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Meet the Maker: Florence Smith

Maker and artist Florence Smith left the corporate world and founded her own Pittsburgh-based company Djoi Designs, named for her two children, son Dee and daughter Onsaya Joi. Djoi Designs features Florence’s beautifully designed and handcrafted leather handbags, leather goods, and leather jewelry, all of which can be found at our Museum Shop!

In the following interview, Florence shares her motivation for working with leather, her process of creating a leather handbag, what tool she can’t do without, and more. Read on to learn more about Florence and Djoi Designs.

To have the opportunity to add a Djoi Design to your collection, to purchase a Djoi Design handbag or bracelet as a gift for a family member or friend, or to meet Florence in person, register to shop during the Museum Shop Holiday Mart!

What is the first thing you can remember making?
I took a jewelry making class at a bead store many years ago, that is where I made my first pair of earrings.

Please, describe your work:
Djoi Designs creates handcrafted leather handbags and leather jewelry for lovers of art and handcraft who enjoy expressing their individuality. The pieces are unique, stylish and timeless.

What drew you to working with leather and metal?
I was drawn to leather and metal because of the versatility and aesthetics.

What is your motivation for creating these pieces?
I like the challenge of creating unique pieces. I draw my inspiration from the arts and the fashion world.

Please describe the process of creating a leather handbag?
I begin my process by designing a pattern or adjusting an existing pattern. After I am satisfied with my design, I select the appropriate leather for the project, trace the pattern onto the leather, and add the markings from the pattern onto the leather as well. Using a rotary cutter and/or exacto knife, I hand cut the leather, and if necessary, I skive the leather. Skiving is a technique used to reduce the thickness of the leather, so that it more easily folds, bends, or hide seams. Then, I sand, burnish, and kote the leather edges. Next, I tape the pieces of leather together with double sided tape or scratch and glue the pieces of leather. I then hand punch the leather with a chisel, which allows me to hand stitch the leather together. One of the last steps is adding the hardware and straps. As the final step, I add gum or beeswax and burnish the finished edges.

Describe for us the atmosphere when you are at work:
I work from my home. My dining room table is my work area.

What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
The most important tool is my hammer for both my leatherwork as well as my metalwork. I also can’t live without good lighting in my work area.

What is the most fulfilling part about your work?
Interacting with my customers is the most fulfilling part of my work. I love to see my customers truly happy with their purchase.