Practice Effect

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Doing anything over and over again usually results in improvement, at least to a point. Back when I was new to sewing, I had a project I was working on — making a stole or sash for one of the fraternal societies of which I’m a member.   I used cheap cloth, and used white thread to sew right-sides together, and didn’t properly adjust the tension on my sewing machine.  The result was the sash on the right, which has been an embarrassment to me almost every time I put it on.

While my sewing machine was out for repairs, though, I purchased new fabric that was more jewel-toned.  I sewed some trim onto the ends before sewing the back and front together, as well, which you can see in the second photograph.  And I sewed much more carefully and much more slowly as I worked my way through the project overall.

The result is a much higher quality sash (which in truth is almost the same as a deacon’s stole in an apostolic-orders Western church like the Episcopalians, Catholics and so on, though not the same as an Orthodox deacon’s stole, which wraps around the body quite differently).

My seams are much better.  The jewel tones of the fabric are much nicer, and the golden thread in the trim is a nice touch against the variant blues in the trim.  The project still needs some final touches of pressing and seam matching and so on.  But I know how to do those things now, and I didn’t when I first began learning to sew.

And that’s the relevant point, here, I think.  Schools do a great job of teaching about subjects: Here’s what you need to know about English. Here’s what you need to know about history.  Here’s what you need to know about biology or chemistry or physics.

But the Maker movement does things differently.  It doesn’t rely on about.  You don’t start off reading about sewing in a sewing class, or reading about table saws in a woodworking class.  You start off learning how to sew, how to saw wood to the correct dimensions.  A good teacher starts with some very simple projects, like an eye pillow, or a glasses case or a pencil case or a komebukuro, that are designed to build confidence and know-how.  Later on, you might move up to quilting, or making clothes. Later still, you move to English Paper Piecing or more elaborate constructions in garments.  At each step, the skills you already have, help inform the skills you’re trying to acquire.  You make mistakes, but the mistakes are often a frustrating combination of the old, basic errors and completely new ones.

Most of us hit natural barriers to improvement from time to time.  That’s normal. Often, it’s because there’s a mismatch between  your standard-issue solution that worked in all the other examples of projects you’ve ever done, and the brand-new-to-you! solution that’s been best-practice in your craft or Maker art form for decades (if not centuries).  That’s when you have to seek out a teacher, or a YouTube video, or an essay or a book. That’s when you learn about your craft — somewhere in the middling range of your skills, not at the beginning.  Some of these small things learned along the way, as a result of seeking to learn about my craft?

  • Thread your sewing machine with thread the same color as the fabric
  • — unless you want the contrast between thread and fabric as part of the design.
  • Use the right weight of interfacing that’s appropriate to your project.
  • Regularly change the needle on your sewing machine, approximately every four hours that the machine is in use.
  • Sew right-sides-apart after fold-press-pin
  • Iron more frequently than you want to.
  • Use your fabric scissors only for fabric; pink the extra fabric as needed.
  • Service your machine at least annually; save the old parts.
  • Improve your hand-sewing skills alongside your machine sewing skills
  • Learn to cut fabric accurately.
  • Modify patterns with a ruler and with French curves, not by eye.
  • Pinning is important — but pin in proportion to the desired finish-quality.

It’s nice to return to a project I did some years ago, and discover that I can do it better and more effectively and faster now, while also taking my time.  There’s an efficiency of process and movement that comes from knowing what you’re doing the second or seventh time around, that’s simply unbeatable.  But it takes time to acquire that level of skill.  No amount of knowing about will replace doing, when it comes to Making things.

Quilting

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My sewing machine is back up and running. After a full service, and the repair of a pulley, it’s working again like a brand-new machine — under $100 in parts and repair costs.

The first thing to do was finish this little ‘doily’ that I had made using English Paper Piecing techniques.  I did a ‘right-sides together’ bag technique to finish the edges with another piece of fabric (a nice blue-tile motif).  I then did some decorative top-stitching as the quilt motif.  I should have done the work with a quilting ruler and a free-rotation foot. But I don’t have a small quilting ruler or a free-rotation foot.  More things to add to the list of tools/gear that I want, I guess.

Mistakes: The doily quilting pattern wound up borrowing freely from the pattern of hexagons. The ‘right sides together’ bag-making technique did not work well — I would have done better with a ‘cut, fold under and stitch’ technique with right sides apart. Applique, in other words, was the way I should have gone, rather than sewing right sides together.  The result was an outer edge that doesn’t have the precise hexagons of the original paper-piecing.  Oh, well. This is how we learn, right?

The back side is reasonably nice.  The white stitching resulted in a repetition or reiteration of the hexagon pattern on the front side, without slavishly duplicating it.   The tiles of the front are replicated in the tiling motif of the fabric on the back.

All in all, it was a successful project to learn a new set of skills: English Paper Piecing.

The first article in the series on EPP is here.

Yet Another New Book

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I have another, another new book on Amazon today:

The Sun’s Paces: 36 Hymns for the Decans of the Zodiac

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The Sun’s path across the sky is called the Ecliptic, and it passes through the twelve signs of the Zodiac.  As it does so, it passes through the thirty-six subdivisions of the Zodiac, called the Decans.  Famed in ancient Egyptian, Hellenistic, and Renaissance sources, they’ve become less important in recent centuries — and yet they’re far older.

In these thirty-six poems, Andrew Watt (that is, me, your blog author), explores these hidden meanings, and the hidden sacred stories in the Hellenistic-era deities that preside over the Decans.  In these pages you’ll encounter Tethys the Titanic queen of Ocean and Hekate the magical lady of the Crossroads, Serapis the syncretic tyrant and Dolus the trickster.  The traditional imagery of the Decans are briefly discussed, and suggestions are provided on how to incorporate the study of the Decans into your own life.  Most of all, these poems celebrate the diversity and range of thirty-six other ways of looking at the complexities of modern life through the lenses of ancient wisdom.

Other Writings

This brings to four the number of titles that you can find of my poetry on Amazon.com:

Thank you so much if you’ve already purchased one or more of these collections of poetry. Your support is very much appreciated.

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.

New Book on Amazon!

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I have a new book on Amazon.com.

The Mansions of the Moon

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-3-59-28-pmThe Mansions of the Moon, a collection of twenty-eight poems celebrating the angels of the Mansions of the Moon, and their images and lore, as described in Picatrix and other sources like Christopher Warnock’s book, The Mansions of the Moon, is available in Kindle format  here.

Current price is $4.99 for twenty-eight poems, greeting the twenty-eight angels of the Moon’s orbit as found in traditional astrological sources like Picatrix.

From the book blurb on Amazon…

In many ancient sources, the Moon is called “The Treasure House of Images” and this book helps explore that name. From at least the classical era, ancient Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian civilizations divided the sky into twenty-eight Mansions, noting that the Moon spent a day in each of these places in the course of a month. As with the night sky divided into constellations, ancient astronomers named these Mansions and gave them images, and celestial rulers. Thus, the Mansions of the Moon are a ‘Zodiac’ of sorts for the Moon — a sequence of twenty-eight positions that the Moon occupies on successive days through her month-long procession across the sky.

In this sequence of twenty-eight poems, Andrew Watt explores what the Mansions have meant for hundreds if not thousands of years — the spiritual rulers said to reign in those palaces, the forces they put to work in human and earthly affairs, and the imagery that is said to adorn these Mansions. Each Mansion, and each poem, is thus a door or a window into a magical way of seeing the world. By following the Moon through each of the Mansions on succeeding days, the reader gains insight into the way the Moon truly is a Treasure House of Images.

Would you also like it as a downloadable PDF available through my store on Etsy.com? Please let me know… In the meantime, you can get my Poetry for the Behenian Stars there, as well as on Amazon.com.

Special thanks to Christopher Warnock.  Without his book, The Mansions of the MoonI would never have become so excited about this subject, or written these poems.

 

English Paper Piecing

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I’ve completed the assembly of the front side of my first English Paper Piecing project: a quilted mat for the lazy Susan in our dining room. The design might be called geometric-abstract.  Three simple blue-and-purple “flowers” against a gray background— or perhaps three solar systems being ripped apart by a quartet of black holes.  🙂

The backside, some paper still placed

The essence of the work is still the same: decide on colors, fold cloth around a paper shape, baste the folded cloth, sew the edges of several basted shapes together, remove the papers as you complete sections and return the papers to circulation. This crinkled hexagon shape has four smaller hexagons on a side, and it’s in four colors: purple, blue, gray and black.  The whole thing needs pressing, and it needs backing and quilting. I haven’t decided if I’m going to use edge-binding tape or sew it right-sides-together into a bag and then turn the bag.  It’s possible I’ll have to do both.

I’m not convinced of the wisdom of removing the papers as one goes, either. I’ve seen it argued both ways now, from both remove and leave in place. Now that I’ve tried remove, I’m tempted to try leave in place for the next project. Either way, the challenge seems to be to get the paper shapes to exactly the right dimensions and in a stiffer paper than simple copier Paper. Card stock might work better, but it also might be too stiff. Cardboard is definitely too stiff.

Front side, some basting stitches still placed

I don’t know that this work is sustainable. I can see why its a hobby craft, and not a financially successful profession — this small project took a lot of time, even granted that I was learning the method. It does use up a substantial amount of otherwise-wasteful scrap fabric, so I can see the appeal of the method. What was unuseable garbage is now useful material for building something larger.  As a school-child project, I can see this method being useful for an after school activity, but it’s not part of the main curriculum of a school day. It requires a lot of attention to detail and almost-obsessiveness. I think I would teach it as part of a quilting program, for making appliqués for a larger project, but concentrate the bulk of the class work on making an actual quilt. For me, one of those purple flowers was really enough to get the idea.

You can read the other parts of this series on English Paper Piecing here and here.

English paper piecing: further insight

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I’ve done some more English paper piecing while I wait for parts for my sewing machine to come in. I’m really enjoying it a lot, but I’ve hit a wall in terms of planning, at least a little bit.

Planning a Pattern? or random?

The core issue is not what to make — I have plenty of ideas about that — but rather, what is the scale at which I wish to work? These hexagons are 1 1/4″, and in some ways they’re too small for what I’d like to do — but if I go much bigger than that, my intended projects will get Way.Too.BIG, Way.TOO.FAST.  That’s always the way of it, though, isn’t it? Whatever project or plan we might be intending to pursue, there’s always the question of limitations and boundaries — old Saturn binding us in his everlasting chains?  Perfection and decrease follow from increase and growth, as surely as sunset comes sometime after noon. More

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