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

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Quilting: three quilts

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I’ve been away for a few days, working elsewhere and on other projects. But it was time to return home, and get back to work.

I finished the tops of these three quilts almost a month ago… NO, it’s exactly a month ago.  Today I got to finish them.  I need to work on my edge-binding techniques.  I still don’t get it right.

And I’m eternally grateful to Beehive Sewing for teaching me how to sew in the first place, and giving me the confidence in my abilities to tackle projects like these. (Fiber Arts Boston Resource and Innovation Center [FABRIC] is also a great place to learn to sew). It’s a good idea, if you’re new to sewing, to take a basic introductory class, and then a few supplemental classes. That’s often enough to get you started with some sophisticated work. Not always, but usually. 

So these quilts are done. What can I say about what I’ve learned?

First, the edge-binding process is difficult. There are a dozen ways to do it, all of them are fiddly and require a lot of attention.  I often don’t have enough patience for the finishing, though I’m getting better.  It’s meditative, really, when you get into it for real.  At the same time, it’s a lot of fussing with a fiddly double-folded strip of fabric that doesn’t ever want to do quite what you want it to do.  So I need to get better at that.

How do you get better at it? Make more quilts, curiously enough. Do it more times. Try again, read a few articles, fail, and try again.

Second, the question of pattern is exceptionally complicated.  If you look at the first quilt, in black and white, you can see that I attempted to create a pattern with my black and white striped squares. That’s great, as far as it goes.  But if you look in closer detail, it emerges that the black and white fabrics have their own sub-patterns. It’s not just black and white; it’s black and white with subtle contrasts. And at a distance, it makes the overall design… murky, even random.

That’s less true with the first quilt with blocks of color.  Joann Fabrics effectively chose these colors for me, when they packaged them in a set.  I don’t think it worked out too badly, but it’s still a little wonky.

The blue-black-gray-white quilt, I think is my favorite.  It sort of has a boyish vibe to it.  Yet it’s got some floral elements to it, so it’s not completely ‘masculine’ as our current society understands it. Again, some pattern-issues emerge when I look at photographs of it that I didn’t see when I was making it.  And I need to learn to do a better job with quilting a quilt — stitching the three layers of a quilt together.  This is something that takes a lot of patience and practice, I’m discovering.

The last photograph shows one of my feet sticking into the frame.  In some ways this is an error, but it also gives you a sense of their size.  It’s not purely 30×40″, an infant-size quilt should be… I’m struggling a bit with the question of sizing of quilts, I admit.  But it’s still a good marker of the size I’m working with.   I’ve found that it’s a bit difficult for me to work with larger sizes than this, underneath the needle of my new machine, though. So I have to think about whether this is the largest that I’ll go, or whether I’ll try my hand at making a queen-sized quilt.

I’ll likely be posting two of these quilts to my Etsy store as For Sale items later this week, along with some tool-roll pencil cases.

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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.

But.

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.

 

School: Redesign Homework

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Around this time of year, I always think about how I’m going to re-design my teaching for the fall semester.  It doesn’t matter whether I’m teaching or not, I think about it.

A recent conversation with Dave Gray of XPLANE, Inc. got me thinking about his heuristic matrix from the book Gamestorming which he wrote with Sunni Brown. A heuristic matrix looks a lot like the grid from a spreadsheet, and which I used several years ago to redesign homework.

That grid looked something like this…

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I identified a bunch of broad categories that I wanted my students to learn about.  In this example, based on the broad theme of teaching about Ancient Greece, I have categories like religion, and aspects of art history, politics, literature, philosophy, and science and technology.

I then identified a variety of styles that I wanted my students to learn to write in. These formed the individual columns of the heuristic matrix.    These included paragraphs dealing with compare and contrast writing, where the same paragraph alternates between two different viewpoints or styles. There was also descriptive writing, involving a top-to-bottom explanation of a thing or a place.  Narrative writing, the description of a beginning-to-end process, was another category. Persuasive paragraphs offer reasons for holding an opinion, and attempt to persuade the reader to accept a particular viewpoint.  Exposition attempts to define or explain a person’s ideas or opinions without forcing them on the reader.  Reading comprehension, on the other hand, asks students to engage with an actual historical text.  Self-directed research is another category — independent projects of various kinds.

I haven’t filled in the heuristic matrix completely. Some of this is left as an exercise to the reader (which is to say, perhaps, that I’m lazy or that I don’t wish to think all of this through, or maybe that I don’t wish to share all of my thought process at once).  But the overall structure should be discernible.

I tried to do something similar with a mathematics heuristic grid for a lower grade, perhaps grade 2, grade 3, or grade 4.

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I’m not a mathematics teacher, so you’ll notice that the grid isn’t completely filled in.  But you’ll see what I’m trying to do… I’m trying to come up with a variety of mathematics exercises and activities that don’t revolve exclusively around the traditional “do these 20 problems to learn a type of procedure” worksheets or homework lists.  This is about inventing new forms of assignments and identifying how these can be used to teach or refresh skills that lie outside the usual curriculum norms.

And it’s important to note that YOU don’t have to fill in a grid completely, either. You may only generate one or two useful ideas from a heuristic matrix.  Yet if a few of those ideas have the chance to reinvigorate your teaching, that may be worth i.

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Tool rolls

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I have a new sewing machine. Here it is, in all its glory.I’ve been using it to make tool rolls out of fat quarters of quilting fabric, with the intention of making about 10-20 of these for friends’ children who are going back to school. They’re small projects; they allow me to practice certain skills with my new sewing machine and get used to how this machine works; and they allow me to create things that I don’t then have to keep for myself — they’re easily given away. A Fat Quarter generally costs around $2.50, so these are around $5.50 in materials (including thread) and maybe $10-15 in my time… time that I’d have to spend anyway, practicing the skills I want to be practicing.

The idea is that many children are not able to manage the ‘bunched-up’ mess of a pencil case. Too many tools squeezed into too small of a bag results in a lot of broken pens and pencils without points or erasers.

The tool roll consists of two fat quarters of fabric cut and trimmed to match each other, sewn together and turned.  One end is folded over and seamed to create pockets or tubes for individual pens and pencils; the other end folds over to form a protective cover for the tools inside.

It’s better to introduce students to the idea of order and structure for tools, early. So in a tool roll, each tool has a place: this place for a pen, this one for a pencil, a ruler here, a compass here.  THere’s a ribbon or a band or a string on the outside, that allows one to close up the tools neatly inside, as well.  This is ribbon left over from a fancy men’s clothing store in New York, from whence I received several nice birthday shirts over the years.

I’ve saved all that ribbon, never knowing what to do with it.  Now I know: Tool Rolls.

There’s a second band inside each tool roll, as well: two strips of fabric left over from the cutting/trimming process, sewn together and turned. This is then sewn down to match the tubes/pockets on the lower half of the outer shell.  The result is that each pencil or pen has its place in the case/roll.

By teaching children to order their tools in some sort of careful way, we teach them to need fewer of them, to treat them responsibly as tools, and to know how to store tools effectively.

It helps them be organized, it helps them know exactly how much of each tool to carry, and it helps them know when a tool is worn out or broken and needs to be replaced.

“Greco-Roman” outfit 

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Be Hellenistic, not fatalistic. 


A friend of mine is going to the annual convention of the Society for Creative Anachronism, otherwise known as the Pennsic War. He needed some garb. The group he travels with are classicists, so a simple Roman-era tunic and a long rectangular himation or peplos — really a simplified toga — are all he needs. I figured out a way to cut two tunics, one sleeved and one sleeveless, from the fabric he brought me. This is the sleeved one. 

I’ll have to wait until his fitting this evening for photos of the pseudo/proto-toga. It’s simply impossible to photograph in a way that makes it look like something other than a long rectangle of cloth with stripes at the ends. Wrapped around a person it’ll look quite different, I believe. 

I have a new sewing machine. I did these projects with the old sewing machine because I’m at a critical stage in quilting two crib-sized quilts, and all my spare thread is wound onto bobbins of the old machine. But if I took down and store the old machine, I’d never finish those quilts. 

But… after this weekend, and this project for my friend, I got most of the quilting done. So I’m ready to store my old machine as of today. I have some time this afternoon, so I’m going to use the new machine to put some decorative stitching on the two tunics and the proto-toga. 

Triangle quilt

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This is the second quilt I’ve made that uses triangles. The first such quilt I made, I assembled hexagon shaped “blocks” and then sewed the blocks together. With this quilt, I assembled the triangles into rows, and then sewed the rows together. Something went wrong diring the assembly process though. If you look closely you can see the challenge: partway through, I seemed to run out of triangles. So I added more triangles to the pattern. And I wound up with an extra row. The first photo shows the quilt as planned: the second photo shows the quilt top as assembled. 
So this quilt has an extra or unneeded row. Now I have to decide if I’m going to even the work out by adding another row, or leave the thing unbalanced as it currently is.

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