At work with Alison: leather designer

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WDTV) - Charles McEwuen got his start as a leather designer when he was just a teenager.

"I was first introduced to leather in my junior high school shop class," he said.

Charles rediscovered his love for the craft in his twenties while he was in the military.

"I wanted to make a new sheath for my knife and they had a little shop so I decided to make one. But pretty soon, all of these guys in my unit started asking me if I could make them various items so I had this little business going while I was still in the service."

In 1976, he decided to open his own shop, Tanner's Alley Leather Design Studio. The store was a success and has been a staple of downtown Morgantown for more than 40 years.

Most of the leather items sold in the store are made in Charles's studio in the back. Charles also offers repair services for shoes and handbags, a highly delicate skill that he compares to surgery.

"When I think of a design, I can figure out how it's put together and see the pieces and how they're constructed; I generally make a paper pattern first."

Once he figures out his design, it's like building a puzzle.

One of his favorite leathers to work with is alligator, which is often brought to him by customers for special orders.

Despite living in a technology driven world, Charles doesn't see these hands-on jobs fading away anytime soon.

"There will always be a need for people who can make things with their hands."

Charles says the best thing about his job is seeing a customer's reaction to his products.

"It's so exciting to have an idea in mind, put it down on paper, make it, and see someone come in and say 'That's exactly what I was looking for,' and then they buy it."