Tool roll

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I took a break from quilting — which can be tiring work, manipulating three layers of fabric in the heat — to make this.

It’s a tool roll.

Over the years, I’ve watched middle schoolers, high schoolers and others struggle with pencil cases. The pencil cases fill up with broken pens, pencils without points, and a variety of other broken tools. It’s dumb.  I’ve made other tool rolls, notably in leather, but I wanted to make one that I thought could be replicated in a school MakerLab pretty easily with just fabric and some simple supplies like ribbon and bias tape.   And I made this in a couple of hours, I’d say, making it up as I went.  Pretty easy, and a reasonably competent sewer could make a replica in short order, I’m sure.

The design is pretty simple but I’m going to have to refine it further before it’s ready for prime-time to teach others how to sew.  There is a pattern of sorts, in other words. But I’m going to have to refine it.

The essence of the design is two pieces of fabric, the same width but different lengths.  One is folded around the other in such a way as to form a top ‘flap’ to protect the tools inside and keep them from flopping out; and a bottom ‘pocket’ to hold the tools in place.  These two pieces of fabric are the red-with-yellow-stars fabric, and the solid blue.  (The purple is bias tape, the ribbon is from the box of a fancy men’s store in New York City that I saved for this purpose when I got a gift; and the black-and-white floral print is left over from one of last week’s quilts.  The result is a simple tool roll that holds just a few pens and pencils — enough to know that they work, that they’re good tools, and that they have a specific place to go.  Not so many that they get lost or broken.

Even unrolled, the tool roll conceals its tool kit until the last minute.  The blue fabric flips over the top in order to protect the equipment inside.  When this is flipped open or flipped back, the simple collection of tools inside becomes visible.   I think ultimately there should be room for 2-3 pencils, one of those blocky pencil-sharpeners with two shavers, a compass and a ruler, and 3-5 pens (black, blue, red, and maybe some other colors): enough to work with in an imaginative way, but not so much that it’s hard to keep track of.  And when something is broken or missing, you know — you know because you, the kid who made this pencil case, know exactly how many tools are in it, should be in it, and where they go.  That would be the idea.

So that’s the basics of the design: non-complicated, four pieces of fabric and a ribbon  And the design teaches four basic skills, too: hemming, inside-out-and-turn construction, top stitching, bias tape use, cutting on a rotary mat with a quilting ruler, and layering of stitches. It’s not fool proof by any means, but it’s a sophisticated project for being such a small thing.  I have to refine it, of course, but this is a great start.  Yay!

Commonplace book

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I’ve been experimenting with commonplacing. In the 1600s through the early 1900s, the commonplace book was a system of gathering texts and quotations in one place, usually a blank notebook, for the purpose of recollecting information and remembering key ideas about virtue, truth, health, leadership or what have you.

Doctors used them for recording “pearls”, key ideas about a pair or triad of symptoms and a specific diagnosis. Politicians used them to note useful quotations for speeches, and historians used them to categorize events and trends in the age before statistical analysis made more nuanced discussions possible.

I’m using a Moleskine/Evernote-branded softcover notebook to record poetry that I’m trying to memorize; pieces go into the book in the order that I’ve memorized them or intend to commit them to memory.  I attended a Burns Night supper in January last year; and I made an effort to memorize Robert Burns’ Epigram on Bad Roads, which is the first poem in the book, as you can see.

“I’ve now arrived —
thank all the gods!
Through pathways both rough and muddy;
a certain sign that makin’ roads
is no’ this people’s study.
Though I’m not with Scripture crammed
I know the Bible says
that heedless sinners shall be damn’d —
unless they mend their ways.”

It was nice and useful to memorize a funny poem for a change, instead of a serious one.  Most of my poetry tends to be pretty serious; and I tend to memorize serious poetry.  It’s a useful reminder that I should from time to time work on funny poetry as a form — both to memorize, and to write.  Something to practice!img_5468

Further on in the book, in the last three pages or so, is an index page listing the poetry and other elements I’ve put in the book.  Here’s part of that index, listing on page 1 the Epigram on Bad Roads, and Langston Hughes, and John Keats, and so on.   William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence takes up pages 7-11. You can see that I’m working on memorizing quite a lot of Thomas Taylor’s translations of the Orphic Hymns, as well, and the Aleister Crowley hymn for Coffee (not Covfefe).  The index continues; I’ve listed all of the pages, even if I haven’t filled them yet.  It’s rather more similar to the Digital Ambler’s Vademecum, really, or an Enchiridion, than a true commonplace book. A true commonplace book should not only have a table of contents at the beginning, but also an index by subject, such as hope or valor or kindness or coffee. Such an index would help one find appropriate material within the book more rapidly and easily.

img_5469Not everything in the book is poetic. Two pages include a list of all of the U.S. Presidents in order, which I’m working on memorizing, not just with their names but also their years.  It’s occurred to me frequently that this list serves a useful purpose as a time-counter; it’s much easier to remember when something occurred in time if you remember who was president at the same time.  That’s part of the reason why I also have the similar list of the Kings and Queens of England a few pages on from this — The English royal list extends back in time to 1066, and it creates a useful parallel list for European affairs.  Maybe I should also work on the list of the Emperors of Japan…

 

Notes from a shirt-making 

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I started with a pattern, and a queen sized sheet. Getting all of the pieces out of this particular she was a bit of a challenge. It involved folding and refolding the fabric in several different directions to get the sleeves, the front,  and the back. The yoke of the shirt also gave me some trouble.My initial layout, shown here, did not work.

As I said there was quite a lot of folding and bending of the sheet in order to get all of the parts in the right size. One of the yoke pieces was a little bit off.

After the folding and bending, came the cutting and then the ironing.  It’s a used sheet, not particularly bad you understand; it’s just the top sheet where the bottom sheet had become unusable — the elastic all stretched and ripped, and a couple of the corner seams popped.  The top sheet is still fine.

Ironing a high-quality cotton sheet is a bit of an exercise.  You want it to have some water in it, but not so much water in places that you have to hold the iron on some areas to dry them out, while the rest of the shirt scorches. You want to convert the water on the shirt into steam, to even out the wrinkles.

Then comes the business of reading the pattern, comparing it with the photograph of the shirt assembled by a professional, and wondering “what the heck did I get myself into, here?”

The pattern calls for sewing the arms to the front and the back of the shirt, and then gathering the whole shirt under the two pieces that form a vague oval called a ‘yoke’.  It’s a real yoke… I mean, JOKE, because I can either see the dots that are supposed to line up, or I can see that the gathers are evenly distributed… but not both. It’s the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in action — I can see how fast the sewing has to go (before the gathering threads break or the pseudo-pleats are misaligned or the pins slip), or I can get everything properly positioned, but not at the same time.  This shirt is annoying.

The pattern does not always match the image. Clearly someone knew how to take some shortcuts. How is it that the seams of the reinforcing yoke around the neck-hole of the shirt do not show on the front of pattern D (upper left)?

How is it that the seams of the shoulders are perfectly aligned on the the model’s shoulders, but not on mine? Why does the left sleeve hang differently than the right?

I’m working through this pattern, by the way, Simplicity 3915 size A.  There are many things I like about this shirt and pattern, but assembling it is not one of them.

There was a saying in my father’s line of work, that there are four stages to any business deal:

  1. enthusiasm for the clever, e.g., “what a great deal you’ve put together, let’s do it!”
  2. search for the guilty: “who the heck got us into this deal?”
  3. punishment of the innocent: “Find out who got us into this deal, and fire them!”
  4. promotion of the uninvolved: “We owe Jeff a huge round of thanks for the success of this deal, and we’re pleased to announce we’ve made him a partner.” “why is Jeff getting promoted?” “shhhhh, they’ll hear you.”

This shirt makes me feel all four of these stages at once.  I’m finding that I’m enjoying the cleverness of the design, angry that I got myself into this mess, eager to quit, and hopeful that the final shirt will not be quite as terrible as I believe… on someone else.

I am glad that I added four inches to to the lower hem of this shirt, front and back, because it would be way too short without those four extra inches.

This photo shows the assembly of the sleeves to the front and back of the shirt in a messy, ugly way. I don’t even think they’re attached yet, actually in this photo — and it’s already an ugly shirt.  Too boxy.  Maybe it will improve.  Somehow I doubt it, at least at this point in the process.

The Industrial Revolution made it possible to produce hundreds of thousands of yards of thread, and thousands of yards of cloth, at a time.  It was an extraordinary achievement.  Instead of having one or two new garments a year, it was now possible to have four, or five new garments a year.  Or ten, or twenty.  Gordon’s meditation on visiting the home of Permaculture in Australia reminds me that clothing in a permaculture world is likely going to look rather different than it does today, because the clothing options that we have right now are not really permacultural.  Clothing may wind up looking a lot more ninth or tenth century AD than 21st century AD, at least in part because some of it will be assembled out of local materials by local people — and this particular design is entirely too annoying and fussy to be an efficient way of constructing clothes.  Square and triangles, not elaborate curves and fussy bits of folding and gathering and pleating, are a lot easier to structure. Hmmm.

The next photo shows a different stage in the construction.  At this point, I’m assembling the gathers (a form of pseudo-pleating) and pinning them to the yoke. This will be the most difficult sewing operation of the assembly of the shirt — trying to lay out the gathers evenly around four pieces of fabric so that they can be pinned to a pair of pieces of fabric which hare themselves sewn together into a dome shape.  SURPRISE! I got this wrong.

I won’t know that I got this wrong until the shirt is another six or eight steps down the line — one of which is a completely irreversible cut into the largest and most-irreplaceable piece of fabric.  This is, like, the perfect example of a bad design.  You can’t really make a beautiful garment if you can’t check the sizing a few times during the initial steps — and if the design requires you to wait until certain things are irreversible to try it on, maybe the design should be reconsidered.

Also, the sleeves are huge.
Someone suggests that I replace the cuffs (which will require both a button hole and a button, and — you guessed it, more gathering to create those lovely pseudo-pleats) with elastic and leave it at that. It would save me hours of fussing.  I know that one of the key rules of design is this: Always build the complete prototype so you know where the mistakes are...

One of the mistakes is making the cuffs, and then trying to assemble them.  I managed to get one of them done before I ran out of thread.  Aiee.  I didn’t find more thread right away, but I AM trying to use thread all of the same color so it doesn’t stand out too much against the shirt.

There’s problems with the sewing machine. The tension, probably the upper tension, isn’t quite right.  It’s a little too loose.  My efforts at adjustment are not working quite right, and they’re making things worse.  This shirt may survive a few hundred wearings, or it may come apart the first three or four times it’s worn.  Poor design, and poor tailoring on my part.

Still, progress.  A few important notes:

  • a single queen-sized bed sheet contains the makings of a very nice shirt in one of several patterns (most of which are easier than this.
  • a recycled bed sheet makes a good work shirt or ‘formal’ shirt, probably in a less fussy pattern than this.
  • This holds true for a (pretty large) man’s shirt, so you might get 1-3 women or children’s shirt’s out of the same cloth area.
  • Flannel sheets would produce warmer clothes; silk or satin for inner layers/fancier wear.
  • Solid colors would work better than patterns (harder to match patterns when there’s so much folding and working from different sides of the sheet to begin with.

 

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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.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-3-30-35-pm

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.

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