Little Viking Bags, finished 


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?

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.


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what do you do when you have a lot of little scraps of fabric but no real use for a small quilt?

Bags are simple

Make bags.
Small bags — for decks of cards, cribbage boards, magic wands, family heirlooms, game pieces, gift-giving —  are fairly simple. Even with a lining of a contrasting color, they’re not terribly complicated. Most of them are simple straight-stitches on a machine. Point the sewing machine in the right direction, and go. All of the bags here have basically three seams: one for a drawstring or ribbon casing; one for the side of the bag; and one for the bottom. They’re not intended or designed to hold up to a lot of abuse; but they could. Seriously, they’re pretty well-made for being made from scraps. 

But why make them?  For being so general purpose, they’re remarkably hard to use well. Still they teach important sewing lessons: pinning, ironing, making casings for drawstrings, pulling a drawstring, and making linings (in two different ways). They teach fabric selection and color-scheming and cutting and assembly. And they teach turning, too, which is the basis of pillow making as well. 

Once you can make this sort of simple bag, most other sewing is fairly easy. 

Bag repair

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I made this bag a few weeks ago to complement a coat that I made for an outdoor event in October in the Berkshires. The brown trim on the coat is the same as the body and strap of this bag. I didn’t know how much I would have to carry, but I knew that I had to carry some things over the weekend from place to place; this bag was going to provide a useful place to store things of unknown size but probably relatively light weight.

The barn-door stitch

I was right about both size and weight; the bag was hopelessly too big. It also had a problematic seam; one end of the shoulder strap came undone about an hour after I showed up at the event. The objects I eventually needed to carry? Tiny — like, I could have made a pouch the size of a deck of playing cards, and had room to spare. Oh, well. I still like the fact that this bag matches a coat I made, which will be suitable for other events. At the event, I made it work by creating a loop and tying a knot, but it wasn’t ideal. Today, I fixed it.


The fix came in three forms. First, I top-stitched all the way around the mouth of the bag. This reinforced the attachment of the flap to the body of the bag, and the strap to the bag’s body. It also created a heavy attachment between the lining and the outer shell of the bag; the outer shell is wool, while the inner shell is cotton; this won’t be a great “foul-weather bag.

Second, I used a form I call the “barn door stitch”, which looks like a square with either one or two diagonals through it, to secure the shoulder strap to the body of the bag. These reinforced points mean that the bag just became much more suitable for carrying, say, my laptop or something similarly heavy and fragile.  I still don’t know that I would trust my laptop to this bag (what if it flips over? What if the flap comes undone or flies open in heavy weather? What if moisture seeps through the bag?) but at least I can say that it’s much stronger now as a result.  It makes me wish that I had used French seams, though, inside, which would have made the bag that much stronger yet…

Reinforced barn-door

Third, I backstitched over the beginnings and ends of all of my seams. I’m sure that this is what caused the strap to fail in the first place. It’s a pretty standard practice in machine sewing work to back your sewing machine’s stitching forward and back over itself in order to lock the thread in place.  By doing this at both the beginning and end of a stitch, the whole seam is locked together, and is much less likely to fail.

A bag has challenges — thinking inside and outside, choosing fabric, figuring out waterproofing as needed, sewing stitches, mashing together three or four or more layers of fabric, determining inside compartments as necessary, and more. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. But it’s a great student project — the finished bag serves as a useful tool for transporting notebooks and textbooks from class to locker and home and so on. Designing a bag for a school means that all the needful school supplies should be able to fit within it.  You can even pair it with a pencil case design for a more thorough experience in sewing (adding zippers, yay!), and thinking in three dimensions.

But I’d like to propose to you, readers, that sewing is a critical part of any Maker education. We wear far more clothes in our lifetimes than we install birdhouses; we carry more bags and wear more coats and scarves, than we build workbenches; and students carry far more books in far more book bags than they need vast collections of electronic gizmos that taught them how to wire one circuit.  The soldering lessons have their place, I admit — but knowing how to sew is a perpetual source of design power.

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.


Yarn-cake winder step three 

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This is where I was at the end of the day today: a set of three gears that fit inside one another, more or less, a body or frame that supports the gears, and a set of holes drilled that will eventually hold the pivots for the gears, and the mechanism for the yarn-cake winder.

The machine does not yet work. What’s still needed?

Well. That’s sort of a complicated story.   Let’s go through the machine from top right to bottom left, of the photo where it’s on the red chair seat.

  1. The hole in the long dowel needs a piece of twisted wire, rather like a spring, to be the in-feed point for the yarn.
  2. The hole for the arm lock hole may need some sanding or smoothing to make the arm lock pin work.  The individual holes need sanding.
  3. The whole frame needs sanding, and the remaining adhesive for the pattern needs to be cleaned off.  The two ‘feet’ of the frame need to be attached/glued to the main body.
  4. The smallest gear, called 12P  on the plan, has to be attached to the spindle support. (not shown). The spindle support needs to be attached to the spindle base (also not shown, but visible as that weird, angular L-shaped bit in the second photo).
  5. The spindle needs to be attached to the spindle support.  I need to purchase a skateboard bearing, OD 7/8″, ID 5/16″, to go inside the spindle’s base and cap.
  6. The pin/bolt which serves as the pivot of the smallest gear/turning mechanism for the spindle needs to be installed.  In order to be installed, it has to be ground at the tip into a 45°-angled cone.  I don’t have the equipment for that.  Buy equipment? Borrow equipment?  Bring rod to friend’s house to grind?  Pay them to grind it for me?
  7. The locking pin in the base needs to be installed. Need to buy an allen wrench bolt to go there.
  8. The arbor for the central/middle gear needs to be installed.  The support wheel needs to be glued to the main wheel.
  9. The largest wheel/crank wheel needs its pivot point installed.
  10. All pieces, once I know that they roughly work, need to be sanded/smoothed, and cleaned up with some mineral spirits. Some parts may be stained or painted; I haven’t decided yet.

Again, I have to praise Mr. Boyer’s designs. He’s got a good thing going here.  It’s a great example of Tools Make Tools Make Things.  More than that, though — I find that I send him my questions, and he gets around to answering me… usually at about the time that I re-read his directions for the fourth or fifth time, and go OOOOOOHHHHHHH, That’s how you do it.

The making of this machine has honed my scroll saw and drill press techniques.  I’m getting cleaner holes, sharper lines, and greater clarity about what I can and cannot do with my tools. I was right — the Yarn Swift was a good beginning project for getting up to speed on my tools. This yarn-cake spinner is the right tool for learning how to make the parts for one of Mr. Boyer’s calendar or clock projects, which I’m looking forward to tackling next.

It’s also giving me a new appreciation for wood as a material, and for the problems of thinking in three dimensions. Mr. Boyer had a fair bit of time to design these two models, both of which are based on historical examples of sorts, although both models are more timeless than rooted in a specific era.  They’re both made with Home Depot/Lowe’s lumber, so in that sense they belong to the now, but they could have been made any time in the last few hundred years, I suspect —maybe not looking exactly like the, but serving some of the same purposes, certainly.

But it raises this important question, which I’ve raised elsewhere on this blog. How do you train children or adults to think in three dimensions? When it comes to a project like this, really, how do you train them to think in four dimensions, where time is the fourth dimension? This model eventually will hold a yarn ball at a fixed angle… and the fixed angle will nicely rotate a yarn ball in two directions, resulting in both a winding, and a cross-hatching effect.  Two different movements in time, choreographed by one crank-handle, resulting in a finished project…

which is, itself, raw material for yet another project: a scarf or a shawl or a sweater.  Huh.

The final element of this thing is the yarn-cake spindle.  In retrospect, I’m sorry I didn’t ask a friend to do a turning for me on a lathe.  The stack of plywood disks is ugly.  It’s hard to sand.  There’s a gap in the wood near the top, and I wish I’d cut that disk again rather than filling it up with wood putty.  The parts which are 1/4″ plywood sheets seem fragile. Will they hold up?

I’m not at all sure the machine will work.  I keep wondering if I over-cut, or cut too deeply, this gear or that tooth.  Is this part the right shape?  Will it work?  How much tolerance does the machine design have for failure?  How much tolerance do I have for the idea that I’m going to have to re-cut some of these pieces?

Still, when I think about where I began today — with the teeth not yet cut on any of the three gears, with most of the pieces still not glued together, with only a rough idea of how they fit together — and where I am now, with a machine where the pieces are starting to come together in a final format, I’m reminded of a key insight I took away from Constructing Modern Knowledge: that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a part is worth a thousand pictures, and a machine is a thousand parts.  When we ask students to build a machine, a working model of something, we’re asking for a research project. We’re asking for a book.

A working machine is a labor of astonishing proportions.  Mr. Boyer hasn’t just built the machines, he’s made the designs available to others (admittedly for a fee).  And it makes me realize how critical it is, and how little-understood it is, in most middle and high schools, that we teach children to think in three- and four-dimensions about made objects like this.  And I wonder how we can do that better.

Electricity: Simple Motor

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Here, with the background hurly-burly of a Latin class prepping for an examination, I tested and ran an electric motor that I built.  The video is only a minute, but it parallels the work of Dr. Arvind Gupta, who runs Toys out of Trash:

This is part of my overall course in electricity, which I described and documented in photographs here, as part of the Maker’s Grimoire.

Tomorrow I get to see if I can teach a bunch of second and third graders how to do this… right before a two-hour class on computer programming. Should be fun!

The Motor Itself

Simple motorThe motor itself is not particularly complicated. It’s a rubber band passed twice around a D-cell battery, with a safety pin on either end of the battery under the rubber band. The coil of insulated wire has been wrapped around the battery 9-10 times to form a coil or a spring. One end has been completely stripped of insulation, the other end is stripped on three sides but not the fourth. And it works. The washers are there solely to balance the battery against the torque that the motor generates.  There’s also a small ceramic magnet, purchased from Home Depot, that provides the static electromagnetic field

Yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t convinced that I was going to be able to get this motor to work before class tomorrow.  Today, it turned out that I needed a half-hour of fiddling before I got it working properly.  Voila!

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