The Attraction of Opposites

 I’m always intrigued by things that are different–or even opposite–from what they first seem to be. The guy covered with tattoos and piercings sporting a purple Mohawk who turns out to be an astrophysicist; or the Secretary of State (George Schultz) who solved differential equations for his leisure fun; or discovering that the most mundane and common things are much more complicated than I ever imagined. 

Front of prototype handmade kangaroo iPad air case

Science is full of examples of “simple” things being much more complicated and interesting than you ever would have guessed, and this is perhaps the greatest attraction for me. Have you ever considered how complicated pure water really is? One cup of water contains roughly 8*10^24 (8 with 24 zeros after it) water molecules! They all interact and freeze exactly at 0 degrees C and become gas at 100 degrees C. The properties of water make life possible, make ice float, and make ice skating work. It is much more complicated and even more interesting than most people would ever imagine. Felix Franks has devoted his career and written a 7 volume set of books on water!

I’m going to start to make a transition in my blog from my love of craft in general and leatherwork in particular to my love of science and figuring out how things work. You might be thinking “how do these go together in one blog”, which I can only answer with the guy with the purple Mohawk searching for new planets. Stay tuned…

In the meanwhile, I wanted to describe a particular attraction of opposites: making custom–one at a time–leather products for mass produced technology. 


Back corner of new iPad air caI’m very slow at my craft. Part of the reason is that I’m often too busy with my science day job, and I don’t get as much time in my shop as I want. Another reason is that I almost always prefer doing something completely new rather than hammering out another version of something I already have figured out. 

I also like technology and have a hard time resisting the latest shiny i-thingy. I got a new iPad air recently, because I “sacrificed” by giving up my perfectly good iPad 2 to my mom after she broke her’s. My rationale was that I “needed” the latest gadget to design a fancy new case. I also “needed” it for all of my fancy science at work. It was a no-brainier: mom gets the old and Art gets the new!

Simple “slipper” case for iPhone 5

Then I got too busy to get into my shop for 2-3 weeks, but I did think a lot about design. It is actually tough: the new iPad air is smaller than the old ones, and the edges on the side of the screen are narrower than before. My old designs, which worked well on older iPads, would cover up the screen on the air. 

For a new starting point I took my design for a “slipper” iPhone 5s case, which I really love the more that I use it. This just has a strip of leather on the top and bottom. I also wanted to use thin and beautiful kangaroo leather on the new iPad case, which requires a different construction, similar to my wallets. After a day of trying it out, I’m very happy with this design, but I still might need to tweak the way mechanism to hold it in place, which needs to be easy to use, add little or no bulk, and hold the fancy device in place to protect it. 

I find it ironic that it has taken me about one month of part-time thought and planning followed by a day of work to get my first prototype case for the new iPad air. I was also slow to get the device (because mom took a long time to break her old iPad). I’d like to slightly refine the design to make it a bit easier to put the iPad in place, and that should take another month or so. I’ll be lucky to get enough time over the next few months to make 6 of these new cases, and by that time Apple will surely have come out with the newest iThingy. And the fancy iPad air case that is completely hand stitched and made one at a time will last for another decade or longer. I’m not sure why I like to do these as much as I do, but I think that part of it is the overlap between international high-tech with the opposite slow and hand made. Somehow they balance each other…


Back view of prototype case. All hand stitched with kangaroo leather

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.

4 thoughts

  1. What a remarkable juxtaposition, the handmade and lasting versus the mass-produced and “disposable.”
    I love that you are able to blend your passion for science and leatherwork, and I completely see how these two things work together.

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