Poetry for April?

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[This post is pinned to the top of my blog for April. Scroll down to read other stuff.]

Looking for some poetry to read during April? Consider buying the ebook of one of my collections of poetry:

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-3-59-28-pmThe Mansions of the Moon

In this collection are a series of poems celebrating the twenty-eight angels and traditional astrological images of the positions that the Moon cycles through every month. In this collection, you receive twenty-eight poems in the traditional ode format.

Based in part on a close reading of Christopher Warnock’s Mansions of the Moon (a remarkable book in and of itself, with brilliant illustrations by Nigel Jackson), this is effectively a collection of hymns or prayers to the angels of the Mansions, asking for their assistance and focus in the life of the reader.  It can be read aloud as part of a magical and spiritual practice, or simply as a way of reflecting on the ways in which the Moon spoke to ancient and medieval peoples, and told them stories based on the sky.

I’ve found that this collection has been quite useful to me, personally, and not just because people have bought it.  It’s spoken to me personally, even though I wrote the poems — and part of it had to do with the process by which they were written. I waited until the Moon was in the part of the sky associated with the particular Mansion, and then wrote the poem while ‘listening’ to what the Moon seemed to say; I also made an effort to write each poem when the Moon was waxing or full, and depressed the particular power of the moon at that time of each month.

510f0dXWciLThe Sun’s Paces: Poems for the Decans

This is another collection of astrological poetry.  At least since ancient Egypt, the sky has been divided into twelve signs of the Zodiac… but also into thirty-six sub-signs called Faces or Decans (because they’re each ten degrees of arc across the sky).  The Sun’s Paces is a collection of thirty-six poems to the thirty-six Decans or faces of the Zodiac. About every ten days, the Sun passes from one of these decans to the next. More refined and subtle than the Zodiac, the Decans can help zero in more clearly and particularly on the elements of a horoscope; and they also demonstrate that some times of year are better for working on particular problems or issues than others.

And, of course, each planet is also in each Decan at some point during its ambulation around the Sun. Each planet also gets reflected through the powers and capacities of each Decan, and these are explored in gentle ways through the poems in this book.

Based in part on Austin Coppock’s elegant book, Thirty-Six Faces, you’ll find that this is a great collection of poetry to round out your poetic, magical or spiritual library.
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The Tai Chi Poem

Although you can download a copy of this for free, here, you can also also buy one for your Kindle reader. You’ll also be supporting my work as a poet.

This collection of poetry is not actually a collection — it’s a single poem, where each verse is a sonnet, running to some sixty-three poems describing the sixty-three movements of the Tai Chi form I learned at Star Farm in the late 1990s. I attempted to create a guide to the postures and positions based on my own practice of the form for four years.  I don’t know that you could learn Tai Chi by reading this poem and then doing it, but my goal was to create and celebrate the way in which martial arts manuals celebrate movement and spirituality through poetic language.  This book was an attempt to capture and realize that mindset in a standard form so celebrated in English-language poetry.

51zuU7LxzcL.jpg Festae: Poetry for the Roman Calendar

This is a collection of hymns or odes for deities associated with the Greco-Roman pagan calendar. Here you’ll find celebrations of Neptune and Salacia (the goddess of brine wells, used in ancient and medieval Italy for curing cheeses and making Parma hams, among other things).  There is a hymn for the Feast of All the Heras, and festivals for the three weeks in June dedicated to Vesta as the keeper of the hearth-flame.

The collection of poems is organized by month — Each of the twelve months of the year is marked with at least three festival dates that more or less match up with our own calendar.  There are several dates for Dionysius/Bacchus, both as the wine-god and as the patron of the theater; here are poems for Artemis as the goddess of the Moon, and as the patroness of trance-states achieved through music.

As with nearly all of the poetry in these collections, these are composed as odes: three-stanza poems of thirty lines in length, that speak to the gods and goddesses of old with an awareness of their traditional imagery, and their modern relevance.

51j6AYSu8zL-1.jpgPoems for the Behenian Stars

The last collection of astrological poetry I intend to create for a while, this was the first to be published in 2017 (this year!).

The Behenian (or ‘root’) Stars are a list of fifteen traditional stars from Arabic and European astrological and astronomical lore dating back at least a thousand years. Mostly, they’re the brightest and most distinctive stars in the northern hemisphere, all through the year: the terrifying Caput Algol, the head of Medusa; Aldebaran, the eye of the Bull; Sirius the Dog Star; Regulus the heart of the Lion; Algorab in the Crow’s wing; and many others.  In astrological lore, the presence of a planet in close conjunction with one of these stars signified a particular eminence in the person born at that hour.

Yet I’ve found that knowing and naming and celebrating these stars is a way of connecting to the sky above us, and a way of becoming both more human, and more humane.  The lore of the stars has extraordinary things to teach us about how ancient and medieval peoples saw the sky above their heads, and the world around them.  This collection of poems speaks to those truths.  As a special for April, I’m reducing the price of this collection from $9.99 to $2.99… You can also buy it in a printable format through my website at Etsy.com.

And thank you, always, for your support!

Sewing: Viking Bag 2 

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Remember that cute viking fabric that I made into those little drawstring bags?

I found another strip of it.  But it wasn’t enough to make into a bag, unfortunately.  I was going to have to combine it with another kind of fabric? What goes with vikings, though? How do you combine viking warriors with anything else? Floral prints?

But how about a brick wall?  If I make the bag tall enough, it will look like warriors peeking over the battlements of a tower, and that conveys the image that we’re looking for — not a bag, but a tower, not a small purse but a fortress.  It becomes a thing of the imagination, as much as a physical object.

I’d rather it was a stone wall, or maybe spiked logs, like on a rough-and-ready motte and bailey castle.  That would make sense, after all.  The vikings didn’t build too much in brick (they also didn’t wear horned helmets — not very practical in warfare, really).

No matter. I found some brick fabric, and it matches pretty nicely with the vikings.  And then I found some other fabric that sort of resembled the Lord Baltimore colors in the Maryland flag… somewhat heraldic, though not TOO heraldic… not shields with lions and snakes and so on.  That would have been a seriously lucky find, though, in an American fabric store.  In general, though, we don’t really understand heraldry’s rules, so they often get used against us — in advertising, in snobbery and class warfare, and other ways, as well.  That’s not really at issue here, though.
What is at issue, for me, is how much of Makery in schools seems to be “making for the sake of making” — that students should simply be allowed to make whatever it is they want to make, full-blown from their imaginations. I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with just letting people make what they want to make, mind you — there’s benefit to that, and real results can emerge from allowing that spark of creativity.

But I think there’s a place in Making for making with a purpose.  There’s a lot to be gleaned from making a quilt to keep a baby warm, or from making a bag like a tower for holding a bottle of wine or something similarly fragile and precious, or a bag that looks like a pencil case. There’s a place for unbridled creativity. But there’s also benefit to knowing how to do something the right way.

I mean, think about it.  In a tailor’s shop 500 years ago, an apprentice would have to work on a variety of tedious projects — sharpening scissors, ironing fabric (I can’t imagine how difficult that work was before electric irons), measuring clients (and then measuring them again when the measurements proved wrong), learning to sew straight seams. They would have made a variety of things that no one would care if they were slightly off — bags with drawstrings, bags with handles, awnings for market stalls, aprons for the shopkeepers, tool rolls for traveling workmen, sacks for flour, and similar projects.  These are a vital and necessary part of the learning of any artisanal technology, be it sewing or woodworking — the cruddy projects that no one really wants to do but that are genuinely vital to the good functioning of that sort of society.

Thirty years after my own first sewing experiences in a Home Economics class in 8th or 9th grade, I find that these skills are returning to me with some rapidity.  I’m much more skilled at whipping up a bag or an apron than I used to be, in part because I’ve trained those skills to a level of complexity and skill where it’s easier to just do it.  I’ve learned a good deal of the apprentice work of this business of sewing (maybe not everything, because every so often I encounter a challenge that I have to go to a YouTube video to solve).

But that’s what the Walking Foot was about.  That’s what making potholders was about. These aren’t “stupid projects” but the foundations of the craft.  In carpentry it’s probably smoothing boards; in bookbinding it’s folding and punching pages; in fabric it’s making potholders and bags.

What are the foundations of your craft?  When did you feel like you went from being an apprentice to being a journeyman or journey woman? When did you become a master of your art form?

Knit: hat take2

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A while back, I tried making a hat. This Easter weekend, I got to finish it. In the process, I learned how to reduce and end a hat; and how to transfer knitting from working on ‘circular needles’ with a cable between the left and right needle, to four double-pointed needles.  Im sorry to say that my efforts to make a hat resembled something rather more like a floppy Frisbee cozy — more suited for covering a pie plate than a hat. The dome structure we associate with a beanie or slouch-stye knitted cap was almost entirely absent. As you can see, it was not an ideal construction.   It comes together nicely in the middle— but the outer edge, where one starts, is simply flat.

What went wrong?

The essence of the trouble is that I simply didn’t take the time to establish ribbing around the base of the hat. I should have begun with the end in mind — and started by establishing the defined edge.

The ‘defined edge’ that begins something like a hat is called 1×1 ribbing, and it’s done with a series of knit and purl stitches.

I did some investigation, and found several patterns from Tin Can Knits — not just hats, but also patterns for scarves and sweaters, shawls and socks. It seems to me that this is the core of a knitter’s repertoire, so I’ve printed out their patterns and I’ve been following along at home.

  1. Let’s knit a hat
  2. Knitting Socks
  3. Knitting Mittens and Handwarmers

So I’m starting again. This is actually take four — I put the ribbing on the  circular needles for a pattern and discovered that my needles were too long for the hat pattern I’m trying.  But the ribbing works. And in the process I’ve internalized the hand motions that need to happen when attempting to learn the purl stitch.

Which is not a minor accomplishment in itself — I don’t think I genuinely understood what the purl stitch did before today.  Yet now I do, sort of: it ‘digs a ditch’ in the yarn pattern, either resulting in cabling that stands out or recessed patterns that allow shadows to catch. This is Tin Can Knit’s language, sort of, not mine.   Yet now it has a purpose, a reason for being in my knitting tool-kit, so to speak: ribbing.

I’m kind of hoping this hat fits me.  I expanded it beyond the top TCK pattern size, in the hopes that it would fit my head… I like the idea that the first hat I make is for me.

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Wood: trestles

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On Sunday I borrowed a friend’s woodworking shop to produce a couple of trestles for a table. They sort of look like sawhorses, but they’re not. They’re intended for lighter duty than that. I still have to produce the top of the table, which will have two bars or cleats on the bottom to help lock the table and the trestle together.

These are based on a medieval design produced by the St. Thomas Guild, a medieval reconstruction group in the Netherlands. They are pretty modern, though. I’m trying to decide if I want to add in the fancy carving and tracery work to them. I know how to do that work, I just don’t know if it will be worth it in DIY shop pine.

Some things to think about —

  • Adding a second board across the bottom for stability would help these trestles be less wobbly.
  • Adding a wedged mortise to the top cross-board would also make them less wobbly
  • Adding a cut-out to make the triangles more like a pair of legs would add stability, as well.
  • The table-top will have to have two cleats or bars on them, to slot into spaces at the top of each trestle.
  • Adding some pegs to the bottom of the table top; or to the top board, that slot into the table top, would also improve stability, generally.

There’s a lot of things to think about.

In general, though, I like this idea.  The trestle table has some serious advantages for me, in that I can take the table up or down as needed, and have the flat surface or not as I need.

Additionally, in reviewing the St. Thomas Guild website, I see that I can design this table top to do many things that may help it be quite portable or adjustable.

Table Top DesignMy initial thinking resembles something like this — a kind of construction known as “frame and panel” (which I’d like to learn), with four types of members:

  1. Dark green outer frames, with one groove and three mortises.
  2. Internal ribs, with a tenon on each end and a groove on each side (purple)
  3. four panels (mottled blue) with a tongue carved all the way around them.
  4. Two internal frames, with three slots and a groove (light green)
  5. Four outer frames (yellow) with tenons on each end and a groove on one side.

The blue panels thus fit into the groove on each side.  A quartet of hinges join the two inner frames to one another, so the table can fold flat and store more easily;  or be arranged to provide a wide or narrow table as needed.

I may have to rebuild the trestles to accommodate the larger table surface. But my understanding is that panel and frame construction is fairly lightweight, and this might do quite well for my general needs.

Dimensions of the surface still need to be worked out.

 

Sewing: potholder

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In almost any quilting project, it’s always the case that you wind up with one or two or six extra squares. It’s basically a byproduct of mathematics —  x number of squares will only fit into y number of columns and z number of rows.  But the cut-and-sew process of generating the squares — this one was the result of piecing together six strips of 2.5″ cloth into two units of three strips each — one arranged blue-green-blue; the other arranged green-blue-green. Those were then sliced into strips 2.5″ wide, and then reassembled into 3×3 grids — all the while picking up noise and getting smaller along the way, because I’m apparently messy like that.

Yesterday, I bought a walking foot for my sewing machine, and I was delighted with the results.  Posting about it on social media brought me a host of discussions about replacing my store-bought 100% polyester bias tape with hand-made 100% cotton bias tape.  I said I didn’t know how to do that, so I was sent a host of tutorials.

I bollixed up the making of the bias tape yesterday.  But there are a few important things to know about making bias tape — start big. Don’t try to make 1/2″ double fold bias tape the first time; go big, and make 191″ length of 2″ single fold bias tape, so you wind up with 1/2″ double-fold.  It’ll be much easier.

I also discovered that I had a gadget which allows you to feed a strip of tape into it at one end, and folded tape comes out the other, ready for the iron.  I bought it a while ago on the recommendation of someone, and then never used it.  Now I’m using it.

It’s a nice discovery.

This morning I made my first potholder (at least, my first potholder since I was six or eight years old).  Two leftover quilt squares from one project with some leftover batting between them, and a couple of strips of bias tape — one to make the jaunty red loop for hanging it up by the stove, and one for the blue trim around the outside edge of the potholder.  It still needs some trimming and some extra zig-zag stitching to hold it together, but it’ll do for a first effort.

There are worse things to do before breakfast.

Quilts: walking foot

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Ivy at Circle Thrice responded beautifully to my comment with a post about the magic of making things ourselves, and particularly for people that we care about.

It’s not a post I wrote myself, alas.  I shoulda.

Because this blog, for better or worse, is a blog about magic.  In large measure it’s a blog about the power of making things; it’s blog about the power of co-creation — the act of pulling the materials of the world to you, shaping them and changing them according to a particular vision, and producing something on the other end which is more than the sum of its parts.   Something of your self is woven into the finished product, for better or worse.  Yet in many ways, it is better than something bought through anonymous channels, through the mercantile trade of your hours for abstract concepts, and the trade of abstract concepts for the physical goods of your life.

Today I broke down and went to the local fabric store. It has a name that sort of rhymes with pollyanna, but not really.   I’d heard there was this magical tool there, something akin to a wand of fire or a disk of earth — a walking foot.  (I also needed binding for the quilt I’m holding in these pictures. The binding is the pale green band around the outside of the quilt — it’s better to make that by hand from a 100% cotton fabric, but I am not good at making bias tape or binding — I could spend as long making enough bias tape to make this quilt, as I spent making the quilt).

A Walking Foot? I hear you ask.  Don’t most normal feet walk? Not on a sewing machine, they don’t.  A walking foot attaches to the low shank of a sewing machine; and it has a mechanically-driven lever arm that hooks on to the needle’s drive shaft. The result is that the walking foot engages a second pair of dog-legs (those are the feet on the face of a sewing machine, that advance the fabric through the needle’s binding mechanism.

This particular quilt had been giving me trouble. Truthfully, all of my quilts give me trouble in the same way. The first part of the work involves stitching together squares. I’ve gotten a LOT better at that work. The second part involves quilting three layers together — in this case, the topper of green and blue squares; the batting, basically a thick layer of felt; and the backing fabric (the dark blue in the first picture).  The three layers can be seen in the third picture.

Today I broke down after doing the first half dozen straight stitches of this quilt. I needed quilt binding anyway. So I went to the fabric store for binding for this quilt, and got the walking foot.

What a difference the right tool makes! The walking foot guides the fabric sandwich into the needle-space with great diligence and accuracy. It’s a supremely powerful focus for the sewing machine, like a lens focusing a powerful beam of light into a laser — swiftly went the work of sewing the quilting stitches.

I was able to finish the rows of the quilting, and then the columns, with great accuracy. And then the binding around the edges went quite easily as well. Before the Walking Foot, this might have taken me the better part of two days of work with my old sewing machine. With the Walking Foot, a few hours at most.

This is my seventh quilt, I think.  It might be my ninth, but I think it’s probably the seventh. It’s taken me seven quilts to learn how to do this well enough, and effectively enough, that I learned what sort of problems I was having, and was able to do the research necessary to find the solutions.  Every single one of seven quilts, I’ve gotten better at this.  They may not be Etsy quality, but they’re a lot better than they were.  In a short while, they’ll be a lot better than they are now.

All aspects of Making are like this — you have to be an apprentice before you can be a journeyman; and you have to do the journey-man or journey-woman’s work work before you can be a master of a craft.  It doesn’t matter if you’re talking poetry or quilting or fashion design or musicianship or painting or carpentry or engineering or basket-weaving — or even magic and re-enchanting the world: Start somewhere near the beginning. Get Better. Keep Going.  To Walk the Path Of Power, the Work Is On You.

Sonnet for Shakespeare on his 453rd Birthday

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Really, he doesn’t look a day over 380…

O Bard immortal by the Avon born,
in humble cottage to ambitious dad:
I give you greetings on your birthday morn
with tidings: The world so wide still is glad
that the work of your life and pen yet lives.
The curtain never comes down in this globe
but there is applause; each hearer forgives
some tin-tongued actor in a worn-out robe,
when your Hero emerges from the grave
or Hamlet drinks down the pearl of great price,
or Hotspur leaps to war, foolish and brave,
or Antipholus’ friends see him twice.
The faeries in their revels bless us still,
and your fame? Endures forever, sweet Will.
Composed 23 April, 2017.

Quilts: finished

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Two quilts finished in three-ish half-days. The top one is the penguins from earlier, the bottom one in pink is the owls quilt.  Both are already spoken for, you can’t buy them.

Really, it’s three quilts but I’m having my doubts about the arrangement of materials for the third quilt. I think I could get the third done if I could get some feedback on whether or not people think it’s a good layout.

Here’s the third quilt. Tentatively, anyway.  I’m worried that the dark blue of the starry swirls doesn’t really match the green or the blue of the top of the quilt; and that the baby-blue trim doesn’t match either.  I suppose I could tie it all together with some thread of the right color… but it still makes me a little nervous.


What do you think? Leave me a comment.

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