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Featured Shop: Tom Banwell Designs

Oct 1, 2012

by Tom Banwell

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

I’m Tom Banwell, and my wife Jill and I own a leather mask making business, Tom Banwell Designs. Our shop is below our house in the rural community of Penn Valley, California, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We are assisted by our friend Christine, our son Erin, and our friends’ 17 year old daughter Lauren, who works as a summer intern.

Up until a few years ago, we focused primarily on custom trophies, for which we had purchased a laser cutter. Through experimenting with it, I discovered that the laser cuts leather very nicely, and I discovered the fun of designing and making leather masks. In a way, it was a return to my roots — I was a leather worker for a number of years in the ’70s and ’80s.

Tom in the shop.

To make the masks, we start with top grain vegetable tanned cowhide. We trace a pattern onto the leather, get it wet so that it becomes pliable, and cut the mask out with the laser cutter. The laser cuts faster and more intricately than I could do by hand, allowing me to design the delicate filigree cut out masks we’ve been known for over the last few years. Next, we shape the damp mask over a face form and allow it to dry. The next day, we paint it with an airbrush. Once it’s  dry, we attach a piece of elastic and place it in a plastic bag, ready to ship.

Shortly after I began making masks, I discovered Etsy. The combination of the two has transformed our lives. We’ve been able to completely give up our old business and make masks full time. We no longer have phone calls to answer for work, and although we work hard at what we do, it is much less stressful. Jill and I both love working at home at our own pace, away from the hustle and bustle of an office. Plus, we get the satisfaction of knowing that our shop is run 100% off of solar panels on the roof.

The raven mask.

One of my favorite designs is the Raven mask. Jill and I were eating lunch one day in our dining room when I noticed that the woodgrain of the kitchen cabinet resembled the shape of upraised bird wings. I thought that it would make a beautiful mask, and I made the first design with dramatic, 14” tall wings. Unfortunately, after a few days the wings fell over, and I was sorely disappointed. Several weeks later, my daughter Erika came to visit and I showed her the problem I was having. She suggested tying the wings together. That, combined with shortening the wings two inches solved the problem. The Raven has been one of our best sellers ever since.

Featured Shop Archive

Stiltzkin leather plague doctor mask in antique black
Stiltzkin leather plague doctor mask in antique black
TomBanwell
$139.00 USD
Bunny leather mask in black
Bunny leather mask in black
TomBanwell
$65.00 USD
Plague Doctor mask in black leather "Schnabel"
Plague Doctor mask in black leather "Schnabel"
TomBanwell
$215.00 USD
Raven leather mask in black
Raven leather mask in black
TomBanwell
$59.00 USD
Victoriana mask in gold leather
Victoriana mask in gold leather
TomBanwell
$39.00 USD
Swirly Leather mask in purple
Swirly Leather mask in purple
TomBanwell
$39.00 USD
Mardi Gras Masks Special -- Swirly, Victoriana and Muse
Mardi Gras Masks Special -- Swirly, Victoriana and Muse
TomBanwell
$79.00 USD
Rococo leather mask in Mardi Gras colors
Rococo leather mask in Mardi Gras colors
TomBanwell
$46.00 USD
Mardi Gras Masks Special -- Roxy, Vixen and Bemused Leather
Mardi Gras Masks Special -- Roxy, Vixen and Bemused Leather
TomBanwell
$65.00 USD
Plague Doctor mantle, shoulder cape in black garment leather capelet
Plague Doctor mantle, shoulder cape in black garment leather capelet
TomBanwell
$139.00 USD
Jackdaw leather plague doctor mask
Jackdaw leather plague doctor mask
TomBanwell
$169.00 USD
Plague Doctor Hat in Black Leather
Plague Doctor Hat in Black Leather
TomBanwell
$215.00 USD
Beak Mask in Black Leather
Beak Mask in Black Leather
TomBanwell
$59.00 USD
Eyelashes Leather Halloween Mask in black "Lashes"
Eyelashes Leather Halloween Mask in black "Lashes"
TomBanwell
$34.00 USD
Choker Nouveau in Red Leather
Choker Nouveau in Red Leather
TomBanwell
$14.00 USD
Whirly leather mask in silver
Whirly leather mask in silver
TomBanwell
$32.00 USD
Whirly leather mask in red
Whirly leather mask in red
TomBanwell
$32.00 USD
Kitty Leather Mask in Gray
Kitty Leather Mask in Gray
TomBanwell
$49.00 USD
Coquette leather mask in teal
Coquette leather mask in teal
TomBanwell
$39.00 USD
SALE!! Fan leather mask in black
SALE!! Fan leather mask in black
TomBanwell
$24.50 USD
Incognito Leather mask in white size S/M
Incognito Leather mask in white size S/M
TomBanwell
$22.00 USD
Muse leather mask in red
Muse leather mask in red
TomBanwell
$39.00 USD
Incognito Leather mask in purple size S/M
Incognito Leather mask in purple size S/M
TomBanwell
$22.00 USD
Totem Leather mask in red and black
Totem Leather mask in red and black
TomBanwell
$45.00 USD
Techno Leather Mask in White
Techno Leather Mask in White
TomBanwell
$25.00 USD
Rococo lacy mask in purple leather
Rococo lacy mask in purple leather
TomBanwell
$42.00 USD
Plague Doctor Staff Topper Winged Hourglass
Plague Doctor Staff Topper Winged Hourglass
TomBanwell
$24.00 USD
Plague Doctor mask in Black "Krankheit"
Plague Doctor mask in Black "Krankheit"
TomBanwell
$195.00 USD
Masquerade mask in blue and silver
Masquerade mask in blue and silver
TomBanwell
$29.00 USD
Rabbit mask in leather
Rabbit mask in leather
TomBanwell
$79.00 USD
Foxy Leather Mask
Foxy Leather Mask
TomBanwell
$49.00 USD
Eyecage Leather Mask in Gold
Eyecage Leather Mask in Gold
TomBanwell
$49.00 USD
SALE Minx mask in red leather
SALE Minx mask in red leather
TomBanwell
$24.00 USD
Corax Riveted Plague Doctor half mask in Black
Corax Riveted Plague Doctor half mask in Black
TomBanwell
$100.00 USD
Mouse Halloween Mask in Black Leather
Mouse Halloween Mask in Black Leather
TomBanwell
$55.00 USD
Filigree Flame leather mask in black for eyeglasses
Filigree Flame leather mask in black for eyeglasses
TomBanwell
$39.00 USD
Half mask in black leather "Roxy"
Half mask in black leather "Roxy"
TomBanwell
$32.00 USD
Roxy leather mask in purple
Roxy leather mask in purple
TomBanwell
$32.00 USD
Totem leather mask in Mardi Gras colors
Totem leather mask in Mardi Gras colors
TomBanwell
$45.00 USD
Head wreath in white leather "Nouveau Deco"
Head wreath in white leather "Nouveau Deco"
TomBanwell
$14.50 USD
Raven leather mask in Silver
Raven leather mask in Silver
TomBanwell
$59.00 USD
Bird Beak leather mask in black
Bird Beak leather mask in black
TomBanwell
$44.00 USD
OptiScope goggles in Black  Steampunk
OptiScope goggles in Black Steampunk
TomBanwell
$149.00 USD
Raven leather mask in Gold
Raven leather mask in Gold
TomBanwell
$59.00 USD
Wolf Leather Mask
Wolf Leather Mask
TomBanwell
$59.00 USD
SALE!! Vixen half mask in purple leather
SALE!! Vixen half mask in purple leather
TomBanwell
$24.50 USD
Masquerade mask in purple and gold
Masquerade mask in purple and gold
TomBanwell
$29.00 USD
Bad Rabbit mask in black leather
Bad Rabbit mask in black leather
TomBanwell
$84.00 USD
Bird mask in gold leather
Bird mask in gold leather
TomBanwell
$39.00 USD
Pearlescent Plague Doctor leather mask in white, pink and green
Pearlescent Plague Doctor leather mask in white, pink and green
TomBanwell
$245.00 USD
Cleopatra leather headdress in blue, violet and black
Cleopatra leather headdress in blue, violet and black
TomBanwell
$59.00 USD
Victoriana leather mask in White
Victoriana leather mask in White
TomBanwell
$39.00 USD
Techno Leather Mask in Gold
Techno Leather Mask in Gold
TomBanwell
$25.00 USD
Choker Nouveau in White Leather
Choker Nouveau in White Leather
TomBanwell
$14.00 USD
Lacy Leaf Mask for Eyeglasses in Gold Leather
Lacy Leaf Mask for Eyeglasses in Gold Leather
TomBanwell
$39.00 USD
Rococo  lacy mask in teal leather
Rococo lacy mask in teal leather
TomBanwell
$42.00 USD
Muse leather mask in silver
Muse leather mask in silver
TomBanwell
$39.00 USD
Celtic Knot Headwreath in Red Leather
Celtic Knot Headwreath in Red Leather
TomBanwell
$14.50 USD
Coquette leather mask in violet
Coquette leather mask in violet
TomBanwell
$39.00 USD
Vixen half mask in white leather
Vixen half mask in white leather
TomBanwell
$32.00 USD

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