Chinese sewing book

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I’ve been fascinated by the Chinese Thread Book, or (zhen xian bao) since I first found out about it several years ago.  It always seemed too complicated. Today, I followed the tutorial here on how to construct it.  There are other tutorials, but this is the one I chose to follow.

The results are not ideal.  The paper I used is really cardstock, and too heavy for this purpose.  It does make it less likely that you’ll rip the twist boxes in the course of opening and closing them, but all in all the book turned out nicely despite being made of paper scraps from my collection of leftovers from other paper projects.

By and large, the most difficult piece of the work is folding the pieces that become the twist boxes.  This involves cutting an A4 piece of paper to the correct size, measuring it, folding it into fifths and halves, and then folding it in a series of diagonals to produce the twist.  All in all, though, an elegant design.
This book contains seven compartments, but I missed an opportunity to add at least two more, if not six more. No matter. I was following a tutorial, not designing my own box from scratch. I do see, from museum examples, that there are some ways of adding more complex compartments to the book — one large one the size of the whole cover, another two on each side, and another pair opening underneath the two compartments on the right-hand side.  Plus there’s maybe space for a couple of ‘envelope’-like pockets under the left and right side compartments.

Here’s the second thing I like about it, despite the heavy paper (or perhaps because of it).  It’s clear that this is a thing with a specific purpose — thread. You’re not going to be storing cauldrons and alembics and elaborate machinery inside of this.  It’s for thread.  Maybe some needles.  I saw a museum-quality example once, really from southwest China, that was large enough to store pattern pieces for sewing shoes in it.  This one is not that big, as you can tell by my hands.  But it’s still a thing rooted in geometry (even if I used a ruler and was measuring in centimeters to make this particular example.  The people who built the originals did so using geometry for the most part, not measurement with measurement-units like inches or centimeters.  They made these things according to geometric rules, which I started to get a handle on as they made these beautiful objects.

Third — as some of you might guess from the paper choices for the twist boxes — there are potential uses for this book of boxes in magic.  I can see Gordon populating this with some of his sigils, for example, or maybe treating the paper as sigil-surface.  It can certainly be decorated, far beyond what I’ve done here.  Or sigils could be secreted inside the various compartments.

This one, I’m going to use in my bimonthly roleplaying game as a prop.  It’s a little too rough and weird and heavy to use as a regular-use object, and I don’t really have a use for it (yet).  But if I make some counters or things to put in the compartments, then maybe this is a wizard’s spell book, or a special-purpose version of something like a deck of many things, or a similarly special-purpose bag of holding. (Just because the compartments can’t hold cauldrons in our world, doesn’t mean they can’t in another world…)

So, that’s the basics of it. Not complicated, really, though it looks intimidating.

Quilt advice

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Weird thing happened to me today at the fabric store. I’d gone in for a piece of interfacing for a project. But on my way there I got a coupon for my total order, and fat quarters (18″x21″) were already 50% off. So I was likely to get a good deal on FQuarters… I went looking. 

While I was browsing the fat quarters in the far quarters of the store, a woman turned to me. “How’s your color theory? Are you good at putting patterns together?” She had a fat quarter like a yellow argyle pattern, next to a few panels of an orange floral pattern. It was very…. busy. 

In the course of the subsequent conversation about color, I pulled out my phone and made this 9×9 grid of one possible sub-square of her possible quilt. I showed her pictures of my quilts. This was going to be her first effort ever at a quilt. I’m not that far ahead of her. What business have I got advising her? 

Nonetheless, I advised her. I said, “your patterns are nice. I like them both. But what I would do is mix in some of these other solid colors. If you think of each square of your quilt as a 3×3 grid, then make a few panels patterned, like this orange floral, and a few panels solid colors, like this pastel orange and pastel yellow. Use a contrasting pale blue, something soothing, to put against all these vibrant colors.”

“And,” I said, “make a baby quilt. They’re 36 by 54.”

“But I’m making a lap quilt for myself, for when I watch tv or something.”

“A baby quilt is about the right size for a lap quilt. But if you don’t like this quilt when it’s done, you can give it away as a baby shower present, and no one can refuse it because its handmade.”

“I like the way you think,” she said, and waltzed off to pay for her day quarters. She wound up taking most everything I advised her to take…

… including the fat quarters that I’d intended to buy. Oh well. 

Graphic Design From Templates

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I’m in the process of designing a three-fold brochure: three columns on a page, back-to-back.  The easiest thing, of course, is to use an existing template: pre-chosen fonts, pre-chosen colors, pre-set areas of text, pre-selected spaces for images.  The choice then becomes simply a matter of creating text and choosing images.  Most of the difficult work — of choosing color, font, typographical unity, flourishes, and so on has already been done.  You write the text that fits your brochure (and you can’t write any more than fits in the template, so you know when you’re done).  You pick pictures or images or graphics that fill the pages appropriately, and work with the concepts that you’re trying to get across to your audience (and if there are spots for twelve pictures, you’re not going to be throwing in fourteen apostles and an extra Last Supper).  The template sets the boundaries, and no more shall come of this.

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But then what?

How do you introduce your own levels and layers of uniqueness? How do you make the brochure your own? Is it made your own, just because it has your pictures, your text in it? Do you have to tweak it further for it to be yours? Should you make adjustments to the font or color scheme?  Should you do as the web-publishing industry suggests, publish and revise (more likely, publish and forget?).

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-3-35-13-pmI don’t know that there are good answers to these questions, but I’m wrestling with them now. Mostly, this brochure is an existing template, unmodified by color or font or layout; it’s just my text and images plugged in where they appear to fit.

But it’s funny. I can see so many of my projects on display on these pages, all of which have taught me important skills, like how to build an Adirondack chair, or how to sew a little medieval-style belt pouch, or my work on the CNC milling machine, or the yarn-winder, or some of my bookbinding work.

Are you a reader of this blog?  A teacher? A librarian?  Interested in what I’m doing?  Willing to help me proofread, edit, and revise my new brochure?  Leave me a comment with your email address — I’ll send you a copy.  You can tell me what you think.

Banners

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Banners in process

I’m a member of the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn. It’s a druidic society, based on the book by John Michael Greer, The Celtic Golden Dawn. I’ve been gradually working my way through the curriculum, which involves meditation, alchemy or spagyrics using locally-common plants, some ritual, and some divination using Geomancy. There are some side exercises as well, but those are the main components of the work.

One of the elements that makes up a temple of the DOGD are a pair of banners, the banners of the East and of the West, which are black and white, and adorned with a stylized dolmen or three-stone archway and three rays of light emanating from those arches; the white banner of the East additionally has two squares, a yellow and green one, laid at 45°-angles to one another forming an 8-pointed star.  I’ve been using paper printouts of the images of the banners, but I haven’t been entirely happy with them.

Re-sizing the squares

So I made them in fabric, using tutorials on appliqué and sewing, as well as my own basic sewing knowledge.  The result is a pair of very handsome banners.  Each needs a cord to string them from a post or hook on the wall, still; but I need to get the cord since I don’t currently have it; and I’m going to need to install some grommets for the cord (thanks, Matt).  I think I now need to build a couple of stands to support them, as well, so I don’t drive hooks into the wall.

Each banner involved roughly the same process — I made paper templates of each piece, using freezer paper.  Freezer paper is stiff and waxy, which means that it can be used to create a paper template for each piece.  It looks like you can use the waxy side to glue your paper directly to the fabric with an iron.  I was reluctant to do that, though; so I simply used my freezer paper as if it was a paper pattern.

Initially I made the two dolmens the same size. Then I realized, if I do that, then the squares on the white banner have to be larger than the banner. So I had to re-size the squares, and then redesign the dolmen to match, wasting my initial dolmen; I couldn’t figure out how to re-size it to accommodate the overall design.  Nothing for it but to toss it in the scrap heap for another day. Alas.

I first made all my pieces. Then I ironed them, and folded over their tabs and edges as I did so.  And then I sewed them onto the background panel of each banner, pinning each to try to get it flat and unwrinkled.  I failed to get them flat and unwrinkled.  I am not a patient tailor or textile worker or seamster, apparently.  I want to get projects finished and feel like they’re done.  I also like the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing, and not having yet-another-unfinished project languishing around.  There’s something to be said for just getting it done.

A typical Dolmen assembly

Every piece of appliqué has to have tabs, to fold behind the shape.  You have to design the tabs for each piece so that every edge is folded, and nothing can unravel.  For the triangles that are the rays of light, this mostly means making larger triangles, or something like trapezoidal diamonds.  Even so, they don’t fold well.

Here’s how I made the dolmens.  You can see that the top edge is one long fold, with cut corners so that it doesn’t overlap with too many other things.  The uprights of the dolmens equally have tabs, as do the overhangs of the lintels, including the middle part of the lintel.  There has to be a tab on each side, of course, because fabric has warp and weft.  It will unravel without a fold, even if you sew it down; and then your lovely appliqué will come undone quite rapidly (everything done with green thread on my banner of the east will have to be additionally tacked down again, by hand, because the tensioning on the sewing machine was wrong, and the stitches are coming undone already).

 

The finished banners

Once the imagery of each banner was finished, I flipped the backing material over, so the imagery was on the inside.  I then sewed the backing together, adding in the yellow tassels at the corners of the lower part of the banners. The resulting object is like a rather shapeless bag.  One corner of this inside-out bag is left open, and the bag is then turned — the outside/imagery/appliqué side is pulled through the open hole, and the whole banner is flattened, resulting in a banner shape that has folds all around the edges — remember how important it is to have a fold in a piece of fabric, to prevent it from unraveling? This is as true for background pieces as for appliqué.   The mostly-finished banner then needs to be pressed and maybe top-stitched — run through the sewing machine all around the outside edge to create a neat seam that flattens and stabilizes the banner all around.  It could also be quilted in order to stiffen it, and give it some sturdiness that I didn’t introduce through the use of interfacing — a sort of papery-plastic-like material that comes with glue on it, so you can glue it to a completed appliqué on the back, and stabilize the project.  Interfacing is also used in tailoring to stiffen collars and shirt cuffs, and other parts of clothes, to give them sturdiness and stability.  I’ll see in the morning if it needs that extra step of top-stitching and/or quilting.

However, these banners are essentially done.  They’ve done three jobs for me: spruced up my druidic training regimen by giving me something to look at while I’m working; taught me the basics of appliqué; and used up some of my fabric stash.  The using up of a fabric stash should not be under-estimated.  It’s very easy to build up a supply of fabric, and not so easy to let it go to its finished, intended use.

Although I had the initial plan for these banners dictated for me by the organization to which I belong, I have to admit, these make a very nice school project.  Every object or color on an appliqué has to be thought about separately, and they have to be united through folds in the fabric, and through stitching together.  Both of the squares on the white banner, for example, are about three times as wide as in the final example; they’re folded over themselves in order to make clean corners.  The green square is also cut in four places, so that it can be interleaved with the yellow square (which is actually un-cut at all, and runs under the green square’s pieces.  I’m looking forward to doing this kind of work again.

Weaving @ Home

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I made a loom for school, and enjoyed working with it.

So I made another one for use at home.  It was considerably more difficult in some ways, but I got it finished today. More

Dabbling – 8

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Dabbling-8

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I was planning on not posting a Dabbling strip at all today, and then the opportunity to draw this one opened up after dinner; and a theme emerged from a chance gift of an Ames Lettering Guide.  Incidentally, Jim was originally a different kind of character, so it should be understood that the character here and the gift-giver are not intended to be the same person.  All characters in this strip, in other words, are fictional.

Poor Roger, though.  He’s trying to make a comic that changes the world and helps people understand magic, and all that anyone wants to do is help him be a better comic book artist:  it’s like they don’t really know what he’s writing, or something.

Dabbling – 7

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Dabbling-7

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Number 7 in the series of ten planned. This one got done on Sunday night in a very rapid way, because this week has been especially busy.  And I’m aware that the last three of the planned series come during the end-of-trimester when I have a great deal to do for school.  Roger isn’t the only one who has a busy week (or three) coming up.

The first panel of the second row has Carygus saying, “I promise you, I’m the most angelically and demonically untrustworthy spirit you know.”

In the second panel of the second row, under his body, he says, “You’re totally stuck with me at this point.”

Learning how to position and write text in a comic has been one of the harder things to get right, and I’m still not very good at it.

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