If you want to do things that others have already done, dot them exactly like others have achieved their success. If you want to accomplish things that nobody else ever has, you may have to go about it in ways that no one has ever done before. There are moments in which it will seem like insanity. But, there is a narrow line between insanity and genius, or so I hear. I won’t claim either until I either firmly accomplish my goals or fail miserably. So far, everything is going well, thank God.
In order to make top-quality luxury products, you need three things; skill, tools, and materials. I’m not necessarily writing this as a tutorial or a how-to, but for personal introspect. No, this is not advice. I’m way too early in the game to give any. Hopefully, when I get to the other end of the tunnel, I will write pretty much this same thing as advice, and add, “This is how I did it.”
The tools are anything that enable you to physically produce, or allow you to produce more efficiently. There is an overlap between tools and skills. I’ve accumulated a couple of sewing machines that allow me to stitch everything from fine silk and lace all the way up to saddle and strap type leather.
There are multiple cutting systems in my arsenal that include specialized scissors and shears, rotary wheel cutter and mat, knives, skivers, and other blades. I have made several tools, and modified others. I’ve gone from free-handing patterns onto lined yellow legal pads with a pencil to precision drawings using graph paper and a protractor, and transferring that to other media to translate it to leather. I have two vastly different rulers, two measuring tapes and a tape measure – each that get used on a regular basis. My work requires dummy guns precision cast from plastic and aluminum. It is safe to assume that this will be an ongoing process of accumulation, and weeding out of tools that proved to not be as useful as I originally thought.
All the best tools in the world are themselves useless without the skills to operate them properly and effectively. Anyone can gain skills with practice and experimentation. There are only two ways to gain skills quickly – formal training or purposeful practice and experimentation. I’ve taken the route of the latter. If I don’t like how something has turned out, I figure out what went wrong and how I must do it differently next time to get the results I want. My close friends and family have been impressed at how quickly I’ve picked up the necessary skills. My response, “I had to.” I don’t have the money or time to go through school, and I don’t have the time and luxury to learn this stuff on my own at a slow pace. Therefore, I’ve pushed myself to pick up the skills quickly. I’m not there yet, but what I lack in skills I can get with patience at this point.
Jonathan Swift coined an old saying that goes, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” This is to say that you can’t produce a luxurious product from crappy materials. This is one of my biggest irks about the direction American retail is going. It was not that long ago that Jenni could buy Italian-made, all-leather shoes at the discount store on any given day. Now it seems that all the shoes are mostly (if not all) made from cheap, artificial materials. It’s not just the shoe industry either. Clothing is poly/cotton blend (if you’re lucky), furniture is particle board with a veneer, sprinklers are plastic, watches are battery-operated and largely disposable. Home electronics are designed to be obsolete in a few years. I have an antique chrome toaster with bakelite handles on it that just keeps on going. Any modern toaster that I’ve owned burns out after only a couple of years. Where are the things that last? The luxurious things? They are being driven out by the flashy and cheap. I know that I’m not the only one that doesn’t want to participate in a disposable lifestyle. Hence, the materials that I like to work with. I have made practice runs with cheaper materials simply because I didn’t want to screw up the good stuff, but I don’t want to make a real finished product with anything less than great materials.
Recently, I was commissioned to make a purse by an internet friend. Like me, she wants something special, unique, and luxurious. We settled on a basic concept and a price, and I went to town gathering up the materials necessary. The bag is to be black, because black goes with everything. So, I will start with buttery-soft, top-grain, black leather.
This stuff is soft and strong. Many of the factory-made bags are made of mystery cloth or vinyl. Even when they are leather, often they are a finished split instead of top-grain hide. Usually a top-grain bag is going to be expensive when you can find one.
She asked if I could line the bag in the brightest magenta that I could get my hands on. I scoured the local fabric stores until I sourced this heavy, tightly-woven, imported silk.
Not only is this stuff beautiful, silk has a tensile strength greater than steel, and it is highly abrasion resistant. As delicate as it feels, it is incredibly rugged and durable. At sixty inches wide, a yard is way more silk than I need to put a lining in this bag. But, there are other things it will be used for in this project. I’ll get into that more in a later post.
She asked me if I could do some accent work on her bag in stingray. She was open to color options on it, but wanted something extra to give it a little extra spark. So, I sourced this ivory-colored, sanded and polished stingray pelt.
Here are the three materials together:
Of course, the whole thing will be stitched together in Kevlar thread where it doesn’t show, and bonded nylon where it does. I’ll finish the bag off with nickle findings and more pockets than you’ll find in a typical bag (including a couple of specialized pockets at her request). I’ll be working on this one next week. I have a feeling that it’s going to occupy most of my time over the course of the week to get everything just right. Of course, I’ll post more pictures when I’ve got a final product to show off!