Little Viking Bags, finished 

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I used a lucet today to make three cords for these three Viking bags — appropriate for dice or for runes, or small stones. Lined but unpadded inside. One of the bags is spoken for, but the other two are up for grabs.

The Viking Bag is not a komebukuro.  This is a piece of fabric — the row of marching vikings, with the wave-band and the red and white stripes — sewn in a round around a base fabric, and then given a lining of brown cloth stitched with a drawstring tube.  The new cord, in a persimmon-dyed merino wool is pulled through the tube and finished with a wooden bead (or unfinished, in the other one).

One will go up for sale on my Etsy site next week. Probably the other one as well. Do I hear any bids?

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.

Komebukuro variant

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The Komebukuro form lends itself well to a lot of variation. The squares can be made into rectangles, as here, to create a longer or rather taller bag. As shown here, the Japanese rice bag is simply two sets of vie squares — a base and four sides. The bag sides are sewn to the base, four straight stitches. Then you sew the four sides to each other, one edge at a time. the result is sort of a box or five-sixths of a cube; you could add a zipper and a lid fairly easily to this design, really.

In the photographs here, I’ve shown as best I can what I’m talking about. The gray fabric in the middle is the BASE of the bag, while the floral print in gray are the sides of the bag. I’ve laid out the fabric of the liner in all floral print, while the outside of the bag has a single white panel where I can write my name, or the name of the person the bag is for.  Embroidery could be done here, for someone who was particularly ambitious.

Seven inches appears to be a good size for the Komebukuro. You can get a lot larger than that, of course.  You can also get a lot smaller, but there’s a point of diminishing returns under about five inches on a side for the squares that make up the base and sides of the bag.  I also don’t tank I’d want to go much larger than a foot on a side.  More than that would be unwieldy, and you’d be better off with two or more bags.

Back to construction…


Once the two boxes of the inner and outer bag are made, they are nested, and the top edges are folded down and in between the two bags. We then top-stitch the seam between them. As ive discussed elsewhere, the last step as the sewing of the eight buttonholes.

There’s a picture, here, of the outer shell of the bag already assembled, but still inside-out. This is to show inside-out construction. When building a bag, the fabrics are sewn right sides together. This puts the seam on what will eventually be the inside or in-between space of the bag, between the liner and the shell.

Then you sew in the button holes.  Each side of the bag is now two panels of fabric, the shell and the liner. Each of those panels takes two buttonholes, which are maybe 3/4″ down from the top edge of the bag, and evenly spaced on the bag’s walls, about a try of the way in from the corner.  The corners of the bag’s open top should be fairly visible.  Threading a cord or a ribbon through the buttonholes creates the closure mechanism, but also creates a carrying strap.

My sense of this is that it’s fairly easy to vary the size of the squares into rectangles. But the square that forms the bottom or base is fairly rigid. You can’t alter that from a square too much without unbalancing the bag as a whole, I think.

This would look stunning in indigo-dyed fabrics, or with Japanese embroidery patterns done on the outside of the bag (doing them on the liner would create all sorts of things for your keys or other objects inside to get hung up on; stick to the outside).  Many of those patterns are based in triangular geometry, so there is some real potential for elaborate, hands-on mathematics here.

My mother has made several of these bags, without the button holes or cording, to use as trash cans for her art studio. Paper and beads and parts that can be recycled go in one of the bags; while trash goes in another. They’re prettier than regular trash cans, and collapsible. She can fold them up and put them away when they’re not in use.

I may have to make some of my own for that.

All in all, I think I’m going to make a lot of these, both with with and without cording, in a number of sizes.  They’re a good size for kids’ lunch bags, for example, or for an art kit for the car, or for portable storage of related items while camping. I think I’m going to try making some in 10″ and maybe 14″ sizes, but I think that a shoulder bag or something like that will work better as another project for teaching sewing for school books.

 

Books of secrets

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Each of my nieces is receiving a A Book of Secrets this Christmas. That is, they’re getting a blank book to use as a journal, with a nice note from me on the front cover. But this journal has a secret in it.In truth, it has several secrets. Several dozen secrets. Scattered among the blank pages are a number of diagrams and tools for young ladies that are not entirely appropriate. Secrets like, how to write in coded letters and ciphers, how to speak in semaphore, how to write morse code messages around the edges of notes, and how to draw things that no one else knows how to draw, like horses and princesses. How to fold origami besides cranes. How to tie useful knots.  How to write in runes, and Greek, and the two Japanese syllabaries. How to draw in isometric perspective and 2 point perspective. How to make beautiful repetitive patterns like Zentangles.   How to draw complex geometry using only a ruler and compass.Thanks to the invention of modern quick copy machines and the Internet, this is not particularly difficult to do.

I created forty-eight sheets of secrets using public domain imagery from the Internet, traveled to the local photocopy shop, and made two copies of these ‘secret pages’. Then I bought another ream of the paper they used to print them, and made another six or seven quires/signatures for each book; and interleaved the ‘secret pages’ in amongst the others. The result?

A journal that also doubles as a teaching aide.  A teaching aide on how to be difficult and interesting and smart.  And I hope that the act of giving this book to my young nieces will encourage them to be interesting and smart and knowledgable about complicated matters, and to care about ideas and where they come from.

There’s no one book that can do all of that, of course. But a journal that is not quite like any other journal in the world, hand made just for you, with a group of secrets that you share with only your not-quite-sister… I hope that will be tempting enough.

Because no one quite decides to become interesting on their own. Interesting people — like interesting teachers — take an interest in young people (without too much of an interest, of course), and nourish and encourage them in the right ways at the right times. For me, it was an uncle who gave me lots of books about architecture and archaeology and history and science. Later he taught me to sail, and later still he took me and my family on a sailing tour of the Greek islands (I was supposed to go on the sailing trip to Denmark and Sweden, but it didn’t work out).

In any case, here we are: two books of secrets — where ‘secrets’ stands in for the idea of “things that you have to learn by doing them“.

And that’s at the core of what it means to be a Maker.  I would not have thought to make a pair of books for family members, each filled with secrets, without first training myself to be a bookbinder; and I wouldn’t train myself to be a bookbinder without first identifying myself as a Maker and a Designer.  The two go hand in hand.  We can’t be Makers without some clarity about what it is that we make; we can’t be designers without some sense of what it is that the world needs to have in it to be a better place.

For many Makers and Designers, that means making new things, like robots and blinking LED gizmos. And there’s a place for that. For me, there’s benefit in making new things in an old way — and sharing mindsets and methodologies with young people that machines and electronics are not the only things worth having.

Jedi robes

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one of my Christmas presents to my cousins this year is a pair of Jedi robe costumes for their male children, who are either my nephews or my first cousins once-removed. I think it’s the latter.

An outline of the kid

This was more difficult to achieve than it sounds. My first task was to create an outline of the kid in question. This was relatively easy, of course. In my family all you have to do is suggest that you’re doing an art project, and kids will help. So, I had two sheets of large poster board paper with me, and one of the kids loaned me a marker, and I traced his outline. He’ll not be the same size next year, but that’s life. This sort of thing happens, and it would be less convenient, of course, if he didn’t change size year to year.

Then it was a matter of taping the two sheets of paper correctly so that I had a rough idea of how high he was from the shoulder to the knee.  And from that outline, I managed to modify a pattern that I had for a Jedi robe sized for a teenager or an adult male.  A boy appears to be about two sizes smaller than an adult XS size, which various websites suggest is about right.  So we’re on track there.

clear fluff from the pins before sewing the seam

The second part of the work was making new pattern pieces out of freezer paper. I used freezer paper, rather than patterner’s paper (which has a lovely grid of dots that you can use to help mark your place and keep your pattern properly sized) because patterner’s paper is expensive, and I don’t know how long I want to keep a boys’ size 8-10 Jedi tunic pattern around; other people might want one, and having the pattern handy just makes it easier for someone to convince you to do it again.

It’s kind of like the Saturn V rocket — Someone decided that project was too expensive, so most of the tools, dies, templates and even plans should wind up in the scrap heap to be melted down.

Voila! No more Saturn V rockets, because who wants do do all that engineering math again at double the expense?

I’ll probably keep the templates, though. It’s too useful not to. In any case, I didn’t take pictures of the cutting room floor. When you’re cutting fabric, one hand is involved in holding or maneuvering scissors, another hand is holding the fabric, and a third hand is holding the fabric tight, and a fourth hand is holding the pattern still. How I do this alone is beyond me, but I manage. It’s helpful to conjure the spirit of a good tailor during this part, even if they complain constantly about your bad cutting technique and your inadequate pinning job.

Then comes the sewing itself.  Each and every piece of fabric must be ironed and pressed, and then pressed again along finished seams, in order to have a really beautiful garment at the end.  I was sloppy with my ironing, though.

Ironing

Ironing with a small travel iron, when what you want is a professional grade steam iron with a dedicated board and a hose to bring in fresh water, is difficult.  I managed OK.

A Jedi tunic is, ideally, seven seams — seven seams for seven liberal arts, seven planets in the original system of the Jedi Order (I made that up), seven virtues, seven truths, seven warnings. (that two).

The front left side and the front right side are both attached to the back, each by one seam.  Each sleeve is attached by one seam to the shoulders.  Each sleeve and garment-side is a single seam running from wrist to waist or knee (depending on garment length).  Then there’s a strip of banding or bias tape attached from the front left side in a ribbon around the neck to the front right side.  Those are the seven seams.  Of course, there is also some hemming (which sort of counts, and sort of doesn’t), running along the back to the side-seam; around each wrist; and across the front left and the front right.  You could make up an entire spiritual mythology around the hemming of Jedi tunic garment; some nerd (me, maybe) already has, probably.

Then a belt.  The belts consist of heavy interfacing between two layers of fabric, and two long ties to wind around the waist.  The interfacing and the two layers of fabric get a quilting, of sorts, to give them some interest and additional detail.  Neither was particularly hard, although judging the roundness of the two boys from the flat pattern provided by one of them, was harder.

Two tunics finished.

And then the cloak.  Turns out that I mis-judged the amount of brown fabric I needed, by about 4 yards. Couldn’t find the bolt of fabric in the store; couldn’t find the slip telling me the inventory number so they could look it up again.

No matter.  Instead of Jedi half-circle or three-quarter cloaks, I made djellabas.  The djellaba is a Arabian garment, consisting of a long rectangle of fabric folded most of the way to the middle from the ends.  Some holes are cut at the neck; I attached the Jedi-style hood to this opening, even though the Djellaba doesn’t normally have a hood.  Hem the hood, hem the inside edges of the fabric and the tail.  I might add some trim along the edges, neaten it up a bit and add some visual interest to the costume.  But basically, it’s a Jedi robe outfit suitable for running around on Suburbia, the backyard planet (as opposed to the Forest Moon, or the Ice Planet, or the Urban Planet or the Swamp Planet…) I’m sure they’ll find plenty of those worlds….

As a kid, I was always taken in by the potential of costumes to transform who we are and how we think of ourselves. When I played Horatio in Hamlet, I wanted to keep my costume after the performance.  The props master said I had to ask the costumer, and the costumer said no.  In retrospect, it was made of the same cheap materials as this costume — but it made me into a student from Wittemberg.

But if we let kids play in plastic Stormtrooper armor, it’s hard to remember to take it off.  Jedi are supposed to be smart, to be agile, to be fearless, yes. But they’re also supposed to be compassionate and caring, committed to justice and the dignity of all beings.

Maybe this too complicated a spell, but it’s my hope that these costumes will help raise my young cousins’ sights to the ideals beyond Star Wars, and think about what it really means to be a man of honor in a less-civilized age.

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. 

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