Jennifer Parker, a custom leather fantasy and cosplay creator, found her unique place in the industry early on. Originally from the east coast, she moved to Los Angeles before she finally settled in Portland, OR where she has been for the last 12 years now. She uncovered her passion for leatherwork when she decided to do a Ciri cosplay from the Witcher 3. After some time looking at custom leather costume, she became fascinated enough to give it a try on her own. She immediately took to it as learning the new techniques felt instinctual. She has always been an artist so leatherwork was a perfect combination of her talents and interests. Along with her custom costumes, Jennifer has created dog collars, leashes, belts, bags, accessories, journal covers, clothing, ornaments and accessories for musical instruments. For right now, it is a rapidly growing and developing hobby, but she does have plans to further commit to her craft in the future.
How did you learn the craft?
“I am entirely self-taught, watching literally hundreds of YouTube videos, picking up tricks from published materials, social media, and the resourcefulness of the cosplay community. I learned the most from watching videos from master saddle makers. Most of the time, the videos were very old and of poor audio quality. Even though I couldn't always make out the verbal instruction, I learned by watching how they handle and treat the leather… with such care and intuition. It’s a craft learned almost entirely by touch because each piece responds so differently.”
How would you describe your work?
“My work is definitely fantastical when it comes to costume! Otherwise, although I appreciate other styles, I don’t prefer bright colors or pristine surfaces… I prefer antiqued, rugged, worn, and distressed finishes. Except for my edges. Those will always be on point! :)”
What is your favorite type of leather to work with?
“I just recently expanded to working with leathers other than cowhide. Since traditional cow is more common and relatively affordable to practice with, it easy to wind up working with it for a long time because you get to know it really well. I’ve used deer, bison, calf, and lamb. Each one behaves very differently and are unique to certain projects. Deer comes in fantastic colors and makes for versatile costume pieces. Bison has a rugged armored look without carrying the weight of veg tan… and lamb and calf are great for garment work when I need to mix with fabric and create articulating pieces and lots of movement.”
What is your favorite leather tool?
“I think everyone will say knives and awls, which is 100% accurate… but I’m going to call attention to the completely underrated stitching horse. I’ve spent hundreds of hours hand stitching and it has quite literally saved my hands, wrists, and back from utter demise! Since I am a huge fan of The Witcher, I have named mine “Roach,” after Geralt’s horse in the series.”
What sets you apart from other leatherworkers?
“There’s a reason custom leather costuming is very pricey—the materials, labor, and painstaking craftsmanship required is a huge but worthwhile investment. And there are very few individuals who can do it because it is inherently frustrating trying to engineer things that only graphic designers and film costumers understand or have seen. I hope to become part of this elite circle or artisans.”
“I took to it immediately— watching videos and learning techniques felt instinctual, and I knew I uncovered a new passion”
What advice would you give others just starting out in leatherworking?
“Get a couple starter tools and a slab of leather and just start playing around. You definitely don’t need much to start— just curiosity. I still use a couple of my first tools because I love them so much. Wait to invest when you know it’s got a hold on you. Watch videos and try to recreate the physical actions as you see them in real time. And keep a scrap bin so you can forever practice new things or something you’re about to execute on a project.”
What has been your biggest challenge in leatherworking?
“Space and money! I live in a one bedroom flat and have setup my workshop in the only unused space in the apartment: the 8 x 5’ foyer. It works, but I will eventually need a proper spread with more storage (and ventilation). This can also be an expensive hobby as you get deep in… tools and beautiful hides are addicting. I have to keep a running list of things I want to upgrade or acquire, but usually cannot splurge on more than a few things at a time.”
What is your favorite thing to make/you’ve ever made?
“My favorite piece is also the most difficult, time intensive, and experimental: the outer armored jacket for my husband’s Geralt costume. Weighing over 10 pounds, this piece required over 100 hours, 20 square feet of 5 different leathers, 3 additional fabrics in its construction, 2 pounds of hardware, over 700 years of thread, and over 5,000 chainmail jump rings.”
Do work with any other mediums/art forms?
“I have always sketched with pencil and charcoal. I’ve also sculpted with wood, plaster, and clay. I love painting three dimensional objects (ie sculpture and faux finishing) but I can’t paint a picture or a canvas to save my life! I also studied costuming in college, so I work with fabrics quite a bit.”
Do you have any pets?
“I have a six year old Keeshond named Tali. She’s the most loving fluffy cuddle bug. She is usually no more than a few feet away from me while I am working. She is sitting under me now :)”
Describe your perfect weekend/vacation/day off:
“I am very connected to nature and very much enjoy a warm summer day while just observing my surroundings. My favorite vacation ever was New Zealand, and I’d love to see Australia sometime soon. I very much enjoyed Italy because you could walk through the artisan district and watch cobblers, tanners, sculptures, and artists absorbed in their craft… For that and the architecture, Florence was truly inspiring. Otherwise, I just like to check out and unplug, with zero accountabilities… that can happen anywhere, most likely on the couch under a blanket with my dog.”
“The older I get, the harder it is to answer these questions. Art changes as we view it from different parts of our lives and resonates differently against our cumulative experience. Overall though— my favorite films are the comfort staples like the Indiana Jones movies, Star Wars and Marvel movies, Dead Poets Society, and Moulin Rouge. For TV, I’d go with Parks n’ Rec, Frasier, Dexter, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. My favorite pieces of literature are Grapes of Wrath, Middlemarch, Lord of the Rings, Dante’s Inferno, Othello, and Hamlet… and Adam Savage’s Every Tool is a Hammer ;) I’ll add in that my favorite video games are: The Witcher 3, Asassin’s Creed II, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age Inquisition, Far Cry 3, and Uncharted 2. My favorite quote is “Knowing how to think empowers you far beyond those who only know what to think.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson”
Random fact about yourself:
“My dad was a sailing instructor when I was a kid and taught me how to sail when I was ten. I’m also a classically trained Shakespearean actor (which is why I love costuming so much!)”
Are there any other small businesses you want to acknowledge or shout out?
“I’m in awe of Alex & Anastasia from the Svetliy Sudar Workshop— their artistry and talent is inspiring. I also want to highlight the ingenuity of the maker community with Will and Heather from Sionnach Studios in Seattle. Another master craft leatherworking group you must check out is The Prince Armory in Texas. The detailing, construction, and design of their all leather armor is absolutely unparalleled.@svetliy_sudar,
If you would like to see more about Jennifer and her leatherwork check out her Instagram - @jparkleathercraft on Instagram