Geometry book: end of prep 

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I’ve been working on this hand-written book of geometry since at least 2013… maybe since 2011. There’s a total of fifty pages or leaves in it, although it’s an accordion-style Japanese album from Moleskine.  I recently started working on it again due to some recent geometry work in my life, and I’ve put in a few longish days.  The work itself is a manuscript to teach myself the material from Andrew Sutton’s book, Ruler and Compass, available from Wooden Books Press (a division of Bloomsbury).

Several years ago, it might have been early 2014, I laid out most of the remaining pages — the margins of each panel, the lines for the text, and the two or three geometry figures for each page.  For reasons passing understanding at this late juncture, I failed to lay out the last six pages of the book, or plan for the inside front cover.  The result was that I created a milestone, of sorts, in this project — the end of already-laid-out pages, six pages before the end, when I’d have to plan the remaining six pages and finish the inside front cover.

I’m now at that point.  My goal was to get here by Memorial Day weekend, and I’ve achieved that goal a bit earlier than expected.  I probably won’t be able to get back into this work until after the weekend, but I’ve made good progress.

Sewing: Viking Bag 2 

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Remember that cute viking fabric that I made into those little drawstring bags?

I found another strip of it.  But it wasn’t enough to make into a bag, unfortunately.  I was going to have to combine it with another kind of fabric? What goes with vikings, though? How do you combine viking warriors with anything else? Floral prints?

But how about a brick wall?  If I make the bag tall enough, it will look like warriors peeking over the battlements of a tower, and that conveys the image that we’re looking for — not a bag, but a tower, not a small purse but a fortress.  It becomes a thing of the imagination, as much as a physical object.

I’d rather it was a stone wall, or maybe spiked logs, like on a rough-and-ready motte and bailey castle.  That would make sense, after all.  The vikings didn’t build too much in brick (they also didn’t wear horned helmets — not very practical in warfare, really).

No matter. I found some brick fabric, and it matches pretty nicely with the vikings.  And then I found some other fabric that sort of resembled the Lord Baltimore colors in the Maryland flag… somewhat heraldic, though not TOO heraldic… not shields with lions and snakes and so on.  That would have been a seriously lucky find, though, in an American fabric store.  In general, though, we don’t really understand heraldry’s rules, so they often get used against us — in advertising, in snobbery and class warfare, and other ways, as well.  That’s not really at issue here, though.
What is at issue, for me, is how much of Makery in schools seems to be “making for the sake of making” — that students should simply be allowed to make whatever it is they want to make, full-blown from their imaginations. I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with just letting people make what they want to make, mind you — there’s benefit to that, and real results can emerge from allowing that spark of creativity.

But I think there’s a place in Making for making with a purpose.  There’s a lot to be gleaned from making a quilt to keep a baby warm, or from making a bag like a tower for holding a bottle of wine or something similarly fragile and precious, or a bag that looks like a pencil case. There’s a place for unbridled creativity. But there’s also benefit to knowing how to do something the right way.

I mean, think about it.  In a tailor’s shop 500 years ago, an apprentice would have to work on a variety of tedious projects — sharpening scissors, ironing fabric (I can’t imagine how difficult that work was before electric irons), measuring clients (and then measuring them again when the measurements proved wrong), learning to sew straight seams. They would have made a variety of things that no one would care if they were slightly off — bags with drawstrings, bags with handles, awnings for market stalls, aprons for the shopkeepers, tool rolls for traveling workmen, sacks for flour, and similar projects.  These are a vital and necessary part of the learning of any artisanal technology, be it sewing or woodworking — the cruddy projects that no one really wants to do but that are genuinely vital to the good functioning of that sort of society.

Thirty years after my own first sewing experiences in a Home Economics class in 8th or 9th grade, I find that these skills are returning to me with some rapidity.  I’m much more skilled at whipping up a bag or an apron than I used to be, in part because I’ve trained those skills to a level of complexity and skill where it’s easier to just do it.  I’ve learned a good deal of the apprentice work of this business of sewing (maybe not everything, because every so often I encounter a challenge that I have to go to a YouTube video to solve).

But that’s what the Walking Foot was about.  That’s what making potholders was about. These aren’t “stupid projects” but the foundations of the craft.  In carpentry it’s probably smoothing boards; in bookbinding it’s folding and punching pages; in fabric it’s making potholders and bags.

What are the foundations of your craft?  When did you feel like you went from being an apprentice to being a journeyman or journey woman? When did you become a master of your art form?

Wood: trestles

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On Sunday I borrowed a friend’s woodworking shop to produce a couple of trestles for a table. They sort of look like sawhorses, but they’re not. They’re intended for lighter duty than that. I still have to produce the top of the table, which will have two bars or cleats on the bottom to help lock the table and the trestle together.

These are based on a medieval design produced by the St. Thomas Guild, a medieval reconstruction group in the Netherlands. They are pretty modern, though. I’m trying to decide if I want to add in the fancy carving and tracery work to them. I know how to do that work, I just don’t know if it will be worth it in DIY shop pine.

Some things to think about —

  • Adding a second board across the bottom for stability would help these trestles be less wobbly.
  • Adding a wedged mortise to the top cross-board would also make them less wobbly
  • Adding a cut-out to make the triangles more like a pair of legs would add stability, as well.
  • The table-top will have to have two cleats or bars on them, to slot into spaces at the top of each trestle.
  • Adding some pegs to the bottom of the table top; or to the top board, that slot into the table top, would also improve stability, generally.

There’s a lot of things to think about.

In general, though, I like this idea.  The trestle table has some serious advantages for me, in that I can take the table up or down as needed, and have the flat surface or not as I need.

Additionally, in reviewing the St. Thomas Guild website, I see that I can design this table top to do many things that may help it be quite portable or adjustable.

Table Top DesignMy initial thinking resembles something like this — a kind of construction known as “frame and panel” (which I’d like to learn), with four types of members:

  1. Dark green outer frames, with one groove and three mortises.
  2. Internal ribs, with a tenon on each end and a groove on each side (purple)
  3. four panels (mottled blue) with a tongue carved all the way around them.
  4. Two internal frames, with three slots and a groove (light green)
  5. Four outer frames (yellow) with tenons on each end and a groove on one side.

The blue panels thus fit into the groove on each side.  A quartet of hinges join the two inner frames to one another, so the table can fold flat and store more easily;  or be arranged to provide a wide or narrow table as needed.

I may have to rebuild the trestles to accommodate the larger table surface. But my understanding is that panel and frame construction is fairly lightweight, and this might do quite well for my general needs.

Dimensions of the surface still need to be worked out.


Quilts: finished

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Two quilts finished in three-ish half-days. The top one is the penguins from earlier, the bottom one in pink is the owls quilt.  Both are already spoken for, you can’t buy them.

Really, it’s three quilts but I’m having my doubts about the arrangement of materials for the third quilt. I think I could get the third done if I could get some feedback on whether or not people think it’s a good layout.

Here’s the third quilt. Tentatively, anyway.  I’m worried that the dark blue of the starry swirls doesn’t really match the green or the blue of the top of the quilt; and that the baby-blue trim doesn’t match either.  I suppose I could tie it all together with some thread of the right color… but it still makes me a little nervous.

What do you think? Leave me a comment.

What I Do: Vision Statement #makered

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My friend Stephanie challenged me to write a marketing plan for my business (Watermountain Studios), in sonnets.  I don’t know that I can write a marketing plan in sonnets, but I can write two that qualify as a vision statement, I suppose.

The human hand used to shape all our needs
and make all our wants from creche to casket;
the old factory is now choked with weeds,
and we mock those who can make a basket.
Robots build cars, machines sew our raiment
and the sweat of slaves dapples our plastic toys…
our children sit idle, workshops vacant —
we test to exhaustion both girls and boys.
Yet numbers and letters can still be learned
through artisan’s arts of loom, forge, and press.
By hand and eye’s labor are truth discerned
and concrete order made from abstract mess.
Children learn best when their hands learn to make,
for artistry helps our minds to awake.

To start a MakerSpace right now is hard:
we sold off the shop tools and burned the scrap,
put abstract thought on every student’s card,
and put computers in each student’s lap.
We tested for phonics and random facts,
and jumped for joy at every new reform —
yet abstraction has been a kind of trap
to make a man who thinks instead of acts.
Ask me — I’ll guide you through these thickets,
to where your students thrive with tools in hand
making theater props, posters and tickets,
costumes, the stage — instruments for a band.
When children make, they become more adept
at fixing the world that broke while we slept.


Sewing: Tudor Doublet


I joked on Gordon’s post about divination recently that I’d finally had a weird sync with him, because I was making a “broidered coat of scarlet, blue, and gold.” But I was doing so.  I’d decided, on the advice of several seamstresses and tailors I know, to go ahead with a project that I’d already done and didn’t like.  That project didn’t turn out well, but my friend Jen commented that muslin was the wrong kind of fabric for this project, and that I hadn’t put in a lining, and those were probably the reasons that it didn’t hang right.  She’s probably not wrong. More

31DoM: Create a Sigil


Today in the 31 Days of Magic project, I’m supposed to create a sigil.  This project was launched by someone in the Strategic Sorcery community around Jason Miller; if you’ve enjoyed it, and want more depth — you might consider signing up for his class before the end of January.

That said.  I think that the purpose of today’s activity was to make a sigil.  Now: a sigil is usually an interesting squiggle, a non-random arrangement of lines and angles and emblems that forms a piece of information.  Gordon has written about sigils extensively, and I’ve done some work with them myself. So has my mother, though she’d deny it, perhaps.  They’re powerful bits of work, if you have the patience for them, and can shift your thinking enough for them to work. I recommend the robofish and shoaling as part of the complete package.

Enough with the link spam.  If you wanted to read about sigils, there’s plenty out there.  I have a magical project underway; I launched a servitor to do my bidding earlier this month.  But if it’s going to be successful, it needs some more characters besides the one magician who’s been introduced already.

Back to squiggles.  The notion is that each line or element in a sigil has some deep meaning, some verbal or imaginal component that can be reflected outward at the world.  Some people use the Spare method, developed by Austin Osman Spare, which converts sentences into glyphs. Some use runes.  The group of which I’m a member, the DOGD, uses the Coelbren alphabet and the figures of geomancy.

Squiggles.  The term suggests an un-disciplined approach to making marks on a page. But there’s nothing undisciplined about drawing.  In fact, the only people who consistently say that drawing is easy are the ones who say it should be free.  I know that after six years, I have not developed my skills enough that I can draw realistically.

But comic stories, visual storytelling, graphic novels, don’t require realistic drawings. They require drawings that tell stories, that communicate meaning by line placement. And it’s no wonder, really, that Mr. Charles Shultz, of Peanuts fame, could draw any of his characters, from memory, at almost any scale.  So could Bill Watterson, of Calvin and Hobbes.  It’s a critical skill, those repetitive squiggle drawings that mean something and that carry an entire personality or identity within them.  The magician, or perhaps I should say the comic book writer, Grant Morrison, knows this well.  His characters are distinctive, realistic, powerful, personal, magical, recognizable.

So I spent some time working on characters for Dabbling this evening.  I’ve completed a number of strips for the comic, but I’m not happy with all of them.  Some of them fall flat, and some require too much detail for the story I’m trying to create, and the practice work I’m trying to do.  But many great stories aren’t driven by the lone narrator alone in his (graphic novel) cell. Rather, they’re driven by the interaction of characters.

31 DoM: sigilsHere’s the magician himself, Roger, looking a bit more dapper, and a little older, and perhaps a little meaner, than I intended. He’s got a man-bun, just like me. Maybe a little sensitive about that growing bald spot, hmm?  Sometimes wears a tie, sometimes doesn’t. Touchy clothes, off-kilter glasses. DOesn’t seem like the sort of person who could summon an archangel, perhaps.  But he knows his stuff when he puts his mind to it.  I’d like to think he’s a magician’s magician. But it occurs to me that maybe he knows his magic, but maybe not other humans. He could get a lot accomplished, though.  Or lose everything.

31 DoM: sigilsHere’s Jim, the carpenter. Jim is a bit heavier-built, a bit more thick in the arms, a bit more thick in the head, perhaps. Or maybe not?  The eyes in the full-body image convey a weariness, a slowness.  But maybe that’s just because he can carry a 4×4 beam one-handed.  He’s sort of a circle on top of a box — heaven surmounting earth, perhaps?  It’s important to remember that figures are just geometry.  His eyes in the facial portrait look a little brighter, a little more intelligent, a little more frat-boy and a little less heavy-lifting blue-collar guy.

31 DoM: sigilsLaura, the Librarian. A long narrow body, a tendency to skirts that are somewhere between the knee and the floor.  Long hair, a weird set of teeth in her hairline — I’m not sure why those came about, but they did.  Cardigans and shawl collars, button-down shirt underneath.  Not sure about the coloration of this character yet — does she favor bright or muted hues? Could go either way.  Do you have an opinion about this?  What do you think of her?  Of the other characters so far?

31 DoM: sigils And finally, Miss Wanda. She is still changing shape, I see. She’s not clear yet about whether she wants short, efficient hair or big 1980s hair. I’m sure she’ll let me know.  One of her side-faces is rather sweet and positive.  Her full-on face makes her look like the wife of a Televangelist.  And her last image makes her look like a furious opera singer.

I created six more sigils this evening. That’s a total of ten. Ten characters, ten signs, ten quick-sketch images for the figures of power and transformation that I want to introduce into my story arcs for Dabbling.  Each of them is recognizable, easily created, distinguishable one from another, and with relationships one to another that are already becoming clearer before I’ve even created stories for them, completely.

And maybe they’ll bring me what I want, which is a way of teaching my students how to create characters of their own. Maybe they’ll show you that your drawing talents are something to cultivate, as well.

But it wouldn’t be magic, of course, if there weren’t some hidden meanings.  So after I post this, I’m going back to my notes, and writing some ideas about how each of these characters carry my magical energy into the world.  And when these characters appear in my stories, they’ll be asking the world for something, even when that message is hidden.  And they will do so with their own personalities, their own way of appealing to the universe, and their own kind of thankfulness about their work in the world.

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