Checking in on Kelly’s projects

tote bag

Today a tote bag, tomorrow the world!

Okay, so this is not the most useful post for the world at large, but I figure that when I mention on the blog that I’m going to try to learn something new, I should report back, to stay honest.

Mattress making:  My post on mattress making has, surprisingly, turned out to be one of our most popular posts ever. I think that shows there’s just a wee bit of dissatisfaction with our available mattress options. (Note that the post has been updated with linkage to an interesting how-to pdf).

Here at home, however, we’re still sleeping on our old mattress. We turned it again and found a side which doesn’t bother my back so much, so this very ambitious project has gone on hold until the crisis arises again. Making a mattress is intimidating, just because of the sheer cost and scale of the materials needed, and as far as I can tell, there’s no one out there to help you do it.  If I ever do make a mattress, it will be like summiting the Everest of homesteading. On the other hand, if I ever learn how, I think I could make a mint teaching other desperate people how to do it themselves!

Shoe making: Shoes are as ambitious as mattresses in their way, and very hard to get your head around. Fortunately I’m going to be taking that turn shoe class I posted about a while back.

I’ve finally realized that I am not a lone wolf when it comes to learning new things. I know people who’ve made beautiful shoes just by figuring them out in their head. I don’t have that kind of head. I like and need teachers. So from now on, I’m just cutting to the chase, kissing the confusing Internet and 70′s how-to books goodbye, and seeking out teachers. (Yes, and it is ironic, being that I’m an Internet how-to teacher.) As of October, I should have my first pair of homemade shoes.

Sewing my uniform: Sewing is also a hard-earned skill, and history has proven I’m no natural born seamstress. Yet, I want my uniform. So instead of blinking stupidly at patterns and sewing books, I’m getting some professional help here, too. I took a “meet the sewing machine” class this week at Sew LA, figuring it could not hurt to start over from scratch. I came out of it with the tote bag you see above–and I only screwed up the bobbin feed three times while making it. Yay me and my special bobbin confusing abilities! Very soon I’ll follow up with a basic skirt class or something similar. I’m on the road to being a crazy homemade dress lady, shod in medieval shoes.

Surfing:  Why do I keep choosing hard things to do??? Some small progress. I have been out a few times. I have been up. (Once. Or twice.) I really like it. And truly, I enjoy falling into the water over and over and over again, and it’s a good thing I do, because for me, surfing is mostly about that. A big shout out to my friend Ellie for being my surf mentor. Thank you, also, to everyone who offered to take me out when I first posted about it! None of you are safe yet: I may come knocking on your door soon as I’m out of the whitewater.

Natural dyes/Shibori/Indigo:  This has been a lost cause as a solo project. I’ve blogged about my plant dye failures. The furthest I got toward my own indigo was collecting a huge amount of urine in a bucket, which I then had to dispose of when it became clear I was not going to turn it into dye. Pouring out all that stale urine, I had one of those out of body moments in which I realized that normal people don’t deal with urine quite as I do.

Yet there’s hope for me still.  Some of you may recall when we posted about our friend Graham’s indigo project. He’s crowd-sourced indigo growing, and has promised some sort of community dyeing fiesta for the growers at harvest time, which should be soon.  Graham is a wizard with natural dyes and shibori technique, so any time spent working with him over a dye vat is time well spent. We’re growing three indigo plants for him, and I’m looking forward to harvesting and dyeing. I suspect that if I take dyeing up more actively, it will be after I get better at sewing.

Pottery:  I did not post about this, but I got it into my head that I wanted to learn ceramics, so I can make ollas, a clay tippy tap, a clay rocket stove, and in my wildest dreams, beautiful earthy modernist ceramics like those sold by Heath Ceramics.  I took a  wheel class earlier this summer, and I was the sorriest potter in the entire class. I am not being modest. It was embarrassing. All around me people were raising beautiful pots on their wheels and I just got lots of clay in my hair. In the end I came home with three wonky, heavy bowls that a kindergartener would shun. I’m making the cats eat out of them.

But I’m getting back on the clay horse, because I’ve never failed at anything that I actually thought, going in, that I’d be pretty good at. To be sure, I’ve tried many things which I knew I’d be hopeless at, and so was not surprised when I sucked. But with pottery, I feel like I should be able to get the hang of it, because I’m good at sculpture and plastering and that kind of thing–additive processes. In other words, I’m good at building things out of gunk. But then again, the wheel is really it’s own thing, and not an additive process at all. At any rate, I’m going to try again, at a different clay studio. I didn’t mesh well with the teacher at the first place, so a change might help.

***

Looking at this list, I’m realizing that I do have a tendency to choose ambitious projects. (Ya think???) All of these arts require a great deal of commitment and skill and time just gain competency, and any one could absorb a lifetime of devotion. So, I know I won’t do it all. The interesting question, though, is which of them will stick, and what will I learn along the way?

Have you ever wanted a uniform?

1920" russian avant garde school uniform

On the heels of Friday’s fashion post, Erik has encouraged me to share my current uniform fantasy with you all.

See, I’ve always wanted a uniform. I love the idea of never having to decide what I’m going to wear again. The older I get, the more I want to keep things simple. I don’t want a closet packed with potential decisions. The less choices I have to make on a daily basis, the better. I think I’d be okay living in a cave with nothing but a robe and a wooden bowl.

As of now, my wardrobe is limited in both type (practical) and color (cool neutrals), which helps, but its not as simple as it could be. I still end up standing in front of the closet wondering “Black short sleeved shirt? White long sleeved shirt? Or is this a t-shirt day?”

I want even fewer options.

The uniform fantasy has been with me for a long time, although the uniform type changes. I’ve never taken the leap into wearing a uniform, though, for two reasons. The first is simply that I’ve been too lazy to construct a uniform. The second is that it is a rather eccentric move– adopt a uniform, and you become known for wearing that uniform more than anything else.

I suppose that if you’re super famous, like Tom Wolfe (white suit) or Erik Satie (identical velvet suits) you can wear the same thing every day and nonetheless your work and your personality will rise above that eccentricity. But I’ve feared that if I wore a uniform I’d become one of those strange local characters, like “the kilt guy” or “the bathrobe lady.”

Still, I do like the idea of fashioning a garment which suits all of my needs (fit, comfort, pockets, good fabric etc.) and making it my very own.

I also like to think that having a uniform would eventually save in laundry and reduce material waste over time. It would harken back to the days when people simply didn’t have more than a handful of outfits to wear, but those outfits fit them well and lasted a long time because they were made of quality materials.

Lately I’ve been obsessing over the outfit at the top of the post, which dates from Russia (or rather, the newborn USSR) in the 1920′s and various Internet attributions say it was designed by Nadezhda Lamanova and Vera Muhina, or perhaps designed by Lamanova and illustrated by Muhina, or perhaps even designed by Muhina alone–although she was primarily a sculptor. To make things more confusing, to me, this outfit seems very much like something Varvara Stepanova would design. It was a small community of people collaborating and doing similar things, so it’s easy to get confused.

I’ll be going to the library for both information and a higher quality image. So, take this all with a big grain of salt. If I find out more, I’ll amend the post.

Anyway, I’ve always been very fond of the Russian avant-garde and the Constructivist movement. In the 1920′s they were very much into designing clothes for an idealized workers utopia. The pattern itself is dubious from a sewing perspective, because it’s obviously more about the Constructivist love of geometry than the realities of hanging fabric. What isn’t visible in this picture but typical of the movement is use of folk embroidery/weaving on the garments, so they were modern yet spoke of place and history and identity.

This particular design is for a school uniform, I believe. I didn’t know that when I first glommed on to it– I thought it was a factory worker’s uniform. But whatever — I like it. I like the red and black combo–very iconic, commie chic. I like her little boots, I like the Mandarin collar (it seems to have a black band at the front, like a negative priest’s collar!) and I especially like the black apron.

I’ve a real fondness for aprons, which has only developed recently. In the past, aprons seemed a symbol of oppression to me, but I’ve grown to appreciate their utility–and I especially love aprons with deep pockets (since, as we’ve discussed, women’s clothing is lacking in pockets.)

Nowadays I often wear an apron in both the kitchen and the garden, mostly because of the pockets, and also so I can wipe my hands on the apron, rather than my butt, which is a real step up in the world. Also, I’ve come to associate the apron with craft, the apron of the cobbler or the blacksmith, for instance, rather than the frilly ornamental aprons of June Cleaver.

And let’s face this: Just as the Constructivists, a bunch of arty intellectuals  developed many of their design concepts around their notions of the nobility of work, I–a keyboard-pecking “knowledge worker”–also fetishize the symbols of manual work, like aprons. (And I’m not alone– witness the artisanal axe.)

I’d like to make this dress in several versions, from a lightweight sleeveless form for summer, to a sturdy workday version, to a fancy version with embroidery for going out. Of course, I do happen to be the world’s worst seamstress, as Erik will relate to you, between the tears of laughter, as he remembers my previous attempts at sewing. However, there is a sewing school very near my house, 8-Limbs, and if I make the decision to go forward, they may be able to help me draft a pattern.

And then I can become yet another colorful neighborhood character (and believe me, my neighborhood is not short on characters.)  I just hope I don’t end up looking like a goth Laura Ingalls Wilder!

Should I do it?

Do any of you have a uniform which works for you? Or do you also fantasize about a uniform, as I do?

How To Diagnose a Tomato Disease

tomato mosaic

Tomato mosaic. Photo: Texas A&M.

It’s that time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re lucky you’ve got tomatoes. If you’re unlucky you’ve got tomato diseases.

When I’ve got a tomato problem I turn to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Tomato Problem Solver. What makes it handy is all the pictures. They’ve pretty much covered every tomato disease in pornographic detail.

How are your tomatoes doing? Any problems?

Local Bite Challenge Starts Today

Local-Bite-featured-basic

Sorry for the last minute notice, but I thought some of you might be interested in a project that our internet neighbor, Melissa, at Ever Growing Farm is launching her Local Bite Challenge today, and is hoping some of you will join her. She and her partner will be eating locally for 100 days on a budget of 100 bucks a week.  There’s all sorts of activities and mini-challenges over the 100 day period to keep you inspired.

So if you’ve considered eating more locally, but haven’t quite found the gumption to embrace it yet, this would be a fun way to take the plunge, and see what you learn about your local foodscape.

This introduction page gives an overview of the project: Local Bite Challenge

Meet our book & web designer: Roman Jaster

making it cover

Roman Jaster is the gifted designer who designed both Making It and this very website for us. He recently gave a Visiting Designer talk about his work at his alma mater, CalArts and made that lecture public on YouTube. In it, he talks about his childhood in East Germany, the decisions he made early-on which determined his career, his working methods (which are really interesting, combining coding with design) and talks about the concepts behind some of his projects, including Making It.

This all may be a little off-topic for the blog, but I’m sure some of you out there are designers, or who know someone who is interested in a career in design, or maybe, like us, you’re just curious about other people’s jobs. Roman is a charming guy and a good speaker.

The talk is available as a PowerPoint lecture in several short installments over on YouTube. This link should take you to the first video in the playlist. You’ll see the lecture is divided thematically so you can focus in on what you’re interested in — but we’d recommend you watch the first segment, about his early life, so you can see him 1) dressed as an Indian princess, 2) modeling German swimwear and 2) going to prom. ;)

DIY Funerals Part 2: Swine Composting

composting diagram

This image from “Composting for Mortality Disposition” by the Virginia Cooperative Extension. I have no idea what’s going on there, exactly–I meanm wouldn’t that pile be as big a house? — but I like that it looks like the  Noah’s Ark of Death.

In the comments on my last post, several people pointed out that farm animals are often composted. I did not know this!  I’m from the city, so there’s lots of stuff I don’t know. Like the difference between hay and straw. Anyway, this is exciting, because it brings me closer to being composted. (In my funereal fantasy world, at any rate)

One of the commenters, Raleigh Rancher, kindly sent along a link to Composting Swine Mortalities in Iowa, a publication of the Iowa State University Extension Program. Thank you, Raleigh!  What a trove of information! It has how-to’s, and a FAQ.

I also googled “swine composting” and found that there is in fact a ton of information out there, and most of it from respectable university extension services, not crazy DIYers like me.  And now  I truly am confused. If farm animals are getting composted all the time, and that compost is being spread on cropland, why can’t we be composted and put to good use?

Who Wants Seconds? Winner Announced

WhoWantsSeconds_JennieCook

What a great response we’ve had on this one! Thank you all for entering, and thanks to Jennie for giving us this book to share with you all.

We’ve also enjoyed seeing how you all self-identify. Eating has become such a complex, even fraught activity. My grandmother would boggle at discussions like this, I suspect. I don’t think she even knew the word vegan.

Since we’ve heard from you all, we’ll share our preferences: We eat mostly vegetarian, but will eat meat if it comes from an impeccable source. Preferably we will actually know the farmer. This kind of meat is hard to come by and very expensive, so we eat it rarely–maybe six times a year. Though we eat dairy, we do our best to eat grass fed dairy, and mostly our own eggs, and this limits availability and raises costs as well, so many of our meals are actually vegan.

Okay! I know! Enough blathering. This morning we generated a number at random.org and counted down the comments until we got to our winner.

And the winner is….

Siri!

Congratulations, Siri!

We have Siri’s email address since she didn’t comment anonymously. We’ll be sending her an email right now, so we can exchange mailing information.  So look for our email, Siri!

Again, thank you all for entering!