Go Go Scabby Robot: Leather Pocket Wallet

In Hayes Valley, San Francisco, there’s a small independent-designer-co-op called RAG (Residents Apparel Gallery).  Almost everything they carry is made in San Francisco by local artists, like Scabby Robot’s (Jill Harrell’s) leather bags and pocket wallets.   When I saw the pocket wallets, I knew I wanted to make several… after I figured out how to sew leather.

I found some cheap leather scraps — leather sewing needle included, this craft cost me less than $10 — at Discount Fabric and set out to master this new skill.  Sewing with leather is not too difficult, but it’s easier if you know a few tricks.  First, you’ll need a leather sewing machine needle.  Then — and this is where the leather-sewing-endeavor got really difficult for me —  you’ll want to play with your tension until you get it just right.  But, after wasting lots of time doing this, I just couldn’t find the perfect setting.  Part of the problem, I discovered, is that the leather sticks to the surface of the sewing machine while sewing and doesn’t properly feed through the machine.  Referring to my sewing machine manual, I discovered the answer — the walking foot!

If you haven’t used one of these before, the trick is to use very light pressure on the foot pedal in order to sew slowly (or you can do this manually by turning the hand wheel); the walking foot will feed the leather (or fabric) under the foot for you.  After attaching the walking foot to my machine, I had no problem whipping out a ton of these pocket wallets.  They are just the right size for holding cash and a couple cards when you don’t feel like carrying much else.

Here are links to Scabby Robot’s Etsy page and her blog.


One Night Music: Rey Villalobos

Art by Myles O'Donnell-Lawson

Please visit www.onenightmusic.com/reyvillalobos to see this writing in its proper forum, with videos and free mp3 downloads.


In the spring of 2009, Rey Villalobos, hit by something good, pulls his car to the side of the road and writes “Honeybee.”  Just like that. Guitar in hand, he sits on the warm hood, surrounded by sagebrush and bougainvillea and olive trees, and takes in the cool salt breeze. The chords and lyrics arrange themselves.

Four years earlier, what comes to Rey is a succession of words, a phrase, a title.  Roses in the Nordic Countries — wow, that’s good! — will be the name of his first solo album.  Here, the title precedes the title-track by several months, and later, the music is complete before the right words fix themselves to the melody.

This August, I meet Rey at Muddy Waters in Santa Barbara to record him for One Night Music.  He opens for Blind Pilot and I tape his set, but the lighting’s dark, so after the show we set up in Muddy Waters’ tiny storage closet — we pack in with coffee cups, back-up beers, and tortilla chips — for a very intimate One Night Music session.  At first, Rey’s hushed voice competes with the rowdy clean-up crew, but soon the café falls silent and I’m sole witness to his blushing lure, delicate guitar lines and whispered melodies.  Later that night we talk at a friend’s house, and when we part, I feel we’ve known each other much longer than those few hours.  I won’t see Rey for a while; I’m about to move north.

During one of several trips to Portland, made over the course of a year to record Roses with producer John Askew, Rey sits on his girlfriend’s couch.  She always wants to make out, passionate and messy.  Rey jokes, “Just kiss me like it’s the 50’s.”  He picks up his guitar and sings it to her.  They laugh — it’s funny — but fuck, it’s good.  Rey turns this into a serious song, something raw and honest and melancholy and hopeful.

Like the stories of Rey’s creative process, the story of his musical history is broad.  He first studied classical piano then switched to drums, played in bands, picked up the guitar and decided he wanted to sing.  He started making demos.  Then, Rey broke up with a long-time girlfriend and got a credit card in the mail with a fifteen-thousand-dollar credit-limit.  He decided to make a record.

That record was Volcano and Heart, the first of two by The Coral Sea.  An indie label picked it up and sent the band on a national tour.  While fronting The Coral Sea, however, Rey was stockpiling material for a solo album — tucking away both completed songs and song fragments for Roses in the Nordic Countries. “Honeybee” — captured between takes of The Coral Sea’s second album recording — was one such song that turned out so perfectly, it accidentally made it on Firelight.

Rey says there’s an old Chumash curse — a legend, really — that lures people back to Santa Barbara.  When you live there, it’s a place you can love and hate at the same time, but it’s when you leave that it feels most like home.  While recording his EP Roses in the Nordic Countries, Rey traveled frequently between Santa Barbara and Portland.  He moved north, he moved back.  Now, Rey lives in Portland but loves the freedom afforded by his new solo career — the ease with which he can move around.  Last November he toured in New York and the Pacific Northwest, phoning friends to play with him along the way.  This spring, he’ll play a show in SXSW with Sharon Van Etten, whose song “Much More Than That” was recently featured on NPR’s Song of the Day, and in May, Rey will embark on a Western States tour with friends Hosannas (a band formerly called Church.  Next week, Rey says, he could be living in Brooklyn, or Paris.  It hardly matters.  Still, it feels really good to come home.


If you’re in Santa Barbara, catch Rey Villalobos on February 20th, 2010 with Mirah at The Hard To Find in Goleta.  Or get his new EP (a beautiful very-limited-print-edition in four designs, sure to run out) at reyvillalobos.com and check his tour schedule at myspace.com/reyvillalobos.

Anthropologie-Inspired Lace Tray


  • A plate/tray (this one came from my local thrift store)
  • Spray paint
  • A piece of lace, cut to fit your tray
  • Matte ModPodge

This is a super easy project inspired by this ridiculously expensive catch-all tray at Anthropologie (above left).   I’ve wanted to make a knock-off for a while but refused to buy a brand new plate for the project.  Instead I waited a month or so until I found the right one at Thrift Town.  This project costs less than $5 (if you already have spray paint and Mod Podge).

First I used one coat of spray paint on the bottom of the plate and two coats on top. The hardest part of this project is waiting for the plate to dry completely between each coat.  Then I painted a ModPodge topcoat on the top of the plate.

I cut the lace to fit the plate and used pinking shears to make the torn effect on top.  After the first coat had dried, I put down another layer of Modpodge and used it to “glue” the lace to the plate.

Then I followed with two coats to seal (again, dry between each).  After the top was finished and dry, I gave the bottom of the plate another coat of spray paint and one coat of Modpodge to seal.  Then, I let the tray dry completely and put some pretty things on it (but not food).

Adventures in Bottle Cutting

Last Thursday I received my new Bottle Cutter in the mail.  I’ve been thinking a lot about cutting bottles since I discovered this blog post on Design Sponge by Derek and Lauren, the owner’s of The Curiosity Shoppe in San Francisco.  Bottle cutting is easier than you’d think.  It involves etching a straight line around a bottle using a rotary blade, and then splitting the bottle at the score line by alternately heating it over a candle flame and running an ice-cube around it.  Then you smooth the break with sand paper and rinse.  If you’d like to try this yourself, be sure to read Derek and Lauren’s very thorough tutorial.

I cut about two-dozen beer and wine bottles this weekend; we now have an abundance of vases and drinking glasses at my house.  I’ve been saving the top halves of the bottles too, because inverting the top portion into the bottom makes an interesting bud vase.   I think a set of glasses or a vase would make a great house-warming gift.

Vintage Sequin Earrings

I saw some vintage sequin earrings at Paxton Gate in San Francisco and loved their modern shape.  Their designer, Giovanna Torrica, lives in the Bay Area, and I could tell she gets her sequins at General Bead on Minna.  (If you haven’t been to General Bead, oh my god, you are in for one crazy bead clusterf**k.) For less than $15, I picked up enough sequins to make roughly 10 pairs of earrings.  They are so easy to make!  Someday I will take pictures while making jewelry and write a proper tutorial.  Until then here are some pictures of completed pairs.

These blue ones (made with gold-filled wire, crimp beads, and ear-wires) are my favorite.  This style of sequin also comes in black, so I think eventually I’ll make another pair. Giovanna also has a beautiful necklace in her shop using these too.

I like the irregular shapes of these sequins.  FYI: If you use vintage sequins in jewelry or on clothing, you cannot get them wet.  Supposedly they shrivel.  You can buy the original designs here at Giovanna Torrica’s Etsy shop.

One Night Music: The Finches

Art by Jen Kindell

Art by Jen Kindell

Here is a piece I wrote for an LA-based band I love — The Finches.  I’ve posted the essay in its entirety here, but you should visit One Night Music (www.onenightmusic.com/thefinches) for the official session, which features four videos, my set description, the beautiful rendering of The Finches I’ve used here by Jen Kindell (an SF-based artist), and four (free!) mp3 downloads.  Enjoy!


The Finches

“I’m sorry if it’s a little rough tonight,” Carolyn tells me. It’s the end of May in Santa Barbara and I’ve met The Finches at The Biko Garage in Isla Vista to record their show for One Night Music. Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs–who is in actuality as cute and well-formed as her name sounds–is best described as pure sweetness, as dicentra spectabilis, lemondrops, or CPR. She has been travelling a lot recently, and subsequently the band has had little time to practice. Still, there’s no need for her to apologize. The Finches are awesome. Their songs have been strangely lodged in my head for the past month, looping between three of their catchier tracks to make a sort of Finches shuffle in my head.

It seems everyone else at Biko knows The Finches too. They’ve played before at the Pink Mailbox, another Isla Vista SBDIY venue, but I first heard them while channeling Joanna Newsom on Pandora. If you like this sort of quirky-folk-meets-fun-indie-pop, The Finches will stop you in your tracks. Carolyn’s voice–mighty yet somehow delicate at the same time–is one of a kind, perfectly suited for her songs’ gentle, lilting melodies.

Once an acoustic duo based in San Francisco, The Finches are now an electric trio from Los Angeles. Carolyn writes their songs, sings lead vocals and plays electric guitar. A visual artist as well, Carolyn created the artwork for their original EPSix Songs, their full-length album Human Like a House, and their new maxi CD single Dear Mili. On stage, Carolyn asks, “Do you guys know what a ‘maxi single’ is?” She explains: one new song, several new versions of old songs, available for five dollars. Carolyn’s accompanied by Gerry Saucedo on bass and Cam Jones on drums. Carolyn will tell you that Gerry gives the best hugs. Both Gerry and Cam sing harmonies, and together, the trio creates an especially full sound, lush in vocals and a bit rockin’.

During their set, The Finches are comfortable and easy-going, despite their relatively new line-up. Biko is packed with its typical indie-co-ed/artsy-co-op crowd, and by the end of the show, everyone’s heart-warmed and dancing. Michael Albright films up front, and I stand at the back of the crowded room, Zoom mic in hand. It is not long before my arm throbs holding still, but I hear all my favorite songs. Step Outside, one of The Finches’ more accessible and radio friendly tunes, is a kind of pastoral: a call to go for a walk after being cooped up all day. Deceivingly simple, it has clever lyrics and a two-part refrain that’s layered as the song builds, resulting in different lyrics sung simultaneously. Daniel’s Song is for Carolyn’s brother. It’s a good-natured ode to surviving their parents’ house and to sticking together: Daniel, you can take the bus, but if you’re not feeling right, I can pick you up ‘cause I kind of like to drive. At the end of the show someone requests Last Favor, a bittersweet break-up song of incomplete farewells, run-ins with former loves, and overdue goodbyes. In dreams, Carolyn sings, in dreams, we never say goodbye. Goodbye, goodbye…

Earlier that day, I sit in a busted lawn chair, alone in my ex-boyfriend’s garage, at the house where we lived for nearly three years. I am selling my things. I did this yesterday too, to great success. But today the fog is heavy, the air misty, and the sky threatens rain. And so I am alone, surrounded by things–my things–I haven’t seen in five months. I hate these things, the weight they carry. Disheartened, I pack up early. Goodbye, goodbye. At Biko, I am alone too but surrounded by familiar people. Here, I am not my things, my throbbing elbow, my worn and heavy heart. I am this bopping, this bass, these thirds, these fifths, this lovely voice, this pulsing and excitement and love. Oh, the beauty. I must share The Finches! Here you go, friends.

“Ruffles & Stuff” Petal Earrings

One blog I follow regularly, I reluctantly admit, is a craft, jewelry and sewing blog called Ruffles & Stuff.   Sometimes I find blog-owner Disney’s posts a tad irrelevant — I have, presently, no desire to make baby toys or pacifier clips — but a lot of times, I’ll drop whatever I had planned some evening to follow her newest tutorial.   She’s the inspiration behind my first dress, my first skirt, a pretty lace necklace I made, and these ribbon earrings.   Because her tutorials are so thorough, I’ll skip the instructions for these earrings (you can find them here) and show you my finished pairs.