Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bag Version 2.0

So last year I made this bag:
leather and silk pile bag

Silk knotted pile pocket, suede, about 11" x 12". I like it a lot. I had to change out a few things, fix the handle attachment, trim the seams closer, but I've carried it, it holds things, I like the image on the front. It's a bit big, but I generally err on the side of "maybe I'll use this as a carry-on" so it would have to hold passport and boarding documents, phone, iPad, headphones, spindle tube, knitting, shawl/scarf, wallet, toothbrush and a few small essentials.

I sewed it with the skills I had at the time, on this:
sewing machine 001

Using the brain I had at the time, I thought: if I were to sew something, I'd need a sewing machine. If I were to sew leather, I'd need a big ol' honkin' powerful industrial sewing machine. So I used this. It was less than optimum, mostly operator error: I am not a big fan of loud fast machines, and this intimidated me. Enough so that I never really learned ho to use it well.

I gave the machine to a friend who knows how to use old sewing machines. First thing: she oiled it, and said it worked much better (duh, me).

Anyway! We move on to leather hand stitching lessons, and since then, I have been practicing.

Also last year, Kristy, at Opulent Fibers, gave me some leather. I have been plotting how to use that leather, or rather which bag, made how and with what textile attachment, because the leather was always going to be a bag.

I went back to last year's bag (above) and worked on v.2.0, entirely hand stitched, and not perfect, yet, mind you, but closer!
opulent leather FB

I originally planned to use the smooth side of the leather, but the suede side looked so good with the silk pile that it won. Marking stitch lines on fuzzy suede was a new one for me, so, mainly, I had to wing it, or find another way to mark the lines than with the tools I have learned to use. There are some decidedly crooked stitching lines, but once you poke that hole in leather, it stays a hole. No matter, it's my bag.

I have learned how to "make zippers", as in buy a length of zipper cloth, cut to size, add hardware and remove extra teeth. It's a bit challenging, but the zippers are better. The zippers in the bag at the top of the page are purchased from a sewing supply, and likely not strong enough to last for long. That problem? solved now.

The front pocket is again silk knotted pile:
opulent leather detail

I took apart this older bag to use this panel:
silk bag front

I carried this for about 8 years, replacing the worn out cardwoven handle once, and when the second handle started to wear out, I retired the bag and made another to carry. I like the panel though, so I rescued it from a box in the closet, and used it for the pocket here.

This new v.2.0 bag is not perfect, but it is very good! I am still learning, my stitching is getting better. I need to make a few specialized tools if I am going to make more bags: the gyrations and clamping and light-rearranging, and tool managing I had to do while stitching parts of this bag were humorous, when not actually painful.

I have stab marks and cuts all over my fingers: this leather stuff is not for the faint of heart. My Dad, who was a wood worker and a smoker, often had burn marks on wood projects where he'd put down a cigarette. He called them his "trademark". I have blood marks. Very little sweat though, and no tears! at least this time.

Now, to carry it, the true test. Is the handle the right length? Is the size right? Does it hold everything I need it to and can I get to stuff easily? It's lined with a light colored leather, for easier retrieval. We'll see during beta testing. Surely, it will not be The Last Bag, though. This is way too fun.

Last, keeping on topic, so to speak, we close with:
bag and Jackson, Carbondale

Duffel, filled, in use, in situ, with a small boy added for scale :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Proof of Concept

This past weekend, I attended the Conference of Northern California Handweavers (CNCH), held every year in some form or another. This year was a "retreat" format, which meant a gathering, classes, no galleries of work, and usually no vendors. We did have a vendor, Village Spinning and Weaving, whom I managed to support! But mostly, it was all about the classes.

At Asilomar! The beach! A good-weather weekend at the beach! who could resist? We've had CNCH at Asilomar before, I always enjoy my time there. The food is excellent, the rooms generally have a sea view and a fireplace, so we listen to the sound of the waves all night long. I can drive, although it's about 4 hours, so a bit of a trek for me.

Coptic band

This year, I took a class in tablet (card) weaving from John Mullarkey. It was wonderful in many ways, not the least of which is that John himself is delightful, patient and kind, a good teacher, and full full full of information. His presentation, and documentation is superb: even I could understand it!

We did two bands, Egyptian Diagonals (top), and Coptic Diamonds (bottom):

egyptian duo3

I'd never done Coptic Diamonds and had great fun with it. You can see towards the end (left side in the photo) some of the designs I began to weave "off reservation" so to speak. It is a technique that lends itself easily to variation, designing, if you will, although it is so organic that I cannot believe everything I could "design" has not been done before. The very last motif, bottom band left, was an "S", which worked, indeed, but would be better centered with another row of cards.

So I came home and tried it out:

egyptian duo2

White background with black lines, this time, two "S" motifs, flipping and rotating them. Proof of concept! And...I was able to do it at home, with my tools and in my studio, alone. When I learn something new, I try to repeat it at home, under my conditions, without anyone to ask for help. It's the only way I know I will actually learn the technique....rather than relying on someone else to help me out of a tough spot.

White background and black lines: this just cries out for color! I will weave off the band (this being the sample) with the proper weft (leftover black used here, and you can see it peeking out occasionally). Then...paint? dye? colored pens? Such possibilities!

I do a lot of card weaving. Basic stuff, I know lots of things to do....but John understands what is going on, and can help us begin to understand it too. Card weaving is a complex weave structure, with convoluted thread paths not easily traced or unwoven! should a mistake be made. If you have a chance, take a class from him! You will learn a lot. And get to weave for a weekend, uninterrupted. Perhaps also surrounded by clean air, the beach, good friends, good food...What could be better?!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015



A leather duffel. This is the bag I have been working on for several-many weeks! almost a year, in fact, from conception, purchasing supplies, learning how to use the new tools and supplies, until completion. My son wanted a duffel bag, not the zipper-on-the-top kind, but the one-columnar top-opening kind, still used in the military. I started researching duffel bags, hardware, sizes, materials.

It's been a journey, learning new skills, buying new tools, and learning how to use those tools.

It's been a journey fraught with missteps, false steps, much planning and a certain fear of making (expensive) mistakes. I bought leather that was too thin, leather than was too thick, and Goldilocks! finally some that was just right.

I bought tools. I bought them thoughtfully, with much research, one at a time, with mixed results. I bought a highly recommended awl, for example, and it's a very nice awl...but it's too big for my hands. I bought another awl at a leather show where, in person, I could handle them, and figure out which one is the best for me. Bingo: perfect awl for me! I do now have leather tools plural, for there is a small handful that are the basics needed for leatherwork.


I started with photos of military duffel bags in this style. Have you ever googled "duffle bag" to find out just how many bags are named as such? I'll wait here while you do.

See? Maddening. Top zips, side zips, buckle closures, drawstring closures...almost everything *but* this style. I researched hardware. I bought various grommets and hooks and d-rings, all in multiples of course, and learned to attach them.

I watched duffel bags come off baggage carousels, and tried to sidle up closely enough to them and their owners (usually uniformed military personnel) to get a glimpse of the closures, a look at the handles, an idea of the construction. One really really really does not want to be thought to be stalking military personnel at the airport, so this plan was not the most successful. They were usually really Big People too; and these days, one does not stare too long at someone else's luggage. I was definitely too shy to tap them on the shoulder and ask to see their bags. Did I mention they were Big People?

I bought a canvas duffel at our local surplus store, and made a mock up for a friend, using my sewing machine. That's when I started to worry. I'd traded for an industrial sewing machine to sew these leather bags (this is not meant to be the last), would it work? Would it be suitable? Sure it was a sturdy machine and could stitch through thick layers, but some of these seams cannot be sewn easily on a sewing machine.

I found a saddle maker, and took a class in stitching leather by hand. I practiced on smaller bags.


I'm happy with the result! I love the piped seams, and got better and better at stitching, and lo and behold, I can hand sew through 9 layers (yes! Nine!) of leather. In tight corners. In places where no machine will reach.

The bag is not perfect. I did not solve all the hardware issues, and if ever I can find the hardware I need, I may be able to fix this bag, or make a better one. But I am very happy with it. It is now out in the world, and I am curious how it will hold up to use. I'm a bit worried, because I have never done this before. Not quite like this, not quite in this way. But I know, if there are problems, that I can fix them! Big Sigh of Relief!

Oh! the joy of the journey! The fun of the research, the trying, the mulling and the trying again! Sampling, and thinking and asking for help and finding it out there. Memories: a friend rifling through her leather stash, handing over a pile of it, making sure that I got enough to sew up a bag. 3 somewhat older weaver-ladies attending a leather show at an Indian Casino in Prescott Arizona, among the cowboys and Indians, bikers and buckskin-clad re-enactors, leather clothing makers and ... harness makers.. for people, for want of a more delicate way to phrase it....we were clearly out of place! But it was there I found my perfect awl.

What's next? I've started the next bag. I have at least four more ideas/plans and parts for bags. I don't really need more bags, but why stop now? I'm finally getting to the fun part!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Tired Fingers

I have been doing a dance of making, creating without a map, struggling to learn and become proficient at my new-found skill in leather stitching, struggling to make the reality match the imagination. I've been working every day on a project that is big and uncharted. With every step, I had to imagine the whole: should I do this first, or do I have to attach that before I can sew this and this together?

It has been a 3-dimensional puzzle, and not without a few missteps.

But I pressed on. Haha! there is no pressing leather: there is hammering! Actually taking a hammer to the seams and stitching. There is also glue! Very smelly and causing some light-headedness. As I apply glue and wait for it to dry, I notice very little odor. But woe to the person who leaves and walks back into the studio: you hit the fumes like a wall. I need better ventilation: I have a fan, and some window openings, but I might need a ceiling fan to vent the fumes out of the top. The things that pop up, when you start something new...

I have done little else, these last few weeks. Suffice it to say, I have been diligent. So much so that my fingers ache. They are building muscle strength, they are learning new muscle memory, and they are victims of stabbings and poundings with needle and hammer.

When I take a break, I spin:

Silk and cotton

My fingers "run home to mama", using their already learned skills.

Back soon. With pictures!