Modern Craft: Handmade Meets Tech (Meets Leather!)


Anna Warren and Sarah Kirkham of Tactile Craftworks

Old-world hand crafting comes naturally to Anna Warren and Sarah Kirkham, whose brand, Tactile Craftworks, is known for gorgeously embossed and tooled leather pieces. But you might be surprised to learn that digital technology is essential to everything they do and make. Working with the Dremel DigiLab digital laser-cutting tool, the pair has found a sweet spot between handcraft and high-tech — and built a successful business in the process.

"We saw laser cutters for the first time at a theater event," Warren says, and the brainstorming began. "How are we going to build this appreciation for materials and crafting, and turn it into a business that will allow us to sustain ourselves? It opened a possibility for a process that's do-able but also scale-able, and added a level of detail that we couldn't do by hand. The technology opened a door that wouldn't have been available to us business-wise and aesthetically."

Kirkham compares their integration of the Dremel Digilab to using a sewing machine versus sewing everything by hand. "There's no reason not to utilize the tools that are available to you, and combine them," Kirkham says.

Leather Journals by Tactile Craftworks

Connecting Through Screens + Hands

While tech tools have helped Warren and Kirkham scale their work, social media has helped them share their craft with the world. "The flip-side of technology is the way that it connects people… a tiny niche is suddenly big enough to build a business," Kirkham says. But they're not called Tactile Craftworks for nothing — getting the product into people's hands tends to close the deal and create return customers and word-of-mouth.

Even as they lean into technology, the team stays laser-focused (pun intended!) on the value of true hand-craft, especially in a world where everything is "packaged and perfect," Warren says. "We cut with a laser cutter, but we're the ones choosing the hides and burnishing all of the edges when it's carved. Our eyes are on it. Our hands are on it. It's something that somebody is going to carry with them, in a tangible way."

Hand-finishing a laser-cut leather journal at Tactile Craftworks

Makers Gonna Make (More)

Can Sarah and Anna's experience translate to other kinds of craft and artisan businesses? Absolutely, says Warren. "The maker movement [was always] utilizing maker spaces and shared technology and resources. There's a vast movement to make technology more accessible, and to give individuals more access to tools across the board."

In this three-part series, leather artisans Sarah Kirkham and Anna Warren of Tactile Craftworks go on a journey to improve their product line with a slick new laser-cutting tool, the Dremel Digilab Laser Cutter.
with Dremel
Don't spend hundreds on a handbag when you can make one on your sewing machine. Customize and sew boutique-quality leather handbags with designer Don Morin.
Don Morin
with Don Morin
Her Instagram feed is a wall of wood, tattoos, carvings and the occasional bloody finger. Her Twitter bio reads: Chainsaw artist seeking a life of travel, freedom and inspiration. When she's not working in the workshop, professional chainsaw artist Griffon Ramsey is a big-time influencer who shakes up assumptions about women artists and the world of wood-carving. Her art is definitely not about happy wooden bears lingering at tourist traps — though she does have a magical story about a roadside attraction.
Now Reading
Modern Craft: Handmade Meets Tech (Meets Leather!)