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.


Yarn-cake Winder Step 4

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I am inching toward completion at this point.

Yarnwinder1.jpg Here you see the three gears — the cranking gear on the right, the central gear in the middle, and the 12P gear on the base of something that looks like a striped lawn chair.  That’s the base for the spindle.

You also see the yarn feed post, on the extreme left of the assembled machine; and the two built-in C-clamps along the bottom.  The only thing missing at this point is the arbor or pivot that connects the 12P gear to the spindle support base. A friend of mine is using his angle grinder to grind that steel pin to the right shape, this afternoon.  I hope to have it later today.

Yarnwinder2.jpgAnd here’s that spindle support base, now attached in the right place and ready for the spindle to be attached.  It looks a little like a striped lawn chair.  For this photo, I’ve put in a spare bit of steel rod for the arbor, and I’m using that to test-crank the gears, and figure out where to concentrate my sanding effort to get the gears to the right shape.

Hint? Everywhere. Everywhere needs sanding.  I am not a good scroll-saw-er yet, and the result is that my gears are wildly irregular on nearly every gear.  I have a choice at this point.  I can just keep cranking the gears until everything is worn down to the right smoothness by raw friction.  Or I can sand each tooth meticulously until every tooth meshes perfectly with every other tooth.  Or I can choose a third-option position, halfway between those two options or on either side of half-way.  The more sanding I do ahead of time, the less sawdust and sand will be in my finished yarn product.  The less sanding I do ahead of time, the more sawdust and sand will be in my finished product, and the harder it will be to wind a skein of yarn into a yarn cake.  Even so, I may go for this option.Yarnwinder3.jpg

The final picture is the completed elements of the yarn-cake winder (excepting that one arbor, and a couple of small pads for the C-clamps.  The spindle is the large wooden thing; the spindle base is the thing in the clamp, and then the machine itself.  You can see a pencil on the right for rough/approximate scale.  The spindle has a skateboard bearing inside of it, provided as a result of a trip to Cutting Edge in Berlin, CT.

I got into knitting in part because of Deb Castellano of the blog Charmed Finishing School (and her store, the Mermaid and the Crow/La Sirene et Le Corbeau).  It pleases me no end to create a piece of machinery using my newfound carpentry skills, that will allow me to practice more effectively the art that she connected me to in the first place.

But once again, why knitting? Why machinery? Why include textiles and knitting and yarn-work at all in a MakerSpace? I would hope at this point, after three prior separate discussions of the building of this machine, that this would be obvious. Even with someone else’s plans in my hands, I’ve had to work through design problems, study drawings, make sketches, and drive my way through the tool use necessary to build this machine (and the yarn-swift that accompanies it).  Without these machines, I’d have a much harder time working with skeins of yarn. With them, I have a much easier time making my own yarn, dyeing my own yarn, winding and knitting (or crocheting, or braiding) my own yarn. This device is a critical piece of the technology set for string and yarn-arts.

What is a technology set?  A technology set is all of the technical equipment necessary to oversee a process of construction from raw materials (or raw-er materials) to finished product.  For yarn, that set looks something like this:

  • Carding combs
  • drop spindle or spinning wheel or great wheel
  • yarn swift
  • dyeing vats and dyes and mordants
  • yarn-cake winder (this device)
  • knitting needles
  • braiding disk
  • lucet
  • crocheting hook
  • naalbinding needle

With these ten tools, it’s possible to take a bundle of raw wool and turn it into a scarf or a hat or a length of rope akin to paracord, or a colored braid.  The technology set teaches ten different skills, and helps students understand ten different processes. None of the technology is difficult to understand; the technical processes are open and transparent; and they are hand-skills which can be replicated (much faster but much more opaquely) by machine.  They take carpentry skills to make objects that are used for working with string, they demonstrate the principle that Tools Make Tools Make Things, and they demonstrate to students a skill-set that allows them to extrapolate and develop an understanding of how any raw material is turned into a finished product.


Design Lab: Workbench


There are no pictures today.  My cellphone/camera died early in the day, and construction didn’t start until late afternoon.Workbench2 But, I built the right-hand-most section of this workbench today, with the assistance of Mike, a grandparent of one of the students at my school. We were able to get a bit of an assembly-line going — all of the parts but eight cut for all three workbenches (the middle one has some slightly longer parts that we need to account for geometrically). And then the assembly completed on one of the three sections.

Each workbench has a deck like the others that we’ve built, and an under-shelf six inches above the floor.  Each workbench also has its back legs extended up to eight feet above the floor (96″, a standard 2×4), to accommodate pegboard or French cleat systems for holding tools.  It’s not going to be hugely attractive, in the sense that it’s not finished wood with a high caliber of craftsmanship.  But it’s going to be a successful working space, and that pleases me greatly.  This bench is going to fill the north wall of my new Design Lab space, more or less from wall to wall (there’s about 15″ of clearance on one side, which will provide space for a storage rack for plywood sheets, bits of lumber, and other odds and ends. But we’ll build that once we’re in the new room, not before.

The construction of each table required several 2x4s and two sheets of plywood and a panel of pegboard; we used clamps from Harbor Freight Tools (love that place), and a circular saw and a saber saw and two cordless drills (and four batteries in rotation between the two drills.  The toolset was essentially the same as that we used to build the workbenches, the sawhorses and the rolling cart.

The rolling cart has even been useful already.  Here it is, with me in all my Saturnine lack-of-glory (barefoot in a carpentry-shop-paint-shop-design-lab… what was I thinking??)Finished rolling cart, working on the construction of the Wizard of Oz head. Many of the basic tools have been shifted onto the cart; nearly all the fasteners and washers and bolts and eyelets and grommets and rings are in the narrow shelves on the back.  Turn it one way, you have a low-resolution prototyping lab.  Turn it the other, you have a full-service carpentry and mechanics shop.  Pretty nifty, no?

I think we’re going to wind up building two more of these, in the long run.  It’s darned useful, difficult to knock over, holds a boatload of stuff, and the stuff that’s on them can be deliberately arranged and purposed so that you know what’s where, fairly exactly.  I’m looking forward to the day when that’s true.

Update: took a picture of the new workbench.  As you can see, there’s still some work to be done.  Namely, I need tProjects: design lab workbencho attach the French cleat system across the verticals, which are simply the legs of the “bench” portion of the workbench, extended up to 8′ high.

I was able to complete the second work bench in this triad today, Tuesday March 17.  A good use of my St. Patrick’s day, really.  I’m looking forward to doing it again tomorrow.

That will complete the construction of the major components of the design lab, aside from another small rolling cart which will hold the extra plywood, scrap wood, and cardboard that will be the basis of the design lab’s supplies and feedstock for future projects.

Seventeen things (for maker teachers): sewing


I’ve taken a few sewing classes recently. There’s a workshop in Northampton, Massachusetts, called Beehive Sewing. For $40 you can take a beginners’ class, and for $11 an hour you can rent the use of the studio, which includes access to shears, rotary cutters, cutting table, a pattern library, a sewing machine and a serger (autocorrect wants to make that word “server” but it shows you how computer-centric our world has become). Tess Poe the studio owner, or one of her assistants, will guide you through the process of running the machines and through the intricacies of your chosen projects.

It turns out that sewing, at least basic stuff, isn’t particularly difficult. Put two pieces of fabric together; match the edges; run a stitch half-an-inch from that edge; fold back and press with an iron.

The devil is in the details.

The stitch needs to be this wide if you’re building a bag, but this wide if you’re constructing a shirt. Sew the wrong sides of the fabric together, then turn them inside out. Ink the intended line on the tissue pattern. Cut the pattern out of the tissue paper, then pin to the fabric — follow the same line of cut ALL the way around the pattern. Use fabric of the correct width, and weight. Ordinary fabric on the domestic sewing machine. Stretchy fabric on the overlock machine (serger)… Ladder stitching by hand to finish attaching the lining to a bag.

Make a prototype using muslin — a simple, lightweight fabric — and a basting stitch — a particularly long seam setting on the sewing machine that can be easily disassembled. Older sewing machines are generally better than newer ones; they’re intended to be workhorses. Replace needles frequently.

It took me two hours to make a little “eye pillow” stuffed with lavender. It took me closer to six, to make a stole for a friend getting ordained to the diaconate. I expect that this shirt pattern for my Halloween costume will be something like 10 hours: cutting at home, sewing at Beehive Sewing, and finishing stitches at home again.

But, when I noted to the owner of Beehive Sewing, Tess Poe, that I’d never expected it to take so long, she smiled, “maybe. But we’re not making sewing projects: we’re making sewers.”

It’s a very MakerLab or Design Lab thing to say; we aren’t out to make projects; we’re out to make Makers and Designers. And it’s clear that “fabric engineering” is a marvelous route to Making enthusiasm.

But I recommend not going it alone. Find someone to teach you. Find your Tess.

Because this is one of the things that has become clear to me about Making and designing: these are things that are learned through original apprenticeship, not from parallel mastery. What I mean is, the skills I learned as a carpenter don’t apply as much as I might like to fabric. Knowing how to operate a scroll saw doesn’t make me a skilled sewing machine driver. I have to start the apprenticeship again, and learn a completely new set of skills.

And darshan matters. I’ve learned more about sewing, and best practices, from my five hours in the studio, than in the other five hours trying to figure this out in the design lab or at home. Being in the presence of a good teacher — you absorb a little of their energy, a little of their way of doing things — and you get better, faster. I’m looking forward to learning more of this art: I have a Halloween costume I’d like to build.