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A picture of Tom Bihn

Tom Bihn

Bag designer, CEO

in designer, fashion, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Tom Bihn, CEO and chief designer at TOM BIHN INC. -- we design and manufacture travel bags, backpacks, laptop cases. When I'm being a CEO I'm working; when I'm being a designer I'm having fun.

What hardware do you use?

Sketching and note taking: my favorite sketchpads are from the Mirage Paperco.

For some reason I'm drawn to square sketchbooks instead of rectangular ones: sometimes turning an idea 90 degrees suddenly makes it work.

I love using Bic's writes-in-four-colors pens: each color can represent whatever it needs to at the time: lining/exterior, new/old, this/that.

One of my most obvious tools is a sewing machine (Ivan Illich would call it a tool, not a machine -- I like that). The sewing tool I used for over two decades was a Consew 206RB, with a compound walking foot. Basically a machine made for heavy work like sewing leather and upholstery -- an incredibly flexible tool (if you buy a new one today it's reputed to be not so great - buy a Seiko STH-8BLD instead. Seiko was the OEM for Consew, so it's the same as the old Consew machine. I mean tool.)

That specific Consew I started with is now over 30 years old and still sees daily service in my factory: Tao uses it to do three-fold bias binding. These days when I am sewing prototypes, I either am in the factory using whatever sewing machine is available or I'm in my studio using my new Seiko. One of the things I appreciate most about our company is that a lot of the design process is happening in the factory -- there's a beautiful co-evolution between design and manufacturing that you don't get when the design process is physically removed from the build process.

When I first moved from making patterns by hand to digital designing, I used a GTCO CalComp Roll-Up III digitizer to input all my existing designs. I still use it occasionally to input some odd shape I've come up with on the fly, or some old design from my archives I'm revisiting. I like how something that's hand-drawn can become vector art but still hold on to its organic curves -- it helps if we don't want a design to look too "CAD".

I use a 13" MacBook Pro for all my 2D and 3D drawing. It's all vector stuff, so tons of memory or speed isn't all that helpful. When it's convenient, I plug an Apple 20" screen into the MBP: it inspires accuracy and is easy on my eyes.

An external keyboard with ten-key is nice for CAD.

For printing/plotting I use the Gerber AccuPlot 320 that's also used in the factory to make markers. Sort of old school, but I cut out the paper pattern pieces and then trace them on to whatever fabric I'm using to make the sample. Our AccuPlot 320 is a very wide format (>70" wide) pen plotter -- truly a work horse.

My favorite scissors are Kai 5275's.

And what software?

I work predominately in PAD System's 2D pattern drafting software. Once I mastered it, I was able to do everything I want to do, everything 2D that is. Easy to mirror shapes, add seam allowances, modify marking notches, measure seam lengths. Inspires maniacal accuracy, which is oddly really satisfying. PAD System also makes the marker-making software we use to make all the production markers -- I used to make all the markers myself, but now Nik, my Production Engineer, does that. :)

I also use Adobe Illustrator a lot: PAD exports nicely in to Illustrator, so in refining small parts (or making graphics that include a pattern piece), I'm hopping between PAD and Illustrator quite a bit. You know how some people are Photoshop people and some Illustrator people? I'm all about vector art, so Illustrator is a good friend.

For 3D drawing I am just now (finally) learning TouchCAD. TouchCAD is a powerful and affordable CAD software for designing 3D objects and unfolding or unwrapping them. It basically helps you design 3D surfaces and turn them into 2D patterns that you can then (in my case) sew back into the conceived 3D shape. You can do all that in other CAD systems, but it'll cost you way more. Plus TouchCAD is pretty elegant: it just does surfaces and unfolding, so -- inflatables, boat hulls, tension structures.

What would be your dream setup?

I'm almost there now. We are looking at a single-ply fabric cutter (probably a Gerber like the plotter) and that would make cutting samples a breeze. And as we are having more and more of our plastic parts made to spec, some sort of MakerBot thing would probably be on the horizon. Anyone have any suggestions for a 24" printer/plotter? Nothing fancy.