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Building a local brand

Catherine Rocheford, a designer of many years, has showed what Blackbelly sheep skin can create. (Picture by Ricardo Leacock.) Catherine Rocheford’s jewellery collection is  fashioned with Blackbelly sheep leather. (GP)

By ANESTA HENRY | Wed, February 20, 2013 - 12:01 AM

THERE IS A lot of potential not only in the meat of the Blackbelly sheep but its skin is also quite useful in the making of craft and jewellery.

Catherine Rocheford can testify to that.

Rocheford, an experienced designer, challenged herself to leave the comfort zone of working with beads, copper and other traditional material by turning to creating jewellery collections fashioned with Blackbelly sheep leather – not an easy task.

In the early ’90s after returning home from studying multimedia print in Canada, the designer saw the need to use indigenous material in her designs.

She chose locally processed Blackbelly Sheep skin.

“I started making jewellery from the skin and I printed a couple of pieces and they sold,” she told the MIDWEEK NATION.

“But because I couldn’t get a consistent supply of the processed skin, I went away from that.

“But then here recently, just last year, I said you know what – I really wanted material to work with that is indigenous because all of my stuff that I buy for my jewellery comes from all over the world.

“But I need to have something that when some person who visits and leaves with a piece from me, has something that speaks to Barbados so I started using Blackbelly sheep skin again and Bajan mahogany,” she said.

Rocheford received the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation Incentive Award (BIDC) for craft in the 2012 Crop-Over Arts And Craft Exhibition for an innovative and marketable theme of jewellery made from the sheep skin.

“I am very excited about using it and I really want to use the skin more. Everybody was impressed with the theme which focused on Barbados and I am happy to have won the award,” said the proud designer.

Nevertheless, the WEDNESDAY WOMAN said that while it was a privilege to be able to work with the indigenous material, “it has been very difficult to get the skin finished to how I want it to be finished”.

“Before I can work with the skin it needs to be tanned and it needs to be cleaned first,” she said. “So you need to get it after they have butchered the animal and have it cleaned and properly prepared because you don’t want to be wearing something that has a smell.”

She explained that it was a very tedious process in preparing the skin before it could be shaped into a product.

“The skin that I got was not very soft and subtle that you would think leather is, it was very hard and tough. So . . . I used the small areas of the skin which were very good.

“And then with the other areas, I took the leather and did a technique which you would call distressing. I bent it, I twisted it and did stuff with it so it became cracked and looked old. And then I put the die on it and rubbed it off until . . .,” she said.

Despite the challenges faced, the designer who just wants to use Barbadian material has continued to expand her range of products made from the skin.

She said that she was currently in product development for bags made out of sheep skin combining jewellery and printing techniques.

“I know that the sheep skin products are not going to be a mass market but they are going to be well designed, well thought of and some of them will be pricey obviously because I am using something that is in very limited supply at this time. But I am just hoping that the use of Blackbelly sheep skin will develop in Barbados and BIDC is working towards that,” she said.

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