Hello from TUNING Blog

Welcome to the TUNING blog. This is a place to read about the ideas and experiments that happen in the studio. I’ll cover topics like creative practice, slow fashion, sustainability, capsule wardrobe, technology, craft, and design. If these things interest you, then add this blog to your *RSS reader. For a more general overview of TUNING, check out the ABOUT page.


*What’s an RSS reader? A tool that allows you to curate your own news feed (in contrast to facebook doing it for you with creepy algorithms). For RSS, I recommend feedly.

Plant Based Leather is Better than Plastic Leather

I make leather bags. Leather is a byproduct of the cattle industry. Since I only make a few bags a month, I feel ok about using leather. But I was raised a vegetarian and empathize with those values so I’m interested in “vegan” leather. If I were to scale, I’d be motivated to use vegan leather for a sizable portion of my work.

The problem is that vegan leather on the market today is made from plastic/crude oil. For me, it doesn’t make sense to switch from leather to plastic. However, there are a few startups that are making leather from agricultural waste. These plant based leathers are several years off from being commercially available to small batch producers like me, but their creators are already piloting with big brands like Stella McCartney. This is a good sign.

TAKE IT FURTHER

Plant Based Fashion (Wallpaper, May 2019)

Making a Bag, Start to Finish

A slightly imperfect photo essay on making a saddle-stitched leather bag.

  1. Choose the leather
  2. Evaluate the hide
  3. Measure out with a template
  4. Cut a “blank” – this is what I call a piece of leather that is cut to size for a bag
  5. Glue it up and clamp it (not shown)
  6. Mark the stitching line with a stitch groover
  7. Punch the stitching holes with a diamond chisel
  8. Clamp the blank in the stitching pony
  9. Saddle stitch with 2 needles and waxed thread
  10. Trim, Burn, and Tuck the thread-end with an awl
  11. Tamp down the stitching with a rawhide mallet
  12. Photograph

MOONDIAL – BEING IN TUNE with NATURAL CYCLES

881d8c935ffed28bbb56688e4b944f7e.jpg

There’s an interesting theory that our brain chemistry changes with each moon phase and thus, each phase we are poised to engage in different types of work . I don’t buy the theory 100% but I do appreciate the big idea: being in tune with natural cycles is more healthy than being in tune with the rat race. Some weeks you may feel super productive. Go with it.Other weeks you might feel that you need more quiet time and exercise and vegetables. Go for it. Of course life doesn’t always allow us to do that and that’s ok. It’s still helpful and healthy to be mindful of natural cycles.

If you have one of my little moon-dials, then you might enjoy this link about Moon Phases / Chronobiology. Some day I hope to make an app for that.

Getting Stuck

I felt super stuck in the studio this week. I was trying to work through a problem and everything I came up with was, well, it was ugly. Anyways, when I get stuck, I like to think of this sketch from Sesame Street. It lightens the mood!

In the sketch a frustrated composer named Don Music is struggling to come up with the last line for a song he’s working on. Every time he gets to the unfinished line he stops and screams, “l’ll never get it! Never, never!”

Don and Kermit brainstorm and generate lots of ideas. When they finally discover a line that Don likes, back up singers magically appear and Don sings it through complete with horns and drums. What a confirmation!

Slow Design, Slow Food, Slow Fashion – It’s complicated!

This past winter I started designing and making hand cut & sewn leather bags. My goal is to launch a small line at a few crafts shows this fall. From there I will figure out what to do next. Make more inventory? Sell online? Manufacture on demand? Time will tell.

One thing I really enjoy about the process of designing and making bags is the slowness of it. It takes 4 hours to cut, prepare, and sew a full sized bag. In those 4 hours, I know exactly what I’m doing. My focus is on craftsmanship. My hands are busy. There is no room for electronics. Those hours are meditative and when I reach the end, I’ve made something beautiful and useful.

In design, there is a concept called “Slow Design” which rejects the hyperconsumption and waste that’s baked into a lot of mainstream design. The Slow Design movement took inspiration from the Slow Food movement which started in Italy in the 1980s. One could argue Italians have always had slow food values: they love their food; they appreciate knowing who grows it and how; and they make decisions about what they buy, cook, and eat based on these values.

Slow Design practitioners extend these values to physical products. They look at the entire life cycle of a product: where materials come from; how they are processed and by whom; how far the products travel for distribution; how much energy and water they use once in the hands of users; how long these products last; and what happens to them when they are no longer useful. Examining these steps in a product life cycle helps designers make decisions about what they make and why and how.

Slow Fashion is an extension of Slow Design. It’s a response to Fast Fashion, a much hyped about trend in which clothes are designed, made, distributed, sold, then thrown away as quickly as possible. Technology enables Fast Fashion. And the market, too. But Slow Fashion takes a different approach. Clothes and accessories are built to last. They are sourced ethically. They are made slowly. They cost more and they last longer.

As good as this sounds, Slow Design comes with complexities just as mainstream design does. While Slow Design is gentle on the environment, fair to labor, and offers customers an alternative to hyperconsumption, the obvious complication is that Slow Design costs more dollars to make and sell. This means that average folks can’t afford it. I don’t know the answer to that one. Perhaps integrating “Buy One Give One” pricing into Slow Design and food can help bridge that gap. Many organic farmers around here participate in the “Healthy Food for All” program which commits a fixed percentage of what they produce to be sold at a deep discount to individuals and families with economic challenges. Another way for a slow business to bridge the gap is to integrate fair wage jobs. I’d love to, one day, hire women who struggle with economic challenges to help me make the bags I’m making. As I said, it takes four hours to make a full sized bag. I cut, prepare, and sew the leather by hand. In future, I hope to mix and apply my own dyes. I’m gonna need some extra hands, for sure.

TAKE IT FURTHER

Slow Food Pioneer, Alice Waters, on How I Built This (NPR, April 2019)

Can Fast Fashion Be Green? (Vogue, 2018)

What the heck is Vegan Leather (again, it’s complicated)

Over, Under, and Through!

TUNING is a new venture for me. For the most part, it has been exciting and rewarding. But there are some days (and nights) that are hard.

For context, I spent the past 10 years teaching innovation processes to college students and adults. Something that’s unfortunate about the innovation literature is that these hard parts get glossed over. This glossing over is unfortunate because if you’re going to take the leap and try something new, you need to know that you are signing up for a good amount of discomfort.

Yesterday was an uncomfortable day for me. I had to work really hard to have enough patience and faith to sit with my discomfort. “This is just part of the creative process,” I reminded myself, “In time I’ll work through it.”

Anyways, something that made me laugh yesterday was remembering a funny Tina Fey bit about external factors getting in the way at work. (Only tangentially related to what I was wrestling with, but a laugh is a laugh and I’ll take where I can get em!)

In Fey’s book, Bossypants, she has this passage about how to navigate sticky situations in which she references a sketch from Sesame Street called, “Over, Under, and Through!” I’ll share her bit and the sketch below. Enjoy!

excerpt from Tina Fey’s Bossypants

video of sketch from Sesame Street