When life gives you a lemon…

Despite my general dislike of catchy, uplifting phrases, I do like the concept of making lemonade from lemons and find that this applies to almost anything in life.

My bike with the front and rear matching bags.

My bike with the front and rear matching bags.

One of the main reasons that I love making things in general and leatherwork in particular is that I can see the fruits of my labor very quickly, especially in comparison with my “day job” where most research projects are measured in months, years, and even decades. During a good afternoon in my leather shop, I can come away with a nice new object or design that will be useful and enjoyed by someone.

However, like every activity, there are many times when a “quick, routine” job gets really messed up, especially when I’m in a rush. The worst case is when I’m at the final finishing step and dying edges and then slip and get dye on the middle of the nice piece that I had just spent hours working on…

My latest misstep came in making a new design for a women’s purse. This is one of the hardest categories for me, because most things I make have a handmade and “rugged” (cowboy?) look to them. I also really like to use my designs so that I can figure out how well they work and where they can be improved. I have had many people comment to me that my small bike bags that fit behind a saddle would make a nice purse. I’ve actually made one that turned out well (and sold), but I was never thrilled with the way the handles attached and the balance of the bag. I also thought it could be slightly larger to carry more stuff, so I’ve been trying to develop a new design.

Front view of the bike bag.

Front view of the bike bag.

Well, the design came together beautifully. I came up with a nice solution to attaching a shoulder strap. I lined the bag to make it a bit nicer inside and to help it keep a form by gluing the pieces together in their correct shape (I make great use of custom wooden forms for most of my work). After about 8 hours of work and when I saw it all glued together, I loved the way it came together, but it started to look a bit “clunky”. I asked my wife for her opinion, and her initial potent silence told me everything I needed to know. Then I even asked a friend (who has one of my other purses) for her opinion, and she told me straight out that it was too fat. Her friend then mentioned that it would be a perfect front handlebar bag…

detail showing bag on bike

detail showing bag on bike

I love to make bike bags, because I love riding bikes. I am forever trying to devise new ways of attaching bags to bikes to make them stable, safe, simple, and functional. They should look good too! I suddenly realized that the design I had come up with for the strap of the purse could be fairly easily modified to attach the clunky purse to a bike to make a pretty slick bag. I love this design and am now riding with this for a few weeks to see how it works. I’m sure that I’ll have some design tweaks for the next one, but I think this one is a winner! Click here for some other pictures of this new bag.

I then realized that making things by hand not only is relaxing and enriching to life, but it also provides a constant challenge to make lemonade from lemons. It is rare that things go exactly as I planned in my shop, and when I can turn mistakes into nice outcomes, it adds another nice dimension to the work. It also serves as a model for almost everything in life, where very few things turn out just the way you might have expected…

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