Archive for March, 2011

Call me The Yeast Herder – Part 1

Today was brew day and now my 8 gallon brew bucket is slowly beginning to ferment in the closet. I’ve been interested in brewing my own for some time now and finally pulled the trigger. I decided to start out with a very simple one step pre-hopped extract brew. To any doubters, you CAN do this. This is more about my experience than step by step directions, but I might get specific at times.

The brew process was really pretty easy! Easier than I thought, I just made sure I had everything sanitized extra carefully, and that I had a sanitized surface to put my sanitized items on. You’ve heard people talk about insanity? Well this is sanity aka sanitation. I used idophor to do my sanitizing which is a very effective sanitizer that will take care of basically all nasties at only 12.5ppm (parts per million). I also kept a large pot of the leftover sanitizing solution in case I needed to sanitize things I had forgotten. And I did need to at least once, several times actually.

Major Failures

Once my pot got close to boiling, I pulled the extract out of the sanitizing solution and began opening it with the can opener. Now I have two can openers, one has nasty stuff all over the wheel and its almost impossible to clean, no way is that thing getting near my beer. The other one is a simpler mechanism and is way easier to clean. Well it also just so happened it was a complete piece of garbage. I managed to cut maybe 1 inch of the lid and then the wheel started spinning fruitlessly. The pot was about to boil over, my small apartment was heating up fast, I was beginning to sweat, I was losing my grip on the can opener, but trying to keep my cool lest I drip contamination into my precious extract. I didn’t want to turn on the central air during my brew in case it would kick up particulate that might fall into my open bucket later. I toiled and screamed at it to no avail. The words that followed were special words so ungentlemanly that they are reserved only for brew day mishaps and cannot be repeated here. I suppose though, anything that you don’t end up sweating and swearing during isn’t worth doing…but I like to be prepared. I struggled and somehow after about 10min just muscled the top off the extract, ignoring the last 2-3in of uncut can lid. This beer was getting itself made come hell or high water!

Never again! Next time I’m sanitizing one of those tiny wallet sized GI style can openers. If I need to open some extract under fire, I know one of those will pull me through. I’ve also heard that sometimes extract is sold in screw top bottles. That sounds so easy it’s almost cheating……wait what were we talking about, one step pre-hopped extract brewing? Alright well back to it then….

I was very sanitization conscious for this brew because the extract isn’t actually boiled so I wanted to be sure that anything going in my wort was truly uninfected. If you boil a pre-hopped kit it will ruin the hops.

My recipe had me bring 1 3/4 gallons (I did closer to 2gal) to a boil then turn off the heat and add the warmed extract and dextrose. I did have the option to use DME (dried malt extract) instead of the dextrose but I just went with the dextrose because it can be used for priming too. Since I wasn’t actually boiling anything for any length of time, I didn’t want any nasties from my can opener falling into the brew. However, 2 boiling gallons will hold that heat for a good amount of time and I’m sure the soon to be wort was around ~200F while pouring all the stuff in. Even so, I sanitized some bowls to hold the weighed sugar on my gram scale while waiting to be poured in.

The rest of the process went smoothly with no obvious mistakes but that doesn’t mean I’m worry free. Right now my biggest worry is that it’s too warm in my apartment. My instructions say to ferment at around 65-74, and my apartment is closer to 78-80 most days. I haven’t tried running the AC 24/7 yet, and in my new place I’m not sure how expensive that might be. I’ve never had central HVAC before.

I very much wanted to take pictures of the brewing process, but was more concerned about pulling it off so I didn’t end up taking any. There will definitely be pictures later on in the process.

I’m proud to finally say I’m part of the brew club! Sure I’ve made some cider in the past, but I don’t feel like that really counted, it was too easy.

Check out Call me The Yeast Herder Part #2 and Part #3

Built a Lightbox

In an effort to try to start taking more professional pictures, I decided I needed to built a lightbox to photograph some of my Etsy items. The pictures of the cuffs on the black leather turned out decent, but it took a lot of time to prop everything up just right and I had to lean my floor lamp over to get proper lighting. The easy way to solve all of these problems at once is of course a lightbox!

I ran to the store and picked up two clamp lights and some 100w incandescent bulbs. I moved recently so I have lots of cardboard boxes around. I also bought some white tissue paper.


Frustratingly, not really, not yet. After moving the lights around every which way, even clamping them directly to the edge of the box the pictures keep coming out with yellow backgrounds. A full 200w of full spectrum incandescent light was enough to make me feel hot, it was affecting my micro climate but not my pictures.

I’m guessing that the fault lies in my ability to operate my ancient (circa 2007) Canon PowerShot A530. I tried auto, program and manual modes. I tried ISO 80 to 800, shutter speeds, and f-stops to no avail. Either everything is washed out or the background is dark and yellowish. Even in the pictures above it looks like the lights are off, but they weren’t.

If you think you know what I might be doing wrong, leave me a comment. I’d love to know how to get the results that I’ve seen elsewhere online.

My “results” follow…

First Items up on Etsy!

I finally posted up two items on my Etsy store! I’m excited to have some items up now, but I have a lot more work to do to get into the rhythm of making items and posting them.

One of the items was the dinosaur cuff from the previous post and the other was a new cuff I made today. I realized after cutting out several basic cuffs from my template that I shouldn’t make all of them the same size, ie just so they’ll fit me. So I measured my wrist, asked my girlfriend to measure hers, and looked around online for sizes other people had used. The second cuff I made in a small size. Pictures of the new cuff are below.

Tutorial: Making of Stitched Cuffs Part 2

In the previous post I showed how I took the concept of cutting a cuff in pieces and stitching it back together and sketched out some ideas of how that might work. Today I took one of my four favorite proofs and made it into a cuff. I honestly wanted to get more than one of the proofs done today but other things distracted me and I ran out of time. Below are pictures of how I took the design and turned it into a finished piece.

First I transferred the design to a paper template and then cut it out of the leather.

Cut out very carefully as both sides will be used in the cuff. For this kind of cut there is NO “trim area”.

Edge profiles are sanded round.

Stitches are marked.

Holes are punched for stitching. If I was doing a lock stitch with the awl I would have sewn this with the stitching awl, but because I wanted the flat parallel stitches I pre-punched the holes and stitched with a large embroidery needle by hand.

Dyed and good to go.

This little dino is stitched and looking happy!

Brass snaps are attached and set. You can’t really see it in this image but a wax finish was also applied here.

Wide view of the finished dinosaur cuff!


Tutorial: Making of Stitched Cuffs Part 1

Lately I’ve been daydreaming of making some cuffs that are stitched together from multiple pieces of leather.  The basic rectangular shape is maintained, but then it’s cut and put back together.  The forms reflect each other, but within the boundaries.

Tonight I did some brainstorming about what sort of forms, designs and techniques would work well with this concept.  Images of that process follow.  Freehand drawing isn’t really my thing, but the brainstorming process is still vital despite my lack of fine motor skills.  It helps you figure out what works and what doesn’t early on.

initial scribbles

added a little color to see how that would go

These final proofs look like they will work well in the leather, but I won’t know for sure until I actually try it. Tomorrow I’m going to take some of these designs to the leather and see if they’re as cool in real life as they are on the page!

final photoshopped proofs of what I think will work well as a cuff

Tutorial: Making of Bird Mask

Okay so I do have a bit of info in regard to the making of the bird mask, but this will be a little bit light in regard to a tutorial because I’m writing it after the fact. After looking closely at some the masks at Faerieworlds as mentioned in the previous post, I began to think differently about what was possible with leather. This was Summer 2009.

Fast forward to October 2009, several days before Halloween. I got a last minute invite to a pre-Halloween party, and word was, it was going to be SWEET. I needed a mask, and quick.

With this in mind, I knew that I wanted a long narrow hooked beak, and lots of tree branch type shapes at the top, possibly some feathers. I banged out a design without time for hesitation or regret. I wet formed it and stuck it in the oven to dry on the quick. After it came out of the oven, I hit it with some Eco-Flo Java Brown leather dye. (Eco-Flo is water-based, environmentally friendly, 100% biodegradable, etc.) A couple quick coats of Fiebing’s Tan-Kote sealer (so the dye doesn’t bleed and stain your skin) and I was off to the party wearing a ridiculous costume that didn’t make any sense. At least I could hide behind this awesome handmade leather mask that I made start to finish in about 1.5 hours.

I drew out my design on some paper notebook paper to test the shape and see if I could accurately approximate the final shape I had in mind. I used a technique I had seen of drawing eyelashes into the design so I could fold them up later during the wet forming.

As it turned out, while at the party a random girl came up to me and said “Is that mask of a leafy sea dragon?! It reminds me of a leafy sea dragon!” (See leafy sea dragon.)  Well, no it’s not a leafy sea dragon, but in retrospect I can see why it would remind her of one. The more you know. I met a new friend because of it.  That’s the power of creativity.

Bird Mask

The first few posts are all items I’ve made prior to launching the blog and this one is no exception. In the future I plan to post some WIP photos of uncompleted projects and also more about my process and inspiration. Probably some tutorials too. Much of what I post will be the first time I’ve tried something, so keep in mind I’m learning here too.

This is a bird mask made of leather. My inspiration for this one originally came from many styles of leather masks that I first saw at a Faerieworlds event in Eugene, OR.  I was fascinated and unaware that any such thing could be made with leather.  I went home read up on forming leather, the wet forming process and cuir bouilli.  I also took some design aspects from venetian bird masks and the result was this mask.

front view

quite the hooked beak

note the eyelashes

other eyelash detail

Leather Book Necklace

I was messing around the other day and thought I’d try my hand at bookbinding.  The result was this tiny necklace book.

I made 6 tiny signatures of 6 sheets each and sewed them together with a regular needle and thread.  I had this skull and crossbones concho thing lying around and some suede lacing, so I just popped in the eyelets and glued the pages into the veg-tanned leather and pressed it while the glue dried.


Somewhere near a little carrot patch, on a sandy plot of land in Mexico, lives a little burro named Burrito…..

he looves carrots

he never leaves the carrot at home

Burrito ponders while looking out the window at the carrot patch hungrily

This plush was made with help from my friend Alix over at She gave me lots of tips and I learned a TON about sewing, but I think I’ll leave the plush making to her. A fun project but not something I think I’ll do all that often.

Blog is live!

And so another blog begins…