Last week I wrote about experimenting with design. I focused mainly on how a design ‘looks,’ but that a design also encompasses how your creation functions. In the case of leather goods, this includes how the piece stands up to regular use and how it wears over time. A good design effectively accomplishes its purposes. Dilbert creator, Scott Adams, discussed this aspect of design when he wrote about his often-misquoted thoughts on the subject. You can experiment and evaluate the aesthetics of your piece and ask yourself, ‘Is it attractive to my target audience?’ or ‘Does it look good on them?’ You can also experiment with the functional aspect of your design. Today, I’ll share with you one way that I’ve approached improving the functional part of my designs.
Part of my design process is an honest evaluation of how my work is wearing. That is, what happens to the piece when someone starts to use it. Your bag, belt, or sandals must function as they are intended. If your creation breaks or is easily damaged with normal use, you’ll need to rethink your design.
For instance, I’ll use a leather bag for a few weeks, months, or even a year and then take a close look at it to see how it wears out after I’ve made it. I had experimented with sewing the strap ring into a bag I made a year ago. When I looked at the straps, I saw this:
The tear has been holding up pretty well, but it clearly will need repair. I suspect the thinness of the leather caused the issue. I would not have seen this flaw had I not examined this bag after a year of regular use. Review is a critical part of your growth as a craftsperson. By testing your work not only for its looks but also for its function, you’ll improve your construction skills. You’ll build an instinct for knowing what will hold up better. If you have well-built pieces, your customers will come to trust that your work will last a lifetime.
Update: Here’s an illustration of how the stitching placement would improve the wear on this strap. Courtesy of KamiLeather. (thanks Vladimir!).
Reviewing My Sandal Build
A while back, I built a test pair of sandals and in the intervening time, I have been testing them out. I wore them around the house, out on errands, and for just walking around town. I found out a lot about how they wore even in this short amount of use. Here’s what I discovered:
Toe thong is too thick
These sandals started to hurt after I wore them for long periods of time. This is caused by a combination of the extra weight from being an all leather construction and the strap thickness between toes. In my next version, I would skive down the front end of the strap to make it much thinner. Some people surround the strap with a softer plastic tube, but I’d try skiving first to maintain the aesthetic. I would skive down the outer sole as well or pick a lighter leather to keep the overall weight down.
The straps needed to be tighter
I was being conservative in how tight to make the straps, so I fit them to just barely wrap around my feet. I should have made the straps much tighter. The extra looseness contributes to the chaffing between the toes, since that thong is now the main point where the foot grips the sandal. Making the straps snugger would more evenly distribute the grip on the foot. I tested this on another pair of sandals and it feels like the straps grip from the top and sides, alleviating the friction between the toes.
Rivets need better placement
I can feel the rivets under my feet. They seem fine now but I was concerned about long-term use. I wrote to Tim, a long time shoemaker and author of a sandal-making book. He replied, “Those flat topped rivets are fine… If you can feel the rivets, move them forward where they will sit under a soft part of the foot in the arch area. I don’t think you will have any problems though.” Feeling my sandals out again with my feet, the rivets under the arch seemed fine, but the front rivet could go even further back. The front rivet is just at the edge of the pad of my toe. In my next pair, I’ll move it back, so it’s more between the pad and where the toe meets the ball of my foot.
Will these hold up on slippery surfaces?
I had a comment on the post from a reader, Tony, “…one issue always plagued me – the bottom soles were too slippery on most surfaces.” I had indeed intended to put a rubber sole on these, but since they were my first prototype, I skipped it. However, I didn’t have any problems walking on tile, smooth concrete, or wooden floors. I hadn’t tried them on a wet surface, but imagine this would be bad both for the leather sole and slipping. I would definitely need to put a rubber sole on them if I were to use these for the beach or a boat.
Planning for next time
I might change the look for my next pair. Flip-flops look good but I think I can do better. Another reader, ATheoK, wrote “I’m a little lost on why such wonderful effort on classy flip-flops? I assume you built these for wearing around hotel rooms? …[I restrict] my use for flip-flops to taking showers in public accessible shower stalls. Hardly a task for such fine leather goods.” He has a point. My aim was to make a finer sandal and that goal is at odds with the inherent casualness of flip-flops, even when elevated with hand-sewn seams and creased edges.
This first pass with sandal making has been extremely informative. By testing them out and taking note of how they perform, I can make my next pair with greater confidence. It’s easy to see how repeating this more deliberate process will yield even better results as I go through several iterations. In your own work, if you can commit to improving as you go, I believe you can build better and better versions of your work that look great and wear well.