7 December 2016
4 December 2016
one of my Christmas presents to my cousins this year is a pair of Jedi robe costumes for their male children, who are either my nephews or my first cousins once-removed. I think it’s the latter.
This was more difficult to achieve than it sounds. My first task was to create an outline of the kid in question. This was relatively easy, of course. In my family all you have to do is suggest that you’re doing an art project, and kids will help. So, I had two sheets of large poster board paper with me, and one of the kids loaned me a marker, and I traced his outline. He’ll not be the same size next year, but that’s life. This sort of thing happens, and it would be less convenient, of course, if he didn’t change size year to year.
Then it was a matter of taping the two sheets of paper correctly so that I had a rough idea of how high he was from the shoulder to the knee. And from that outline, I managed to modify a pattern that I had for a Jedi robe sized for a teenager or an adult male. A boy appears to be about two sizes smaller than an adult XS size, which various websites suggest is about right. So we’re on track there.
The second part of the work was making new pattern pieces out of freezer paper. I used freezer paper, rather than patterner’s paper (which has a lovely grid of dots that you can use to help mark your place and keep your pattern properly sized) because patterner’s paper is expensive, and I don’t know how long I want to keep a boys’ size 8-10 Jedi tunic pattern around; other people might want one, and having the pattern handy just makes it easier for someone to convince you to do it again.
It’s kind of like the Saturn V rocket — Someone decided that project was too expensive, so most of the tools, dies, templates and even plans should wind up in the scrap heap to be melted down.
Voila! No more Saturn V rockets, because who wants do do all that engineering math again at double the expense?
I’ll probably keep the templates, though. It’s too useful not to. In any case, I didn’t take pictures of the cutting room floor. When you’re cutting fabric, one hand is involved in holding or maneuvering scissors, another hand is holding the fabric, and a third hand is holding the fabric tight, and a fourth hand is holding the pattern still. How I do this alone is beyond me, but I manage. It’s helpful to conjure the spirit of a good tailor during this part, even if they complain constantly about your bad cutting technique and your inadequate pinning job.
Then comes the sewing itself. Each and every piece of fabric must be ironed and pressed, and then pressed again along finished seams, in order to have a really beautiful garment at the end. I was sloppy with my ironing, though.
Ironing with a small travel iron, when what you want is a professional grade steam iron with a dedicated board and a hose to bring in fresh water, is difficult. I managed OK.
A Jedi tunic is, ideally, seven seams — seven seams for seven liberal arts, seven planets in the original system of the Jedi Order (I made that up), seven virtues, seven truths, seven warnings. (that two).
The front left side and the front right side are both attached to the back, each by one seam. Each sleeve is attached by one seam to the shoulders. Each sleeve and garment-side is a single seam running from wrist to waist or knee (depending on garment length). Then there’s a strip of banding or bias tape attached from the front left side in a ribbon around the neck to the front right side. Those are the seven seams. Of course, there is also some hemming (which sort of counts, and sort of doesn’t), running along the back to the side-seam; around each wrist; and across the front left and the front right. You could make up an entire spiritual mythology around the hemming of Jedi tunic garment; some nerd (me, maybe) already has, probably.
Then a belt. The belts consist of heavy interfacing between two layers of fabric, and two long ties to wind around the waist. The interfacing and the two layers of fabric get a quilting, of sorts, to give them some interest and additional detail. Neither was particularly hard, although judging the roundness of the two boys from the flat pattern provided by one of them, was harder.
And then the cloak. Turns out that I mis-judged the amount of brown fabric I needed, by about 4 yards. Couldn’t find the bolt of fabric in the store; couldn’t find the slip telling me the inventory number so they could look it up again.
No matter. Instead of Jedi half-circle or three-quarter cloaks, I made djellabas. The djellaba is a Arabian garment, consisting of a long rectangle of fabric folded most of the way to the middle from the ends. Some holes are cut at the neck; I attached the Jedi-style hood to this opening, even though the Djellaba doesn’t normally have a hood. Hem the hood, hem the inside edges of the fabric and the tail. I might add some trim along the edges, neaten it up a bit and add some visual interest to the costume. But basically, it’s a Jedi robe outfit suitable for running around on Suburbia, the backyard planet (as opposed to the Forest Moon, or the Ice Planet, or the Urban Planet or the Swamp Planet…) I’m sure they’ll find plenty of those worlds….
As a kid, I was always taken in by the potential of costumes to transform who we are and how we think of ourselves. When I played Horatio in Hamlet, I wanted to keep my costume after the performance. The props master said I had to ask the costumer, and the costumer said no. In retrospect, it was made of the same cheap materials as this costume — but it made me into a student from Wittemberg.
But if we let kids play in plastic Stormtrooper armor, it’s hard to remember to take it off. Jedi are supposed to be smart, to be agile, to be fearless, yes. But they’re also supposed to be compassionate and caring, committed to justice and the dignity of all beings.
Maybe this too complicated a spell, but it’s my hope that these costumes will help raise my young cousins’ sights to the ideals beyond Star Wars, and think about what it really means to be a man of honor in a less-civilized age.
30 November 2016
A little less than a year ago, I made a potion as part of the 31 Days of Magic blogging project. Mead.
Mead is a beverage based on honey. It’s a fermented (alcoholic) drink based on a relationship of about 15 pounds of honey to 5 pounds of water. I learned how to make it from the chapter on Fermentation in Kevin M. Dunn’s book Caveman Chemistry. (This, by the way, is an awesome book detailing the chemistry behind a number of simple processes, and accompanied by projects more-or-less time consuming that teach these chemical concepts through projects that our human ancestors mastered thousands, and hundreds, of years ago). This time, I took it up a notch and risked a good deal more materials and time and money by making five gallons at once.
Today I decanted my expensive (about $150 in honey and equipment) from the carboy (a large five-gallon jug) to a series of bottles. I ran out of bottles before I ran out of mead. It’s OK — the bottom of the bottle is usually filled with sediment anyway, and you’re unlikely to get five gallons of mead out of a five gallon carboy. It’s more like four gallons and then some.
There are a number of things that I like about mead. One, it’s alcoholic. That’s nice in and of itself. But more than that, it’s dependent upon the unseen world of microbes — without yeasts and similar, mead doesn’t happen. It’s also dependent upon bees — without bees, honey doesn’t happen, and mead doesn’t happen without bees.
It’s beeatific, if you’ll pardon the pun, what yeast and bees do together. Pretty much all I did was put the two ingredients into a carboy, seal it with a vapor lock, and leave it alone for eleven months. The result?
Delicious. And alcoholic. I had about a glass and a half in the process of testing the batch, starting the siphon, and enjoying the first fruits of my (mostly non-existent) labor (other than patience), this afternoon while conducting bottling. And I can’t say it’s the tastiest mead I’ve ever had. But neither is is frail and weak.
Best of all, I feel like I’ve mastered an understanding about chemistry, and about alchemy, that I didn’t have before. I have the equipment, and I think I could do this again (with the right bottles, and some encouragement). There’s enormous power in the knowing, in the doing, and in the daring… and this was quite the dare, let me tell you — the first time I did this, it was a 2-liter Coke bottle and a vapor lock made with a balloon and some rubber cement!
We’ve come a long way since then.
Obviously, you don’t want middle schoolers or high schoolers learning to brew alcohol. But Kevin Dunn’s book is a pointer to the nature of genuine hands-on education. It isn’t Project Based Learning (PBL); nor is it strictly Maker Education, nor is it Design Thinking. It’s not any of these. It’s really hands-on learning, or learning through the hands. What the hands make, the mind knows. It’s hard to argue with the reality that every time I walked through the kitchen for months, my eyes lighted on the huge brown-gold carboy bottle in the outer corner of the pantry door in the place of greatest darkness in the apartment. It occupied my thoughts frequently… was it alcohol? Was it very expensive vinegar? Was it poison? I didn’t know… and opening the bottle wouldn’t necessarily tell me. The longer I went without opening it, the better… but every day was a calculation.
The closer we got to a year, of course, the more likely that it was essential to remove it from the carboy and transfer it to bottles. At last, the calculus of acquired bottle-quantity-and-volume appeared to match against the quantity of time-fermenting-in-the-carboy, and an impending move to a new apartment weighed heavily in favor of bottling. Today was the day. And so it’s done.
And we have to ask ourselves, “is this a living problem?” That is, does the process of making cheese or making vinegar (deliberately), teach a group of students to understand chemistry more effectively than simple book-reading alone?
I must say that it does.
29 November 2016
I’m in the middle of a dilemma. I like to post an article a week these days, so that people know I’m still working on stuff. Yet at the same time, some of my readers are also recipients of the things that I’m making. So, that’s no good. I can’t very well show what I’m working on, and give away the surprises meant for later in the season… right?
So what I need to do is give an update on what I’m working on, without giving away what I’m working on. And the best way to do that is to present areas of skills-development and talent-training.
- Sewing machine cleaning, triage and repair
- Sewing straight seams
- Sewing curved seams
- Scaling patterns up and down
- Designing patterns from scratch
- Sewing multiple/thick layers of fabric together
Bookbinding & Graphic Design
- Panel Book Making
- Book of Secrets Making
- 11×17″ book layout & binding
- Coptic stitch binding
- Belgian secret binding
- 11×17″ book layout & binding (long-edge binding
- Brass soldering
- (still can’t do it. But have the tools, and can experiment)
- Wire sculpting
- Jigs and templates for soldering
- Knit Stitch
- Perl Stitch
- Casting On (Long Tail)
- Casting Off
- Bamboo Stitch
- How to knit a lazy-8 scarf
- Progress on HTML/CSS
- Progress on Python
- Writing my own program using arrays, variables and counting processes
All in all, I’m making pretty good advances on the skills that I have, and that I’d like to have going forward. I still feel like electronics and robotics eludes me to a large extent. But I have other abilities that most Maker Spaces and Maker Programs don’t have.
25 November 2016
I spent some time today binding this book. I had a bunch of 11×17″ paper left over from another project, so I arranged it into signatures/quires of six or seven pages each, and groups of six quires, to produce eight notebooks: coptic stitch sketchbooks. I like this size and heft; it feels about right.
But boy, are they a pain to bind! The covers aren’t quite stiff enough with just plain cardboard inside them; there’s a lot of floppiness… or not floppiness, but flexibility. And you need about nine yards (it feels like, in reality it’s more like four) of waxed string to bind a book of this size, which is more than is convenient to work with at one time. And the black string combined with the wax leaves black marks on the paper… white waxed string, it seems, is the way to go so as to avoid staining the paper.
Still, it came out all right. Not an entirely successful experiment, but OK, I learned a few things. Now what? What comes next?
At this point, I’ve bound and given away four of these notebooks of this size. (Two were for my parents for their wedding anniversary — matching papers of the same pattern, in different colors). I have this one bound, which means that I have three more to bind. I think I’ll save them for days when I don’t have anything else to work on.
Some of my readers are teachers, and must wonder what the advantage is of doing bookbinding. I mean, MakerSpaces are really supposed to be about things like robots and 3D printers and AutoCAD and digital design…. aren’t they? Or aren’t they supposed to be about building things out of wood and plastic and metal?
Yes, MakerSpaces are frequently about that — but let me say, those of us who teach or taught Maker work in schools are forgetting the importance of the soft skills, and of artisanship. It’s part of the reason why I taught knitting, and built inkle looms, and learned to spin wool. It’s part of the reason I learned to work a sewing machine, and to make costumes and hats and bags.
But I’d like to offer the point that Making comes in many different flavors, and it’s not all electronics and gears and 3D printing. There’s fashion design and graphic design and book production and artisanship and cabinetry and furniture-making and mechanical processes and block printing and leather working and architecture and… and… and… the list goes on. The human experience is huge, my friends in Maker Education… and learning to do more than simply program pre-made robots or build circuits out of LittleBits is probably not enough.
We have a whole range of things that our students are hungry to learn how to do… and there’s benefit in building up OUR skills so that students can see how to grow and expand their own learning processes to encompass other fields of endeavor.
20 November 2016
I composed a song today. Chance are you know the tune; try singing along with me:
Oh where, o where did my coffee cup go?
O where, O where can it be?
My brain is fogged and my wits are slow —
I need more caffeine in me!
And of course, as soon as I’d sung this little ditty, I found my coffee cup. In the last place I looked, no less.
I think we grossly underestimate the importance of folk magic — ditties, rhyming quatrains, songs, and so on — in the work of re-enchanting the world.
16 November 2016
Using a badging/credentialing platform to reward skills and competencies in K-12? Which one do you like and why?
— Sean Nash (@nashworld) November 16, 2016
I’m sure that there are many badging and credentialing systems out there, Sean.
But I think that you should identify your own rather than using someone else’s, and that you should consciously teach graphic design skills as part of the effort, by having your students design the badges.
Let me unpack this further after the cut. More