Craft Business Tips: Don't Measure Your Success on Money Alone

It was three years before we made any real money with Inkleaf.  By real money I mean more than just covering the cost of running the business.  Does that mean that those first three years were worthless?  Hardly!  Were they frustrating?  Absolutely.  Did they make us wonder whether this was ever going to work?  Yes, but we learned so much by our many failures.  Things that had a value far beyond mere money.  We learned of course the various aspects of how to run a business.  We learned how not to run a business.  We learned photography, design, and marketing.  We learned how to engage with customers.  And of course we learned how to make great leather products.

Most importantly though were the personal traits which we developed.  Perseverance chief among them.  Patience also.  Most people don't fail because they never had it in them to do something substantial and fulfilling.  They fail because they give up too soon.  They fail because they look for the value of the thing they're doing in all the wrong places, especially when it comes to money.

Money is a necessity of modern life and one of the significant reasons why you may choose to begin a business.  However, it won't sustain you as a person and unless you're one of the exceptional success stories spoken of in last week's post, chances are there will be times especially early on when you struggle financially.  It's these times above all others that it's important not to measure your success solely, or even primarily in financial terms.

Look at what you've learned and who you've become as a result of your effort. Knowledge and wisdom you can carry with you.  It can be applied in a variety of contexts even when the money isn't there.   Even if your current business doesn't pan out, what you learn and the beneficial traits you develop may give you a better start with whatever you may attempt next.

Lastly, and most importantly, measure your success based on gratitude.  Look beyond your business.  Look at your life as a whole.  What are you grateful for?  Who are the people that will still be by your side regardless of the financial success of your business?  What other blessings are you fortunate to have?  Don't compare your life with other people.  Find your own gratitude regardless of circumstance and live from that. Your business is important to you, but never lose sight of the fact that all of these things running through your mind right now are of far greater worth.

*Inkleaf is the third business between Steff and me.  Steff ran a small online Etsy store selling handmade jewelry before we started Inkleaf, and we also started a short lived video production company together called Kalns Studios.

For more Craft Business Tips, check out the posts linked below!

Today I Made... a Coin Pouch!

This week's project is a wet formed coin pouch. Wet forming leather can be a lot of fun so I've been looking around the house for things that would make for a good mold. I have a number of Altoid tins, so I used a small one to make little coin pouches. I think I'll try the larger tins at some point as well. More pictures of the finished pouches at the end of this post!

coin pouches

My parents are traveling to Japan, which was our home for over a decade. This is their first time back in 17 years, so these two pouches are for them. They'll need them to store all the coins for the ubiquitous Japanese vending machines, right? 

I took the same approach as I did with the gum pouch, by first winging a rough draft pouch and then improving upon it. Over the course of making three pouches, you can see some progression of approach:

First I tried leather cord to keep the leather in place. Eh...

Then I remembered I have these things called clamps.

The third time, I placed one piece of leather cut to the curve of the tin under the clamps, grain side to grain side for the least amount of marking.

I formed the first pouch directly over the tin only to come back a few hours later to discover small dark spots on the surface of the leather. At first I thought it was possibly mold or something similar, but after some research I found that the tannins in leather can react with iron. I used plastic wrap over the tin for the other pouches, and other than one or two spots it fixed the problem. Lemon juice, being an acid, can also help reduce these spots.

A bit more of the process:

Someday I'll get one of those fancy sets that allows you to stamp full words at once instead of one letter at a time.

Glueing to the back.

Marking out the flap.

I usually like to keep my workbench open and cleared off as I'm working, but it ends up like this during random projects.

The completed pouches. The last three images show the rough prototype pouch.

 

For more projects, check out the posts linked below!

Craft Business Tips: Never Stop Learning

We've been doing this leathercraft thing for nearly 7 years now.  It's really kind of weird to think about how a casual mid summer conversation about leather book covers turned into all of this.  We didn't know an awl from an edger back then.  We had never heard of the term "veg tan."  It was easy to discover something new because we didn't know any of it.  Fast forward to right now.  We're still learning.  We're still developing.  Not a week goes by that we don't learn something new and wonder at the possibilities for how we could do things better. 

When it comes to craftwork of any kind, there really is no "good enough."  There may be at various points a sense of "as good as my current skills will allow", but saying something is good enough is akin to saying that no further growth is possible.  This may be a product of apathy, frustration, a lack of humility, or any number of factors.

Growing in any business requires the humility of acknowledging what you don't know and also of asking whether there's a better method, tool, process or material than the ones you're using.  Failure to ask these questions will likely only resort in a plateau, which can be difficult to overcome.  Business is already challenging enough.  It's even more challenging if you're stubborn.  Don't make life hard on yourself.

As for the craft side of your craft business, for any given craft, there are certain fundamentals which are the building blocks of anything you might create. Don't think that because these are "basics" that they can be quickly learned and then put away in favor of more advanced techniques.  It doesn't work that way.  Imagine building a house with a really terrible foundation.  It doesn't matter how nice the house is on top of it, the faulty foundation will bring ruin to the house in due course.

It's important not only to know what the fundamentals of your craft are, but to continually hone your skills with them.  A higher level of aptitude with the fundamentals will inevitably lead to higher quality end products.  Each skill builds upon the others.  

Also don't be too proud to seek assistance from those with more knowledge.  It's so easy to find just about anything you could want to know these days.  A quick search on YouTube and you'll be up to your neck in tutorials.  Especially if you're self taught, as we were with Inkleaf, it's important to circle back even on things you think you know.  You may discover another perspective which deepens your understanding, or something helpful, even essential, that you missed.  

Never stop learning!

 

For more Craft Business Tips, check out the posts linked below!

Today I Made... a Scissor Sheath!

Last year I made a thread snipper case and meant to also make some sheaths for our scissors but never got around to it. This past week I finally tried out a couple of sheath designs. I wanted something that was minimal, but could also hold a couple of needles.

scissor sheaths

The flat sheath on the right is based on a concept I've seen here and there, to which I added a couple of needle holes. It's ok, but not as minimal as I'd like. The other design is vegtan molded to the shape of the scissors. For the final version I included a place for the needles and gave it a nice burnished edge.

DSC02120 copy.jpeg

A few more images of the process:

Forming the vegtan to the scissors.

Forming the vegtan to the scissors.

Letting the glue dry.

Letting the glue dry.

Hand stitching with Tiger thread. About to trim the excess and do the edging, burnishing and conditioning.

Hand stitching with Tiger thread. About to trim the excess and do the edging, burnishing and conditioning.

And another look at the finished scissor sheath!

And another look at the finished scissor sheath!

Craft Business Tips: Don't Get Distracted by the Success of Others

In the first several years of starting Inkleaf, I was dealing with a painful illness which sapped my energy physically and did a number on our energy emotionally.  Steff and I watched as a good number of new companies far exceeded what we were able to accomplish with the scope of their product range and their overall presentation in terms of videos, site design, social media engagement, photography, etc. 

It takes a lot of energy to do these things and we didn't have it.  It was depressing.  We were struggling financially and we couldn't keep up with what other companies were doing.  It felt just awful.  But I can say that every time we got distracted by other people's success, it only made our situation feel worse, not better.  

It can be tempting to look at the success stories of others and see them as templates to follow.  There are certainly commonalities among successful businesses which are helpful to look out for and be aware of, but it's also good to recognize that many success stories are exceptions rather than any kind of normative measure that we should be comparing ourselves or our business against.

When we start to compare ourselves against already successful businesses, it shouldn't be surprising that we may come to see our own business as lacking.  This can cause us to pursue a course which either too closely emulates the successful businesses, or it can result in us pursuing unnecessary and unhelpful differentiation.

It's worth remembering that the stories you often hear about pertain to the outliers.  You're more likely to read about the 21 year old who started a t-shirt company that blew up overnight than you are to hear about the many slow grind businesses who carved out their niche over a period of years or even decades.  For many people a meteoric rise is not only more compelling, but more aspirational as well.  

It's also worth recognizing that some people are going to have more gifts (natural or otherwise) that lend themselves to more rapid success.  Maybe they have more energy, more time, better health, more charisma or more money.  Maybe they were lucky enough or sharp enough to spot a need to be filled and they jumped on it when no one else did.  Or maybe they had a great mentor or read the right book at the right time.  None of these are requirements to build a successful and most importantly, satisfying business.  Even if you had every one of the qualities and benefits listed above, that's still no guarantee of success.  

If you're struggling or just starting out, don't be discouraged or disheartened.  Certainly don't get distracted by the success stories of others.  Just keep moving forward one small step at a time.  Develop a vision for what you want your business to be, keep learning, and keep improving.  I'm convinced that common intellect, paired with humility and a desire to learn can overcome any number of difficulties. 

For more Craft Business Tips, check out the post linked below!

Today I Made... a Gum Pouch!

I'm trying to get back in the habit of working on these small leather projects. It gets me out of my routine and exploring new techniques. Along the way maybe I'll hit on something that would make a good product, but mostly I just want to make things I would personally use. 

The problem is I get bogged down by wanting to figure everything out before starting a project and have it be perfect the first time. Predictably, I never get started. So I'm forcing myself to create a sort of rough draft piece that allows me to think out loud and then create a revised piece that improves upon the first. I realize when I type it out like that it sounds like an obvious process, but sometimes one needs simple reminders to get out of a mental rut! Most of the photos below show the revised version, but you can see both in a few of the last pictures.

So, the gum pouch. Joe loves his Wrigley's Doublemint gum, and has been asking me to create a pouch that could hold 4-6 sticks of gum at a time. He just had a birthday so that was the perfect time to finally make it. I've wanted to try more wet moulded projects, so I decided to go for a simple wet formed box shape stitched to a flat back piece.

gum pouch
 

Process

A few photos of the building process. Making wooden molds or something similar isn't very practical in my current space, so you'll see a lot of finagling with the wet forming. I'm sure there are better ways of doing this, but my challenge is to just make something already and not overthink it (and then do nothing). In this case I found that an eraser was mostly the right size, so I worked the vegtan leather into the right shape and clamped it down until dry.

Once dry, I punched the stitching holes and stitched it to the back piece, and trimmed the edges and corners as I went. Then the flap was cut to size and finally edges were burnished.

 

Finished Gum Pouch

That's it! Maybe later this year I'll make an update post on how it's aging. With summer coming up it should quickly tan to a nice golden brown.

Craft Business Tips: On Being Patient

This post begins what I expect will be a new ongoing series in which we'll be offering up bite-sized ideas and reflections on what we've learned over the years in running a small craft business.  My hope is that more people will be inspired to develop a craft for themselves and ultimately run their own business.  So let's get to it!

Building a business is not a process of days and weeks, but of months and years.  By learning to exercise patience early on, you'll be less likely to be upset by the ups and downs which you will inevitably encounter.  It can be easy to think that by taking singular and significant actions (whatever those happen to be) that we'll instantly feel the effect on our business.  Sometimes this is the case. 

Much more often though, the outcomes of our businesses are determined as the sum of a thousand decisions.  This may be reflected in what products we make, how we make them, how they're priced, how we interact with our customers, how easy to navigate and use our websites are, or any number of other factors.  By practicing patience and not expecting fast results, we position ourselves to not be ruled by the outcomes of these singular decisions.  

Conversely, when we get fixated on those singular decisions and outcomes, we can be deceived into thinking things are going poorly, or even that they're going better than they really are.  We might become averse to risk or on the other hand risk too much, and all for the sake of a narrative we're telling ourselves about a decision we made and the outcome we perceived.  In this case, patience is sobriety.  It contextualizes our decisions in such a way that provides us with useful perspective.  It also allows us to make decisions based on a desired trajectory for our business as a whole, and not in a reactionary sort of way (something I've been guilty of...just ask Steff).

To give a real example, our website has been a slow evolution over the years.  I wish I had a screenshot, but our first website was a skeumorphic mess built on top of a Wordpress template.  Each product listing was manually created with links to PayPal and we didn't even have a shopping cart feature to buy multiple items at once.  

Over time however, we changed things.  We switched to better platforms (presently on Squarespace), we learned to shoot better product photos, we made aesthetic and usability adjustments to the site and so on.  The net effect is a fairly respectable site I'd say.  Is it the best thing out there?  No, not at all.  I've seen nicer looking sites from similar shops.  Is it exactly what we want it to be? Not yet.  We're still working and learning and figuring out exactly what we want Inkleaf and our website to be.  One thing that I am confident about though is that 1,000 decisions from now, things will have improved for the better, and that's why patience is worth the wait.

 

Old Wallet, New Life

It's rare that we get to see one of our wallets again. We make them and ship them off. We hope they live a long life of usefulness and maybe inspire a small measure of happiness. 

After nearly 6 1/2 years of Inkleaf, this is actually the first time we've receive an item back for restitching. After three years of good hard wear, it was ready for new thread. Since this wallet was originally created, we've switched to a more durable linen thread (Lin Cable), so my hope is that it will last even longer this time. I'm also trying out the very durable Tiger polyester thread in personal projects, and it is great stuff! It's good to have options.

This is a good place to put out a reminder that we will restitch any of our products. There is no fee for the repair other than the cost of shipping, and it doesn't matter when you purchased your wallet or notebook cover. If you need some repair done, shoot us an email!

 

Before

This is the Doublecross wallet before restitching. This is actually a great example of the strength of saddle stitching. Ever pulled on a loose stitch on cheap or worn out clothing and it just unraveled down the entire line? That's a weakness of the machine lock stitch. On the other hand because of the structure of the saddle stitch, even if the thread wears out on one side the thread on the other side will remain in place and won't unravel all at once. That doesn't mean machine stitching is always bad. It can still be durable especially with good quality thread. It just depends on what the job calls for. When it comes to leather, the saddle stitch is such a great look with the benefit of added durability. 

before front wallet
before back of wallet
 

After

Here the wallet is restitched with our newer Lin Cable.

restitched wallet front
restitched wallet back

The restitched wallet next to a new wallet. The one on the left started out the same color as the leather on the right. Look at that character! It seemed to have taken on some denim indigo dye, and I imagine it's seen plenty of sun. Combine that with lots of burnishing in the jeans pocket and leather can really take on some amazing patina.

new wallet and patina leather

Even though the leather had darkened quite a bit, the pull up looked even better. That's the lighter color you see on some types of leather when pressure is applied and the oils are temporarily displaced.

pull up on leather

This wallet is back with its owner and I hope it sees many more years of good use!

New Snap Wallet!

Have a look at our newest wallet addition, the Snap Wallet. In designing our leather wallets, we've focused on unique designs that hold a practical amount of cards and cash in a minimalist package. The wallets are made to easily accommodate a minimal amount of cash, hence smaller compartments and flaps made to tuck a few bills into. 

With the snap wallet, we wanted to create something a little different. Something more cash-centric while maintaining a stylish and compact aesthetic. The main pocket is made to hold a good number of bills folded in half, so you don't have to quarter your bills into a small pocket. The bills slide in easily because we hand burnish the inside of the wallet to be very smooth. A minimalist slot stores cards separately from the cash without the added bulk of extra layers and pockets. The slot is ideal for 2-3 cards, but can accommodate a couple more when stretched. If you need to carry more cards, they can also fit in the main pocket without hindering cash use. Finally, the snap flap folds over to secure everything in place so there's no chance of anything falling out.

Glass slicker used to burnish smooth the inside surface of the leather.

As always, we hand stitch with linen thread.

One of the nice features of the card slot is that as it gets used, the upper part tucks slightly under the bottom section, giving the effect of a full pocket and making it very easy to slide in cards.

Moleskine Notebook Cover with Pen Sheath

We recently created a custom large Moleskine cover with a built in pen sheath. Over the years we've occasionally made covers that included a pen holder or loop, but were never really happy with it. This one, however, came out particularly nice and we're thinking of making it a regular option for the covers. I especially love the contrast between the brown Horween Chromexcel and the Mesa (Horween Derby) which is similar to the Chromexcel but full of extra character. 

Checkbook Wallet

A customer requested this checkbook wallet after seeing one we made a while back on Instagram. I forgot how nice these feel - I might even modify the design to add snaps. The outside piece of the checkbook cover is made with the same thinner chromexcel we use on the Flapjack Wallet, and the inside is natural chromexcel. This one has three pockets that hold the checkbook, a good number of bills, and extra paper or cards.

Feel free to email us if you'd like one for yourself!

checkbook wallet
Marking out the leather.

Marking out the leather.

Inkleaf logo.

Inkleaf logo.

Hand stitching with linen thread.

Hand stitching with linen thread.

Leather cut and holes punched.

Leather cut and holes punched.

Beveled edge.

Beveled edge.

stitching
wallet filled
leather checkbook wallet

Thread Snipper Case

This week's leather project is a thread snipper case/sheath. The snippers came with a plastic case, but we wanted something nicer. The case also needed to snap on securely so whether the snippers were thrown in a stitching pouch or hung up on a pegboard it wouldn't fall off. I used 2/3oz Hermann Oak vegtan leather, and gave it a coat of oil and leather wax. It will darken further in time with sunlight and more oil. 

leather snipper sheath.jpg
Drawing around the snippers.

Drawing around the snippers.

Setting the snap pieces after cutting out the leather. You can see I attached the two leather pieces together to make sure the snippers fit.

Setting the snap pieces after cutting out the leather. You can see I attached the two leather pieces together to make sure the snippers fit.

Using the marking wheel. I don't normally use this tool, but it worked well to mark the stitches around the curve.

Using the marking wheel. I don't normally use this tool, but it worked well to mark the stitches around the curve.

Some oil and wax. Ready to stitch.

Some oil and wax. Ready to stitch.

Edge after sanding.

Edge after sanding.

Border added to account for stitching and tab added for the snap. This was then cut out and used as a template over the leather.

Border added to account for stitching and tab added for the snap. This was then cut out and used as a template over the leather.

Checking to see where the bottom part of the snap should be placed.

Checking to see where the bottom part of the snap should be placed.

Stitch holes ready and snaps set.

Stitch holes ready and snaps set.

Raw edge of the stitched case.

Raw edge of the stitched case.

And here it is, burnished to a nice smooth edge. I use a couple of different burnishing methods, but for this one I dampened the edge with water and burnished with canvas, then rubbed in some beeswax until it became smooth with a bit of shine.

And here it is, burnished to a nice smooth edge. I use a couple of different burnishing methods, but for this one I dampened the edge with water and burnished with canvas, then rubbed in some beeswax until it became smooth with a bit of shine.

The finished case with the thread snippers!

The finished case with the thread snippers!

Kangaroo Doublecross Wallet

We've finished the kangaroo leather Doublecross wallet and here are our impressions. In the pictures you'll see the crafting process as well as comparisons with our regular chromexcel wallet. Now that we've worked with this leather, I can say that we are very happy with it. The feel of the leather is great, it tools and burnishes well, and it makes for an ultra thin yet durable wallet. We'll likely make a wallet for ourselves to see how it ages and tans over time.

In the comparisons below, you can see that the thinner leather reduces the overall thickness of the wallet visibly though not drastically. The 4oz chromexcel works really well for these wallets and they don't feel clunky or thick in the hand. However, if you're looking to get your wallet as thin as possible, the kangaroo wallet is basically the thickness of the cards themselves plus a little extra. Shoot us an email if you'd like one of these for yourself!

Marking and cutting the Doublecross wallet out of the kangaroo leather. In this picture I'm cutting a test piece from the stretchier scrap part of the leather. With the leather being so thin, I needed to slightly adjust the dimensions. 

Marking and cutting the Doublecross wallet out of the kangaroo leather. In this picture I'm cutting a test piece from the stretchier scrap part of the leather. With the leather being so thin, I needed to slightly adjust the dimensions. 

Edging the tooled wallet.

Edging the tooled wallet.

Burnishing the edges. This leather burnishes really well.

Burnishing the edges. This leather burnishes really well.

A layer of oil to condition before stitching.

A layer of oil to condition before stitching.

The finished wallet!

The finished wallet!

kangaroo leather wallet
Comparing the kangaroo wallet with 4oz Horween Chromexcel. They are both filled with seven cards.

Comparing the kangaroo wallet with 4oz Horween Chromexcel. They are both filled with seven cards.

leather comparison
The thinner leather helps to reduce the gap between the pockets. (I realized after the fact that the chromexcel wallet only has six cards...)

The thinner leather helps to reduce the gap between the pockets. (I realized after the fact that the chromexcel wallet only has six cards...)

From the bottom.

From the bottom.

And finally a closeup to show the difference side by side. 

And finally a closeup to show the difference side by side. 

Kangaroo Leather

It's here! A customer requested one of our Doublecross wallets in this leather, and we’re glad to be trying it out because this is some really nice leather. It's thin, as you can see in the pictures, yet very strong. The surface feels smooth and durable… it almost feels soft compared to the vegetable tanned cow leather we have on hand. Both leathers are great, but the kangaroo will have some special uses. Because of its strength, it’ll be great for lacing material as well as super thin yet durable wallets. It’s also twice the cost of our normal leather so we’ll be somewhat selective with the projects we make with this one. In the next post we’ll talk about making the Doublecross wallet out of the kangaroo leather and our thoughts after actually working with it.

The kangaroo leather. It's roughly 6 sq ft.

The kangaroo leather. It's roughly 6 sq ft.

It's very thin, and it actually comes even thinner than this.

It's very thin, and it actually comes even thinner than this.

The Inkleaf Show ep.01 - Crafting

In this episode we show you our leather crafting process as we make a few of our wallets. (www.inkleafleather.com)

Our first episode of life in the Inkleaf workshop! We're putting together short weekly videos that highlight a variety of workshop processes and happenings. You'll see our regular day to day leather crafting as well as special projects, custom orders, and new materials and tools. There may even be occasional discussions on running a small craft business. Click through the video above to watch on Youtube and subscribe to our channel!