The machine you see pictured above is a Singer 111, it’s a single needle walking foot sewing machine and it set the standard for sewing heavy canvas and leathers back in the 1940’s.
This particular machine spent it’s first (or second ) life sewing tents in a Blacks Camping workshop in Ottawa before the company went belly up, at which point my father purchased it and it moved to my parents basement, along with boxes of hardware and bolts of fabric.
Some twenty-five years ago a twelve year old me was desperately after one of these “messenger bags” that were popping up in the small ads found in the back of bike magazines. Not easily accessible in Canada, nor affordable to order at that age I instead decided to follow our families “make it yourself” ethos.
I pulled out the old rolls of cordura, fished out the boxes of hardware and hit the “on” switch on the Singer 111.
I didn’t exactly have the skills to make a bag let alone run the incredibly overpowered, (and frankly scary machine) but coming from a family that has long history of handcrafting things (my great grandfather was a cobbler, my grandfather made bags, shoes and wove baskets, and my father had made backpacks, travel bags and climbing harnesses) some basic bags were completed with the help and guidance of my father.
Obviously it didn’t stop with those first few bags and the more bags I made the more I realised a bag needed to not just look good, it needed to function well too. I began to look to older bag designs to see what worked and what didn’t. Again I was lucky that there was a stockpile of old military, hunting and mountaineering bags in the basement and the attic to rifle through and dissect.
Along the way the exposure to old materials, canvas, waxed canvas, leather and ventile seeped into my subconscious and became my preferred materials when making new products.
Although I had dabbled making bags from reclaimed pieces of leather my first real foray into leather craft stemmed from a belt project, which I outline in a blog post here. After doing an entirely leather project I was hooked and I spent the next few years working primarily with leather.
In 2010 I decided I needed to give my sewing and leather craft projects a name and that’s when the Wilboro name came to be, a fusion of my name and the neighbourhood in Ottawa that I grew up in - Westboro. Since then I have been steadily building a fully operational leather and sewing workshop and ever honing my skills.
Initially Wilboro was purely based around making products for my family, friends, the occasional commission and myself of course. That’s changed now. A number of years ago I left the other business I co-founded, (a bicycle store and custom frame shop) and I am pursing sewing and leather craft as a full time vocation.
Hopefully you like what you see here. The products you see either I use myself or someone close to me does.
Wilboro is a one-person design and fabrication company that thoughtfully designs durable bags and leather goods that introduce timeless style and function into your everyday life. All goods are handcrafted in the Wilboro Ottawa Workshop from quality-sourced materials.
Will Ficner, Wilboro Founder using a Singer 211, a direct decedent of the Singer 111.