Burke Works – workshop visit

I met up with Jake Burke of Burke Works this weekend just past, curious to have a look at the workshop of a local leather artisan.

Having been introduced to Jake’s work via Instagram in 2016, while his brand was known by the former name of Made Supply, I was surprised to see that there was someone in Melbourne producing very sophisticated leathercrafts. My curiosity was further roused as Jake gradually combined Japanese techniques and styling into his work, which had already been an interesting hybrid of work-wear roots and bespoke detailing.

Jake’s workshop is based in his West Melbourne home, and he has recently moved most of the tools into his leather crafting room

Jake told me that his leather crafting journey began 3 years ago, after finding leather work tools which had belonged to a family member who was a professional saddler. What began as a hobby to distract him from the repetitive & rigid nature of University studies has now grown into a serious passion.

Jake has exciting plans in the next few months to elevate Burke Works to the professional level. As part of this process, he has focused on honing his crafting skills over the past year – recently, for example, he has completed a craft sabbatical to Japan, bringing back not only interesting leathers and brass hardware, but also a renewed spirit which you might discern in his newer works.

In order to transition into full time crafting, Jake’s stock items and standard goods are mostly machine stitched. However, custom orders and bespoke commissions can definitely be hand-stitched.

Jake’s work desk is bathed in Australian sunshine for much of the morning. You can see here that he had been in the middle of a couple of projects.

A few machines lie about.

The tool and thread rack was very cool – neatly set out. I love how jack has bolted on the CD player too!

In addition to leathers and hardware, Jake also brought back some tools from Japan.

And threading.

The Japanese braided polyester threads he’s got are the bomb!

Some Aterlier Amy Roke linen threads too, of course.

The green thread was my favourite.

Jake showed me some of his new machine stitched pieces. The bifold above was very impressive, made of glazed Australian kangaroo.

A thumb sliding card holder made with shrunken cattlehide from Tochigi Tannery caught my eye too. Wanted to take it home!

Another very curious leather was the Wickett & Craig bridle leather in the new olive colour.

More than just hand-made pieces, Jake is using his tertiary training in Industrial Design to create various leather crafting moulds. The one that Jake is holding in the above photo is one half of a pen case.

The other half is still being created in the 3D printer.

Laying about are some prototypes and older material. You can see above Jake’s old business card, and a few test pieces of the card holder shown earlier.

There were also some Sedgwick English bridle straps, sitting pretty with the characteristic bridle bloom.

Jake demonstrated some of his crafting for me, resuming work on this unfinished billfold wallet made out of Wickett & Craig bridle leather, which has been cut and stitched but requiring further finishing on the edges.

Jake proceeds to trim, bevel and round the edges.

No short cuts here: durable, handsome edges require extensive hand work.

Jake then creases the edges using an old fashioned method.

Again, no short cuts.

It’s the refined details and extra effort that separates run of the mill leather goods and truly artisan made pieces.

Thorough and extensive detailing means that the craftsman is required to dedicate much more time and work into each individual piece. What we have here is a live demonstration of the differences between a $100 wallet and a $200 wallet…bump that up to $250 if the customer has requested hand-stitching.

The edges are sanded down, prior to the burnishing step.

Oh no, I had run out of time!

Jake had a customer attending a private leather crafting lesson.

The wallet is almost done though.

In the mean time, do have a look at the Burke Works website. Apart from the items ready for purchase on the webshop, Jake does take on custom orders and also offers private lessons.

Don’t worry, we’ll be back visiting Jake’s workshop again very soon.

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Rå Leather Goods – ‘Thor’ belt review

Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been fascinated by the oak bark pit-tanned leathers made at Baker’s tannery since Terry Dear introduced this magical material to me in 2010. I had even worked on a couple collaboration belts during that time – during the heydays of online menswear forums and before crowd funding platforms were the norm – the Quercus belt with Terry himself and later on the Military belt with Charlie at Equus Leather.

So yeah, I’m a pretty big sucker for oak bark leather. Which is why I’m very excited to show you my latest oak bark acquisition – the ‘Thor‘ belt, made by Chris at Rå Leather out of dark stained oak bark leather!

Rå Leather is a relatively new workshop, created by Chris just last year in 2016. Inspired by Scandinavian minimalism, Rå Leather aims to create high-quality leather crafts that will stand the test of time.

Let’s take a look at Chris’ version of the oak bark work belt.

 

Leather

You’d think that by 2017 I’d be sick of writing about Baker’s oak bark leather, but I’m not!

Oak bark leather is my favourite leather of all time!

The version featured here is the dark stained, bridle version of the oak bark leather. The cattle hide goes through the age old pit tanning process which takes at least one year and one day, the resulting leather is then hand stained and hand-curried with fats and waxes for an English bridle finish.

When new, there is significant bloom on the grain of this leather – evidence of the currying process, which does not occur on the natural version of oak bark leather. A similar process is involved as part of the finishing of shell cordovan.

However, Baker’s bridle is very different from other English bridle leathers, such as those made by Sedgwick’s or Clayton Tannery. Even though the flexible temper and the high fat content are common themes, Baker’s oak bark bridle has a much more significant grain growth, a result of longer and more gentle tannage; the other bridle leathers are usually not pit tanned, and are made in a much more expedient manner.

Further, the monstrous density and thickness is unparalleled as far as bridle leathers go. Other bridle leathers, whether British or American, rely on various processes to compress the leather in order to increase the density of the leather and produce a certain finish.

However, Baker’s version does not need to be compressed, as the gentle and gradual pit tanning process produces a leather which is incredibly dense without further processing!

Therefore, not only is Baker’s oak bark bridle thicker than other bridles, it also has a much more natural appearance and shows off the leather’s inherent beauty. Other British bridles have a shiny, artificial beauty, much like shell cordovan. American bridles are not as pretty, but are rugged workhorses which have great resistances and longevity.

Being a very natural product, Baker’s bridle is less consistent than other bridle leathers in terms of surface finish and thickness. That is part of the charm, so I cannot fault it for this. The thickness of the belt is pretty incredible, varying between 5.9 mm to 6.5 mm, as measured by my caliper. So, an average of 15.5 oz!

Fear not, as the bridle version of the oak bark leather has an even more flexible temper than the natural version. This means that the belt is easy and comfortable to wear from the get go despite the considerable thickness of the strap.

There is much to be said about the level of grain growth that Baker’s oak bark leather possess, which is unrivaled by any other cattle leather I’ve seen thus far. Shonan’s natural saddle leather comes in at a distant second place when it comes to the grain, whereas most other  vegetable tanned leathers – even the fancy Italian ones – are nothing to write home about in terms of growth.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, and I’m guessing the average person probably wants their leathers to be smooth & shiny, and not smelling like bark. For a leather hobbyist though, this leather is a must try at some point; certainly, pit tanned leathers are a milestone acquisition for serious leather nerds.

Did I mention the astringent smell?

Oak bark leather has a very  distinct smell, at first permeating through the room as you wear this belt for the first time. There are not many leathers I can claim to be able to identify by smell alone, but oak bark tannage has an unique aroma.

The flesh side of this leather is very nicely finished. It may be rugged, but it ain’t rough!

 

Styling, Hardware, Details & Construct

The Thor belt is certainly a work belt, if not by virtue of its rugged and minimalist design, then it is evident even to the layman in the incredible thickness. In the photos of this review, I’ve paired the Thor belt with Tanuki’s Red Cast denim jeans and Samurai Jeans’ Heavy Chino pants – the belt fits in beautifully with rugged, artisan-made work garments.

Despite using a British leather and being made in England, this belt does not have the aesthetics of a traditional British saddle-style belt. There’s no edge creasing here, and the thread colour is not the traditional yellow – indeed, the overall look is entirely different, being much more minimalist and sleek, true to the Nordic inspiration behind Chris’ crafts.

The strap itself features straight lines softened by curved edges and rounded holes. It is 38 mm wide.

The emphasis is entirely on the leather, whereas the threading and buckle provide contrast but in themselves do not steal away attention.

The buckle itself is an English made solid brass buckle, with an antiqued finish. It is sturdy, well made and does not scratch the leather or edge finish.

The sewn in keeper and the fold itself is held together by two vertical rows of hand saddle-stitching, with thick waxed-polyester threads. Not my favourite style of buckle fold stitching – I prefer horizontal stitching due to being influenced by old school British saddlers during the early years of my hobby – but Chris’ hand-stitch here is very well done, appearing regular despite the thick threads being used.

The belt size is stamped onto the back of the fold. The edges are also rounded at the very end of the strap for a neat finish.

You’ll notice in the photo below that Chris has not skived the leather at the fold, but has instead sewn though the combined 31 oz thickness of leather…and yet, the stitching remains regular and well aligned.

Certainly, a very neat finish at the fold, despite the monstrous layers of leather. The buckle frame, the tongue and the keeper are all neatly positioned and do not move around at all. The construction here is precise.

The curved edges prevent the threads from biting too deep into the grain at the sides.

The keeper is nicely blocked, edge skived and burnished. The rounded edges are rather nice to look at.

Overall, the front end of the belt is streamlined, rugged but not rough. The details are simple but expertly crafted – very smooth and easy on the eye.

Like I mentioned earlier, the edges are nicely rounded. The wax burnish is done entirely by hand – no short cuts taken, with Chris taking the time to produce slick, curvy edges.

The burnish is as good as it gets when it comes to a beeswax finish.

You might find shinier, and even mirror polish type burnishes with some belts from Japan and China, but that type of burnishing (usually with various plant-based or artificial compounds) develops a different type of aging over time – I might cover this in a later post.

A really handsome looking edge for sure!

The holes are round in shape, made with a shorter pippin punch, with a straight line cut towards the buckle end to create an interesting rune-like appearance.

The holes punching was well executed – there’s no fluffiness or irregularity. Simple, but precise and neat.

The belt tip has a slanted, trapezoidal finish, featuring rounded edges.

This simply shaped finish brings in a bit of flair, and combines nicely with the buckle at the front end when the belt in worn. It also facilitates the buckling of the belt, making the usage easy despite the thickness of the strap.

Overall – minimalist but detailed, rugged but finely made.

 

Thoughts

Over the past years, I really enjoyed sharing with you well crafted work belts that are truly artisan made and heirloom quality. Initially, it was a difficult task, as not too many makers outside Japan were producing work-wear leather goods which were actually finely crafted. My aim back then was to introduce the concepts behind this hobby and to promote it as much as I can.

Today, there are simply too many workshops making leather goods, so many it is impossible to keep track. My aim now is to introduce up and coming makers that produce quality goods so that they are not drowned out by the aggressive marketing of supply line workshop brands – filtering the noise from the music, sieving the cream from the crop, figuratively speaking.

After examining and wearing this Thor belt, I feel like I can fully support Chris at Rå Leather. Discounting my love for Baker’s oak bark leather – you know it’s going to be good anyway – Chris’ crafting actually surprised me as I was assessing this belt for the review. I was not expecting such detailed and precise work from a newly founded workshop at all, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the different design and construction elements came together as the belt is worn.

This belt is neither exaggerated or too busy. The buckle is smaller in thickness and frame size relative to the height and width of the strap, the centre point of visual attention being the oak bark leather itself. The overall appearance of the belt is smooth, minimalist, easy on the eye, and does not detract or distract from other elements of the outfit. The design of this Thor belt is well thought out, able to enhance and complement your work-wear garments.

Finally, British oak bark leather is a true relic from a previous age. As ‘natural’ as most vegetable tanned leathers are made out to be, the vast majority are produced on an industrial scale, with modern technologies which emphasize uniformity and efficiency. Mechanical drums and tannin powders turn hide into leather within as short a time span as two weeks. Baker’s oak bark tannage, however, is as old school as it gets: gentle, slow tannage using hand processed bark liquor in old ground pits, the entire process taking more than one year. Less than a handful of leathers in this world can compare.

The dark stain oak bark bridle leather should age very gracefully without too much care, given it is a slow-tanned bridle leather. The waxy bloom will subside with a good brushing or a handful of wears, and I do expect the leather will further darken.

At £80, the Thor belt is very well priced, especially considering this is a truly handmade belt made with solid brass hardware and one of the most expensive leathers in the world!

All in all, I’m very impressed by Rå Leather’s headlining Thor belt. Chris has done a great job here, a Nordic twist on the traditionally British oak bark belt, and I can heartily recommend the Thor belt to you.

This belt will also soon be available in a lighter shade of tan, as well as black.

If you’re a fan of artisan made belts or oak bark leather, definitely have a look at the Rå Leather website.

 

3rd quarter leathers update!

Hey!

Lots of review lately, and many more coming up. Today, though, I want to summarize the updates for the various pieces acquired over the past few months. Photo heavy – here we go~

 

First up is an old friend which I’ve recently reconditioned – the Apocrypha mid-wallet by Ray Lansburg back in 2011. I gave the CXL horsehide outer and Wicket & Craig bridle leather inner a clean and condition:

 

Next up is another older wallet. A very special billfold made by Scott at Don’t Mourn, Organize! a couple of years ago, featuring Horween shell cordovan from the 1960’s! Despite being unused up until now, half a century of storage had taken a toll on the shell surface, with scratches and splotches being easily discernible:

Nothing a little elbow crease and know-how can’t fix though. I start by cleaning and burnishing with hardwood slick:

Finishing by oiling, buffing and gentle polishing. Not too bad hey? Almost as good as brand new:

 

Another wallet made by Scott was my next restoration project. This one is a mid-wallet made out of Sedgwick’s English bridle leather. Much less work to do up this one:

The shine on this leather is very intense naturally.

 

The super belt by Bill at Clintonville Leather is next. Not a whole lot of work with this belt, given it is relatively new. A quick brush and light waxes at some points along the edges were all that was required. I did polish up the hardware though – some interesting patina for sure:

 

John Faler’s billfold is next. No care required at this point really, but I gave the entire wallet another light coat of Montana Pitch Blend oil anyway:

The colour remains very pleasing, and the shine continues to intensify. My experience with this wallet has somewhat improved my opinion of North American vegetable tanned leathers – quick and industrial, yeah, the grain having little definition compared with old school vegetable tannages, but the colour, tone and shine can be incredibly nice if treated right.

 

Up next is a fairly new piece, the scaled card wallet made by Rocky over at mill handmade. Lots of different veg tannages here – very interesting little piece. To my surprise, the Aussie bark-tanned kangaroo leather remains fairly pale!

 

The Japanese Wallet also made by Rocky continues to impress with the reactivity of the Shonan saddle leather. Rocky’s interpretation of Red Moon’s riders’ wallets is a highlight for me this year:

 

The original is up next…well, the upgraded version of the original. Here’s the riders’ wallet from Pailot River via Denimio:

The leather on this is pretty incredible, with reactivity and shine that is just as good as Shonan’s saddle leather. Incidentally, this leather is also from Himeji, the same city in which Shonan tannery is located…possibly this leather is also made by Shonan? I can’t say for sure.

When I first started collecting leathers, a Red Moon riders’ wallet had been a grail piece for me. This Pailot River version is from the same workshop, made to a higher standard.

The branding is beginning to crack, with the texture similar to crackles in ceramic glazes. Super interesting!

 

This Niwa Leathers coaster needed a good brush, but is holding up very well. A present from Rocky after his trip to Japan and visit at Niwa’s atelier. I’m hoping to own one of Niwa’s wallets at some point – his stuff is not work-wear style at all, but the crafting is incredible.

 

The next piece is not leather, but copper! The very rugged and smooth Japanese key hook from Ryan at Supplied West:

I sand and polish this key hook down periodically, so that the surface is ever so smooth and the oxidation is quite layered!

 

My Voyej Chahin IV is moving a little slower compared with how the Chahin I had progressed a few years back. The red tone evolution is pleasing indeed:

 

Finally, a few very new pieces – not much patina or aging to speak of just yet, but have a look at some photos anyway:

The Aomushi bracelet from Wild Frontier Goods is being worn pretty much every day; I love this little thing! The fresh indigo colour has maybe darkened somewhat? Will keep you updated about this non-fermented indigo dyed piece. Mike and Chie from Wild Frontier Goods has something special in the works too, a little project in which I’ve played a small part. Watch this space!

The horsehide Travel Wallet from Hides and Stitches is proving to be a rugged companion. Another a quick layer of Montana Pitch Blend balm, water bounces off the surface!

The Frankie card wallet from Rocky is almost brand new, having less than a week’s use. Already though, the vegetable tanned leathers on the outer are evolving. It’s a very nifty and well thought out wallet.

 

Well, that’s it for now, thanks for viewing.  🙂

I’ve got another exciting belt review coming up in a couple of days, please stay tuned!

mill handmade – Frankie wallet review

I’ve got a very interesting piece of leather craft to show you today. It’s something a little different from the usual hefty billfolds and work-style mid-wallets that you’ve seen on this blog.

Rocky over at mill handmade has been designing new wallets and updating existing wallet models at a pretty prodigious rate over the past year, not only optimising the layouts and styling, but also expanding on the range of stocked leathers as well as further refining the hand-crafting involved. Every time I catch up with him, he’s working on something new or refining an old design.

This latest wallet is called the ‘Frankie‘ – the largest card wallet available from mill handmade at this time, and it represents a refinement of the concepts behind the development of the Elliot card wallet, which you’ve see on this blog already.

Without too much ado, let’s check out the details of this very intriguing card wallet!

Design

The basic version of the Frankie wallet – which you can view at Rocky’s website – is, simplistically speaking, a double sided version of the Elliot wallet ver. 2.

mill handmade is all about customisation of course, and for this particular wallet Rocky has made a few modifications for me which are not found on the basic Frankie wallet, including: layered spine with arcuates, thicker leathers for more rugged use, and a doubling of inner pockets from two to four.

My particular iteration of the Frankie wallet is 10.6 cm wide and 16.2 cm tall. When folded, the height is approximately halved to 7.45 cm, accounting for the curvature of the spine.

When packed with some cards and bills, the thickness comes in at 1.6 cm compressed.

All in all, this is very much still a card wallet sized carrier, being a bit smaller than a traditional billfold. Rocky has attempted to inject a rugged dose of workwear flavor into my Frankie wallet by using slightly thicker leathers and adding the arcuates to the spine. This is a classy wallet nevertheless; the regular version of the Frankie wallet would be a great match with a tailored suit jacket.

On the inside there are four card pockets on my Frankie wallet, compared with the usual two pockets. The outer most pockets (top pocket on both sides) act as quick access card slots, whilst the bottom pockets can hold cards and other miscellaneous items.

I’ve gone rogue and used the bottom pockets as a bill holder. 🙂

Leather

Brown saddle leather from Shonan Leathers feature as the accent layer on the spine, forming the arcuates on both sides of the outshell. This is one of the very best vegetable tanned leathers in the world: top grade raw hides are imported from the USA, and tanned using wooden equipment in African Mimosa tannin pits for approximately 2 to 3 months. The raw saddle leather is then drum dyed and glazed.

This saddle leather features very nice grain growth, and should be – according to my own experience with the natural version of this leather – an incredible performer in terms of aging and patina development down the track.

The Dollaro leather from Conceria Walpier (the guys who make Buttero) is the main character here. This is a vegetable tanned leather with a printed grain, a finer version of artificially grained leathers such as football leathers and zug leathers. Dollaro has a higher resistance to scratching compared with most other vegetable tanned leathers, and is slightly stiff, with a somewhat compressed handfeel. It is quite luxurious in the hand, and gives the entire wallet a very textured look.

Rocky has subtly included a dual toned configuration with this wallet. If you look closely, you’ll see one side of the wallet features the Dollaro in golden brown colour, and the other side has it in chocolate colour.

Chevre goatskin in the fauve colour from the French tannery Alran has been used for the inner lining, providing an interesting contrast to the texture of the Dollaro leathers on either side. This goatskin is renown for its durability and depth of texture, being finely grained yet resistant to scratches and water.

Chevre goatskin is not going to produce the same degree of patina as the other leathers featured on this Frankie wallet, but it has higher degrees of resistances and keeps much cleaner than veg tanned leathers. It will perform very well as a liner.

Construction

Rocky has blended bespoke crafting details into this workwear caliber wallet.

The hand saddle-stitch of waxed linen threading is nicely done – fairly precise with good regularity, at a higher level compared with the very first Elliot wallet from mill handmade last year.

The 8 SPI stitching is dense and well threaded, sitting nicely on top of both the Shonan and Dollaro leathers. I like the contrast between the threading and the leathers.

The stitching runs neatly parallel with the edges and creasing.

The edge creasing is precise also, being sufficiently deep to add visual detail to the textured Dollaro leathers. The crease work ties in the edge work with the leathers & threads quite well.

Plated solid brass Prym snap fasteners make another welcomed appearance here. These fasteners are very smooth, with the right tension to balance an easy opening with a secure closure.

The edge work here is nicely done, with four layers of leather aligned and hand-burnished with wax. No fluff or odd protrusions, smooth to the touch.

The clear wax burnish allows the visualization of the Chevre lining leather as well. Pretty cool!

Viewing from the edge you’ll also notice how the threads sit nicely on top of the level – not so aggressively pulled as to cut into the leather, and with enough tension that the threads don’t jut out too much.

Thoughts

The modified Frankie wallet is my fourth wallet from mill handmade in the past 12 months, and it’s been great to see the progressive increase in detailing and skill displayed in the successive wallets. Certainly with this wallet Rocky’s ticked quite a few boxes for me with regards to quality of construction and detailing.

This wallet not only showcases some bespoke crafting details, but also the degree of customisation available through getting your leather goods made by Rocky. The flexibility of customisation is, of course, very important when it comes to fine leathers. More so than a belt or shoe or watch, I do think that the wallet a man chooses to carry is more of a reflection of himself than any garment or accessory – it goes with us everywhere, it is not an outward display to be seen by others, and it is an item which receives active/interactive use. By virtue of providing choices in not only materials but also design, Rocky offers a big incentive for choosing mill handmade for your next wallet project. I’m pretty chuffed with the extra-rugged build, the increased number of pockets and the arcuate accent on my custom Frankie.

As far as value for money, not only is the quality of construct increasing consistently, but also in terms of detailing and material selection, Rocky is truly turning out some top end, luxury builds. Simply consider that this card wallet features Dollaro panels, Alran Chevre lining and Shonan saddle leather accent! There are not many makers who will stock or even offer such world class leathers, not to mention Rocky offer his crafts are a fair price – the basic versions of the Frankie wallet, excepting the shell cordovan options, are priced at only $70 AUD. The value proposition here is pretty spectacular.

All in all, I’m intrigued and pleased by this Frankie wallet. A little different from what I’d usually choose for my main wallet, but I’m getting much enjoyment from using the Frankie wallet. Further to that, I must say that Rocky’s enthusiasm and passion when it comes to this hobby is really second to none, and he is at the same time very approachable and responsive too. Rocky’s constantly exploring interesting leathers, new designs and being thoughtful about this hobby.

If you like Rocky’s style of work, which blends vintage detailing with minimalist bespoke styling, there’s no questioning that he’s the man to make your next wallet. Check him out here!

Wild Frontier Goods – Aomushi bracelet

Mike & Chie Falkner at Wild Frontier Goods have been on my Instagram feed for some time, mainly known to me through a shared love of Japanese denim as well as Mike’s occasional work with Japanese denim brands in English language PR. You’ve probably seen Mike in the Social Fabric video recently, where he introduces the program host to various aspect of Japan’s denim industry.

Though Mike & Chie’s love for the hobby is well known – with Mike even moving to Japan to get closer to the Japanese denim industry – what I didn’t know was that their @wildfrontiergoods IG handle was actually also the name of their workshop, where they create craft goods with traditional Japanese materials and methods. Everything from hand-dyed goods to leathercrafts, Wild Frontier Goods produces pieces slowly, authentically and mostly for themselves and selected friends – there’s not even a website or catalogue!

I was very intrigued by the bracelet that Mike was wearing in a recent video, so I asked him about it, not knowing Mike had created it himself. So, here it is, all the way from Mike & Chie of Wild Frontier Goods, Japan: the Aomushi bracelet!

 

Materials

Fresh indigo dyeing is main focus of this bracelet, something I’ve not seen before and makes this bracelet totally awesome!

All of the indigo dyed garments and craft goods commercially available are dyed with fermented indigo, which gives a deeper blue colour compared with the use of unfermented, fresh indigo leaves.

As you can see in the photos here, the colour is a shade between blue and green, with various tones of yellow being produced depending on lighting. This is a really gentle and natural tone compared with the indigo colour that is found on blue denim.

The use of fresh indigo dye is very rarely encountered, due to the fact that it is entirely uneconomical. A dye bath can only be prepared when indigo leaves are abundant and mature, and the resulting dye can only be used once! This means that in order to achieve a thorough dye job, you need to prepare multiple batches of dye using fresh leaves over multiple days!

This crisp ‘Ao’ colour you see on the Japanese cedar beads was achieved only after several days of dyeing. I can’t imagine this being commercially profitable, but the unique colour does make this bracelet super cool!

The beads themselves were turned using Japanese cedar by one of Mike’s friends. The resulting interplay between the cedar grain and fresh natural indigo is pretty incredible, with the beads looking very organic.

The rawhide leather lace is also dyed using fresh natural indigo. The colour tends toward grey rather than yellow in tone on the leather lace.

The small, handmade glass bead was also locally made in Tokyo and dyed using indigo. The play of colours on the glass surface is very interesting indeed, and gives the bracelet a bit of pep!

 

Construction & Styling

As you might have already guessed, Mike styled the Aomushi bracelet to resemble a cute caterpillar. ‘Ao’ () translates to ‘blue’, where ‘mushi’ refers to ‘bug’, and so this is a ‘blue bug’ bracelet.

The lead bead features a smiley face and also functions as a clasp. It is a bit bigger than the other beads at 12 mm in diameter.

The rest of the bracelet consist of 8 mm cedar beads one after the other, strung together by the dyed rawhide lacing. The leather lacing has no elasticity or give, so sizing this bracelet correctly is important.

The beads have all been nicely turned and deeply dyed – with a fresh indigo colour that has totally penetrated the cedar wood. The beads are not waxed or polished, so while relatively smooth they do have a nice texture to them.

The major sections of the bracelet are separated by knots in the leather lace. The last section of the bracelet is the tail of the bug, and features a single, small glass bead.

Have I mentioned how beautiful the glass bead looks?

 

Thoughts

This Aomushi bracelet from Wild Frontier Goods really is a special little piece.

I have never seen (or actually heard of) hand-dyeing using fresh indigo leaves before, and I’m very glad to have experienced it on this bracelet. The combination of Japanese cedar and fresh natural indigo is super cool, resulting in beads that look very much alive…and happy. The colour is a happy one, very warm and gentle, like the smiley face here.

The Aomushi bracelet also changes colour tone depending on lighting and viewing angle, so it’s never boring to look at. Quite therapeutic too, as I can do a bit of mindfulness with it during the workday.  🙂

The bracelet is deceptively simple in appearance, as the amount of work that went into the dyeing of the materials, in particular, is simply insane.  Also, Mike & Chie have actually grown the indigo plants themselves, so the quantity of dye is severely limited by season and how many plants they can grow at home.

I really can’t see these bracelets being a financially profitable venture, but Wild Frontier Goods is all about the passion for our indigo hobby. Mike has been making crafts for 15 years, but still has no website and doesn’t really showcase his crafts on their Instagram either, preferring to quietly make & dye things that bring them joy and share them with other people who have a genuine interest in the hobbies of denim, leather and indigo.

Would I recommend the Aomushi bracelet?

Totally! But, it’s not actually available at this time as Mike has run out of beads and indigo after making bracelets for themselves and a couple more for friends. Like I said, very limited production given everything is done by hand and the methods are time consuming.

But fear not! Wild Frontier Goods and I have something very interesting in the works…if this Aomushi bracelet or fresh indigo dyeing method catches your attention, please follow me (@indigoshrimp) and Wild Frontier Goods (@wildfrontiergoods) to keep in touch with the exciting project coming up!!!

 

Minamishima – nigiri time!

Went to a local Japanese restaurant recently – Minamishima – very usual as it has a three hat rating, the highest possible, as an Asian restaurant here in Australia.

Anyway, this ain’t denim or leather, but enjoy the seafood!

That’s tuna jaw if you’re wondering.

The tuna belly roll was amazing~

The engawa was so good, I had it twice!

Hides and Stitches – Field Note Travel Wallet review

Welcome back to the blog!

The leathercraft being reviewed today comes all the way from Grand Rapids in the USA. This Travel Wallet has been crafted by Dan at Hides and Stitches, and is a little different from the usual wallets you’ve seen on this blog – it’s also a note cover too!

Dan first began crafting leather goods in 2013, and shortly after launched the Hides and Stitches workshop with his wife Tiffany. Hides and Stitches specializes in small to medium sized carry goods made with American leathers, with a focus also on sustainability in crafting. Their wallets looked particularly beautiful when I first came across their crafts on Instagram earlier this year. Being impressed by the combination of precise craftsmanship and rugged Americana, I was keen to see Dan’s work in person.

This Field Notes Travel Wallet has been made with Horween’s Vintage horsehide in natural colour, though various other Horween tannages and leather combos are available also. Let’s have a closer look!

 

Design

The Travel Wallet was designed with, well, travelling in mind. It primarily functions as either a notepad cover or a passport holder. At 15.2 cm tall by 10.0 cm wide, it is slightly wider than most mid-wallets.

The wallet is small enough for me to comfortably operate with one hand. By virtue of it being a A6 note pad cover, the size of this wallet is just right for scribbling on the go.

With a standard A6 note pad inserted it is approximately 1 cm thick. The entire wallet is relatively light in terms of being held in the hand or carried in the pocket, given that it has less panels compared with the average mid-wallet.

The right sided compartment was design to hold either a note pad (such as the A6 Field Note you see here) or a passport.

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The left sided panels contain two curved card slots and a large compartment which can be used to carry paper currency and receipts. The outer shell and larger base panels also feature curved corners.

Due to the generous sizing, each of the card slots can hold a stack of 4 or 5 cards if required.

 

Leather 

The leather featured here is a special front quarter horsehide from Horween – the Vintage horsehide in natural colour.

This is a vegetable tanned horse leather, which has been stuffed with fats after the tanning process and tumbled. I measured this horsehide at around 3.5 oz.

The vegetable tannage creates the defined grain that you see here. The stuffing process gives the leather a pull-up, extra longevity and some water resistance.

Finally the tumbling finish condenses the grain, giving the surface an irregular, slightly variegated finish that is reminiscent of vegetable tanned horsehide jackets that have been worn for a few years.

This shrunken and stuffed horsehide is much denser than the usual cow leather, and is fairly scratch & water resistant. The vegetable tannage means that this leather should age more gracefully compared with Horween’s other types of horsehides which are re-tanned/Chromexcel-ed.

The oily and tumbled nature of this horsehide also means it has a soft temper – this wallet does not need any breaking in.

The backside has a furry/fleshy finish.

 

Construction

This travel wallet is purely hand-made: the leather panels are hand-cut, hand-burnished and hand-stitched.

The panel cutting and layering here is fairly precise. When closed, the edges of the wallet matches evenly and there are no protrusions.

The hand-stitch is done with tonal Ritza 25 ‘Tiger’ thread, at 5 SPI. This very thick Tiger thread is a braided and waxed polyester thread, noted for its strength and durability – a great match with the rugged horsehide.

The stitches lay fairly flat against the leather grain despite the thickness of the threading. The tension of the stitch is also nice and even, with the stitches crossing over panels very precisely. Overall the stitch work is remarkably neat despite the ruggedness of the materials involved, all the stitches being very similar in length (even at the corners) and regularly space, testament to Dan’s thoughtful and careful placement of holes.

It would appear the edges here have been either gently creased or pressed. The hand-burnish here is fairly well done; there is the occasional fluff along the edge here and there, but overall the finish is fairly smooth. It’s not the mirror-polish, perfectly smooth finish that you see on vegetable tanned carving leathers, but considering the irregular fibre structure and soft temper of the Vintage horsehide, I’d rate the edge burnish here as pretty good. (Most Horween horsehides and CXL leathers are quite difficult to burnish!)

The maker’s mark is neatly stamped into the left lower corner on the inside.

 

Thoughts

All in all, I’m impressed by my first wallet from Hides and Stitches.

Firstly, the rugged design and aesthetics of this Travel Wallet is right up my alley, matching nicely with the rest of my wardrobe (mostly workwear and Japanese denim). The tonal stitching and the unadorned outer shell place the emphasis on the texture and colour of the leather. The aesthetics here, with the use of Horween’s vintage horsehide and thick Tiger threading, is certainly rugged and unmistakably Americana.

I would also imagine that, with the use of alternate leathers (e.g. shell cordovan) and different thread sizes or stitch density, this wallet can certainly be further dressed up if workwear is not your cup of tea.

Secondly, the design itself, especially the inner panels, is certainly eye-catching. Yes, its function as a notepad/passport cover dictates that this wallet will be one big rectangle, but Dan has managed to include both subtle and dramatic curves into the paneling. Making a big wallet look nice is much harder than, say, designing a reasonable billfold layout, the task being especially difficult if the wallet is not only long but also wide. The fact that the inner paneling on this Field Note Travel Wallet pulls together nicely, aesthetically speaking, is quite a feat in itself.

The use of Horween’s Vintage series horsehide is a nice touch too. Pure vegetable tanned horsehides from Horween such as Vintage or Essex are rare to come by, and they’re certainly not cheap leathers! This tumbled and stuffed horsehide is a nice departure from the usual shells and glazed tooling leathers, much more rugged in terms of scratch and water resistances – a beautiful and practical leather for travelling for sure.

Finally, at $80 USD for most leather selections, this Travel Wallet from Hides and Stitches is very good value. Again, I emphasize that this wallet is entirely hand-made. Whilst rugged and relatively minimalist in design, no shortcuts were taken here – everything from leather cutting to saddle-stitching has been completed by hand.

Indeed, the level of hand-crafting and detailing here is more than I would expect for a sub-$100 wallet (which would usually be machine stitched and lacking details). The leather cutting and awl work are remarkably regular, the saddle-stitch executed neatly too.

One of the major points of assessment for me, when it comes to wallets, is looking at how neatly the stitches crossover the different panel layers. As you can see in the photo below, Dan has accomplished these crossings without flaw! Despite the ruggedness of this Travel Wallet, the actual construction is very precise. I was not surprised to learn during the writing of this review that Dan has an interest in mathematics, as it is well reflected by the neatness and cleanliness of his work.

Overall?

This Travel Wallet from Hides and Stitches is a well made and practical wallet for travelling, with a rugged aesthetic and distinct look. The quality of the leather and the calibre of hand-crafting exceed my expectations for a wallet in the <$100 price range. The Americana flavour is strong on this piece too, which means that it matches very well with denim and other workwear.

I would certainly recommend Dan’s work!

To see more of Dan and Tiffany’s crafting, visit the Hides and Stitches webshop.