I was introduced to a brand recently called Thomas Lyte. Better known for their silver work (it’s their responsibility to maintain and refurbish the FA Cup), they also have a growing selection of leather goods with an admirable focus on craft.
I visited the leather workshop in south-west London last week to take a look at how the bags are put together.
The leather they use comes from a small German tannery called Breuninger, which Thomas Lyte effectively saved from insolvency when it bought a large order of mustard-coloured grain leather a few years ago. Now functioning and solvent, Breuninger has retained the mustard dye (together with a grey) exclusively for Thomas Lyte.
The vegetable-tanned leather uses a method called tipping to bring out the fine grain the company has stamped on it. Essentially this means dying the leather twice, once before and once after stamping, the second time using a darker dye that sits between the raised grain and adds contrast.
Having written before, in my piece on Bown bags, about the hand-inking of cut edges, I was glad to see that Thomas Lyte also uses this method. They try to avoid cut edges wherever possible though. (A cut edge being where the leather has been cut, leaving a raw surface that needs to be covered with something, like ink or paste.)
On a bag’s handles a cut edge is pretty much unavoidable. But on side panels or other parts of the bag, the edges are always turned – which requires skiving the edge to make it thinner, turning it over and then stitching it down. This leaves a cleaner, smarter finish but takes longer.
Thomas Lyte’s leather products are always fully lined, with silk. This can create engineering problems, such as a tight corner where the silk has to be sewn into it on the inside. But it is more attractive, particularly in the flower motif printed on deep pink that they often use.
Also – and I love this fact – all the pockets of all the wallets are lined with silk too. Many manufacturers don’t line the pockets, only do so halfway, or use less expensive material. Because you can’t see it very easily. I check that every time I pick up a wallet now.
To segue from craft into design, I’m a fan of their coin purses that fasten with magnets along the edge. Not only do they keep the pocket shut, but when it is open they cling to the coppers so everything else comes out first. Assuming you’re not searching for 2p to put in a tip jar, this saves much scrabbling around.
Design is all about British icons. From the pillar box, Thomas Lyte’s designers took the kicking plate that runs around the bottom and transferred it to the leather goods. So the bottom section of the bags and the wallets is in black bridle leather, contrasting with the grain calf leather on top. Practical for the bags, as bridle leather is much hardier, but more a question of continuity on the wallets.
From the Spitfire plane, the designers took the curve of the tail and echoed it in everything from bottoms of the bags to the tags on all their zips (see picture above). And lastly, there is a faint reminder of a fairground’s helter skelter in the lines of the pockets of a wallet.
I think Thomas Lyte is a craft-orientated company that is just discovering what it wants to do in leather goods, with a leaning towards the slightly funkier, irreverent end of the design spectrum. For the moment they are only online. But watch this space.
Photography: Andy Barnham