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.


Braiding disks 

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I spent some time in the workshop yesterday, cutting out kumihimo disks.  Kumihimo is a Japanese art form, a technique for braiding using a disk and silk strands. I made this form of braiding part of my class called “String Theory” several years ago, along with the Lucet and knitting needles. The challenge was always producing a disk in the time allotted for the class, without power tools.

What I Made

Now, I have some power tools. Thanks to the scroll saw and drill press, I’m able to crank out the disks necessary for the class in about 30 minutes. Sanding takes longer because I don’t have a belt sander, and I have to do them individually.  But it’s still possible to produce a few dozen disks pretty easily.

These come from oak hobby board from Home Depot.  I’m not sure how I feel about Home Depot at the moment, because their president is supporting DT for president rather than HRC. But short of going to a smaller lumber yard and buying more expensive board, this is at present a cheaper option.

There are a number of online guides in how to use kumihimo disks to braid.  HEre’s a favorite pattern of mine, which I use for a good many applications; it’s also possible to add beads to the work, this way.  There’s another collection of braiding patterns here.  Really, though, I have to make a small booklet to go with the disk.

It is possible to make one of these disks out of a paper plate.  I prefer the wood, because it’s a tactile awareness for the students who use one. And it’s more enduring, which means that if one finds the right group of students, you can help change the school culture by having these strings made by all age groups, and traded back and forth across the school. It’s a way of introducing a continuing culture of making, and the trading of the bracelets/necklaces/backpack strings becomes a way of enriching the social/emotional culture of the school. Hmm!

The current challenge I have to think about, is how or if to mark them.  Modern disks label the slots in the edge with numbers.   But it seems likely that children and adults who braided were probably taught patterns, instead, and the patterns were done without benefit of numbered points on the disk.

Why add numbers? Or symbols? Here’s roughly how this tool works.  A number of strands of embroidery floss or yarn are tied together. In traditional kumihimo, there are usually an even number of strands, like four, eight or sixteen; in modern braiding work, sometimes seven strands are used.  The patterns are based on the numbers.  The strands are arranged in the slots around the edges; the knot (sometimes with a weight) is hung through the hole in the middle.

So symbols or numbers allow one to recall a greater number of patterns — heck, let’s teach some programming while we’re at it, and introduce the concept of a WHILE loop… continue doing this pattern of string movements until the bracelet/necklace reaches the correct length — and use the disk in a greater number of situations as a training tool for understanding algorithms.

I think the two stumbling blocks at the moment are cleaning, sanding and cleaning,  maybe staining and sealing. I can turn out quite a few disks — smaller sized for smaller hands — in a few hours.  The scroll saw makes chopping the slots around the edge quite easy; the drill press punches through the oak hobby board quite easily.  It’s the removal of the paper pattern with mineral spirits; the sanding of the edge, the edges of the center hole, and the individual slots that takes the most time.


There are a number of online guides in how to use kumihimo disks to braid.  Here’s a favorite pattern of mine, which I use for a good many applications; it’s also possible to add beads to the work, this way.  There’s another collection of braiding patterns here.  Really, though, I have to make a small booklet to go with the disk.

Here’s the PDF pattern for the disks I made.  The individual sizes can be increased, I think — but I preferred a smaller disk, especially since the oak board provides a good deal more weight in the hand; and it’s easier for smaller/child-like hands to manipulate a smaller disk.   Kumihimo Disk.

Here’s a report on a similar tool from the Viking era, called a Lucet.  The Lucet and the Braiding Disk together (also possibly with the addition of a pair of knitting needles, which can EASILY be made in a Makerspace, or a Crochet Hook (another easy tool to make), together form a curriculum I call “String Theory”.   I have oak lucets for sale on my Etsy shop.

I used to include weaving in my string theory class. Not any more.  It’s just too hard  — weaving requires way too much set-up and complications, and should be its own class. Though then you get to teach card weaving or tablet weaving too.

Use in classes

As I mentioned, this is a great way to teach the concept of while loops in computer programming, or algorithms — the idea of a repetitive process (like the manipulation of eight variable ‘strings’ through the multiple repetitions of a set of six steps) that results in a particular outcome (a necklace or a bracelet).  For schools that have a MakerSpace, the process of making such a disk teaches the concept of Tools Make Tools Make Things, which I think is pretty important these days.  It also helps bring back artisanry — how to make a thing that makes something else; and helps history teachers teach the concept of specialization.  Making braids and knotted cords also opens up pathways into jewelry-making.

Use in Magic

Braiding is a pretty easy thing to do.  Knot-magic has been around for thousands of years; there are ancient statuettes of women from the Paleolithic era wearing string skirts; learning to work with string is a powerful way to teach important magical skills.  But more, braids in the right color can be used to secure mojo bags (as drawstrings or as decorative elements), hands, talismans, or astrological images.  They can be used as bindings and wrappings.  And they can be used as charms in and of themselves — tie one on your wrist after consecrating it to a given purpose, and it will do its thing until it is too dirty or falls off from over-use.

Not a bad thing at all.

The Book Everyone’s Talking About

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This book that everyone is talking about has finally arrived, and it’s amazing.

For once, I’m not talking about a Gordon White book, although I’m waiting eagerly for the second volume all the same. More

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

Dabbling – 8

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<<first> – <previous> – <next> – <last>>

I was planning on not posting a Dabbling strip at all today, and then the opportunity to draw this one opened up after dinner; and a theme emerged from a chance gift of an Ames Lettering Guide.  Incidentally, Jim was originally a different kind of character, so it should be understood that the character here and the gift-giver are not intended to be the same person.  All characters in this strip, in other words, are fictional.

Poor Roger, though.  He’s trying to make a comic that changes the world and helps people understand magic, and all that anyone wants to do is help him be a better comic book artist:  it’s like they don’t really know what he’s writing, or something.

Tablet Weaving


Knitting Needles, Drop Spindle, LoomTablet weaving, or card weaving, is one of those things that’s been on my mind as a major design endeavor for a while.  Mathematics, pattern recognition, a precursor to computing, and more: weaving is one of those skills with a host of other benefits for kids in terms of brain power and mindfulness. More

Design Thinking: How, not About

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I’ve just come upstairs from the basement workshop, where I’m assembling a pair of inkle looms as gifts for friends.  I first learned about the inkle loom  while trying to assemble a system for card/tablet-weaving, and now I think I want to build a better loom that looks like this, anyway.  Before that, I worked on another automata that’s built from the box frame I built to practice dovetails, which will be a present for my mother.  And on Friday I folded a trio of big origami boxes to wrap a present for a colleague, using giant paper and a pattern I learned during my summer experimentation.  And I’m getting back to these projects, of course, after weeks of experimenting with electricity and building motors for my Thursday teaching program.  I’ve not been able to go to the Monday night knitting circle in a few weeks, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the string-theory work I’ve been doing with knitting a Hermetic scarf (like a Doctor Who scarf, but in the colors of the seven classical planets rather than the Doctor’s colors), and a few other projects, like making lucet cord for decorative purposes, and for finishing out a pair of medieval-style poof pants I made for myself….

Which is to say:

When I was asked to start up a design thinking program six years ago, I thought it was all about theory.  It was all about having empathy for people, and solving problems.  But it’s occurred to me in the intervening six years, that while empathy is an important part of the thinking of Design Thinking, the real work of Design Thinking, the Design portion of the work, comes not from knowing about someone else’s problems, but knowing how to do things which might help those people arrive at a solution to those problems.

The famous Ted Koppel Nightline story about IDEO and “The Deep Dive” begins with visits to a grocery store and interviews with people in the grocery store, and a request to redesign a shopping cart in just five days.

But it’s worth noting that these folks are Designers.  They built the first Apple mouse, and a host of other products. They’re psychologists, biologists, technologists, and interviewers.  They defer judgement, and listen to the ideas of others, and build on the others’ work.  As one fellow says, “Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius.”  And of course, “Fail often to succeed sooner.”  And all of the language that they use is great.

But think about the Talents and Skills which are on display here: using a angle grinder and a metal hacksaw.  Using a welding tool, building mock-ups of precisely-cut foam board and sculpt-able styrofoam, building crazy things out of whatever materials happen to be lying around the workshop.  Drawing. Writing (beautiful handwriting, too).  Laughter, easy-going cleverness in groups.

And I think that what I’m trying to say is that I see many schools succeeding at the Thinking part of Design Thinking.  But one of the places that I think my school succeeds where others fail is in the Design portion of Design Thinking.  A kid comes to my school, and he or she has the potential to learn knitting, sewing, embroidery, jewelry-design, costume design, thread-spinning, basic electronics, weaving, basic carpentry, graphic design, drawing, origami, and more.  He or she learns these skills because _I_ have learned them (sometimes painfully), and I’ve come to understand that the success of a Design Thinking program hinges not on the stuff you have in the Design Lab, nor in the books in the library shelves, nor in the projects  you create.  No, it lies in what your teachers know how to do — what skills do they know, and what can they impart to a group of children successfully in the time you give them.

Don’t get so caught up in the abstract thinking portion of Design Thinking, that you forget to teach the students how to Design (and Make) what they have thought into existence.

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