8 of many trades, Jack of some


blog entries that are about making, tinkering, projects

Bird cage sketching

Sketching counts as making. I’m planning a 6-ft tall birdcage. Why? That takes a while to explain. I think I’ll just make it and hopefully it will make sense.

I also made eggplant stew. Yummy.

2016 Update, part 1

Wow, it’s been a long time since I posted!  I’m still here. With this long overdue update. I apologize in advance for the length and the ramble. This is my ersatz year end wrap-up / CChristmas letter. (part 1, apparently)

I’ve had time to reflect on my life, now that I’m (semi)retired. I know what makes me happy, and that is making stuff. And having intelligent conversation with great minds.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. – attributions vary

I know that even though I’ve a awesome life, and have minimized the stressors in my world, I will still have bad days. This most foul year of 2016 has given a lot of reasons for exasperated shock and moral defeat. Some days it’s just hard to move forward. Just keep swimming, I guess.


My schedule has very little rhythm these days. I need more of that. For 8 months I’ve been careening from event to event and it’s been awesome. But a daily rhythm is missing, and I’m working to create that again. I have a plan for fixing this. But not today.

So what have I made? This and that.

I’ve made costumes and kids pjs. This included several dresses for Pennsic Wars for both me and my 5 year old. (There is more – particularly of my outfits – but I’m not going to derail this post my running around and photographing the rest)


I’ve made an arch out of foam-core with plans to up-size it out of wood. Eventually. And I helped the amazing Micheal Verdon build two “temple” structures this year – one for Transformus, and one for Catharsis on the Mall.

I spun some wool into string with a drop spindle, while I worked as a poll worker for the primary election here in Delaware. I also worked the general election, but there was little downtime during the general to get into spinning. Nearly 70% of my precinct voted in the general, so it was busy all day. <Photos pending>

There was this great sign at the polling place, which is a local middle school. I’m sure I’ll reuse this sign in the future. Like during my next “camping” adventure. Last time out my camp of 20 careened into drama land. (look! I used careen twice in one post!)


More photos from this year’s “camping”

My camping adventures (other than Pennsic, which is medieval re-enactment) are “burns”, which are Burning Man inspired events. These are hard to describe to someone who hasn’t been, but it’s a community camping event that is heavy on the art. And evolution of hippie ethos meeting silicon valley tech. I use this video to introduce friend to the flavor.  Well worth the 7 minutes of your time to watch. IMHO.

It’s been a few years since I went to Burning Man itself.  I hope to go again in 2018 as part of the temple build crew. Burns are more fun for me if I’m making something while there. There are a lot of smaller burns that are trying to capture the spirit and are typically a lot more accessible. The ones I go to are these smaller closer regional events. I have a “home burn” which is the Playa del Fuego regional in Delaware that happens twice a year.

I have a project I’ve been slowly working toward for 2 years now – part of which requires collecting of affirmations. I’ve had 3 collection activities – with help of a wonderful campmate SherieBerie (she even made this wonderful mobile affirmation donation station last time we went out). I do plan to finish out this project over the winter. Stay tuned.

Ok, there is more but I’m posting this as part 1.



First Smock/T-Tunic

I’m going to Pennsic Wars in the summer, which is medieval reenactment camping. And this means you can’t wear normal “mundane” clothes, but are supposed to dress more like you’re from the middle ages. So I’m making some simple dresses for the kid and for me.

The basic dress is called a T-Tunic or Smock. I have a pile of linen from my mother’s tablecloth stash, but I figured I should practice on some cheap material first before I up-cycle the vintage linens. So I bought some cheap muslin (which is another word forlightweight 100% cotton. Fabric language is a great confuser) for my first attempt . This caused some consternation in the store, as the bolt was mismarked.

Me: How much per yard?

Clerk: $3.

Me: Really, $3??

Clerk: Yes, $3 per yard.

Me: Great! I’ll take the whole bolt!

Clerk: . . . wait, hmmm, did I say $3? It’s not in the system! Oh noes!! System says $5 per yard? Ack – what to do!!

So they did a manual pricing, which in turn caused even more issues when I gave them my 40% coupon. They finally just waved their hands and pretended the problem away at a price I loved. Math hard. Haha. (This is what counts as fun when you’re not employed) So now I’m the proud owner of 4.5 yards of 60″ wide muslin, for $7.13

Next, a pattern. I figured this time I wasn’t going to eyeball it an instead seek out a pattern. I stumbled upon this online Elizabethan Smock Pattern Generator site and now patterns for both me and the kid.

Cutting and sewing, cutting and sewing. My sewing machine is pretty basic, but hey, these are pretty basic dresses. I usually do the kids first, then having learned from my mistakes, I do one for me.


I learned on hers not to cut such a big hole for the neck, despite what the pattern might say. She wears it with an undershirt now, until I get around to adding a modesty panel. Next up, a sideless surcoat overdress, from an Ikea curtain.

What to do with bad wool? part 1 (washing, drying, dying)

IMG_20160512_110602464So tinkering this week took an unexpected turn. I was planning on putting together a LED light curtain. See, I had the supplies gathered and everything! (yes, my living room often is used for project staging. And the guest room. And the kitchen. And often the dining room. Pretty much every room on the main floor of the house gets a turn).  But then I went to a FFA flower sale (FFA = Future Farmers of America). Some of the FFA students were coincidentally shearing a sheep. I asked if I could have the wool. The FFA advisor said, “sure … but it’s not good wool.” Hah! Like that mattered!

So I bagged it up, took it home. And WOW it smelled of barnyard stink. So I got to cleaning it. I put on gloves & picked though it to get the obvious crud out (animal bedding, feed and yes, sheep poo.) IMG_20160510_135936689

Then put it in sink full of hot tap water with some woolite to soak. I added 2 cups of microwaved-to-almost-boiling water to the soak to help more dirt.  A LOT of dirt came out – evidenced by the water turning murky brown. Then I rinsed. And rinsed again, and again and again. The thing EVERYONE warns you about washing wool is to be gentle, or it will felt. I was gentle as possible. I actually did it in 2 batches – one sheep gives a lot of wool. Lots of hot running water.


Then I dumped the wool out to air dry after gently squeezing the water out of the wool. I had a toddle/dog gate handy, so I re-purposed it as a drying rack.  And yay, after washing, it smelled like wool & woolite. And not barnyard. It was a grey white, with just a few darker black spots. My kid, age 5, was unimpressed. Someday I hope she’ll appreciate the crazy crafts her mother gets into. (They recently did interviews at her preschool about Mothers. She said I’m 55, my favorite food is broccoli, and the best thing I cook is ramen noodles. Ha.)

The wool was mostly dry the next day. Normal next step would be to comb or “card” the wool so all the fibers are more or less aligned. Then either spin it or felt it. But I don’t have carders – I’m attempting to borrow some. (ASIDE: If anyone in the area has hand carders I can borrow, please let me know.)

So instead I’m dying the wool.

Normally, I’d go through the effort of getting soft water if I was seriously dying something. But heck, I’m not sure if this wool is good for anything. So I just used my well water and hope for the best.

I used Fuchsia Red fiber reactive dye I purchased from Dharma Trading – I bought it for another purpose just recently. I pretty much followed the instructions on that website on how to use the dye for wool.

Step 0: Make sure the kid is in bed for the night, because this is going to take a good hour of attention.

Step 1: Put the clean wool in hot tap water. Let soak as you work on prepping the dye. I shorted myself on the soak time – should have let it soak 1/2 an hour, but I got antsy and it was more like 20 minutes.

Step 2: Put 2 teaspoons of dye + 2 tablespoons cold tap water in a pyrex 2 cup measuring cup. Stir stir stir to make a paste.


IMG_20160511_200937505Step 3: Find my biggest Stainless* Steel pasta pot. Pour in the dye paste. Fill up the measuring cup with hot tap water. Add roughly 4 tablespoons Mortons Kosher Salt (the important part is that it is NOT Iodized. And this was the non-iodized stuff I had on hand) and stir until dissolved.

(aside, about now I turned on Jim Rezac’s weekly Periscope Jam livecast. It’s good to have something to see/listen to in the background during the 20 minutes of stirring)

IMG_20160511_201248675Step 4: Add the wool, and hot tap water to top off the pot. Put on stove and heat until simmering. Then simmer for 10 minutes. In truth, I don’t think I ever hit simmer, but it was steaming. Stirring gently every minute or so.

Step 5: Add 2/3 cup of white vinegar. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring every two or three minutes. Gently! Don’t mash it to hard or it will felt! My understanding is the vinegar “sets” the dye. If you skip the vinegar the dye will wash out.

Step 6: Rinse. Start with Hot tap rinse and continue rinsing in cooler and cooler water until the water is room temp & runs clear. Then spread to dry.

Rinse until water is clear

Rinse until water is clear

So, my pot wasn’t big enough for all the wool I soaked. So I used tongs to take out the dyed wool for rinsing (and rinsed using another pot). And added the remaining soaked wool (that had at this point been soaking for 45 minutes) to the dye pot. And let it simmer as I rinsed the main batch. So I’m guessing it simmered in the vinegar/dye pot for 15 minutes. Maybe 20. . . anyway, when I rinsed that smaller leftover batch, it was indistinguishable from the first set. So maybe combining steps 4 & 5 is ok.

End result: Cotton Candy colored Pink wool 🙂 And that’s only half of it. Still not sure it will be good for anything much. But I’m fixing to find out.



*Stainless = Misnomer


Big Ball, part 2

So it’s spring, and we finally had some nice warm days. So I rallied a few friends and we finished my “I like Big Ball” art project. These things are never really finished – I will continue to tweak it out for the next few weeks. And then maybe months to make a 2.0 version.

Adding FramingAnyway, we cut and added the missing pipes. And made come hoops to improve the framing from HDPE tubing. I actually an a bit disappointed in the tubing. I was expecting it to fall into a circular shape naturally. But it didn’t really, so its kinda deformed squished oval. Sigh. Good enough I guess.

And then covering the improved frame. It’s a nice white 8 foot ball. And then we had to go eat (well, drink) as we waited for nightfall. If you’re in Dover, I recommend Governor’s Cafe – nice ambiance & great food.


Ball in Repose

Tipped over and ready for lighting


Ok, and then it was night. We returned home and lit the ball up. I had bought some lighting from Amazon. A Crystal Magic Rotating Ball light  and a Sunflower LED light, which both react to music beats. We put them and some speakers inside the ball and boo-ya! I LIKE Big Ball!

I like Big Ball


BigBall, part 1

Twice a year I go camping with 1200 of my closest friends. Some of us bring “art” to the camping. In the past few years, along with some campmates, I’ve built a few things. This spring I’m working on building a big ball. Big as in 8-foot in diameter, and glowing. And one of the cool things about this camping trip is they often kick down some dollars to help pay for the “art”. Yay, art grants!

Constraints: it has to be portable, and constructable/deconstuctable in a relatively short amount of time with minimal tools — my tool collection is modest and mostly handtools. Also, it’s a 4-day camping event, you don’t want to spend the whole time building when there is other fun to be had. And there isn’t much in the way of heavy equipment to help the build.

I realize there may be other approaches, but I’ve decided to use 3/4″ EMT conduit and canopy fittings to build a frame. Then enhance the frame with hooping – made from hula hoop material. Then covered in white cloth. And lit-up from the inside.


Some framing in progress shots:

IMG_6657 IMG_6660 IMG_6664

We got this far, when we ran out of conduit. If you look closely, you can see a crossbeam is missing.


Leaf template. Yeah, they are big leaves

Leaf template. Yeah, they are big leaves

Then I made a dome-shaped cover (since I can’t find my parachute. I think I might have given it away). I used the sphere cover sizing calculator from this site:  https://simplydifferently.org/Geodesic_Dome_Notes?page=18

I opted for 6 leaves, and put in my numbers for this slightly larger than 8-foot diameter ball frame. Next, a trip to the fabric store for 12 yards of white suit lining fabric. Then a long evening making a cardboard pattern, then cutting the material. And then a long morning sewing it all into a dome cover.


IMG_6730Then shanghaiing a neighbor to help put the cover onto the dome. What this test highlighted is that I need to add much more framing if I want it to keep it’s ball shape when covered. The fabric drooped into all the open space. This photo is the most ball looking, and it’s just because the wind caught it and puffed it out.

Hmmm, more hooping – how about some hoops from the material used in hula-hoops. Lightweight, not to pricey, easy enough to procure. I calculated I need about 75 feet of hoop material if I’m going to add 4 levels of hooping.


This is pretty much how far I’ve gotten.

Next up, buying more conduit. And gathering some friends/campmates to finish out the framing. And figuring out how to cover the other half of the ball. And how to keep it from rolling. And how to light it best. But that’s all for another day.

For now it’s sitting in my front garden amusing (annoying?) the neighbors.

Nightsky Nightgown tink

Last week I bought myself some new PJ’s, and the kid loved them. They have this cool star/moon fabric. She wanted ones JUST like them. Of course, mine are adult sized, no where near a 5 year old size.

So I went to JoAnn Fabrics in search of some similar fabric so I could make her some. Yes, I spoil my kid. Yes, I needed some sort of project to get into. And Yes, as I plan for making some Pennsic Garb for the summer, I figure it’s a good, low risk way to brush up on my sewing.


Fabric! My PJs on the left; Hers on the right.

IMG_20160228_122906506So I took one of her existing nightgowns and eyeball traced it on the 1.5yr of fabric, and cut it. I ended up with 3 pieces – two arms and a body. I cut the neckline a bit larger in the front than the back. I did the front and back as one piece – the shoulderline was a fold.
Next up, bias tape. I never have worked with bias tape before, so I figured this was the perfect chance to learn how. I used double fold, and added it to the neckline. Turns out, I made the neckhole too small. So I eventually cut it down the front so she could actually put her head through. But it’s pretty easy to put it. I hand based it on, then sewed it on the machine. Next time I’ll pay more attention to the joins. FotorCreatedThe last thing I did was also add some bias tape to the bottom hem. I haven’t gotten around to bias taping the wrists yet – and you can see how frayed the edge is now after one night of wear.

Next pinning around the armhole. Pinned on arm one, and (machine) sewed it. Pinned on arm 2, sewed it. At which point I realized I had pinned it inside out. Oops. Take out the seam, repin (right this time!) and resewed it. And  I waited for the kid to come home, because I wanted her to try it on before I sewed up the side seams. Which is when I realized the neckhole was too small and cut it open.

So, turn the nightgown inside out, pinned side and arm seam, and sewed it. Then the other side. And bias the bottom hem, and done enough for a first night wearing. (I”ll get around to taping the wrists and cleaning up the neckline some more. Soon.)

Bonus that the kid loves it and doesn’t mind that Mama’s seams are not perfect! 🙂 And this is sure to help when I make the tunics for Pennsic!


Tools: Scissors. Iron. Sewing machine. Pen for tracing on fabric. Knife for ripping out bad seam. Pins. Needle for hand basting. Thread.

Supplies: 1.5yd fabric. Bias Tape.  Cost ~$8. Time 2-3hrs?

Chapter 4


And whew, entering chapter four of my life. Finally.

Chapter one: childhood-college. Chapter 2: New Orleans Chapter 3: Autodesk Chapter 4: The Dilettante Tinkeress

Yes I tinker. Or “make”. Today I made lunch. And started this blog.

I’m currently working on 2 more significant projects: a nightstand for my kid’s room, and an  art project for upcoming camping festival (it’s a big ball – more on that later).

Kid is almost home from preschool, I’ll post the how to on the nightstand soon.


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