immiketoo

How Do You Find Your Groove?

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As a relatively new leatherworker, I have boundless passion for creating things of leather. Gun leather is where I started, but I've found that purses, women's bracelets and belts are also interesting. Guitar straps, knife sheathes...where does it stop? Braiding and lacing, clothing?

I'm not interested in garments or saddles at this point, figure carving is something I'll probably delve into only as needed, and things like coasters or key fobs don't hold much interest. Maybe I'm just starting to develop some preferences, or my niche.

How did you find your niche? How do you decide to specialize in just a few areas? Should I limit myself to just a few or should I try everything? It seems that aside from the specific tools required for some things, i.e. saddles or garments, most leatherwork is essentially the same. Design, cutting, decoration, stitching dyeing and finishing.

I'd love to hear how you chose your area of speciality!

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You just need to do a lot types of items and discover what appeals to you and what you like to do the best. If you like doing it, you'll get better at that particular aspect...at least it'll show more detail/effort. I found my niche doing some 'thank you' work for a friend. It doesn't cover its own costs very well, so I do a good bit of gun leather and belts to help the hobby pay for itself.

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From the grumpy old guy: I'm left handed, and back in the day (late '50s) holsters for southpaws were not that easy to come by, just like money was - so I made my first with just a few tools that I could make work for me. I even used a fork to mark lacing holes. A little later, after leaving home at 16, I ran into an old WWI cavalry soldier that taught me to stitch "properly" (according to him) and did some tack repair. Learned to carve and tool leather to the extent that things done were recognizable as to what they were supposed to represent, but didn't really care to do much of that type of work. Fell into making a few holsters and enjoyed it - had a few experiences because of doing that work, and met some interesting folks; Thel Reid and Avro Ojala (sp?) being a couple.. Enlisted in the service in '61 and spent 5 years of active duty during the go-round in the sun-n-fun capitol of Southeast Asia. Got out and went to work on a thoroughbred horse ranch for a couple of years to stay away from the not-to-friendly to ex-servicemen public bleeding hearts and runners. Got back into tack repair and started to build holsters also. Went into law enforcement in '68, and holster making just followed. Mike

Edited by katsass

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When I started in leather work, it was because I wanted a leather hat. I tried making one using a sewing machine, but I could not for the life of me sew in a straight line. I bought a little book called "How to Lace" and from there started my journey.

For the first year or so, all I made was hats, and every one of them was laced together not sewn. I made a lot of hats back then. I then wanted a leather vest that was nothing like you could buy at Wally World or even your local Harley shop. This endeavor took quite some time to figure out, as lacing one together was far more challenging than just sewing it together.

Well, once I finished the first vest, it was off to the races from there. I sold more vests while getting my morning coffee at 7-11, than anywhere else. As time went on, people would ask if I could make them this or that, and I would just say "Yes" even before knowing if it was possible or not. I've had to go out and buy something just to tear it apart, to see how it was made in so I could get a pattern and understanding of how to do it. From there, I would add embellishments to give it a much more custom look, so people seeing the end product knew it wasn't "store bought" and word got out of my work.

I got out of doing leather for the last few years, as I got horn swaggled into helping a good friend start a sandblasting business and actually sandblasting. I have just gotten back into leather again and set up shop in my sons tattoo shop. I noticed at the shop, that a far greater number of woman would get tattoos than men, so I've decided to gear my work towards women. They would come into the shop and would be carrying a fancy looking purse, so I would ask them "how much did you pay for that purse". Well it amazed me, every one of them were so proud that they had payed (in most cases) over $500.00 for them.

Women these days are the ones with all the money, and have no qualms about spending large amounts of it on something that will make them look good. With women, if you can show them something beautiful, and explain to them that you can make them something like this using their favorite color, or add this or that to it to match their eyes or hair color, they will open that $500.00 purse so fast.

Just the other day when I posted pictures of the purse I just finished using the stingray and crocodile on Facebook, I got three orders for purses. The one I am working on first is a Gucci that the lady was willing to pay $1090.00 for. I Have about $35.00 worth of material into it, and will spend about six hours putting it together, I sold it for $280.00.

This same lady told me she had just bought a small clutch purse from Gucci made from stingray, she payed $1995.00 for it. I looked at a picture of it online, and was amazed.

So, for me it has always been about finding what potential customers wanted and just saying "Yes I can do that" then going from there.

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Simply put, you just seem to settle into what it is that tickles your fancy after a while. For me, I find my groove by having a few beers, turning the lights down low, putting on some "old time" county music. LOL

Bob

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Mike I am with TO about trying it all in the areas you're already interested in. Your niche will just find YOU.....well I've been told :) I still will try something if a customer wants it and like beaverslayer usually say yes before I think about it. I just ordered some 3oz leather for a customer yesterday and with what's left over I'm going to make my niece a bible cover. I haven't made on of those yet, made a journal cover for mine in about 15 minutes and it shows :) I could make another one but I always 'eat' my mistakes like a chef. My checkbook cover is one I made a mistake on, and slo on. Some day when I'm rich and famous, LOL I'll make me nicer ones and actually put SOMETHING on the scrap heap, but I'm not there yet. Just keep enjoying it. Cheryl

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Simply put, you just seem to settle into what it is that tickles your fancy after a while. For me, I find my groove by having a few beers, turning the lights down low, putting on some "old time" county music. LOL

Bob

Bob, that there's funny, I don't care who ya are! But, ya'all are right, It will probably find me like you've said. I suppose I should give it a few more months and see, right?

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yes...do a little bit of everything. Whatever you enjoy doing the most is what you will do the best.

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I started out wanting to get into motorcycle gear like seats and bags. Since I was working my way up to it people started seeing my work and then a bunch of friends on a Blues forum started asking me for straps. To this day I sold any motorcycle gear but I keep pretty busy with the guitar straps. If you make enough of something you'll get really good at it and that will be your thing. Then when you start to get a little bored or want to branch out into other markets, start thinking about something else you'd like to offer and make up some prototypes to get the word out. I work full time and find very little free time at home, so I try to limit my offerings. If I were retired/unemployed I'd be making a full selection of items just to keep the lights on.

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I'm like Cyberthrasher in that I have a full time job and not much time left over for working on leather. I've found I really enjoy the carving aspect but not so much the contruction. I found making leather notebooks gives me a nice big canvas for carving and not really complicated construction, so I've been focusing on that. I'm now forcing myself to do more construction things like hand sewing because I would like to make purses and cases and maybe those will become my thing. But right now my idea of a relaxing evening is working on a new floral carving on a notebook cover.

Bob

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I'm trying to find my groove too. I tried tooling first off and it really doesn't look like that will be it! Then I made a mask-wrong, of course, but watched tutorials and had another go at it. Amazing! I did it! Then I made a really simple ammo box style purse with copper hardware that I also made. I brought it to work and got 4 orders for it! Yay! Unfortunately, stitching is painful! And I get bored making the same thing over and over. So today I took some time off from the purses and made some really cool blindfolds in the same sculpted style as the masks. I'm on a roll with them... 2 are done, 1 is half airbrushed and just designed and cut out 2 more. I'm thinking the masks/blindfolds may well be my groove.

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Your stories are all interesting! I have a full time job as well. I'm trying to find what I love (So far, all of it) , but I want to be able to do ANYTHING with leather. Cowboy boots or shoes is high on my list, as is learning to lace/braid. There's just so many things that are fascinating, and many of them seem to cross over each other. This forum is both bad AND good because I get to see all kinds of work and I want to try them all. I am thankful for the friendships I have made here and the knowledge I have gained. Its really amazing and humbling to have conversations with people I admire, and to have them encourage me and compliment the work I've already done.

I have said it before, this community is the most friendly and helpful of all the ones I have belonged to. There are no trolls, and everyone seems genuinely helpful. So, while I haven't perfected anything yet, I feel like I HAVE to keep experimenting with other things.

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Your stories are all interesting! I have a full time job as well. I'm trying to find what I love (So far, all of it) , but I want to be able to do ANYTHING with leather. Cowboy boots or shoes is high on my list, as is learning to lace/braid. There's just so many things that are fascinating....

I find myself wanting to a lot of varying things as well, but then I end up reminding myself that it will all come in time. Find what you want to do the most of and get good at it, then as time permits venture into other arenas. I recently found myself wanting to venture past the basic edge lacing that's in "how to lace leather" and got a couple of books by Bruce Grant on the subject. Both are great and will help me add little bits and pieces to my work without a huge modification in the style that makes me "me".

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I got into leather because taking up riding got me into saddles and tack. Right now that's extending to an interest in harness. That being said, my first paying commission was to rebuild a rather complicated cartridge-belt guitar strap. Now I know I don't want to get into guitar straps. People who see my own tack are starting to ask me to do work for them - although horses are very popular around here, aparently there is a shortage of saddlers and leather-worlkers. Now I just need a big enough commission to convince my wife I really do need that heavy leather stitcher.

So far I've had little interest in tooling, but I'm starting to think I should try it for fancier headstalls. Rather than dfeciding to do leather work, and searching for my groove, I think the groove just found me. My risk is developing too many interests in too many things.

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I got into leather because taking up riding got me into saddles and tack. Right now that's extending to an interest in harness. That being said, my first paying commission was to rebuild a rather complicated cartridge-belt guitar strap. Now I know I don't want to get into guitar straps. People who see my own tack are starting to ask me to do work for them - although horses are very popular around here, aparently there is a shortage of saddlers and leather-worlkers. Now I just need a big enough commission to convince my wife I really do need that heavy leather stitcher.

So far I've had little interest in tooling, but I'm starting to think I should try it for fancier headstalls. Rather than dfeciding to do leather work, and searching for my groove, I think the groove just found me. My risk is developing too many interests in too many things.

This is my problem too. I just love everything I've done so far. There is NO need for tack here in suburban Chicago so I suppose need is dictated by the areas we live in. PLus, I wouldn't have the foggiest on where to start. Except that I can identify a horse!

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I started out by wanting a custom seat for my motorcycle. Hand made the pan, padding and seat and enjoyed the whole process so I started dabbling. I have an art background so the drawing/carving/tooling of designs came easy and it was a matter of figuring out how to manipulate the tools correctly. Early on I just did whatever came along and bid on pretty much everything in the new Etsy custom request area. Made a few wallets, dog leashes, etc. but nothing really felt right. One day I decided to make a simple tank bib for my wife's bike and while working had an inspirational moment regarding the side covers on my bike. A couple of weeks later I posted them on the bike forum I was on constantly and orders started rolling. About 6 months later, the guy who originated the whaletail tank bib design for my bike and a few others posted that he was retiring. Seeing an opportunity, I spent the next couple of weeks figuring out how to make them and posted my own designs. Bought a handful of popular gas tanks (a few = current count of 13). Haven't seen a day without an order to work on since. A corporate relationship that developed in the last year is now pushing me towards rear fender bibs as a main item, which is fine with me. I've made a few bags and enjoyed it but haven't found the right market for it yet but it gives me something to work on for the future.

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That is AWESOME! Truly, that best way it seems is let the leather guide you.

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While I believe in "Do one thing and do it well,"... I think it's good to stretch your skills. After the first of the year perhaps you can participate in some of the challenges.

I started leather work in Junior High. Did it for a couple years and then the death of my both my parents by the time I was 18 lead me down a path of self destruction for a while. I left leather alone for a long time, until about 6 years ago when I went half crazy and bought a bunch of tools and leather projects on Ebay. I "attempted" one small project and the others sat in a closet until about a year ago when my husband's belt broke and we had no money to buy him a new one. I dug out the belt blanks I had an did a simple border design. Then I re-did a wallet that the previous owner of the tools attempted. Then a checkbook case... and a dasher bag from the things I had. I was off an running. I found LW.net and have learned a lot.

Long story, shortened. I own several guitars. While in a chat with other guitarists.... someone asked me what I had been doing lately. I showed a picture of a practice piece and simply said. "I think I'm going to make myself a guitar strap." The next thing I new I had an order for a guitar strap. Eureka! lol I'm still doing guitar straps (and pick pouches) but still haven't made one for myself, yet. I think I am ready to branch out a little too.

So, I guess my advice is to look toward another hobby you may have your "focus" may lay in that field. For instance, an athlete might find a leather gym bag a good project. A bowler might want a leather bowling bag. An archery enthusiast, a quiver, etc.

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