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Bark to Belt: The Evolution of a Hide

You may have noticed a new film featured on our homepage – if not, it’s well worth a look! Check it out below. We’re truly honoured to feature in this beautiful piece of art that celebrates traditional artisan techniques and the process behind handcrafting an Oak Bark leather belt.


A couple of months ago we were approached by local videographer, Rob French, who wanted to collaborate on an interesting new project, featuring local artisan businesses. Rob wanted to create a short film to tell the story behind hand crafting an oak bark belt from scratch alongside the workers of J and FJ Baker as they create their world-renowned oak bark tanned leather.

An Organic Process

Rather than showing the process step-by-step from start to finish, Rob wanted to produce something with an organic, natural flow – highlighting the organic nature of traditional techniques that have grown out of centuries of expertise. In his own words:

“Like rivers have to work hard from source to sea, it’s easy to forget the source of a great product and the amount of work, skill and time that is embodied in every stage.”

That’s why the film shows footage shot on scene at J&FJ Baker’s tannery in Colyton interspersed with footage of Matt crafting an oak bark tanned leather belt in his workshop in Totnes. Alongside this footage, beautiful natural imagery (shot with Matt and his dog, Billy alongside the River Dart) connects the artisans to the environment, making them part of a larger organic process. 

Colville Leather founder Matt Nesbitt on River Dart in Devon

We love the way Rob’s film celebrates the beauty behind ancient techniques and uses natural imagery to highlight the importance of the patience, sustainability and craftsmanship that goes into creating a quality product. 

In a world in which consumers are very much separated from the products they buy and the impact these goods have on the environment, this footage serves to highlight the way in which we all rely on the environment for the products and processes that are part of our everyday life.

Traditional Oak Bark Tanned Leather

Oak bark tannage is a traditional English method of turning hides into leather organically, using only oak bark, stream water and time. There’s been a tannery at the J&FJ Baker site since Roman times, but today the process is an endangered craft, with Baker’s being the only oak bark tannery left in Britain. Find out more about the process on our blog post featuring J&FJ Baker Oak Bark Tanned Leather.

J and FJ Baker Oak bark tanned leather

Celebrating Artisan Leather Belt Craftmanship

The film also highlights the level of detail and skill that Matt puts into hand crafting each Colville Leather belt, resonating with our focus on the value of hand-made quality products over society’s drive for fast fashion.

In the footage you can see Matt using a variety of traditional artisan techniques to create his belt. In case you were wondering what’s going on in the footage, here are the different methods Matt uses at various points in the film: 

1:20 - Matt marks and cuts a clean straight edge on the hide ensuring the belt cutter will cut straight belt strips
making an oak bark tanned leather belt
1:29 - using the belt cutter to cut the belt strips
using a belt cutter to make handmade leather belts
1.38 - punching the holes for the Chicago Screws and for the tongue of the buckle
punching holes in handmade leather belt
1.40 - bevelling the edges to remove the sharp edge
bevelling the edge of a handmade leather belt
2.56 - applying gum tragacanth to the edges of the belts before burnishing them
applying gum tragacanth before burnishing handmade leather belt
3.07 - burnishing the edges of the belt
burnishing the edges of a handmade leather belt
3.15 - sealing the edges of the belt with bees wax
sealing the edge of an oak bark tanned leather belt with bees wax
3:22 – stamping the Colville Leather maker’s mark into the leather using an Arbour Press
 using an arbour press to make an oak bark tanned leather belt
3.53 - fixing the buckle and fastening the first chicago screw
fixing a buckle to a handmade leather belt
3.57 - marking out the belt holes
marking the belt holes on an oak bark tanned leather belt
4.02 - punching the belt holes
punching holes into handmade leather belt
4.10 - skiving the leather for the keeper - skiving is thinning the leather to make it more flexible and to reduce the overall thickness of the belt where there are multiple layers of leather (at the buckle end)
skiving a handmade leather belt
4.31 - fitting the keeper
fitting keeper to handmade leather belt

About the filmmaker

Rob French is a professional filmmaker based in Torbay, Devon. With a background in Art and Creative direction, as well as commercial business promotional video, he has a passion for using film and music to communicate and connect: 

“The combination of imagery and sound has such meaning, a universal language that cuts through apprehension and connects you to people, countries and lifetimes away”

“Bark to Belt” communicates the passion and skill that goes into creating each Colville Leather product, as well as connecting people to an ancient tradition of craftsmanship that is in danger of being forgotten in a world of industrialisation and mass-production.

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