Trevor Domjahn - artist in leather

trevportraitTrevor Domjahn is a Beaudesert leatherworker who does very fine plaiting and whipmaking, Forty years ago he wanted to learn the craft, and knew of an old gentleman, Rupert Brabazon, of Wyaralong, who was known for his leatherworking skills. Trevor finally plucked up the courage to go and see Rupert, who happily welcomed the opportunity to pass on his skills. That was the beginning of a forty-year love affair with the craft.

A member of the Australian Plaiters and Whipmakers Association, Trevor recently competed at its championships in Glen Innes. Claiming that he was “totally outclassed”, which is hard to believe, he nevertheless won several prizes.

Trevor shared some of the techniques of his craft. He likes working with red cowhide, which is very versatile leather. After tanning, the cowhide is stained red and oiled. He also loves working with the feel of kangaroo hide, used mainly for belts. He cuts his own strands from a whole kangaroo hide. Belts and whips are plaited using the fine strands.

pineappleThere are a few gadgets used for cutting. As the elasticity and thickness of the hide is variable, cutting the strands has become a highly skilled part of the process. After the initial cut, the strand has to be stretched and then evened out by running it through a gauge which takes off the high points and sharp corners. Each strand also has to be bevelled by running a super sharp knife along the length, another necessary skill. While working in the boning section of the meatworks, Trevor used his old broken-down boning knives for his leatherwork. More recently he’s made up his own knives from hacksaw blades glued into wooden handles. They are razor-sharp.

There’s a lot of preparation involved before the actual plaiting process begins. The prep time is as long as the plaiting process.

It was Rupert Brabazon who showed Trevor how to measure the lengths of strands necessary for a particular item. For a belt, he takes the waist measurement and adds on about ten inches, then another few inches for splicing, then multiplies that by three to get the length of each strand. He uses from 11-19 strands, depending on the width of the belt. An uneven number is necessary to have the sides symmetrical.

As with knitting and crochet, even tension is necessary for a consistent width. Trevor sometimes makes intricate patterns by double plaiting – plaiting initial strands and then using these to plait again. Different colours are sometimes used in creating patterns. Dyed hide is plaited with raw hide to achieve interesting effects.

whipssAs well as belts and hatbands, Trevor makes whips, which can have either plaited or cane handles; these are unbreakable if used correctly. Snake whips are popular, as they can be carried in a pocket.

This rare leather craft is a very transportable hobby, as tools required are few. Trevor has shared his skills with a few younger people, and would be happy to show others, but thinks there is not a lot of interest in plaiting these days. The strength and quality of work of the Australian Plaiters’ Association though suggests that this is an intriguing and evolving art form.

We at the Lyrebird Gallery are lucky to be the only outlet for Trevor’s fine work. He is also sometimes commissioned to make particular items. Come along to our Gallery to see his work for yourself; you may find just the right gift for that special person.beltclosestrevorwhipss