Books of secrets

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Each of my nieces is receiving a A Book of Secrets this Christmas. That is, they’re getting a blank book to use as a journal, with a nice note from me on the front cover. But this journal has a secret in it.In truth, it has several secrets. Several dozen secrets. Scattered among the blank pages are a number of diagrams and tools for young ladies that are not entirely appropriate. Secrets like, how to write in coded letters and ciphers, how to speak in semaphore, how to write morse code messages around the edges of notes, and how to draw things that no one else knows how to draw, like horses and princesses. How to fold origami besides cranes. How to tie useful knots.  How to write in runes, and Greek, and the two Japanese syllabaries. How to draw in isometric perspective and 2 point perspective. How to make beautiful repetitive patterns like Zentangles.   How to draw complex geometry using only a ruler and compass.Thanks to the invention of modern quick copy machines and the Internet, this is not particularly difficult to do.

I created forty-eight sheets of secrets using public domain imagery from the Internet, traveled to the local photocopy shop, and made two copies of these ‘secret pages’. Then I bought another ream of the paper they used to print them, and made another six or seven quires/signatures for each book; and interleaved the ‘secret pages’ in amongst the others. The result?

A journal that also doubles as a teaching aide.  A teaching aide on how to be difficult and interesting and smart.  And I hope that the act of giving this book to my young nieces will encourage them to be interesting and smart and knowledgable about complicated matters, and to care about ideas and where they come from.

There’s no one book that can do all of that, of course. But a journal that is not quite like any other journal in the world, hand made just for you, with a group of secrets that you share with only your not-quite-sister… I hope that will be tempting enough.

Because no one quite decides to become interesting on their own. Interesting people — like interesting teachers — take an interest in young people (without too much of an interest, of course), and nourish and encourage them in the right ways at the right times. For me, it was an uncle who gave me lots of books about architecture and archaeology and history and science. Later he taught me to sail, and later still he took me and my family on a sailing tour of the Greek islands (I was supposed to go on the sailing trip to Denmark and Sweden, but it didn’t work out).

In any case, here we are: two books of secrets — where ‘secrets’ stands in for the idea of “things that you have to learn by doing them“.

And that’s at the core of what it means to be a Maker.  I would not have thought to make a pair of books for family members, each filled with secrets, without first training myself to be a bookbinder; and I wouldn’t train myself to be a bookbinder without first identifying myself as a Maker and a Designer.  The two go hand in hand.  We can’t be Makers without some clarity about what it is that we make; we can’t be designers without some sense of what it is that the world needs to have in it to be a better place.

For many Makers and Designers, that means making new things, like robots and blinking LED gizmos. And there’s a place for that. For me, there’s benefit in making new things in an old way — and sharing mindsets and methodologies with young people that machines and electronics are not the only things worth having.

Jedi robes

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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.

An outline of the kid

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.

clear fluff from the pins before sewing the seam

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

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.

Two tunics finished.

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.

Book bound, & #makered

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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.

Why Bookbind?

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.

To @nashworld: Badging & Credentials

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Sean Nash, otherwise known as @nashworld on Twitter, said the following this morning.

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

The jacket 

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This was an awesome jacket.
I saw a kid in my regular coffee house wearing this jacket the other day.  He was wearing this customized leather biker jacket, tricked out like the biker jackets of the punk scene in the late 1970s and 1980s. It had been painted in turquoise, white and maroon paint and adorned with layered rows of metal studs. All the work had been done by hand.

By him.

I call him a kid, but let’s face it, some of those bottle caps are beer caps. He’s probably in his early 20s. I hope.

I asked him if I could photograph some of the detail work. I think he thought I was going to take a picture of him in his jacket, so he put it on. In retrospect I wish I had — but I feel uncomfortable about photographing strangers.

Even strangers wearing clothes they made. Or at least customized.
Still, I was impressed. it was a lot of work, 10 or 20 hours of labor customizing this jacket.

I think that we tend to underestimate the importance of customization in Maker work. But we live in a world absolutely overflowing with cheap manufactured goods. (This jacket, frankly, is not as well made as my jacket from the 1990’s… which isn’t as well made as my girlfriend’s from the 1980s, and definitely isn’t as good as my dad’s leather naval bomber jacket from the 1960s.)

We might disapprove of the message this kid is sending to the world, wearing a studded leather jacket. Or maybe we approve: I certainly do. But rather than purchasing such a jacket pre-made for some fashion line, this kid correctly recognized that there was a DIY ethic at work. He did the work himself. He customized an off the rack leather jacket to express his self-identity to the world.

And maybe we should encourage that in our students more — not because we want everyone walking around in studded leather jackets, but because we would like  people to be able to express their creativity and their hope for a more individualized world, even in off-the-shelf components.

Stole

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It’s been a sewing machine kind of day. I’m in the process of trying to use up a number of materials from my stash of fabric and trim, and this means completing a certain number of projects that I’ve had in the queue for a while.

priestly stole

 In this case, what’s on tap is a priest’s stole.  A priest’s stole is a ribbon of fabric draped around the neck. Sometimes it’s got decoration on it. sometimes it’s very plain. It has a color assigned or designated by the season of the year.  A friend of mine had wanted me to make her ordination stole, but the date was too soon and the calendar was too rough at he time. I couldn’t produce the stole in the a,punt of time that was provided.  

At least, that’s what I told myself.  In practice I could have done so.  This stole took me a couple of hours, and that was only because I read the directions obsessively. Next time it will take me an hour and a half.  Maybe less. 

Because a stole isn’t really a ribbon around the neck.  It’s really a bag.  It’s four pieces of fabric stitched together left side to  right side front and back, and then front side and back side stitched together.  The result is a long, skinny bag, or maybe a tube. As I said, not very complicated.  

And so my friend will have her stole.  Not on time for her ordination, perhaps.  But probably in time for All Souls Day.  And that will be lovely. 

Glue failure

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I went into the woodshop the other day to find that the boards on which I’d lavished so much attention cutting dovetails, had light showing through where they’d been glued.

Broken


Either the change in weather summer to autumn, or the change in humidity, or the failure to move this project along at a fair clip, or something like that (maybe my failure to use biscuits or pegs?) has split several boards along the glue lines. 
Argh. 

A few quick tests revealed that all of the boards’ glue seams were problematic. Either the boards were warping or the glue hadn’t properly dried or the glue had taken on extra moisture or … I don’t know. Lots of potential difficulties here. 

So, I disassembled the boards. Later I’ll cut off the dovetails and pins, sand the edges smooth and try again. 

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