Defy Bags

Defy Bags – “Old Materials. New Ideas.” from Jerry Rig on Vimeo.

Defy has been proudly manufacturing durable goods since 2008, with each and every hand-crafted product inspected by me. All goods are crafted to be: simple, clean-lined, sturdy and manufactured to a level that would make my grandfather proud. We art direct each minute detail to ensure every bag feels truly one of a kind. And oh by the way, we mostly use vintage or reclaimed durable materials to do so. Well, that and imported solid steel and brass Austri Alpin Cobra buckles from Switzerland that are load bearing up to 1,000 lbs and used by special forces around the globe because of their world class quality and construction. Pardon the pun, but at each and every turn we like to Defy expectation.

via Story – Defy Bags.

Further afield: Raleigh Denim. | Fog + Foundry

I’d like to start sharing some stories about inspirational small manufacturing companies. This is the kind of stuff I’d love to see grow at the Pajama Factory.
Here’s the first:

Victor and Sarah Lytvinenko founded Raleigh Denim in 2007 in their North Carolina apartment. Selling their possessions to raise the fund for materials and a sewing machine, their launch was long on enthusiasm if short on expertise.

Over the intervening five years they’ve built Raleigh Denim into a cult fave. Fusing traditional craftsmanship with a modern cut, their jeans are made using denim from Cone Mill’s White Oak plant and vintage machinery such as the 43200G Union Special to produce a chainstitch hem. Each piece is signed on its inside pocket and the leather patch is handstamped with its edition number.

via Further afield: Raleigh Denim. | Fog + Foundry.

Raleigh Denim: Handcrafted in North Carolina | UNC-TV from David Huppert on Vimeo.

Matt Dempsey, Metal Artist

The following is a brief profile on Matt Dempsey and his partner Savannah Barr, two of the latest tenants at the Pajama Factory in Williamsport, PA.

Matt Dempsey, metal artist, at the Pajama Factory in Williamsport, PA

Matt Dempsey loves a challenge. For Dempsey, that challenge might be making a thing that nobody has made in generations, or perhaps something that has never been made before. Dempsey works with metal. He pounds it with hammers and heats it using fire and bellows and showers of sparks and, of course, a huge anvil of the sort rarely seen outside of cartoons. It’s the kind of anvil that makes you picture it being unsuccessfully dropped upon roadrunners, more often landing upon coyotes.

“Matt the blacksmith” is how he’s often referred to around the factory, since there are already several people named Matt around the place, but if you call him a blacksmith in his presence, he’ll correct you.

“A blacksmith is a person with very specialized training. I am not a blacksmith,.” he explains. “I am an an artist working primarily in metal.”

Dempsey, 37, is self-taught in his craft. He didn’t apprentice, he learned to do what he does by tackling specific problems and forging both the tools and the techniques to solve each problem.

“Most people just go buy a hammer when they need one, but I wind up making most of mine. Each one was made to do something very specific and the ones that prove useful wind up being used again.” The same goes for many of his other tools: a pair of tongs he he showed was made for a project, when no other pair was quite right for the job. The same goes for his “Hardy tools”, specialized shaping tools made with a stout square shank that fits into the square hole in his anvil.

It’s an uphill battle in semantics, though, for as long as he’s pounding away on that anvil that sits in his workshop, he’s going to be “the blacksmith” to the casual observer.

Matt Dempsey, metal artist, at the Pajama Factory in Williamsport, PA

Dempsey came to the area from Bradford, PA, the home of Zippo lighters and Case knives, both iconic American brands that epitomize reliability and dependability, traits that seem to fit with the sort of work that he does. He and his partner, Savannah Barr, came to the area for Dempsey to work in the gas industry, but it wasn’t long before he was introduced to Mark Winkelman of the Pajama Factory.

It was a natural fit and fast friendship, as Dempsey loves nothing more than solving a unique problem and a hundred year old building like the Pajama Factory is brimming with just those sorts of puzzles. You see it as you enter his studio space on the ground floor of the factory, next to the recently-closed Cobbler’s Outlet store: the latch on the door to his shop is a heavy black thing of iron, made specifically for that door, no doubt because it does something that the store-bought latches don’t.

”I got into metalwork when I learned to weld. I spent six years welding custom prototype radiators for show cars,” he explains. “It taught me to understand metal, to think about how it behaves in certain situations.”

It was a skill that proved useful when he took up horn carving as a hobby.

Turning an ornately-carved horn in his hands, he explains. “To make these kinds of cuts in the materials, you need knives in very specific shapes. I had to learn to make my own.”

Through his involvement with The Society for Creative Anachronism, an “international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe”, he was able to meet others with a similar interest in the seemingly obsolete: “I really enjoy the old technology. Before everything was plugged into a wall socket, you had to know how to create the things for your day-to-day life.”

That sort of thinking was what helped him when he was part of the crew of the Appledore IV, a twin-masted schooner that sails the Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, a wooden sailing ship used in marine biology and education, another of his unusual experiences. “A boat like the Appeldore isn’t a floating museum piece, it’s a working ship. You need a lot of hard-to-find skills to do that safely.”

He isn’t pretentious in the least, and there is no hint of affectation in his demeanor. He’s down-to-Earth in what he does, but when he talks about his work, there’s a playful glint in his eye and his demeanor becomes noticeably more animated. For this reason, it’s fun to watch him work, as everything becomes a demonstration. His partner, Savannah Barr, had some of her textile designs, in this case, long pieces of beautifully dyed silk, drying on large wooden frames. “See where the dye pattern looks different? She’s used salt to change how the dye is absorbed.”

Sure enough, there are tiny crystals of salt on the silk and the pattern it’s made is beautiful, but equally fascinating is the way the silk is held on the drying frame: every inch or so there’s a string attached to the edge of the silk that drapes over the edge of the frame. At the end of each string is a weight, carefully adjusted to pull the silk taut, without distorting the fabric.

Barr is not only an artist in textiles, she is also a photographer, as well as a journalist.

When asked what was in store for them at the Pajama Factory, Dempsey replied: “Classes and workshops. I plan to set up some very hands-on events for people of all ages. Something where they can come in and later walk away with something they made themselves. To get that going, though, I need more commission work.” These commissions and customers help finance his more creative projects and activities, he explained, but it all goes hand-in-hand, like everything else the pair explained.

“See these masks? See this curve here and that right angle on that one?” He shows a set of copper masks, one an owl, another, an impish-looking gargoyle. “I was doing a project where I needed a large circle of sheet copper and I had to cut it from a square piece. These masks were made from the corners I cut off.”

So much of what the pair does is like that—the tools and the process are as fascinating as the thing that gets created.

Matt Dempsey is available for commissioned work, both artistic and practical. He can be reached at (989) 415-8859.

The Pajama Factory Windows

As a photographer, I spend a lot of time looking at different types of light and shadows, so when I found the Pajama Factory in Williamsport, PA, I was attracted to the exceptional quality of the light afforded by the factory’s large windows.

What I didn’t know was how carefully engineered a modern factory of this era was. Manufacturing was coming into full swing with modern methods on a scale that had never been seen before. Where old factories were smaller, darker and less pleasant for workers, factory owners were learning that productivity could be improved significantly by designing workspaces that employed what would one day become known as ergonomics, a term not coined until 1949, a full thirty years after the Pajama Factory was completed.

An important consideration in designing a large work area is, of course, that sufficient light be made available to workers. Electric light was a fairly new thing, but it was expensive and inefficient for the kinds of spaces that needed to be illuminated. Architects found that they could efficiently light large spaces through the use of carefully-engineered window systems. The engineers needed to add as much light as possible and of course, more windows mean more light.

A typical factory built in the late Nineteenth Century was made of brick and timber, with wood-framed windows that were of course much smaller and less-efficient than they now needed to maximize the usefulness of the spaces they wanted.

Around the turn of the Twentieth Century, architects started designing steel framed factory structures with steel-framed windows that would allow for vast, multistory buildings, such as the 300,000 or so square feet of the Pajama Factory. They designed their buildings to have greater and greater percentages of their outer surface covered with windows and these new techniques allowed them to reach better than eighty percent coverage with glass. This required new types of framing for the windows, such as the “Detroit Fenestra” designs that the Pajama Factory has so many of. These were incredibly strong, far stronger than could be made of wood, and far easier to maintain. Double-glazed windows were an option, but often decided against because the cost of heating the factories was said to be “practically nil.” (Sadly, this is no longer true…)

So by the time the newer buildings of the Pajama Factory were built in the years before and just after World War I, architects could design a building as large as they could afford, with glass covering nearly all of the outside. The problem was, if they used regular flat window glass, most of the light would fall right near the window sills, blinding and baking the workers situated there, while the workers towards the center were left in relative darkness. Lighting engineers of the day set about to tackle this problem. Frosted or ground glass, where the shiny surface was sandblasted to make it translucent, simply reduced the amount of light that passed through. This helped near the windows, but the centers of the rooms on the factory floor were still in shadow. It became clear that the answer to the problem was textured glass of some sort. Glass with patterns of raised bumps were tried. They were an improvement, but not good enough. “Maze glass” had a raised pattern molded to the surface and this had excellent dispersion qualities, but not enough reach towards the center of the halls.

The highest efficiency was found using a type known as “prism dispersion” glass. This type is molded to have an interior surface of 90º ridges about 1/32nd of an inch wide, running parallel across the glass’ surface. These “prisms” caught and redirected the light towards the center of the room, creating a pleasant and efficient environment in the center of a building even sixty feet wide. (A bit more space could be added as a center hallway area, as that didn’t need to be as well-lit.)

Factories could now be built as large as they could be lit. This led to the type of structures exemplified by the Pajama Factory—long, long buildings with windows situated to the West and East.

Looking at the windows of the factory, you’l notice that this kind of glass was only used on the upper panes in each sash. There were a few reasons for this decision: one factor was cost—prism dispersion glass was far more expensive than the smooth kind. It also worked best in the upper part of the room, above the workers and their machines and in combination with white-painted ceilings and columns. Lastly, it was found that the workers actually needed to occasionally glance at a distant object outside, to reduce eye strain. This was balanced against the concern by factory owners that workers, “especially women” would spend too much time staring out the windows rather than working. (This was, after all, 1916 in the example I found and people actually said things like that in public.)

After the windows were in place, the machinery had to be laid out in a manner that didn’t interfere with the light dispersion. Long rows of work area were arranged almost perpendicular to the line of windows so the light could efficiently flow. Ideally, workers would not be facing the windows directly, as this caused undue eye strain, as well as distraction. The same publication noted that this technique had been employed for many years in keeping horses in stables, again stated with no implied irony.

It’s interesting to learn how and why these buildings were made the way they were and what a state-of-the-art facility it was. It’s exactly these sorts of details that make the building so appealing for artists and craftsmen even today, so much more so than even a new building.

Almost a hundred years later, many of the original prism dispersion windows remain, though a few have been lost to the ravages of time. Where practical, broken panes have been replaced with matching vintage panes sourced from salvage dealers.

The next time you visit the Pajama Factory, take a look at the windows and enjoy our exceptional light.

The Garden at The Pajama Factory

Today was a beautiful Fall day at The Pajama Factory.
The day held clear, blue skies with warm sun, but the unmistakable hint of Autumn. I took the opportunity to spend some time in the courtyard, exploring the garden with Koshka, the little black cat. Koshka spends most of her time inside, roaming the halls and visiting the studios and tenants, but likes to come out once in a while to explore and hunt for spiders.

Koshka, the Factory Cat
Koshka, the Factory Cat, inspects the garden.

I took the opportunity to do a bit of exploring myself. While I didn’t find as many spiders, I found lots of cool things to take pictures of.

Not long ago, one section of the garden was filled with yellow flowers, Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) They have since lost their petals, adopting a more somber beauty.

Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) That have lost their petals.

You may have seen these old-looking iron devices here and there throughout the grounds of the factory. While they somewhat resemble a fire hydrant, they’re actually an active part of the factory’s extensive sprinkler system.

Sprinkler Control Valve #5
Sprinkler Control Valve #5

This one caught me off guard—it’s a Chinese Lantern Plant, (Physalis alkekengi,) or, as I knew them when I first encountered them in Japan, a houzuki. In Japan, they are strongly associated with Summer and Fall—they last for months, gradually going from green to orange, before the papery flower’s shell disintegrates, leaving a skeleton of lace, surrounding a cherry-like fruit. The plant traditionally is associated with fertility in Japan, popularly kept by couples hoping to conceive a child, though ironically, the fruit itself has contraceptive properties, along with other medicinal uses.
Several times I went to the Houzuki-Ichi festival at Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo, a festival where vendors sell thousands of the plants, as they have every June 9-10th, since the Edo Period (1603 to 1868).
I didn’t expect to see on growing here in the garden, but Barb pointed it out to me, just as the sun was lighting it up.

Chinese Lantern Plant
Chinese Lantern Plant

This sure looks like a footprint from the kind of boots the astronauts wore on the moon. So how did it get on a rock here on Earth, in our very own courtyard? The obvious answer is that aliens visited the Pajama Factory millions of years ago.
Kidding aside, what the heck is this? A fossil? A sandstone concretion? It’s not carved or cut from the stone.

Rock with a spaceman's footprint?
Rock with a spaceman's footprint?

There’s lots of quartz crystals around, in clusters attached to rocks, as well as loose pieces to be found.

Quartz Crystal on the Ground
Quartz Crystal on the Ground

The old plow.

An old plow
An old plow

I’m not sure what these vines are. I thought they might be zucchini or something, but I haven’t seen any fruit developing. Whatever they are, I do like the way the tiny tendrils spiral as they reach out and climb whatever’s near.

Climbing Vines
Climbing Vines

Finally, a pepper growing near the front gate.

A small pepper
A small pepper


Inside Studio Paper+

Inside Studio Paper+
Inside Studio Paper+

Artist Todd Lim didn’t have to go far to find all the resources he needed to put together a series of prints for an upcoming show at Greenwich Connecticut’s Samuel Owen Gallery.

His new series, a set of prints combining imagery from personal memory and popular culture, are done using a mix of specialized and innovative printing techniques, brought together with the aid of a skilled printer and a ca. 1958 Charles Brand etching press.

No, Lim didn’t have to travel far to find what he needed; it was all just down the hall from his own studio at Studio Paper+ in Williamsport’s Pajama Factory.

Studio Paper+ is the brainchild of artist Chad Andrews. Andrews received his MFA in printmaking at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, so he not only acts as a masterful technician for each project, he’s uniquely qualified to lend a hand creatively, suggesting techniques and processes that the artist can employ to realize their vision.

Master Printer Chad Andrews, working with inks on his glass-topped worktable.
Master Printer Chad Andrews, working with inks on his glass-topped worktable.

Creating a consistent and reproducible result requires that a lot of factors be considered—the ink, for example, gets checked for color and consistency. Andrews pours a bit of the oil-based pigment out onto the long glass-topped table he built for the studio and works it over with spatulas and brayers, checking it not only for color, but for its viscosity, the thickness and opaqueness of the ink. When he’s satisfied that it’s just right, it’s spread out a final time and then the plate, in this case a thin film of polyester known as a pronto plate, is inked up, the color checked a final time by the artist and placed on the print. This method lets Lim build up the image in layers, the thin plate not damaging the paper as it might with a different process, allowing Lim to make each print unique.

The press itself is a massive thing of black-painted iron and shining steel that despite its outward appearance of indestructibility, must be carefully calibrated for each pass of the plate, ink and paper that makes the prints become a thing that collectors will treasure and display. Owning a press like this is certainly not a reasonable likelihood for most people, certainly beyond the prospects of all but the most dedicated of artists. A well-equipped college art department may have one, but access would be likely limited to students and faculty.

At The Pajama Factory, Studio Paper+ has not only this press, but an equally impressive press for making lithographs, as well as a letter press, on which hand-set lead type is laid out and printed.

Todd Lim inspects the print in process.
Todd Lim inspects the print in process.


After each pass through the press, the print is examined
After each pass through the press, the print is examined

Andrews doesn’t want to be a service bureau, merely taking direction and producing prints, he wants each artist to be as involved as possible in the process. Not only that, as a natural teacher, he’ll encourage you to expand your repertoire of skills and techniques, but never pushes. As you tell him your ideas, he’ll often cock his head a certain way and say “You might want to think about…” and proceed to tell you about a technique that may be a year old, or perhaps a few hundred years old.

In the course of writing this article, Andrews asked me if I still had any interest in trying etching.

Etchings have been traditionally made by taking a copper plate about the thickness of a penny and covering it with a thin layer of asphaltum, a thin, tar-like substance. The asphaltum dries to a nearly varnish-like finish and the artist scratches through that with a variety of tools to make the design. When the design is complete, the plate is set in a bath of acid and, where the asphaltum has been removed, the acid bites the design into the copper. The artist will clean the plate and rub ink into these etched lines. The inked plate is then run through the press with a sheet of dampened paper and the ink is beautifully transferred from the plate to the paper.

For over twenty years, I’ve been a fan of etchings. I’ve bought and sold many over the years, from “Old Master” etchings of 17th Century Holland, to the revival the media experienced in the early twentieth century. Often times, the artist or subject of the print would interest me little, it was the process itself, the subtle bite of ink lines on the paper, the faint traces of a mistake that had been (nearly) burnished out, the embossed edge of the platemark on the paper and even the occasional trace of an inky fingerprint of the printer, left as he lifted the corner of the wet sheet off the press bed. It was all these things that drew me in and kept me hooked.

A bit later, I left the studio with a print in hand. No old master etching by any stretch of the imagination, it was merely a test of lines upon the paper, sections of cross-hatching that overlapped in ever-increasing densities until it reached the point where the acid ate away everything, leaving areas of “open bite” that lost their detail to the ink. Still, that was what I was after, a test to see what would happen when I subjected my drawing to the acid and the ink. I was hooked. Some of the lines, combined with subtle shadings left on the plate by previous work done on it, were sublime. I could see that, with a lot more intention, talent and control, there was nothing Rembrandt did 380 years ago that I couldn’t do today. Not by me, perhaps, but by someone… Someone, that is, with access to a press and a good teacher.

If you think you might like to try your hand at printing, be it copper etching, pronto plates, linoleum block, stone lithography, or any number of other processes, stop by Studio Paper+ inside studio Nr. 30 in the Pajama Factory most Friday evenings for the Printmaker’s Forum.