Thursday, February 26, 2015

First Knife Sheath and Tooling

This is my first knife sheath and my first piece of tooled leather that I ever made!  I made it about four years ago, and I've learned a lot since then.

The design was made to mimic the wolf and trees pattern from the knife itself.

The tooling was done with the super-quick cheating method of wetting the leather (simply spritzing the surface with a little water to dampen it), which is why the tooling is so shallow. My notes from my SCA Leather Tooling Basics class go over more details on how to tool leather, if you're curious.

Here's an example of how much deeper the tooling can get when the leather is properly soaked beforehand.  This is an in-progress photo of the leather coronets I made for the Barony of Cynnabar.

Another way that I have improved since making this knife sheath is in how I fit the leather to the knife.  This first sheath was made to just have stitching that followed the edge of the knife, and then the knife was held in place with the tie around the handle.  Since then, I have learned how to wet-form leather so that it molds exactly to the item it's encasing, such as with the custom knife sheath below.

Wet-forming fits the leather exactly to the shape of the knife.  Both of these other sheaths I made fit so tightly to the knife that they don't need a tie to hold them in - a sharp tug is needed to pull them out, so the knives won't fall out even when the sheaths are held upside down.  I love how much easier it is to remove the knife without a tie in place.

It's fun to see how my skills continue to improve with time and learning!  What skills have you noticed yourself improving in lately? ~Kell
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Monday, February 23, 2015

Brene Brown and the Power of Vulnerability

Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the last twelve years studying vulnerability, shame, courage, and worthiness.  Several years ago, she gave a talk called The Power of Vulnerability at a TED conference.  I seriously re-watch this video at least every few months - it's amazing.

Dr. Brown talks about how she has delved into people who lead whole-hearted lives, those who have a real sense of love and connection with those around them.  The answer to what makes them different comes down to allowing themselves to be vulnerable.  Whole-hearted people in her research "were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, and be who they were."  She found that the way to live a rich life is to live "with vulnerability, and to stop controlling and predicting."  

Vulnerability is "the core of shame, and fear, and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears it's also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love."  You can't numb the negative emotions without also numbing the positive emotions.  What people most need to hear is that "you're imperfect, and you're wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging."

Her research points to this as being the way to truly live:  "To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen, to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee... to practice gratitude and joy, in those moments of terror... to just be able to stop, and instead of catatrophizing what might happen, to say 'I'm so grateful, because to be this vulnerable means I'm alive'... and most important, to believe we're enough... when we work from a place that says 'I'm enough,' we stop screaming and start listening. We're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves."

Once again, I strive to lean into all my emotions, and to let myself be uncertain right now. To let myself be scared. To let myself have days feeling kind of "blah."  To know that these are all parts of this process of finding the good parts of life, and that I'm not just wasting my time, but living through some down points in order to continue on to better ones.  That it's okay to feel all these negative, scary things.  That it's okay to throw myself into building the life I want to build, without knowing if it's possible and being terrified, deep down, that it's not, but knowing I have to try anyway.

*deep, slow breaths*  Walling off the emotions never helps.  Being able to sit with the emotions that don't feel good enables me to soar with the ones that feel amazing.  I can do this.  You can, too, dear readers.  Feel free to share your struggles - it's scary, but letting ourselves be vulnerably seen is important.  It's brought a lot of good into my life, I know. Every time it's scary (pressing "publish" on this is scary), but it's also necessary.  I strive to be fully seen, and to let myself be fully seen, scars and imperfections included.  ~Kell
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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Resoling Custom Leather Boots

Today I'm going to go through how I resoled my custom Catskill Mountain Moccasins, and show you up-close pictures of their construction (because I was curious and I figured others might be, too). Catskill Mountain makes truly amazing footwear - they are custom shaped to your feet, and are incredibly comfortable.  To be clear: I did not make the shoes above (though I'm in the process of making a pair of boots for myself).  I just learned how to resole them after a shoe repair place in Ypsilanti completely botched the resoling.

These shoes have three layers on the sole.  First is the leather that is part of the actual turnshoe.  Second, there is a leather layer that is carefully stitched to the sole: the midsole. Last, a modern sole is glued to the midsole.  Somehow, when resoling, the Ypsilanti shoe repair place managed to cut all the stitching holding the midsole to the bottom of the shoe, which quickly came apart as I started to wear them.

Being a leatherworker, when I heard that a complete resoling by Catskill Mountain Moccasins (including re-stitching the midsole) would cost $227, I decided to do the work myself.  And let me tell you: $227 is definitely a very fair price for this amount of work.  It took a long time to do.

Above is a picture of the bottom of the shoe, once the modern sole and midsole are removed.  A picture of the midsole is below.

The edge of the shoe, with the broken stitching removed.  You can see how tight the stitching is on these, and the welt inside the seam.

With the soles removed, it's easy to look around inside the shoe now.  Here's a picture inside: if you're familiar with shoe construction, you can see how it's a turnshoe.  The leather was sewn right-sides together, with a welt in the seam (an extra piece of leather to make the seam stronger, so stitches won't rip the leather), and then turned inside-out to move the seam to the inside of the shoe.

I made new midsoles out of veg-tanned leather.  It's durable, stiff leather that will add structure to the bottom of the softer leather soles.

Holes were marked and punched to match the holes on the bottom of the shoes.

Then I painted them black.

Now, for the truly time-consuming part: I sewed the stiff veg-tanned leather to the bottom of the shoes.  This was particularly difficult in the toe region of the shoe, as it was hard to reach the holes.

I purchased modern soles from DIY Footwear, cut out the right shape, and glued them on with barge cement.

Adding modern soles to the shoes was really easy.  Here's an Instructables on how to do so, if you want step-by-step instructions.

My shoes have soles again!

I'm so pleased to be able to wear my gorgeous Catskill Mountain Moccasins again.  I highly recommend them - their shoes are worth every penny.  If you have any questions about how to re-sole your shoes, feel free to ask!  It takes time, but saves you a lot of money on labor costs.  ~Kell
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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Success, Dreams, and Making Things

I have this quote posted to my wall in my studio, reminding me to just keep pushing whenever I get scared.  And I get scared a lot right now.  My life is a giant question mark, more so than it's ever been before.  I'm pursuing my current dream of a varied and mixed life, full of both science and art and family and my community.  I can go in so many different directions, fail in so many different ways, succeed in so many different ways - it's pretty freaky some days.

When I get scared, I try to remember that it's okay to fail.  It's okay to succeed.  That no matter what, I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep taking steps, no matter how slow.  Progress will happen if I keep taking the little steps.

As I work to shape my life into something that will make me happy, I'm sometimes haunted by the dreams of past-me and the dreams of my culture and what it tells me I should want. The quote above leads me to a fantastic video by Hank Green, one of my favorite creators. He gave a speech at VidCon last year that included the ideas "you have no obligation to your former self" and  "dreams should fuel you, not define you."

I want to be open to possibility and new directions.  I want to see a strange chance and take it, even if it brings my life in a wildly new direction.  It's scary, though, because behind it all are the thoughts about how people will think I'm abandoning my dreams, or heading off in a direction that will ultimately let me down.

You know what?  If that happens, I'll turn around and try something new.  I like research, and perhaps my life will continue on in research, but maybe not.  Maybe I'll end up doing costume design for theater or working with some nonprofit or being a fantastic administration assistant.  If I don't like it, I'll try something else.

I want to shake off this idea that I need to do one thing in order to "be successful."  Here is another great video, where Hank talks about how "success" does not exist - there is no one thing that will make us perpetually happy.  "That satisfaction, that joy - it comes from solving problems and making things... and most fantastically of all, we make ourselves."

I know I want to make things.  That has been a driving passion my entire life.  When I look back on essays I wrote in high school and college, they are about how I love both art and math, and how I want to create things.

Right now, I'm working hard at making myself.  It's scary a lot, but could also be amazing. So, this year, I hope I keep making mistakes.  New and glorious and varied mistakes.  ~Kell

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Encouraging Words

It's less than a week until two events: the regular world holiday of Valentine's Day, and the SCA event St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and this year they both fall on the same day (Saturday).  It was the first event I went to with DeForest, in fact the first SCA event that I went to the full thing, and it marked the real start of our friendship and then relationship. This week holds a lot of memories for me.  And while I've never really marked Valentine's Day with any real importance, it still nudges a reminder that my love, one of my best friends in the world, is no longer here.  This grieving process is long, slow, often agonizing, and completely normal, which strikes me as odd some days (especially how we never talk about it in our culture).

Anyway, between dealing with grief-related emotional swings, the slog of job hunting, and the fact that I may be getting sick, I don't really feel like posting any of my current projects. Instead, I'm going to post encouraging words.

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