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“I wish I had his job. He’s living my dream.”

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Practice pieces. Carving and stamping flowers, vines and leaves.

An old friend of mine said that to my wife a few years ago.  He was a lawyer, and had been for many years.  He passed away a while back, far too young, and I was just thinking about him, and what he’d said to her about this “job” of mine.

I love what I do.  Most of the time.  I suppose most folks that have chased a dream, do.  I worked in the legal field for many years, but for me, it was like trying to nail Jello to a tree.  Constant stress, and no sense of worthy accomplishment.  Even good outcomes were intangible, and rarely, if ever, good for both sides.  I don’t miss it.

With this gig, it’s different.  It’s not all wonder and awe–it has its moments.  But, even when it’s bad, it’s awful damn good.

 

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If we make it through December…

I love brand-new months and December is my favorite of the twelve.

For me, a new month is a new opportunity, like a new page in my sketchbook, a clean start, or a new blog post.  This isn’t a great blog post–not even good–but if you spend any time around here, you know not to expect those.  Things around here are in their normal state of crazy, leather-related making of the coolest products I can come up with, goofing off with customers by email, and burning up pencil lead drawing and sketching on whatever’s lying around.

I was born in the early 60’s in Southern California.  Before California evolved into whatever the hell it is now.  Growing up, my memories are of beautiful country, farmland, Vietnam, Walter Cronkite, the awesome Pacific Ocean, Charley Pride, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

December always conjures this classic from a guy I consider an American treasure.  The late Merle Haggard.  Happy December–I hope it’s your best ever.

 

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Sewing machines, stitchers, profanity & thoughts of violence.

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DISCLAIMER:  The following article contains profanity.  Cuss words.  Depending on your level of tolerance, you may or may not be offended.  No discussion of leather machinery, particularly leather stitching machines, can be had without cussing.  No honest discussions, at least.  Sincere apology, in advance.   

If you’re in the leather business, or leaning that way, sooner or later you’ll deal with what I’d call the nightmare that shits on the dream.  It’s all fun and games until you get your first leather sewing machine, or “stitcher.”  I say your first because there can never be just one.

You will get one.  You’ll begin to covet, to justify, to shop around.  You’ll convince yourself that your work will improve, become more consistent, and a hundred times more efficient.  The math will prove, again and again, that a powered leather-stitching behemoth is an absolute necessity.  For my part, I would agree.

Over a decade ago, I had to have one.  The big, grey Asian-import beast arrived from China by way of California on an 18-wheeler that was unable to navigate the two-rut sand trail that I live on.  A friend with a hardware store and a forklift lifted the pallet-strapped monster into the back of my pickup truck, and I brought the 750-pound monster home.

I was excited.  My wife, not so much.  They say “ignorance is bliss,” and when it’s applied to heavy leather stitching machines, they’re not far off.  I think that wives have a sixth sense about stupid shit their husbands do/buy/collect.

This being Florida, the weather was perfect for my new arrival.  Around 150-degrees Fahrenheit, and sauna-level humidity with intense, roasting fire ants with a magnifying glass, sunshine.  “Sunshine.”  It looks like such a happy word.  It’s not.

Long story short, I got the beast off the pallet, all assembled, plugged in, and tested.  She worked perfectly.  Beautiful, snug, six stitches per inch through over ¼ inch of Hermann Oak’s finest veg-tan leather.  I was soaked with sweat, dehydrated, having visions and passing out, but I was ecstatic.  This was the most beautiful, grey hunk of cast iron I’d ever seen.  So what if she dripped oil like an old Harley, and kinda stunk a little.

In my little corner of the leather world there are four of these babies.  Three that make my life a living hell, and one that gathers cobwebs in my barn.

My favorite one, is the one in the barn.  It’s also the only one made in America, but that was many, many years ago, and we don’t do that anymore.  Make sewing machines, that is.  I digress.

Holsters and belts are a large part of what I do.  I use these oil-soaked, needle-bending, unpredictable machines for the stitching on these products.  In general, the stitcher isn’t called on to do anything until all the high-stress, creative, fine work is done.  The stamping, the floral carving, the creasing, the dyeing.  In other words, when you reach the point of maximum time and money invested in an item, it’s time to sew it.  Hours, usually, have been spent getting everything as perfect as you can.  Hours…

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Now it’s time to entrust your creative treasure to the beast.  You’ve cleaned it, oiled it, threaded it carefully, checked the bobbin—twice.  Checked the bobbin again, and checked the needle…again.  You’ve talked to it gently, encouragingly.  You have looked this soulless chunk of cast iron evil over for any potential problem.  Prayed, cursed that you had to go through all this preparation, then prayed some more and begged forgiveness for the earlier cursing and frustration.

But wait, there’s another step.  Scrap leather—test pieces.  Always run a few test pieces.  Never just turn the machine on and sew something.  Never.

Your test pieces will be perfect.  99.999% of the time.  Perfect.  Back and front.  Ahhh, life is good.  The miracle of the lockstitch.  Chinese engineering.  That’s why they’re called test pieces.  Because they will be perfect.  Not just damn good…PERFECT.

Now for the product—the holster, the belt, whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  Hold your breath (even if it takes 20-minutes for this stitch job).  Breathing can piss off the stitcher gods.  Set the needle, decide you don’t want the bulk of a backstitch, and touch the foot pedal.  Walk that baby, slow.  Ignore the fraying of the thread…one stitch and you can fix that at the end—just don’t…please don’t let it break.  Ahhh…son of a b—no, it’s okay.  Three stitches down, backside should be good, let go of the thread, pause a second and steal a breath to make the spots and faintness go away.  Wipe your sweaty, machine oil-drenched palms on your pants.  Try not to hyperventilate, and start again.  Don’t look ahead of your stitch line, take it slow, don’t worry about the cramp in your leg.  Focus.  Ignore the pain.  Be thankful there’s no blood—yet.

Done!  Finally!  Still conscious!  It doesn’t look that bad.  It doesn’t look that great, either.  Cut the threads—leave enough to pull them up tight.  Evaluate, critique.  Take a half-hour to get your respiration back to normal.  Turn the machine off, and give it a little pat.  Pray, giving thanks, and swearing not to cuss and throw tantrums in the future.

Take a little break.  Some time to reflect on why you bought a big leather stitcher in the first place.  Not to mention the two others your dumb ass ordered to keep the first one company.  Contemplate therapy, then convince yourself that therapy is for sissies.  You got this.

Make more stuff.  And, repeat.

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Life around here. Simple as I can make it.

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We’re finally seeing the weather cool off a bit, and the humidity coming down.  One of my two favorite times of year.  Spring, when everything comes back to life would be the other.

Taking a break from the leather shop to get outside and make a little sawdust.

Mighty good for the soul.

More isn’t always better, Linus.  Sometimes it’s just more.”  –Sabrina, 1995.