Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

Niwot artisan crafts fine leather bags


October 30, 2019 | View PDF

Courtesy photo

Handcrafted leather bags by Ann Whitehill.

A frustrating quest to find the ideal elegant, simple, and convertible bag led Ann Whitehill to the conclusion that she would need to create it herself. So Ann Whitehill Studio, maker of fine leather bags and portfolios was born in 2013. Her handmade bags are beautiful, functional, extremely durable, and meticulously crafted completely by hand.

Because Whitehill loved traveling, commuting by bike and creating art, the bag needed to be large enough to hold a lot of gear and had to be incredibly tough.

Growing up riding horses, Whitehill said she knew that leather would provide the strength and feel she desired. Her sewing skills were well-polished from years of making her own clothing, so she taught herself to make the bags she was dreaming of.

After sampling many types of leather, Horween Tannery became Whitehill's first choice as a supplier. The fifth generation family-run business is famous for its superior leather products. Whitehill has rolls of the luscious leather in pumpkin, chocolate, and ebony colors for her customers to choose from.

"Horween is one of the best and most respected tanners in the world," Whitehill said. She visited their facilities in downtown Chicago and saw firsthand how they've preserved the old-world methods of manufacturing leather hides.

The bag she designed also needed to be convertible - transitioning from shoulder or crossbody to a backpack in one easy move. Much to her surprise Whitehill created a strap design that worked just as she hoped.The unique element was awarded a utility patent in 2017.

The majority of Whitehill's bags are custom made for her clients. The collaborative creative process entails asking germane questions such as what the customer is likely to carry with them each day, what textures, and colors of leather they are most drawn to, and decisions about pockets and closures, and the final dimensions of the unique piece.

After drawing a rendition of the bag, Whitehill's hands-on work begins with a rotary cutter and a metal right angle measuring tool on a protective cutting pad. Other tools of the craft include mallets, hole punches, wood blocks, awls, and blunt-tipped needles.

The end result, after sometimes up to 30 hours of work, is a one-of-a-kind bag with flawless hand stitching. Most of the bags include Whitehill's patented convertible straps which allow the bag to go from shoulders to backs in one smooth movement. Other styles, such as the new bucket bag have more traditional straps. In addition to bags Whitehill creates notebook, journal and portfolio covers.

With use, the pieces soften and become well-loved everyday accessories.

"With proper care," Whitehill said, "they will outlive you."

Courtesy photo

Ann Whitehill Studio's convertible Amsterdam Bag.

Before turning to leather, Whitehill had a long career as a professional potter and was one of the founders of Mud-Lucious, a downtown Boulder ceramic studio. Her signature leaf-vine designs decorated many gorgeous ceramic pieces and are now integrated into her logo for her leather business.

Pieces are priced from $45 to $125 for a journal/notebook cover and from $250 to $750 for women's and men's bags.

Gearing up for holiday sales, Whitehill has a small inventory of ready to wear bags available, and will custom make special orders on time for the holidays. Gift certificates are also available.

To learn more, visit http://www.AnnWhitehillStudio.com or call Whitehill at 303-527-1024. Whitehill will be an exhibitor at the Women's International Niwot Club (WINC) on Dec. 14, at the Left Hand Valley Grange at 195 2nd Ave., Niwot.


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