Saturday, August 30, 2014

Braided Lanyard

We came back from vacation back on Tuesday and I've been busy each day since, though I can't quite mention on what until some nondescript point in the future.   While we were on the other side of the province however we spent a fair deal of time with my wife's grandmothers (the both of them).  Last year I'd made a lanyard for her maternal grandmother's cane and during our vacation she requested that she might like one a little larger and in black.  The original lanyard has held up pretty well over the last year or so and it's no trouble to duplicate it again.  Meanwhile, it's occurred to me that this might be a useful sort of thing for others, so it's now being offered through the store.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vacation Time!

The wife and I are making the half day drive out to see her Grandmother tomorrow.  Said Grandmother will be celebrating her 90th birthday this Saturday so the trip is certainly justified.  We'll be meeting a lot of my wife's other relatives from across the province while we're there and I should be back by Monday evening.  It's pretty quick as vacations go so the Etsy store will remain open but any shipments will probably have to wait until Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Trick Braided Bookmark

Because who doesn't enjoy making something specifically so someone else might look at it and go "How the heck did they do that?"

Custom fit Camera Case

My camera's a pretty odd shape with the massive macro lens on the front of it.  It's the sort of thing that's perfect for taking nifty, highly detailed photos of objects that will pose for you but less suited for toting around.  I expect to be doing a bit of hiking over our vacation and I understand I've been nominated as one of two family photographers (probably decided purely by the size of the lens aperture >_>) so I needed a solid way of carrying my camera around.

Voila!  Some stoned oil leather, a bit of latigo, and an old belt clip I've been bouncing around forever and one custom carry case ready to go.  It fits together pretty snuggly and that little latigo partition in the pouch keeps the camera sitting upright despite that honking lens. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Papermaking Round 10

Round 10 was an attempt to make a massive amount of paper at one time.  I used 3x the normal amount of pulp and probably could have made roughly 25 pages with a gallon bucket full of pulp.  Unfortunately I've found a fault in my mesh that is causing a weak spot in each sheet.  I'm guessing the mesh has gotten clogged with ink and other such byproducts and this is preventing the water from draining through the mesh in that spot.  I'm going to try using some scraps of cloth to replace the mesh and see if that works any better.  It might get clogged as well but cloth is easier to replace than a plastic mesh I bought as part of a kit.

It took a couple hours to mold about 20 pages and only about half of them were decent enough to dry out (the others have been returned to the pulp bucket).  Of the ~10 "survivors" three are still pretty soggy that don't show any sign of drying over the past 2 days.  I'm still experimenting with different approaches towards the drying situation.  It seems like the paper needs to be left unrestrained to dry but it needs pressure to prevent warping and the two are not compatible.

In the meantime, I have a paper that feels nice, folds cleanly, and even looks pretty nice.  All the bits of ink and additives in the source paper seem to clump together (magnetism maybe?) and you get these wee specks of color that stick out against the nice, neutral gray of the paper.  Mixing newsprint and printer paper pulp works so well I'm having second thoughts about trying to use hydrogen peroxide to adjust the color.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mega Belt Pouch

This new pouch was made under a commission based on the pouch I'd finished last week.  Same sort of general idea but per the client's request I added an internal divider, two pockets along the back wall, and a little pen loop.  It took some tricky stitching to get all that to come together but I'm fairly pleased with the results.

Papermaking Round 9

Now I'm getting somewhere.  I went back to using the dispersion method with the deckle.  The pour method is easier, cleaner, and uses 1/4 of the water, but I can reduce the water requirements (which was all of a gallon for this batch) by making a lot of paper in each batch.  I was surprised with how many sheets I got out of the same amount of pulp and, as one might figure, the sheets are smoother and more consistent now.  They're also more flexible so they can fold without cracking now.

Now that I have a process I can work with I'll be working on refining how the sheet's dry and mass production.  I'd also like to experiment with using various additives like food coloring, hydrogen peroxide, and gelatin to see how they affect the end result.  Get a little more chemistry going in my vat.

Batch #10 is pulped and waiting until I have time to mold it into sheets.  I would guess that it's at least 20 sheets of paper worth of pulp (currently sitting in a gallon bucket as a 50/50 mix of pulp and water) so that'll be pretty representative of where I'd like to be with the final process.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Treatise on Tanning

Most people are probably aware that leather comes from animals, usually cattle.  I would imagine that most people also know that the hides then undergo a process called tanning that turns them into leather.  So I might be alone in wanting to know how animal hides are given the properties that make them this awesomely useful material we call leather.  I'd wager though, that I'm not alone so just in case that's the case, here's this week's SCIENCE! post; all about how leather becomes leather.

It seems to be a bit tricky to figure out who the very first tanners would have been but we know it was pretty early on.  The Egyptians wrote out their process for tanning roughly 5,000 years ago and there's data to suggest that tanning was commonplace in southern Asia 2,000 years before that.  I couldn't find anything to say that this is when the technology was developed (as opposed to just being our earliest records in those areas) but it stands to reason that we may never know who the original tanners were.  I would hypothesize that tanning developed concurrently with settlements and agriculture as these three aspects of civilization are pretty intertwined.

Early tanning varied everywhere you went but the one universal trait was that it was messy.  Different processes used dung, urine, and/or decaying flesh (I assume for the ammonia that would be present in each) so tanning cities were usually set apart from where most people lived (or at least the people who could afford clean air).  The basic process was pretty similar to vegetable tanning (aka veg tan) today in the basic steps used, but the materials and the details differed dramatically over times and locations.  In one area the tanners may have simply cured the hides and then worked animal fats and oils back into the leather to soften them.  In another they may have soaked the hides in various solutions to produce a result similar to veg tan leather.

Regardless of the details, some process of tanning is necessary to keep the hide from rotting away.  Conventionally tanning is broken down into a handful of stages:
  • Skinning - Removing the hide from the carcass of the animal.
  • Curing - There's a few different ways to go about curing though most of them involve the judicious application of salt. Curing removes the majority of water from the hide and prevents it from rotting. 
  • Beaming - Beaming can involve a number of other processes but it turns the cured hide into rawhide.  The hides are cleaned of any leftover salt, treated with lime to loosen the fibers, and cleaned of any left over hair or bits.  Afterwards the hide might undergo either bating or pickling, which are two chemical processes for softening the hide and preparing it for different tanning processes (veg tan or chrome tanning respectively).  In the old days these operations were performed by laying the hide over an angled beam (hence the name) though these days they tend to be done in drums.

 Once all this is finished we have a material we usually call rawhide.  You're probably most familiar with rawhide for its use in doggie bones and drum skins, but it's also the starting stage for most leathers.  From here there are a handful of techniques that can be used that will determine what kind of leather is made from the rawhide.  Vegetable tanning is the process you're most likely to have heard of though chrome tanning is the most commonly used process in the modern day.

Vegetable Tanning
 Some thousands of years ago people started figuring out that if they soaked rawhide in a solution of water and oak bark, they created a material that was flexible, supple, and after the process was refined in the 14th century it could even be tooled.  I've tried finding good explanations of what is chemically happening during veg tanning but what I found was that A) it's really chemically complicated and B) though we've been doing it as a species for longer than we've been writing we still don't understand exactly how it works.  The general notion seems to be that the tannins stabilize the collagen (the chemical "stuff" that makes up the fibers that make up the leather) so that they retain a state similar to that of living skin.

Veg tanning takes a good amount of time, sometimes up to a year, but is relatively harmless to the environment provided the oak and hemlock (the most common sources of tannins for tanning) are sustainably collected.  The unique thing about vegetable tanned leathers is that they can be tooled and molded, making it a highly versatile material.

Chrome tanning
Chrome tanning was first invented in 1858 and now 90% of the world's leather is made using chrome tanning.  It produces leather much, much faster than vegetable tanning allowing leather production to take on a truly industrial scale.  While a typical hide might take 8-16 months to be vegetable tanned, it could be chrome tanned in under a week. 

Chrome tanning relies on a solution of chromium sulfate and produces a leather that tends to be softer, more supple, and more heat resistant than vegetable tanned leather.  Aside from environmental concerns from the collection of the raw chromium, chrome tan leather can give off toxic fumes when burned and if left exposed to the elements it can create a toxic runoff as it decomposes.  This runoff enters the water table and is source for concern in India.

Other methods
There's almost a dozen other methods of tanning leather but they are seldom used today.  Perhaps the most well known is Brain Tanning, well known for being used by Native Americans to create very supple buckskin using oils derived from animal brain tissue.  These days I imagine most tanneries use a different source for the necessary emulsified oils but the buckskin is still flexible and washable making it perfect for garments.

Alum tanning was relatively common place in the ancient world though it doesn't seem to have been a true tanning process.  Alum tanned leather would revert to rawhide if left in water (because the aluminum salts would dissolve into the water) so it doesn't seem like it was chemically bonding with the leather.

Aldehyde tanning is used to produce some specialty leathers for specific purposes like chamois leather.

Synthetic tanned leather was initially developed due to a tannin shortage in WWII and involves treating the rawhide with various polymers and/or resins.  This produces a leather less prone to stretching but really durable, often used for high-end upholstery (at least before the proliferation of artificial leathers).

Modern day tanneries don't have too much in common with the tanning huts and beamhouses of old.  The basic process may be the same but hides are usually treated en masse in large drums using advanced chemicals rather than being scrubbed down and soaked in less savory animal byproducts.  The livestock market provides a constant source of hides to be tanned and other innovations like artificial leathers and split leather (more commonly called suede) have made leather cheap enough to be a practical material for anyone across the globe.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Papermaking Round 7 & Round 8

It seems when paper's made on an industrial scale they use hydraulic presses to compress the pulp sheets, both to remove much of the water and to burnish the sheets.  I figured I could probably jury rig a home version using vises and a couple cookie sheets and setting it on one corner.  In hind sight I'm more surprised that it worked at all, but there was a trickle of water that came out over an hour's time or so.  The resulting paper was flatter on one side, if it happened to be flush against the metal (the felt doesn't burnish in the least) but otherwise the final result was no different than any other sample.  I -might- be able to get enough pressure if I build a full out rig for this specific purpose, but I'm not convinced that it would be worth it yet.  Even using my current methods, 80-90% of the water is being reclaimed before it gets to that stage.  I'll try another approach.

Round 8 was retrying a somewhat modified approach to the same technique but didn't fair much better.  I did use a mix of roughly 50/50 printer paper and junk mail and I like how that's come out so I think I'll keep doing that.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Pair of Purple Dino Pouches

These were commissioned last week by a mother for her daughter's wedding in a few months.  I'm told they're having a theme of dinosaurs with green and purple color schemes, which sounds like fun.  It turns out that turning veg tan leather purple is a little more challenging than it might initially seem but I think I managed to pull it off after a fair amount of experimentation.  I even chased down some green sinew so the stitching could match the rest of the color scheme.  The dinosaurs themselves were originally stained with water colors like the rest of the leather, but there wasn't enough contrast after everything had cured.  I wound up going over them with some acrylic paint to make them stand out a bit.  I wouldn't normally use suede lace for a drawstring pouch but I tested each of these thongs to make sure they wouldn't tear before I installed them.  Assuming the festivities don't get too rowdy I'm confident they'll hold up.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Belt Pouch

Truth be told, the card sleeve wasn't that complicated a thing (not relative to some of my previous builds) but it was still nice to get back to some simplicity.  Though, at the start, I'd intended to replicate part of a Fairy Tail character's outfit so that cosplayers would have something to go with that actually looks like what's on the show.  Lucy Heartfilia is a wizard who summons these celestial spirits using keys she keeps on a ring a leather pouch on her belt.  The pouch kept catching my eye and triggering the "Go build that" portion of my brain but the details of it keep changing on the show (for one thing, it seems to be anywhere from 3-12" tall depending on the frame) and the 2-3 variants already available manage to not only not look like any of the variations on the anime, but also not each other.  Fortunately, square one's as good a place to start as any and I did have the one close-up of the key pouch that's so far come up in the show.

To make a fairly long story much shorter, building the cosplay pouch is imminently do-able but I'd need to be able to get a measurement on the keys to make it the right size.  That turned out to be a bit of a roadblock so for the time being I figured I'd stitch in some walls, leave off the hook and Fairy Tail logo and make a nice little leather pouch.  I did just that and I'm quite satisfied with the results.  Very satisfied.  I'll probably make the Lucy Heartfilia key pouch soon, for all those cosplayers who need just the right bit, but for the rest of us I reckon this pouch'll do just well.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Finalized Card Sleeve

It took a few renditions but I managed to make a version of the card sleeve that feels complete.  It's plenty roomy for all the cards that might need to be crammed into it with ample space for petty cash and some business cards and it's still pretty darn slim.  It feels pretty tiny in my back pocket but I know the materials well enough to know that it'll be anything but flimsy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Papermaking Round 6

This was a quick round last night, but informative none the less.  I wanted to test if I could use a piece of acrylic to press the paper flat but wound up learning a fair bit more than that.  I cut a peice of acrylic to fit within the deckle and quickly learned that the answer to that first question is "Not really."  With enough pressure the acrylic (or any other flat surface) will depress the pulp, but not enough to give it an even texture and consistency.  This will, however, push most of the air out between the acrylic and the oh so wet pulp creating a pressure differential that tears the proto paper to itty bitty bits if you try pulling the acrylic away.  So the press mold notion was pretty much a bust all the way around.  A fiberous material like leather or wood might be able to work around the pressure differential, or at least lessen the initial pressure difference, but it's kind of pointless if the pulp resists flattening in the first place.

So that was the "Failure" of this round (always an option) but I did figure out a few things.  For one, I made this batch using roughly 1/8th the amount of water I usually would by "massaging" the pulp over the mesh rather than trying to float it.  I like this using of a few cups of water rather than a couple gallons so I'll probably try to continue it.  I also found that just leaving the paper out in the open to dry overnight, no covers or books or any such seems like a perfectly valid way to let them dry.  There's some warping but not as much as I would expect.  It may be relevant that it dried without being left out in sunlight, though I'm not sure.

Feels like it's time to do some further research.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Prototype: Card Sleeve

I was introduced to the notion of the Card Sleeve on a recent(ish) video on Tested and wanted to build my own take on it right away.  I happened to be working on a Trifold at the time anyway so my mental draft board was already percolating the geometry of a wallet.  Trifolds and Bifolds are old, classic designs for wallets but something about the notion of the cardsleeve seems so much more appealing.  Perhaps it's the compact form factor or the way it hides away the cards you don't need too often.  Either way, I came up with my own take that's a little larger than the one in the Tested video.  I barely ever carry cash but I carry a variety of cards and I like to sort them into at least two pockets (ID & Money) so I made sure I could do that with my prototype.

From design to completion the build only took a couple days (which is pretty damn fast for a prototype) and I'm reasonably pleased with it.  It needs some refinement before it's something I can sell but in the meantime I'll be carrying the prototype in my pocket.  Once it's the right mix of durability, convenience, and practicality I'm looking forward to offering it in my store.