Paper: 2D to 3D

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One of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about is the sort of principles one should adopt in a MakerSpace.  And one of those critical principles is this one:

Principle #2: 2D makes 3D

What does that mean? It means that a student or an adult should take a 2-dimensional material, such as paper or fabric or plywood or sheet metal, and turn it into a 3-dimensional object. (I watched a video of Adam Savage making a box using a metal brake recently, and it was inspiring to see a box made so easily. [see about 6:33 and following]).

It’s better if that object has a fold or a bend or a twist in in, or has some sort of functional purpose — but just folding or bending or shaping a piece of paper in a deliberate or conscious way can turn a flat thing into a product. Sometimes it’s a box, sometimes it’s a house-shape, sometimes it’s a bag, sometimes it’s a yarn-winder. Sometimes it’s a question of folding or stacking pieces, sometimes it’s bending them.

What does that look like?

How do we know when a student’s efforts at working Principle #2 have succeeded? How do we know when our own efforts have succeeded?

How do we succeed if we don’t have a metal brake in the workshop (or a hundred bucks of leather for each and every student to make their own Chewbacca bandolier??).

It’s worth remembering the cheapness and versatility of that key material:


Paper is enormously versatile.  I think I got a sense of that with the Paper Roller Coasters people, and the work of Rob Ives.  You can do amazing things with paper.  But pop-up cards have tremendous versatility as a way of teaching the basics of 2D to 3D thinking. In these few cards, you can see one that turns into an easel, several that turn into steps, and several that turn into folded panels. There’s even a Japanese envelope-letter: write on one side of the paper, and then fold it, and it becomes its own envelope.

What are the benefits of working with paper first, before working with metal or leather or cloth? First it’s a lot cheaper.  A sheet of paper starts at around a penny a square foot (though it can get more expensive), while fabric starts at around a penny a square inch.  Paper is the place to teach conservation of materials, 2d to 3d, and the principles of cutting and measuring carefully. This is where the work begins. This — and drawing.

If you have to equip a MakerSpace, and you only have a $100 budget for the year, start with a lot of paper in a lot of weights, and invest in cutting and folding tools like Xacto knives, rulers, and bone folders.  You can download all the origami and pop-up card designs you could possibly want from the Internet.  Measure, cut, fold — make templates ,and cutting and folding diagrams, and set up production lines.  Teach the industrial revolution, Hallmark card-style, and reinvigorate letter-writing culture at the same time.

(While you’re at it, teach students to make the Platonic and Archimedean solids — geometry learning should go along with Maker learning. That’s practically standard).

Remember: No matter what you build, it’ll be a beginning. And everything you teach about folding, cutting, bending and scoring will ultimately be useful when you do get around to having a metal brake.

English paper piecing 


Trust that, given enough time on the internet, that I will discover a craft I haven’t mastered yet, but that will intrigue me enough with its complexity and weirdness that i will have to try it. The last few days, that craft is English Paper Piecing (EPP). This technique is found in quilting, where it is used to make appliques and decorative elements for quilts and clothes, particularly jackets.

Puzzling it out

The essence of the technique is pretty simple. Take “squares” of paper, or hexagons, or triangles or diamonds. Use pins or basting stitches to wrap small scraps of fabric around the paper; it’s a good idea to use both methods. Whip-stitch multiple scraps together without including the paper scraps. A pattern or a design emerges from the connected scraps of fabric. Remove the papers and the basting stitches; repeat until the quilt reaches its desired size. More

Headed in winter

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A few months ago, I wrote about the Headless One rite from Gordon’s book, The Chaos Protocols.

And, having experienced the moment of the Sun on the shoulders of Orion, it seemed appropriate to wait until the the opposite moment, when the Moon sat on the shoulders of Orion just before the Midwinter.

Alas. It’s cloudy here.  So you’ll have to make do with a screen capture from the app StarWalk2, showing the position of the Moon slightly above the horizon, and forming an alignment of sorts with the theoretical head the great hunter.  Ah, the wonders of modern technology.

Of course, I gushed about it on social media a little, because it feels important; those who seem to make Orion an important part of their experience of the night sky reported in that it felt a little more powerful, a little more changed tonight, than on other nights.  I’m not trying to re-start Neolithic religion here, Gordon, I promise — but wow.  It did feel like a different night than usual, for sure.

And some of that is on me. On us.  I mean, if we moderns invest our time and attention on things like this moment, then it becomes important. Not because it was important then, (though it may have been), but because it is important to us now.

My father was a navigator for the US Naval Air Service, back in the day.  I spoke with him tonight, and I mentioned that I was a little excited about this moment when Orion wore the Moon like a helmet, or a crown.  And I could almost hear his shrug over the phone.

“Sure,” he said. “The full Moon before the winter solstice, when Aldebaran is right there… we used to use that as a homing signal on flights over the Pacific.  It’s a stunning sight, isn’t it?”

And the wind died in my sails a bit. Because of course a Pacific navigator would know about such things.  My father and his squadron mates were flying by the island-hopping method from central California to Saigon and back, or from California to Alaska and back, all through the 1960s.  Flight or ocean-going, the winds and tides and placement of islands and placement of stars were always on their mind.  So has it ever been. So will it always be, for as long as the Pacific is navigable, I suspect — the navigators will always know more than the ordinary folks, and sometimes the ordinary folks know more than the magicians.

The moon came out a little bit, and I was able to snap a quick photo of her through the branches of the trees.  She’s a stunning sight, wreathed in fog and crowned (or perhaps more than usual, bodied) with stars.

It was cold outside, of course.  The act of standing on my porch and breathing also seemed to awaken something in the dogs down the street, who were exceptionally interested in barking at something.  There’s a threat of snow tonight, and the outside walks are slippery with black ice.  I don’t wish to put down salt if I don’t have to, either — there’s a brook close by, and who wants to make things difficult for the land so soon after moving in?   And inside was so tempting, so very tempting.  The fire in the wood stove leapt to life mere moments after my candles were lit and I lifted my voice to say some old, old words of greeting.

I found some ways of celebrating, of course. Because sometimes it’s better to light some candles than curse the darkness.

The Headless One


Last year, lots of people in the magical community got hugely excited about Gordon White’s book The Chaos Protocols and the hugely relevant and powerful Star.Ships (which I reviewed here).  Gordon is of course the author of the moderately-successful chaos magic blog, Rune Soup. So did I, but due to events in my life it was impossible for me to write about my experiences with the Headless Rite.

And I kind of made what feels like a relevant discovery. More

Under-Education: Responding to @willrich45

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Will Richardson writes, over at Modern Leaners, about the problem of under-education:

 A phrase I find myself using more and more these days (and probably mispronouncing) is “raison d’être” or reason for being, as in asking school leaders “why does your school exist?” The easy answer is “to educate our children!” For centuries, that was probably good enough. Everyone knew, sorta, what it meant to be “educated.” You “learned” a lot of stuff about different subjects. You learned how to read and write and work with numbers to some acceptable degree. You were “prepared” for life, for a job or a college. You looked pretty much like everyone who was “educated” before you, passed the same tests, got over the same bars.

I think I get what Will is getting at, here.  Why does your school exist? is a really fundamental question. I mean, in general, “to educate our children!” is a great answer.  But one school I taught at, the “our children” part carried a caveat — and that caveat was “because the schools that are closer to where we live have failed them.”

I taught in a boarding school from 1996 to 2001, took a sabbatical year, and then taught in that same school from 2002-2010.  That school focused on student success by providing a one-on-one tutor for 45 minutes every day; by requiring all students to participate in athletics; and by providing a formal study hall for two hours every evening for completing homework.  In the early part of the 20th century, the idea of learning disabilities was not widespread or understood; my school helped develop a series of one-on-one tutoring processes, including championing the Orton-Gillingham methodology.  People from all over the country (and now from all over the world) sent their children long distances, because my old school could do what no other school could do.  So that sentence becomes, “My school exists to educate our children through time management and compensation techniques for their learning disabilities.”  I think that some of my former colleagues might dispute that baldly-phrased statement, but it’s a shorthand way of thinking about the school’s identity.

My old school’s day and pattern was adapted from a model similar to many other New England boarding schools. The most famous of these schools (and not one where I ever worked), is probably the Groton School, where the names of graduates are professionally carved into the oak-paneled walls of the study hall; and the names of its graduates who went on to the American presidency are gilded with 24-carat gold.  Students literally sit for study hall each evening with light and shadow playing out on the names of those who went before them; and each of them is impressed constantly with the reality, “No matter how great I become personally, I will never be as great as that other alumnus of this school, four-term U.S. President, who led the country out of the Great Depression and through World War II…”  Those students literally sit in the shadow of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and under the names of numbers of his deputies and aides — and it affects every one of Groton’s graduates deeply.  That school’s sentence becomes, “My school exists to educate our children to be problem-solving citizen-leaders at the highest levels.”

Sometimes the identifier is more regional.  I went to a junior high school for grades seven through nine; our athletic rivals were the other two junior high schools in town… not even the next town over.  That school’s sentence might be construed as “My school exists to educate our children who live within walking distance of this building.”  It was a funny, wonderful place: a good theater program, a good music program, Home Economics, shop classes and drafting, computer programming in the mid-1980s when that was still a weird thing.  Sure, all the regular classes in math and science, English and foreign language, history and civics (I had a civics class in there, how weird that seems today).  But it was the extras, I think, that shaped who I am today though it took twenty years to see it.

The Thinkers and the Makers

My mind, though, often returns to the schools in the shadows of Europe’s great cathedrals.  The so-called Cathedral Schools of the 9th through the 12th century focused on the seven liberal arts, which were the simplification and inheritance of the Latin educational system such as it was: the Trivium, consisting of Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic; and the Quadrivium of Music, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy.  There wasn’t much time for more than that, really:  boys (and it was mostly boys) were taken in at 7 or 10, trained until they were 16 or 17, and then shipped off to be clerks to bishops and dukes, professional literates in a world lit only by fire (as William Manchester called it).

Those schools’ sentence ran like this: “My school exists to educate our children in Christian virtues, rational thought, and logical and mathematical relationships, for the purpose of tempering the warriors of the age with some professional advice-givers.”  They were pretty explicit about this in their writings; they knew that they were trying to bring about relative pacifism in an age of violence, warfare and feud, through education.

Down the street from here is a technical high school. Kids study regular academic subjects, but they also pick subjects like plumbing and electrical work, automotive repair and carpentry.  One of my friends is a graduate of that school;  he’s not a great writer, but he visualizes objects in three dimensions and builds them.  He’s a master builder, a contractor, a savvy businessman, and a leader both in his community and of his employees.  He’s no FDR, but I think he could say, “My school exists to educate our children in building and making and managing workers and materials.”

The Measurable and the Immeasurable

Will says,

So, why do we exist? What is our higher, more modern calling? How do we talk about that even? Haque says that one place to start is to put “intuition over computation,” or as I’m referred to it in the past, the “immeasurable ahead of the measurable.” Or, as Russel Ackoff says, again, “to do the right thing instead of trying to do the wrong thing right.” I think most of us get this, yet we seem unable to move from legacy thinking.

And I think this is one of those places where Will — as much as I love him — have to part ways.  Because I think about what it is that schools used to do, and what they so often appear to do now.  I think that we’ve probably drifted too far from legacy thinking, myself.

Because the essence of school is not necessarily to measure, but to teach measurement.  When I think to the Cathedral Schools, focused on the essentials that they could afford to save of Roman and Greek learning, they chose to save the abilities to think, speak, and write precisely; how to count, and account, for numbers; and to understand mathematical relationships in space and time and vibration.

My friend’s technical high school taught him how to cut 45°-angles into complex pieces of wood crown moldings for construction; how to keep an account book; how to price out a job; how to hire and pay workers; how to pay his own way in the world.  Measurement is at the core of his business and his success; and it is what his school taught him how to do.  He lovingly tells the story of one of his carpentry teachers inspecting a joint between two pieces of molding, holding the two wood scraps up to the window. “No. There is light shining through. The angle is wrong and the cut is not straight. Do it again.”  It is that love of accuracy and precision that makes him one of the most sought-after contractors in town.

The school where I used to work focused on teaching time management and attention management to students with ADD and ADHD; how to read effectively and to speak clearly; how to function with limited note-taking in high-information environments; how to move cleanly from one task to another.   It wasn’t exactly the exalted study of astronomy practiced in medieval times atop cathedral towers.  But it was the teaching of measurement and management.

Even Groton, with its oak-paneled study hall, was teaching the vitality of measurement and technical expertise: “one of your predecessors solved the greatest economic crisis in our country’s history, and you’re going to whine about a little algebra?” I can almost hear a teacher telling a recalcitrant student.    Except that my sense of things is that the environment of Groton does a good job of helping students understand that whining is not helpful. 🙂

In any case, a school is for educating our children in ways to measure the world.  We begin with counting and rulers, then teach angles, and a variety of formulae for converting one kind of measurement to another.  Temperature, humidity, wind speed.  Weight, velocity, angle of repose.  Supply, Inventory, Demand.  Current, resistance, voltage.  Light-years, Miles, Yards, Inches, Angstroms.  Pounds, Quarts, Grams, Micrograms. Syllogism, Fallacy, Validity, Conclusion.  Even in classes that focus on writing and reading, in storytelling, we are focused on methods that measure the world and make it return logical results: If this, then that; if not that, then not this.  The Cathedral Schools sent graduates into the world who knew the power of words, but also the structure of rational argument; they were not Christian fundamentalists, but deep and careful thinkers trained in Aristotlean and Platonic logic, Boethean grammar and Ciceronian rhetoric, with a skilled understanding of what to say, how to say it, and how to argue for and against different positions.  Aesop’s fables, annoying and boringly familiar as they are to us, taught medieval Frankish children Latin grammar, rhetorical style and logical thinking all at once; and prepared their minds to understand the formal relationships of geometry, the pitch relationships of music, and the  vast interplay of arithmetic, geometry and time that was astronomy.  My contractor friend builds houses from stacks of lumber — but stands in awe of another friend of his who knows to the board-foot and last chop-saw cut and nail-count how to build a Sonic drive-through restaurant.

Where we fail, I think, is that we spend far too much time taking the measure of the student.  In the pursuit of ever-more-accurate understandings of what is going on in the child’s mind, we fail to impart the critical lessons of how to apply differently-graded yardsticks, containers, and meters to various kinds of problems, or to analyze those results.  Nor do I simply mean physical tools like rulers and protractors — no, I mean the genuine tools of rational, evidence-based thought.  Instead, we look for evidence from the students themselves that they know what we’re talking about; and we give in probably too often to confirmation biases: a student says something, and we take their words at face value, hearing the measurements and evidence that we have laboriously collected for ourselves — instead of hearing all out their evidence, data, and interpretation.

But the child is not the center of the school.  

There will be some teachers and parents who will clutch their pearls  or adjust their ties at this.  And I think that we can agree that the best teachers that we know are the ones who care deeply about children and their welfare.  But true adults, capable and competent adults, are ones who know and understand the facts of the world — who are capable of measuring aspects of their lives, and interpreting those measurements against certain standards.  Doctors know the names of all the bones, muscles and ligaments in the body, all of the spaces and valves and passages; and they recognize when a blood-glucose level is too high or too low.  Lawyers know the names of the laws, how to look them up, and how to argue that one action either does or does not fit a particular interpretation of that law.  It’s a bit of great humor to me that Teachers measure and interpret children according to a variety of yardsticks, too.

It’s just that we forget sometimes that children are not in school to be measured; they’re in school to learn how to measure.

Where We Agree

I don’t think that Will and I are in any disagreement about one of the key challenges, which is finding ways to express what teachers want and need from the non-professionals: the politicians, the parents, and the other stakeholders.  We’re not medieval churchmen trying to save the scraps of a fallen empire from the dark ages warlords; we can’t claim God is on our side, and wow our opponents with secret knowledge of when an eclipse will occur.  We’re not all shop teachers, holding boards up to the window to look for the perfect angle.

But I wonder if a teacher focused on measurement for a few weeks in their lesson planning, if they did not see a marked improvement in the quality of their students’ work?  When we ask ourselves, before we begin each lesson, “what measurement process am I teaching today? What method for interpreting information am I offering to my students?” it may be that on some days we’re teaching fact-gathering.  On other days, we’re teaching the construction of logical thought.  On other days, we’re concerned with helping students string facts together into a story.  On other days, we’re teaching how to use a ruler or a thermometer, more basic tools that nonetheless reveal important truths.

But the centerpiece of our work as teachers, regardless of what subject we teach officially, is the work of helping students to measure the world.  And if a school isn’t doing that — then maybe that school should be closed.

Chip carving 

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Chip carving is done with a pair of specialty carving knives  and a lot of patience. I did my first piece today.

It’s not just a piece of chip carving though. It’s also a stamp, I think. A woodcut. It will print a pattern — possibly on fabric or paper.

Most chip carving is done with three styles of carving — three basic types of cuts. The first and second types are three-sided carvings and straight lines. This design is mostly these two types of cuts. The third kind, largely not shown here, is the two-sided cut. These are all done with the same knife, a so-called chip-carver knife. 

There’s also a decorative element done with a different knife, called a stab-cut. 
The three elements of this kind of carving that I can see, right now, is that the quality of the work is dependent on the sharpness of the knife.

On the whole, my work isn’t bad. It’s the quality I’ve come to expect from myself as a beginner. But learning this work is part of my overall goals of furniture making, because I want to be able to include decorative elements like these in my design work.

Top Ten Posts of 2015


These are the top ten posts of 2015.  I’m posting them a few days early.  Maybe this will be interesting to you, maybe not, but it’s a chance to see what I’ve done this year, and maybe remind yourself of what people thought of as my best writing in the past year.

  • Learning to Lucet — a lucet is a fork used for braiding string into thicker and stronger cord.  It’s a pretty interesting technique, and the braid can be used as rope or as ornamentation on a sewing project. I’ve used it both ways.
  • Design Lab: Finished workbench — I made four tables, and this three-part workbench for my school’s new Design Lab. In the process, I learned a great deal about basic carpentry, and taught my students and school a great deal about how Design Thinking is game-changing for schools.
  • Design Thinking: Paper Engineering — Want to start a maker-space in your school?  You should really think about starting with paper engineering.  You will learn a great deal about the tools and materials you want to work with, you’ll learn about what you should do yourself and what you should teach kids directly, and what you should make them learn for themselves.
  • Geomancy: A Technique for the Shield — Geomancy is a binary-based system of fortune-telling or divination, and this is a post on how to use geomancy in a way that I don’t think is attested to in the historical version of the system, but has nonetheless proved useful. (Like Geomancy? Check out my poem, Quatrains on Geomancy which explores some of the key meanings of the sixteen symbols or characters of geomancy.
  • Hymn to Juno, Queen of the Gods — I’m a student of Jason Miller’s.  In late April, as his students were getting ready to do an around-the-world ritual in honor of Juno, I composed this hymn as part of the effort to provide tools and resources to everybody.  A lot of people read it and used it, apparently. Very few people bothered to tell me. Pretty common, actually. (The other poem that people visited a lot was this one for the Mighty Dead).
  • Magic: the Book of Mars — Developing the right tech for magic is always a complicated process.  One of the things that I’ve done is turn to paper-engineering resources (see the post above) and the paper-craft community to borrow techniques for making books and albums and paper-craft machines.  This book follows a paper-craft album style, but its subject is less about family photos and more about the Lord of Might and Severity. Included in the book is the Neo-Orphic Hymn for Mars.
  • Magic: Neglect Not the Robe — Want to be a more effective magician? Learn to make your own robe.  There are good reasons (physical, intellectual, energetic, and spiritual) for doing so, and here’s both the reasons why and links to resources about how to (learn to) do it.
  • Go forth and Make: Summer Camp — Lots of people read about the Maker Summer Camp project I ran this summer; very few people participated.  No one participated in the Autumn Maker School either, though (and lots of people check out Seventeen Things, but no one has told me they’re following through).  Would you participate in a Spring Maker School? let me know in the comments.
  • Millennials Challenges — In this post from mid-December, I identified four major challenges that affected Millennial students in ways that haven’t really been significantly studied or confirmed.  But colleagues of mine to whom I’ve articulated this theory find it very compelling.  What do you think?  
  • Tidying Up — This is a review/put-into-practice of the book by Marie Kondo called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.  I’ve had difficulty keeping up with this practice, but I found it pretty compelling at the time that I read the book and performed her initial practices.  Quite useful.

I think it’s interesting that none of these are tai chi posts.  It’s interesting because that is, of course, the thing that I write about daily.  But the only post that even came close to being in the top ten was this one, about moving through water, and I think it’s because it contains a photograph. The other post about tai chi that got a lot of visits was this one, the Tai Chi Poem, but it wasn’t composed this year so maybe it doesn’t count.

What about the posts that receive the most visits generally?

  • The Tattwa Cards — Tattwa cards are used for training the mind to understand the five elements.  I can’t really say much more than that, but this appears to be one of the few sets available for download online. Composed March 2014.
  • The Memory Palace — Training the mind to use a memory palace is difficult; here’s some of the tools that I assembled to make that possible.
  • Pagan Days Calendar — I assembled one of the few (Greco-Roman-oriented) calendars on Google Calendar for pagan holy days; apparently there’s quite a few people who use it.
  • The Sun and Moon Sonnets — This is, again, one of the more popular posts: a links page to all the sonnets that I’ve written in celebration of the New and Full Moons over New England; and all the sonnets in celebration of the Sun over Connecticut at the Nones, Ides, and Kalends of each month.

So. There you have it. Some of the most popular posts on this website, and in particular the most popular posts of 2015.  Posts that I thought would get big, didn’t;  posts that I thought would be obscure, enjoyed fresh popularity.  Either way, if you’re a fan of my writing, you’ve got some things to check out and catch up on.  Enjoy your end-of-year reading, everyone.  Happy New Year.

Two Model Mechanisms

Two model mechanisms

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