It’s always hardest to start

Life has been a bit crazy lately. My fall semesters are always my busiest with various teaching responsibilities, and this year is no exception. On top of my normal academic life, I just got a very big and complicated new grant funded, which is a reason for great celebration but comes with a large dose of extra work, responsibility, and anxiety.

This grant is a huge team effort, which involves coordinating with around 15 other key people at 10 institutions. Our entire group is then going to coordinate with 6 other equally big centers in a national consortium.

Watch out what you ask for, because you might get it!

When I look back at the 2 years that we worked to get this big grant funded, I’m not even sure how it all came together. Where do you start? Which part out of the 367 pages of the final proposal comes first? How do you get all the team members to agree on anything? How do you put parts from everyone together? Clearly, the teamwork and cooperation was the most critical, but it took a long time before we even knew what this thing would look like.

Belt with nine-thong double braid (from Bruce Grant's Encyclopedia)
Belt with nine-thong double braid (from Bruce Grant’s Encyclopedia)

Whether it is a blog posting, a new exercise regime, learning a new language, a new project in the shop, or starting a new grant proposal, it is always hardest for me to start.

Needless to say, my leatherwork time has been seriously hampered these days. I’ve gone weeks without ever getting into the shop. Filling orders is even slower than usual, and I’m struggling to maintain an inventory at my wonderful coop, the Artisans’ Guild Gallery.

Detail of belt with nine-thong double braid (from Bruce Grant's Encyclopedia)
Detail of belt with nine-thong double braid (from Bruce Grant’s Encyclopedia)

With all the craziness, I’m finding it more important than ever to try to carve out even a little shop time. It really helps me reset my brain and to focus on how to make a real object. I often stumble upon solutions to problems in my academic life while in the shop.

This weekend I finished up a long-overdue order for a cell phone case. (one of my real concerns with technology is that I won’t finish my work before the phone or other i-thingy is obsolete…) Perhaps there is some deeper psychological thing going on now with complicated projects, but for whatever reason, I then got an urge to braid. I spent a few hours figuring out how to start a 9-thong double braid, from Bruce Grant’s fabulous Encyclopedia of Rawhide and Leather Braiding (my bible). It is a relatively simple braid, once I figured out how it works, and I made the entire belt in about the same amount of time that I spent trying to get the first part right.

Start of 20 strand braided belt.
Start of 20 strand braided belt.

It felt so nice to work on that belt, that I then decided to tackle the 21-thong version of the same braid. Grant refers to this in his introduction to the 6-thong version, but he stops the general instructions and pictures at 9. I figured that I had just gotten so good at 9 that the 21 would be a breeze!

After about 1-2 hours of getting tangled up and making analogies to the 9-thong double braid that didn’t quite work, I realized this is a bigger bite than I could handle right now. Fortunately, there are easier braids with even numbers of thongs that I can deal with, so I said goodbye to the odd strand and started fresh with 20. Then I ran out of time, so look for my new 20 strand belt to be finished in a few more weeks (months, years, …).

Author: edisonleatherworks

I'm a biochemistry professor and leatherworker who likes bicycles, travel, art, education, and music. Walking is my favorite form of transportation, and I regularly practice Tai Chi.

2 thoughts

  1. Good for you, Art, for keeping this side of your creative soul inspired and fed. I can only imagine that is must be extremely satisfying to be able to focus with such intensity in multiple directions, even if the transition is a challenge.

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