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I used to want to be an opera singer. I studied classical voice in undergrad and worked at The Met in my 20s. Not as a singer, though. I worked in the education department.
A perk of that job was that I attended final dress rehearsals for all of the operas. This is where I got to see and hear Norman rehearse the role of Emilia Marty in Janacek’s The Makroposlis Case. Emilia Marty, an opera singer herself who has an interesting and long past. 300 years ago her father, a physician, made an elixir for the king for everlasting life. The king had the physician test the elixir on his daughter, Emilia. What a role. I’ll never forget it.
Hi Folks. As you may have read a few posts back, I’ve been making and selling saddle stitched leather bags. I enjoy working with my hands. And I enjoy the process of applying the knowledge I have to making something beautiful and practical. I draw on knowledge about creativity, sustainability, customer research, usability, materials & processes, operations, marketing, packaging, DIY & maker stuff. I also really enjoy the community I’ve been engaging with: artisans and craftspeople. They’ve been generous and helpful with their feedback as I’ve been getting this thing going.
I have a very simple site up. You can check it out here.
I hope you are doing well. Drop me a line at xanthe dot matychak at gmail dot com and let me know what creative things you’ve been up to. X
FOR FUN (a play on the title to this post)
I go back to, I go back to…
Hella Jongerius is a Dutch designer, founder of JongeriusLab (1993) based in Berlin. The first time I saw Jongerius’s work was about 10 years ago at a Droog exhibit in NYC. The piece of hers that burned a new pathway in my brain was Embroidered Tablecloth in which the designer ran a red embroidery thread through a white linen cloth and porcelain table setting.
This is what Jongerius does. She mixes industrial materials and processes with traditional ones. In doing this, she questions how we use these materials so that we might expand our thinking about what they are capable of and what they mean. The mix is powerful and disruptive yet beautiful and welcoming.
At present, Jongerius is preparing for a textiles show called Interlace at Lafayette Foundation in Paris. From what I see on instagram, the work is playful and gorgeous, simple and complex and I’d love – love – LOVE to see it in person. The show opens in June.
Since mid-March I’ve been designing and making hand cut & sewn leather bags. My goal is to launch a small line at a few crafts shows this fall. From there I will figure out what to do next. Make more inventory? Sell online? Manufacture on demand? Time will tell.
One thing I really enjoy about the process of designing and making bags is the slowness of it. It takes 4 hours to cut, prepare, and sew a full sized bag. In those 4 hours, I know exactly what I’m doing. My focus is on craftsmanship. My hands are busy. There is no room for electronics. Those hours are meditative and when I reach the end, I’ve made something beautiful and useful.
In design, there is a concept called “Slow Design” which rejects the hyperconsumption and waste that’s baked into a lot of mainstream design. The Slow Design movement took inspiration from the Slow Food movement which started in Italy in the 1980s. One could argue Italians have always had slow food values: they love their food; they appreciate knowing who grows it and how; and they make decisions about what they buy, cook, and eat based on these values.
Slow Design practitioners extend these values to physical products. They look at the entire life cycle of a product: where materials come from; how they are processed and by whom; how far the products travel for distribution; how much energy and water they use once in the hands of users; how long these products last; and what happens to them when they are no longer useful. Examining these steps in a product life cycle helps designers make decisions about what they make and why and how.
Slow Fashion is an extension of Slow Design. It’s a response to Fast Fashion, a much hyped about trend in which clothes are designed, made, distributed, sold, then thrown away as quickly as possible. Technology enables Fast Fashion. And the market, too. But Slow Fashion takes a different approach. Clothes and accessories are built to last. They are sourced ethically. They are made slowly. They cost more and they last longer.
As good as this sounds, Slow Design comes with complexities just as mainstream design does. While Slow Design is gentle on the environment, fair to labor, and offers customers an alternative to hyperconsumption, the obvious complication is that Slow Design costs more dollars to make and sell. This means that average folks can’t afford it. I don’t know the answer to that one. Perhaps integrating “Buy One Give One” pricing into Slow Design and food can help bridge that gap. Many organic farmers around here participate in the “Healthy Food for All” program which commits a fixed percentage of what they produce to be sold at a deep discount to individuals and families with economic challenges. Another way for a slow business to bridge the gap is to integrate fair wage jobs. I’d love to, one day, hire women who struggle with economic challenges to help me make the bags I’m making. As I said, it takes four hours to make a full sized bag. I cut, prepare, and sew the leather by hand. In future, I hope to mix and apply my own dyes. I’m gonna need some extra hands, for sure.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Can Fast Fashion Be Green? (Vogue, 2018)
What the heck is Vegan Leather (again, it’s complicated)
In no particular order:
ON MENTAL HEALTH
ON CIRCULAR ECONOMY
ON MEDIA THEORY
And books that I’m reading now that might turn into faves:
and I’ve got enough of this hide to make 2 more. Good times!
Sometimes it’s appropriate to use this principle to help you make a decision. Other times it’s appropriate to scrap the old and build something new. Figuring out when to do what is the hard part. Knowing how to frame the decision is a good start.
There’s this moment from the show Project Runway that I wish I could find on youtube. In this moment, a contestant is up on the stage receiving critique from the judges. As I remember, the judges liked his work in this round and were giving him positive feedback. Relieved, the contestant starts crying and says, “I had such a hard time with this challenge [sob]. One minute I was happy [sob] the next minute I was in tears and questioning myself….”
At this moment, judge and world-famous designer Michael Kors interrupts the contestant to point something out. He holds up his left hand, points to the contestant and says, “You know that feeling that you are having right now? [long pause]. That feeling [another long pause]. It. Never. Goes. Away. [hold silence].”
When I heard him say that, I felt such relief for the contestant and for myself as a creative person. I thought, ‘If Michael Kors, one of the most famous and successful designers in the world, felt that he needed to stop this contestant to share this insight about his own creative life, then it must be true and it must be important.’
Self-doubt and questioning, this is what creatives do. It’s just how they work. Yes, it makes them a little crazy and it drives their friends a little crazy too (especially the accountants!). That tortured artist thing isn’t a myth. It’s real as alluded to in a well known Kors quote, “Fashion isn’t for sissies.”
So what can we do about this doubt? As with most things that are hard, be mindful of it, even accepting of it. And learn how to manage it. Because that feeling? That feeling that you’re having about your work right now? It. Never. Goes. Away.
TAKE IT FURTHER
I recently scored some bargain hides in OKC and mailed them home to Ithaca. They arrived last Thursday and bit by bit, over the past week, I’ve been working toward making a full-scale leather bag.
You can see my iterative prototyping here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/wySRTm8M2rdiyWke9
I started with a tiny prototype just to learn how the stitching would feel in this material. But it was so tiny that I couldn’t even turn it inside out when it was sewn up. So I moved up to a half-scale version of the bag, first in EVA foam. This prototype was really quick and gave me some good intel–I just wanted to see how the bag would hold up when I turned it inside out after sewing. Turned out ok.
From there I moved to a half-scale in leather. From this prototype I wanted to experience each step of the process: cutting and preparing the leather, gluing and clamping, sewing, and turning it inside out. All went well except for the proportions. When I turned it inside out, it was too tall because the leather, unlike the foam in the previous model, brought the side seams in significantly.
But my prototypes gave me the confidence to move to full scale even though I hadn’t yet gotten the proportions I wanted. I made proportional adjustments in my full-scale template then cut and prepped and glued and sewed. I rushed through the rivets a bit because I was running out of time, but overall I am very pleased with the bag. I’ll carry it around with me for a week before I make another, just to test how it behaves in the wild. But I have a feeling that I have a design that’s close to production ready.
Hoorah! Now the question is, can I buy myself a fancy rivet press? Uh, tools are cool.