Quilt: penguins 

1 Comment

I find that I’m enjoying a great deal the process of laying out a quilt, and then sewing the rows and columns together to make the quilt.  These squares are 5″ to a side for this quilt with a penguin theme. The quilt is going to be much wider than a typical crib quilt, but about the same length.

Unfortunately, the dark blue fabric is polyester and slippery.  I don’t know if this is going to work.  I’ve found conflicting opinions about quilting with polyester fabrics — some people love them, some people hate them.  I’ve decided on a 100% cotton backing fabric, though, so if the baby winds up being sensitive to poly they can always flip it over and display the quilt top to the world and wrap the baby in two layers of cotton away from the artificiality.

Why use poly at all? Do you know how hard it is to find penguin fabric to begin with?  I also didn’t choose the fabric, in this case. This is a custom order, and I’m not sure that we knew it was poly when we ordered it.

In any case, there’s this delightful process that you can see in the third photo, where the rug gradually vanishes behind the fabric as the quilt takes shape. This one should be done later today, or at least it should be done later today.

There’s another thing that I quite like about quilting with these sorts of prints.  When you look at the whole fabric, it’s very hard to admire it — it’s the same pattern repeated over and over again.  It’s mind-numbing in its regularity.  And it’s often dull to look at.

But then something happens when you cut it up.  As the fabric is sliced in two directions, the pattern becomes more randomized. Sometimes it’s the father and mother penguin in the foreground, sometimes it’s in the background, sometimes it’s the large line of penguins in the middle ground that becomes prominent.  The pattern’s regularity becomes irregular, as the rotary blade cuts and slices the repetitive imagery into squares that don’t respect the pattern’s repeat mode.  And so something new emerges.  It’s the original cut-and-paste, in some ways.  Except that with quilting, it’s cut-and-baste.

Quilt: crib squares

1 Comment

I received a commission for a baby quilt, to go in a certain niece’s crib. The bedroom of his niece has an owl theme, and so my patron scavenged up some owls fabric; I did the cutting and assembly. The assembly of the quilt front is now basically done after a day’s work. The backing is cut, and the batting.
What remains, is the quilting of the three layers together, and the attaching of an edge binding. The quilting will take the morning tomorrow; I can have the binding done by late afternoon.

It bears saying, though: not including the trips to the fabric store, or the discussions with the patron, a “simple” baby quilt is a 10-to-30 hour project. It is akin to a student research paper or a project for the county science fair. It takes as long to make a quilt, as it does to read a book, write several papers about it, and deliver a final oral report.
It’s for this reason that so much of what comes out of school MakerSpaces is, essentially, junk.  It’s rarely beautiful or complete — the child may be able to communicate a lot of truths by building and assembling a model of the thing — but a finished thing usually involves dozens if not hundreds of hours of labor.

Which is part of the reason why the rush to 3D printers and laser cutters and CNC milling machines in schools is so dismaying to me.  All of these sorts of high tech tools do amazing things, of course. But many of them put substantial amount of intermediate work between the student and the finished product —

  1. design a thing
  2. input the design as a vector graphic into a computer
  3. dial in the amount of cutting to be done, layer by layer
  4. Run the finished 3D model or graphic through some sort of confirmation process
  5. print ( CNC carve or laser-cut) the design
  6. Note mistakes
  7. Edit design
  8. Re-print (CNC carve, laser cut) the design again.

So much of that work involves hands-on… the computer.  Not with the materials.  Not with the machine itself. Students are effectively learning to do a small range of things only, which is to transmit designs from their brain to a computer screen, and then edit those computer-compatible designs to a specific range of functions on one type of robot.  Which is fine, if you’re training robot programmers.

And don’t get me wrong. Seymour Papert and Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez are right — computers allow you to do things that you wouldn’t normally be able to do.  So do robots in the classroom.

But a human being is more than a robot — and in schools particularly, we have to privilege human beings above robots.  A human being is more important than a robot, and deserves to be more than simply a tool for transferring human creativity into less than humane designs.

But I’m drifting far from quilting.  A sewing machine makes clothes, makes quilts, makes bags, makes fashion, makes hats, makes accessories, makes banners, makes stuffed animal shells, makes art.

And they require a substantial amount of basic mathematics.  My squares were cut on a rotary cutting mat, to be exactly 5 in.² The seam allowance is 1/4 inch. This means that the square is in the middle have an apparent size of 4 1/2  in.²  So, each square is losing a quarter inch from the top, bottom, left, and right.

The quilt is nine squares across. So, 9×5 = 45. So the materials for the quilt edge are 45 inches long. But every two squares sewn together means a loss of a 1/2″ or 3/4″ along the way… because quilting is not a perfect art.  So if I want a quilt to be such and such a number of inches wide, I have to plan for the loss that accumulates from sewing the squares together.

And so, slowly but surely, the quilt gets assembled from a variety of pieces.  It’s possible to observe the progress of the work from beginning to end. There’s something to put in a bin at the end of the day, and something to take out from a bin at the start of the working day.  The project picks up steam along the way, too, as the work trudges along toward completion.  Little by little, the work gets done.

Which I think is one of the things that I admire and notice about sewing as a form of Making.  Sewing, ideally, produces not junk, but actual and useful things — blankets to keep people warm, clothes to keep them dressed and fashionable, bags to put things in and store them, banners for celebrating all the seasons of our lives, and more.

If your MakerSpace and Maker program doesn’t have a sewing machine and sewing supplies in it… well, what are you waiting for?

Consider this blog post your permission slip (just be aware you need an ironing board, an iron, some scissors for fabric, some rotary cutters, and some rotary cutting matts too — I can help you figure out what tools you need, and I can even come teach your class.  Let me know.

 

Tools determine Output

Leave a comment

Here’s a popular dessert in our house. It’s frozen cherries (but sometimes mango or peaches or berries) mixed with a little extract — usually vanilla but sometimes almond or hazelnut — and then blended with a mix of milk and half&half (or heavy cream) until smooth. Ish.

It’s not ice cream but it tastes like ice cream. It’s not sorbet but it tastes like sorbet. It’s sort of an ice milk, I guess? But it isn’t. What it is, is a dessert. We eat it straight out of the blender instead of letting it “set” in the freezer, because we find the setting process makes it disgusting. You eat this fresh or not at all.  You also eat the variants from time to time, too: peach cream where the peaches have been in the freezer too long; or where there’s not enough milk or too much almond extract. The balance is never exact.

But it’s dependent on the tools. Without the blender or the food processor, without the refrigerator, without the whole apparatus to harvest cherries in season and flash freeze them, without milk or cream, this dessert is impossible. It’s not a dish of Ancient Rome; it’s a dish of modern Americans looking to avoid too much processed sugar in their diets.

A makerspace can have a range of tools of all kinds — but without accurate measuring tools, all projects will be sort of sloppy (With accurate measuring tools, projects may still be sloppy, but that’s the choice of the maker). No sandpaper and no files? Projects wind up looking a little rough.  No paint or stain? Things look a little unfinished, more structural, with more emphasis on materials. No drills, no saws? — projects wind up being made of other things than wood.

Tools determine output. If your MakerSpace is producing projects with a lot of bent nails, you might want to take a look at how many hammers you have, and perhaps invest in some saws or drills.  Or maybe a sewing machine…

Or maybe an ice cream maker.

Little Viking Bags, finished 

3 Comments

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?

Sketchbooks

Leave a comment

I had some leftover 11×17 paper from a project, so I folded it up into a number of quires, and then found some papers and cardstock for covers for them.

The result is a trio of handsome sketchbooks, including the one with fishy covers that reminded me of the emblem or personal sigil of my high school friend, the painter Fred Poisson (who does some amazing work!).  The books’ covers are covered with papers from Michael’s DIY, nothing particularly spectacular; the interior of the covers are a heavy cardstock, and the body of the covers is a medium-weight pressed cardboard that provides the book with its substantiality and weight.

The use of waxed black thread provides a nice contrast with the lightness of the covers; but I must admit that it results in some stains on the pages from the process of binding the book.  And, since I don’t have sewing frames (for case-binding a book, which is the traditional method of making hardcovers in the western European style), nor a guillotine cutter, the arrangement of quires and covers is sometimes a little uneven.

The binding of a book is not a particularly difficult process; I’ve documented it before in my writings on the Coptic Stitch, of which these are examples.  In essence one (or in these books’ cases, two) thread is passed backwards and forwards through the quires in a long serpentine or Celtic interweave not unlike a knitted stitch.  The result forms these thick black bands along the spine of the book (not visible in these photos), and eventually emerges as those lines that run perpendicular to the spine on the cover both inside and out.

I have one more of these books ready to bind, in a lovely blue marbled paper cover.  All four are likely to wind up as Christmas presents this year, though I may put one or two up on my Etsy shop for sale.  Are you interested in buying one?

Mostly, though, I think of the making of these journals as an intermittent project, or practice, or a way to use up materials for the larger project, which is producing my own books —  The Book of Splendorwhich explores my own Sun and Moon poetry; the Behenian Stars, the Decans of the Zodiac, and the Mansions of the Moon. Would you buy those, in a format that involved the author hand-binding each copy?  I hope so — I’m planning to do it whether or not anyone buys them.

Bags

1 Comment

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. 

31 DoM: Make a Potion

5 Comments

31 DoM: Mead-makingFor today’s program from 31 Days of Magic, I was supposed to focus on a specific color.  Instead I chose to do Day 10, “Make a Potion.”

And what a potion it is.  Fifteen pounds of honey dissolved in about five gallons of water, capped and caged in with some proofed yeast.  In a year, this might actually be drinkable mead: honey-wine of some substantial level of alcohol content.

I got the recipe, and the process, from Caveman Chemistry several years back. Since then I’ve tried it a couple more times, and now I figured it was time to make a large batch, since the previous three have essentially been successful.  I hope this will work again, but it’s not an exact science for me, yet.  At the rate I drink alcohol, even at sacred days, it will take me about five or six years to drink through this.  No bad time to be starting this work; maybe it will even work.

Assuming that it doesn’t turn to vinegar.  When you intend to make vinegar, of course, you let air get at the yeast and the sugar matrix, and you pronounce yourself thrilled with the acetic acid.  When you intended to make alcohol and you get vinegar, you should several angry words, and then pronounce that vinegar was your goal all along to your friends, even while you bemoan the garbage you have created.

There’s a lot of honey in here: fifteen pounds.  The going rate for honey around here, good honey, is 7-8 dollars a pound.  That’s around $115 of core ingredient in this potion.  You had better believe I said my prayers and made my devotions over and around this carboy.  You’d better believe that there’s a sigil on the floor, and a special wash to keep ants and other critters off the bottle.  This is a serious working.

And from a magical perspective, so much of the success of this operation is dependent upon the operation of the unseen.  Without the millions of yeast microbes, without the labor of tens of thousands of honeybees, the potion-making I’m attempting here would be impossible.  There isn’t much I can do besides be patient, be watchful, be prayerful, and hope that it all works out.  The peculiar work of alchemy here is that I am dependent on the interactions between microbial life, oxygen, alcohol, and carbon dioxide for the success of my operation.

The beginning of the making is begun.  Now there’s is little else to do but hope, and wait, for the magic of the unseen ones, to do its work.  My success is utterly in the handless existence of hundreds of millions of others, as they eat and drink and be merry.  And when they are done, I will drink their waste — the alcohol — and celebrate.

Or I’ll have a lot of really good vinegar to give away as presents in ten months or so.  Let this fate be averted.  Instead, may the powers look favorably upon my work, and adorn my labors this day with mead in a year.

There’s something to be said for long-term magics.

Older Entries