I once had a figure drawing teacher who would (playfully) slap my drawing hand if I were working on a detail of a figure without first mapping out the entire body. Zoom in too soon and you might be drawing a perfect hand but in the wrong place. I love it that she did that.
I’ve just started making leather totes. I’ve made two so far, one at a time. This week I decided to up my production game and try to make three at a time.
I started this challenge by writing out all of the steps in making a bag, hanging that list on my studio wall, and editing the list as I need to. I’ll share that list here:
- Rough cut the hide – this makes it more manageable
- Cut the straps
- Fine-cut the leather with a template including rivet holes
- Glue and clamp the sides
- Groove sewing lines and punch stitching holes
- Saddle stitch the sides
- Tamp down the stitching with a mallet
- Glue and clamp the gussets
- Saddle stitch the gussets
- Tamp down the stitching with a mallet
- Turn the bag inside out
- Rivet the straps
What I’ve learned so far:
STRAPS. I need to cut the straps when before I fine cut the bag. I still haven’t done this and I’ve already started stitching. Why am I procrastinating? Because cutting long straps is a pain in the butt. Hopefully, there’s a strap cutter in my future which will make things a lot easier.
ALIGNMENT. On one of the bags, I forgot to glue it up before I punched the stitching holes. So I’m not sure if things will line up but here’s to hoping that they will OR that I can re-punch the holes that need it without messing up the seam lines.
CLAMPS. I discovered a bottleneck in step three. I can’t glue-up 3 bags at the same time because I don’t have enough clamps.
Oof. Writing this out makes me feel tired but in a good way. I enjoy paying attention to the process. A few semesters back I taught the well-known operations book The Goal so I’ve got that model in the back of my mind, too. Nerdy fun.
FOR EVEN MORE FUN (process p*rn)
Making watch straps at Hermes
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
Michael’s Night at the Met Gala
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.
I picked up these bargain-bin hides while in OKC this past week. It feels freeing to have so much (cheap) material to work with. I’m going to try out a bunch of things in weeks to come.
These hides are milled which means that they are soft and don’t have as much structure as the veg tanned scraps I’ve been working with. But I still think they can hold the shape of a basket if I keep it small enough. We’ll see! If all else fails, these babies can make a whole lot of straps and book covers.
for more studio snap shots, see my google photo album: https://photos.app.goo.gl/PKaNMFj8ScEsxeK58
I’ve never understood why people make jokes about basket weaving. Think about it: What skill could be more useful than making an object that carries things from one place to another, using materials that you have lying around? I happen to have a lot of tyvek and a little bit of leather, so I’ve been designing tyvek baskets with leather handles (at half scale for now). I think these vessels are sweet and I like imagining filling them up with fruit in summer.
I love all kinds of baskets and if I had the right studio space (which would have to include a sink), I’d definitely take up weaving.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Swamp Road Baskets are the most beautiful baskets, made here in The Finger Lakes
I love this modern spin on Shaker Baskets by Studio Gorm
My BASKETS board on pinterest
If you read this blog, then you know that I’m interested in techniques for harnessing collective intelligence. Why? Because the complex problems we face require participation from a diverse array of stakeholders. Why? Because diverse participation, when done right, leads to better outcomes.
If you do a lot of teamwork, then you know that it’s easy to fall into the pattern of letting a few people on the project team dominate the majority of the conversation. A great technique for engaging the entire team, and thus arriving at more creative results, is write-storming. What write-storming does is it carves out time and space for all team members to engage in quiet writing and reflection. The ideas that individuals generate during a write-storming session can then be drawn on for group discussion.
I’ve been doing write-storming in one form or another for years but I really like how author Leigh Thompson maps out the technique. I’ll summarize here: Write-storming sessions are short, like 5-10 minutes. In a session, team members work silently to generate a lot of ideas on their own. Each idea should be written on an individual index card in legible hand-writing – I recommend all caps for legibility. Then the cards are collected, shuffled, redistributed, and read aloud for discussion. It’s important that the ideas remain anonymous so that the team can focus on the work and not on egos. The next step is for the team to categorize the cards and flesh out the ideas that have the most potential. I recommend fleshing out an array of ideas from conventional & easy ideas to unconventional & challenging ones.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Work in FastCo
2019 is a year of artistic exploration for me. This past week or so I’ve been exploring a new (to me) material: leather. I’ve been learning how to manipulate it by making small projects. This exploration leaves me with a bunch of little artifacts. How sweet they are, flaws and all.
January 1st is a day that a lot of people choose to set new goals for themselves or recommit to old goals that they’ve gotten away from. Now, I’m not saying that you should set goals at the start of the new year. But if you do use this time to think about and set goals (I do), then there is a pair of terms that can help you stay on track: change agents and distractions.
CHANGE AGENTS. This is an exercise in answering the question, “Why now?” That is to say, once you know what your goal is, articulate why now is the time to do it. What has changed in your life to make now the right time? An example might be, “My kids are finally [X age] so I can put more energy into starting a business” OR “I spent the last five years learning about Y and now I’m ready to build on that knowledge and pursue Z goal.” You want to identify change agents so that you can say with confidence “Now is the time.” And when you fall off track, as we all do, you can articulate the change agent to remind yourself why you are well positioned to recommit.
DISTRACTIONS. These often come in the form of sunk costs. Sunk costs are things that happened in the past that we can’t do anything about. Yet they haunt us. They sound like: “I should have done this. Why didn’t I do that?” I really struggle with the distraction of sunk costs. But I find that having a name for them and knowing that they have their own agenda–to distract me from my goals–helps me see them more clearly and find the clarity to move on. Distractions will always be there. The trick here is to train yourself to not let them get in the driver’s seat. Keep ’em buckled up in the back.
Good luck with setting and working on goals if this is something that you do. If your goals feel a little scary, then you have set some good ones! Remind yourself of change agents and call distractions by their name to stay on track.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Check out https://seths.blog/ for some great reads on change management
Making decisions is hard. And even once we make them, having confidence in the decisions that we make can also be hard. Because many of the decisions that we make don’t give immediate feedback that tells us, “You made the right choice.”
It’s often the case with me and the people that I know that making a decision is a form of privilege. So rather than get crippled with doubt about a decision that I’m making or plan to make, I’m trying to channel faith and gratitude. I won’t ignore doubt when it creeps in. That can be dangerous. But I do want to make a connection between doubt and the privilege that allows me to have that doubt. It’s a package deal and a deal that I’m lucky to have.
FOMO – Fear of Missing Out