Category Archives: Textiles etc.

Destination | Horween Factory, Chicago

There are very few, if not any, tanneries that carry the same reputation for creating leathers of the utmost quality as Chicago’s Horween. They are the proverbial cream of the crop of tanneries, which needless to say, is the reason I’ve been a fan of their products for quite some time now and is why I choose to work with their leathers for Truman. Family owned and operated in Chicago for over a century, they are currently the only domestic tannery and only one of two in the world to be producing Shell Cordovan. They also developed and are the exclusive producers of the infamous Chromexcel, which is world renown for it’s buttery texture and incredible pull-up.

I was rolling through Chicago on our fall tour and they were kind enough to let me stop by and take a look at the tannery to see first-hand where my leather comes from. A HUGE thanks to John Culliton who took a good chunk of time out of his day to walk me through the entire factory and explain in rich detail everything that was happening. I am the smallest of small when it comes to companies they work with but they really went out of their way to accommodate my visit and to me, that really shows they care about what they do. A big cheers to the good folks at Horween. Here’s a little bit of how my tour went:

The factory itself was built in the late 1800’s and was a tannery from the get-go. Horween was established in 1905 by Isadore Horween and had moved into their current location by 1920. So the building itself has been producing leather for well over a century. The history is rich and you can definitely feel it in the air as you walk through the multiple levels of the tannery.

We started in the basement, where raw hides are brought in, folded and stacked on pallets. This is where it all starts.

I watched as two guys unfolded a horsehide, spread it out on a table (hair, mane and all) and started dividing it up into different cuts, starting at the hind area for the rounds that in a few months will end up being the prized Shell Cordovan.

From there, the cuts all go into giant cement mixers filled with water and lime where they tumble around and have all the hair and remaining bits of flesh removed.

After this process, they get separated into different vats — a giant barrel filled with chrome liquor for the chrome-tanned stuff, and big square vats filled with a mixture of water and vegetable matter (tree bark, etc) for veg-tanned stuff. Some of the hides sit here for months.

The chrome-tanned hides come out of their initial stage in a light blue hue, therefore being dubbed “blues” at this point. The blues then get graded, sorted and split down to different weights.

Every hide is custom split to a specific weight here in the beginning stages of tanning as opposed to after the fact like a lot of tanneries do. This of course is done for a reason — to ensure maximum uniformity in weight (thickness) and a clean, uniformly tanned flesh side.

The hides that are to be Chromexcel are at that point sent into giant barrels filled with a variety of hot natural waxes and oils to be “hot-stuffed”, which means the oils and waxes penetrate deep into the hide creating the pull-up affect.

The Chromexcel is then over-dyed and spread by hand to ensure uniformity.

At their final stages, leather is then hung or spread out to dry for several weeks.

For Chromexcel, the very last step is a bath in neatsfoot oil, which accounts for it’s oily, waxy hand.

After the last active step of Shell Cordovan, it’s stacked to let it age for several months. That’s right, they finish producing the leather and then actually let it sit there for another few months because they feel that the product is best after aging a little bit. That to me is the utmost in concern for quality over quantity. It would suit them best to keep moving product out of their factory but instead, they opt to let it sit there for months, taking up precious real estate in their factory because they feel it makes for the best product. Awesome.

They are also the official tannery for NFL football leather as well as basketball leather.

Note the “W” for Wilson embossed on the leather.

On top of all this, they are still progressive — trying out new formulas and coming up with new leathers. It’s no wonder why the name Horween has become synonymous with quality and I’m proud to be using their hides for Truman.

Destination | Apolis: Common Gallery, Los Angeles

I know it’s been said over and over again but the guys at Apolis are some of the nicest and more genuine people you’ll meet. I met up with Shea Foley for lunch and a little visit to their newest venture — their flagship brick & mortar dubbed, Common Gallery, nestled just around the corner from their former HQ in the arts district of downtown LA.

The space is beautifully done and it’s really something to see their entire product line in one place. Always clean, functional, simultaneously classic and progressive, philanthropic and forward-thinking, they are without a doubt one of my favorite brands out there. If you’re in the area, make sure to drop in and say hello.

Apolis: Common Gallery
806 East 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Exhibition | Mottainai: The Fabric of Life @ Portland Japanese Garden

We just passed through Portland, OR on our tour and my wife and kids drove down from Vashon to hang out for the day.  We took a trip to the Portland Japanese Garden and besides the sheer beauty, inexplicable calm, and for me, the tinge of nostalgia I feel in traditional Japanese settings, I happened to stumble upon perhaps the coolest exhibition I could’ve ever stumbled upon.  I just about lost my mind when I saw all the patchwork boro and aizome (indigo-dyed) fabrics hanging in a room through a pair of sliding glass doors.  A room full of antique Japanese folk textiles.  Antique…Japanese…Folk…Textiles.  Each of those words alone puts my nerd-out into overdrive.

I didn’t get to spend even a fraction of the time I would have wanted to in there since we had our kids with us, but I blew through the exhibition and took in as much as I could.  I loved everything about it.  I go nuts over traditional Japanese fabrics and especially traditional aizome indigo.  I also found out later that the exhibition was largely comprised of Stephen Szczepanek’s private collection who’s site and blog is a frequent visit of mine (and if I would keep up more with my internet reading, I would have known about this ahead of time).

If you live in the area I would highly recommend a visit.  I’m almost considering a trip back down after I get home since the exhibition will still be running.  Here’s an excerpt from the exhibition’s page detailing more about the fabrics and history behind it all:

“This exhibition of antique Japanese folk textiles from the Meiji period (1868-1912) is comprised of selections from the private collections of Stephen Szczepanek (suh-PAN-ecks) of Sri in Brooklyn and Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei in Kyoto. The exhibition demonstrates the remarkable ability of the Japanese to not only make do with the very little they had, but to make art with it.

For generations before the “Economic Miracle” took place in the decades following World War II, Japan was a poor country. People recycled everything. Nothing was wasted, and the word “mottainai” (waste nothing!) was a ubiquitous exclamation used by every frugal parent to warn children about wasting a bite of food or a scrap of cloth or paper.

All of the textiles and garments on view were made from bast fibers foraged from the forest, or patched and quilted together from second-hand scraps of cotton garments of city-dwellers who traded their hand-me-downs with the farmers for rice and vegetables.

The exhibition represents a wide variety of traditional textile making and decorating techniques, including sashiko stitching, bast fiber weaving and dyeing, and patchwork quilting, the latter referred to as boro.”

“Kei explains, “The old adage about saving patches of cloth large enough to wrap 3 beans came from a time when all textiles were precious. People in pre-industrial Japan would patch together various bits of cloth in long rolls. Until the modern era, cotton was difficult to come by in rural areas, especially in northern Japan. Farmers’ clothes were made from hand-spinning such things as linden bark, wisteria vines and kudzu vines. Used washi paper was also cut into strips, hand-spun and woven with cotton to create shifu, an excellent light textile with subtle black highlights from the sumi ink inscriptions written on the paper during its earlier ‘incarnation.’ Nothing was wasted.”

Editor’s note: It’s interesting that the term “mottainai” and the frugality it represents still resonates with the Japanese.  It was a term I heard frequently growing up and still remember my mom making me finish literally every single grain of rice, telling me, “Mottainai.  The farmers worked hard over every grain of rice.  It’s not to be wasted.”  Clearly a leftover sentiment from economically insulated and post-war Japan.

The exhibition will be held until Nov 27th.  Here’s the official site for more info.

Dubbing

I received a pair of suede Birkenstock Bostons for father’s day and because of the wet terrain here in the Pacific Northwest, I decided to give ‘em a good dubbing.

As far as I can gather, the term “dubbing” is a derivative of “dubbin” which is an ancient recipe for leather dressing that consists of natural waxes, oils, and tallow.  In WWII, soldiers were issued “service shoes” which were roughout (suede-side out) boots which were then treated (dubbed) in order to protect the boots from water and chemical warfare agents.

I’ve been wanting to try this out for a while now and had purchased a jar of Sno-Seal a while ago in case I ever got the urge.  I basically followed the instructions per this site, but here’s the basic process I went through:

There’s really nothing to it.  Basically, just dip your fingers in, scoop up a glob and start working it into the suede.

After you’ve coated the entire shoe, take a blow dryer on high heat and essentially melt the wax into the suede.  You’ll see it seeping in.  Do the whole process over again and you’re done.  It took me maybe 15-20 mins.

Before and after.  You can clearly see the dramatic difference in color and texture.

They are very waterproof now and the waxed finish aids in developing some patina and character that suede doesn’t normally gain.  It’s that dynamic duo of function and aesthetic.

Velour Waxed Cotton Fishing Jacket

Oi Polloi’s got a sale going on right now and this jacket really caught my eye.  I don’t know much about the brand but this is a killer jacket.  It looks like the hideaway hood tucks and snaps under the collar (?).  Pretty interesting.  I’ve never seen it done that way and I’m a sucker for little details like that.

For good measure, some other things that caught my eye:

Barbour Brooke

Barbour Whitfell


Penfield Vassan – A better 2-tone version than I’ve seen where the colors are split in an almost cowboy yoke fashion.  I’m guessing this is inspired by Nigel Cabourn’s insanely awesome and expensive Cameraman parka.  On sale for $134 USD, this is not a bad deal.

Frapcap Scarponcini Boot

Lee white T-shirt – Because the weather’s warming up and all my Hanes T’s keep shrinking weird.

Introducing: Truman Handcrafted

Every-so-often life gets way too busy to even think about keeping this up but I’m coming out of hiding to tell you all that I’m officially putting my leathercraft pieces up for sale.  I introduced a small amount of stuff on this site a while back but I feel like I’ve made vast improvements to my craft since, and finally feel good enough about the quality of my work to officially release it.  I’ve got a small amount of things up for now, but have lots more ideas/plans I’d like to pursue if time/budget allow.  Drop by and have a look…hope you all like.  Thanks.

www.trumanhandcrafted.com

P.S. I’ll do my best to keep this site up, especially now that I have a reason to be updating more. Thanks for reading and for sticking around.

Esquivel x New Grass Suede Cap Toe Boots

George let me squeeze in these boots before I left for Washington.  I used Esquivel’s Dublin boot as the springboard, but the inspiration behind them was the WWII era “service shoe” or “roughout” boots, or more specifically, the rare Type III service shoe (captoe roughout).  We didn’t have any tan suede in stock so I went with the grey suede instead with a tan/yellow calfskin lining.  I may end up dubbing these, especially now that I’m in wetter terrain.  I really wrestled with the sole options.  I was super temped to go with a white Vibram christy sole but decided against it since I have a couple pairs of Red Wings with Vibram christies.  I opted for a traditional leather bottom sole with a stacked leather heel and left it all natural.  I really like how the natural leather contrasts with the grey suede.  I also dug through the last library and picked out a last with a more traditional toe than the Dublin’s normally more bubbly toe.

I was able to take part in nearly every part of the construction of the shoe, getting some hands on experience with lasting, sole shaping, etc.  I’m really happy with the way these turned out.  Thanks again to George and his team for letting me take part in this!