What COVID-19 has taught us about long-term care
Building an equal future for women in Atlantic Canada
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
SPECIAL REPORT: Facets of family violence
Have you tried the SaltWire News app?
UPDATED: COVID-19 news and numbers
Continuing coverage: Mass shooting in Nova Scotia
What's working for businesses in 2021?
Janet Dodson has always been crafty.
“I love art, and I can appreciate anything that someone’s worked hard on,” she said. “That’s always been my thing. I’m not a techie-type person. I’m a crafty person.”
As a child living in Plymouth, United Kingdom, Dodson loved to crochet. When she was 14, she was making ponchos and crocheted waistcoats and selling them at school.
She was 15 when she discovered a love of leather while working at Clark’s Leather and Shoe Factory in her city.
The smell of the leather, she said, is what she enjoyed and loved.
After that teenage experience, it was only natural that her passion for leatherwork carried into her adulthood.
Rather than making something common, like leather wallets, Dodson wanted her work to stand out. It was leather roses that became her thing.
“It was because it was something different,” she said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a bit more unique.”
When thinking of a rose, it’s easy to picture the traditional red rose, maybe a white or pink one. Dodson makes those as well, but she doesn’t limit herself to the colours and styles found in nature.
Rainbow roses for pride. Roses with leather barbed wire in the stems. Gothic and steampunk roses – styles that are popular in the United Kingdom. Dodson even makes boutonnieres and lilies.
Despite the seemingly endless ways to style leather flowers, Dodson’s favourite type of rose is the classic red one.
“I try to keep it just classic, normal roses, but so many people say ‘can you do this?’” she said. “They want the unusual.”
A rose for every occasion
Making leather roses was no more than a hobby for Dodson when she picked up the art nine years ago. She’d make something to give to friends. Then their friends would see and want some, as well.
“It just grew and grew,” she said.
What started with single roses made for her friends quickly became something more, and in 2011, Leather 'n Roses Leathercraft was born.
Then, she and her husband, Lee, lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, after moving from Cornwall in 2010; the two moved to Summerside in 2017.
Lee helped her make a website to sell her roses. Selling online, though, meant that most of her work is purchased internationally, rather than here on the Island.
“I started selling really well on that, mostly to America,” she said. “I’d like to keep it more to Canada and P.E.I.”
In addition to her online sales, Dodson is also one of 90 artisans represented at the P.E.I. Crafts Council’s Charlottetown gallery.
“We love having her pieces here. They’re unique,” said Ayelet Stewart, the council’s executive director. “We have many potters, and many jewellers, but she’s the one and only making flowers out of leather.”
Stewart said the roses are particularly popular with tourists – travel restrictions in place due to the pandemic had created a noticeable difference in sales.
Dodson makes the roses in a studio at her Summerside house, in a room that gives off lots of light from a bay window.
She can make a single rose in a few hours; a bouquet takes days.
There’s a small annex off that room where she keeps two racks full of different colours of leather, waiting to be worked into a rose – she estimates over 150 different ones.
Most of her fabric for the roses comes pre-dyed from Italy. Some colours, though, she has to get from the United States.
“If I’m doing a bouquet, people want the exact shade.”
In addition to the flowers, Dodson has also recently started making jewelry with hand-stained leather. She hopes to start selling it in time for the Atlanticade motorcycle festival.
“The bikers love any leather jewelry,” said Dodson, previously a biker, herself. “I like to think that I can make something that I know they’ll like.”
Making leather jewelry is only part of Dodson’s plan for the future of her business.
She hopes that renovations to her house and future work on her studio will help her sell her art locally, rather than largely internationally. She would like to have her studio set up so people can come by and take a look at what she has to offer.
“I think it’s got a good chance of being quite popular, but I think I’m afraid to take it too far too quick.”
Although she’s made a business out of her passion, her leatherwork remains that: a passion. She doesn’t sell the roses to earn a paycheck, but to give people something they can enjoy and keep forever.
“I always get good feedback, so that makes me more pleased than even what the money does,” she said. “It’s what I enjoy doing. It isn’t something I’m doing because I have to.”
Kristin Gardiner is the Journal Pioneer's rural reporter.