Craft Takes a Love for Leather

Article excerpt

Byline: Amanda Burhop For The Register-Guard

Down a long, gravel street sits an unassuming shop where Doris LaRose pulls, adjusts, manipulates and hand-sews leather jackets, vests, saddlebags and seats for her one-woman operation, Custom Leathers.

In the small, crowded room where pieces of leather and other materials are stacked to the ceiling, LaRose is at once an artisan as well as a businesswoman who oversees all aspects of her venture, from the first measurements to the final receipt.

And while she is comfortable working with other materials, LaRose says, "This is my niche."

Before moving to Springfield in 1980, LaRose lived in Massachusetts, where she made repairs to just-washed leather goods at a local cleaners.

"(Clients) never expected it, but it would happen," LaRose says about the repairs she made to torn buttons or fabric.

Although her time at the cleaners allowed LaRose to learn many of the alterations and repairs she knows today, she wasn't content with just being the "button girl." She was determined to learn everything she could from the more experienced women in the shop.

LaRose came to Oregon with her husband and four children. Two years later, she opened her first shop, which was located downtown on Main Street.

With the stress of running her own business and managing several employees, LaRose opted to close the store after five years. But not long after, LaRose and her husband took a pre-existing shop on their property and turned it into the leather oasis that it is today.

"Now I stay home, and I'm safe and sound," she says.

Looking at her work today, with its streamlined stitching and remarkable attention to detail, it's hard for LaRose to remember a time when she didn't know the trade.

"I've always been a nosy and inquisitive person," she says about learning her skills, which took about four years to perfect. LaRose says she comes from the school of hard knocks, where being self-taught is a way of life.

While her grandmother taught her to sew and be self-sufficient, it was LaRose's determination and drive for challenges that now allow her to tackle any project that a customer throws her way.

Whether she's extending sides on a jacket, shortening arm sleeves or working on a custom piece, LaRose enjoys the challenge of leather.

"It's just different," she says. "It's just me."

Vests, jackets, skirts, pants and chaps hang from her shop, each with attached instructions. To begin a project, she first makes sure she has all the right materials and supplies, and then turns measurements into patterns.

Next, she spreads the leather out on her work table, moves it around, and then traces pieces using a white, marking pencil. Once the pieces are cut and categorized, she begins to sew; each stitch hand-done with care.

"Everything's manual. I have no machines," she says.

While mass production isn't the norm in her shop, LaRose is still able to tackle multiple projects at a time. …