Leathery Words – -Skiving Off

There isn’t much crossover between the worlds of writing and leathercraft except in the broadest terms — they both improve with practice, attention to detail is all, a well-thought-out plot is similar to a good design, and so on. (I actually think there are more similarities between writing and gardening, but that’s something for another day.)

I’d love to write a story that involves leatherwork in a meaningful way. I have some ideas that have been kicking around for a while[i] but nothing coherent has taken hold. I think it needs one more seed for the whole thing to germinate and take root. And there I go with gardening metaphors again.

I was skiving in my workshop[ii] today and realised that although that was what I was doing, I wasn’t actually skiving off. Except I was, because I was skiving off the leather with my skiving knife. In other words, I was thinning the leather, specifically in this case so I could close a loop of leather and have the place where the ends overlap no thicker than the rest.

There are several different tools you can use to skive leather, from this simple and traditional knife, to ‘safety’ versions, and all the way up to rather expensive splitting machines. I’ve not had this knife for long, I’m still getting used to it, but I really like it. It’s handed, I use the right-handed version, and that angled-blade design has not changed for a long time.

Leathercraft might not be the oldest prefession but it can’t be far off. Archaeologists have found implements tens of thousands of years old that are immediately recognisable as leather-working tools. And in one case they were not even used by Homo sapiens. I really like the idea that there was a time when we swapped tips and tools with another branch of humanity. And perhaps language too.

‘Skiving’, or ‘skiving off’ escaped from something a craftworker did to their material to an expression that meant not pulling your weight, of slipping away from the job and leaving their co-workers to take up the slack. Skiving of that sort was seldom popular, shaving a little bit of time off at the end of the day, just like I was thinning the end of my piece of leather.

I wonder if the first person to use it as a criticism got a laugh, albeit a dry one. I hope so, it’s a clever use of language. Skiving might not a phrase in very common use any more, but leathercrafts is almost certainly[iii] where it came from.

Fin.

[i] For ‘a while’ read ‘several years’. Writers are renowned for understatement.
[ii] For ‘workshop’ read ‘conservatory’. Writers are notorious liars.
[iii] Probably. Writers are always making things up.


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