Antique calico fabrics are some of my favorite textiles to collect and incorporate into my work. These types of fabrics were commonly used in quilts, dresses, and workwear. Though calico fabric has been produced in a variety of colors through the 19th century and the earlier decades of the 20th century, many of my favorite patterns have that distinct indigo color.
This bandolier pouch is made with vegetable tanned leather and includes a silver concho, brain tan lace, and vintage trade beads, but the bright blue calico is really the eye catcher in this piece. The color and design of this fabric suggest a date of roughly 1880-1910. These types of fabrics are well documented and dated in a number of quilt and textile books.
This particular pouch does not include a shoulder strap or belt attachment so it can be carried as a clutch or used to keep a wallet, phone, or other everyday carry items.
The Fonseca Ranger Belt is a one-off belt that features a vintage sterling silver buckle set made by A. Fonseca of Guadalajara, Mexico. I collect old buckles and buckle sets and every now and again I get around to putting them on a belt. This one was inspired by 19th century vaqueros, the early cowboys of California. This particular belt is made with Horween vegetable tanned horse butt which has a really tight grain and nice feel around the waist. Fully hand stamped with a basket weave design and embellished with rows of distressed solid brass studs.
I was brushing up on braiding and whipped up this Thunderbird Bolo Tie using some vintage silver bolo parts I’ve collected. The bolo tie is made with hand-dyed kangaroo lace. This one is no longer available but check out the jewelry page for other wearable pieces.
The San Ysidro Long Wallet is inspired by the early tanners and leather workers who brought the trade to California. These craftsmen often adorned their work with silver and were known for making items such as boots, saddles, and bridles. The wallet is hand stamped with a basket weave design and features a vintage coin concho snap. The San Ysidro Long Wallet is entirely cut, sewn, and finished by hand just as it would have been made in the days of early California. The interior of the San Ysidro Long Wallet is lined with dark brown pig skin. The wallet has plenty of space for bills and offers 10 card slots.
Sometimes while hunting for vintage I come across old tools and machinery that can be useful for sewing, leatherwork, and other trades. Sometimes I find hand tools or sewing machines. Occasionally I come across machinery from the shoe making industry. A while back I was lucky enough to discover this American LS440 leather splitter at a flea market. I acquired the machine with the intent of restoring it for my own use in my workshop and my process is nearly complete! Here is the machine in its current state after restoration.
This particular machine splits the thickness of a piece of leather so that the leather worker can thin down material as needed. The operator of the machine turns the hand crank and passes a piece of leather through the back of the machine. The leather is fed through rollers which guide the material directly against a 6″ blade which splits the leather. The width of the blade limits how big of pieces can be put into the machine. The American LS440 is perfect for leather workers in the shoe industry or any other artisans who make wallets, belts, and other small goods.
The process of restoring this splitter took a lot of time and patience. First, the machine was completely disassembled. The entire process was carefully documented so I could reference my photos and notes during reassembly. Bill from District Leather was kind enough to share some pointers during the disassembly process. He too has an American LS440 leather splitter that he refurbished so he let me know about a few challenges to anticipate. This is the machine as it was before restoration. A previous owner carelessly sprayed the entire machine red at some point.
A close eye might notice that the top lever that adjusts the rollers was busted before I purchased the splitter. This kind of damage seems to be pretty common with these machines. The lever sticks out quite a bit at the top and I imagine that without careful handling or safe packing during transit a break might happen quite easily. Fortunately, I was able to find somebody who was selling spare parts for the LS440 and I got my hands on the exact lever that I needed.
Next in my process I stripped the splitter parts of all rust and completely degreased all pieces. I then decided to take the splitter in to have all the parts sandblasted before painting. After blasting, I sprayed the splitter with an automotive quality single stage paint and painted the raised lettering with a gold enamel. I have my pal Rudi Jung from Black Magic Paint in Portland to thank for his professional guidance.
Finally, I wiped the handle with Watco oil, greased the gears and other moving parts, and pieced the machine back together. My work, however, is not yet through. Everything is fully lubricated and assembled, the machine functions as it should, but my final steps are to sharpen and install the knife then calibrate the machine. Overall, I’m really pleased with how the machine has turned out. I can’t wait to put a sharp blade in the machine and start splitting. I’ll try to post an update when that happens.
I’d love to get your feedback about my process, especially if you’re experienced in restorations or if you know how to accurately date this particular machine. This is my first attempt at a restoration of this kind. Now if I come across another American LS440 leather splitter I know precisely what it takes to resurrect it.
In January of this year I took a much needed break from all things Steelhead – making, collecting, selling, etc. During that time I primarily focused on family and the experience was priceless. But the break also gave me the opportunity to reflect on my vision for Steelhead and brainstorm upcoming projects . One of the big things I have learned about myself in the past six months is that I yearn for creative outlet. Sewing, leatherwork, painting, and such really meet that need for me. I also realize my appreciation for the many talented and innovative folks I’ve met along the way. I just couldn’t stay away too long!
For the first time in a while I returned to selling at the Rose Bowl Flea Market with my dear friends, Worn Over Time and Sam Roberts LA, who inspire me to be a better person and push me to step out of my comfort zone in so many ways. I’m sort of easing back into things, but it feels good to be making and collecting rad stuff again. I’m back at it!
I’ll be taking a break from Steelhead in 2017 for an indefinite amount of time. I want to say thanks to friends, shops, and customers who have supported the brand along the way. The web store is currently closed, but many products and info are archived on the site. Please use our contact form if you have questions or needs. Wishing you all the best!
Wellema Hat Co. is our newest stockist and will be carrying a selection of wallets, belts, braces, and other Steelhead products. Come visit the shop’s Grand Opening on Friday, June 3 from 6:00-9:00 pm. Wellema will be taking head measurements and is offering free hat cleanings at the event. Wellema Hat Co. will also be carrying products from Monsivais & Co., Lockwood, and JS Sloane. Live music, drinks, and plenty of hat tipping. Wellema Hat Co. is located at 837 E. Mariposa St. in Altadena, CA.