Friday, March 21, 2008

Undergoing MyBlogLog Verification

Wolfgang Leather Genius:

Wolf is quite the character. I am constantly amazed how many people are willing to speak to me at length regarding the old days of leather and how few people there are out there left to interview. In my pursuits of vintage clothing I would often find myself in the basements of stores of mostly older Jewish people who were well acquainted with my grandfather, great uncle or my landlord. As I would be digging through their old stock and old treasures they would regale me with tales of the heydays of the schamata business, before the big corporations took over family run business’ and these retailers and wholesalers could still make a living. I was buying a pair of 1930s wool knickers and the proprietor asked my family name. She was about 84 years old and then told me she was giving birth to her son right next to my bubby! When my grandma was giving birth to my uncle Butch, wow what a thought. There is just way too much history and wisdom in the clothing for me to share here on the site. But I digress…

Wolf explained many things about the old tannages and process’ that went into making the hard leathers that made up my vintage leather jackets. Chrome tanning has been around since the 19th century and in the industrial age where multiple use garments and speed were important factors, chrome tanning very quickly replaced vegetable tanning. Chrome tanning takes relatively little time compared to the month required to veg. tan, also chrome tanning produces a skin more receptive to dying and produces a more waterproof hide. Wolf told me that in the early days they used a combination to produce a tough hide, the initial tannage would be a chrome tan or a syntan, and then the hides would be finished with a vegetable tan and shrinkage.

Syntan is a synthetic tannage that has the characteristics of vegetable tannage without the smell and color negatives associated with vegetable tanning.

Early vegetable tanned leather was typically tanned with sumac, oakbark or nogwood, then oiled, then milled and then shrunk dried This shrinkage results in the compression of the leather fibres and a 30% to 40% loss in size of the hide. This accentuates the grain and strengthens and hardens the leather; two effects not sought after in todays leather market.

Black leather cannot be made with the oak tannages as it bleeds colour, it cannot be made with the syntan cause the colour bleaches out, according to Wolf it was made with logwood. Logwood was the perfect tannage for black leather. Ive even found a valuable copy of a book detailing the various tannages and chemistries for tanning liquors down to the smallest details for the various regions of North America. Its amazing to begin to understand what went into making these classic American jackets, all the expertise and knowhow that is lost or otherwise moved on. The next bunch of postings Im going to explore why these old tannages and leathers are important and how we are failing as consumers and buyers by purchasing cheaply made, poorly sewn and designed butter soft cheap vintage replica jackets. It is super important to remember that when you purchase something made overseas, not just the local economy culture and knowhow is diminished but that the environment, ecology and global health is diminished as well. Many companies are exploring the old ways of production and design and many are succeeding in many aspects. Perfection is always the goal!

Undergoing MyBlogLog Verification
What a Tumultuous Day:

Wow, after a one hour long interview with Wolfgang, I have learned a whole lot about vintage leather. Wolfgang was the head chemist at Dominion Tanneries, one of Canada’s most important and largest tanneries. I’m a babe-in-the-woods about leather (leather jackets aside); Wolfgang is an old school genius. I have only part of the story in my collection of vintage leather. Fifteen years and hundreds of thousands of jackets later, I am putting the pieces of the puzzle together, a picture of what made these jackets great. I realize that many things I knew were more guts then facts, and Wolfgang is the facts behind the guts.

Wolf came over to Canada in the 1950s as a chemist and expert from Germany. Germany had the swell of knowledge in chemistry. Bayer and BASF controlled the knowledge base of tanning and dye formulations that was the key to the preparation and finishing of leather. Wolf worked at Dominion as head chemist through the hey days of the North American leather boom. He is near retirement and working his father and son run family run leather supply.

Wolf told me Dominion tanned 35% of the leather produced in Canada up until their recent bankruptcy. In fact, if you google many Canadian tanneries, many of the companies will still show up on the web as the great wipeout blow was only dealt in the last ten years. Cheap, ecologically unfriendly leather plants in unregulated economies closer to the production plants for clothing have eviscerated the North American heritage in leather production from tanning, right up to sewing and skilled production techniques.

Dominion Tanners Bankruptcy
Government Assistance
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Inkster): My question is for the Minister of Industry. Dominion Tanners went into bankruptcy on July 25. Dominion Tanners operated in this province for decades. There were over 50 families that were affected by that bankruptcy. When I met with representatives of the union and workers, I was really disappointed to find out that this Government, a government that claims to be there for the working man, a government that claims to be there for the people, was an absolute farce. This Government was nowhere to be seen.
The question that they posed to me was a very good question. Why would a government get involved with Motor Coach but have absolutely nothing to do with Dominion Tanners when it faces bankruptcy, when dozens of families are told the day before not to bother to come in to work?
Hon. MaryAnn Mihychuk (Minister of Industry, Trade and Mines): There are times when industries go through phases of bankruptcy and there are certain situations–
Mr. Speaker: Order.
Ms. Mihychuk: The procedure that the department and the Government uses is to work with every situation which is facing crisis. At times there are plans to restructure, to find additional capital to infuse the company. Sometimes it is a situation where the businesses can no longer be competitive and we try to transition the workers into more long-term and successful opportunities.
Mr. Lamoureux: Mr. Speaker, let me ask the minister: When was this Government aware of the problems at Dominion Tanners or was it even aware of it? If it was aware, why did this Government not intervene in any fashion whatsoever? Till this date, they still have not met with the workers. Why has this Government given up on the former workers of Dominion Tanners?
Ms. Mihychuk: Any time that a business is reducing in numbers, the Department of Labour is notified. Various procedures are set up for retraining and opportunities for workers to find other employment. If a company is looking for restructuring or for an infusion of capital or if there is a way for us to facilitate its successful continuation, we will do everything we can as we have for other projects in the province from the North to the Interlake to Winnipeg, as members in this House know.
Mr. Lamoureux: Mr. Speaker, what this Government is proving is that if a Manitoban, whether it is in the cattle industry, whether it is in the manufacturing industry, is having a problem during the summertime, you are out of luck. This Government enjoys its summers and believes that it does not have to do anything.
It is shameful that this Government has done absolutely nothing in terms of retraining programs, approached the workers and provided any assistance for an industry that is relied on for many jobs, many contributions, Mr. Speaker. This Government does not even have the courtesy to meet with the workers, does not even have the courtesy to provide alternatives, does not even have the courtesy to pick up the phone, do some consultation, find out what it is that this Government might be able to do in terms of assisting in retraining and so forth. I find especially that it is a New Democratic government, and it appals me that they would neglect–
* (14:10)