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.
I really like your blog posts, you’re touching topics that are not commonly discussed elsewhere. No exception with this one, I just have one remark regarding strap attachment. You mentioned that you suspect thinnest of the leather as cause of tear. From what I can see on picture, leather thickness is just fine, the problem is the shape of the attachment and how forces distributes around the first stitches. As you may see, leather teared along stitching line, no wonder 🙂 All stitching actually weakens the leather but enforces the joints, so one of the tricks is to move away stitching line from the spot where the forces are biggest. That means different design of attachment where stitching line is away (outside) of cut line where attachment meets the loop. Also first stitching hole should be more away from the edge than distance between stitches. I’m not quite sure if I was clear enough, but can send a illustration if needed 🙂
That makes a lot of sense. The force pulling on the strap directly aligns with the stitches which causes them to pull out. If you have an illustration, please do send an email. I’ll update the post with the image.
I would love to see an illustration as the description is giving me an image, though quite blurry. 😉
I just love this blog. In particular, I admire your willingness to put your learning process on public display. At no point should we stop learning as craftspeople and artisans, and learning something new means accepting the possibility of failure. Thanks for being willing to show more than just your very best and most successful work.
Enjoy everything about this post – the info itself, the depth of discourse & attention to detail, plus the insightful, informed (and civilized) feedback. Such a pleasure to follow you.
Appreciate & agree w previous comment abt the importance of posting the problematic alongside the beautifully turned out. We see so little focus typically on the necessity of struggle and value of learning fr mistakes as main components – so crucial to success! – you straddle the challenge impressively.
I’m making sandals wright now.
When I joined the National Crafts Day recently, I’ve found out that my sandals are not attractive enough to the visitors. So I try to figure out what is the main reason, only that I found my sandals does not printed our brand. So it looks cheap and outdated.
But I still think that must be some other reasons matter. Please give me an advise to overcome these.
Hello Omar! Thanks so much for taking the time to read our blog. Feel free to send us an email and we can try to trouble-shoot your project.