Monday, December 28, 2015

A Guide to Making a Custom Scripture Case

In April 2013 my congregation held a fundraiser to help offset the cost of religious summer camp for the youth. I put up for auction a custom scripture case. The family who won the auction specified that there was no rush - as long as they got it before their oldest son, Sam, graduated high school (he was a freshman, then) that would be good enough. I took them at their word and took my time.

Below is rough walk-through of my process of creating the case. Although I make simple scripture cases in which the books fit snugly, I designed this to be bigger since I suspect that in the next couple decades most reading will be done on digital devices, and I still wanted Sam to be able to use this - so it's designed as a scripture/gadget/possibles case.

The plans were drawn up in January 2014, but the physical work all happened in November and December of 2015. I hope this helps the budding creators out there. If experienced leather workers wish to offer suggestions, I'm all ears!

Step 1: I drew up a plan of how I wanted the final product to look, including an exploded diagram of the various parts I'd need to make. NB: I worked up some dimensions to help guide the process.

Step 2: I rough cut all the parts I'd need, trying to get them as close to the final dimensions as I could, while also giving myself extra material in case I needed it. I used a ruled square to measure and score the surface of the leather, then I used a cutting board and a utility knife to make the cuts.

Step 3: After the rough pieces were all cut out, I broke out the ruler (again) and re-measured precisely where the cuts had to be so all the pieces would fit together. As you can see from the photo, below, I also made templates for the more ticklish seams. In this particular photo, the template shows where I needed to remove enough material that the thick leather would fold nicely, but still provide enough clearance to fit on top of its lower counterpart (confusing, I know - it makes more sense if you look at the photos in step 9).

Step 4: I used wing dividers and diamond punches to mark out where I'd be stitching (sorry, no pictures on this one, but you can see the punches and stitching marks on the photo for step 5). I also marked and punched out the holes for the rivets.

Step 5: After all the parts were cut, triple measured, & punched, I treated everything with neatsfoot oil, then dyed the exterior parts. I wanted to keep the interior a lighter shade to make it easier to find things. After buffing the dyed parts, I treated all the leather with a conditioner. Here all the parts are assembled and ready to be stitched together. NB: all these parts were shown in the sketch-up plan.

Step 6: Start sewing. This is far and away the most time consuming task, since I stitch entirely by hand. It always takes me a while deciding the on the best order to piece things together when there are multiple layers to wrestle with - in this piece the biggest seam contained four separate layers. In cases with interior pockets, it's often best to sew them on first - at least the parts of them that can be sewn independently. So, for this case, since I wouldn't be able to rivet the top after making the case three-dimentional, I started by riveting the top handle and the front buckle. After that the bottom of the interior back pocket was stitched to the main body, then the left side (this is the seam with four layers: main body + side of back pocket + back of side loop + gusset). As predicted, this was the most difficult part, since the back pocket's side angles were cut at an obtuse angle (when flat) so that when they were sewn vertically the pocket would lie open (look at the photos below this one). Finally, the opposite side gusset was sewn to the pocket and back.

Step 7: With the side gussets anchored to the back of the main piece, all that was left was to finish stitching the bottom and front (left and right), then stitch up the top corners so they would overlap the bottom of the case and make it more weather-proof. It's all done one stitch at a time.

Step 8: Check for obvious errors and make sure everything will fit.

Step 9: Burnish the edges, and put it under the tree (I had Sam's mom do this last step). It's quite a journey from blank hide to final object, but it is so fulfilling to know I've made something that will be used for years to come. Here is the finished case:

Saturday, August 02, 2014

A Brief Case for a Briefcase

Nearly 5 years ago Audi broke the foot rest on our stroller and, rather than spend $40 on shipping (+parts & labor), I spent $15 on leather strap and dye at my local leather supply store, and about a buck for some hardware at a home improvement store. I'm a cheap-skate grad-student with plans to graduate (ha!), someday, so I'd rather save the dough and fix it myself. But, of course, that left a whole lot of left-over dye. I went back to the leather shop and bought a wallet kit. I've made leatherwork into a new hobby. I've made belts, bags, pouches, and even a custom-formed phone case. In the beginning I justified my obsession by saying it was preparation for making falconry equipment (yeah, that'll win hearts and minds), but now I do it for its own sake.

I find that, throughout my life, I've chosen the difficult and long-term kinds of activities and projects (think PhD). Which is not to say that I don't take satisfaction from life's simple pleasures - I do, in abundance. I am simply drawn to the in-depth studies - the lifetime pursuits. As to why this is, my first thought is that I've always liked tackling problems that are complicated and that take many steps to complete, but that first thought is horrific lie. I hate those. Although I might find them deeply fulfilling, they nearly always paralyze me with their dark sense of overwhelm. This is a topic for another post on another day.

What is beyond doubt is that I am immensely proud of myself for finishing one of these projects. I don't necessarily like running, but I love having run. I don't revel in writing, but I love having written - it makes re-writing just a tiny bit less onerous.

Leatherwork seems to be one of the exceptions to my usual pattern. I like all aspects of it, even ones that, transposed to a different craft (think PhD) I would dread. From coming up with an idea, through the design & mock-up phase, to the tedium of hand sewing, I love it all. I love the feel. I love the smell - especially after I treat the hide. When I work with leather, I get a feeling of connection with the earth, its life, and life-cycles that's not as strong when I buy a finished product. Plus, making my own stuff means that I get to customize as much as I want. And I get to work with my hands - to hand-make an actual, physical object that can actually be used by anyone. So, basically the exact opposite of what I need to do to graduate (ha!). In addition, I swear I save money by making my own gear. No, really! (Pay no attention to Pulcheria who counters that "save" is a relative term, since I've got a shop's-worth of new tools and dormant rolls of leather ...but I digress.)

One of my bargain-finds from a couple years back was a "double shoulder" of heavy vegetable tanned leather ($40!) that I decided I would one day make into a bag, similar to a Saddleback Briefcase. Why not just buy one? Cheap-skate grad-student.

As you can see, it wasn't much to look at. But, I made a pattern & I figured I'd spend a few minutes a week on it and should have it ready as a graduation (ha!) present a few years from then. I sketched it all out on the hide, cut it all up, & the pieces rested in peace for over a year, while I slaved away with the end-goal of graduating (ha!), someday.

But, when the zipper on my daily carry school bag started going bad last year, the original timeline was scrapped, and I started working on it in earnest. I figure it took around 50-60 hours of actual work (not counting dye-drying, etc) and the full bill was around $90 (leather, tools, hardware - tools & dye can be re-used), and I'm pleased with the result:

It's traveled across the country and across the Atlantic and looks even better than these photos show now that it's starting to break in a little bit. Hopefully they'll let me use it as part of my dissertation defense. After all, I really do need to graduate (ha!). Someday.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Quick Note on the Restoration

A while ago I read a book for a class on the crusades that has stuck with me. This is somewhat noteworthy, since I read two books a week (or just one if it's not in English) for that class, so ideas tend to dissolve fairly quickly after the review is written and turned in. A book on Baldwin IV, the "leper" King of Jerusalem, however, struck me in a very unanticipated way. (I'm not advocating going out and buying the book, or even reading it, I'm just presenting a single thought provoked by it.)

Baldwin lived less than 25 years, and reigned for even fewer, but his bravery in the face of inevitability is tragic and inspiring. Just one example of this: as the leprosy progressed he lost sensitivity and mobility in his extremities, so he learned to ride a horse (in full armor) using only his knees to grip, steer, and otherwise direct his horse - not only that but if the primary sources can be believed, he was one of the best horsemen in the kingdom.

There is one quote that particularly stands out, and it is this that has haunted me, since. Writing to the king of France, he stated, "If I could be cured of the disease of Naaman, I would wash seven times in Jordan, but I have found in the present age no Elisha who can heal me."

Even writing this now, it is a powerful statement of yearning and loss that drives its message deep into my callused soul.

How often to I take my life and blessings for granted? Too many to count - in fact, it's probably nearly constant. I'm glad I get (painfully) reminded, on occasion.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Johnson's Shut-Ins

The term "shut-ins" is an Ozark noun used to describe the geological formation caused when a river's path cuts through large-scale bedrock. The rock, meanwhile, splits the river into multiple stream-beds, surrenders itself to erosion, and forms hoodoo-like spires, potholes, slides, plunge pools, etc. As Pulcheria described it: "it's kind of like Goblin Valley, but with running water." Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park is one of Missouri's finest locales. We camped there a couple days ago, after the Labor Day crowds had abated, and had a fantastic time. Anyone wishing to book a trip with us may contact Pulcheria. We'll love to share it.

Below: An all-too-typical Missouri trail.
Below: A classic Missouri destination.

Above: My souvenir - I bet you can't tell how far I can reach down my back/shoulders when applying my own sun-screen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

You'll Want to Sprint to the Finish

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Born to Run is quite possibly the best new book I've read in over a year. McDougall is an engaging writer with a sharp sense of humor. As the author seeks out answers to what makes injury-free running, he discovers unbelievable - though perfectly real - cultures where running (not walking or sitting) is the norm. The individual characters in his book jump off the pages in full 3D - appropriate, though rare, in a book about running. The bottom line of the book: 1) humans evolved/were designed to run; 2) running makes us better, more compassionate people. The story and storytelling are educational, hilarious, heartbreaking and consummately inspirational. Those who do not run will want to start. Those who do will find themselves questioning the mentally self-imposed limitations we put on ourselves, both in running and in all aspects of our lives. Highly recommended.

[The book contains a tiny bit of non-family-friendly-language and adult content which may make a young audience uncomfortable. Read it first before deciding to whom to recommend it.:]

Friday, February 26, 2010

Vanity (Eccl 1:2)

So, being somewhat vain, I googled myself. Turns out I'm a lawyer, an actor, a singer, and several criminals.

To be honest, this is nothing new. I've done it a few times before, with similar results.

It also turns out, though, that the real me is starting to show up in all the right places for my career. If you google "[my name] crusades saint louis university," then suddenly a few conference papers I've delivered (and will soon deliver) come to light. Yes, I'm vain: no, there's no real justification for my overt vanity... yet. Still, it makes me smile. :)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Monarchy and Dynastic Inheritance

A few months ago (back in the high days of summer) Beemer was playing in the back yard as I grilled some burgers. Sometime during the process where raw ground cow metamorphoses into caramelized juicy goodness, Beemer shouted "Daddy, Daddy! I found a cocoon!" I was busy flipping the meat, or something, and so to distract her/postpone any direct involvement I said, "Cool. What kind of cocoon is it?" There was a pause of maybe 15 seconds, then she declared, "It's a Monarch!" "How do you know that?" Without missing a beat she came back with, "Because it's green. With gold dots. And there's orange and black wings inside it."

I had been telling her a few weeks prior about how her grandma (my mother) and I used to collect a few monarch caterpillars, feed them and raise them into chrysalides (chrysalises, if you prefer), hatch them and release them. I was impressed with her memory. I was more impressed, though, when I finished grilling and found this:

So, we continued the dynastic tradition (thanks again, mom) and brought it inside. This was the result.

We released it later that day. Tender mercies, indeed.