Category Archives: Handmade

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.

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.

Handmade | New Grass x Temple Bags Rucksack

I was hanging in the Apolis HQ when somehow my interest in sewing and my corresponding lack of knowledge and skills came up.  Shea at Apolis mentioned his buddy Steve who does Temple bags (which I was already was a fan of) and said that we should hook up sometime.  I responded with a casual “sure, that’d be rad”, but without any real expectation that anything would come of it.  A month or so later, Shea emailed me saying that Steve from Temple wanted to trade me piano lessons for sewing lessons.  No brainer.

I drove up to LA to meet up with Steve in his apartment in Silverlake.  He cooked a pizza, I stumbled through teaching him some basic piano and fundamental music theory, and he helped me bust out this awesome rucksack in one night.  Pretty sweet.  It was interesting to see how strikingly similar our creative drives, thoughts, ways of working, and even life application were with two seemingly very different mediums of creativity, art, or whatever you want to call it.

Steve’s got a sewing room with racks filled, floor to ceiling, with military surplus fabrics.  He yanked down this amazing vintage WWII era waxed canvas and we decided that since I’ve tried my hand at totes before, we should up the ante a bit and try a backpack.  I’m not gonna lie, he practically made this thing for me, but it was definitely a learning experience to watch him work and have him talk me through a lot of the stuff he was doing/thinking.  His method of working is totally freehand and almost 100% winged.  Very different from my previously painfully calculated sewing expeditions.  His methodology though, works much better for me, and is how I tackle things I am most confident at (i.e. music).  Thanks to our night of knowledge swapping, I think I’ve got enough confidence now to start being less calculated with this stuff as well.  Actually though, the hardest thing for me was getting a feel for his industrial Juki machine.  A completely different animal than my crummy sewing machine.  Seriously, not even comparable.  I felt like I was taming a wild beast trying to sew on that thing.  It was ripping through leather and four plus layers of insanely thick military grade canvas.  Unreal.

I hope we’ll get in a couple more sessions before I leave on tour, and that this is something we can keep doing whenever I’m home.  Fun stuff.  We’re already talking about making some shoes.

Handmade | Hunting Vest Made From Repurposed Materials

Hunting vest made from 100% recycled and salvaged materials (minus the thread).

I found some old military laundry bags at a local army navy surplus store and decided I could repurpose and use the fabric to make something.  The obvious choice would be a bag of some sort, but I’ve been scoping various hunting/outdoor vests (e.g. Filson’s Mackinaw wool vest, Barbour vests, etc) and thought the bag would provide me enough fabric and be a good springboard for something like that.  The leather was some more of the scrap piece i picked up at the flea market a few months back.

I love things made of recycled/repurposed materials because of the unique character in the fabric.  There are stains, faded spots (bleach stains?), holes, writing, and of course the worn-in and aged character from years of actual use.  I kept the side seams, as I didn’t want to lose the character they presented, plus they had the metal eyelets with the cinch straps which I wanted to keep (they actually still function to cinch the bottom up). Two slanted lower slit pockets lined with ticking fabric with reinforced corners via leather patches.  One chest pocket with leather tab, vertical slit chest pocket on other side and one inner pocket.  Various stitch detailing throughout (although my sewing machine doesn’t do a substantial enough stitch for it to stand out too much).

Like all my other homemade projects, don’t look too closely lest you find really goofy imperfections everywhere. Quite pleased with this one though, and despite the questionable execution, am pretty happy with how the design panned out.