Geometry book: end of prep 

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I’ve been working on this hand-written book of geometry since at least 2013… maybe since 2011. There’s a total of fifty pages or leaves in it, although it’s an accordion-style Japanese album from Moleskine.  I recently started working on it again due to some recent geometry work in my life, and I’ve put in a few longish days.  The work itself is a manuscript to teach myself the material from Andrew Sutton’s book, Ruler and Compass, available from Wooden Books Press (a division of Bloomsbury).

Several years ago, it might have been early 2014, I laid out most of the remaining pages — the margins of each panel, the lines for the text, and the two or three geometry figures for each page.  For reasons passing understanding at this late juncture, I failed to lay out the last six pages of the book, or plan for the inside front cover.  The result was that I created a milestone, of sorts, in this project — the end of already-laid-out pages, six pages before the end, when I’d have to plan the remaining six pages and finish the inside front cover.

I’m now at that point.  My goal was to get here by Memorial Day weekend, and I’ve achieved that goal a bit earlier than expected.  I probably won’t be able to get back into this work until after the weekend, but I’ve made good progress.

Volvelle

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I have a much better appreciation for the volvelles, or circular computers, that survived from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment to the present day.  Fragile, finicky and prone to moving right went you don’t want it to, the volvelle is the brainchild of Raymond Llull, a Catalan Catholic theologian of the mid-1300s AD. 

I want to make a volvelle to go on the inside front cover of a hand bound book I’m designing. As you can probably tell, this volvelle is astronomical in nature, but Llull’s was intended to be logical and grammatical, designed to explore theological concepts and train missionaries to work in Islamic regions (he failed to win many converts).  

The volvelle remains. This one has pointers for the seven visible planets of medieval astronomy (less the Moon, because I lost the paper cutout between cutting it out and assembling the volvelle). It also has a horizon line, and a “sphere of fixed stars” that includes both the Decans of the Zodiac and the Mansions of the Moon; as well as the fixed ground of the twelve houses of astrology. 

And it doesn’t work as smoothly as I’d like. I need to replace the brass brad with a paper system, as is used in medieval and renaissance volvelles. The brass brad is too thick, and doesn’t allow for smooth or independent rotation of the parts. Back to the drawing board. 

Bookbinding 

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There’s something beautiful about a stack of books bound with Coptic stitch. Particularly when you know that the contents of each book are your own. These are copies of my Book of Splendor, a collection of poetry exploring the relationships between nature and the divine in a particular corner of New England.

These are part of a limited edition of 100 copies: numbered, and hand bound, and the hand signed by the author, that is me. I interested in buying one? Let me know.

Sketchbooks

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I had some leftover 11×17 paper from a project, so I folded it up into a number of quires, and then found some papers and cardstock for covers for them.

The result is a trio of handsome sketchbooks, including the one with fishy covers that reminded me of the emblem or personal sigil of my high school friend, the painter Fred Poisson (who does some amazing work!).  The books’ covers are covered with papers from Michael’s DIY, nothing particularly spectacular; the interior of the covers are a heavy cardstock, and the body of the covers is a medium-weight pressed cardboard that provides the book with its substantiality and weight.

The use of waxed black thread provides a nice contrast with the lightness of the covers; but I must admit that it results in some stains on the pages from the process of binding the book.  And, since I don’t have sewing frames (for case-binding a book, which is the traditional method of making hardcovers in the western European style), nor a guillotine cutter, the arrangement of quires and covers is sometimes a little uneven.

The binding of a book is not a particularly difficult process; I’ve documented it before in my writings on the Coptic Stitch, of which these are examples.  In essence one (or in these books’ cases, two) thread is passed backwards and forwards through the quires in a long serpentine or Celtic interweave not unlike a knitted stitch.  The result forms these thick black bands along the spine of the book (not visible in these photos), and eventually emerges as those lines that run perpendicular to the spine on the cover both inside and out.

I have one more of these books ready to bind, in a lovely blue marbled paper cover.  All four are likely to wind up as Christmas presents this year, though I may put one or two up on my Etsy shop for sale.  Are you interested in buying one?

Mostly, though, I think of the making of these journals as an intermittent project, or practice, or a way to use up materials for the larger project, which is producing my own books —  The Book of Splendorwhich explores my own Sun and Moon poetry; the Behenian Stars, the Decans of the Zodiac, and the Mansions of the Moon. Would you buy those, in a format that involved the author hand-binding each copy?  I hope so — I’m planning to do it whether or not anyone buys them.

Baby Quilts

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This is the first time I’ve ever made quilts in sewing work (I try to avoid typing “sewer”, because you as the reader never know how to pronounce that, I’d I’d rather you thought of me as someone who sews rather than something that transports filth).

img_2312I’ve been making a pair of baby quilts for two friends of mine (technically two pairs of friends), who have recently had babies. The first blanket has already gone to the loving home of the happy but tired parents; the second will probably be delivered this weekend.  These quilts had their origins in two rolls of fabric squares that I bought at IKEA several years ago, and only found again while packing up my things to move.  These fabrics are normally used for quilts — bright colors, interesting patterns, natural materials… and already cut in squares.  Perfect!

Quilt assembly is not particularly complicated. Straight seams work, mostly — sew five or six squares together to form a column; sew five or six columns; sew the columns together in rows; press the seams flat regularly; trim/pink with shears periodically.

img_2316The quilt front is then paired with a parallel back panel, usually a single sheet of fabric. Between them is a panel of a material called ‘batting’ — a dense felt of natural cotton or wool intended to serve as a warming layer.

These three layers are then quilted together.  Quilting, technically, is the name given to the process of stitching these three layers of fabric together; the ornamental squares on the top, the batting i the middle, and the backing fabric on the bottom.  Some quilting patterns get very fancy; vines and leaves and roses and wings are not uncommon.  My quilting was simply big squares, following the rough outlines of the squares of the front side of the quilt.

img_2319I ran into my share of challenges. At one point, the timing of my sewing machine came undone. This is probably the most serious set of troubles a sewing machine can have. Fortunately, the YouTube provided me with a set of guidelines and how-to videos on how to fix the timing. Replacing the needle, as well, provided additional help. The two quilts challenged the limits of my thirty (maybe forty-)year old sewing machine, as the layers became thicker. I had a lot of occasions when I had to cut and rip stitches out, and replace them.

img_2320But…  Gradually, things did come together. First of all, someone introduced me to pre-made quilt binding. The edges of a quilt have to be ‘bound’ with a tape of some kind, usually fabric of a solid color that’s been fed through a bias-tape maker, a little device that nominally takes a narrow strip of fabric and folds it in on itself twice to make a sort of tube that clamps around the sides of the three layers of fabric that make up the main body of the quilt. The bias tape hides the interior guts of the quilt, and finishes the edges.

I had never wanted to make a quilt before, because the task of making the quilt binding for the edge seemed so daunting. But then someone told me that you can buy pre-made quilt binding. What a revelation! It made everything so much easier! Instead of fumbling with the stupid little doohickey, I could just spend my time pinning the bias tape (also called quilt binding), and sew!
img_2380

I finished the second quilt with this gray quilt binding that you see at the right.  And that quilt is now done — this funny, bright, crazy color of the front side, and this red vine pattern with gray binding on the edges to complete the quilt.

Done.  Two quilts, something like four or five days of partial effort.  A lot of straight seams, a lot of planning and thinking and a fair bit of seam-ripping and cursing.  Quilts, especially the first two, do not come easily.

img_2381But neither are they particularly hard, either. I mean, there’s one long (long) seam for the quilt binding/bias tape. There’s (in this second case) eleven straight seams from one side of the quilt to the other, six in one direction and five in the other. There’s a number of crazy seams in assembling the blocks of the front side of the quilt — but even there, the quilt is six squares by five squares: that means there are five seams in each row of six, and four in each column of five. Even allowing for some seam-ripping and errata, there’s something like thirty seams, all straight, in the front side of a baby quilt of simple squares.

And simply put, it’s magic. This will keep a baby warm through the winter, possibly for several years.  IT will pass into a family’s treasured heirlooms after a while; or maybe get passed on to another family, to keep another infant warm for thirty months; and then another.  It will cycle through the wash numerous times, becoming softer and more flexible and useful.  It will ever bear the marks of its hand-made-ness, an expression of practical love and care and concern.

And it is well within the capacities of the average Maker program to teach a group of students to churn out three or four quilts a year — and the students will learn to sew, besides keeping infants warm and parents less concerned.

Experimental book

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the star of tonight’s show


I did a little bookbinding tonight.  I’d hoped to do two books, but this one was a bear to get right. I had it in mind to do these funky stars on the cover of my latest coptic stitch binding. My plan was to put the stars on the front of the book but not the back.  I got that done, but I ran out of the dark purple thread and had to use lighter purple thread for the upper four. And the thread ripped through the cover in a couple of places. And the quires didn’t line up properly, and I didn’t like the paper much, and the covers are too floppy. Not enough strength in them, enough sturdiness. Not enough contrast with the paper and the purple thread, either.  

But the design works. Now I just need to figure out the right combination of thread and stitching, so everything lines up properly. I need to set up the back and front covers correctly, so that I can do this nice pattern on one side but not the other. And I should probably figure out ribbon binding next, too. 

Still, this turned out ok for a first attempt. 

Bag repair

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I made this bag a few weeks ago to complement a coat that I made for an outdoor event in October in the Berkshires. The brown trim on the coat is the same as the body and strap of this bag. I didn’t know how much I would have to carry, but I knew that I had to carry some things over the weekend from place to place; this bag was going to provide a useful place to store things of unknown size but probably relatively light weight.

The barn-door stitch

I was right about both size and weight; the bag was hopelessly too big. It also had a problematic seam; one end of the shoulder strap came undone about an hour after I showed up at the event. The objects I eventually needed to carry? Tiny — like, I could have made a pouch the size of a deck of playing cards, and had room to spare. Oh, well. I still like the fact that this bag matches a coat I made, which will be suitable for other events. At the event, I made it work by creating a loop and tying a knot, but it wasn’t ideal. Today, I fixed it.

Top-stitching

The fix came in three forms. First, I top-stitched all the way around the mouth of the bag. This reinforced the attachment of the flap to the body of the bag, and the strap to the bag’s body. It also created a heavy attachment between the lining and the outer shell of the bag; the outer shell is wool, while the inner shell is cotton; this won’t be a great “foul-weather bag.

Second, I used a form I call the “barn door stitch”, which looks like a square with either one or two diagonals through it, to secure the shoulder strap to the body of the bag. These reinforced points mean that the bag just became much more suitable for carrying, say, my laptop or something similarly heavy and fragile.  I still don’t know that I would trust my laptop to this bag (what if it flips over? What if the flap comes undone or flies open in heavy weather? What if moisture seeps through the bag?) but at least I can say that it’s much stronger now as a result.  It makes me wish that I had used French seams, though, inside, which would have made the bag that much stronger yet…

Reinforced barn-door

Third, I backstitched over the beginnings and ends of all of my seams. I’m sure that this is what caused the strap to fail in the first place. It’s a pretty standard practice in machine sewing work to back your sewing machine’s stitching forward and back over itself in order to lock the thread in place.  By doing this at both the beginning and end of a stitch, the whole seam is locked together, and is much less likely to fail.

A bag has challenges — thinking inside and outside, choosing fabric, figuring out waterproofing as needed, sewing stitches, mashing together three or four or more layers of fabric, determining inside compartments as necessary, and more. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. But it’s a great student project — the finished bag serves as a useful tool for transporting notebooks and textbooks from class to locker and home and so on. Designing a bag for a school means that all the needful school supplies should be able to fit within it.  You can even pair it with a pencil case design for a more thorough experience in sewing (adding zippers, yay!), and thinking in three dimensions.

But I’d like to propose to you, readers, that sewing is a critical part of any Maker education. We wear far more clothes in our lifetimes than we install birdhouses; we carry more bags and wear more coats and scarves, than we build workbenches; and students carry far more books in far more book bags than they need vast collections of electronic gizmos that taught them how to wire one circuit.  The soldering lessons have their place, I admit — but knowing how to sew is a perpetual source of design power.

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