Monday, May 7, 2012

Leather Shopping: Yet another thing that was not nearly as hard as I'd imagined

On Friday, I took a much needed day off from the daily grind to spend some time with Phin and shop for leather for my jacket. In my mind, buying leather was going to be a big deal. Possibly an ordeal. I had no idea how much leather might weigh, how large it would be, or how cumbersome to carry.

Leather shopping turned out to be an epic non-event. So epic, that I feel the need for a full post about it.

My lovely skins!

It always surprises me how being born and raised in Brooklyn colors everything I do: Brooklyn is a big small town. And business happens because you know a guy or you know a guy who knows a guy. Always do business with the guy you know or his guy. This very Brooklyn approach has never steered me wrong. So, when someone like the lovely Meg, comments, come on in [to Mood]. I'll have Dmitri show you some skins. Well, I'm there. Breaking all the conventional rules about shopping around, and instead going with my instinct.

So, here's how the shopping went:

Dmitri: So, what are you looking for?

Clio: I'm making a leather jacket and I've never worked with leather before and I was thinking it would be black... like nappa... that's lamb.... (duh)

Dmitri: OK, this is the right weight for a jacket. (pulling out a role of skins)

Clio: Ooooohhh, that's sooooooffffffffttt.... (reminds self to be cool and stop petting the lambskins).

Dimitri: Yes, this is really the right weight leather for a jacket.
Clio: (more petting) Great. Let's do it.
Dmitri: OK. A leather jacket always takes 6 skins.

Clio: Oh, OK.Well, I brought all my pattern pieces so we can lay them out and see. (much laying out of pattern pieces on animal hides)

(10 minutes later)

Clio: Perfect. How many skins is that?

Dmitri: Six.

Clio: Oh. 
Now, I'd just like to point out that Dmitri did not let even the slightest hint of "I told you so" creep into his voice or manner, which - considering my degree of wide-eyed ineptitude - is remarkable. He even asked about what kind of sewing machine I'd be using and whether I had bought leather needles. So, more evidence that the guy-who-knows-a-guy approach is always right. At least if you're from Brooklyn.

Yay, Brooklyn!

And now that I've got the skins at home (they fit nicely in a Mood tote bag and weren't heavy) and I've pet them profusely in the privacy of the Craft Lounge (oohhhh, soooo buttery soooooffffttt), I'm convinced that sewing on leather is going to be easier than I thought.

So here are my thoughts on leather shopping for the first-timer, Brooklyn-style:
  • Do your homework: I had read up on leather, so in general I knew what I wanted (color and type of leather) and how much it would cost. Brooklyn lesson: If you get ripped off because you didn't know something basic, like leather doesn't come on a roll (it comes in animal-shaped pieces), you have no one to blame but you. 
  • Do shop somewhere you think is reputable: Saving money or getting a great deal was less important on this first leather project than buying from somewhere that I think has consistently good quality fabrics. Maybe when I know more about leather, I'll be more willing to bargain shop. But for now, I wouldn't know whether I was getting a bargain or just getting something cheap. Brooklyn lesson: Ask yourself: does the shop have street cred?
  • Don't be afraid to admit that you are not a pro: Those who work with leather, know leather (duh). Buy from someone who can give you a nudge in the right direction, and let them know you'd appreciate their expert opinion. (This assumes you've gone somewhere reputable.) Brooklyn lesson: Don't be a chump. The more you pretend you know, the easier you are to take advantage of. 
  • Do be able to articulate your parameters: I didn't know exactly what I wanted, but being able to narrow down what I was looking for from the entire universe of leather (black + lamb + for a jacket + home sewing machine) helped zone in on what would be ideal for my project. Brooklyn lesson: Tell em how it is.
  • Do ask questions: As we laid out pattern pieces, I asked questions about grain, cutting and sewing leather. Every little bit of knowledge about the actual pieces you are buying helps. Brooklyn lesson: Get to know your guy's guy and his business, especially if you plan to be a regular. Soon he/she will be your guy, too.
  • Don't be afraid to walk away: If you are just not sure, thank the person for their time and say you need to sleep on it. Take their card so you can come back if you decide to go for it. Brooklyn lesson: Stand your ground but don't leave things bad with your guy or his guy. Karma always comes back.
  • Do thank the person who helps you. Profusely. That's just good manners. Brooklyn lesson: What? You think cause I'm from Brooklyn I don't have manners? Sheesh.
Anyway, I'm feeling very confident about my leather purchase. And I can't wait to get sewing, even at my snail's pace!

Next up: My half-done lining.


Meg @ Mood Fabrics said...

I am so glad we were able to help you out! I am dying to see this finished jacket, because it is going to be awesome on you.

Peter Lappin said...

This is very exciting. So glad you chose not to include "break his knee caps." Or maybe that's just a Bronx thing.

puu said...

that has been my experience buying leather at mood as well--cannot wait to see how your efforts pan out!

Karin said...

Sounds great, can't wait to see how it all shapes up!

T. Sedai said...

Fun post! I really liked the "Brooklyn Approach" to buying fabric. The few times I have been to LA this is how it goes down there too - whenever I go in a group people always have "guys." I suppose next time I go back I will have my own "guys" now too.

And, I totally second the idea that when buying leather go with quality, not savings. Not that I have any plans of sewing leather anytime soon, but I think it is one of those things I would totally splurge on.

And your leather looks and sounds fabulous. I am very excited to see it all made up. And I am picturing it in my head with your lining fabric... ooh it is going to be great!

ElleC said...

You cannot imagine how envious I am that you (and many others) actually live in a place that you can go and look at and actually purchase skins. It is official, my mind is blown. And I am emerald green with jealousy.

Clio said...

Yes, Mood was fantastic and I definitely don't take if for granted that I have so many resources. I'm dying to see my jacket finished too! HA!

Peter - I also chose to leave out the part about what to do if you suspect that your fabric fell off the back of a truck...

T Sedai - Yes - get yourself some guys!

SewOm said...

I used to live in Brooklyn and this post made me scream with laughter! So glad your guy's guy came thru for you. Your jacket will be awesome!

orange dream said...

Love the Brooklyn Lessons! They made me lol and want to commit them to memory simultaneously! Sounds like you had a good trip, I'm glad.

Phyllis said...

Not dissing Mood at all (Hi Meg!) but another incredible leather resource is Leather,Suede, Skins at 261 West 35th Street (not at street level couple floors up, unit #1100)...they literally have every type of skin in every color and finish under the sun. Goat and pony hair, eel, snakeskin, fishskins, lamb, pig and lots of trims.

Kimbersew said...

Yayyyy! love it!

Clio said...

@ Phyllis - I agree that there are LOADS of great shopping options in the NYC Garment District!

Tanit-Isis said...

That's so awesome. You are totally lucky having resources like that locally. (I could buy leather locally, too, but if that one small store didn't pan out I'd be in trouble...)

Can't wait to see how this turns out! :D

SEWN said...

I loved your brooklyn tutorial. ;) So funny. Can't wait to see your jacket.

becki-c said...

You will love making a leather jacket, the whole process is such a learning journey. I can't wait to read more, what pattern are you using?
Definitely buy from people who are knowledgable and helpful.

PS. good rules to live by wherever you are. I live in a big small town too, and what you do really comes around.