24th September 2015
If you’ve been tuning in here for a while you’ll know that second to crafting, travel is my passion. I love discovering new places and having experiences I never could at home. But sometimes I spend so much time online when on the road that I can miss experiences right in front of me. It’s ridiculous! Are you the same as me? Do you find yourself staring at your phone when you should be looking out the window?
As part of my ongoing focus this year on finding balance between the online and offline world (remember this post), I recently got together with Cathay Pacific to launch their #onedayoffline campaign. To really get into the spirit of the #onedayoffline concept, I traveled to Italy, Florence in fact. As the global capital of leather artisans, the gorgeous city has been on my radar for a very long time. I had to pinch myself once I realised I would be spending one glorious day learning the secrets of the leather trade with leather artisans. To be honest, I could have stayed a year but I’m definitely not complaining.
By some miracle, I was able to get into the Florence School of Leather, which is THE place to learn the secrets of this artisan trade. Established after World War Two as a leather training college for war orphans, and now catering to students from all over the world, the ‘Scuola del Cuoio’ is the heart of traditional leather craft in this city. I went offline for a day and got a private training course from one of their artisans.
Not only was there so much knowledge to drink in, so much to see, but being offline while I did it allowed my creative juices to flow. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
What would you do with your one day offline? Head to the #onedayoffline website to make your pledge.
The tools of the trade.
Gorgeous Florence (guide coming soon!)
View from the Duomo
From a few of your comments on social media I know many of you are incredibly interested in doing some sort of leather course like this, and I think you should! I took the one day course (sadly we were tight on time!), but the school offers these types of courses as well as longer intensive study over 3 and 6 months. It’s not exactly cheap, but if you’re looking to become a professional I would say it’s a good investment.
During my course, I made a leather journal and also learnt a range of different techniques needed to work with leather on both big and small projects. All of these techniques given me a much greater understanding of leather as a medium – I can’t wait to experiment more! A few takeaways:
One of the best things I learnt was how to better choose leather for a project. Obviously this comes down to matching leather with what you’re making. This will depend firstly on the leather thickness, which will effect how pliable it is or how much movement the leather allows. Secondly, it’ll come down to the type of leather. There are lots of different types but they can be roughly split into two groups: those that come from the topside of the leather (often more sturdy – you’ll be able to see the pores of the skin) and those like suede and nubuck that that originate from the layer below (and are a little bit velvet like).
In the past when I’ve cut leather for projects I’ve used scissors, but soon learnt in Florence that it’s a completely no no. The action of snipping away means your lines move and curve in the wrong direction. Instead, a ruler or template should be used with a scalpel or rotary cutter. Florence Leather school obviously had a zillion different tools of every possible task at hand, but I think at home (or in the studio) these two cutting tools are a good place to start.
Using a Cardboard Pattern (or ‘Form’)
So it turns out that the beautiful cardboard patterns hanging all over the walls in the Florence Leather School aren’t there just to be B roll for my video – they serve a traditional function. All the bags in the main gallery and in their store have been made using these cardboard patterns. After making the cardboard form of the pattern you can use it over and over again to trace the outline. You just place the cardboard form onto the leather and hold firmly with one hand and then use the other hand to cut the leather according to the pattern, by placing the blade as close as possible.
One thing I found fascinating is that in professional bag making, once you’ve cut your pattern it is pressed using a special pressing machine, essential rolled between to rollers so that the leather is of a uniform thickness all over. This was a surprise to me as I had no idea this is part of the making process, and I can understand why home made leather products are generally more rustic.
Finishing the edges of leather
I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and have always wanted to know how to create that perfect bought-in-a-boutique feel for my leather projects. One place my projects always seem to let me down is their edges, professional pieces always have perfectly finished edges that wear well over time. Turns out this is because of two factors – the edges are beveled (cut on an angle) and treated with a glue mix to seal and then burnished (fancy word for rubbed) so they shine. A process that’s completely worth it!
These are just a few of the things I learnt on my #onedayoffline, I can only imagine how much you would learn in a whole semester!
The centuries old building of the leather school made it an awe inspiring experience.
Admiring the work station of one of the master artisans
Not a bad place to spend a day!
The space was just so atmospheric.
Due to the location on the river, Florence has been the home of leather tanneries forever, which helped create this centuries old industry.
Starting the process of making my journal.
Learning to use the right tools (and trying not to smash my finger!).
Walls of forms for making bags.
Completely handmade bag designs in the school.
The finished product of my journal.
This post is in collaboration with Cathay Pacific.
23rd September 2015
Those of you following along on snapchat (find me: apair_andaspare) will know that I’ve been spending quite a bit of time researching and planning the DIY projects for the site for the next few months, I’m so keen to get some fresh ideas and trends up for you guys to try yourself. I’ve got a bunch of fun before & afters planned, as well as lots of original ideas to make from scratch. Excited! Naturally a style I’ve been really loving (and you can see everyone else is too) is the wide leg trouser. Pretty much the easiest thing to make in the world if you have even basic knowledge of hand or machine sewing. The trick for this project is choosing a nice fabric that moves well, thus taking them from pyjama wear to out on the town wear, although a little bit of both isn’t so bad either…
Wearing: DIY Trousers, Grana silk shell top (my new go to top because it’s classy like a camp but you can wear a bra!), Celine Trio Bag, The Mode Collective Heels, Daniel Wellington Watch.
- 2 metres (2.2 yards) of fabric, we used a nice flowy rayon
- elastic to fit your waist
- a pair of wide leg trousers or pyjama pants to use as the template.
1. Cut your fabric into two pieces lengthways. Then fold it on half. Place the long edge of your trousers on the folded edge of the fabric, as shown below.
2. Cut around the other side to mirror the crotch of the trousers. Do this again so you have two pieces.
3. Pin your pieces together along both curved edges.
4. The pinned product will look like this.
5. Now for the sort of tricky bit. Switch the outside seams around so they are in the middle of the garment and facing each other. Then pin the leg seams together on opposite sides.
Once you’ve done all the pinning your basic trousers will be created.
6. All you have to do next is to sew the pinned seams, sew the hems and then do an elasticated waistband using this method (fold over the sew down the waistband casing and them thread with elastic). Too easy!
To wear them, I always make sure to cover the waistband either with a top of a belt, that gives them a polished look. And if you dress the finish product up with some nice accessories no one will be the wiser about how easy (and inexpensive) these are.
Finished product photos by Bryant Lee.
22nd September 2015
Recently I travelled to Okinawa, a string of tiny islands off the coast of Japan with a friend, and had the most amazing time. I guess it was made all the better because I really didn’t know what to expect. There is pretty much zero info available on this part of the world (in english anyway) and everyone I asked in Hong Kong descibed it as… ‘random’. After being there I know what they mean, but for me it was random in a good way as opposed to being random in a bad way. First things first, the culture pretty much defies definition – Japanese but with a more relaxed vibe than bigger cities like Tokyo and with a hint of Hawaiian culture owing to the fact that many Okinawans moved out to the US in the early 1900s to work as labourers and brought the culture back post WW11. Every also feel very 70’s in terms of decor, it’s like time stood still. And those beaches! Worth going for those alone.
My friends over at Seek the Uniq sent me a few pretty pieces to wear on my trip, I recommend you checking them out if you’re looking for a few travel inspired items to freshen up your suitcase – currently loving this bucket bag, this simple beach dress, this one shoulder top and this retro swimsuit (doubles as a top!).
Rock formations at Aharen Bay on Tokishiki Island (wearing Seek the Uniq)
We went at the busiest time of year, so found accom both expensive and hard to get hold of. Avoid August if you can! We wanted to stay on the island of Tokashiki (a ferry ride from main city of Naha) but couldn’t find any accommodation, so for the first night we bunked down at the Mercure in Naha and then took a day trip the next day. We then headed up the island and managed to stay at Moon Beach, which was pricey at that time of the year but lovely.
Eat & Drink
We became addicted to the food in Okinawa, particularly the tofu and also taco rice while we were there, this weird mix of chilli con carne on sushi rice which is a bit of a staple around Oki. These are a few of the places we liked:
We loved our trip to Udonyama, best udon I’ve had since Kyoto and in the cutest house.
Borrachos for the best Taco Rice in Naha. It’s Mexican so great for an evening mojito.
Café Doka Doka in Onna is a cute cafe with a lovely view and little gallery/pottery shop.
Pizza in the Sky is similar to Cafe Doka Doka with yummy pizzas and a great view of the sunset.
We had a traditional meal at
Paanilani Hawaiian Pancake House is so cute and serves the most amazing pancakes (that’s all it serves). We loved the recommend the ‘nut’ pancakes which are actually coconut.
Ball Donut Park is the cutest place for a sweet treat in Naha.
C&C in Naha is great if you’re lovers of breakfast like we are.
We also visited a number of small bars on Paradise-dori in Naha, most not much bigger than a front lounge room where we met some lovely locals. The owner pulled out her Sanshin (like a guitar) and we all sang along (we didn’t know the words!). They forced us to drink so much sake and we ate all these yummy Okinawan pancakes and tofu. Delish!
See & Do
Okinawa is absolutely huge and there’s so much to do, these are a few of the things we liked while we were there:
A day trip to the Kerama Islands by ferry from Naha is a MUST DO. We chose Tokishiki because I’d read about gorgeous Aharen Beach. Book a public fast ferry in advance (you’ll have to call them up) and then on the island get a bus to the beach. In true Japanese style it’s all so efficient! You can rent umbrellas, chairs and eat taco rice, sashimi, snow cones, have a cocktail, go exploring.
Highway 58 between Naha and Chantan has the most amazing array of vintage stores – furniture, brick a black and all sorts of amazing retro pieces. I would go back for these alone.
A visit to Ikei Beach is the perfect day.
The Pineapple Park looks so twee if that’s your jam.
We loved our quick trip to Cape Manzamo (the elephant rock).
We popped into the Yomitan Pottery Village and could have bought everything!
We popped into the aquarium which we liked. You only need about 30 mins there.
Good to Know
If you’re staying on the main Okinawa Island you need o get a car, there’s zero way to get around otherwise.
Make sure you have the internet on your phone or GPS as the signs are so hard to work out.
The only street signs that matter…
Seek the Uniq bag (so appropriate for Okinawa!), DIY Shorts, Karen Walker Sunglasses, Sportsgirl hat
Aharen Bay didn’t disappoint.
Soaking up the rays in this pretty mixed print playsuit.
How good is travelling with your bestie?
The view from the plane was gorgeous!
Hotel Moon Beach
Snow cones and beach, is there anything better?
Fitting in with the decor and making friends in Tokashiki (wearing this).
We found this little secluded cove (and yeah, insta-gasamed)
Love an off the shoulder number on holidays!
Lunch at Pizza in the Sky (ca-uuutttteee)
Yomitan Pottery Village had me heart eyes.
Pulling up a lounger on Aharen Beach.
It’s not a holiday without two ridiculously decorated drinks.
Japanese treats as far as the eye can see.
20th September 2015
Reading for me is the ultimate therapy. Hunkering down with a good book for a few hours is kinda of like going on a one week health retreat, it’s that time to disconnect that I think my brain craves these days. Although I read most nights for an hour before going to sleep (my brain can’t switch off otherwise), I love to do it the most on Sunday mornings, particularly as the weather starts to cool down and staying in bed becomes more appealing. Drink tea and whirl through the pages. Or should I say flick through the kindle? Or whatever other not-quite-right verb you use for an e-reader.
In the past, my favourite books have been recommended by other people, and so I thought, what better way to get to know you more than to ask you what you think I (and other people out there) should be reading right now. I just sailed through Station Eleven, All The Light That We Cannot See and The Girl On the Train, all fairly new worth reading, and am on the lookout for my next great read. I would be so grateful for any recommendations of new or fairly new books you have. Happy Sunday!
Ps. See here for my favourite books about places.