Saturday, April 26, 2014

Canvas and Leather as Memory Tools

Canvas and leather bags, with metal buckles, front and back

It might be because of my first tent, which was made of heavy canvas with a certain feel and smell. After use, I left it open in the backyard to air out in the sunshine, but the smell stayed with it. If I close my eyes, and think back to crawling inside it late on a summer afternoon, I can recall both the feel of the material, its weight, texture, and stiffness, as well as its smell.

Canvas and leather objects have complex sensory depth to them--sight, sound, smell, color, texture, flex, weight--that they have become associated with specific memories and even people, for me.

I have some nylon and plastic bags, too, but they just don't carry the same significance for me. They work, at least well enough, but they seem lifeless and fake to me. Just containers. Bags for stuff. But not evocative, not connected with the past, not able to remind me in themselves of past trips and old adventures.

One of my nylon backpacks has been to some incredible places. But for some reason, in itself, it doesn't evoke specifics for me. For example, I took it out a few weeks ago looking for a piece of equipment I thought might be stored in it, and found a trail tag from Havasupai in the Grand Canyon a few years ago. The tag instantly reminded me of that hike and overnight, but why didn't the bag itself? It was there, shouldn't it have brought all those associations back to me just by being held in my hand? Nylon sheds memories like it sheds rain, I guess.

Canvas, leather, and steel buckles, though, they make me think of canoe trips and north woods. Dusty desert and morning dew. Campfires and cooking over them. Mud and ferns. Crickets, sounds of night. They remind me of things I've done, and hint and what yet might happen. Nylon just doesn't do that for me.

I would much rather look at this all day than velcro (or dashboard)

This post wasn't about these bags themselves, but the stuff they're made of. I'll cover the bags another time. Right now, a thunderstorm is flooding my memory, and I need some smores.



  1. Duluth Pack is one of my favorite companies. They mostly build bags for canoeing, specifically in the Boundary Woods Canoe area in northern MN. I use one of their small backpacks as an errand bag on the bike. They never wear out, they just wear in.

    1. It's my first bag from them. I've visited Duluth and Ely a couple of times. I could browse through the outfitter stores in Ely for days. I think they have to make stuff tough up there just to outlast the mosquitoes and portages.

  2. What is it with Minnesota and bike bags? The best (durability, simplicity) are all the Banjo Brothers (including their canvas/leather/strap lines, if you are into that kind of thing) in my experience. Even the ones that have zippers, so sturdy is the rest of the material. And very hackable if you dislike the candy zipper act.

    1. As the winters wear on, a guy starts to stare at the Bernina, and gets to thinking, I could run that thing, and make better stuff to hike with, fish with, hunt with, canoe with, bike with, etc, than is normally available down to the big box store. Use to think it was welding I wanted to take up at the community college, but I'm leaning more and more toward bag making.


Please feel free to comment here, almost anything goes, except for obvious spam or blatantly illegal or objectionable material. Spammers may be subject to public ridicule, scorn, or outright shaming, and the companies represented in spam shall earn disrepute and ire for each occurrence.