I often wonder why I love spending time in my workshop, especially when I get particularly busy with my “day job”. These days I’m still in the very early stages of establishing my new lab at UGA, meeting new people, developing new collaborative projects, writing grants, developing a new class, etc. It has been very fun and rejuvenating, but it has been hard to carve time out of my schedule to spend quality time in my leather shop.
These are the moments when I try to understand the appeal of time in the shop. It isn’t “practical” in any real sense of the word. I am using techniques and tools that were developed a least a century ago and have been replaced for some time by objects mass produced and sold in stores like Walmart for less money than I pay for my raw materials. I cut everything by hand, sew almost everything by hand, rub edges until they shine and my arms ache, and cut wooden molds for each shape that I need to form. I sometimes mess up and even ruin pieces with a careless stitch or slipped knife cut.
The pieces shown here in my new Athens workshop were started about a year ago, with the hope of making a red simple shoulder bag for sale last Holiday season in the Artisans’ Guild Gallery in Gainesville FL. I got too busy and never got it done until yesterday…
In the process of restarting this job, I needed to rethink what I had planned and how I was going to put everything together. I do have and use patterns, but they change pretty much every time I make something. I like to tweak and refine ideas. The process of converting a hide of flat leather into a bag is a bit like making a real life 3D Sudoku puzzle (whatever that may be!). You need to think ahead about what order things need to be sewn, when to finish edges, how to attach parts without bulk but with strength, etc.
These steps in designing and building a bag or saddle or boot are similar to the planning that needs to take place in establishing large new collaborative projects, one of my favorite things to do in my “day job”. What do we want to accomplish? What groups do we need to make a new project work? Who needs to know about plans, when do they need to know, and how do we coordinate efforts? How do we effectively develop a plan? How do we obtain funding to make it work? How do we coordinate the execution and implementation? What do we do when we make mistakes?
These steps are not that different to what I need to think about when I’m trying to figure out how to attach a strap to a bag to make it strong, let the strap sit comfortably on your shoulder, and not have a big bulky piece of hardware pushing into your side.
So I guess that leather work for me is sometimes like a strange exercise for my mind where the objects that I make in the shop are in some ways like models about how to strategize and plan. And it is also just so much fun!