’s been sketching, cutting and sewing his designs for months, slowly steering away from the simple, minimalist totes that kick-started his business this past spring and into the direction of handbags, crossbodies and wallets. “They are meant to be passed down and … ” he trails off, not taking his eyes from the pieces of leather he’s shaping into something functional. “I’m trying to make things that are timeless, that will last many lifetimes, as long as they are somewhat taken care of.”
The Hands Behind Dower
North Little Rock
Making bags since:
May 30, 2016
First thing he ever sewed:
“A merit badge to a sash.”
Most difficult thing about his craft:
“Skiving—a process where I use a special knife
to make the leather thinner and reduce bulk. It drives me crazy most days.”
Where you’ll find him when he’s not saddle stitching: “Making lots of music or hanging out at home with my girlfriend, binge-watching television while looking after
our small kennel of animals.”
Dower products—wallets, totes and handbags—are available at dower.co and range from $44 to $350.