New eBook: Festae

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I’m pleased to report that Festae, a book of poetry with hymns to deities from the Greco-Roman pagan calendar, is now available on Amazon.com.Festae Cover.jpg

Festae includes four odes called the “Seasonal Greetings”, dedicated to Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. It also contains forty-three additional odes in a traditional three-stanza form, dedicated to:

  • Poseidon, god of the wild sea
  • Neptune and Salacia in their roles as providers of salt for food preservation
  • Hecate as a goddess of magic and artistry
  • Hephaestus and the Nymphs, the teachers of technology and craft
  • Pallas Athena
  • Artemis of the Moon, and of Music
  • Apollo
  • The Nine Muses
  • Vesta three festivals of June
  • All the Heras
  • The year-end celebrations of the Roman sacred year in February
  • and numerous others…

This collection joins four other of my poetry on Amazon, including The Sun’s Paces: hymns for the Decans of the Zodiacand the Poems for the Behenian Starsand Hymns for the Mansions of the Moon.  You can also find The Tai Chi PoemIn all, these five collections now present one very long poem about tai chi, and nearly 130 other poems on subjects related to astronomy, ancient history, the better angels of our nature, and our relationship to the sky and each other.

It’s been my great pleasure to write and share these poems with you, and I hope you enjoy them.  These materials are also listed on my publications page.

Tai Chi Poem on Amazon

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I’m pleased to report that the Tai Chi Poem I composed in 2015 is now available for Kindle from Amazon.com.  All sixty-two sonnets in order, together with the diagrams I composed for the poem, are now in a single digital document and available for $4.49.  You can go through the back entries of this website and find all the poems — they were composed in 2014 and published here — but now they’re available as a convenient download.

The Tai Chi Poem

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In 2014, I composed sixty-two sonnets describing the process of moving through the tai chi form that I first learned in 1998 in northeastern Connecticut.  That sonnet sequence is now available as a downloadable Kindle file from Amazon.com.

Like most of my sonnets, these are Shakespearean or Elizabethan sonnets, in iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme running ABABCDCDEFEFGG.  Some portions of the sequence may be useful to tai chi teachers for creating effective mnemonics for their own students, but I don’t recommend trying to learn tai chi from reading the poems aloud or reciting them.  Some things are better left to professionals rather than me.  I also think the poems are quite beautiful on their own.  My goal, overall, was to create something akin or in the tradition of the traditional martial arts and tai chi manuals, a combination of simple diagrams and poetic descriptions of the movements. The work is dedicated to my teacher, Laddie Sacharko of Star Farm Tai Chi.  The tai chi poem will always be available exclusively from Amazon in print form.

Other Works

The Tai Chi Poem also joins my other book, Poems for the Behenian Stars  for $9.99 on Amazon.  This second book, a poetic exploration of the fifteen stars of H.C. Agrippa’s list of the major stars of the northern celestial hemisphere, is also available as a PDF download from Etsy for $10.  I earn more royalties from an Etsy download, but I understand that Kindle grants me access to a wider audience.  Feel free to tell your friends!

Finished bag

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I finished this bag.

My mother the artist pointed out that I have a complicated task here. If I am trying to make things to sell, I need to work with better materials, and take much better care in assembly. If I am trying to teach what is possible to other adult and two children students, been working with cheap or even cast off material is not only fine but desirable.
Andrew Carle pointed out the other day that there is a developmental phase in students that starts young and goes all the way to high school if it is not corrected early. It is called waste. The student cuts out the shape he or she is looking for, out of the middle of a piece of paper or fabric or would, and leave the remainder. The remainder is now useless because it is one large piece with not enough flat surface to do anything with for any other project. 

I remember watching an older girl, or maybe I should say a young woman, cry. She had had it explained to her for time, but she need to put her pattern pieces onto a single piece of 3 yards fabric to cut out all of the pieces of her dress. But when she cut out the piece labeled front, she left a big hole in the middle where the pieces where the four arm elements needed to come from.  We managed to cut out a back to the dress from another piece of fabric, and this we’ve from a piece of contrasting fabric. But ultimately it wound up not being the address for girl wanted to wear.

Meanwhile this bag is entirely made of scrap material left over from other projects. The waste from this bag would not fill an espresso shot glass — clipped threads, shorn fabric, and all.

And I think that this is why it is so difficult to build a successful maker space program. It is usually dependent upon teaching lesson like conservation of materials. These sorts of lessons are only learned by doing similar kinds of project over and over and over again. And without a trained artisan in the room with the students, the students make the scene historical errors over and over and over again. There are solutions to these problems. They are time-tested, ancient.

But you don’t learn from just putting the tools down in front of a group of students and tell them to have at it. And you don’t build a successful program in a maker space, by having every single kind of tool ever developed by human beings all in the same space.  The temptation is to have a milling machine add a 3-D printer and a video camera and the full carpentry studio and electronics tools. But your program will have long term success only if you encourage some degree of artisan specialization in your teachers and maker leaders.

Alchemy: vervain

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I am not by training or comprehension a chemist. But there is something about the chemical processes I quite enjoy.  The process from alchemical work that I love most, is of course calcinatio: the burning to white ash of a plant material (any material, really) soaked in alcohol.

Part of it is that I have an excuse to start up a fire in my athanor – excuse me I mean my Weber grill.  I put an iron pan of an herb soaked in grain alcohol on the grill, and wait while it gets hot enough to burn off the alcohol, and for the flames to turn blue.

But it’s only now — the twelfth or fifteenth time that I’ve done it — that I have any clear sense of what’s happening. The carbon and other flame-sensitive volatiles in the plant matter are burning off and being converted to vapor and smoke.  What is left is the residuum: the plant’s essentials that are not reducible by Fire to Air (smoke and vapor)  or Water (liquid converted to gas). This is the Earth of the plant, the remnant.

It’s interesting that even a century after the development of the periodic table of the elements, I can still see on a gross scale exactly what the medieval alchemists were getting at when they spoke about the four elements — and that it’s easier to understand what’s happening in an alchemical way than it is to understand in the terminology of modern chemistry.  There’s an opportunity for learning here, really: can we teach chemistry directly? Or should we help students understand the alchemical origins of modern chemistry, through direct observation of Fire (heat), Water (liquids and solvents), Air (the behavior of gasses), and Earth (irreducible solid components)?

Early in the process, of course, the visuals are stunning. Watching a fire burn at night, and gathering information about what’s happening, is deeply seductive.  This particular Vervain (Verbena officinalis) burns blue, partly from the alcohol used as a solvent to begin the breakdown of the plant matter, and partly from the vaporization of the burnable matter in the plant — cellulose, carbon, and volatiles.  What remains in the Earth of the plant — essential solid components that do not burn at these temperatures, and whiten (or at least gray-en) under the application of extreme heat until the ashes turn orange and sometimes even cherry-red in the flame.  When the flame cools and the charcoal dies down, you’re left with white ashes.

Eventually, this will be an alchemical salt — a spagyric tincture added to white ash of the same plant — which was one of the first efforts, historically, at making more potent medicines from herbs with known medicinal value.    I can’t say that I will ever want to take this salt.  But I do find it interesting and valuable to realize that an internal change has taken place in me from doing the work.

Namely, this: we are not complicated creatures, us humans.  We learn often learn things by doing, by copying, and by understanding a range of experiences with a range of words and language that matches what our senses tell us.  When the language drifts too far from what we can see, touch, taste, feel, smell, and experience as a whole — we tend to lose ourselves in abstraction.  But something burning on a fire is real and present in a way that engages all the senses, and teaches us things about the world that our ancestors knew intimately well.

Yarn-cake Winder Step 4

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I am inching toward completion at this point.

Yarnwinder1.jpg Here you see the three gears — the cranking gear on the right, the central gear in the middle, and the 12P gear on the base of something that looks like a striped lawn chair.  That’s the base for the spindle.

You also see the yarn feed post, on the extreme left of the assembled machine; and the two built-in C-clamps along the bottom.  The only thing missing at this point is the arbor or pivot that connects the 12P gear to the spindle support base. A friend of mine is using his angle grinder to grind that steel pin to the right shape, this afternoon.  I hope to have it later today.

Yarnwinder2.jpgAnd here’s that spindle support base, now attached in the right place and ready for the spindle to be attached.  It looks a little like a striped lawn chair.  For this photo, I’ve put in a spare bit of steel rod for the arbor, and I’m using that to test-crank the gears, and figure out where to concentrate my sanding effort to get the gears to the right shape.

Hint? Everywhere. Everywhere needs sanding.  I am not a good scroll-saw-er yet, and the result is that my gears are wildly irregular on nearly every gear.  I have a choice at this point.  I can just keep cranking the gears until everything is worn down to the right smoothness by raw friction.  Or I can sand each tooth meticulously until every tooth meshes perfectly with every other tooth.  Or I can choose a third-option position, halfway between those two options or on either side of half-way.  The more sanding I do ahead of time, the less sawdust and sand will be in my finished yarn product.  The less sanding I do ahead of time, the more sawdust and sand will be in my finished product, and the harder it will be to wind a skein of yarn into a yarn cake.  Even so, I may go for this option.Yarnwinder3.jpg

The final picture is the completed elements of the yarn-cake winder (excepting that one arbor, and a couple of small pads for the C-clamps.  The spindle is the large wooden thing; the spindle base is the thing in the clamp, and then the machine itself.  You can see a pencil on the right for rough/approximate scale.  The spindle has a skateboard bearing inside of it, provided as a result of a trip to Cutting Edge in Berlin, CT.

I got into knitting in part because of Deb Castellano of the blog Charmed Finishing School (and her store, the Mermaid and the Crow/La Sirene et Le Corbeau).  It pleases me no end to create a piece of machinery using my newfound carpentry skills, that will allow me to practice more effectively the art that she connected me to in the first place.

But once again, why knitting? Why machinery? Why include textiles and knitting and yarn-work at all in a MakerSpace? I would hope at this point, after three prior separate discussions of the building of this machine, that this would be obvious. Even with someone else’s plans in my hands, I’ve had to work through design problems, study drawings, make sketches, and drive my way through the tool use necessary to build this machine (and the yarn-swift that accompanies it).  Without these machines, I’d have a much harder time working with skeins of yarn. With them, I have a much easier time making my own yarn, dyeing my own yarn, winding and knitting (or crocheting, or braiding) my own yarn. This device is a critical piece of the technology set for string and yarn-arts.

What is a technology set?  A technology set is all of the technical equipment necessary to oversee a process of construction from raw materials (or raw-er materials) to finished product.  For yarn, that set looks something like this:

  • Carding combs
  • drop spindle or spinning wheel or great wheel
  • yarn swift
  • dyeing vats and dyes and mordants
  • yarn-cake winder (this device)
  • knitting needles
  • braiding disk
  • lucet
  • crocheting hook
  • naalbinding needle

With these ten tools, it’s possible to take a bundle of raw wool and turn it into a scarf or a hat or a length of rope akin to paracord, or a colored braid.  The technology set teaches ten different skills, and helps students understand ten different processes. None of the technology is difficult to understand; the technical processes are open and transparent; and they are hand-skills which can be replicated (much faster but much more opaquely) by machine.  They take carpentry skills to make objects that are used for working with string, they demonstrate the principle that Tools Make Tools Make Things, and they demonstrate to students a skill-set that allows them to extrapolate and develop an understanding of how any raw material is turned into a finished product.

 

Lucets

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IMG_1086.jpgI made eleven lucets using my scroll-saw and some sandpaper. They turned out quite well.

They’re for sale on my new Etsy store, Watermountain Studios.

What can you use a lucet for? Making cord or braid, of course. That’s its primary purpose: to weave yarn into a strong cord or braid which resembles the mint family of plants: square stems.

I like braiding cord for various kinds of work that I do. Sometimes I sew it into tailoring projects to bulk out or decorate a seam; sometimes it becomes the handle for a bag or the drawstring for a pair of trousers.

Now you can make similar cord yourself.

Making a Clamp

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IMG_1189.jpgToday was the day I planned to start cutting boards to build a woodworker’s tool chest a la Chris Schwarz.  I chickened out and built a clamp instead.
Whenever I see some photos of someone assembling boards into a panel, though, clamps rather like these appear to be in use.  Essentially, each clamp is a pair of boards with a series of holes down the length of the board, and a pair of pegs. The pegs are matched through the two boards, and a wedge is used to drive the assembly tight, and hold the boards together during a glueing operation.

I’m going to need three or four of these clamps, I think.IMG_1188.jpg

I wound up designing a couple of flying jigs as I built these clamps.  First, I built a small template for marking out where the holes go, and how long to build the clamp.  Then, I clamped the two boards together to drill the wood on my drill press, so I got precise matches between one board and the next.  Then, I attached a piece of wood to the build plate of my drill press, and used that to press the future-clamp boards against, so that I maintained the point of the drill in a firm line down the board.

Then I got really creative.  I marked the center of each hole on the side of the future clamp-boards, and put a line on the jig clamped to the drill press, and used the matched lines to decide when to lower the drill press bit into the wood.  You can see that complete system at work here in the third picture:

IMG_1148.jpgWhen you look closely, you can just see the clamp holding the two future-clamp-boards together on the right.  And then in the middle, you can see two clamps, a spring clamp and an adjustable bar clamp, holding the straight-edge in place while I drill the holes.  Being left-handed while trying to manage a right-handed drill press isn’t the easiest.  Adding a camera makes the whole thing look impossible.

The next stage of development would be to build a ‘sled’ which supported both ends of the wooden bars for the bar-clamp, while allowing me to center both boards easily at the next drill point. (It occurs to me that it’s very hard to write about making tools with jigs and templates, because I’m writing about clamping things to make a clamp, but I actually have several types of clamp holding down several different pieces of wood doing different things… and all these different bits and bobs and thingamajigs have actual names, but I don’t know them.)

Midway through the whole operation, there needed to be an adjustment of clamps — on the jigs, on the project — so that the holes could be drilled at the ends.  And then there was further adjustment so that I could finish drilling the holes all the way through the lower board.  And… and…

Did it save me any time?  No? Yes? I’m not sure.  But I note that I have a new tool in my workshop that I didn’t have before.  In any sort of design work, in any sort of maker work, it’s important to remember that Tools Make Tools Make Things. 

So if you can’t or won’t make the thing itself, make a tool that makes it easier to make the thing when you’re ready to.  I’m more ready to make the tool chest tomorrow, because more of the tools I need are ready as a result of the work I did today.

I also discovered what feels like an important principle of my work in wood:  Use power tools to make tools and jigs and templates.  But the project is why I have hand tools, and so that’s where I use them.

 

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