Quilt: arithemtic

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Increasingly, I find myself making diagrams like this. It’s a tentative layout for a quilt I am making for a friend; it’s one of two that she commissioned for some of her nieces. This one will be fairly simple, just 5″ squares sewn to some batting and backing with a bound edge. The accent fabrics are nice. I’m worried whether I have enough blue for the quilt; the fabrics that fill in the squares that are currently empty — I don’t know yet if they’ll be random or in neat rows. I don’t know if thequilts will be on diagonals or just crazily assembled.

I do know that the quilt will have to be 9 squares wide by 11 squares long. Ninety nine squares. There are 42 in this array; another ten on the cutting bench— I need 47 more. In some ways it’s pointless to lay out the squares before the cutting is done. In other ways it helps refine the thought processes that go into planning the quilt and figuring out if your next steps will actually work.

Entirely abstract processes in quilt design should work, in theory. In practice, just using theory doesn’t work.

Poem: For Jupiter & Saturn

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On Thursday this week, there’s an unusual astrological moment.  Jupiter will be in the third decan of Libra, and — 120° away or at a Trine Aspect, in the language of astrology — Saturn will be in the third decan of Sagittarius.  The two large outer planets, one governing expansion and rulership and the other governing discipline and boundaries, will be in a highly-beneficial relationship called “mutual reception” where each reinforces the other:  Jupiter granting expansiveness of ideas and courage in the face of challenges; and Saturn reinforcing discipline and deliberateness to accomplish difficult tasks.  A friend of mine, A.A., is undertaking a special operation, and this is composed for his work.

Hail, great lords of the outermost darkness,
stern Saturn in the skull of a stallion,
Jove at the center of spinning swiftness!
Guiding stars who lead this treasure galleon,
I glory in your lights and praise your Names.
For you, old one, with great discipline rule
the mariner’s careful contemplation
and the discipline that achieves results.
Jupiter — riding ocean like a pool,
remaining steady amid gyration,
the cheerful captain whom the world exalts!

Now each of you in palaces reside
where your dignities sit, enthroned in grace,
and each of you also may hear and heed
the other’s degrees, turned to each friend’s face.
Secret allies in steadiness of will,
and unafraid in the tumult and strife
of all the hazards of troublesome years:
when all is wording ’round, you remain still —
charting out the course of a mindful life,
and steering true, like clever engineers.

Great and glorious, reliable, stern —
steady and sure as the music of spheres:
make this ship a home, and often return:
be my bankers, my cautious financiers,
who grow my wealth and keep my accounts black,
avoiding the wave-troughs of debt and waste,
while leading me through confusion and cheat.
When the winds change, guide me to the new tack;
then help me face the gale properly braced,
with an agile ship, and sea-ready feet.


Tai Chi Y3D93: Bees on My Foot


During tai chi today, a bee landed on my foot. Twice.  Maybe it was the same bee, maybe it was two different bees.  Either way, stillness and calm became the order of the day.  I also had a mosquito land in my ear, which I stopped the tai chi for in order to crush.  God, I hate that feeling of a bug in my ear.

I was talking with My Lady yesterday and she noted that she’s stopped reading these posts, because she feels as though I’ve run out of things to say.  I said I wanted to keep writing them because they were a key tool for me to say, “look, I’m still doing the work and it’s still important to me.” But this morning, I found it easy to do the work, and I found it hard to do the writing. In fact, this “editing window” has now been open for more than an hour while I try to think about what to say.  Which is challenging, to say the least.

Underlying all of this is that I’ve got a process, which I’ve not yet shown the courage to follow through on.  I did it today, but I didn’t do it yesterday or the day before. And I might do it tomorrow, but maybe not.  It’s this: for every posture, every movement, I try to do a four-breath count.  It slows my movements down, it provides me with the right speed, and the right attention to detail.

But I just haven’t crossed that boundary yet, permanently, and it feels like I’m going to have to write daily until that comes to be true.

Rough draft

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Rough draft
Originally uploaded by anselm23

Via Flickr:
Guess what our spring musical is going to be??

I’m thinking that this will be a good roughed-out version of our cover. But I want to experiment more — I don’t like how Sandy’s nose vanishes into Daddy Warbucks’s tuxedo, or how Sandy and Annie’s lack of color plays against the background. Either I need to develop some buildings (a la “NYC” or the Warbucks mansion in the background) or I need to do something to make Annie and Sandy stand out from the background somehow. More contrast, in other words. Since I can’t use color (this is for the program, as well as for the t-shirts for the cast), I’m going to have to get quite creative. Somehow I have to put the logo of our drama club in there, too, along with the dates for the event. Lots of things to change….

Two Takeaways
The designer and the visual artist in me is really pleased. After four years of practice, I can produce a passable first-draft copy of an iconic picture in American art and theater and “literature”, and the three characters are recognizable. The lettering is off, but lettering is my weakest area — and this is a first draft, in any case. There’s one little bugaboo in the upper part of Daddy Warbucks’ eye that makes me think he’s pretending to be innocent while rolling his eyes at the ceiling, which sends shivers down my spine… because I’ve read Gordon’s take on the Jimmy Savile and Jersey scandal…. and of course, Annie:The Musical! is not that story.

At the same time, though, the teacher in me is really kind of displeased. This is a bit of graphic design at school that kids should be doing. However, judging from some of the recent artwork on the covers of our programs, it’s work that either kids don’t want to do, or don’t want to do well. If a kid doesn’t want to do it, that’s one thing. If a kid doesn’t know how to do it, that’s another. Both are challenges to the program I’m supposed to be running — and it means that I have to find a way to build our graphic-design program post-haste, or create an after-school studio in graphic design, or something. But schools should be able to produce this stuff in-house, based on the skillset that teachers inculcate into students. The fact that I don’t know of any students in our little school who can do this is mildly upsetting to me. The fact that ‘m the one who’s supposed to train them to do this is alarming? Why me?

Apparently, because I can do it myself.

Color scales

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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.

Maker’s Grimoire: Visual Journaling

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This exercise came from my encounter with Javier at Michael’s Arts and Crafts, and was inspired in part by this post from @tieandjeans (Andrew Carle), who sent me this photo from MakerFaire on September 30, 2012:

The link leads to a Picture that says, “Drawing is Thinking.” There’s more text than just that, but it’s a reminder of Dave Gray’s Forms, Fields and Flows (which if you haven’t learned it yet, please do.  It’s critical to any sort of design process to learn to draw.)

Anyway, the exercise:

Visual Journaling:

You need:

  • A Notebook
  • A small collection of pens or pencils (pens are better)

This exercise will help you:

  • Become a better artist
  • Become a better thinker
  • Develop a stronger memory
  • Improve your own personal discipline and self-control
  • Give you tools for communicating with other people visually
  • Help you think through problems in three and four dimensions

How often to do it:

  • Daily
  • 15-20 minutes


  • Take a page in your notebook.  
  • Date the page, and the time.
  • Draw a frame on it, somewhere. It must be at least one-quarter of the page, but no more than three-quarters of the page.
  • Draw something that fills the frame:
    1. An abstract design
    2. A picture of something near you
    3. A picture from a reference photograph
    4. Some event that happened in your day
    5. Something from the Drawing List
    6. A copy of a picture you like.
  • Fill the remaining page with a written description of your day:
    1. What you drew
    2. Where you were when you drew it
    3. Why you drew this object
    4. What you were feeling or thinking when you drew it.
  • Do for thirty days.

The Drawing List

If you don’t know what to draw, you can select a thing from this drawing list.  The drawing list is composed of sixty items in two columns: Sunlight and Shadow. (if it’s daylight, draw from the Sunlight column. If it’s after sunset or before dawn, draw from the Shadow list.) In your drawing journal, go to one of the last pages and draw a frame for the list.  Then write out the list in it.


  1. Bread, or pastry
  2. Your dinner
  3. A clock, stopwatch or watch
  4. A stairway
  5. A jumble of pens and pencils
  6. Inside a medicine cabinet
  7. What’s in your pocket?
  8. A person you admire (a hero)
  9. A person you hate (personal villain)
  10. Something with a sharp edge
  11. Some thing, and the mirror reflecting it.
  12. The lines in the palm of your hand.
  13. A picture in a frame
  14. A young man
  15. A middle-aged woman with a child
  16. Something in the refrigerator
  17. A man pushing a baby carriage
  18. A piece of fruit
  19. What you wore today
  20. An angry animal
  21. A tree 
  22. A young woman
  23. A wide open place, and what’s on the edges
  24. A person on a skateboard or bicycle
  25. An old man with a cane
  26. A blue-collar worker
  27. Someone crazy
  28. A single leaf
  29. A flower
  30. A piece of machinery
  31. Three’s a crowd


  1.  A shoe
  2.  A woman
  3.  A bag or purse
  4. A pet
  5. An article of clothing
  6. A chair and table
  7. A scientific or technological object
  8. An object made of glass
  9. A place with water
  10. A building
  11. A wall or a fence or a boundary
  12. A wild animal
  13. A walkway, path, trail or road
  14. A meeting between two people
  15. A solitary person thinking
  16. An accident
  17. All or part of a musical instrument
  18. A really fast car
  19. A costume you’d like to wear someday 
  20. A superhero
  21. A party
  22. A protest
  23. A solider
  24. A game in progress
  25. A white-collar worker
  26. A blue-collar worker
  27. Something dangerous
  28. A horse
  29. A box, a trunk, a shelf, or a cabinet
  30. A book, a DVD or CD case, or a magazine
  31. A couple in love

Revisiting the Watchtower, as design exercise

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This post has been getting some notice recently, from back in 2007. I wanted to highlight it, and set it in some sort of common relevance, as a possible design exercise for a medieval history class. You could do something similar, I suppose, with almost any era in history. Here’s the constraints:

  1. You’re a medieval engineer. You work for a king (or maybe a queen like Eleanor of Aquitaine). You’ve been tasked with building a castle. Not really a castle. A tower — your king/queen doesn’t have a lot of money for construction right now, and getting this tower built is a priority. There’s fast, cheap, and good… pick any two you like.
  2. The tower has to be between forty and sixty feet tall. It’s going to be a watch tower, and the main part of the roof has to have a signal station on top of it, in the form of a large pile of sticks to be set on fire if something goes wrong. All those sticks, and that fire, have to be high up — and the knight and his military force with him have to have a place to live, and from which they can see the surrounding country.
  3. The story of a building like a tower has got to be about 10 feet high — so this tower is four to six stories tall. It might have a low-ceilinged area, like a basement (maybe two); and it might have a high-cielinged area like a great hall. The tower isn’t going to be a grand construction. The base can’t be any larger than 30’x30 feet, and it can’t go more than 10′ deep in the ground.
  4. There’s going to be a knight assigned to the hall. He’s going to have two squires, who will be young men between 15-18. He’ll have maybe four pages, who will be between 7 years of age and 15 years of age. There will be somewhere between 8 and 15 additional men (some infantry, some archers who will want more private quarters because they are more likely professional soldiers) stationed with him, of varying rank and social station. The knight has a wife, who will want some private quarters for herself and her husband; and they have a household of 6-10 servants.
  5. The walls are going to have to be ten feet thick at the base to support the weight of the upper levels, and they can rarely be less than three feet thick because the building material is stone.

Now here’s the challenge:

  • Using graph paper at a scale of 1 square = 2 feet, design a plan and elevation for the tower.
  • Include — stairways between levels; cooking, eating and activity spaces like a great hall, sleeping, and (ahem!) elimination facilities for the residents, including private or semi-private living quarters for the knight and his wife; storage for food and essentials for the household for up to 4 months (winter + siege supplies); defensive positions to protect the tower-house against attack; support columns from basement to upper floors (to support the weight of the watchfire on the roof); show the position of doors and windows; positions of heating elements like fireplaces and chimney flues; water-storage capability for long sieges or winter, for cooking and cleaning.
  • Do not include: technology too advanced for the time period, e.g., electric light or water-driven plumbing.
  • Use David Macaulay’s book Castle as both inspiration and guide to certain construction techniques
  • Conclude with an estimation of the labor force needed to construct your proposed tower, and a rough outline of the project calendar, (e.g, dig foundation in March, make foundations in April, build 1st floor in May, etc.) Remember the limitations of the era’s technology in designing the workforce estimates and project calendar.
  • Extra Credit: Build a model that shows the outside of your tower.
  • SUPERDUPER  Extra-Special credit: Build a model of your tower that includes both internal and external structural detail.

And… Just because I’m nice, and because I want to get used to the idea of publishing and then editing, and building up a library of tools and projects: DT Medieval Engineer <- Here’s that whole exercise, pre-loaded into a PDF, ready to hand out and use in class.

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