When I was a graduate student in Madison, WI, my favorite time of the day was my morning walk along the lake into the lab. It took about 30 min, and even though I was very busy with my research and was trying to be a good dad and husband, it was time well spent. I’m not really sure what got me doing this, but I grew to love walking during this time of my life.

Start by forming the leather over a wooden form
Start by forming the leather over a wooden form

I didn’t have an agenda or specific goal, but somehow I always developed a plan for the day during my walk in the morning. With 2 young kids at home, I learned how to be efficient with my time, and the real key to that efficiency was my morning walks. When I got into work, I had a mental map of everything I needed to do and in what order they needed to get done. If an experiment took 2 hours to setup and 5 hours to run, I would need to start it by about 10 am so that I could be home in time for dinner and to read stories to the girls. If I needed to start a calculation that would take 3-4 hours (computers were a lot slower those days!), I’d want to start that by 9 so that I could analyze the results when my experiment was running in the afternoon. I’d almost always start a bigger calculation or longer experiment at the end of the day so that it could work overnight. And so on…

front piece, phone, form, and dividers (one of my favorite tools!)
front piece, phone, form, and dividers (one of my favorite tools!)

My graduate student years were very productive and very satisfying. And yes, I’m still married and have a great relationship with my kids over 25 years later. I know that I got lucky, but I also attribute some of this to my walks.

The astute reader will also have realized that if I walk in, I need to walk home too, and that is another 30 min. That second walk was different. It was decompression and problem solving. The things that didn’t work as expected during the day often got sorted out in my evening walk. I also got a bit of space and time from the grind and often disappointment of the day, and I could play with my kids without being overly distracted with the things that weren’t working.

I’ve been too busy lately and have hardly spent any time in my shop (or writing posts!). Last weekend was the first in about 2 months that I’ve even been able to set foot in there. I’ve been working to complete an order for a phone case from a VERY PATIENT guy who sent me his (backup) cell phone months ago. During the slow-motion completion of this project, I became aware of one of the things I like most about leather work: it takes planning to get the steps right. I know this sounds obvious, but it is very useful for everything in life, and I think it is what made my mind receptive to my morning walks. Step 1 is to make a wooden form that is the right size. Then when the form is right, soaking wet leather is formed over the form and dried in place with a heavy bag filled with bird shot. Like many things in life, this step can’t be rushed, because if the leather isn’t dry for the next step (a few days), it doesn’t glue well.

Hand sewing the case
Hand sewing the case

Then, there are several next steps: dye the leather if needed, finish edges that will be impossible to finish after sewing, form the loop that holds the case shut and sew it into place, make belt loops, etc. If these are rushed, lots of stupid things can happen that will all ruin the project. Then the back is glued into place after it is dyed and loops are attached. Then the project needs to be sewn together and finished.

In normal times, this whole process would take a few days, including the time for forming the leather over the wooden mold. This time, it took me over 3 months! This is a good sign that things are a bit crazy! I’m happy with the outcome of the case, and I’ve even gotten a bit of needed relaxation in my life.

I’ll be starting my new job in August of this year. It will be fun and exciting and probably a bit crazy for a while. We bought a house that is a 20 min walk from work, and the walk even passes near a lake. Between the walk and my new shop that I’m setting up in our basement, I may just be able to plan enough to get some useful things accomplished.

Finished phone case!
Finished phone case!

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. So true Art, I do a lot of planning and it is always time well spent. Unless you know what tasks are required to achieve your goal, what order they should be accomplished in, and exactly when you will perform those tasks, it is very hard to achieve any goals! I’m glad your new life will afford you time to plan and reflect.

    1. Caroline, try to keep it up! I find that the busier I get, the worse I get at real planning. There are so many demands on daily life now that it becomes much less planned and more reactionary. One of my goals with the move is to try to reset that again!

  2. This sounds so much like my husband! He walks to Emory every morning (where he’s an Asst Prof). I hope y’all get to meet in the near future – I’m convinced you two knew each other in a previous life! 🙂

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