So if I’ve been cryptic about some of my “projects” lately, I’m excited to finally spill the beans! Before I couldn’t show too much because they were being given out as gifts, but now that they’ve all been unwrapped, let me tell you all about it.
Where the idea came from exactly to try my hand at doing some leather crafts, I’m not totally sure, but once it came to me, it made a lot of sense. I don’t really have the desire to do a lot of textiles work, such as sewing or knitting, nor is anything of a bigger scale really feasible inside my apartment (see the amp re-covering project from a few years ago). However, it turns out that working with leather was just right: it’s not too messy, it doesn’t require a lot of room and it feels good working with the materials in your hands.
So for this project, I began by looking for raw materials; considering I have absolutely no skill in working with leather at this point, I wasn’t ready to take the plunge into spending hundreds of dollars on brand new, unworked leather. Instead I turned to Value Village, where I found a very heavy leather jacket for less than 30 dollars. When I got it home, I cut out all the lining and ripped out most of the stitching (in retrospect, I did a little too much cleaning: next time I’d just cut the pieces out than tear all the seams). Then I scrubbed the leather pieces that I decided to work with with soap and a sponge in the sink, rinsed them off and hung them to dry on top of some towels to give them a nice flat surface.
While I could have just ventured somewhere nearby or in the GTA, I went to Tundra Leather in Hamilton to get the lowdown on leather crafts, and there they showed me all the proper tools I’d need for my first leather project, techniques on how to sew, and offered to give me some advice on my projects if I brought them into the shop! There were lots of amazing things related to leather work in there, but I only left with the essentials.. maybe a swath of hide will be a future purchase.
So with my tools and material ready, I got to cutting. With the leather from the jacket, I got really lucky with the wear and the age on the jacket, and some of the seams I ripped out gave some excellent bands of black and brown. The downside though, was that in the spots where I ripped out the seams, the holes remained, and when trying to punch new holes, it started to get messy.
The other problems I had with this recycled jacket leather, is that despite seeming to be rather heavy, by the time it was stripped and cleaned, it was actually fairly light, which meant that there was lots of stretching of the leather when it came to cutting and poking holes in the hide. For example, unless I made a really big hole with the awl in the leather, a smaller hole would seemingly disappear in the leather. Also, when I was marking my holes, no matter how hard I pressed down, the markings would also disappear from the treated side of the leather. So I still need to find a good solution to making my stitches straighter, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the method so far. I think the best “cheat” I may have discovered (and yet to use) is using rubber cement to hold all the parts of the leather together before marking, awling or stitching, so that there’s not a whole lot of movement. That’s a tip for set #2! I also didn’t have anything to properly “finish” the edges where I cut, which is something else I hope to in the next round of projects.
I also have to point to a few awesome leather experts which I felt inspired by; most of the time when you think of working with leather, you imagine some really cheesy western motif styled things, but these awesome sites show that leather crafts can be really cool.
Wood & Faulkhave some really amazing products and tutorials projects
This year’s theme around our place for the holidays was “crafty” — one element of which I can’t share until after the 25th, but the other was these ornaments we made for our tiny plastic Christmas tree (this is his sixth Christmas!). I saw an “inspiration” post here while looking up things for another project, and we decided to go for it! Overall, the project was pretty easy… it took a couple of coats of paint to get the colour right (we only had white on hand), but the sharpie kind of dried out pretty quickly on the cardboard/painted surface. Here’s a shot of the first one, which due to the markers later drying out, was the best.
And I also put together a little table display when we had some guests over for Christmas movie night, which included a couple of rocks I picked up from the Lake Huron shore of the Bruce Peninsula, the “Nordic House” vase from Iceland, and our Iittala lantern which was a Christmas gift I found at Mjolk in Toronto (it was the same vase on our table at Dill from our previous trip to Iceland). Personally, I really love the look of the lantern any time of year… as you can see in this photo, it really does amazing things with the light from a simple tea light. Happy Holidays!!!
A Christmas Carol Poem
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1799)
The shepherds went their hasty way,
And found the lowly stable-shed
Where the Virgin-Mother lay:
And now they checked their eager tread,
For to the Babe, that at her bosom clung,
A Mother’s song the Virgin-Mother sung.
They told her how a glorious light,
Streaming from a heavenly throng.
Around them shone, suspending night!
While sweeter than a mother’s song,
Blest Angels heralded the Savior’s birth,
Glory to God on high! and Peace on Earth.
She listened to the tale divine,
And closer still the Babe she pressed:
And while she cried, the Babe is mine!
The milk rushed faster to her breast:
Joy rose within her, like a summer’s morn;
Peace, Peace on Earth! the Prince of Peace is born.
Thou Mother of the Prince of Peace,
Poor, simple, and of low estate!
That strife should vanish, battle cease,
O why should this thy soul elate?
Sweet Music’s loudest note, the Poet’s story,
Didst thou ne’er love to hear of fame and glory?
And is not War a youthful king,
A stately Hero clad in mail?
Beneath his footsteps laurels spring;
Him Earth’s majestic monarchs hail
Their friends, their playmate! and his bold bright eye
Compels the maiden’s love-confessing sigh.
Tell this in some more courtly scene,
To maids and youths in robes of state!
I am a woman poor and mean,
And wherefore is my soul elate.
War is a ruffian, all with guilt defiled,
That from the aged father’s tears his child!
A murderous fiend, by fiends adored,
He kills the sire and starves the son;
The husband kills, and from her board
Steals all his widow’s toil had won;
Plunders God’s world of beauty; rends away
All safety from the night, all comfort from the day.
Then wisely is my soul elate,
That strife should vanish, battle cease:
I’m poor and of low estate,
The Mother of the Prince of Peace.
Joy rises in me, like a summer’s morn:
Peace, Peace on Earth! The Prince of Peace is born!
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not one for ranking “bests,” I prefer favourites, and this time around I’m addressing my favourite “new” releases in order of release date, which is a fair indication of what time of the year I was listening to that record at its peak.
1. Destroyer – “Kaputt” (January 25)
Strange that this one came out in the dead of winter, because it’s a sunny, sparkling pop album full of horns and wry poetry from the band. I enjoyed Destroyer in the past, but each album always sounds the same to me and never really hooks on in my listening habits. For this album, the band pushed itself to do something different, and I believe it paid off. Those live shows for this record were amazing.
2. Cold War Kids – “Mine is Yours” (January 25)
You’ll notice that my list will have a recurring theme.. it’s that while this record was great, it wasn’t as good as their earlier efforts. In some ways, this was Cold War Kids’ “U2″ album, where they go all stadium-rock on their songs… and they do. There’s a couple of jams that sound ragged like 2008′s “Loyalty to Loyalty,” and the polished guitars are upfront and expanding in a way that the band should be exploring at this point in their career.
3. The Dears – “Regeneration Street” (February 14)
Again, not the best Dears record (that would be “No Cities Left”), but the best they’ve done since… the tracks are tight, dense, play more with unique imagery (“Press down, shaken together” is a quote that sticks out at me), and overall rock more. There’s more solos, bigger drums, harpischord and as always, mournful wailing. It’s a shame The Dears are perennially overlooked.
4. Tim Hecker – “Ravedeath, 1972″ (February 14)
A weird, dense record of organ pipes tracked with Ben Frost (!) in Iceland (!), mixed with distortion, guitar and who knows what else. Like my past experiences with Hecker’s music, I always first see it as this tense, impenetrable wall of noise, but more than any other, this one unfolds some very distinct and enjoyable landscapes.
5. Bright Eyes – “The People’s Key” (February 15)
What is very likely the last Bright Eyes record, this one goes out on top. It’s got a pile of great songs and none of the vocals get too annoying, and the production has an almost dub-like quality.
6. Wye Oak – “Civilian” (March 8)
There’s not a whole lot to really say about “Civilian;” it’s a great indie-rock album with crispy guitars and really beautiful vocals. You’d put it on and like it… and that’s about it.
7. Thomas – “Breath” (April 5)
Thomas is a mainstay of our local Toronto music scene… he’s played in almost everybody’s band, and if you’re putting on shows, he’s probably played in one (he was in a band that opened for my own “Silver Speakers” once). His recorded material is hard to track down, but when you do find it, it’s pretty magical. This one combines male and female vocals in a contemporary R ‘n B kind of sound, with echos of guitars and tight drum samples.
8. TV on the Radio – “Nine Types of Light” (April 11)
Not the greatest of “TV on the Radio” records, this one was still pretty good. I liked how it worked in more funky jams, and really layered in the instruments. It’s a standout of the year, as in I’d still put it on and enjoy it, but I’m really hard-pressed to explain exactly why. You either love TV on the Radio at this point or you hate them. I wished they’d do more harder-tinged stuff like on “Return to Cookie Mountian,” but maybe that’s just me.
9. Jonas Reinhardt – “Music for the Tactile Dome” (May 7)
Overall a great zoning-out record of electronic music. The keyboards sound really pretty, and when I look back to my vacation in San Francisco, this record still feels very psychedelic SF.
I’m still conflicted about this record, but it’s hard to deny how good it is. I wished Katie Stelmanis kept up her solo weirdo vibe instead of going full electro diva. I still think this disco thing is a phase, and she’ll go back deeper into her song writing vs. remixing someday, but if in the meantime we have Austra, I’ll take it.
11. Handsome Furs – “Sound Kapital” (June 28)
This is another release that I slept on because it feels like the Handsome Furs release so much material that nothing seems to stand out, so I didn’t even bother with it at first. But when I got around to it, I was nicely surprised that this record is stripped down and leaner, with lots of great synths and beats, and despite what record reviews may say, lots of mean guitar. The songwriting itself is still powerful, and while this collection tends toward sloganeering a bit, you’ll be hard pressed to find many other artists on this list that put together songs that “MEAN SOMETHING.”
12. Lil’ B – “I’m Gay” (June 30)
My introduction to the world of the “BasedGod” wrapped from the Bay… and I didn’t take to it immediately, but after repeated listens and identifying more and more of the strange samples, I finally “got” it. Lil’ B is essentially a motivational speaker, encouraging listeners to free their mind and go for it. He takes his own advice and puts out material at an insane pace, with maybe 6 or so unique records this year alone. It’s also worth noting, that this was an “iTunes” release, whereas he gives most of his music away. He couldn’t break the habit though, and tweeted out a mediafire link for fans to download it the same day it went on sale.
13. Elite Gymnastics – “RUIN 1/RUIN 2″ (July 8)
If I was going to pick out one of twenty that was my absolute favourite record of the year, it would be this pair of EPs from the Minneapolis duo Elite Gymnastics. Originally released as a free download in the middle of the summer, the band since went legit, pulled the free versions and put out a 12 inch with a remastered copy of each EP on each side. I’m still fond of the original versions, as people are likely to do if they listen to the original recordings of things, but that’s life. If you’ve never heard of them, their sound is maddingly enjoyable; there’s distorted, crazy, jungle-ish drums, Joy Division-like bass lines and sad, reverb-y vocals that show off a sophisticated lyrical sensibility. I felt like they were writing songs to me, for me, and nobody else. I wished more people would follow their creative muses like these guys do and churn out some original, compelling and unique jams more often.
14. The Barr Brothers – “The Barr Brothers” (September 27)
Ah yes, the Barr Brothers, a “we moved to Montreal because it was cool band”, that have a hard-to-describe sound of folk, blues and all-around “indie-nesss” that is categorically Americans-trying-to-be-Canadians. But for the band’s flaws, the best part about them is their incorporation of harp, which makes their sound something better and more important. Without it, they’d just be guitar nerds trying to be sensitive, but instead they actually incorporate diverse elements to create something unique. Kind of like modern-day Canada.
15. Feist – “Metals” (Oct. 3)
While I know most fans of Feist passed on this record for being too dark and lacking handclaps and syncopation, their reasons for passing are my own reasons for loving it. I never bought her overtly sunny stuff, but for some reason this record sounds like she’s finally getting real with her music… and I suppose at the same time, also tried to make a National/Bruce Peninsula record in the process, which is also here or there I suppose.
16. Bruce Peninsula – “Open Flames” (October 4)
Speaking of Bruce Peninsula, their long-awaited new record hit all the right notes for me, with the band continuing with their heavy rustic folk music sound. It’s not “A Mountain is a Mouth,” one of my favourite records of all time, but this one only came out in October, so I have to give it some more time.
17. Siskiyou – “Keep Away the Dead” (Oct. 4)
Like the BP record, I still need to give this one more time, but I like this album by Siskiyou… it sounds like their first “real” record, with an actual band playing these songs, compared to their original self-titled album, which seemed to be a compilation of rough recordings by various people. This album also includes a great cover of “Revolution Blues.”
Again, I still don’t think I’ve absorbed this one enough yet, but I also can’t deny how great it is. I haven’t really enjoyed her other records as much, but this one really works for me, with it’s sparse and strange instrumentation with a little bit of electronic chaos for good measure. And of course, her insanely amazing voice. I never tried out the apps, but I’ve heard good things.
Another recurring theme: A Canadian act following up one of my favourite records of all time. In this case, it’s Sandro Perri, whose “Tiny Mirrors” I consider a perfect album. I waited a long time for his latest, and I’ve heard some of these tracks live a few times now (ie “Wolfman”), so I’m pretty pickled to have the record in my hands. This one finds him doing his singer-songwriter with a nylon string guitar thing less, with a wider range of instruments as well as more experimental structures and electronic additions. Again, this one still needs more time to sink in, but I can’t recommend it enough.
20. Schomberg Fair – “Mercy EP” (November 8)
I know there’s another EP coming down the pipe from Schomberg Fair before their next proper album, but damn if I don’t love this. The strongest tracks are the opening and closing numbers, “Oh Mercy” and “I’d Raise my Hand,” which has the band including some backup blues singers. The rest of the EP the band pushes outwards on it’s speed gospel thing by incorporating some more prog changes and tempos, and well as getting louder and bombastic. There’s also less “bass voice” taking the lead, which depending on your view of the band, could be a good thing or a bad thing. If you want to see them “get big,” that’s a good thing. Also, I really, really, really hope Kurt Sutter can hear these guys and have them soundtrack an entire season of “Sons of Anarchy.” Is there any more perfect intro to a song as “I’d Raise My Hand” that doesn’t already sound ready-made for a biker show? I’d think not.
Detour Cafe in Dundas, Ontario, near Hamilton, Ontario
So when I found myself needing to make a run into the 905, I decided to make things interesting and leave the cocoon and visit a place oft-derided, but these days becoming increasingly “cool.” Hamilton, Ontario. I really like the idea of Hamilton… it’s become a tech start-up haven, as well as an affordable city attracting artists from Toronto. After all, it’s only an hour and change on the Go Train to Hamilton, and less than that if you’re driving. Sure, it’s as gritty as it’s reputation suggests, but for all the rough, there’s a lot of diamonds. So if you’re thinking about finding a little bit of Hamilton for yourself, and you’re not totally sure where to start, here’s the three hotspots to go; the main strip in Dundas, Ontario, James St. North, and Locke Street.
Dundas is just a village to the west of Ham-town, but it houses the Detour Cafe, the roaster’s own storefront, that serves all their coffees, including a pour-over bar, and a lunch menu. James St. North is the city’s burgeoning arts strip, with ner-do-wells and dive bars pocked by art galleries and hipster bars. Two shops of note include Mixed Media and White Elephant; the first an arts supply store with lots of other goods, and the other a vintage store with it’s own healthy stock of local craftery. Finally, Locke St is the more family-friendly strip of touristy stores that reminds me of the Beaches strip in Toronto. However, the strip also hosts the restaurant’s finest eatery: The Earth to Table: Bread Bar. I had a delicious pizza there during my stop-in, but the menu was robust with plenty of offerings. A don’t miss.
While I covered ground during my Hamilton stop, I still didn’t see everything the city had to offer: I didn’t drop by a single waterfall, and I didn’t have time to see the Art Gallery or Farmer’s Market. I also would love to visit Hamilton on the 2nd Friday of the month when they do a big art walk in the city.