For Sale

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Well, I’ve posted some of my first quilts for sale at my Watermountain Studio website.

So naturally… it’s today that I learn that I can offer these things for sale directly through my blog, here.  Ah, well.

On offer are some of the quilts depicted here:IMG_6131.JPG


School: Pre-Mortem analysis

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The new school year is starting up soon. So for schools and teachers, I’m continuing this series of posts on content from Dave Gray’s and Sunni Brown’s book Gamestorming, which contains a variety of business-development and business-improvement games for rethinking strategy and tactics… and how to adapt Gamestorming for an education environment.

Schools by their very nature are quietly conservative, no matter how progressive they are in philosophy.  Part of the reason for that is that schoolteachers work with kids — and what worked with one group of kids in past years is likely to work with another group of kids in the present.  Innovation is difficult.  (It’s part of the reason why it’s better to get teachers in the middle years of their teaching career — no set of philosophies or teaching theories is adequate to actual contact with actual children, so teachers with actual experience have more tactics and systems that work with students  “in their heads” and “in their hands”… but new things still surprise them sometimes, and they invent new strategies on the fly out of the fabric of their experiences).

The Pre-Mortem

Schools still get things wrong.  One of the most complicated things they get wrong is the happy enthusiasm at the start of the school year — all the teachers are moderately well-rested after a couple of months away (or not — teachers are sometimes frazzled in August after summer work taken on to pay for their teaching career). The administration and faculty have had a few months to remember their most difficult students with fondness, to let the rougher memories subside, to ignore any community challenges or failures experienced in the past year, and to otherwise let the previous year have a golden glow about them.  And, of course, summer is usually when new policies, schedules, procedures, and curriculum changes get rolled out and planned… well before those polices and programs have actually been tested by actual students.

So my inner Goth is always quietly pleased by the idea of the Pre-Mortem.  When using this game, a group of teachers and administrators identify all of the ways that this current year might wind up a disaster. Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 10.19.01 AM.png

In my example, you can see that I’ve created the sort of ambitious program that many schools roll out in the fall. There’s a set of big goals to achieve, and a variety of plans to achieve them.  By writing down the big goals, we can see the big picture, and identify the plans that help those goals get achieved.

Every single one of those plans has a person behind it.  Plans don’t come out of nowhere — a person uncovered the idea, and began to push that idea… and now their idea is ON.THE.LIST.  And none of those people want to hear how their program died, especially not at the start of a school year, before it’s even had a chance to succeed.


Schools need to focus on the first item on their checklist, which is teach children and make a good-faith effort to keep them safe.  That’s the first order of business, and all other plans have to be subject to that particular standard. So anything else can — and should be — subject to a pre-mortem analysis, to make sure that it actually achieves its goals.

So once the the goals are announced, and the plan for achieving those goals is on the board… it’s time to do step three, which is to identify the things that go wrong.Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 10.49.41 AM.png

Many teachers, even ones who’ve spent their whole careers in one school or one school district, have seen the same kinds of issues again and again. Issues of communication, issues of leadership, issues of personnel management, issues of parent-student-teacher interaction, issues of curriculum, issues of trying to do too much.  The Pre-Mortem is an effort to gather and collect that collective wisdom, to write it down, to present it together, and to try to identify certain ways that a group project (like a really amazing school year) might fail before it’s had a chance to fail.

If you could identify what killed the patient before the operation even started (leaving a sponge inside, letting the surgical incision be open for too long, the wrong medication administered), you would do that.  In fact, Atul Gowande in his book The Checklist Manifestodesigned a process that derived from a Pre-Mortem exercise very much like this: “what are the top ten mistakes surgical teams make at the outset of a surgery, that then result in the death or further injury of the patient?  How can we avoid those mistakes?”

So maybe, instead of all the hoopla and celebration that accompanies the start of the school year in most schools, we should begin with a more gothic exercise draped in funereal black:

  • Imagine it’s early summer in 2018
  • What went wrong?
  • Why was it such a terrible year?
  • What could we have fixed earlier than we did?
  • What common pitfalls could we have avoided?

Imagination serves a useful purpose, even if the results are gloomy.  It gets us talking about our blind spots and our failures, which is difficult.  But if it allows us to make the year more successful for everyone, before the school year even starts, then that short few hours of gloom and doom will make everyone’s year that much better, by identifying some risks before they take root.


Jelly Roll Quilts


I made a quilt a couple of weeks ago from a jelly roll — not a fabulous pastry, but a roll of 20 or so strips of fabric sold in a bundle. Today, I processed the other three rolls that I bought at the same time into squares to make three more quilts. By mixing and matching the individual pieces, I got three more quilt tops for three more baby quilts. IMG_5491.JPG

Two of the quilts are made of squares that are black, blue and white in various combinations — florals, polka dots, triangles, and other dot patterns.i6qwQ.jpeg So the result is that two of these quilt-tops are going to be very similar to one another. They’ll both wind up looking like variations of the pattern in the first photograph.

The third quilt is much more different.  It consists of colored strips with gold dots on them. Those golden dots don’t come through on the photograph, but they’re there nonetheless.  The use of color in this quilt makes it a significant departure from the regularization of pattern that emerges on the earlier quilt.

There, the patterning of the fabric faded out in favor of the black-and-white pattern of H’s or I’s that is visible to everyone who sees the quilt.  Here what emerges is the color-blocks of purple and pink and red; the fabric patterns are less obvious, less important.

All three quilts are dependent on three important tools working together — the self-healing green mat from Olfa; the rotary cutter; and the quilter’s ruler.  The three tools work together to create the blocks of stripes that are visible in all three quilts.

IMG_5490I’m going to need at least one more jelly roll of strips to be able to finish these three quilts, of course: that jelly roll will go into making the borders around the edge of each quilt, and the edge binding that holds the batting, the underlayer, and the top together.  That process of assembly is getting easier for me, but it’s still not intuitive.  In another jelly roll, I’ll likely use all 20 pieces.

Noble coat

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Time for another project. I lost a jacket in Oregon.  It was a puke green color, and first-generation fleece, and not particularly beautiful, but it kept me warm on cool nights in spring and autumn, and on a river.  I am not in a position to craft a fitted jacket like that, but I am going to be on a mountain in the middle of summer fairly soon, and a beautiful over-garment of some kind that is also warm would be useful. I think I look good in the Jedi tunic pattern I have from Simplicity. It can also be altered fairly easily for a lining, as I did on the Poet’s Coat — but the poet’s coat is a little heavy for mid-July.

(I’m surprised to discover that there’s no entry for the poet’s coat, I must not have called it that in the entry; but the red tunic is a variant of the same pattern).

A friend gave me access to a bunch of wool material.  Wool is warm, even if the wind is blowing through it, and it tends to remain warm even when wet. It might get wet on top of a mountain in July.  So, I made the shell of this coat or jacket out of some of that wool.  The result is a very plain looking garment that is unfortunately quite itchy on the skin.

So it needed a lining.

And if it needs a lining, then it might as well have fancy cuffs, and some beautiful trim.  Which I did put on the coat.  Getting the hems right was tricky. Next time, I’m going to sew the fabric on to the cuffs, then sew the trim on the cuffs… and then make the cuffs and the sleeve simultaneously.  It’s often the case that we learn our working procedures for the future, by making the mistakes of the present.
The cuffs still turned out mostly OK. One of the things that I’ve learned from a designer-engineer friend of mine, is that you should “make the whole prototype so that you learn where the mistakes are, and you have a better chance of getting them right the next time around.” It’s good advice, especially in the Maker movement or in a maker program. The learning in this sort of work comes from the mistakes, not from the perfectly-executed plan.

One of my critical pieces of learning from the last project, the green gown, was to do more pinning and more pressing.  I learned something similar from the shirt-making process.  So, I did more pinning this time around, and more pressing (ironing, really) before and after sewing different steps in the project.

The result was a much more finished-looking product. I still suck at lower-edge hems of garments, though, especially on costume pieces like this one.  Still, the gold trim flashes nicely in the light (it came from Cloak and Dagger Productions, which is fairly local to me).  The grid-like pattern that forms the cuffs appears to be the underlying grid for a tile pattern, and references my own recent obsessions with geometry.

Though not quite finished, the coat has an unusual lining. I had intended to line it with linen, but I turned out not to have enough linen for the project. So I searched around among my fabric scraps and came up with what felt like an inspired idea.  From the outside the coat is very plain and severe — black wool fabric, with trim based on geometric and floral designs.  It’s very orderly and regular, and not very showy despite the gold trim.

It’s very me, in that sense.  The coat has pretty clean lines and a very plain form — not quite shapeless, but not really a modern garment either.  It needs a belt, and I don’t know if I’m going to make a belt and attach it; or make belt loops for a belt and leave the belt for another day.  Either way, pretty plain, right?

However, the interior of the coat is constructed around a piece of tie-dyed fabric that someone gifted to me. I think they thought I would use it as an altar cloth, or a wall hanging. If that was its exclusive intention, I’m sorry. It’s now something else — probably irreversibly, at least until someone cuts this up and makes it into something else, which I hope they’ll do when I’m done with it.

There’s something wonderful about this coat, plain and severe on the outside, almost Saturnian, concealing a riot of color in its lining.  It’s possible the garment will now be too hot for its intended purpose.  I’m sorry if that’s the case. There are still a number of mistakes and problems with it, but it’s a lot better than anything similar that I’ve constructed (and this is now the sixth or seventh time through this pattern). Each time I make this, I make more variations and changes than I did the time before.

The result is that I can now say with some confidence that this is a great pattern for teaching young people the basics of sewing.  Some of the other pieces in the collection are likely not worth the effort — the ‘fake’ undertunic or dickie is a little silly, and the outer cloak requires a LOT of fabric for a first-time sewing student’s starter project, and the shoulder tabards/armor are not well thought out for my taste.

But this tunic/coat has a lot of potential in it, and it can be made to do a variety of cool things.  It’s worth a look in a school MakerSpace that’s trying to build up a sewing program.

Knitting: Second Hat

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I had some time this weekend, and I was in the mountains where it was cold and rainy over the weekend.  So I spent a fair number of hours working on my second hat.  I finished it on Sunday. And a good thing, too, because I needed it on Monday, when it was again cold and rainy and ugly.

The hat is a little bit on the large side for me. I was trying to scale it up from the “Adult L” size to my extra-large head, and I made it a little too big, I guess.

All the same, there’s a couple of things here that I managed to get right:

  • Ribbing to create a frame for the hat
  • knitting in the round on a circular needle
  • knitting in the round on four double-pointed needles
  • managing decreases (knit2 together)

So, all in all, a successful second hat was made. By me. To wear. Right away. I’m eager to make another one, but this time I think I’ll keep it at the Adult L size, rather than trying to add in another 18 or so stitches to make it conform to what I ‘think’ is the correct size.  This kind of thing only gets easier with practice.

The next challenges?  Socks and mittens.  Then gloves.

Holiday Making

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I’m in the middle of a dilemma.  I like to post an article a week these days, so that people know I’m still working on stuff.  Yet at the same time, some of my readers are also recipients of the things that I’m making. So, that’s no good.  I can’t very well show what I’m working on, and give away the surprises meant for later in the season… right?

So what I need to do is give an update on what I’m working on, without giving away what I’m working on.  And the best way to do that is to present areas of skills-development and talent-training.


  • Sewing machine cleaning, triage and repair
  • Sewing straight seams
  • Sewing curved seams
  • Scaling patterns up and down
  • Designing patterns from scratch
  • Sewing multiple/thick layers of fabric together
  • Quilting

Bookbinding & Graphic Design

  • Panel Book Making
  • Book of Secrets Making
  • 11×17″ book layout & binding
  • Coptic stitch binding
  • Belgian secret binding
  • 11×17″ book layout & binding (long-edge binding


  • Brass soldering
    • (still can’t do it. But have the tools, and can experiment)
  • Wire sculpting
  • Jigs and templates for soldering


  • Knit Stitch
  • Perl Stitch
  • Casting On (Long Tail)
  • Casting Off
  • Bamboo Stitch
  • How to knit a lazy-8 scarf


  • Progress on HTML/CSS
  • Progress on JAvaScript
  • Progress on Python
  • Writing my own program using arrays, variables and counting processes

All in all, I’m making pretty good advances on the skills that I have, and that I’d like to have going forward.  I still feel like electronics and robotics eludes me to a large extent.  But I have other abilities that most Maker Spaces and Maker Programs don’t have.

31 DoM: Lay a Powder


TOday’s 31 Days of Magic project from the Strategic Sorcery community around Jason Miller is to lay a powder.

31DoM: lay a powderAs anyone who has been reading along with the previous 23 days knows, I don’t do things the way a good many other magicians do things. I’ve recently gotten my scroll saw set up in the basement, after several years of owning it but having no place to put it. And now it’s up and running.  I’ve had a couple of projects put on hold as a result of not having a scroll saw to work with.  It was time to get back to that work.

And so I glued some of the pattern pieces down to the boards of the right thickness, and got started. First up were these small washers for an astrological instrument I’m building called a Nocturnal. The design of the instrument isn’t mine; I got it from Clayton Boyer.  Once I got these washers cut out, I’d made some powder in the form of sawdust, and scattered it around.  And I thought, Wow, this is great!  LEt’s do some more.  So I did.

31DoM: lay a powderNext came the main mobile plate of the instrument, the dial.  This required drilling a hole n the center of the wood, and then cutting out the piece.  OK, I did that backwards, but it still got done.  More sawdust, more powder laid.    Making progress, here, toward moving some projects along.

And then came the hexagonal caps which will serve as the decorative top-elements of the nocturnal, holding the other parts together.  These were particularly tricky. When the blade is whooshing up and down at high speed, how do you know where it’s going and what it’s doing?  It could be doing anything at all, and about to cut your hand. Also, when working with such small parts, how do you hold the part in a steady way, so that the blade cuts just outside the line, and not over/inside the line?

31DoM: lay a powderThe magic here, of course, is the intense level of concentration required when working with power tools. A drill press can take off a part of your finger if you’re not careful; a scroll saw or a circular saw or a bandsaw can take off your hand.  This is not the sort of equipment that you use in anything other than an altered state of mind — by which I mean, an intense mindset of deep and careful concentration, without any sort of medication or drug flowing through your system.  This requires your own mind, thinking about nothing else.

You’ll notice that in this photo, the piece of wood is actually nowhere near the blade.  This photograph is a set-up… or more accurately a piece of propaganda.  But look! Powder! (And you magicians among you — you have no idea what sort of secret correspondences lurk in the mixture of pine, birch, and the chemical components of plywood glue. But it works wonders! I promise. Sorta).

It’s worth noting that this is the sort of mindset that Jesus must have practiced while learning his earthly father’s trade.  Maybe not the band-saw speed-kills issue, but the mindset of careful and deliberate attention.

But I didn’t buy the right thickness of wood for the main body of the instrument, so I had to set these aside for a bit.  I’ll come back to that later.  For now that I’ve practiced on the scroll saw again, the correct astrological hour has come around at last for a particularly special working.  I’m going to summon an angel.

31DoM: lay a powderNo, really.

The nature of scroll-saw work is that you have to work simultaneously from the inside of the work and the outside.  If you want beautiful internal hole-work (and you do) within your scroll-sawn piece, you need a shape that has the right combinations of thick and thin places, and straight edges and curves.  This means that you have to drill holes into the middle of the work (with a drill press, ideally), so that you have a place to put the scroll saw blade through the work, cut it out, take the work off the scroll saw blade, and go on to the next work.

It’s absolutely necessary to understand that Rufus Opus, in his working of the Trithemius operations, insists on exactly the same level of care and attention to detail that the scroll saw angel requires.  Choose the correct hour, draw your circle with intention, apply the wand, gaze through the crystal to the work, question the angel constantly about its identity, and gradually separate the angelic identity from everything which is not the angel.  It is careful, exacting work, and I do not let my concentration waver.  The powder does its work well for me, and gradually its mystical power to separate out the non-angelic parts from the angelic parts succeed in doing their part.

31DoM: lay a powderAlas, the hour goes too quickly by. A signal appears which indicates that it is time to stop. I say farewell to the angel,  at least for the moment, and make a promise to return to the work again when the foretold hour returns again.  In the meantime, I have greater clarity about who my spiritual guest was, and what I have learned from my period of inquiry.

One of the things that I have learned, or rather been reminded of, is how hard scroll saw work can be.  I feel like the angel has been hammering on me, wrestling with me constantly as I found this spirit and drew it out a little at a time with my saw blade.

When I have put away my working tools, I come upstairs from my magical work for the day, and relax by checking out some things on social media.  My friend Gene has posted an article which draws my attention, Why I am not a Makerby Debbie Chachra.

Indeed.  The author mentions the metallurgist Ursula Franklin, who contrasted prescriptive and holistic technologies, and the prescriptive and holistic artisans who use these technologies.  My goal, always, is to be a holistic artisan: to know as much whole process of what I am making, from beginning to end.  I don’t want to be the sort of person who sends their work out to be made for them; I want to be the sort of person who makes things for the joy of making them.  And this is part of the goal of many grimoires, whether they be cooking grimoires like Alice Waters, or The Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals, or the book on scroll saw work that a friend lent to me.

My goal as a maker needs to be focused and refocused back on people, constantly. It’s easy to get attached to the idea that this or that object needs to be made.  But I’m a school teacher — and my goal is to help students awaken to what it means to work with and know and care about other people. Sometimes we do this by helping other people.  Sometimes we do this by making (not necessarily the same thing as Making) something for them, like food or a box or a garment.

And maybe, for me, this defines the difference between a Maker and a Magician.  A Maker prioritizes the work, the thing made, as the most important part of the activity.  The Magician, on the other hand, prioritizes the internal experience which arises from the creative endeavor, and the interactional experience when the creative endeavor is seen and experienced and understood by others in the magician’s presence.  The Maker loves the work; the Magician loves the people for whom and by whom the work is made.

Not everyone will agree, I know.  And maybe it’s the wrong set of distinctions.  It’s hard to be sure. All I know is that now that I’m done for now, and my powder is scattered as it should be, is that I want some coffee, and some time in the company of others.

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