curiosity across disciplines

Leatherworking and failure

In leatherworking, it's common to glue two pieces prior to stitching to add strength, consistency, and cleaner edges.

And where there's glue, there's mess. Though, in a smarmy TEDx talk tone: not all mess is the same.

Naturally, in leatherworking, as in every other realm of "making stuff," there are finished features and there are hidden ones.

The tidy, varnished shelves of a bookcase vs the backside fit-up. The visible side of a spaghetti strap vs the flipped-inside-out stitched one. The snazzy burnished edges of a handcrafted leather wallet vs the inside crevices you'd be a goofball (or a fellow crafter) to rigorously inspect.

Every finished project has its blemishes, and every craftsman knows it's smart to adjust their processes to hide said blemishes.

Often, the blemishes[1] aren't even the result of subpar craftsmanship. Sometimes they're purposely done to make the process easier or cheaper, and being clever about it renders them invisible anyway.

I like to think of this principle, about trying to be smarter about imperfections, as "failing directionally."

As evidenced above, it's effortless to spot this principle at work in crafting, but it's relevant in anything we create.

From stitching luxury goods to the squishy middle bits of a thesis, it's applicable.

And importantly, this principle gives us a kinder (and tactically smarter) reframe around screwing stuff up:

Failing directionally is just success, iterated.

  1. My non-existent editor tells me I used "blemishes" too much and thinks I should fix that. I say: it's an object lesson, and "bugger off." ↩︎