Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Catching Up

I  got home Monday to find Ron sorting the non-2012-tax-paperwork. That job done we put things more-or-less away, and the 6' table was taken down. Yay!

Then Ron trimmed the last bits on the last pair of pliers, I dyed the edges of the leather, and sat down at the computer to print an invoice, shipping label, etc. Until Ron demanded I move, he needed to do something right NOW.

There were red and orange blinkie lights on the Drobo (multi-drive storage device). The Drobo holds 4 or 5 drives, and one of the original drives we put into it is/was failing. Not a problem, given the way the Drobo operates and immediately running successful backups, but Ron's a little twitchy since the time two drives failed simultaneously. 

After dinner I reminded Ron that I hadn't finished what I was doing on the computer, evicted him from the computer, finished up what I needed to for the pliers, and did the last couple bits of tax paper-pushing. 

The pliers went out in yesterday's mail. Here's a picture:

Snuck out of work a little early yesterday because of the weather, but still haven't gotten any cartridge pouches cut out. OTOH, I'm almost caught up on dishes, and even though I was hoping for a snow day today, I planned for having to go to work, boo, and put together tonight's dinner.

2011 tax paperwork and my laptop power cord are still missing.

On the up-side, the reproduction Colonial-era buckles and Civil War-era studs and buckles I ordered came in Monday, and yesterday I got a book I'd ordered, about uniforms, equipment, etc. of the US Army on the plains post Civil War. 

I'm about halfway through the Civil War cartridge pouch book, and have found a reference to thread color, at last, stating that black wax only is to be used on the thread. Trying to re-find a web site with a recipe for black wax, I tripped over information on dyeing leather black in that era, which was also interesting, but I'll natter more about later.

Yesterday I found the black wax reference. I had briefly considered making up some, but upon more sober reflection, I think not. The stuff is messy to make, and somewhat sticky to use. Besides making thread black, and probably helping waterproof seams, it was used to stick boar bristles to your thread, the bristles being used as needles. 

Still waiting for two more books I ordered for references. We have a biggish mail box, but given the weather this time of year I played it safe and had them shipped to work. 

Still need to photocopy and mail off the business taxes.

Don't know if I'll get leather cut out tonight. Have to stop and pick up dog food and also a PeaPod order. Depends if I go with Ron to the weekly Wednesday night kibbutzing at a local restaurant, or not.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Too Much To Do, Not Enough Weekend

Friday night I got 5 of the six pieces of leather sewn onto the pliers. Had a problem with one, had to cut a new piece of leather and mold it onto the handle. I meant to sew it Saturday or Sunday, but didn't get that far. Will finish them today, dammit, so I can send the pliers back to their owner in tomorrow's mail.

The plan for Saturday morning was to go out to breakfast, then return home and start working on taxes. It didn't quite work out. Instead we checked on how much vegetable-tanned leather we had in the right weight for cartridge pouches, then went to the Tandy/Leather Factory store and bought leather. I thought it was on sale for a pretty good price, but discovered upon arriving and re-reading the flyer that the sale didn't include leather that heavy.

They did have other leather on sale, in the right weight, and a price that wasn't quite as good as the other sale. I got Robin to check a catalog at home to confirm that it was still a good price. Some of it followed us home. So did some more studs, (still on sale), and dees that were on the clearance table. They're a style that work for satchels, and I had dees (and buckles) for satchels on my Otter shopping list. 

In the afternoon I started taxes, which actually meant making sure I'd rooted out all of the 2012 receipts and other paperwork, checking to make sure it was in the books, and metaphorically closing the books for the year. Closing the books consists mainly of making sure the summary tables are referencing/computing correctly, and declaring the job done.

We lost money. Whopping amounts of money, if you look at the amount of money that went out vs. the amount that came in. That's what happens when you buy a trailer, all the fittings for the trailer, Thing One and Thing Two, put wheels on the Things and buy bins to put in the Things, The Grinch and the bins to sort hardware in The Grinch, and a new handtruck. Plus yarn, displays for yarn and other things, and a bunch of new tooling tools for Ron, not to mention leather and hardware and other supplies.

Saturday I spent significant amounts of time pounding my head trying to figure out depreciation. With some help from Google, I think I got it. It made more sense after eating dinner, too. At first I was going to only depreciate the trailer, but I realized I can also include tax, title fees, etc., and added most of the fittings, all three road cases, the handtruck, and some other somewhat-related odds and ends. Doing all that meant that our loss for the year, as the IRS figures it, wasn't very big.

For 2011 we wrote off 10% of the things being depreciated. 2013-2016 we write off 20% each year, and the final 10% in 2017. Which means that we have to keep sales up, so that we don't lose money IRS-wise too often (if you don't make money 3 years out of 5, the activity is considered a hobby, not a business, which changes, and IIRC limits, what you can deduct). We had a whacking big lot of expenses in 2011 that I didn't roll into the pile being depreciated (in for a sheep, in for a lamb, with making capital investments last year) so I don't think it should be a problem.

Sunday morning, after finishing up the depreciation form, I went looking for the bundle of 2011 taxes and paperwork. Or the power cord for my laptop, which I think is the machine I did the 2011 taxes on. And looking, and looking, and looking. I found some 2011 receipts, and half of the power cord. Apple power cords are two-parters, a power cord and then a lighter-weight cable with the not-wall wart on one end and the cool magnetic connecter on the other. You can connect an iPad power wart to the laptop cord section, which I sometimes do to get some extra length for my iPad power.

The laptop battery is dead enough that it won't power up. I can't find the paper copies of the tax returns. Ron found the proper cables to connect the laptop hard drive to a USB port, but getting the drive out was going to require fairly heroic efforts, which I vetoed at that point. I'd hoped the power cord was at work, but no joy this morning.  

Fortunately, you don't actually need the previous year's return to do a 1040 (now that I've gone through the process again for the first time in mumble years, I realize that the amount of typing that importing the previous year's data into Turbo Tax saves you isn't that much), and the data I did need from the 2011 returns for the business taxes was on a form I'd filled out as a PDF and had saved a copy of on the desktop machine.

Anyway, the plan for Sunday originally was to spend the morning on taxes, and then the afternoon on other things.

Failed. At about lunchtime I was a good way through doing our personal taxes, which is usually the easy downhill slope of the slog. I did encounter a slowdown, in getting together data on how much we spent on textbooks for Robin and some donations, but the additions to our refund were worth the time. 

Lesson learned from the missing 2011 tax paperwork. All the supporting paperwork such as W2s and mortgage interest statements were scanned and saved. After printing a hard copy of the our personal tax returns, I saved printed them to a PDF, so we can look at them without TurboTax. I need to burn a copy of the pertinent directories to a CD or DVD and store it at one of our offices or send it to Ron's dad or mine as an off-site backup. 

Went for late lunch/early dinner at Toreo, then to Eurofresh for some groceries. I think we got home 4:30-5-ish. Still could have worked on cutting out cartridge pouches, but I decided I wasn't up to it, which was probably wise. I beat Ron in two games of cribbage, instead. Which is pretty surprising. Clearly luck was with me. 

Realized this morning that there's a couple more small things I need to do before I can copy and mail off the business tax forms, but nothing major/difficult, just dotting the Is and crossing the Ts. Not sure if I'll get them done tonight or not. Right now there's a 6-ft table in the living room covered with paperwork, which I've sworn will be cleared and taken down tonight. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Current Project

The current project came from Military History Fest.

Covering the handles of pliers with leather for another vendor, Sheldon Pewter (lots of neat stuff!). 

It wasn't an issue at MHF, but at more serious re-enactment events the plastic grips on the handles of the needle-nose pliers he uses for, um, something to do with his business, are a problem. But if they're covered in leather, they don't stick out as modern things, and don't have to be kept hidden.

I've got three pairs. Covering them should be a straightforward process, which I started last night.  So lets step through it, shall we?

  • Find pliers, which came home from MHF with us. I cleverly managed to not confuse them with any of our pairs.
  • Find a nice piece of leather, in the scrap bin as it happens.
  • Cut off a small chunk for testing.
  • Proceed to splitter. 
  • Discover that somebody didn't open the splitter back up after use. 
  • Try to set the splitter to thinner setting. Encounter resistance.
  • Discover leather scrap in splitter.
  • Use own pair of pliers that live with sewing machine to extract leather from splitter.
  • Split scrap to appropriate thickness, get wet, check mold-ability.
  • Estimate length of leather needed.
  • Cut off estimated length, split down, then cut into handle-sized pieces.
  • Put leather in water to soak.
  • Decide that rusting customer's pliers with wet leather would be A Bad Idea.
  • Can't find precision drip bottle of light machine oil. Decide spray can (Ballistol) will work.
  • Exercise forethought and find paper towel.
  • Spray pliers. 
  • Go wash a few dishes while leather soaks.
  • Start trying to mold leather around first handle.
  • Discover you used too much oil, which has spread itself to the grips (which were wiped off after spraying) and your hands.
  • Wipe off excess oil.
  • Hope the customer didn't want that dirt/minor rust that the oil removed.
  • Come up with a Cunning Plan to deal with the ends of the handles.
  • Use Stupid Amounts (tm) of binder clips to hold the leather in place.
  • Proceed to pair #2. Grumble that these don't open up as wide.
  • Decide there's no way you can bend space to get two binder clips in, find pinchy-clamp to hold leather from both sides at once.
  • Look at third pair and ponder that you're probably not charging enough for this job.
  • Third pair has handles made from flat stock, with chunky plastic grips.
  • Form and stretch and apply binder clips.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • Decide that's the best you're going to get.
  • Decide you'll figure out exactly how you're going to handle the top of the grips when it comes time to do the actual sewing.
  • Do the second handle on pair #3.
  • Take pictures.
  • Realize that the camera phone can't handle the contrast between dark-ish leather and white paper towel background.
  • Say to hell with it and go finish the dishes.
  • Come back in the morning and try the picture thing again without the paper towel.
  • Take a couple binder clips off one pair. Leather dry, but still a little bit of moisture on handle. 
  • Replace binder clips.
  • Feel very smug that this seems to be working out so far.
  • Still debating how to handle the tops on pair #3.
So, here they are, all three pairs, with umpty binder clips holding the leather on (click to embiggen).

The first pair attacked are in the middle - open nice and wide, handles not too chunky. Pair #2, on the right, has chunkier handles, and that's about as wide as they open. Pair #2 is on the left. The top binder clips are actually above the ends of the plastic grips.

I'll probably trim above the grips before sewing, and then trim the excess leather close to the line of stitching after sewing. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Historical Accuracy, and Schedule Note


We're confirmed for CodCon, the annual gaming convention at the College of DuPage, which has a significant attendance from LARP and Cosplay groups. Looking at the records for last year we sold . . . a little bit of everything.  Ok then.

Historically Accurate Stuff:

Our pouch designs are not historically accurate, they're creations of our (deranged) imaginations, and very few of them even have latches that appear accurate, with the possible exception of antler pegs and brass studs. This proved to be somewhat problematic at Military History Fest - I think we'd have sold more pouches, at least hard ones, if we'd had at least different latches.

So, one of the plans is to make more pouches that close with buckles or tabs over studs. That won't hurt for selling at SCA events, either.

Another consideration is making more documentable things, like cartridge pouches. Like these linked below that we made that are Civil War era: 
The black one has some hardware issues, and the brown one is pretty much a color fail, while sharing the hardware issues. OTOH, we made those because we could, not really thinking about authenticity at the time.

Civil War cartridge pouches were usually black, made out of leather that was in some cases only dyed on one side. The studs we used are passable, if not perfect, but the buckles should be black iron or japanned (a type of finish that I think is enamel) black.

I've found a source for buckles, and ordered some Monday, along with better studs in two styles. Unfortunately the guy only had one pair of buckles available, and was also out of out of the larger studs like you'd put on a cartridge box. Grumble, grumble, I want instant gratification, dammit!

I also ordered one each of three styles of Colonial-era buckles. Why only one of each? Because there were only pictures available of one style, so I'm going to see which I like best before ordering more.

So, back to cartridge pouches. I've been charging $90, including the shoulder strap (which I've also learned has a funky non-obvious but much nicer way of buckling onto the pouch). Some vendors at MHF had them in the $30 range, but Ron said they were pretty obviously cheap imports. Sewn with white thread. Now, to me, white thread on black leather is Just Wrong. 

So I started doing research. 

First up, to a Dover reprint of a pair of books on saddlery and harness making by a gentleman that worked in Britain pre-WWI, to find a discussion I remembered that wax with black goo in it was used to make thread black for sewing black saddlery (and shoes). 

Somewhere on-line, which I did not save and haven't gone hunting for again, I found a mention that you often see black in the recesses of the stitching, which to me and Ron supports the idea that the black wax has worn off of the white linen thread over the years. 

I've found, in one of the U.S. Army Ordnance Manuals and supplements I previously found while looking for cavalry equipment information, a list of supplies to be carried by a (mumble size unit) saddler, which includes a bunch of black wax. 

I also ordered a book, "Civil War Cartridge Boxes of the Union Infantryman" (why yes, I am both a nerd and a bibliophile, why do you ask?), ISBN: 0-91712-79-5. Unfortunately, all but the cover photos are black and white, so it's not exactly helpful on the color of the backside of the leather (is that dark because it was dyed black, or because the leather is old and dark brown?), and not definitive on thread color. Some pale, some dark. I'm skimming the text currently, but I'm afraid its quiet on the issue of thread color. 

If I can't find any mention there, I'll probably see if I can (e-) mail the author and ask.

What I have learned from the book so far, is that there were three main patterns of cartridge pouches, but there was a lot of variation even so, as they were produced by the Army itself by staff at least two different arsenals, and umpty contractors. Which led me to the statement that, if anybody ever tries to tell me that all cartridge boxes were thus-and-thus, I'm going to bludgeon them to death with my copy of the book. 

I've also poked on-line and looked at various photos, mostly of replicas by people said to be trustworthy by reenactment groups with more or less strict standards. Lots of white thread, also a fair number with black. (And my price isn't far too bad, it turns out)

None of the groups, however, mention thread color.

I'm leaning toward using black thread, since I can't find definitive evidence either way, and I trust my gut. All the leather I can buy already dyed black is dyed both front and back, so I'm waffling, but leaning toward dyeing vegetable-tanned leather on the grain side only.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cleaning and Making Things

As I mentioned last time, the dining room was a complete disaster, with the icing on the cake being the stuff I evicted from the kitchen counters for the pre-Capricon baking binge (that would be the white box and other junk on the bench in front of the window).  The morbidly curious can click to embiggen.

Saturday morning I attacked the mess, with a lot of help from Robin.

Fortunately, cleanup ended up being mostly putting things away. Fabric and soft leather was packed into a couple-three empty bins. Small bits of leather were stowed in another bin. Larger rolls were put away. Empty boxes and other junk were thrown away. 

I even . . . threw away leather.  Craptatstic leather! A few years ago I ordered a lot (as in "assortment of stuff") of leather from a warehouse cleanout sale at a very cheap price, which turned out to be rather a lot (as in "large amounts") of junk. Shiny faux alligator in scary colors that looked more like plastic than leather, for instance. No, it was not worth trying to sell to somebody else. I finally realized it was time for it to GO. and it WENT. 

Unwrapping all the craptastic monstrosities did provide some hilarity to me and Robin at the time, but I can't honestly say I thought the money well spent. But that's water long under the bridge, and by now I'm pleased to have gotten it out of my work room. Its the first time I can think of that I've thrown out leather that wasn't down to scrap.

Here's a couple shots of the cleanup mostly-finished:

Look! Floor! Yeah, still needs to be vacuumned, but I can live with that. You can see the floor! Yes, the pile on the big sewing machine has actually grown. Some of that is things that need to be sewn, like leather for two satchels, a belt satchel that needs the binding on the flap, and hardware and new nylon strapping to make tie-downs for the various things in the trailer. 

A little later we went through the kitchen refugees on the bench and in the box. Which then led going through all the spices and seasonings (which live in the dining room, so it did make some sense). 

All in all, a fair bit of cleaning.

Sunday I cut out two new pouches, Civil War-era replicas of, IIRC, British accoutrements. I got them ready to sew together, have finished the sewing on one, and am about 3/4 of the way through sewing up the other - Ron and I had yesterday off for Presidents' Day. 

Yesterday I also, um, bought more leather. I don't think I've mentioned it here, but I've been trying not to buy leather I don't really need for the last few months, because we've got an awful lot of cows worth as it is. 

We went to the local Tandy/Leather Factory store mostly to get out of the house, with the secondary plan to get some more studs, which are on sale. Unfortunately, leather that was also part of the sale leaped, LEAPED I say, out and insisted I take it home. A nice shrunken-grain brown, and pretty london tan (gold) in softish leather. I'm a sucker for london tan. 

I did get the new leather put away neatly last night. That's worth something, right?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Back Again

Sorry, never did do any Military History Fest reporting. I'll see what I can do about that this week. 

This past weekend was Capricon, which started Thursday, and which I spent Wednesday baking for. (Xap and Ron ran the Capricon Cafe, I was Cafe staff). So last week consisted, effectively, of Monday and Tuesday.  MHF and Cap back-to-back with Maidens two weeks before MHF was not one of my more rational plans.

When last I posted I said I was going to do bookkeeping. I did that: I did may sales tax returns for 2012.  I also researched military cartridge/ammunition pouches. I might even get to the library today, to get a new library card, so I can Inter-Library Loan a book from another local library, that's a bit more pricey than I want to pay, even used.

Circling back to Capricon, yesterday I took a vacation day and was a vegetable. Today is a holiday for me and Robin. I'm slightly less vegetative today. I've posted 16 pouches to Etsy and ArtFire, and finally gotten wide and narrow ring belts up on ArtFire. Still need to add more belts both places, but this is significant progress.

I considered adding hanging pouches to the main Otter Necessities web site, then chickened out. 

The dining room has reached complete disaster status. It was bad enough, then I evicted a bunch of stuff from the kitchen counters to make room for the baking binge (18+ dozen scones, and a metric boatload of candied nuts), which ended up in the dining room. My plan is to attack it on Saturday. Don't I sound excited?

The living room is also a mess. If Ron and Robin don't attack it on Saturday, I'll probably declare Sunday time to clean the living room (although if we all work on it, it shoudn't take very long).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Military History Fest Report

The dark brown leather arrived Wednesday night. And then we didn't do anything with it Wednesday night.

Thursday night we made belts and packed up the bits and pieces than weren't still packed from Maidens. Ron had the trailer hooked up and out in the driveway by the time I got home, and Robin packed stuff into the truck and trailer. In the bitter cold. 

Friday morning was more bitter cold. Xap had some not-horribly-serious car trouble, but made it down to our place, and off we went. IIRC we got to Pheasant Run about 9:30... discover that we did not have 2 pairs of tables back-to-back, because of the way the islands were laid out. Slight juggling of people within our island later, we had a hook around one end (1 table on one long side, 2 on the other, and the end table) of the island. And then we sent three of the four tables away. 

I put a wall-of-gridwall across the end, thinking we could make a walk-in section, so we could use the back of the gridwall for display. It ended up we didn't need to, which was good, as it would have gotten cramped for us otherwise. Interestingly, the Pheasant Run tables are only 24" wide - we're used to 6' and 8' tables being 30" wide. 

Friday was slow. Slow slow slow slow. Friday was free entry for veterans, so there were people wandering around, mostly older gentlemen. I don't think anybody was selling much, but at least there were people to say hello to. Only 1-2 sales from noon-7 pm did not make for an exciting day. There weren't even as many vehicles in the display area as we'd expected to go admire.

We were able to leave the truck and trailer parked at Pheasant Run, so we all packed into the Kia for the trip home, with a stop at Red Robin for dinner. 

Saturday hours were 9-6. Business was better, although not enough to convince us to do it again next year. I dropped a stitch in some lace knitting and had to pull back a bunch of rows to rescue it, but didn't have to completely frog my project, so I was happy. Unfortunately, I was also a zombie by the time we closed, having been awake since 3:30 am. Ordered pizza on the way home, and arrived just as the delivery guy was leaving the house. Perfect!

Sunday (10-2) was good enough that we discussed what to do differently next year.

One one side of us was a guy selling books, movies, and CDs. We got to listen to one movie over and over and over, the second DVD player got changed to different videos, and the CD player was pointing right at the center of our island and was TOO LOUD. After all Saturday of one set of military band music pieces that all sounded similar I had to listen to earworms to get the damn military band out of my head.

Sunday morning when I bought a book on German (mounted) cavalry in WWII I asked him to please keep it down. Good thing he agreed, or Betsey, the Gypsy Piper Girl (other women in our block), Xap, and I would probably have mobbed him. 

Other purchases: Pattern for a Victorian-era military coat, shoulder patches, and collar pins for Ron (Girl Genius Jaeger costume). Looked at a Russian navy hat for Robin, but called home and had him try on one of Ron's hats, fit of which meant the Russian hat wasn't going to fit. Bone knotting shuttle for Xap, which she proved could be used for tatting, rather confusing the lady at William Booth, Draper. Snicker. Other things admired, no Jaeger hat found for Ron, but got ideas. Lots of junk ignored. 

Probably more tomorrow, time to go do Otter bookkeeping, since I decided I had insufficient motivation to go to work between being tired and the crappy not-snow-plowing job on the roads.