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Heleen Sintobin, the winner of CTL 2017, and her approach to vegetable-tanned leather

Heleen Sintobin, a Belgian furniture designer, won Craft The Leather 2017. Today we interview her about “The Tartufo Collection” and much more…

Hi Heleen, you have just been to Lineapelle. How was this experience for you?

Talking with the professionals at Lineapelle was a great learning opportunity. I enjoyed sharing my story and research, which resulted in useful feedback and conversations. Most of the visitors immediately understood the design language and construction of the pieces at first glance. In addition I could surprise them with my story about the research of the ancient ‘forgotten’ colouring technique. I definitely made some interesting contacts, which hopefully will drive my practice forward.

Can you give us some insight into your research and experimentations, and what might be the next step for you?

During my time at Central Saint Martins I experimented a lot with vegetable-tanned leather. Once I came back from the workshop in San Miniato I explored mould making on the scale of furniture design. During the moulding process a happy accident occurred. Driven by a material led approach I turned that ‘mistake’ into an aesthetic and started to explore small samples of leather.

After more in depth research on the internet and old books I found out my experiments were actually related to an ancient chemical colouring technique in which a Vinegaroon liquid, white wine vinegar and steel, reacts with the tannin inside the leather. I collected different recipes and started brewing. Originally this ancient technique was used to dye leather black. However my experiments, with subtle changes in the Vinegaroon concentration against the tanning recipe for the leather, has resulted in a collection of unexpected colour variations. In addition to the leather, Vinegaroon reacts with oak wood too, and creates a similar colouring effect unifying all elements of the design.

In a way, my colouring technique visualizes the secret tanning recipe of the each tannery as every piece of leather reacts in a different way according to the amount and the type of tannin used in the tanning process.

In the furniture collection, leather is approached as a structural element. I wanted to challenge traditional upholstery in which leather is often used as a decorative soft skin. Grooves in the oak frames facilitate tension in the leather to create a pared back and tension held structure.

Do you think you will work with veg-tanned leather in the future?

I would love to push this project further by collaborating with tanneries and chemists to fully understand how I can stimulate and evolve this research. As a designer I am very inspired by ancient making methods and rich materials and Craft The Leather gave me the opportunity to translate my findings in a contemporary design context.

Currently I am working on a collection of smaller objects made from vegetable-tanned leather exploring future making methods within craft culture.


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