Know Your Farmer: Laura Wall - Leather Craftswoman

Posted by Laura Mortelliti on Jun 6, 2017 3:46:32 PM

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If you stop by our newly constructed Hide Barn, definitely visit the front room which is our Leather Workshop. As you open the door, you may hear her audio books on Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen before you see Laura Wall, our Leather Craftswoman. Laura has a lifelong history of farming and animal husbandry as well as a passion for crafting. “I have the best of both worlds here”, says Laura. “I am surrounded by a pile of critters but I get to create”. Laura is married to the farm Small Ruminants Manager and herding dog breeder Darren Wall and the couple are expecting their first child this June. Read on to learn about Laura's deep knowledge and passion for animals and crafting.

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How did you get into farming? 

I started out on a small farm in Tennessee where I was born and raised. Around the Foothills of the Smokies. God’s Country. Farming on a small level has always been a part of my life. And probably the most enjoyable. Some of the hardest times too. You learn a lot about life when you live on a farm- life and death. You realize that beauty can be found in it all.

My grammy is the reason I have such respect and love for the farm. In her younger years she raised quite a few meat chickens, they had a dairy, then sold out the dairy to raise beef cattle. I lived within a few tenths of a mile from her until the day she died. We would always help Grammy with her beef cattle when it came time for sorting or vaccinating. She instilled more in me than anyone else when it comes to farming. I’ll always appreciate her for that. She gave me my first calf to raise. A steer named Link.

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How did you get into leather crafting?

Kind of by chance, you know I always loved doing things with my hands. White Oak Pastures needed somebody and I was willing to take it on. I've sewn for years and changing medium is not very different. I got into sewing through hand sewing first. That’s probably the wisest thing a mother could ever do is say, “No you can't use the machine yet”. My mom helped and taught me a lot. She was somebody I could always go to for questions. She used to sew some of our clothes so she’s a stickler for doing things right which was difficult for me because I wanted to do things quickly. But, you learn that doing it the right way is better than having to go back and redo it. You don’t want to waste fabric- you don’t want to waste any material you’re using. She bought me my first sewing machine. It’s a lot like the one I use now for the leather. But Theodore (the leather sewing machine) over here is a lot more powerful.

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What is the most satisfying part of your job?

When people like a product that you have designed. I like things to be practical, yet elegant in the way it’s put together. It’s nice to be appreciated for your work but especially with something you’ve taken the time to design and work out all the kinks. It’s gratifying to know that people like something you have done. And sometimes they request products. I like it when I can use almost every single strip of a piece of leather- that makes me very happy- I don't like to waste it- it’s just like fabric- everything comes with a cost. 

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What is the most challenging part of your job?

Because I am a little ADD, sometimes concentrating on doing a lot of one thing- that we need to be done- can be a challenge. I’ve always said that I have crafting ADD- I will start one thing, and before I finish with it,  I usually have to go to another one just to rest my mind- which can be frustrating for everybody else because of all the unfinished products laying around the house- that do eventually get finished! Here, I try not to do that. I try to get these pieces done and get them out for the world to see.

When it comes to leather, I’ve come to realize that each piece is different. For certain things you want a rather thin hide- like the checkbook covers. Then you have other products like our medium tote, it’s going to carry a lot of weight so you’ll want a good sturdy piece of leather not only for the bag, but for the straps too. Sometimes what I do is determined by the piece of leather in front of me, sometimes the piece of leather in front of me determines what I do. When I get through measuring and cutting, one of my favorite parts is actually dying the leather. I like bright, rich colors. Figuring out the different dyes and how they work has been a challenge, but I like a good challenge. It’s fun because each hide is very different in the texture, in the way it takes a dye, it’s fun to see things pop like the wrinkles, and it all tells a tale about how the cow wore its skin. It’s interesting to see how those stories pop out with the dye. Even little blemishes, to me they are not a problem, they are the histories of the hides. I see them as character, it’s like an old piece of furniture. Another challenging part is also finding places for the scraps- I keep a list of measurements to see if I can make anything out of them.

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What is your proudest moment since coming to the farm?

Being able to keep busy knowing that people are enjoying what you make, having no lack of work- that's always a scary moment with every job- are people going to want what you put out enough to keep you busy? It’s a proud thing to see we need to make more products, and also when fellow employees come in and say “can you make me this?” That is a proud moment for me.

One of my proudest moments has nothing to do with leather work- Darren had a doe who was attacked by a dog, and the veterinarian could not fix the damage, so he did a C-section, just to see if she had any viable kids, and she had one. The famous Sunny Shiner. He had to wake up from his mom’s anesthesia- he started off with a strong heartbeat and breathing well which is always good. Bringing him out of that and getting and keeping him healthy- that was pretty exhilarating because with small animals like that it can be touch and go- they’re a lot more fragile than people realize. He had the will to live. To see him grow and thrive has been a pretty proud moment for me- I’ve never brought one up from that stage- back to life basically. He was a fighter like his momma.

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Above: Sunny Shiner, the orphaned goat kid born via C-section who Laura nursed to health.

What is your favorite food to order at the on-farm dining pavilion? 

I love their salad. But mostly because it is the delivery method for the balsamic vinaigrette. And the spicy quesadilla. Those make me happy. I hope I can steal the recipes.

Do you have a favorite meal to cook with White Oak Pastures products?

I like to fry up the pork chorizo with onions and peppers. The chorizo is my favorite.

What’s the best and worst part about living near Bluffton, GA?

I like the size. It reminds me of the community I grew up in. Probably the worst thing is having to drive an hour to get to anywhere- to get to Hobby Lobby. Small town living has always been how I’ve lived.

Do you have a favorite daily chore?

I love to sweep up when I have a really big mess. When there’s a mess of dust and leather scraps, it makes me happy to see a clean floor.

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Do you have a favorite hobby outside of work?

Yes- making things. I love to paint. I love to cook and bake. I’d say cooking, baking, crocheting and watercolor painting. I do like to bake for other people, not just my husband. It’s something I know I’m good at so I love to share it with the world. I love making cinnamon rolls. I need to bake some for the farm. My mom has a recipe that she’s used for years with a starter. You have to use real butter and good cinnamon. I’m real particular about the cinnamon. I like saigon cinnamon. Its sweeter than run of the mill cinnamon. 

Is there someone on the farm who you would trade places for a day if you could?

There are times I wouldn’t mind trading places with my husband but only when he doesn't have to move fencing. To be honest, anyone who works outside, around the animals. I guess animals were my first love so to speak. I always had them in my life in one way or another. I enjoy them all- I’ve raised everything here except ducks and geese. My dad would never let me get ducks and geese- I can’t blame him because they’re messy. I have been flogged by a goose before. It is not fun. I wouldn’t want to work with the ducks and geese.

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Topics: Artisan Goods, Handmade Leather, Staff Spotlight, Zero-Waste, Craft Revival, Know Your Farmer

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