Question Answered

Well, you don't say...

I guess I always assumed the Amish kept their quilt/furniture money under the mattress.  Mom and Dad got this shot while driving home through Pennsylvania–and I just LOVE it!!  Had to share it with you…


Exotic Leathers Study Guide

Keeping up with all of the exotic leathers out there is NOT easy.  This has been my weakest area on skin identification, and so I’ve been working on a study guide that would help me to tell all of my exotics apart.  I based my research on only the most-trusted sources, including the Smithsonian Zoological Department, as well as the University of Michigan’s Biodiversity Department and the Florida Museum of Natural History.  I also sourced several specialty leather websites  (facts are sourced in parenthesis). Below is what I have compiled (if you do not agree with what I have posted, PLEASE email me so that I may A. Argue with you, or B. Correct it).


Because we won’t be dealing much with the whole animal, it is best to concentrate on the properties of the skins alone: below are two links which I found very helpful.


Note the DPRs on each tile of this CROCODILE skin.

The Crocodylidae Family is divided into three main groups or sub-families:  Alligatorinae (this includes alligators and caiman) and Crocodylinae (this includes crocodiles and false-gharials) and Gavialinae (which includes the Gharial).

All members of Crocodylidae have Dermal Pressure Receptors (aka DPRs) along their jaws.  These pits look like black stubble.  Crocodiles also have these DPRs all over their bodies, on each individual tile.  However, neither Caiman nor Alligator have DPRs present on their body tiles—they have evolved out of them  (University of Michigan Biodiversity Department).

“Crocodile and alligator skin wallets, handbags, boots etc are easy to tell apart – if the scales have a small spot or dimple close to the edge, you know the skin is from a crocodile and not an alligator or caiman.”

-Florida Museum of Natural History


"Scutes" or "Osteoderms" along the back of an AMERICAN ALLIGATOR.

All caiman species (there are six)  live in South and Central America. The American Alligator lives only in North America, while the Chinese Alligator lives in China. The majority of Alligatorinae live in the New World, whilst the majority of the Crocodylinae live in the Old World.

The belly scales of the Alligator are large and fade into smaller, rounder tiles toward the flank (side) of the animal.  The tiles become more rectangular in shape on the ventral (bottom) portion of the tail (  The skin on the back of the American Alligator is characterized by vertical bony plates for defense called “osteoderms” or “scutes”  (Smithsonian Zoological Park).

Crocodylian skins from all families may be “spliced” together for continuity.


Anaconda:  New World, one of the largest snakeskins.  Of the constrictor family.  The scales are characteristically large and lack the long stomach plates found on python.

Python:  Old World, a member of the constrictors.  Characteristics include long (widthwise) stomach plates gradating into smaller, more diamond-shaped scales that overlap along the sides (keeled).

Whipsnake:  Found all over the Old World and many areas of the New World, the whipsnake is identified as a non-poisonous Colubrid.   They are very common and their skins are not very expensive.  They also take dye very well.  Dorsal scales are smooth, not keeled.  The scales found on the head are very large, characteristic only to this family of snakes (Colubrids).


My little Karung montage. 🙂

Karung:  a name for the leather that comes from the Wart Snake.  Smooth, almost consistently-sized pyramid-shaped scales on both the back and stomach.  Lower-class skins.  Look for the pyramid/diamond-shaped scales that are smooth and unkeeled (they do not overlap).

Vipers:  of the family of venomous snakes, found in both New World and Old World, including copperhead, rattlesnake, cottonmouth (New World), cobra, black mamba, etc (Old World).  Quite expensive and sought-after, especially the cobra.


Teju:  New World lizard, blackish with yellow banding, growing to about 3 feet in length.  Rectangular stomach plates changing to smaller, rounded rectangles along the flank.

Java:   Old World Lizard.  Found in Indonesian Islands.  Characteristically round scales.  Look for the round-to-round: you can’t go wrong!

Ring Lizard:  the name for the leather that comes from the Asian Water Monitor (Old World).  Animal can grow up to 3 meters/9 feet long!  Look for the characteristic “rings” pattern on otherwise smaller scales.  Natural coloring is a taupe gray design on a buttercream background.

Nile Lizard:  an Old World Monitor specific to Africa.  Skin looks very much like ring lizard, only the colors are reversed (buttercream on a darker, greenish black) and the pattern much more defined.

Iguana:  New World Lizard.  Characteristics include a “dewlap” or row of spiked scales running along the spine that may or may not be found on the tanned hide, as well as a “parietal eyes” or  large eye-shaped scales directly behind the head.  Scales are small and consistent across the body (stomach and back).  Scales are smooth and unkeeled.


Ostrich: Characterized by the giant quill cells prolific over the hide.  Leather can be used from the body as well as the legs, which look like “dinosaur skin,” long plated scales running the length of the legs.

Emu:  very similar look to ostrich, although the hide itself is smaller and not very sought-after.

Amphibians: the skins just “look like a frog.” Sorry: that’s not good enough, I know… maybe I’ll put some pics up…


Eel:  Look for the long, pixilated stripe running the length of an extremely smooth, unscaled skin.

Stingray:  The most durable skin in the world—must be cut with a diamond blade!  Skin is covered in dimpled orbs, with a more-raised area along the spine.  Each skin has two holes where the eyes were on the animal.  The dimpled orbs may remain as they are, or may be sanded down for a smooth bubbled effect .

Shark:  One of the toughest leathers known to man.  Looks very much like sand from which water has evaporated—like the mud at a dried-up riverbed.  Does not smell pleasant.

If you’re still confused, I’d very much suggest typing the name of the actual animal (*NOT the name of its leather) into google images.  I found pictures of the live specimens infinitely helpful when trying to decipher the differences.

Can’t… Look… Away…

As I sit here, bored to death while recovering from swine flu (no kidding!), I am comforted by the existence of books like this:


So creepy… and yet so undeniably irresistible!  Don’t tell me you’re not the least bit inclined to grab this one for your coffee table!  Wow, talk about a niche market!

Making A Mule: The Process

We finally finished with our mule project in Shoe-Making class.  I have been trying to photograph the steps, but often I was so into what I was doing, I’d forget.  Please forgive the holes–I think you’ll still get the idea.

We begin with selecting a “last:”  quite simply, it is a mold for your shoe that comes in the shape of your finished shoe.  Each last determines the height of the heel, arch of the toe box, etc.  You must use a different last for each shoe size and heel height.  I have chosen a dainty size 6 for my project (Surprise! No one had any available in my size!).


Tape up the last to make a pattern


After drawing in your design details, cut off the tape and secure to pattern paper.


Draft all pieces according to your master.

Cut your leather according to your patterns, then sew the outer upper pieces to the lining upper pieces, being sure to leave the area at the toe open and unstitched.


Cut and sew the pieces of the upper.


Cover your heel with leather and set aside.

Now you will make a sandwich out of 2 pieces of Bontex and a metal piece called a “shank” that lends support to the foot when worn.  Nail this sandwich to the last.


Nail the bontex sandwich to your last.

Now the tricky part.  Nail the upper piece you have sewn to the top center front of your last, and flip over and mount on a shoe jack.  Beginning at the front center, pull and stretch the lining leather all around to the bottom, and nail to secure.  Continue to do this, working from the center outwards, until the lining is tight around the entire upper.  At first, I worried that this was not possible, getting it flush on the upper.  But after much elbow grease and perseverance, I did manage to do it.  Once it is all stretched and nailed, wait awhile (I waited overnight, but you don’t have to), and working carefully, remove the nails one at a time and cement the lining to the bontex.  A classmate works hers below…


Last the lining of the upper.

Once the lining is lasted, flip back the outer upper (so it looks like it’s talking to you), and get it ready to add the toe box interlining.  This is a piece of plastic, covered with adhesive on one side, used to give the toe area its structure (bought pre-made).  You must put it in a toaster oven until it sags and then quickly mold it to the toe box of the shoe, shaping it carefully under the last, and using an iron to secure and flatten it even more for good measure.


Shape your toe box.


Shaped Toe Box

Hooray!  Now we are ready to last the upper lining.  You may have to sand down the sole area to remove some of the bulk.  Fold down the upper lining back over the molded toe box and lining.  Stretch this piece just as before and nail.  Wait awhile, then glue as before.  Carefully sand to remove bulk.


Last the outer part of the upper.

Remove the mule from the last.  Here you must nail on the heel, using a special machine that knocks it on through the bontex sandwich.  Once the heel is secured, you then glue on the sole, and wrap it up tightly to set.


Glue on the sole and tie tightly while it sets.

LOL–I totally forget to take a pic after I unwrapped it!  I will get that up soon.  For now, hope that was informative!

To know absolutely every detail that I’ve left out, you’ll simply have to take this class at FIT! 🙂

Any questions?  Feel free to ask!

Some Things I Want to Do Before I Die:

mustangs1. Build an aquaponic gardening system in my kitchen
2. Ride in a helicopter
3. Fly a helicopter
4. A real cattle-drive through Montana or the Dakotas
5. Ride alongside the last remaining wild mustangs
6. Camp in the old growth forests in the pacific northwest
7. Own a Friesian (the Widowmaker)
8. Raise chickens
9. Build my own apiary
10. Tour Southeast Asia
11. Go on a photo-safari after lions
12. Dig up my own dinosaur bone
13. Spend a night at the Myrtles Plantation
14. Take a houseboat through the Everglades
15. Tour the Grand Canyon on horseback
16. Make an heirloom crazy quilt by hand
17. Spend a week in a treehouse in Central America or the Amazon
18. Go to Venice for Carnivale
19. Live off my land (and own it, too!)
20. Read the whole Bible–not just Revelation

My New Sketching Project

What a jam-packed week!  Very proud of myself for the time-management aspect–finished all of my homework and still had time to socialize!

On Wednesday, Rach took me to see “Avenue Q” for the second time (her first time).  It was very silly and I enjoyed it very much–I also enjoyed the fact that I finally got to wear my vintage Henri Bendel persian lamb caped swingcoat for the very first time ever.  It’s been in my closet for the past couple of years now, and while the persian lamb-ible occasion has always eluded me in Buffalo, I’m looking forward to getting a lot more use out of it in NYC.  I wonder if other people use what they’re wearing as mnemonic devices too?  Anyway, it made my night.

Thursday I had the whole day off and hardly did anything at all besides naps, homework, and a trip to Trader Joe’s.  I woke up in the morning, had breakfast, watched some news, then promptly fell asleep again.  When I woke up, I forced myself to go out and get groceries.  Sadly, TJ’s was out of the choco-chip cookie ice cream sandwiches I’d been dreaming about all week.  Phooey.  I was so upset I had to take another nap.  Wow… I really love naps!

Friday was a very fun day: I had to turn in my final renderings for the first installment of our second project in Sketching class.  As you may remember, we had to choose a place in NYC and design 2 bags and 2 pairs of shoes that reflected the style of that place… I chose the Museum of Natural History.  Last week, our teacher reviewed our 25 sketches and chose four to render fully.  I had gone in two directions: one focusing on the early horses, and one based on the T-Rex skeleton.  My teacher loved the hoofed boots… yes!!!



This is what I came out with: 2 pairs of hooven boots, a slouchy springbok/caiman messenger bag, and a cast minaudiere in the shape of an early equus.  I was going for a short, stout shape on the minaudiere, to mimic the early goddess figures found in so many paleolithic sites across Europe.  Read:  the Venus of Willendorf.  I had a lot of fun with this project!


Where the Wild Things Are...


Friday night, I managed to convince Rach, Sally and Sam that we should all go on a Halloween Haunted Times Square Scavenger Hunt.  It was a lot of fun, although it did go on a bit long.  I daren’t think of how many miles we walked back and forth through midtown, but my hips definitely felt the burn when we were finished.  It’s funny, we thought we were gonna win, but we ended up getting second-to-last!  Not to place blame, but the company organizing it did miss up one of our clues pretty badly.  It involved a UV-highlighted clue that highlighted the wrong letters on our clue sheet.  We were very confused until we finally brought it up to one of the organizers and he said another group had had the same problem with their clue sheet: “Someone must have messed that up at the office.”  Um… thanks?  Also? I have a hunch that the organizers were mistaken in at least one other clue, and that we were, in fact, right on it.  I just wish we could’ve checked our answers!

It turns out this company does many other public scavenger hunts throughout the country, as well as private ones for team-building exercises, which sounded like a great idea to me!  You can find their website here:

I’d love to do the Greenwich Village one–check out their calendar!  I only wish that they had put more of a tour into it–have people stationed in different spots to tell us the history instead of reading such a short synopsis in our clue book.  All in all, it was definitely new and different… better than going out to a silly dance club for Halloween!


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