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.


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.

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!

Internship | Esquivel

The next logical step after leathercrafting for me was shoemaking.  Actually, leathercrafting for me was more or less a stepping stool for the larger goal of learning shoemaking.  So I’ve been stealing away in my spare time for the last 8 months or so, learning the shoemaking ropes at the LA-based handmade shoe company, Esquivel.  Making shoes by hand is a dying art and it’s a shame, because it’s a beautiful and time-honored trade.  I have a genuine interest in learning shoemaking and in a sense, to have a hand in preserving the trade.

I got in contact with George Esquivel by chance and didn’t hesitate to ask him about an internship with his company.  It’s been amazing being there and I’ve gained an invaluable amount of knowledge thanks to George and his team.  Leaving this opportunity was one of the only things that made me regretful of moving, but I’ll no doubt continue to drop in whenever I’m in town (which will be very frequent).  This won’t be the end of the road for me and shoemaking…

If you’re looking for a unique, solid pair of handmade shoes made by artisans who take pride in what they do, take a look at Esquivel.  You won’t be disappointed.  George’s playful yet tasteful take on shoes always comes off effortlessly and somehow always manages to look modern and fashion forward, yet still classic.  Huge thanks to George and all the good folks at Esquivel for sharing their time and knowledge with me.

Prototypes | Macbook & iPad Folio Sleeve

I wanted something super simple and minimal that I could slip into a bag or backpack but would still look nice carried around on it’s own.

I opted for a button stud closure which I’m a big fan of.  It really simplifies the look while at the same time, giving a secure, quick, and easy closure.

The strap wraps around the back for a simple tuck and go system for smaller things like a phone, journal, magazine, etc.  The laptop sleeve worked out well enough for me to make the iPad sleeve for my father in law.

Nice Parking

This is genius.  I’m a parking Nazi.  Ask my wife.

Progress Report | Alden for Context Roy Boots

My Roy boots right around the three month mark and right before getting a treatment of neatsfoot oil per recommendation by Horween themselves.  They’ve  broken in beautifully and I love them even more than the day I got ‘em.

Moscot Lemtosh

I told myself that if the time ever came that I needed the help of a finely tuned pair of glass slabs set in a nice stylish frame to sit upon my face and enhance my declining vision, then I would spare no expense and get myself a pair of Moscot’s Lemtosh in blonde.  The time has come.

Alden for Context, Roy Boots

If turning 30 earns me a pair of these then I’ll lose my 20’s every year…gladly.  My goodness, these are beautiful.

Cut and sewn from Horween’s Chromexcel leather, made on a Trubalance lastGoodyear welted to a plantation crepe sole, and available exclusively through Context in small batches.  Chromexcel is a pullup leather (meaning the oils, waxes, and dyes in the leather temporarily separate when pulled up on, bent, or stressed, creating great color texture) and is meticulously processed, going through something like 89 different processes and an entire month to produce.  It’s incredibly supple and will no doubt break in quickly and comfortably.  I believe the inside of the boots are lined with calf skin (?), again, incredibly soft, supple, pliable, and very comfortable.  This is my first experience with a Trubalance last, but it is heralded as being one of the most natural fitting lasts out there…so far, so good.  The crepe sole is a great touch and is a nice change from the leather or neocork soles more commonly found on Aldens. These things will break in beautifully in form and function.  I hope one of my kids ends up having the same size feet as me cause these are, no doubt, heirloom quality.

Apolis Activism by Katin Chambray Trunks

A box showed up on my doorstep with these bad boys in ‘em.  Great cut that’s got a very classic silhouette. 5.5 oz chambray, fully lined, snap button fly replaces the now standard velcro closure (so much better).  Best trunks I’ve ever owned.  Highly recommend picking them up.  Thanks to Marc and the rest of the Apolis crew!

Check out this previous post for a video about the collab.

Destination | Present & Albam, London

Present was insane.  I’ve been to a lot of shops in my travels (some of which I document here) and Present is definitely one of the best I’ve seen.  Nigel Cabourn, Nanamica, Post Overalls, Heritage Research, Crescent Down Works, Lavenham, Wings + Horns, Gitman, the list goes on and on.  Amazing footwear collection with a whole selection of Trickers long wings with Vibram soles (very cool), Mark McNairy, Diemme, Yuketen, a slew of unique Vans, etc. etc.  One of my favorite things I saw was a Heritage Research button up parka in a waxed dark olive green.  I’d seen and drooled over it online before and was pretty excited to see it in person.  Oh, and it was marked down.  I bought.  LOVE it.  Did I mention the espresso bar right at the entrance?

Made our way over to the Old Spitalfields Market and dipped into Albam.  Once again, small but great shop stocked full of great Albam pieces.  Loved pretty much everything I saw in there.  Their denim line was pretty tempting.  Nice quality (Japanese I believe) raw selvage denim constructed with no frills and sold at a very fair price.  I did walk away with a pair of their chinos in an army green though.  Like their denim, no frills, great fabric, and great fit.  The weight of the chinos are just perfect.  Stoked, as I’ve been looking for a pair of good non-denim pants for a while now.  Of course they had a good few of their Quoddy for Albam mocs, all with their signature cross-stitching (but not so much now since Leffot is doing it too).

Present pics from here

Albam pics from here

Destination | Oliver Spencer & Folk, London

Oliver Spencer
Oliver Spencer has been one of those brands which I see around on the internet here and there, like what I see, but haven’t taken a specific interest in.  That all changed the moment I walked in the door.  I was immediately impressed with the simple yet crisp and refined looks his collection has.  There’s obvious cues taken from vintage military, hunting, and work gear but with a definite English flavor.  Their stuff really has to be seen and felt in person to appreciate, pictures online or even look books don’t do justice as far as I’m concerned.  There’s something about the clean lines and even refined (physical) feel of the garments that has to be experienced in person to fully appreciate.  At the risk of sounding lame…they feel expensive.  Or should I say, they feel quality.  Lots of great garments in there but I really fell in love with their waxed pullover parkas.  My only gripe with the store is that they didn’t have much of their footwear line at all, which I have admired from afar and was hoping to see in person.  They literally had just one pair of chukkas and one pair of Quoddy bluchers.  Perhaps they were in between restocks.  I ended up chatting with a couple of the guys working there and prior to leaving, was greeted with a courteous handshake and a “My name’s Oliver by the way, very nice to meet you”.  Upon which I of course figured out that I had been speaking to Oliver Spencer himself.  I love that.  That’s some ground level stuff.

I’ve been a fan of Folk and their unique take on menswear that somehow treads that incredibly fine line of quirky, unique, yet tasteful without being tacky.  Every piece of clothing has some kind of twist, often times subtle enough for the layman to not realize — like an arched yoke, odd shaped placket, or hidden buttons — but interesting and unique enough for nerds like myself to get excited about.  Some of my favorites from the store were their wonderfully colored blue Rain Mac, and their three color button up which I’ve had my sights on ever since I discovered the brand.
Both shops are located within a few yards of each other on Lamb’s Conduit street in the Bloomsbury area of London and are worthy of a visit if you’re nearby.  Special thanks to Brian Ferry for suggesting the visit.
Oliver Spencer shots from here and here
Folk shots from here
More from London upcoming…

Destination | Tenue de Nîmes/Red Wing, Amsterdam

Our mini-euro tour luckily made a stop in the wonderful city of Amsterdam.  We’ve been there a handful of times before and it’s always a pleasure to visit.  This time ’round, I made it a point to make it over to the well-regarded Tenue de Nîmes in the nine streets area of the city.  Walking into the shop, I was greeted by a friendly and knowledgeable staff, as well as a well-selected array of denim, footwear, outerwear, wovens, and various accessories.  I even made a trip back later in the day to take my friend Ping to the shop.  We walked up to find the shop closed and all the guys outside having a smoke/chat.  Not only did they invite us back in to the shop, they made us coffee and talked shop with us for a while.  Very cool.  Standouts to me were their selections from the venerable Nigel Cabourn (it was my first time seeing his stuff in person) and a pair of Momotaro‘s hand loomed denim, which they loom on-location in their store in Okayama (Japan) on a modified vintage kimono loom.  Unreal.  The denim was a lighter shade of indigo, which according to Rene who works at the shop, is a result of a 100% natural dying and treatment process, and had a nice, soft, slubby hand.  Truly an artisan piece that could have been produced hundreds of years ago in the same exact way.  Despite the great selection of stuff, I managed to only walk out with an issue of Men’s File, and their in-store ‘zine, Journal de Nîmes.

I also made my way to the newly opened Red Wing Amsterdam store located only a few blocks away and owned and operated by the same good folks who run Tenue de Nîmes.  Besides carrying all the key Red Wing selections, they had some great bags by Heritage Leather Co and Duluth Pack, as well as belts and wallets from Tanner Goods.  The love and respect these guys have for the brand definitely resounds in the shop.  The shopkeeper (who’s name slips my mind, but is the brother of Menno van Meurs, part owner of Tenue de Nîmes) told me of their trip to the city of Red Wing, MN and the factory that resides there in order to get a more in-depth and hand-on experience with the brand.  Respect.

Needless to say, if you ever find yourself in the wonderful city of Amsterdam, I certainly recommend a trip over to the nine streets area to visit these two shops.

Pictures of the stores pulled from here and here.

Also visit Tenue de Nîmes’ blog, as well as Red Wing Amsterdam’s blog.

Video of Nigel Cabourn in the Tenue de Nîmes talking about his collection:

Video of the Momotaro hand loomed denim:

…and some random pictures of my trip:

I came upon an antique market:

I ended up picking up the pocket knife pictured above.

On a Sunday | Rose Bowl Flea/South Willard

My wife and I got to steal away for a few hours from parentdom and hopped up to Pasadena to visit the Rose Bowl Flea Market.  Lots of great typical flea market goods — vintage furniture, trinkets, and knick-knacks, and of course a ridiculously large and overwhelming vintage clothing and footwear section.  I spotted a few very cool vintage pieces, including an old USN deck jacket that looked like it could have been pulled from Nigel Cabourn’s collection.  I did a ton of self-editing though, and walked away with only a couple things — a metal tool box for my leathercrafting tools, and a vintage wool baseball cap in a perfectly colored mustard yellow, probably from the 50’s or 60’s.  My wife did slightly better than me (or worse, depending on how you look at it) and walked away with 3 or 4 pairs of shoes, a couple dresses, a bag, and a vintage wooden box, almost like a mini chest.  Quite a successful flea market trip.
We dipped into South Willard on the way home, as I’ve been obsessing over the charcoal grey/brick sole Quoddy bluchers since last summer, which they just restocked a few weeks ago.  I nearly went the entire summer convincing myself that I didn’t need a pair of these, but I’m glad I caved cause these are insanely perfect.  The charcoal grey and brick sole perfectly compliment each other, and the matte black eyelets, non-contrasted stitching/laces make for a perfectly understated and subtle pair of shoes.  Beautiful.  I also appreciate the craftsmanship and build of the shoe a lot more since I’ve been attempting to make my own shoes lately (post possibly upcoming).  Oh, and Ryan from South Willard also gave me one of Altadena’s little key rings that they just had forged and made in Japan.
All in all, a great Sunday morning.

Experiment | Raw Denim vs. 7 Week Tour

I had the bright idea of purchasing a cheap pair of raw jeans (Unbranded) and wearing them exclusively when I play shows.  I thought it’d be really interesting to see what kind of wear/fades wearing them in an isolated and specific environment would do.  Problem is…I didn’t think about the fact that they’d basically be getting a (salt) soak every single night.  Shows generally mean a lot of people packed in one room — people generate heat — lights on stage are always very hot — this last tour we did was a headline tour where we were playing 1:15 plus everynight, which all adds up to lots of sweat.  The jeans ended up losing a considerable amount of indigo before being able to establish good fades (the pictures give a little too much credit).  There’s definitely some fade happening though, the most notable fades (not surprisingly) happened on my upper right side, where my guitar rests.  Check the difference in the waistband between the right and left side.  The copper rivets and buttons seem to be doing some nice/quick aging though, probably expedited from the constant salty moisture looming.  I realize it’s only been a little over a month and a half, but considering how hard I wore these, I thought there’d be some more substantial fading.  Plus, they stink.  Really bad.  I’m retiring the experiment and am going to attempt to put these into everyday rotation, hoping that it’s not too late to wear these in right.

I really wasn’t expecting much out of these jeans, but they are actually pretty legit.  I was surprised at the amount of solid details — Chain stitching on hem and around the waistband, blue-line selvage, hidden selvage in coin pocket, hidden rivets in back pockets, and on top of that, a pretty solid cut.  I’m pretty sure I got the straight leg cut, which doesn’t really seem straight.  It’s definitely tapered, but is a good fit.  Also, another note if you’re planning on purchasing these, they run a bit small.  I usually size down one or two for raw denim, but I bought these true to size.  It’s almost like they sized them with the break-in in mind.  My only gripes are that the denim itself had a softer hand off the rack, unlike my previous raw denim buys which were stiff as a board.  The initial stiff, almost crunchiness of raw denim helps in creasing, good fades, and creating character which I was afraid I wouldn’t get the full effect of.  Nothing that a bit of spray starch didn’t help.  The oversized leather tab on the back is pretty unsightly (especially with sweat stains all over it), but is not really seen since I don’t really tuck my shirts in much.  I may just pull it off.

I picked mine up from American Rag, but you can also find them at Urban.  Overall, a really solid buy at $78.  Just don’t sweat profusely in them every night for 7 weeks.

While I was home between tours, I tagged along with Raan from Apolis while he ran around LA running some daily errands (like I mentioned a couple posts down).  I got to see the factory that makes their bottoms, specifically that day, their well-revered Officer Chinos, as well as a stop by the Katin HQ.  These chambray trunks showcased in this video are definitely the best thing to come out of their relationship so far.  Also during that time, one of the fine chaps that works at Apolis, Marc, had some songs that he needed mixed for his band Other Mountains.  He asked, I accepted, we spent a day mixing 3 or 4 songs, and one of the songs is featured in this video.  Check ‘em out if you like what you hear.