Who is Sparrowhawk Leather?
My name is Fiona Ritchie. I am a leather artisan specialising in bespoke, hand made leatherwork using time honoured leathercraft techniques. I established Sparrowhawk Leather in 2014, and make all Sparrowhawk's leather pieces.
I am married to Nick Gibb, a former Virgin Australia Training Captain and since COVID 19, an Airline Pilot with Air NZ on the Dash 8. Nick and I share a passion for aviation, boating and classic cars.
I work from our small farm in the Hunua Ranges, south of Auckland, New Zealand.
Fiona at home in Hunua with Nell the Fox Terrier
Fiona with our 1964 Cessna 172E
Nick in the Boeing 737-800 flight deck
A rare skill
There are very few, true, leather artisans left working.
Unfortunately offshore mass production using cheap, sweat shop labour resulted in tanneries shutting down, leather workers leaving the industry and their skills being lost. Since then, hand worked leather pieces have mostly disappeared. Not knowing real quality, consumers are confused as to why the low priced, "genuine leather" pieces they have purchased have delaminated and / or "fallen apart".
There has been trend with Etsy sellers in particular, seeking to short cut the construction and finish of leather accessories. In many cases their lack of leather knowledge has resulted in flimsy, impractical pieces that soon deteriorate and disappoint.
Using traditional artisan techniques, I make authentic leather pieces that improve in look and patina over time and with proper care can last a lifetime.
How did I start?
It started in 2014 when my husband Nick, showed me the leather pilot logbook cover he'd bought over 30 years ago, when he first learned to fly.
It had been an expensive purchase then, but then so was training for his commercial pilots licence. Made to order from hand dyed leather, the brown leather cover was thick and robust. While its machine stitching was showing signs signs of wear, over time it had molded to his logbook and developed a beautiful, aged patina.
Nick's original pilot logbook cover from the mid 1980's (left), the first Sparrowhawk Leather pilot logbook cover I designed and made for him in 2014 (right)
Having filled up 3 aviation authority logbooks, of varying sizes, Nick wanted a leather cover for his current logbook, and eventually covers for his other two logbooks. He wanted something special of the quality of his original cover, but preferably hand sewn. Nothing was available locally or overseas.
Self imposed apprenticeship
With that challenge, I designed my first logbook cover. my design was ambitious with its wrap around cover and two colour construction.
With no training available in NZ, I negotiated 3 days private tuition at a working tannery in Sydney, and flew there to make this first logbook cover. On return to NZ, I embarked on a self-imposed apprenticeship, researching and practicing time honoured, traditional leatherwork methods including carving, embossing, dyeing, grooving, punching, hand sewing and burnishing.
I've now made over close to 1000 pieces for delighted and complimentary customers in New Zealand and Australia, and have made logbooks for pilots in the US, UK and Hong Kong.
Work in progress photos (hand carved wings, prior to hand dyeing) for a Sparrowhawk Leather Wrap Closure Pilot Logbook Cover similar to the Pilot Logbook Cover I made for Nick.
My designs are aimed at both meeting functional needs by using traditional leather construction principles, and enhancing the natural beauty of the leather.
Over the years I have develop a large collection of design options. Some of these designs have been prompted by customer need.
When asked by a pilot to design a "wallet" to hold a NZ CAA pilot licence and medical certificate, I found other pilots had a similar need, so I designed the now popular piece.
Also prompted by customer need, I have developed optional add-ons to some pieces including pen holders, pilot licence pockets, snap and magnetic tab closures.
NZCAA Pilot Licence & Medical Certificate wallet
Sparrowhawk Leather notebook cover, hand dyed in Raspberry with bone stitching and optional leather lined snap closure.
For most Sparrowhawk Leather pieces. I recommend a range of hand dyed leather and stitching thread colour combinations. My recommendations are based on the leather colour's suitability for the personalisation type (e.g. browns with antique highlights for carving, light colours for laser engraving) and leather and stitching colours I know look wonderful together.
Some customers and I have worked together to try new colour combinations, and we have both been pleased with the outcome.
Hand dyed Sparrowhawk Leather work in progress colours. Royal Blue, Emerald Green, French Navy (left to right)
While I appreciate that some customers seek replacement of a favourite piece, or a reproduction of another's design seen elsewhere, I consider this copying and unethical.
I am receiving an increasing number of orders from Australia, and more special orders from the US, UK and other Northern Hemisphere countries. I have also undertaken a number of corporate orders for bespoke, company portfolios and executive leaving gifts. The majority of my orders from from individual New Zealand customers and it seems my reputation is growing.
While I have some help around Christmas with packing orders and administration, I am hoping to get some part time help all year round to help me devote my time making beautiful pieces for my valued customers.
Beautiful Hunua Falls in the Regional Park located a few kilometres from Sparrowhawk Leather.Contact
49 Cowan Road
Hunua RD 3
+64 210 229 7102 +64 9 292 4736
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