Crib Quilts

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Normally the Monday article is a book review. I’m a little behind in my reading due to other projects this weekend. So that will appear later this week. Instead…

Quilts

Quilts are relatively easy. All you do is beat your head against the sewing machine while flogging your back with a quilting ruler. 

Maybe it’s not that difficult.  It does seem to involve a lot of cutting of fabric into squares or strips; sewing those together; the resulting squares into different pieces; and then sewing those together. 

I tend to go more simple on baby quilts. After all, babies do grow up sooner or later. And then the quilt will be retired to an attic or given away — becoming an appropriate link in a chain as children become adults and bring children of their own into the world. 

So far I’ve produced four baby quilts. I gave the two described here to the happy parents this weekend. They gray roses is for a small baby born a few months ago. The blue and red quilt is intended for a baby who will be born in a few weeks. 

The essence of a simple quilt is this: make squares of fabric. The fabric squares should be all the same size or pretty close. The challenge with one of these quilts, the gray one, was that the quilt squares were neither squares, nor the same size. Getting stuff to line up was challenging. The blue and red quilt is more regular, with squares of 10″, all of them pretty exact. 

These two quilts are what are known as “crib size” meaning about 36″x54″.  They’re not actually that size though. I wish they were. When you consider the common denominator between those two numbers, though, it means that we’re looking at squares smaller than 10″… probably about 9 1/2″, to account for a quarter inch seam area around each square. 
The most difficult part of making a quilt, for me, is sewing the backing and batting and front of the quilt together. Making squares, particularly these single panel squares with no decoration, are easy. Sewing rows together is easy. Sewing columns together is easy. It’s the challenge of sewing through three layers — the decorative front, the batting or felt layer, and the backing fabric — that wrecks my sewing machine and tangles my thread. 
The specific challenge with these quilts, and the assembly of the layers, was a question of thread. every time I got more than a few inches into the quilting of thr three layers together, the thread would snap. Then I’d discover that the back side jad become a whorl of loops and tangles — what experienced sewers call birdsnesting.   When the sewing machine creates birds’nests, the cause is either the tension disks, or the tension on the needle thread, or the tension on the bobbin thread, or the motor…. But! I learned this week that sometimes it’s cheap thread!

Cheap thread. Who knew? When you use badly-made thread, wound on a substandard spool or bobbin, the thread often snags or breaks. It doesn’t come off the bobbin smoothly. The result is birds’ nests on the underside of your sewing!

So now I know that. And now I have to remember that… because the risk is always to save money on materials and not to go to too much expense on a project. But going down to the cheapest available materials usually results in complications later in the project — usually at exactly the point that the finished project is nearing the point of looking professional or amateur. 

I think, at this point, I’ve made as many simple-square quilts as I want to make. I think my next challenges are hexagons and triangles.

Fourteen Minotaurs

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Blogos, over at Hermetic Lessons, wrote about the Fourteen Minotaurs recently, and I’ve been playing with this idea for a few weeks quite happily.  It’s the sort of thing that Robert Mitchell could really groove on with his Cabal Fang workouts, actually, so I’m sort of tagging him here.  And it’s also related to stuff from Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery course, so if you want to learn how to do this, consider taking his course, as well (an example of the wealth/poverty divide and thought process is here).

The essence of this idea is pretty simple.  Quantum mechanics indicates that there are maybe billions of “yous” in existence, because each time you make a decision, reality forks and you have a chance to become someone new — your ‘yes-self’ goes off into one alternate universe, and your ‘no-self’ goes on in this one, or vice-versa.  Charlie, a friend of mine, suggests that this is kind of like a tree model, where your first-ever decision to cry, or not-cry, becomes the root of your being — and each further decision ‘forks’ your reality until you end up at one of millions of trillions of possibilities.  Blogos argues, based on the book of Raziel, that that’s probably not the case, that maybe there are really only fourteen possible selves, fourteen minotaurs in the maze of human soul-in-animal-body, which you can become. As is common in much astrological and occult wisdom literature, these seven are associated with the seven visible planets (the ones that can be seen with the naked eye).  These are: More

Approaching

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I’ve been working on this painting for a while this December.

I am not a great painter.

I’m impatient, I don’t use fine enough brushes for what I intend to do, I use too much paint and I know no techniques, really.  Even though I’ve had an art show, I have a hard time thinking of myself as an artist.

And yet. An opportunity arose to make a painting, sort of a symbolist-landscape painting in a portrait orientation.  And I decided to go with it.  The result is the canvas you see at right, an attempt to think about and work out some things that I’m having some challenges dealing with and understanding.

I’ve made pretty good progress as a draughtsman, that is, as a drawer.  I can draw this scene much more effectively than I can paint it (at least so far).  But paint is a different thing entirely.  My friend A. tells me that I try to draw with paint, instead of letting paint do its own thing.  I can’t say she’s wrong.  It’s a thing I’m wrestling with.  How do you represent light and shadow in painting?  How does wet paint on wet paint work?  How does one work with wet paint on dry paint?  How does one work with paint with added water?  These are things I’m wrestling with at the moment as a painter.  And of course there’s always a question or three about technique, but also there’s always a question or three about theme or subject.

The techniques I’m working with, the themes I’m exploring, the representations I’m trying to achieve, are all admittedly directed toward a religious theme.  Maybe I wouldn’t be able to paint this in a public school; maybe I wouldn’t be able to show it.   I’m not sure that any of that matters, though, for my readers — because the themes and questions are the same for any artist working with landscape or portraiture or representation or symbolist sorts of pictures: shadow, figure, clothes, drape of fabric, color schemes, and so on. These are a normal part of the work of being an artist, and they’re always true regardless of what the theme of the painting is or who’s doing it.  The only question is how much detail to include, and how many hours to devote to the effort.

 

The jacket 

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This was an awesome jacket.
I saw a kid in my regular coffee house wearing this jacket the other day.  He was wearing this customized leather biker jacket, tricked out like the biker jackets of the punk scene in the late 1970s and 1980s. It had been painted in turquoise, white and maroon paint and adorned with layered rows of metal studs. All the work had been done by hand.

By him.

I call him a kid, but let’s face it, some of those bottle caps are beer caps. He’s probably in his early 20s. I hope.

I asked him if I could photograph some of the detail work. I think he thought I was going to take a picture of him in his jacket, so he put it on. In retrospect I wish I had — but I feel uncomfortable about photographing strangers.

Even strangers wearing clothes they made. Or at least customized.
Still, I was impressed. it was a lot of work, 10 or 20 hours of labor customizing this jacket.

I think that we tend to underestimate the importance of customization in Maker work. But we live in a world absolutely overflowing with cheap manufactured goods. (This jacket, frankly, is not as well made as my jacket from the 1990’s… which isn’t as well made as my girlfriend’s from the 1980s, and definitely isn’t as good as my dad’s leather naval bomber jacket from the 1960s.)

We might disapprove of the message this kid is sending to the world, wearing a studded leather jacket. Or maybe we approve: I certainly do. But rather than purchasing such a jacket pre-made for some fashion line, this kid correctly recognized that there was a DIY ethic at work. He did the work himself. He customized an off the rack leather jacket to express his self-identity to the world.

And maybe we should encourage that in our students more — not because we want everyone walking around in studded leather jackets, but because we would like  people to be able to express their creativity and their hope for a more individualized world, even in off-the-shelf components.

Stole

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It’s been a sewing machine kind of day. I’m in the process of trying to use up a number of materials from my stash of fabric and trim, and this means completing a certain number of projects that I’ve had in the queue for a while.

priestly stole

 In this case, what’s on tap is a priest’s stole.  A priest’s stole is a ribbon of fabric draped around the neck. Sometimes it’s got decoration on it. sometimes it’s very plain. It has a color assigned or designated by the season of the year.  A friend of mine had wanted me to make her ordination stole, but the date was too soon and the calendar was too rough at he time. I couldn’t produce the stole in the a,punt of time that was provided.  

At least, that’s what I told myself.  In practice I could have done so.  This stole took me a couple of hours, and that was only because I read the directions obsessively. Next time it will take me an hour and a half.  Maybe less. 

Because a stole isn’t really a ribbon around the neck.  It’s really a bag.  It’s four pieces of fabric stitched together left side to  right side front and back, and then front side and back side stitched together.  The result is a long, skinny bag, or maybe a tube. As I said, not very complicated.  

And so my friend will have her stole.  Not on time for her ordination, perhaps.  But probably in time for All Souls Day.  And that will be lovely. 

Want A Newsletter?

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I’m thinking about starting up a newsletter.  The newsletter would be a series of private essays about creativity, MakerSpaces, poetry, magic, and schools.  It would be a more distilled and careful analysis; it would probably contain one longer essay and a few sidebars, and would probably come out once a week.

Leave a comment if this is something that you’d like; and I’ll see that you’re included on the distribution of the first issue (almost done!)

 

Bags

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what do you do when you have a lot of little scraps of fabric but no real use for a small quilt?

Bags are simple


Make bags.
Small bags — for decks of cards, cribbage boards, magic wands, family heirlooms, game pieces, gift-giving —  are fairly simple. Even with a lining of a contrasting color, they’re not terribly complicated. Most of them are simple straight-stitches on a machine. Point the sewing machine in the right direction, and go. All of the bags here have basically three seams: one for a drawstring or ribbon casing; one for the side of the bag; and one for the bottom. They’re not intended or designed to hold up to a lot of abuse; but they could. Seriously, they’re pretty well-made for being made from scraps. 

But why make them?  For being so general purpose, they’re remarkably hard to use well. Still they teach important sewing lessons: pinning, ironing, making casings for drawstrings, pulling a drawstring, and making linings (in two different ways). They teach fabric selection and color-scheming and cutting and assembly. And they teach turning, too, which is the basis of pillow making as well. 

Once you can make this sort of simple bag, most other sewing is fairly easy. 

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