A Seemingly Simple Request - or how things can go wrong.

Recently a customer asked me for a simple request - to make a fold over wallet for her cards and cash.  It seemed simple enough, so I said, "Sure, I'd be happy to!"

She showed me the plastic folder she was currently using and asked to use that as a sample, only make it a little smaller, and in leather.  So far, so good.  I had the same thing in my car, so used mine as a sample, without the third flap.

 Plastic insurance folder as my sample.

Plastic insurance folder as my sample.

The first thing to do was make a pattern.  I use foam core because it's light, cheap and fairly firm, so I can draw around it easily.  You can't pin patterns to leather so this works well. The folder had plastic in the front, but you can't see through leather, (who knew?), so I took a little divot out of the inside piece so you could grab your cards.

 Pattern done.  Instead of a plastic front, a little divot was cut from the top of the inside pieces, so you can grab the cards.

Pattern done.  Instead of a plastic front, a little divot was cut from the top of the inside pieces, so you can grab the cards.

I cut the pattern from the foam core and found some leather scraps to experiment on.  There are always a ton of waste pieces when working on patterns.  With fabric, I just throw out the excess, but not with leather - it's too expensive.  So there are a couple of crates of scraps.  Yay, more stuff in my studio.

The first leather I chose was a lovely black, pebbled one.  I cut the pattern pieces, but noticed that it was a bit stretchy.  Each piece of leather has its own personality and no two are exactly alike, sort of like your family.  Close, similar, but each one an individual, some of them a little wonkier than the others.

 A lovely black, pebbled leather, with a bit of stretch. Not sure this is a good idea.

A lovely black, pebbled leather, with a bit of stretch. Not sure this is a good idea.

I draw the pattern on the back of the leather, and cut with a steel ruler and a rotary cutter.  The cutter won't fit into the little divot, so the scissors come out for that.  The rotary cutter is much better for the straight bits as it makes a nice, clean line. 

 The stretchiness is starting to be a problem, as the edges shift and stretch when cut. Hmm.

The stretchiness is starting to be a problem, as the edges shift and stretch when cut. Hmm.

After cutting, very carefully with the rotary cutter, I noticed the edges are not actually square.  The leather had stretched and shifted as I cut.  Not a good thing, but valuable to know for this folder.  With something so small, it has to be exact.  If I was a big manufacturer, I would have a stamp that goes right through the leather in one swift motion.  But it's just little old me, working away on my own.  I corrected the stretched edge and put that one aside for now.

A beautiful distressed leather for the next sample. Watch out for that small hole.  I'll have to cut around it.

Next, I thought I'd give this lovely distressed leather a whirl.  It has such a beautiful weathered look to it, and it's a bit firmer, less stretchy than the black.  Experiment number 2!  I cut that out and was ready to go.

To prevent the leather from stretching and to secure the seam, I got out my handy, dandy leather glue and gently touched the outside edges of both sides, let them get a little tacky, and pressed them carefully together.  Get it right the first time as once it's down, that's it!

Now, on the machine for the actual sewing.  This is a leather machine with a walking foot.  The foot makes a huge difference when working with leather.  It has to come to a stop with the needle out, before you can reverse the stitch to secure the ends.  It's a bit hard to see if I've done it right.

 Leave the needle down to pivot at the corners.

Leave the needle down to pivot at the corners.

When you get to the corner, leave the needle down to pivot.  Through my vast experience, I've discovered that it's best to use the whole width of the foot when sewing it down.  Any closer, and the leather shifts under the needle and it falls off the edge.  Tricky stuff this leather.

 The stitching is not even.  Darn.  Well, lesson learned.

The stitching is not even.  Darn.  Well, lesson learned.

First sample done and, oh, no, the stitching doesn't match!  I came a little higher on one side than the other.  It was challenging to see, but that's ok.  What I will do with the next is stitch all the way around.  That way you only have one spot to backstitch.

 Trim the edges carefully to clean up the uneven edge.

Trim the edges carefully to clean up the uneven edge.

Despite the fact that I cut carefully, glued and stitched them, there is still a little shift, so you'll need to trim the edges carefully.

 Trim the corners with the blade.

Trim the corners with the blade.

That vicious looking semi circular blade is excellent for taking the corners off the folder.  It makes a satisfying 'ting' sound when you touch it against something, that makes me think of the Three Musketeers. (I think I may be the wonky one in our family!)

The Carnuba Creme makes a nice waxy finish on both the edge of the centre piece and around the outside edges of the folder. Dip a cloth into the Creme and rub the edges to make a nice finish.

 Black leather sample stretches and 'grows'.  Not the best result but the leather is beautiful.

Black leather sample stretches and 'grows'.  Not the best result but the leather is beautiful.

Next sample with the black leather, and as expected, despite gluing it first, it shifted a bit, leaving it uneven and bulging.  Darn, because the leather is so beautiful.

And as expected here, the sides shifted as well.  I can cut it off, but every time you have a little adjustment like that, the time to make it and the cost goes up.  We don't like that, do we?

So I think it's time to try the red leather.  I cut it and felt that the inside needed to be protected so rubbed a little Carnuba Cream on it.  This gives a waxy finish and protects it from getting too dirty.  Glue the edges and away we go to the machine.  Unfortunately I have no red thread in the heavy weight that you need to sew leather so will have to use cream instead.

First time around and I realized that the edges of the divots were sticking out a bit much so I cut this one and adjusted the pattern.

 Cutting back the edge of the divot to get rid of that little blippy part. (that's the technical term)

Cutting back the edge of the divot to get rid of that little blippy part. (that's the technical term)

And this is where my day turned sour.  The tension on my leather machine, which was just fine on the samples I made with the other leather, has suddenly gone completely wonky.  The back is pulled and for some reason the thread is flipping around and coming off the tension knob.  After several attempts to repair it over the course of the next hour and a half, and lots of bad words, I decided that it was a good time to quit for the day.  

That is the best advice I could give anybody that sews - if it's not working and you are getting increasingly frustrated, do not throw the machine out the window, swear, rip the fabric apart, or writhe in inelegant frenzy on the floor.  It doesn't solve anything.  I know this from experience.  Come back tomorrow with a clear head and a calmer demeanour and you might be able to fix it.

So the next day I came back, feeling all calm and beatific, tried a different threading, and it worked well on the sample leather, so I cut a new one in the red leather, glued it all carefully, and stitched around the edge slowly and with as much precision as I could.  And the machine did not co-operate. Argh.  So much for the calm head.I started to jump up and down and swear.

Next up was to call the service department of the place where I purchased this machine.. No help there.  They didn't recognize the brand of machine that they had sold me, sent me to a website and said if it wasn't working, to bring it in.  Have you lifted the head of an industrial machine?  It's extremely heavy and I didn't want to have to take that down to Toronto and then pick it up again next week. I will try to fix it myself and use that as a last resort.

The website he recommended was useless and had no indication of threading or a manual, HOWEVER, it occurred to me that there might be a you tube video on how to thread this machine. As my son always says when I ask him a question, - "Google it."  So I did, found a video about threading a machine similar to this one, figured out that I missed looping it over a very tiny hook that I didn't see, and voila, it worked again.  Yay!

Back to the cutting table to cut out another $6.00 worth of leather from what was becoming a fast disappearing hide of vegetable tanned Italian leather, to cut the last one out.  Trim, wax, glue, back to the machine.  Just to be absolutely sure, I did a few runs with a bit of scrap red leather and it seemed to be happy.  Here I go, big breath.  So far, so good, but, what the....?  I let it sew one stitch past where it should have stopped on one corner, and wrecked this one too!  I quit.

What should have been a simple, easy job, has turned into a two day nightmare.  I did one more after that, put some edge paint on the edges to make it look more official, and gave it to the customer.  That's five of these I have made and can only sell one.

 A little black edge paint makes it look more professional.

A little black edge paint makes it look more professional.

Because it's so small and shouldn't have taken more than a few minutes to make, I can't really charge more than $25 for it. But I probably used $40 worth of leather and about 5 hours of my time.

That is why I do not like to do custom work.  It seemed so simple.  Oh yes, did I tell you my camera stopped working while I was trying to take pictures of this?  I think I had one of those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

It's days like these when I doubt my own abilities and whether I even need to carry on with this little venture of mine.  Things go wrong.  In the immortal words of Arnold Schwartznegger, "Shit happens."  Life is like that.  Business is like that, and there's not that much I can do about passing on to the customer, the expense of my own mistakes and the breakdown of my machinery.  Just keep calm, and carry on.  Life is not about avoiding the obstacles.  Life is the obstacles; it's how we deal with them that defines who we are.

Apparently I'm a raving lunatic who screams and stamps her feet when things don't go my way.  How about you?

But a glass of wine and a nice evening out with friends can solve just about anything.  Thanks for listening.