Sue Lowday – Leatherworker / Metalsmith

I have always made things, ever since I was very young, but have worked professionally as a maker since 1981.

I trained as a silversmith and jeweller at Sheffield School of Art, graduating in 1978. I collected old leather cases when at college and used them as props for my degree show. The tutors hated it. 

I went onto work at the Sheffield Assay Office for three years, becoming the Punch Controller looking after the Assay Marks and repairing items that were damaged in hallmarking. I also looked after the Assay Office collection of old pieces of work, some dating back to when the office opened. I found this part of the job fascinating as I could trace the pieces back to the day books when they came into the office years before. Part of my job was to work on the first computer that was installed at the Assay Office, working on 8″ floppy discs, a bit of a nightmare as I only just passed my O level maths and I was working with binary code.

I decided to set up in business as a jeweller, which was a leap of faith, and after a year asked if my friend Annie Cole (Barnett) would join me to try and make it work. We ended up supplying Harrods, Next and Selfridges with fashion jewellery for a few years until children came along. We had moved from Yorkshire Art Space in its old premises to Annie’s basement, which was difficult for her family life, so we eventually decided to cease trading.

A friend was selling some leather working equipment at the time and I have always collected tools and it set me on a new direction when silversmith Keith Tyssen invited me to make some belts for his silver buckles. Johnathan Silver at Saltaire invited Keith to make 50 to launch his new mens’ outfitters on the third floor. I made the belts to Johnathan’s specifications and he asked me if I could make other colours, and when he saw the range, he ordered 200 to launch the shop. He generously paid up front, enabling me to make the order. This started my new career in leather when my children were tiny. Tom was about 6 months old and my daughter was about 2 1/2.

In my work, my inspiration comes from the materials and from the shapes I see in the materials. I build on the silversmithing shapes and use a lot of the tools that I used for silversmithing. Vegetable tanned leather can be shaped, and it is akin to shaping soft metal.

I’ve been a member of the Sussex Guild for about 5 years, having become aware of the Guild through friends. One of my very dearest friends, jeweller and glass worker Sue Shaw, was a member and I got to know Sue when I was investigating electroforming copper. Sue used the technique in her work. At the time I was embarking on a Masters in Silversmith at Sheffield University and was trying to find a technique that would allow an element of serendipity to come into my work. Working with Sue we found a way to scale up the electroforming, allowing me to make large pieces. The largest is about a meter in height. I found I could allow the process to develop in interesting ways before I fixed the shapes.

Lovely leatherworker Sheila Pearson was also a member. When I moved down to the Isle of Wight from Sheffield, I heard that the Sussex Guild allowed members to join from adjoining counties so I applied. I thought very highly of both Sue and Sheila’s work and thought the standard of the other Guild members was excellent.

Some of my future plans include taking part in the Sussex Guild show at Midhurst in December, and also the Christmas Craft in Focus event at Wisley.

I’m also interested in the history of the Isle of Wight and am currently taking tours round Bonchurch Village as part of the Isle of Wight Walking Festival. 

Charles Dickens and his friend, the illustrator John Leech, came to stay in Bonchurch in the Summer of 1849. My research has uncovered all sorts of interesting discoveries about the inhabitants of the village through the years. More information about the walks can be found at I currently run the village website and also the village blog for the Bonchurch Community Association.

One of my notable commissions, and the biggest piece of leatherwork that I’ve worked on, was a Crosier Case for the Bishop of Stepney. This was to house a very special crosier made by Sussex Guild members Colin Norgate, Fleur Grenier and Robin Dimmock. It was made during lockdown, a mixed blessing as it was hard to get hold of materials, but it gave me thinking time to work out how to construct this very complex piece of work.

The story of the commission and how it was created can be found here

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