Written by Brett Levine
Photo by Jerry Siegel
“I used to describe myself as a torturer of good fabric,” Becky Stayner says. “I literally banned myself from the fabric store.” You would never know this looking at her luscious handmade leather bags, elegant works that embody the very idea of attention to detail. Her return to long-dormant skills and her newfound passion came rather unexpectedly. “My daughter and I were admiring a leather bag at a friend’s house. It turned out that she made it,” Stayner explains. Stayner, who is also a renowned professional photographer, agreed to take some photographs of her daughter in exchange for lessons on how to make one for herself. “I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the process, and I knew I had to pursue it further,” she says.
Pursue it further she did. Fast-forward to a little over a year later, and Stayner is the founder, designer, and maker of a collection of handmade bags produced by her Biscuit Leather Company. “Everything is stitched by hand,” she explains. “I had done enough hand stitching when I was younger to understand needlework, but to me, using a machine was like having a racecar I couldn’t drive.” This love of the handmade is what gives Stayner’s bags their distinctive style. “I love topstitching and cross-stitching. All of my bags are joined using a running stitch and a cross-stitch.”
Simplicity gives her bags their unique elegance. Apart from Stayner’s meticulous stitching, she sources beautiful, high-quality leathers from a limited range of sources. “I use leather that is dyed rather than painted,” she explains. “This means that the leather begins with some of its natural beauty and texture for a foundation. It also means,” she continues, “that it often has a honey color, like a biscuit, which is where the name came from.”
Stayner constructs her patterns from poster board, but the prototype is always cut and assembled freehand. “I have an idea of something I would like to make,” she explains, “and I just sit at the worktable and make it. I always make the first one without a pattern, and then I can make refinements and construct the pattern from there.”
The line now includes six bags. “There is the largest, which is the Grand Biscuit; a medium, the Morning Biscuit; three different clutches; and most recently, a messenger bag.” She views the bags as timeless objects that are classic rather than fashionable. “I hope people will view these as bags they can keep and pass on to their children,” she says. She pays particular attention to quality, and understands that there is a balance between volume and quality. “Right now, every single bag I make is handmade here. What I make right now I want to be just right. I know there are other ways I could approach this,” she says. “Of course they could probably be manufactured for me, but I am not sure that is a phase I want to enter just yet.”
For now, Stayner is content to simply enhance and refine her designs, making limited editions of her current styles complemented with one-off bags that are featured in trunk shows and in her Etsy store online (etsy.com/shop/BiscuitLeather)
To enhance her range, Stayner sees every piece of leather as having a story to tell. “On some bags I like to use the natural edge of the leather—I call it raw dough—to create a design that is unique to each bag,” she says.
Handmade. Elegant. Timeless. These words define Becky Stayner’s beautiful bags. Have one. This is a biscuit you need in your diet.