Do mechanized processes take away from "Handcrafted"?

This is the first holiday season I have been actively working on customer orders to get them shipped out in time for Christmas. This experience has taught me the importance of having the ability to process large batch orders. Having paper patterns is nice, and acrylic templates work well too. But, when there is an order for 40-60 pieces of leather, It is nice to have clicker dies and the means to use them. It is not so much about speeding up the process as it is about providing uniform quality with every piece.

I just cut out forty drink coasters by hand and the ten holders that will store them when not in use. If I had thought ahead just the tiniest bit, I would have ordered a set of clicker dies so that they would be uniform in size and shape.

As crafters, we are our own worst enemies. We know where all the mistakes are, and we know exactly what we did to fix them or cover them up if we couldn’t fix the errors.

Now, while the recipients will likely be told their gifts are handcrafted, they will never stack up all fifty pieces of leather and compare how the edges are not all uniform in shape or size. They will never notice that their drink coasters are not absolutely uniform in the corners and that where the blade slipped when cutting the leather, there is the smallest imperceptible lump or divet along the leather’s edge.

All of these mistakes, every single one, could have been avoided with an investment into a set of clicker dies before beginning the process. I don’t subscribe to the idea that mechanizing part of the process to get professional and uniform pieces takes anything at all away from the “Handcrafted” moniker that we “Makers” take so much pride in labeling our products. In fact, I believe that if we utilize tools like a press and die, we invest our time to focus on other important details.

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IMO, the short answer is NO. If you had a clicker, you would still be positioning the dies and the leather. Holster and wallet makers use them all the time to create consistency. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. Not only does it help with consistency, but also adds speed to the process and time is money. For instance, I know there are roller dies that can be used to make patterns in belts versus hand stamping. To me both would be considered handcrafted, but the actual stamping, IMO is much better. Cutting out shapes would be much easier with a clicker die. I just can’t justify the cost of the dies or the clicker in my mind. I have bought some custom stamps I used to avoid carving letters, again for consistency.

When it comes to coasters, I buy the die cut blanks from SLC and pass the cost on to the customer. They sell. It is more about the design on the coasters that drive the sales though.

In short, if you can justify the cost of the equipment, buy it.

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Both are true. Once, when everything was handmade, character was normal. Now, audiences want to hear the CD version, and musicians are drilled to deliver the same every time. And yet when, once in a while, things diverge, it’s more prized. Stokowsky’s Berlin Beethoven 9 (the Choral Symphony) in 1990, when he replaced “Freude” (Joy) with “Freiheit” (Liberty) where Checkpoint Charlie once stood.
Using tools to give a basic similarity is only the starting point. Adding personality from our humanity is the craftsman’s fit. The machining’s left hemisphere brain at work, the craftsmanship, right hemisphere, enduing it with love and character. We’re not great at that, but it’s the edge which sells.

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I agree - and wonder if similar to fashion, trends in preferences sway back and forth over time, where we might again revere the hand-crafted as the premium, rather than the 'perfect-looking" piece. The piece made with real human energy, thought, and life, the one that can last for generations, and be equally wonderful and functional along the way.

There’s such a gray area here. There is value and pride taken in producing with technology, as well as with no mechanics (we can debate the latter’s definition but we have a general idea). What if you were also a metal worker who designed and fabricated your own dies? Is stitching on a sewing machine less handcrafting than with two harness needles on a stitching pony (IMO the latter requires more skill)? Perhaps the real issue is: What are we, as leatherworkers, aiming for? Greater machination almost assures greater quality and appearance consistency. Greater non-machination assures non-uniformity and, therefore, uniqueness due to imperfections produced by inconsistent (hopefully subtle) actions by human hands and judgements. Does your customer value perfection with regard to the price tag, or does he/she yearn for something special that takes them back to “the days of yore”?

I must own up to being one of the fathers of computing - a bad joke when I was 14 made a shedload of sense, Bell Labs soon unwittingly incorporated my surname in the heart of all code. Poor Buddha, the seried ranks of billions of microprocessors chant my name in microseconds 24/7. You’ve got to laugh.
Dad was a top mechanical engineer, and realised things wear in use. Nothing remains perfect - indeed some include minor imperfections as a matter of divine respect. Product gets worn to suit the user. Therefore, making it with that in mind makes the job better, not worse.
We’re more than science allows. The modern scientific academic norm is actually a simplification of the Mediaeval Quadrivium standard, much talked about without any concrete examples - until one landed on me. In that instance, the Chief Theologian and his precursor had to sort out the mess caused by the Black Death and the Hundred Years War (which at that time had only been running for thirty years or so). Much as now (I worked at Council level in the European State Department for around 20 years), a case had to be made, which started with the Theology of the Eucharist, and was then supported by four facets, actually two media, quantatively and qualitatively. Music is art and arithmetic, painting art and geometry. The works were Guillaume Dufay’s L’Homme Armé and Jan van Eyck’s Mystic Lamb and Fountain of Life. The argument, Papal Supremacy. Whoops, I just described the birth of the renaissance: the theology, Jan van Ruusbroec’s Spiritual Tabernacle. From there came Windesheim, the Enlightenment, and science.
You’ll find I often go off at unexpected angles designed to get you out of your normal track of thought, to free your imagination. The human brain has two hemispheres, science attempts to belittle the right one. In trying to work qualitatively, in beauty alongside utilitarian good design, we deny that, and seek the elfin, functional yet imaginative.
This is why you talk of days of yore. We have heritage. Hides were one of the first human products, the first textile. Lascaux shows animals, not plants. Crops and weaving came later. Even if supplanted by synthetics, shoes remain shoes, bags, bags. Synthetics don’t gave the sense of groundedness, belonging, attunement. Western carving is not European, that elfin reference, the quintescence of soaring Gothic naves, trees carved in stone. art nouveau vs Spanish baroque.
And yet the cartography of the soul is barely known. Music has started, building from the basics of Alfonso to Bach, then adding width in orchestral, and more recently simplicity in Barber and Part. But what is it that enlivens the soul? Innovation? Aspiration? This is where geometry of design becomes important. Ravel’s Pavane was just brought to mind, revisiting old work with new tools.
Indeed, one sector, the erotic, can take us deep into groundedness. I leave you to take that where you will. Shoemaking, certainly.