The connections between mental health and making run deep. Every creation tells a story, often in ways that words can't express. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month in May we wanted to share personal stories of how leathercraft has helped our community. However you use leathercrafting—as therapy, as stress relief, to create quiet calm—we asked to hear from you and you answered the call with so many stories that touched our hearts.
In the United States, 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 6 children ages 6-17 suffer from mental illness each year (nami.org/mhstats), yet mental health is still something that is still not openly discussed. We are honored to share these personal stories with you and it is our hope, that in some small way, we can help to open up more dialogue about mental health and the healing power of leathercrafting. You are not alone. This is why we #leathertogether.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health please call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline at 800-950-NAMI, or in a crisis text "NAMI" to 741741.
Some stories have been lightly edited or condensed for clarity.
Fashion Fights Cancer (FFC), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that offers innovative and therapeutic programs in fashion and design, was founded to act as a sanctuary for cancer patients, survivors, and their loved ones. In collaboration with local communities, impactful brands, hospitals, therapists, and international fashion houses, FFC seeks to empower those who have been affected by the devastating illness of cancer in any way, shape, or form. FFC's mission is to nurture the minds, bodies, and souls of cancer patients and survivors through fashion and design-oriented activities while supporting all communities that deal with mental health.
Tandy has partnered with FFC in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month and to share their cause with the community. Along with highlighting the stories from those who have benefited from FFC, we will have a Flash Sale on Friday, May 6th where 5% of proceeds will go towards FFC.
“My goal is to develop and grow a formal art therapy program based on the principles of mindfulness and awareness to help others develop healthy coping mechanisms through art and help them find new friends and new ways to express themselves creatively. Before, I was uncertain if I would survive my own chaos (leatherwork saved my life a couple of times). I am now an IT professional working on my Ph.D. in Data Science, and I look to incorporate all of the skills I have gained because of leatherwork to develop a program, free to all, that shows the growth and healing found in the creative arts using the most versatile, beautiful, and forgiving material I have ever worked with.”
-Tony Fantasia, owner of Fantasia Custom Designers
Follow Tony on Facebook at Fantasia Custom Designs or visit his blog: https://tonyfantasia.wordpress.com
“When I was first diagnosed with PTSD in the military, my Doctor told me to find a hobby to take my mind off things... 10+ years later I'm still at it.”
“My daughter is ill with POTS. It’s chronic with few effective treatments. Many Covid long haulers are developing it, so hopefully, there will be more research into it. She is 23 with a very poor quality of life, and I am her full-time caregiver. When I get a break, I work on leather bags to help ease my stress.”
“People always say I should start a business, I tell them nope!! When a hobby becomes a business then it’s no longer fun!!”
“A few years ago, when I was struggling in my last year of college, as a break from homework and projects I started watching George Hurst's videos because they were so interesting and surprisingly relaxing too. They sparked my interest in leathercraft, and it is a nice creative outlet for me.”
“Two years ago my wife bought me a Tandy kit. It sat for about 8 months (too busy) then one weekend I finally decided to try one of the projects. Hooked immediately. It was instantly a link to the creative sanity that I was needing. There is so much to learn and explore with leathercraft. It continues to be my grounding agent and as an added bonus is something that my kids enjoy learning as well.”
-Levi Dunn, @mtbushcraftboys
‘I use leathercraft as a form of physical and mental therapy. My dominant hand was crushed in a car crash in 2015. I took up leathercraft in late 2019 as a way to keep my hand moving. I find it so relaxing and rewarding to be able to hold something that I've made. The community of makers, supporters, and friends that I've met through leathercraft has been incredible. I still have the physical scars, but the mental ones are fading. I love what I do and try to improve with every piece I make. Discovering leathercraft has been a gamechanger for me. 👍👍👍”
-Chris M., @causewaysupplyco
“I’ve been leathercrafting for about five years now, and recently have taken an interest in pyrography. I absolutely love Tandy, you guys are the only leather supplier I trust for a consistently great product at a good price. My crafting is strictly for mental health purposes, I only gift my creations (unless I like them for myself). Leathercrafting has become a way to free my mind.”
-Alexander Diamond, @diamond.cr2
“Leathercraft has been my passion for over 20 years. I've also come to love other areas of making including cosplay and 3D printing. Making has definitely been my source of sanity and self-discovery and discipline. I think I'd be lost without it! Nothing calms my nerves like completing a fun project or custom order!”
-Travis J. Ramage, owner of Crazy Canadian Leather
Follow Travis on Instagram @travisjramage or visit his website: https://crazycanadianleather.com/
"I found leatherworking in an IOP (Intensive Outpatient) program after a failed suicide attempt when I was in the Army, after which I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. On "craft day" once a week, we went to the on-post craft center. I didn't feel like painting, so I went digging through the boxes... and I found a leather wallet stitching kit. My fingers hurt after about ten minutes, but I didn't care. The next week, I found a moccasin stitching kit, the only one in my size. I wanted more! After I got out of the Army, I left my home in Hawai'i for a 6-week solo lower 48 tour where I found a Tandy store and never looked back. I am now medically retired, attending college, and own my own leatherworking business. Making something from nothing with some tools, a piece of leather, and thread helps keep me grounded and helps keep me sane. I don't know where I'd be without it, and I feel beyond blessed that I found leatherworking."
-Lauren Giles @littleowlleather
"I have struggled with mental health for my entire life. Due to childhood trauma, I was exposed to situations at a young age that lasted with me my entire life. I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, severe depression, and PTSD, and for most of my life, these disorders went untreated. I would self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, leading me into a much deeper and darker place in my life, and only made things worse. Once I hit rock bottom I sought professional help and got sober. 329 days sober as of today!
Before addressing the underlying causes of my mental health and getting the help I needed, I would often watch leather tutorials on YouTube. Although it was not me doing the work, something about watching a project being started and finished would release dopamine and serotonin into my brain because of the sense of accomplishment, even if it was at my accomplishment. I could see myself in those projects. I could see a clear future that was happy and healthy. I could see hope. I saw myself in those creators that I watched, and I knew I could do it myself.
I started focusing on leathercraft as a way to keep my mind focused on something outside of the trauma I experienced. I started spending every waking hour that I wasn’t working at my day job, on my leatherwork. Sitting at a very small folding table in my garage, I knew I had to keep my mind focused on something outside of my negative thoughts. I knew that having a sense of accomplishment would dramatically help me moving forward in my mental health and sobriety. I actively searched and acquired a strong support group and community within the leathercraft community and I worked as hard as I could to improve my skills every single day.
During my recovery, I have seen incredible improvements in my life. I have been fortunate to start my first business, which has been incredibly successful. I quit my day job and get to make leather goods that I put my heart into every single day while living out my dream of helping others learn the amazing craft of leather. I have been an outspoken voice of mental health awareness within the leather community. And I’ve gotten engaged to the love of my life, Michelle. There are so many positive things to experience while we’re here on this floating rock skipping through the sky. Let’s make the most of it, and let’s make some #leathertogether"
-Dennis Forrester, 21Grams Leathergoods
“At the age of 10, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I spent years on medication that lead me to a path of self-medication as a teen with drugs and alcohol. Because of the drugs I ran away from home and spent years living on the streets seeing some of the worst mankind has to offer. I ended up in Job Corps where I was thrown out and ended up on the streets again in a strange town at age 18. Finding stability and a soon-to-be wife I was able to get clean and started a family. But my learning disability made it hard to stay focused and I went through several jobs in short order. 25 years ago I was introduced to live-action roleplaying by a co-worker. This new hobby drove me to start making armor because it was cheaper to make it than to buy it. I found an outlet for my creative and restless mind. Over the last 25 years, I mainly worked in metals with some very basic leather for strapping and such. 3 years ago I applied to work as a manager-in-training at Tandy's Spokane, WA store. As part of my training, a new world of leather was opened to me. I learned every technique I could to apply to working my craft because it gave me the elusive focus I craved. Tooling became a passion because it quieted my world. As I worked leather all of the other distractions vanished and my mind stilled. After my training was complete I was given the helm of our Boise, ID store where I worked for the next 2 years as Store Manager, all the while learning and growing in leathercrafting. I had the opportunity to share my passion with a wide range of people through classes, school visits, show demos, and even live online classes. Last July I became the West Area Zone Manager where I have shared my passion and the therapeutic benefits of leather with my teams and customers alike. Because of leatherwork I have been clean for 25 years and have found an inner peace I had never know and because of Tandy, I have been able to share my passion countless times and even changed a few lives.” #Leathertogether
Nominate yourself or another maker you know to be featured in our Mental Health Awareness campaign by emailing email@example.com. Tag @tandyleather and use #leathertogether in your photos on Facebook and Instagram for a chance to be featured in our social media and marketing materials.