I just moved so am in a bit of a transition period with things which means I’m away from the studio at the moment. Been workin at home at the desk, but it’s mostly design/drawing work these days so it’s not the same as stitching.
I also took a short term stitching gig with a local opera company to keep my garment making skills up to date. While it’s not artistic for me, it keeps my brain agile. Honestly after so much decision making, it’s nice to just do what i’m told sometimes.
I used to think that molding leather was sorcery. I kind of still do. But making a molded bag was the first and last thing I worked on at the school.
My teacher, Naomi, was really good at explaining everything. After a little bit of lecture on the different types of leather (veg-tan versus chrome tan and others) the first step was to wet the piece of leather (veg-tan for those of you keeping track) and start shaping it over the wood block mold.
These three pictures are from the first class, and oddly enough the molding only took about 20 minutes. Somehow in my head, I thought it would be a much more strenuous exercise. Little did I know at the time how many more hours there were to come. After molding and clamping the piece to the wood which is in the third picture, I got to design my bag.
If you know me well, a fox seems like a very logical leap. I love animals and the cuter the better, But something obvious like a cat or a dog isn’t gonna cut it for me. So of course, inspired by the hardware I decide to go for a fox with a nose piercing.
In week two, the bag came off the mold. It took a few days to completely dry which it needs to hold a shape. I also hand molded a pair of ears which I got to dry via heat gun, (scorching them a little in the process oops) but I’ll just owe it to a more natural look.
I chose to keep the main part of the bag natural (non-dyed), and dye the lid (the flap) of the bag a burnt orange color to create the fox face. Every time you dye a piece of leather you need to burnish it to seal and enhance the color and give it a shine; and let me tell you burnishing by hand is exercise. You can see the difference from the third to the fourth pictures the difference that burnishing makes. It’s really quite beautiful when you’re done, but yeah I totally worked up a sweat.
The color was a custom-mixed color with tan and red Eco-flo (waterbased dye) but I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
In week three, I was so busy handsewing I didn’t have time to take any pictures. But I can tell you that the lid and the body of the bag are put together with a double saddlestitch, which involves two needles and waxed thread, alternating the two sides of the stitch all the way through. I always wondered how stitches in leatherwork were always so straight and now I know why! There’s a special type of punch that punches one to several holes at a time with a tiny chisel point. So it’s not a hole, it’s literally just a thin slit that your needle pierces through, making it so much easier and so much more even.
I took these pictures before I put my stitches in but you can see that the hardware of the body needs to be put on before things are stitched together because it’s really hard to get inside afterward. The edge is also still pretty rough because that gets sanded down later. I also cut the lid into the nose shape, painted the nose and used a gouger to create the eyelashes, painting carefully in the groove it left.
In week four, I ended up getting COVID, so I ended up finishing this with Sara’s help after a period of isolation. Not the ideal way to end things but I’m pleased with how the bag turned out. You can see the stitching from week 3 here. The ears are placed through slits in the lid and riveted on the back and the strap (which I made back in week two) is attached to the bag by some swivel hooks.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I ended up burnishing the natural part of the bag as well on the outside of the body as well as the inside of the lid for a cleaner finish. The bag is rougher on the inside because of the material but the burnishing gives it a nice finish. I used what they call gum trag (short for gum tragacanth) and a wood slicker. There are several ways that one could finish the edge like using tokonole, or beeswax, but the gum trag leaves a nice shine that isn’t sticky in any way.
So that’s the process… finishing steps included sanding the layers to the same level, burnishing the cut and sanded edges of the bag, cleaning up the dye edge, and putting on the top hardware. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have on this process! I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
Sorry y’all, it’s been a while since I’ve written but I have stacks of exciting things to share.
I spent the month of April into May at a shoe residency at the Chicago School of Shoemaking. Chicago kept me so busy between exploring and classes that I ran out of energy to post…but the next few posts and photo dumps will document my process.
I had six different teachers (Ray, Naomi, Deborah, Sara, Peter, and Valerie) and they were all awesome and totally different. I took classes in an overlapping fashion, learning several new skills each day so it led to quick brain mush for me, but it was exhilarating to learn something new and to see where my sewing/draping/crafting skills align with leatherwork.
I managed to complete a pair of lasted shoes, a pair of boots, a molded bag, a bag pattern, as well as a few tooling and stamping samples and a few handle/strap samples. I got more confident with sewing leather on a machine and learned some hand sewing techniques too.
So thank you for the super culmination of my sabbatical–it was amazing.
After doing a couple projects that each took about a week to finish, I wanted to find a shorter form to work in. so I created some single leaf images inside some vintage embroidery hoops that I picked up at the local reuse store. A good friend immediately asked about purchasing it after i posted on facebook which was really exciting and then the following day another friend asked about purchasing the snake plant piece. both really exciting prospects!
I am creating more ginkgo leaves in nonvintage hoops, so drop me a line if you’d like to purchase one. I also received another commission to create some sashiko sampler squares.
I like keeping the denim theme going, but I’m learning more about how I can seal and work with canvas and other fabrics.
Sometimes “waiting for paint to dry” has another meaning, but at the moment it’s literally what I’m doing.
This is the base painting (the shadow) layer of the snake plant composition. It’s been painted, mod podged to keep it from fraying and it’s definitely tacky. I want so much to glue the other pieces to it but I have to practice patience.
I think that many people think I’m a pretty patient person, but I don’t feel it. I have a long fuse to anger but time is always my enemy.
These are the leaves, drying upside down. I modge podge them then curl them with my hands so they dry in a curved position. They also take on a nice waxy looking quality that I quite like.
In the meantime, besides writing about the current project, I’m planning the next few pieces, experimenting with petal shapes for a commission, and thinking about applying for a craft fair. But one step at a time…I’m putting all my horses ahead of the cart. Did I mention patience isn’t my strength? Maybe it’s really tolerance…
So I’m still here, and I’ve been creating all sorts of things in the past couple weeks: Everything from small theatre creations, to set designs, to my new Plant Portrait series inspired by the work that I did with sashiko.
Photos are the most effective way to share what I’ve been up to but I will say first I’ve learned a lot in the past couple weeks, for instance downloading the WordPress app makes things go faster, and trying to share on three different platforms is taxing. Talk to text is saving my fingers! However, making “portraits” of plants out of denim and embroidery thread is really fun and the inspiration is pretty endless
So here’s a photo dump of some of the things I’ve been doing in the studio. It’s a combo of process and final shots. The tree portrait is going into a gallery show at Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA starting next week.
I made it to the end of the 24 days! I just took 4 more hours and powered through, and it feels great. Now to figure out what to do with them.
And of course, here are pictures of the reverse…like showing dirty laundry haha.
some of the backs are quite beautiful, others are well…okay.
I will note that day 20 drove me bananas–trying to line up the “lanterns” was near impossible for me. Also looking back at day 4, I’d want a do-over… But I’m learning and it got better and better as I went.
Finally, here is a picture of my work from the Yukiwa zoom workshop with Kazue at Sashiko.LAB. It was fun learning how to draw the pattern and then stitch it. I used a linen dress front as my “canvas.” I was going to send the dress back to the thrift store, but now I think I might finish it and sell it.
Next project ahead is creating a 10×10 block for a local art gallery’s annual fundraiser. It will also be a fabric related piece.
The most challenging part of all of this is documentation. I’ve been doing the work, but remembering to put it here (and not just on Instagram, and hmmm now TikTok…eek) is hard.
Why bother to document? Well, the whole point of all of this is to write about my activities while on study leave (ie. pre-tenure sabbatical) so I remember what to write about later on. It’s also about having a place to share and discuss in a public venue to hold myself accountable, which is also hard to do these days.
So posts with pretty photos to come–I’ve made it to day 20 of Sashiko–so I’m so close. I even took a Zoom Sashiko class in another pattern called Yukiwa–very different than the geometries that I’ve been doing.
I’m back from Singapore and getting over the jet lag…a 13 hour time difference is brutal on the way home…if you have tips for getting over it faster, please share…
I am sharing Days 11-14 with you–11 and 12 were completed before I left. I think I put them on IG/Facebook but forgot to put them here!
13 and 14 are hot off the needle today. Hoping to get back into a daily or every other day practice soon. Now that I’m home, sticking to a routine is a little more simple, so wish my self-discipline luck!
10 exercises to go–I won’t lie, I’m getting a little bored of the fabric/thread combo, but I know it will be worth it in the end. Also, to mention if you’re curious how long each of these takes–I can get thru about 2 in 45 mins…Some are faster than others, and it gets easier as I go.
So I took a few days off to get some other things done, and while I wait for response emails and replies, I’m stitching like crazy. It is procrastinating other things if I’m being wildly productive in another realm?
Sharing exercises 7-10!
These are all based on the Kome Sashi (rice stitch). Makes sense to me since the short stitches resemble grains of rice. I quite enjoyed these, until I got to variation 10, which made me pause. The alternating, diagonal patterns all made sense to me since that’s been the rhythm up until now. Putting them back into an even grid was harder than I thought it would be. You can see my hesitation in the stitch length (lower right pic above.) It was like I couldn’t decide where the “invisible line” began, even with the grid. Something to work on for a bit since I know day 11 is on the same vertical grid.
I think when I get home these will get quilted together or something. I hope I have enough fabric to do all of them… 14 to go!