Colorado attorney uses creative side to make leather goods
March 23, 2018
Here's an interesting Western riddle: What do the legal system, horses, jewelry and leather all have in common? Answer: Jill Gookin.
The Loveland, Colo., criminal defense attorney who's been in private practice for about 10 years also defends parents in dependency and neglect cases. After 40-hours of recent training, she hopes to move her practice in the direction of mediation. But Gookin had also long-yearned for a creative career, which she excitedly began about three years ago.
"I was looking for a business that incorporated my love of horses, the west, cowboys and cowgirls," Gookin explained.
That mindset combined with a life-long penchant for jewelry inspired her leather jewelry, the crafty beginnings of an expansive line of merchandise. In February 2015, she attended Alden's School of Leather Trade in Rogue River, Ore. Founder/owner Tim Alden comes from a family that's been in the leather business for many years and has handed down the skill through generations. Alden greatly impressed Gookin.
"He is an amazing young man with a huge love of leather work and teaching others. In the leather industry, many times people do not want to share their secrets but his shop is an open book. I went to a week-long class that covered traditional skills for leather work. In August of 2016, I went back for a two-week class on chap making," Gookin said.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
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Absorbing all that shared knowledge transformed her into a serious leatherworker. She has two industrial leather sewing machines, one for smaller projects and the other a Cobra Class 4 that easily handles thick pieces, including saddles.
Her wide array of hand tools include a head knife and a rotary cutter. Then there's a variety of stamping tools, hole punches and a specialty machine that sands and smoothes leather.
She added, "I could go on and on. One thing about leatherwork is that there are always more tools you could use… and always want."
Gookin's many loyal customers seek out her work at outside venues, on Facebook and on her website. She displays items at two shows a year. One shortly before Christmas is at a friend's home on Small Business Saturday and the other is the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo.
Talented, versatile Gookin touts hip bags as her best-selling item, an original design based on customer input. She loves making the stylish leather carriers, as well as custom chaps and chinks. Although the latter two are far more labor intensive, Gookin especially relishes the finished product.
"I custom make them to fit by getting my clients measurements and making a pattern just their size," she said.
Her mother-in-law, Gayle Gookin, does a great job on the embroidery required on quite a few pieces.
Gookin believes her jewelry is such a great seller because she prices it reasonably. Many of her customers own multiple pieces.
The first bracelet she ever sold was to lady in California who lives an hour and a half from Alden's Oregon leather school. She, her husband and Gookin got together nearby there for dinner. During her second time at the school in 2016, Gookin met the customer, and her horse, in California. The two women still stay in touch on Facebook.
Named after the road on which she lives, Quillan Gulch Leatherworks first made a profit in 2017 when all Gookin's equipment and inventory was finally paid for. Her vision is to continue to grow every year and to add more items. This year, those "newbies" were wild rags (cowboy scarves) and slides at the RMHE.
Gookin honestly admitted, "I would love to be able to do more leatherwork and less legal work. I enjoy the creative aspect, everything I design is original, and I would 'kill' to ultimately custom-design chaps for NFR (National Finals Rodeo) riders.'"
That sentiment expresses frustration exacerbated by career and seasonal time constraints. For example, only when winter weather prohibits riding does she spend most weekends in her leather shop (actually a large shed bought at Lowes to which Gookin added electricity, insulation, heat and a television).
In the summers, her horses occupy much of her spare time but she still manages to spend three or four days a month wholly devoted to working on leather. Incoming orders sometimes require she work evenings to finish something for a customer.
Between them, Gookin and husband Mark own six horses. Two are registered Quarter Horses, one a (former police horse) Tennessee Walker, two grade horses, and a Palomino they're fostering for the Colorado Horse Rescue in Longmont.
The Gookins have both competed in Cowboy Dressage in the past and this year she is showing in Working Equitation. The couple also loves to trail ride.
"We can ride for hours right out of our driveway but we recently purchased a large horse trailer with living quarters and plan on doing a bunch of horse camping this summer," Gookin said.
The Gookins have four grown children, three grandchildren, five dogs, a plethora of barn cats, and one stellar house cat, "Quillan", who thinks he rules the roost.
Gookin's middle daughter, Jacklyn Sexter, shares her interests. She's a paralegal at her mother's law office, likes horses and helps out at the Quillan Gulch booth at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo.
More information about Gookin's work can be found on Facebook at Quillan Gulch Leatherworks. To view and/or order items, visit her website at http://quillangulchleatherworks.com. ❖
— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at email@example.com.