How to Keep the Hammer Going With Two Hands Only
I have a small variety of hammers in my shop. They are carefully selected for specific steps in the making. They are solid, sit well in my hands, I can feel the balance of weight. I know exactly how to apply them to get the desired effect. Long and heavy, short and light. Some are for nails – some for leather only. I have collected them slowly over the years, they have helped build many pairs – the tapping flowing out of my wrist – not from the elbow – for maximum strength – and minimum injury.
(Photo: My Hammer Selection.)
Keeping the Shop Running
As an artisan and small business owner it is sometimes hard to find balance. How do you find time for inspiration & keep energy flowing when compelled to work seven days a week? I always imagined I would build my business slowly and at a certain point I would be solely busy with building shoes and boots. Like building my collection of hammers. But through my own journey – and observing others in their worlds of entrepreneurship – I have realized that developing several sturdy legs to hold up my shoemakers-bench is necessary for my business’s survival and growth. Like my specific selection of hammers.
One sturdy leg I have built is teaching what I know – sharing the knowledge of making, watching students playfully gain access to new skills – it can be a solid pillar of steady income – pleasant side effects are bursts of energy through inspiration exchange and learning constantly on the job – through research, student curiosity and “cross pollination”.
(Photo: Shoemaking in the classroom.)
SHARING is an essential tool in telling our story to the world – any craft can only survive if we talk about it and share the adventure – through teaching, work-demonstrations, open studio, presentations, articles etc.
Believe me I KNOW – the day has only so many hours. There are so many things to organize, to think about and to be taken care of – besides making the shoes, carving the chairs, bending the metal, blowing the glass…
When I felt almost ready to go shoes fulltime the mountain seemed very tall – I had no idea how to move from “dream” to “reality”. It happened slowly, with support from dear friends and family giving me a chance to push myself, ordering boots and shoes I had to figure out and worry over.
All I know is that when I started to say “YES” – things started to happen. Like getting a new tool – exciting – and sometimes terrifying. But in the end – you’ll figure it out – and suddenly you can’t be without it anymore. Challenges that make us step outside of our comfort zone are essential to our growth and survival. Times are changing – an open mind key to success.
For me it started with an invitation to talk about my work in front of a gaggle of students preparing to travel overseas for a winter-session travel program to think, talk, breathe and experience design, footwear design, artisanship and adventure Italy. By accident I sat next to two professors one a Sunday brunch in Vermont – attending the yearly conference of the Honorable Cordwainers’ Company. They had decided on a whim to attend – we started talking – and they wondered if I was interested in traveling up to Providence.
I said … YES.
The YES’s have added many experiences to my life. They for sure have challenged. They have added many dear friends – made me stronger, made me more resilient and a far better maker.
(Photo: Showcasing at the RISD Museum up in Providence)
Diversity is the key to slow, steady, healthy growth. Juggling a diverse portfolio of jobs will keep a small business successfully going over bumps and through thirsty times.
My portfolio is currently composed of building shoes and boots for individual clients in my atelier, outfitting pointe shoes with custom rubber (for Broadway), consulting, traveling lecturer. teaching short workshops, two part-time positions as footwear instructor, writing.
All those “hammers” fit into one “toolbox” – along with bookkeeper, social media coordinator, inventory clerk, shop cleaner, dog-walker and … wife.
Yes – that ‘s right – we all have a LIFE beyond the four shop-walls (I do have to admit I have been tempted to set up a temporary “nap” couch…). It is good to have a shop-dog; my pooch will tell me when he just can’t take it anymore – and it’s time to go home.
Again – what captured me and still fascinates me is the intense physicality that is required when making footwear by hand.
Frequently I have to explain why I chose – of my own accord – to make the traditional way. Would it not be easier, faster, more money to run manufacturing somewhere? I love the fact that I am responsible for every step in the process of building a pair of boots or shoes. To make something that endures thousands of steps, walks, dances. Something special, earthbound, beautiful in its imperfections – filled with raw, handmade energy. A touch avant-garde – a touch strange – truly labor-intensive and thoughtfully made with intent.
But as I am picking up that hammer – I work sometimes to exhaustion. I had times where I would get a cold every other week – because of pushing myself to the max. I learned the hard way that taking the time to recharge is essential – no-one will keep going on a 7 day work schedule. And 14 hours behind the bench will make your hands go numb and achy for days after.
I made some adjustments over the years that have really helped me to work towards “balance” – I have not reached my “perfect” level – far from it – but it has helped me to be more present, happy and productive.
Some things you might want to think about – that I have not in the past…
- I bring my own lunch to the shop – works out well for my balance sheet – and I eat healthy. -ROUTINE – I work well in the morning – and even better with a short run beforehand.
- I ALWAYS eat breakfast. Find your routine.
- I am setting daily goals. And I run a “to do” list.
- I have a wall Calendar – old-school – I knoooow. Sometimes whole weeks disappear. This way I know where I stand. Client meetings go in there.
- Be honest with yourself when calculating how long it will take for an order to be finished. (No use to put yourself under an artificial deadline…)
- CLOCK on the wall – I am working on this one – can’t decide which one – but it will help me to be more in control of time.
- Leave your PHONE by the door. Or lock it away. Sitting down to check Instagram “while the glue is drying” will eat away your day. Well – at least for me.
- Have a LUNCH BREAK. Sit down and enjoy your food. Maybe a quick stretch – or walk with your loyal shop dog.
- I am a shoemaker – sitting in a weird position on a tiny chair using my hands, arms and shoulders over long periods of time – they are now knotted with strength – but also prone to cramping and numbness. I imagine it will just get worse with time. In fact – I know so. I have taken up Yoga – that works very well for me. To cope with mental and physical stress. My advice – find something physical that you LOVE, that brings you JOY and counteracts some of the bad things you do to your body while you work.
- TAKE A WEEKEND (even if it’s only one day – I know…) spend time away with friends and family. It’s important to your health and wellbeing.
To a happy, healthy, well balanced and successful Fall 2019.
(Photo: Pointe Shoes getting protective toe-tips.)
(Photo: Shoemaking is hard, physical work.)