Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Real or Fake?

No, I’m not talking about the collection of Betsey Johnson dresses I bought on Ebay before finally ending up getting a real one (I had to send back two fakes, and am still awaiting a refund on one of them), I’m talking about leather.

One of the main reasons I started making leather goods initially was that I kept burning through synthetic/vinyl bags.  I was going through one vinyl messenger bag approximately every six months, and they weren’t cheap!  When you wear a hole in vinyl, there isn’t much you can do about it either, other than throw the bag away.  And every time I did it, I thought – LANDFILL!!!  So I built myself a leather messenger bag, and almost seven years later, it is still in one very happy piece.

The Apartment Therapy Blog actually does a pretty good pro/con list of leather and pleather/pvc/vinyl.  I’ve always felt like the lists were pretty biased against leather since it is an animal byproduct, and that my list might be slanted in the other direction. With a little inspiration and a push from Apartment Therapy, here’s the pro/con list as I see it:

Benefits of Leather:

1.  Animal byproduct – cow leather comes from cows that are used for meat, and are not slaughtered specifically for their meat.  The cattle industry uses a remarkable percentage of the cow (I’ve heard numbers up to 95% but haven’t been able to verify it) for various purposes.

2. Current vegetable tanning techniques are less environmentally impactful than previous chemical tanning methods.

3.  Leather is durable and can easily last 50 to 100 years or more, if well cared for.  Not easily torn or punctured, as synthetics can be.

4.  Leather can be re-dyed a different color if desired, or the color can be touched up when it fades.

5.  Leather develops a “patina” over time, and breaks in (think of an old baseball glove or a leather jacket) and will become more comfortable as it ages.

6. Breathable, and less “sticky” when hot than leather. 

7.  Generally hypo-allergenic.


Benefits of Synthetics:

1. Vegan friendly – not an animal byproduct.

2.  Can be any color or pattern that you desire.

3.  Easily cleaned and maintained – doesn’t require oiling or conditioning

4.  Won’t crack or fade over time.


Did I miss anything?  Let me know!  And if you have comments on the above list, feel free to leave them.  For now, I’ll leave you with two chairs, one old leather, and one old vinyl:

I love the way the leather chair is worn, and how it has aged over time.  You can almost see someone sitting in it right now…  and it looks like it is for sale, so maybe that someone will be me!

Off to the studio…


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Leather Care: Conditioner

I remember getting my first pair of Dr. Marten’s.  They were black, eight eye, lace-up boots and I think I must have been no more than 12.   I convinced my parents that I desperately needed a pair for those harsh Seattle winters.  I also bought a container of Sno-Seal to really sell the idea that these were winter boots.  I carefully read the instructions, turned the oven on, and warmed up my boots until they were ready to coat.  I wore those boots most days for the next few years, and they got me to college one snowy morning that I had a midterm.  And they kept my feet dry the two miles that I walked in the snow.

I am actually asked a lot about leather care, and conditioners.  Living in a relatively moist environment (I heard someone say today on the radio that we are the “fungus capital” if that gives you an idea) I don’t actually have to do much to my leather goods to keep them in shape.  The truth is, if you’re in a decently humid environment and you use your leather pieces, they’ll be just fine.  The oils on your hands transfer to the leather, and keep it soft and conditioned.

If you’re in a dry environment, however, or if you have pieces you don’t use very often, you may want to consider treating them.  Scratch that.  You may need to treat them.  When leather ages it will lose the oils that keep it supple and will begin to crack.  You can think of it like really dry skin, but when leather cracks, it doesn’t heal.  And there isn’t really anything you can do about it once it does, other than give it Frankenstein-style stitches. 

So here’s what I recommend:  Lexol.   It is the only thing I use for leather these days since it absorbs well and doesn’t leave a sticky residue.  The times I have treated shoes with Mink Oil it has always been sticky after, which is pretty, well, gross.  I’m going to sound like the bottle here but I’d always test a small patch of the leather first before applying it to the entire thing.  Lexol shouldn’t affect the paint or the dye on your leather, but since every piece is different, it’s worth testing it out.  If you’re applying it to full-grain leather pieces (tooled leather, or your Moxie and Oliver wares) it will also help to soften up the leather’s initial stiffness. It’s really just accelerating the process here, since the leather does loosen up on its own.

Lexol is appropriate for anything from automotive leather to shoes to bags and your furniture. I did a personal stash clearance sale recently and sold a belt that I hadn’t worn in years.  Some of the branding lines were a little cracked and starting to show wear, so I rubbed a bit of Lexol on it and voila!  Good as new.  I just use a soft paper towel, but you can use a cloth or whatever you have on hand that doesn’t shed.  Just be careful – you don’t want to put a cloth in the dryer after you’ve saturated it with oil.  Apparently it is a fire hazard.

So those are my thoughts – I hope they help!  If you’re in the midst of a heat wave and bored, maybe it’s time to condition your leather!  If you are looking for a local place to buy Lexol, or another conditioner, try your local Shoe Repair.  They’re leather workers, and usually have quite a good selection + insight.

Next:  Leather cleaners and waterproofers.



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A place to rest your feet

I have been thinking a lot recently about the things I can make with leather that aren’t your standard bag, belt, shoes (coming soon!!), and other wearables. One day it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, our dining room chairs could use some new Moxie and Oliver leather seats.  And that Ottoman in the living room that has fuzzy gold fabric on it, well, it could use a makeover too.  Then, of course, I renewed my obsession with leather ottomans….  where I would put one, I have no idea, but here are a few favorites!

A few years ago I found a leather ottoman on Horchow and absolutely fell in love. Knowing what I know about that site, it seemed best to wait for a sale.  They routinely send out coupon codes that can be up to 25% on furniture.  It would be totally worth it to wait.  So I waited, got a coupon code, and went to buy and they were gone.  Not just out of stock, completely disappeared.  And customer service said they didn’t know what I was talking about!  Well, I’m not nuts, because someone else found them, and here they are:


They’re actually technically nail head storage cubes, I guess, and they are covered in white leather with geometric nail head patterns.  I was in love, but waited just a little too long.  The very same blog where I found the pictures of these lovelies also had a picture of this one, which I love even more (but alas, still unavailable, because it is from Horchow):

Horchow also has a fantastic Silver Leather Pouf that I can’t seem to grab the photo to, but luckily, some other stores have it in other fabulous colors for about the same price ($199-$250 range).  The turquoise one from Buy.com is awesome (though if I were to get one, I’d opt for silver just to torture my husband):

Anyway, where totally stuffed leather pouf-like ottomans are on my list, I think I better learn to decorate with them before making or buying them.  And clear some space in my living room. Right now, I have two little ottomans to strip and re-cover with leather of my very own.  Progress photos coming soon…



Monday, August 8, 2011

Goodbye, Oliver




I know I need to write this post, but I’ve been having a hard time starting, then finding the words to finish.

Over the weekend we said goodbye to Oliver. For the last few years we’ve affectionately called him the “grumpy old man.”  He’d developed kidney disease a few years back, and could be a bit of a grumpus at times, mostly protesting Guapo’s insistence that they always sleep in the same bed, or his constant pestering of Oliver to play with him.  As much as Oliver complained, though, he absolutely adored Guapo. 

Oliver was a stray who showed up on my parents doorstep about nine years ago.  He was a long-haired orange kitty with striking green eyes.  I stopped to pet him in my way in the house, and told him that I wanted to steal him and take him home with me.  I went in, and my stepfather asked me from the bathroom, “do you want a kitty?”  I excitedly asked if it was the one on the front porch, and he said yes.  Oliver had been hanging around for a few weeks, asking for food, love, etc. and it was clear that if he had a home, he wasn’t interested in going there.  He wanted to be somewhere else.

So my stepfather fashioned a little kitty cave on the porch out of blankets and I started feeding Oliver, just until we could take him home.  My mom protested me giving him food because he wouldn’t go away if we fed him.  I told her that was the point.  Eventually my college-living situation was sorted out enough that my then boyfriend took Oliver for 9 months until I got an apartment of my own that allowed pets, and Oliver came to live with me.

What we quickly found out was the reason Oliver was a stray.  Though loving and handsome, he had a tendency to pee, specifically on carpet.  Not really a desirable trait in an animal, but I loved him anyway.  He moved from my boyfriend’s house into my apartment, then to our house when my husband and I bought it.  He ruined the floors everywhere.

Oliver also howled.  Make no mistake – this was not a meow.  This was a howl.  He would sit with his neck extended and make that circular motion with his lower jaw and this sound that was something like a baby crying would come out.  When my husband and I lived in our apartment, we got a noise complaint from his howling.  An official letter from animal control that said “your animal” but “animal” was crossed out and “cat” was written in it’s place, is making too much noise.  We laughed.  A cat, with a noise complaint.  Hilarious.  And then we moved.

Oliver continued howling, continued peeing on the floor, and if you happened to be sleeping and he wanted love, he’d wait patiently, staring at you, until you opened your eyes.  Then he would start meowing.  And he would meow until you paid attention to him.

Oliver loved being brushed, and he’d let you do it for hours.  He loved it when you made a little circle with your thumb and forefinger that he would push his head through.  He was also a drooler, and would get giant drool gobs on his mouth when he was happy, then he’d shake his head. He was a loving cat, who would let me spoon him at night to sleep, and use him as a pillow.  When he was healthy, he weighed about 15lbs and was probably near 3ft long all stretched out. In the nine years I had him, I only heard him hiss twice. 

He finally stopped howling when we got Guapo.  He’d fuss when Guapo wanted to share a bed with him, but he’d always give in.  The worst nights of complaining were when they were separated.  Despite the cranking about it, Oliver just adored Guapo’s love, and as soon as Guapo died, his howling started back again, and his health started to go downhill.

His kidney disease got worse, and he was just sad.  We planned on getting him two new kittens but he didn’t make it that far. I honestly think that Guapo extended his life by a few years, and I hope they' are together in the kitty ever-after, cuddling and protesting, biting and licking, and being happy loving kitties together. 

When Oliver passed on Saturday it was peaceful.  I had seen it coming for a while, and apparently told him not to die while we were gone as we left for England in June (I only partially remember this, but I think Kevin’s right, I did say it).  He was sick, and I knew it.  For a few days before he died, I was surprised to see him when I woke up in the morning.  He could barely move, and he’d given up on life.  He was ready to move on, though I wasn’t ready to let him.  I said goodbye to him many times a day, told him I loved him, and how glad I was that he had found my doorstep nine years ago. 

I’ve made a big print of the photo at the top of this post, and I’ll keep it in my studio with my big Guapo picture.  That was Oliver’s “I want attention” face.  I loved it.  I still do.  He was the best naughty kitty I’ve ever had. 

I love you, Oliver.  And miss you.  I know you’re in a better place, and I hope it includes the restoration of your healthy cat body, and the companionship of your kitten, Guapo.



Thursday, August 4, 2011



So it is no secret that I have a little bit of a shoe fetish.  This is why, next month, I’m going to learn how to make shoes of my very own.  It seems like the natural progression from making leather accessories for the last seven years.  I spoke to one of the people who runs it today, and after looking at my website, she told me I’d be in 7th Heaven being able to make shoes, and I think she is right.

I was inspired after finding Yoma shoes when I was in Brighton.  They have a little shop in the North Laines, and it is full of adorable sandals with flowers attached.  How could I resist?  Well, fortunately for me they didn’t have everything I wanted in my size (or I would have needed a new suitcase to bring it all home) but I did pick up a pair of these:


but in black (I was trying to be practical).  They are relatively reasonable at about 50 pounds a pair (I think that’s about $85? Or it was then).  But it really got me thinking – I could make some wickedly cool sandals with my leather lace patterns, or flowers riveted on.  And in September, I get to learn!

So that’s my leather post for the day.  If you happen to be in Brighton I highly recommend checking out the Yoma store.  What was funny was that they don’t get great reviews when you do a Google search precisely because they have a distinct style.  The shoes are comfortable, though, and seem to be built well (they are made in Spain).  I found the sizing to be a little inconsistent, and I’d tend to recommend the sandals over the closed-toe shoes.  It may just be the way my wacky feet work, but my toes always felt like the shoe was hitting my toenail, which isn’t terribly comfortable.  One thing I do know about leather is that it stretches out over time, so where the shoes may start out a little tight, they would loosen up with wear.  More on that later, when I bring you a fabulous deal on my favorite pair of shoes!



Monday, August 1, 2011

Everything you love about leather


So over the last few months I have done a bit of soul searching. I love to write, and I actually really enjoy the process of blogging, but I tend to get a little too scattered.  In my life I’ve tried to be more of a renaissance woman than an expert in anything, but after seven years of working with leather, I think I’m approaching a certain expertise.  And along the way, I’ve gained some useful knowledge that I would love to share with my friends, fans, and anyone on the internet who happens to find me.

Today is a virtual ribbon-cutting on the grand re-opening of the Moxie & Oliver blog.  From now on, I’m focusing my blogging efforts on leather.  What it is (there are more types than you may know),  what to buy, and how to care for it once you have it.  And since I am already trying one new thing, I thought I’d try a second as well.

My very first video!  Over the years leather can crack and show signs of wear.  Some people like that look (I am one of them) while others like something that looks new all the time.  In this video, I illustrate an easy way to make your wallet, purse, belt, or other leather piece look like new again.  Anyone can do it, and it requires three things:  dye, topcoat, and paper towels.  I do also recommend rubber (or nitrile, or vinyl) gloves, since the dye will discolor your hands, too.

Restoring the Jasmine Wallet

That’s all for now.  My goal is to bring you some form of leather goodness at least three times a week, so be sure to follow my blog, and maybe even the YouTube channel – I’ll be posting more simple how to videos soon.

Happy Monday!