The making of the Title Holder Vest

One of my goals for this year is to be better about social media and producing content that is more than just sharing the other artists who inspire me. I recently had a wonderful client come to me to have a vest made to commemorate her new title. I thought this would be a perfect piece to document and try to do a blog post about how I go about building a customers order.

We start out with an appointment. It can be either in person or via Skype, but a visual is usually best since the person usually has images they want to show me about elements they want incorporated into a piece. While I talk to the person I start to sketch. I’m not an artist by any means, but I can try and scratch out a vague idea of what the person is looking for.

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Once we have a consensus on what the piece is going to look like we talk about the details of where the person plans on wearing it, how heavy or light it should be, what colors the person would like and if they have a preferred type of leather, and if the piece is going to have a specific purpose. When all those details are hammered out then I am able to get to work. First thing is to go and order the supplies that aren’t on hand. The second is to sleep on it. All the information settles into organized patterns when I sleep.
pattern making

Then comes pattern creation. This is my least favorite part of the process. I am not a seamstress, I have never taken a sewing class or pattern making class and I do not sew ANYTHING. What I do is wrap my mannequin in a shell off newspaper and masking tape, draw the pattern on in such a way that it can be broken down into piece that lay flat and then resize the piece to fit the measurements of the client.
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Once that is all hashed out then I start the fabrication. The pattern needs to be finished first so I have an idea of the size of each piece that I am working with in case there is any laser cutting that is going to happen. This piece uses quite a bit of laser cut designs and it was really crucial that each design be the correct size and shape to fit the pattern piece. It’s much harder than it sounds. In order to come up with a design to laser cut I take inspiration and pieces of images from the internet. I then have to take the image or drawing and trace and create a vector file. This involves hours and hours of plotting every single line and bezier curve in CAD drafting software in order to create a file for the laser cutter.
vector drawing

Each little grey point in the red drawing is a vector point I have to plot and then adjust the line between.

Then we cut.
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Currently I do all of my laser cutting at the The Build Shop and I highly recommend them for any laser cutting or 3D printing needs. They taught me how to use a lasercutter and how to create the files needed so that I could draw whatever I wanted. They are really nice, wonderful, people.

Once all of the laser cutting is done then I begin piecing everything together. I don’t sew, as I said above, so I rivet everything. The laser cutting pieces use two piece of the leather for the contrasting colors.
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Sometimes I send progress shots to the client if they ask, but if the piece has a quick build then I usually wont since it just slows me down. The shots I really want to send are the shots of the end product.

 

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My mannequin in this shot is the size of a small Asian child, so the vest isn’t fitting quite right but this is the finished product. Depending on how it goes with its first wear we may make some small alterations like shortening the collar, etc. When I create a piece like this I welcome the client to bring it back if anything isn’t sitting right once they’ve had the opportunity to wear it for a while out at an event.

And thats the process! The entirety of the making of this vest was probably close to 20 hours including all of the vector file creation. It helps quite  a bit when the client knows what they want and has at least a general idea of the design they are looking for. When someone comes in with no clue about what they want then I will usually steer them toward already made items since they aren’t giving me enough feedback for a custom piece.

I am really happy with the way this vest turned out and am looking forward to the report from the client after it’s first wear. One of the things I love about doing this is taking on a role that doesn’t exist much anymore in being a client’s personal leather worker or armor designer. Back in ye olden days purchasing things like armor and bespoke clothing was usually a relationship that could last for a lifetime. Instead of having a favorite store or mall people had favorite seamstresses, blacksmiths or leather workers.

In today’s society where wearable things are meant to be used for a short time and then thrown away, this isn’t as common.

 

 

This artist is incredible.

I get inspiration in some pretty weird places, but many times it comes from other artists. I’ve always wished I could draw, paint or sculpt but it’s just not something I ever had a ton of time to sit down and learn and I doubt I have any native talent.  This lady however, is amazing.

 

You can also visit her website here- Sougwen Chung

I wont do it and you can’t make me!

So this is rare, but every once in awhile I get a request I just flat out refuse. There are three primary reasons for this.

1. You want a flogger or whip that can in no way be used safely in a scene. When you’ve crossed the line from toy to weapon then I will usually refuse the order. You have to get pretty extreme to get me to go here, but it has happened.

Not Into this.
Not Into this.

Don’t go here with me.

2. You want me to replicate an effect that leather isn’t meant to do. Most common is metal or mech armor. Leather doesn’t do hard creased angles very well so if you want to be a Gundam then you need to consider Worbla or a thermoplastic. Same thing with fabric. I DO NOT WORK WITH FABRIC. At all. I won’t modify your existing cloth item and add leather things to it either. I used to, but I got tired of people not realizing that their item would effectively be destroyed or permanently altered in the process and then being pissed at me that they couldn’t have their cake and eat it too.

3. The request is going to take up so many man hours that I can’t even accurately quote it because there is some aspect that is just going to be a huge pain in the ass and probably put it out of your budget. If you’re pretty much going to end up closing down my shop for more than a few days because of your request I will probably refuse it unless you’re a company giving me a super long turn around window for a high profit margin.

Sometimes I will refuse a project because I get the vibe that nothing I do will ever live up to the customers expectations. There are some people out there who just want to be unhappy with everything and I will usually just say “no thanks” to those. I am also human so sometimes I will refuse projects because I just really don’t want to or for other reasons like my hands hurt and I don’t want to take on a heavy braiding or molding project, etc. Keep in mind this is a one person shop. I have one assistant who spends a few hours a month handling wholesale clients and some back end website stuff. No one else here does any actual making. Sometimes I just get tired and wanna play a video game.

Kinky Leather Guide

Some of the most common questions I get revolve around what types of leather are used for floggers and what are the differences between them. To answer this questions I have created the following chart.

Please note, thickness and tan can affect all types of leather. A thicker elkskin will feel a bit thuddier than a lighter elkskin.

Soft and Heavy= Thud

Stiffness= Sting

The price symbols indicate price range. This is meant to be a guide when buying from me, not all suppliers. Different suppliers have different resources and so their prices may differ, but from most tanneries I’ve worked with this is a general range.

Kinky Leather Toy Guide

 

Moving from Hollywood Blvd to The Haven

I have said a reluctant goodbye to my retail store front in the Artisan Patio on Hollywood Blvd. The space was amazing, but having to try and *be* at the shop to let walk ins come by and actually get things made just wasn’t working.

So instead I moved to The Haven at Cope Studios in Glendale. It as a large building broken up into work spaces for a huge variety of artists. So far, I love it. It has a much more creative and work oriented vibe and I find myself being much more productive. The entire space is filled with work from the resident artists, many of whom collaborate together on projects.

The warehouse hall

Hallway in the warehouse.

The hallway of faces

What I call the “Hall of Faces” leading to the upstairs studios.

Octopus eating a child

Not sure what this is…it looks like an octopus eating a child. Either way, its neat!

Class space for sculpting and drawingSculpting studio

 

 

Karen Cope’s studio

 

 

She teaches classes here!

 

Tiny PearPainting of a tiny pear. I don’t know which artist painted it. When I find out I will post credit, but I thought it was really cute.

 

Terrance

This sculpture hangs right outside my door. I call it Terrance. I don’t know why.

 

My studio! Messy as always. I enjoy creating among chaos.

Firebird Leather studio 3

Firebird Leather studio 1

 

Firebird Leather studio 2

 

 

My studio is open to clients by appointment. I am usually there 12 noon to 8-10 pm at night or later, depending. Sundays I try and take off. People are welcome to make appointments to come browse or talk about custom orders.

 

You can book an appointment by emailing me at Nix@firebirdleather.com

 

 

It’s about fighting for love. Striving for it.

The Supreme Court’s ruling today was wonderful news. Its a big step in the direction of everyone being equal in the eyes of the law. In my mind it’s not just about gay people being allowed to get married, but about we as human beings giving the recognition to other human beings as PEOPLE. PEOPLE who have dreams, aspirations and feelings and should have the same rights, even if their lifestyle isn’t our cup of tea.

But today is also a sad day for me, and I can’t stop crying. There are so many people who wanted to see this, who wanted nothing more than to hear from our government that; yes, we recognize you as a person and you deserve rights. Here in your country we won’t tell you that you are lesser because you were born a certain way and because you love someone.

I wish my friend Ricky could have seen this. I wish he was still here so that I could introduce you all to him. He was beautiful. A dancer like nothing else I’ve ever seen. He had a spirit that could forgive people and he didn’t like to see anyone in pain. He took forever in the bathroom and was a whiny little bitch if you touched his CD player or his hairbrush.  He tried to teach me how to walk in high heels and laughed with me when I could never get it right. I loved him so much.

Ricky’s father put his own son in the hospital four times in one year. One time when his dad hit him and a neighbor called the cops the piece of garbage told the cop that he was just trying “knock the fairy” out of his kid and the cop laughed. No charges were ever filed.

A few years after leaving home Ricky killed himself. He was seventeen. I can’t speak for him and say why he did it, but I’m pretty sure that if we lived in a world where children weren’t told that they were worthless and called freaks because of something they had no choice over, that he would still be alive. We wouldn’t have lost a talented artist and a wonderful boy who I’m sure would have grown into an amazing man.

People like to romance suicide. They think its beautifully tragic and oh so touching. It’s not. It’s disgusting. He died alone and he died in pain. And that was preferable to a life in a world where he thought he would be forever judged, forever lesser. There is a gaping wound in the world that will never be healed now.

Saying “I miss you” doesn’t even cover it. Even a decade later I can still feel so angry at him, but I have an even greater rage for a world that destroyed him and others.

I’m happy that we are making steps forward, but I mourn those who are no longer here to take those steps with us.

This is usually the part where a photo of Ricky would go, to further impress upon you that the people affected by this issue are real, but I don’t have a digital pic of him. He died before cameras on cell phones were common and the only picture I have is one from a disposable camera. It’s tucked away in a box with photos of others who are also gone, some victims of the same hate that killed him. I can’t open that box today, I just don’t have it in me.

Ricky H- “It’s about fighting for love. Striving for it. That’s really all we do in life. I’m just putting it into motion.”

The Geekie Awards- HOW EXCITING IS THIS?!

A few months ago my really awesome friend Toni, aka The Geek Kinkpin of LA, aka the Herald of Geek, turned me on to the The Geekie Awards and I took it as the perfect opportunity to put into motion some projects I had been wanting to make for forever. The Exo-Spine was one, and so was the Dragon Egg purse and backlit El purses. Those ideas have spawned others that will be brought to life in the future.

I am so very excited to see all the entries. I’ve been watching the short films and web series that have entered and some are really spectacular. In the fashion category two of my favorite designers ever have entered. Sharp Mountain Leather makes some truly spectacular armor and I love Opal Moon’s clothing and wish I could have one of everything she makes.

Here is the video I put together for the Geekies. It’s a quick walk through of my showroom, Heathen, and is a pretty general view of some of the products I make.

Sound Reactive Exo-Spine

I’ve been pretty obsessed with wearable electronics that tie humans into their environment for the past few years. There are a ton of ideas piling up on my hard drive that I will eventually bring to light but for now I thought I would start with one of the more prominent ones. My most recent project is a sound reactive armor spine made from leather vertebrae that are hand molded and dyed a dark silver. The lights are Adafruit’s Neopixels controlled by their Flora micro controller. I had wanted to make this project for a long time but wasn’t able to get the time until recently. So far it has definitely been one of my favorite pieces to complete and I plan on making an entire armor set along the same lines.

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The pieces drying after their molding.

Finding a dye mix that would give me a metallic sheen was kind of a pain. I ended up having to dye the pieces black first and then mix a silver toner with a silver acrylic dye. Then came putting all the pieces together in such a way that they could move freely. Turns out that simple was better than complicated for this. Every spine piece has a dedicated Neopixel. This took a lot of soldering. Lots and lots of soldering. The lights are using a kind of altered and bastardized code from Adafruit’s Ampli-tie project.

 

I murdered two innocent Floras before I finished this project. I’m not sure what I did, but Adafruit’s customer service was awesome enough to send my broke ass a new one which has so far survived.

So much soldering....
So much soldering….

Once it was all put together, it ended up being a little longer than I expected. So I removed some pieces at even intervals so that it wouldn’t interrupt the pattern of the pieces.20150531_205426

 

And the demo of the final product!

 

My first vacation in years! And why it made me want to buy a gun.

To give fair warning, this is not a post about leather or a new project. It’s a more personal post about human rights and a little insight into a world a lot of people don’t really get to see.

I travel a lot, but almost for business and very rarely do I get to hang around a place long enough to do anything fun. Last week my girlfriend and I took a vacation to Seattle. It was kind of a last minute decision as originally other plans were in the works that didn’t work out, but we knew we needed the break so we went. This all sounds rather normal, right? Your standard couple out on vacation in one of America’s iconic cities. No biggie.

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Just one little thing…my girlfriend is transgender. For those who have been living under rocks, here is a brief description of what being trans means to her. Lately the word transgender has come to be the umbrella covering many different meanings but here I will use it to describe the following; she has a birth defect. When she was born she was born with an anatomically male body, but a female soul and a female gender identity. She lives her life as a female, she’s prettier than me and most women I know, and she puts up with my craziness. I am batshit insane so that alone is a feat of epic proportions.

She is also a lesbian. That’s right people! Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. Go figure. Gender identity = the gender you feel yourself to be/identify as and Sexual Orientation= the gender/s of the people you are primarily attracted to. So, since she is female identifying and attracted to women that would make her a lesbian according to current wordage.

What does this have to do with our vacation? And why on earth would it make me, a hard core knife lover, want to buy a gun?

Because people are assholes and I want to shoot them, is the short answer. Imagine walking down the street and having someone call your significant other disgusting, gross or a freak. I’m talking broad daylight in a crowded place like Pikes Market and at high volume. Or in the women’s bathroom having someone get up in your girlfriends face and ask what’s under her skirt. Snide remarks from people at work who refuse to say ‘she’ instead of ‘he’ and medical doctors who call her “it” in the hallway where they think she can’t hear.

I’m not exaggerating any of the above. They’ve all happened, and worse.

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You can probably imagine how if any of those things happened to your girlfriend you would see red. When it happened in Seattle I was very close to pushing some asshole into traffic. I’m not kidding. When this shit happens I don’t care that I might go to jail. I don’t care that the person is probably bigger than me and might have a weapon of their own. I just don’t give a fuck.

Because in the back of my head I am thinking of the statistics. I am thinking about how MtF transgender people have the highest instances of physical assault, murder and discrimination out of any other shade of the LGBTQ rainbow. And in the front of my head i’m thinking about how much I would love to smash that guys face in and rip that woman’s tongue out of her throat Khal Drogo style.

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You may be realizing by now that I am not the calm one in our relationship. In spite of all of this crap that she deals with on a daily basis, she is usually the one telling me to stop and think and to quit with the violent bullshit. She’s a better person than me in a lot of respects. But sticks and stones right? They’re just words and we should just get thicker skin, right?

You try dealing with this shit every day. I’m pretty sure I would have climbed the clock tower years ago. im-going-to-kill-them-all

My first reaction to people who can’t keep their mouths shut and mind their own business is violence because I’ve learned that people don’t listen. They don’t want to be educated. They don’t want to hear about our side of the story. They want to react with disgust and petty judgement that makes them feel superior. Some are so narcissistic and insecure that they just want to tear down and hurt anyone who challenges their narrow world view, even to the point of physical violence.

I’m tired of trying to be the patient advocate and smiling diplomat. I don’t want to be the example of how to maturely react to people and their stupidity. Why? Because what if I’m wrong? What if this is the time where no matter what I say, this person is determined to hurt her with more than just words? It happens ALL THE TIME. I can’t turn on my damn news feed without seeing another news story about a trans person who was assaulted or murdered for being trans. And that is just what is reported. I know for a fact there are more.

But beyond even that, I want to hurt these people because I know what is coming after and I’m damn helpless to do anything about it. Even if I did pull out my hunting knife and carve a nice memento in their faces to remember me by and to teach them some manners, it wouldn’t fix what will happen in the coming weeks.

I get to go home and watch her second guess every move she makes. Is her makeup perfect? Does this blouse make her shoulders look big? Is this skirt fluffy enough? What about her appearance made it possible for them to guess? She already rarely talks in public because she thinks her voice is too deep. She whispers her Starbucks order in my ear for me to place for her so no one hears. Women already have stupid high standards they feel they have to meet to be considered ‘beautiful’. Now pile on a whole other set of standards just to even be considered a woman. I get a tension headache just thinking about it. I watch her agonize over all of it and I watch the depression set in when she thinks that ‘passing’ is hopeless.

That’s when my own fears really kick in. See, she’s far from the only trans gender person I’ve known and she’s miles away from the first person I’ve known to face violent discrimination. I’ve never had a friend murdered for being gay or trans, but I’ve had more friends take their own lives because of it than I care to count. I once hit my friends father in the face with a sledgehammer for putting his son, my best friend, in the hospital for the fourth time that year because he couldn’t accept that his son was gay. I wish I could have hit that fucker harder when his son killed himself a year later. We were fifteen.

A woman called me an abomination and disease carrying harlot in the middle of a crowd of adults because I had sex with her daughter. She slapped me across the face while everyone else watched and no one stepped in to say anything. I was sixteen.

The list of deaths goes on. There are plenty more that are too hard for me to mention in a blog post and their were plenty more times adults stood by when I was a child and did nothing for me or any of the others who were like me. As an adult, I learned that a short temper, a dead conscience, and a sharp tongue is more than enough to shut most people up. I learned that if you hit first you can hit hard enough that they won’t be able to hit back.

I learned that even if I can defend the people I love from the the physical violence, I can’t do anything to stop the internal pain they’re wrestling with. I can’t stop the voices they hear that tell them things far worse than anything these idiots on the street can come up with.

By the end of our trip to Seattle neither my girlfriend or I felt safe with her being out of my sight for long. People might say dumb things, but so far no one has been stupid enough to get up in her face if I’m with her. Imagine not being able to do something as simple as walk down the street without someone screaming something horrible at you. She’s not helpless, she can lay a verbal smack down if she has to. But like I said before, she’s a good person and I don’t think she has it in her to hurt another human, even if they’re trying to hurt her. That’s where I’m fine with being a bad person. I don’t value human life like she does.

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Guess which one of us is capable of beating the crap out of someone and sleeping like a baby after?

 

Still, I’m getting older. Instead of growing a longer fuse on my temper it has just made me want to be able to plow through people quicker. I’m also 5’4″ and, while I’ve got muscle, I’m no bodybuilder. I’m worried about the day when there are too many of them, or they’re too big and too stupid to be scared of crazy. Even as I’m typing this out I can’t believe this is America in 2015. We’re not gang members and neither of us have a police record or engage in any type of illegal activities (my past transgressions were never caught ;p ). We are business owners, animal lovers and nerds. We don’t go looking for trouble. Hell, I don’t even realize other people exist most of the time. We live in a sunshine yellow house with a white picket fence. How can the reality be that I worry every day that I’m going to get the phone call from local PD, hospital or morgue?

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And every day when she leaves I wonder what new jerk off will think he has the funny transphobic slur of the day. It’s not so bad here in LA. Its considered really red neck and bigoted to be homo phobic or trans phobic around most people we are around here. But whenever we travel anywhere else…even kink conventions in other states get dicey! I worry that one of these days I’m going to wish I had carried more than my brass knuckles and Cold Steel.

 

My new dream closet

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