Monday, November 26, 2012

Looking for a gift for your lady? (under $150)


I spent Black Friday and Small Business Saturday at the Etsy Rain Holiday Show.  Over the two days I learned several things.  First and foremost, I should always bring a chair with me to a craft show.  My feet hurt from standing and talking to all my wonderful customers!  Though, I can’t complain too much.  And the second thing I learned is that my favorite two wallets were also the favorite of almost every lady who came into my booth.  From a show of almost 5,000 attendees, mostly women, I think the sample size is big enough to come to the conclusion that the lady on your list would love a new clutch wallet from Moxie and Oliver!

The January Clutch Wallet - Handmade leather checkbook wallet with carnation - Moxie and Oliver

One of the two most popular wallets was the January Clutch Wallet in pink, sage and antique brown and tan.  I was actually deciding between keeping this one and the second one, the Ginger Clutch Wallet, for myself (I need a new wallet, too!).

The Ginger Clutch Wallet - Handmade leather checkbook wallet with cherry blossoms - Moxie and Oliver

The originals of both sold, but you can get them on the Moxie and Oliver website!  I’m still taking orders for guaranteed Christmas delivery worldwide on custom/made to order pieces (APO/AE’s being the only exception), but don’t delay – this will only last for a few more days. 

Now off to play in the dark – hurray for Northwest winters!



Monday, November 19, 2012

Know how to prevent your leather from cracking?


Multi 1

Q:  “Have you ever had a problem with leather cracking?”

A:  “Nope.”

Several people asked me this at a recent show, and truthfully the answer is no.  After eight years of making leather goods, and many more of using them, I’ve never had a problem.  But I do live in a relatively humid environment, and leather doesn’t tend to dry out in this environment.  That, of course, isn’t a very helpful answer so here’s a better one:

Vegetable Tanned Leather:  This is the kind of leather I use, exclusively.  Some say that vegetable tanned leather is a superior leather, and I agree! The gentle tanning process (taking up to 60 days) produces a leather that doesn’t crack or harden over time. This may be why my answer is a solid “no” when people ask me if I’ve had trouble with leather cracking. If you do live in a dry environment or you’d like to try to soften up your leather, a vegetable tanned leather piece can benefit from some oil (and even cleaning if you like, but I prefer the broken-in look) from time to time.  I use Lexol Neatsfoot Oil – you can get it online – but Fiebings also makes some great products for the care of vegetable tanned leather.  Just go easy on the oil – put it on a cloth and wipe it on lightly, starting with a test patch.  You can always add more later! 

Chrome Tanned Leather:  This is a totally different beast.  When I took shoe making classes last year I could barely cut this stuff – it stretches, and vegetable tanned leather doesn’t.  A lot of furniture and leather goods are made from pigment coated leather,  which actually needs to be cleaned so that it can be kept free of dirt and body oils, which can cause it to crack.  Surprise!  So basically, unless you’re buying vegetable tanned leather, normal use will cause your leather to crack (another culprit may be a manufacturing defect, but there’s not much you can do about that).  There are some methods for repairing cracked leather if it has gone that far, but proper cleaning for the chrome tanned leathers are definitely your best bet towards prevention.

So, how do you prevent leather from cracking?  Buy vegetable tanned leather!  In all seriousness, chrome tanned leather requires cleaning and de-greasing, some say once a month, where vegetable tanned leather may benefit from the occasional rub-down with some oil, if you’re in super dry environment.  Otherwise, well, just enjoy it and trust it will last for years to come!

Off to clean and de-grease the seats on my car…. Why can’t I just make them out of vegetable tanned leather?  They could have flowers….



Friday, November 16, 2012

Stumped on what to get your “simple” man?


Got a “simple” guy on your list?  You know the type – that guy that loves life enough that he doesn’t need to have a holiday wish list that’s anything other than new socks and underwear.  Can you tell I’m speaking from experience?  Every year, figuring out a Christmas gift for my husband is a struggle.

monogram id front (1500x1000)

monogram id back (1500x1000)

This year he’s getting a new Monogram Mini ID Wallet. As he gets a little older (like we all do) I think that a simpler pattern suits his style more.  So, I made this one with just his initials.  He loves the style because as a “simple” guy he refuses to carry more than a few cards with him, and rarely carries cash.  He also prefers to put his wallet in his front pocket, so this style is perfect for him.

Of course, if you have at simple guy who veers more towards the traditional men’s bifold wallet we’ve got that covered, as well as the back-pocket sandwich of a trifold men’s wallet.

Speaking of sandwich… I think it’s dinner time!



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Order Early–Holiday Shipping Deadlines!


Every year I’m bombarded with emails and “convos” asking if something will ship in time for Christmas delivery.  Well, here’s your answer (and if you’re reading this, go order now!!! Why risk an empty-handed gift exchange on Christmas day?) for when you need to order for guaranteed Christmas delivery.

If you’d like a Custom item or something from the Personalized Patterns:

* Orders shipping to the US must be placed by Tuesday December 4, 2012

* Orders to APO/AE addresses ending in 093 must be placed by Sunday, November 18th, 2012.  All other APO/AE addresses must be placed by Sunday, November 25th, 2012.

* International Orders must be placed by Friday November 30, 2012

If you’re ordering an in-stock item (check my Etsy shop for a current inventory of in-stock pieces during the holidays)

* Orders shipping to the US must be placed by Tuesday, December 18, 2012

* Orders shipping to APO/AE addresses ending in 093 must be placed by Sunday, December 2, 2012.  Orders shipping to all other APO/AE addresses must be placed by Sunday, December 9, 2012.

* International Orders must be placed by Sunday, December 9, 2012.

I calculate my dates and ship according to the USPS Holiday Shipping Schedule.  If I can extend the deadlines, I’ll certainly make an announcement about it, and likewise, if I have to close the custom ordering window early, I will let you all know!

Oh, and if you happen to be celebrating Hanukkah – GO ORDER NOW!!!! It’s in less than a month!

Happy holidays!



Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Perfect Pair


Stunning silver jewelry and a rugged leather belt make a wonderful, handcrafted, pair.  These photos are courtesy Jo of I Dream I Can Fly.  She’s a talented silversmith – my favorites are her cast animal pieces with their abstracted forms.  The bird was one of her first, and I actually gave one to my mom a few years back.  It’s such a satisfyingly simple bird shape – chubby and sweet, just reminiscent enough of a bird that you know what it is. 

Jo always gets wonderful photos, and more than a few have included my belts!  The belt she is wearing in this shoot is the Nelly Belt, a western-inspired pattern that I’ve put my own style on.  This was actually where the (slight) obsession with cow skulls and wild roses came from, and they’ve made their way into quite a few patterns since.

Hope you enjoy these! And now, back to answering email…



Monday, October 1, 2012

Hotel Key Case

One of my fascinations is decorating my house with leather in unusual places.  I don’t always have the brain power to switch modes and work with another medium, so anything I need done around the house is usually done in leather, when possible.

A few months back I found this fabulous hotel key case at Second Use – a local salvage yard.  I’ve gotten some great things there and totally stalked their website when I was looking for pieces for the studio (more on this to come).  When this piece popped up I had to have it – we have so many keys I don’t even know what to do with them.  The idea of hanging them in a refurbished antique turned art object was irresistible.  So, for $75 (yeah, I probably could have built it for less, but then it wouldn’t have been antique!) I got this:

IMG_9438 (2)IMG_9444

I loved the old hooks and the scrawled numbers, but the fabric backing was in terrible shape.  I unscrewed all of the little hooks, then cut myself a sheet of leather the size of the back, and got to work.  I measured and pre-punched the holes for the hooks (I cut down the number since I don’t have 100+ keys – I think I was left with about 48 holes)


This is one of the larger pieces I’ve done recently, so it was a bit of an adventure.  It’s bigger than my workspace so I was often working sideways, trying to get everything branded and painted.

When the leather was done I painted the outside of the cabinet and added a little caulk to keep the glass in.  Then I glued the leather to the back, re-inserted all the little hooks, and made a set of key chains for all the keys I have (see – there are a lot!!).  Here’s the finished piece:



So, what do you think?  (And yes, I’ll post more photos when I figure out how to hang it on the wall!)



Monday, September 17, 2012

Mutual Appreciation

How could I get customer appreciation photos and not let you all know how much I appreciate you?  Well, I can’t. You all have been fabulous to me over the last eight years, and have made it possible for me to continue doing what I’m doing – making lots of fun things out of leather. I’m so grateful, every day, when I get to get up and go to work for myself, making thing for you!

Anyway, this week I received two customer photos of their Moxie and Oliver wares at work.  The first is the Hive Mandolin Strap (fixed length) shown with a customer’s lovely new mandolin:

2012-09-15 10.10.05 (2)

Doesn’t it look perfect?  I love the warmth of the mandolin with the strap.  Thanks for sending it along, Carole!

The second set of photos comes from my old neighbor, Alice, from Bohemian Hellhole (quite a wonderful blog if you have the chance to read it).  This is a set of four cabinet pulls I made for her new home.  They’re in the Blaise pattern, and will soon be available through my website!




I love this last photo.  It’s so serene and the pulls look amazing! I’m about to start ripping apart my house to figure out what I can put them on.



Monday, September 10, 2012

My Favorite Bag (i.e., why I am a leatherworker)


When I was in high school and college my favorite bags were vintage airline “stewardess” bags.  I’d buy them, love them, and use them up in a matter of months.  They ripped, and usually zippers or other hardware came off.  Mostly when this happens to a non-leather bag, it’s not repairable.  I tried to meticulously hand-stitch the zipper on this one back on, but it wasn’t in the cards.  The stitching just came out elsewhere.  So, I gave up.  I put it in the closet, unable to part with it, and figured eventually I’d repair it or make my own.

A few weeks ago, I made my own.  I’m testing out the prototype and making a few changes to it because I want my customers to have the most durable, beautiful, leather goods available.  So far, I’m loving the prototype.  Here’s a glimpse -

alabama stewardess 1 (1500x1000)alabama stewardess 2 (1500x1000)alabama stewardess 3 (1500x1000)alabama stewardess 4 (1500x1000)

It’s really structured to start out (and it’s something like 5 “ deep – it’s crazy big) but the top does collapse down because it is carried under your arm.  I usually leave the zipper open and treat it like a tote, but then if I need to be sure everything stays secure, I can zip it up.  My plan is to use it as a diaper bag/purse, but if you’re not in need of diapers, it can fit a portfolio, ipad, day planner, camera (my digital SLR fits in the case, in the bag), water bottle (standing up), as well as all your daily essentials.

My husband even brought the bag to me the other day with our cat, Stella, in it.  Granted, she’s the smaller of the two, but he also hadn’t taken any of my other stuff out!

Look for this to hit the website next week.  It will come out initially in two patterns, and custom orders are always available.



Saturday, September 1, 2012

Breaking from the making

Away for the weekend, the studio is closed, the baby is sleeping, so I'm shopping online and thinking these:
Indigo by Clark Women's Plush Bea Shoe
(the Clarks Plush Bea in Gray Green) would look fabulous with this:

The Rebecca Lace Cuff - Handmade leather cuff with flowers - Moxie and Oliver

(the Rebecca Lace Cuff) for a last tribute to summer.  Leather breathes so it works year-round, though a solid leather shoe or leather cuff seems a little heavy for the warmer seasons, at least to me. The subtle cut-outs in both these pieces give them a lightness that is ideal for the bridge seasons - spring and fall - and the non-white neutrals help you not tempt fate with the fashion gods by wearing white after Labor Day!

I am obsessing over these shoes because I have the Clarks Plush Madras from last season (four pairs in three different colors - two of the black since I was convinced I'd wear one pair out by using them every day, but not yet!) and they're amazing.  They stretched out pretty quickly and are now like wearing a tight, sturdy, glove of a shoe. I can walk in them all day and not get a blister or sore feet.  But, as of February, I have my sweet little Celtic tiger tattoo on my foot, and want to show it off.  So I'm looking for the perfect summer tattoo shoe.  Any suggestions?


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Leather Care 101


Let me first say that I don’t have the foggiest clue how to care for chrome tanned goods.  I’ve never had any luck oiling shoes, which is probably okay, since I live in a relatively humid environment (not a hot humid one, but there’s enough humidity here that the moisture isn’t constantly being sucked out of everything.

Anyway, when properly cared for, your vegetable tanned leather goods will last you a lifetime.  But, since your relationship with your leather piece starts when you take it out of the box, we’ll start there, too.

I’m often asked how to soften leather when people first receive their goods.  I heard a rumor, when I presented luthier Austin Clark with his trout mandolin strap, that the Native American women used to chew their leather to soften it.  Austin’s wife, Cynthia, spent the first few days of Wintergrass working the strap back and forth in her hands.  With a little elbow grease, the strap quickly softened up. 

This is the first bit of advice that I give all my customers – just use your new leather goods! They’ll soften up on their own.   No leather chewing necessary.  If you’d like to give it a little encouragement, I don’t recommend chemical conditioners or softeners, I also don’t recommend using anything that you find in your kitchen or bathroom.  My preference is Lexol.  It smells good, and doesn’t leave a greasy film on your leather.  Now, how to apply it – I squirt a bit on a paper towel and rub it on my leather goods.  Then let it soak in.  Simple as that.

As your leathers age, if you use them the oils on your hands will get transferred to the leather and keep it soft.  Though, if you want it softer, there’s nothing wrong with conditioning it now and again.  If you live in a dry environment, I’d definitely recommend oiling your leathers.  Also, if you don’t use them frequently, you will definitely want to take them out and oil them periodically.  When leathers are left alone, they can dry out, and crack. Once they crack, there’s really nothing you can do other than enjoy the rugged finish your leather has just achieved.

Now, for cleaning.  For vegetable tanned leather, a damp cloth (not soaked) should remove any surface dirt and grime.  My leathers have an acrylic topcoat on them, so dirt and grime won’t really soak in.  If you do things like I do, like keeping sippy cups of milk in your purse, then you’ll need to wipe your leathers off with a damp cloth now and again.  Lexol does also make a leather conditioner, but I’d recommend testing it on a small patch before applying it to your entire piece. You never, ever, want to soak your vegetable tanned leather in water.  It will get hard.  It can withstand some water – the occasional downpour, a sprinkler, etc., – but leaving your water bottle open in your purse, upside-down, isn’t advisable (speaking again on experience here).

When it comes to repair, your best source is a local shoe repair.  They’re all leather workers and have many of the same tools that whomever made your goods in the first place did.  Plus, they’re local, so you won’t have to try to live too long without your trusted purse!

If you do need to store your leathers, keep them in a temperature controlled environment (not the basement or the attic eaves, but rather someplace that you can actually live, like your closet). For belts, many recommend storing them hanging up (and the Container Store has some great belt hangers, as well as just about everything else you might need) so that they don’t get permanently configured into a coiled shape.  This may be more necessary with chrome tanned and “dress” belts than with veg tanned ones – I’ve had perfectly fine luck keeping mine in a coiled mess in my drawer.  As for purses, I’d put them on a shelf, in a dust bag if you prefer (though since it’s really only to protect from dust, totally at your discretion!).

Does that cover it?  The most important thing is to protect your leather from extremes – extreme heat, extreme cold, dryness, or excessive humidity.  It can stand any one of those for a short period.  Love your leather, and it will love you back for years to come!




(for more leather care information, has a comprehensive article on how to care and clean different types of leather).

(the photo above is my “purse dump” – contents available at, except for the camera!)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What is this “Vegetable Tanned Leather” anyway?

Okay, so nobody has asked it quite like that, but I have had that question asked in many ways over the years, so I think it is about time that I answer.

The leather that I use is vegetable tanned, or veg-tan, leather.  The vegetable tanning process I believe is the second most popular tanning process, after chromium tanning (chrome-tanned leather).  The chromium tanned leathers are the ones that most people are familiar with, since they’re used for almost all handbags, belts, upholstery, shoes, and pretty much anything else you can think of.  I say almost all, since there are vegetable tanned leather accessories out there!

The vegetable tanned leather is tanned using tannin and other vegetable-based ingredients (well, tree bark and such).  It stays the natural color of the leather which is a light tan/camel sort of color that can then be painted and dyed to whatever color you’d like.  There is definitely variation from hide to hide in the color and also the properties of the leather – when you go to dye it, each accepts the dye differently.  Chrome-tanned leather, on the other hand, is dyed with chromium sulfate and other chromium salts and is dyed during the tanning process.  The result is a total rainbow of colors.  If you want to see some of the variations, Hide House and Just Leather have an amazing selection.

Below are some photos of a vegetable tanned leather piece in progress.  The first photo shows some of my branding lines and painting.  The second photo is fully painted, and the third shows the piece with the leather dyed in the background. 


Besides the color, one of the main difference in the veg-tan leather vs. the chrome-tan leather is the surface.  The veg-tan leather has a very smooth surface, whereas the chrome-tan has more of a grainy, or fleshy, look to it.  It reminds me almost of goose bumps or follicles. Aside from some scars and other variations, the surface of the vegetable tanned leather is more like a piece of paper than goose bumpy skin.

Vegetable tanned leather also starts out much more rigid than chromium tanned.  It’s got a life, and shape, of it’s own.  This makes it ideal for my purpose, since I can construct something like a leather wine tote that will hold it’s shape without using anything other than leather.  There are different thicknesses (referred to as the “ounces”) that veg-tan leather comes in so I have the flexibility to choose the the leather that will work best for the project given the end weight I want to achieve, and how stiff or flexible it needs to be.

Veg-tan does soften up quickly once you start using it and you get that nice, worn-in, leather look and feel.  Chrome-tan doesn’t seem to change much, other than scuffing and wearing.   I am particularly fond of this picture of two boots (from Blue Owl Workshop), the one in the front using chrome-tan and the one in the back using veg-tan, both with the same color dye, at least in theory:

The one in the back has that old, worn in, vintagey satisfying look to it where it’s not entirely even.  The one in the front just looks like a boot.  With age, that one in the back will just look more and more lovely, too.

The reasons that I choose veg-tan leather, besides the strength and durability, are primarily because I have the freedom to work my paints, carving, dyes, etc., into the surface of the leather and then seal it with a protective coat and actually have them stay, which is something that doesn’t work so well with chrome-tanned leather.  Because the chrome-tan is already finished, it doesn’t accept dye or paint well, it can’t be carved or tooled effectively (though it can be embossed), and I would hate to think of what might happen if I took a branding iron to it!

Because I am doing all the dying and sealing on my leathers, and because I’m using veg-tan, I can create a piece that is colorfast – unlike chromium tanned leather, when dyed properly, veg-tan will not redeposit dye on your clothes or other items.  My personal theory about why purses are lined is to keep the dye on the inside of the chrome-tanned leather from re-depositing on other items in your purse.  Of course, if you carry a vegetable tanned leather purse, you don’t need the lining since it is colorfast.

Something interesting that I found out in writing this blog post is that chrome-tanned leather shouldn’t be used in anything that comes into direct contact with metals – sheaths, pen holders, holsters, etc. – since the residual chromium salts can corrode the metal.  I had no idea – did you?

If you’d like to watch a video of the tanning process, there is one by Hermann Oak Leather Tannery that is interesting.  I do warn you though – watching a tanning video is a little gross, so click and view at your own discretion.

Okay, that’s all for today.  Hope you learned something, and if not, hope you at least enjoyed reading or looking at the photos!



Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Choosing a Leather Belt – For Men or Women


I went to pick up supplies today and overheard a conversation between the shop manager and a customer about a belt that the customer wanted to revitalize.  It was a woven leather belt, and it was starting to crack and fade, right around where he was buckling it. The advice?

“Well, you could hang it up on the wall and look at it”

I laughed, quietly, to myself.  It’s the kind of honest answer only someone who has been selling leather for thirty years will give you.  He’s right – unless you want to take out those links and re-weave the belt, it’s toast. 

Belts wearing out quickly is a complaint I hear all too often.  Not from my customers, of course, but from pretty much anyone who has purchased a manufactured belt.  It happened to me, too, before I started working with leather.  The belt I was wearing actually started splitting in half – the front from the back – and once that started to happen, there was nothing to do but throw it away.

Here are some recent photos of a customer’s belt that he wanted color matched.  It was his favorite belt, but had split completely apart and was unusable.  The top left shows my solid color belt (left) next to his old belt for the color match (the leather will darken over time so I didn’t want to start out too dark!).


If you look at the top right and center left photos, you can see that the belt was constructed of three separate, thin, pieces of leather that had been glued together.  The center right shows the seam in the back of the belt where the two pieces of the outer leather are sewn together.  The bottom left shows where it was attached to the buckle, also falling apart, and the bottom right is another view of the side, where you can see that three pieces have been glued together to make one.

So, how do you avoid this?  Well, the simplest explanation is to make sure when you’re buying a belt that you buy one that is constructed from full-grain vegetable tanned leather and cut from a single piece.  The vegetable tanned leather will start out a little stiff, but it softens up incredibly quickly, and there isn’t any glue to come undone, or seams to unravel. 

Here’s what to look for:

Seams:  Steer clear of any belt where you can see that two pieces of leather have been stitched together, especially by machine.  This will eventually fail, and is not easily (or neatly) repaired. This applies to the edge of the belt as well as seams in the back or near the buckle.  Snaps or screws near the buckle are a much safer bet, and if there are no seams you’re good to go.

Two types of leather:  Look at the front and back of the belt.  Are they the same color?  The same texture? A lot of dress belts are a glossier leather on the outside and have a softer, lighter colored, leather lining the inside of the belt.  These aren’t two sides of the same leather.  I promise. If it is obviously the same type of leather front and back (shiny on one side, rough on the other) then you’re a-ok on this one.

Exotic leathers: Lizard, ostrich, snake, and even calfskin, will all be cut out of multiple pieces of leather and stitched together, or glued together.  It may even have plastic on the inside to stiffen it.  Look for vegetable tanned leather (usually cowhide).

Inspect the edges:  Look carefully at the edges of the belt.  Can you see where two pieces were glued together?  If so, prepare yourself for a belt that will split apart in the near future. If it’s obviously  just the side of one piece of leather, you’re set.

So, if you’re looking for a belt that will last, that should give you a head-start on what to search fore if you’re going to the department store, or looking on the internet.  If you want some style advice there’s plenty to be had, just don’t forget the tips to make sure that the belt you splurge on is going to last you a lifetime! And, if you’re in the market for a unique one, I have a few handmade leather vegetable tanned belts to get you started.



Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Peacock Tote

There's nothing wrong with strutting your stuff, and being noticed.

My love for today - the handmade leather Peacock Tote in antique brown.  In stock at


Monday, July 30, 2012

Flowers in her hair

Leather flower hair clips, now available.

Today has been kind of a Murphy's Law day.   Paypal shipping has been down, or not cooperating, so we're making the switch to  It's been an adventure.  I'm glad this is happening in July instead of December, though!  Ever looking on the bright side....

Happy Monday!