Tool roll

Leave a comment

I took a break from quilting — which can be tiring work, manipulating three layers of fabric in the heat — to make this.

It’s a tool roll.

Over the years, I’ve watched middle schoolers, high schoolers and others struggle with pencil cases. The pencil cases fill up with broken pens, pencils without points, and a variety of other broken tools. It’s dumb.  I’ve made other tool rolls, notably in leather, but I wanted to make one that I thought could be replicated in a school MakerLab pretty easily with just fabric and some simple supplies like ribbon and bias tape.   And I made this in a couple of hours, I’d say, making it up as I went.  Pretty easy, and a reasonably competent sewer could make a replica in short order, I’m sure.

The design is pretty simple but I’m going to have to refine it further before it’s ready for prime-time to teach others how to sew.  There is a pattern of sorts, in other words. But I’m going to have to refine it.

The essence of the design is two pieces of fabric, the same width but different lengths.  One is folded around the other in such a way as to form a top ‘flap’ to protect the tools inside and keep them from flopping out; and a bottom ‘pocket’ to hold the tools in place.  These two pieces of fabric are the red-with-yellow-stars fabric, and the solid blue.  (The purple is bias tape, the ribbon is from the box of a fancy men’s store in New York City that I saved for this purpose when I got a gift; and the black-and-white floral print is left over from one of last week’s quilts.  The result is a simple tool roll that holds just a few pens and pencils — enough to know that they work, that they’re good tools, and that they have a specific place to go.  Not so many that they get lost or broken.

Even unrolled, the tool roll conceals its tool kit until the last minute.  The blue fabric flips over the top in order to protect the equipment inside.  When this is flipped open or flipped back, the simple collection of tools inside becomes visible.   I think ultimately there should be room for 2-3 pencils, one of those blocky pencil-sharpeners with two shavers, a compass and a ruler, and 3-5 pens (black, blue, red, and maybe some other colors): enough to work with in an imaginative way, but not so much that it’s hard to keep track of.  And when something is broken or missing, you know — you know because you, the kid who made this pencil case, know exactly how many tools are in it, should be in it, and where they go.  That would be the idea.

So that’s the basics of the design: non-complicated, four pieces of fabric and a ribbon  And the design teaches four basic skills, too: hemming, inside-out-and-turn construction, top stitching, bias tape use, cutting on a rotary mat with a quilting ruler, and layering of stitches. It’s not fool proof by any means, but it’s a sophisticated project for being such a small thing.  I have to refine it, of course, but this is a great start.  Yay!

An Underlying Magic

Leave a comment

A, one of my readers and a face-to-face friend, asked me recently to talk about how I was able to get so much done.  She was particularly impressed with the fact that I was able to get the 31 days of magic project completed.

Bullet journal For better or worse, a good deal of the success of this kind of project depends on organizational techniques. For 2016, I’ve pretty much abandoned online and digital planning tools. They don’t work for me, they’re not as fast as pen and paper, and it often takes longer to commit the digital work-plan to the computer system’s tracking tool than it does to do the task.

Accordingly, I keep everything in bullet journal formal in a gridded Moleskine notebook. The back page is an index — something like twenty different squares help me index the book as I go, marking one or more grid squares on the edge of the page so that I can see at a glance where in the book something might be: poetry, design thinking, meeting notes, druidry diary entries, and more… everything receives a rough index as I go along.

Bullet journalThe second piece is the bullet journal for the day.  This was today. Now, today was a pretty productive day.  I was home due to the snowstorm, and I was up early getting things crossed off.

At the same time, I was checking things off and completing them.  Fair warning. I checked off as completed the “pants in living room” and really that has to be shifted to another day… because the cut pieces for those pants are still here, and not sewn together.

On the other hand, there’s a stack of Latin quizzes done, there’s an apprentice program planned, a druidry path working completed, a basket of clean laundry, a whole bunch of emails sent out, two after school events planned for, two gifts dealt with, and a whole bunch of smaller tasks finished that didn’t even make the list.  A very productive day, all around.

More could be said. Much more. But I’m trying to practice not saying everything; silence has its own rewards of a sort; and sometimes it’s enough to say, if you want to manage your life well, then learn to manage your life’s works well. My mother says, “you are your projects”, and while there is something overly reductionist about that, it’s also true that getting the little things done makes room for larger successes.


AMS: Ratchet Parts & Shelf


This fall, I’m running the Autumnal Maker School (AMS). What’s required to be in the school, and to graduate? Make ten things between September 21 and December 21. Preferably useful things, but artistic things work too. I have made a 1) Volvelle, a 2) computer program that calculates the area of a hexagon, a 3) graphic design sample that shows how to make an Egyptian god, a 4) braiding disk, and 5) picture IDs for my school; there was also an 6) art exhibit in there, and guiding a group of students into 7) designing a manufacturing process.  The other day was 8) The Pulley Spinner.  And here’s 9) The parts for a Ratchet.Design lab projects: Ratchet

Frankly, I’m not sure it’s going to work. Cutting a ratchet gear is tremendously challenging, as it turns out, and let’s not go into the challenges of cutting a circular gear out of wood that will also work.

Nonetheless, I learned a few things from making these parts —

  • Be conservative with the saw;
  • Don’t force parts out of the wood;
  • keep the saw close to vertical, and then sand;
  • Think about the final dimensions of each part — they do have to fit together eventually.

Again, I’m not sure that these will work.  At all.  But I feel proud for having made them — for finding the template, for cutting them out of wood, for sanding and carving them as needed, and managing them for the last while without losing any of them.

Can I build the thing?  I haven’t the foggiest idea.

And the Shelf:

Design lab projects The Design Lab work-bench wall (half pegboard, half French cleat) has been running out of space since the day it was installed: too many tools to organize, not enough physical space to put them on display. Argh.

By chance, though, I encountered a video by Ben Brandt.  Ben is a woodworker, and woodworking instructor of some kind. He had a simple four-minute video about using pegboard and strips of 1×3 pine wood to make simple shelves. The shelves can then be drilled with holes to accommodate screwdrivers or spade-bits; built up into a rack for chisels or similar tools; or half-drilled to hold drill-bits or other accessories like punches.  It could even have slots for flush-cut saws or similar straight-blade tools.

Here’s the video:

If you bother to watch, you’ll see that mine is not particularly elegant; but then, neither is his.  On the other hand, building this shelf opened my eyes to solving some of my tool storage issues, which pleased me no end.

Peg board shelvingMine looks fairly similar to his, really. Although mine holds no tape measure. 🙂 And I wound up making two — one for spade bits, and one for screw-drivers.  It’s a nice fix, it gets a bunch of tools out of boxes and onto the the wall where students can see them, can visualize how they’re used, can use them, and can ask about them. Those are among the important keys to teaching tool use, really — can a student see the tools, use the tools, find the tools, be taught how to use them, and learn to use them for him- or herself.

For Me:

It was also an important bit of learning for me.  It taught me that I could watch a tutorial on carpentry on YouTube, get a little bit of training in a bit of design, carry it and and put it into practice, and then immediately transfer that knowledge to a project in a slightly different way.  That is an enormous step, I think, for anyone.  It’s one thing to watch a woodworking video, quite another to put the skills into practice, quite another to “ring changes” on that skill.  I have two more shelves in the works already, one for saws and one for chisels — and both require considerably more finesse than these two did.  But both of them are creating variations of this shelf which I have not seen before.  And that means that I’m developing my skill set more than I expected.

I do need to learn how not to punch out the board on the far side when I drill through it, though.  The back-side of these shelves is not a pretty sight at all.

Autumn Maker School: Manufacturing Process


Various Images

This fall, I’m running the Autumnal Maker School (AMS). What’s required to be in the school, and to graduate? Make ten things between September 21 and December 21. Preferably useful things, but artistic things work too. I have made a Volvelle, a computer program that calculates the area of a hexagon, a graphic design sample that shows how to make an Egyptian god, a braiding disk, and picture IDs for my school. 

What’s the point of AMS? How is it possible to learn how to do something — as opposed to learning about something?  Largely, the answer to that question is trial and error.  Or, as the alchemists said, Solve Et Coagula: dissolve and recombine. When you make a mistake in a design or creative process, largely what one has to do is disassemble the thing, and re-assemble it correctly.  Or at least, one has to acknowledge the mistakes, and note what one would fix in a future effort.  This is hard work, but it’s important work, because it shows us how to learn from our mistakes.  I maintain that the purpose of these kinds of physical projects is to help us see and learn from our mistakes, and to learn the process of trial and error.

Manufacturing Process

In the photograph above are two boats.  It’s supposed to be the Mayflower, because it’s November in New England, and that’s what we learn about in school in third grade around here: the pilgrims, the first Thanksgiving, the Mayflower and all the rest.  We’ll leave aside the issues of colonialism for the moment, and focus on the model-building The hull of the ship is a block of 2×4 untreated lumber.  One end is cut with a 70°-ish cut to be the stern of the ship. The other end is cut with two angled 70°-ish cut that is supposed to resemble the prow of a ship.  It does on one of the ships, and not on the other — where the cuts are angled in the wrong direction.    The masts are 1/4″ doweling; the spars are 1/8″ doweling. The sails are white felt.  The black rigging on one model is 75-year-old waxed cord from my grandmother’s attic, from a box of leather working tools my Dad had hidden away in his attic after finding it in her attic.

There are a lot of flaws in the model. The masts are the wrong length. The sails are the wrong size. There’s not enough rigging on either ship, and the rigging is HUGE compared to the design of the model. The hull is square and blocky instead of round and pointed. The angles are wrong, the hull is the wrong shape… the list goes on and on.

But what’s not so interesting about the models and their flaws (and there are lot of them), is that they were made through a manufacturing process.  The ninth grade made these, in part through me guiding them into a ‘skilled craftsman’-style workshop in the Design Lab.  One group of students designed the template for the sails — place the template onto a square of felt, mark and cut the felt through the template, and voila! Sails. Put this dowel into this jig, cut the piece of wood in these six places in the jig, and Voila! Spars.  This other jig produces masts.  This other jig? (helps with the) cuts for the stern of the ship. We never really designed a good jig for the bow of the ship, and some pieces got cut upside-down.  But we still produced fifteen model ships in about six hours of work.   More

Color scales

Leave a comment

Color scales

Originally uploaded by anselm23

I’m went down to New Haven to visit the Eli Whitney Museum for the first time today. My God. There were not so many miracles accomplished in the carpentry shop of Jesus of Nazareth as in the carpentry shop there.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking about color. The Eli Whitney is near a place where I can buy acrylic paint in these small tubes, so I double-checked my current paint supply against the Golden Dawn color scales this morning, with an eye to filling in the absent bits with a few tubes that would fill in the missing places in my schema. I wanted to do some more work on the Kavad today.

I got my paint, but I’m not sure I’ll get a chance to work on the kavad. The Eli Whitney Museum was amazing, and it’s probably worth a visit all its own if you’re a maker and happen to be in Connecticut.

Via Flickr:
The Golden Dawn (English magical society, not Greek fascist party) developed a system of color magic that I’ve been eager to incorporate into the kavad. It’s one thing to be able to produce the color mentally. It’s quite another to produce them from tubes of paint and have the painted colors match the intended reality. Not easy.

There are four Golden Dawn color scales. Each scale is named after a court card in the Tarot: king, queen, prince and princess. There are ten basic shades or hues in each scale, and an additional twenty-two colors in each scale. So … thirty-two colors in each scale, times four. A lot of overlaps, yes… but in essence, 128 hues to work with, each with its own rules and correspondences.

Video: Setting Up a Latin notebook

1 Comment

I’ll be teaching Latin to sixth graders this year; here’s my video advising them on setting up their notebooks and desks to succeed in my class this year:

Why Palace of Memory works?


Last night I had a group of friends over, and we were discussing brain science, and what we know about it.  One of my guests is thinking very seriously about brain science, because he’s building a toy that reads information from a basic EKG sensor on the forehead, and translates that data to a series of servo motors.  If one wears this toy, and focuses one’s attention, the EKG reads the basic data and transfers the information to the motors, and the toy moves.  Basically, it’s a simple set-up for making a machine that only moves if you focus your attention on it.

This friend, Josh, was saying that our brain doesn’t work the way we think it does. All of our conscious minds are rather like Maggie the infant in the opening sequence of The Simpsons — we’re grabbing a toy wheel, and beeping the horn, but it doesn’t have much actual effect on the body.

Instead, our conscious minds do the learning of complex tasks.  The example that Josh gave was of the key in the lock of your front door.  You’ve walked up to your door hundreds of times, unlocked the door and gone in, without really thinking about it.  Then, imagine that you come home and the doorknob is four inches off where it used to be. Suddenly, you’re awake and aware of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it in a way that you’ve never been before, because something is wrong.

Your body and your unconscious mind knows how to unlock the door.  It’s all automatic responses — a zombie or robot doing the work, while your conscious mind leisurely assumes it’s in control.  But in reality, if your conscious mind tried to intervene in the process of unlocking the door in a new or different way, your brain would experience a momentary disconnect, as you tried to do the task in a way other than its programming had advised.

The portions of our brain that do spatial recognition and visual memory can easily be wired into this robotic response, too.  So maybe Palace of Memory technique works because you’re training your brain to set up robotic links between the unconscious visual and spatial recognition systems, and the memory patterns that you consciously build.  When they’re robotic or zombie-powered responses, BOOM. Your brain can do them automatically, because they’re trained responses — just like opening your front door, or driving to work, or eating an entire pint of ice cream in a sitting in front of the TV.  When you train your brain to respond according to new robotic patterns, new responses emerge.

Josh said that when he trained his hands to the Dvorak keyboard, it took him six to eight weeks to see results. Yet when he did so, he became absolutely hopeless on a QWERTY keyboard for another three months after that, because his conscious and unconscious brain were fighting with each other over the correct position of each letter.  Then one day, he woke up and his brain could easily switch between one keyboard layout and another. Both processes had resolved themselves, and he could do both as easily as he could open the front door.

This is the goal of Palace of Memory technique, of course: to train the brain to store visual and textual imagery in a conscious and organized system, so that it can be recalled automatically.  You learn to turn the key in the lock of that Palace’s front door, and then you surrender the conscious process of remembering information to the parts of the brain that really know how to do it.

I’m not sure this theory is correct.  But I’d argue it with some friends over dinner, and now I present the same thought process to you, my readers. What do you think?

Older Entries