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?

Leave a comment


  1. I’m going to laugh. I did leather work from age 18 till about 25 and made shoes, boots, bodices etc. My cousin still has people try to buy her leather, carved, bodice off of her at ren fests. She won’t part with it.

    I built cob and strawbale from 28 till about 36 and threw clay till about 40.

    Sewing is an off and on thing and if you take up sewing do it for the insulated roman shades you can put on your windows. I’ve done more of them than I care to do in a lifetime and it put me off sewing for myself for a couple of years now.

    I laugh because your interests seem to have followed me. I wonder if there is something in a particular personality that gathers these things together. I am, I will admit, leaving some out of the list for my privacy but this is pretty funny.

  2. I am pretty good at sewing, and I got a life-changing tip from my maternal grandparents (he was a sewing maching repairman, and she, well, sewed).

    That tip is…Press Every Seam. Don’t just press where the pattern tells you to press. Press Everywhere All The Time.

    • And, learn to press a seam so the seam does not show on the right side. I feel sad for people who are proud of their clothing they made, but they have left prints on the right side that will probably never come out. Plain cotton blends are not a problem, thankfully.

  3. I absolutely love this. You are as crazy as me. I think I must have ADD – I keep trying all these different things, thinking it might lead me to my next entrepreneurial rainbow or at least make me more self sufficient. I have not attempted making a mattress, but I have been known to – ahm – stash urine. My latest sewing adventures have been making a small teepee & a canvas shower curtain (no vinyl or other plastics!). I abhor waste, so I have been turning all my saved egg cartons into paper mache creations – with mixed results. My garden is overwhelming – I keep thinking it will become its own ecosystem & take care of itself. In the meantime, I am thinking of building a cob stove – or maybe a house! There is simply not enough lifetime to do everything I want to do – much less get good at any one thing. So for now, I, too, will keep “building things out of gunk.” Well said!

  4. Kelly, if you want really fantastic pottery teaching, check out Doug’s class at West L.A. College. It does fill up fast but if you are in it when classes open you should be able to get into the beginning class, especially if you go the first day to waitlist. He explains all the dos and do nots when it comes to throwing pottery, though honestly you will probably start in the beginning intro to ceramics class which is all about handbuilding. I think it is quite important to learn the fundamentals of handbuilding before jumping to the wheel! For a more conceptual education, Frank at SMC is terrifc for that. Doug is great technical wise though, as he throws he explains what not to do, and if you do this, then that will happen. I was terrible at the wheel until I took that class. Cheers and welcome to the very wonderful world of ceramics!!

  5. My indigo plants from Graham are doing well. I just hope they are not getting past their prime..
    they have flowered. Sometimes when tiptoeing along the chicken poo-strewn path I muse about the road less taken. Yet, your blog reveals more traffic on that road then one might have predicted.

  6. I started sewing when I was four- and crocheting when I was eight-years old. Both stuck but to lesser degrees. Sewing is my one passion and a talent I have honed and practiced for 64 yrs. Crocheting has been limited mostly to crocheting one granny squares that eventually become a baby blanket or a doll blanket.

    One year, I crocheted purses for my sisters for Christmas. I made and framed the needlepoint initial of each ones first name. I made various other gifts through the years for different occasions.

    I have tried most needle arts and prefer to not do them. But, long term, I still want to make a few things. Pulled work interests me; embroidery does not. I just detest the look of cross stitch! But, I tried them all.

    Two pair of shoes without a pattern fulfilled that interest. But, I sewed booties/house shoes.

    I have tried a few things that ultimately held absolutely no interest. Using a saw was scary because of limited use of my hand, plus the sawdust choked me. I just made patterns and a friend made things for me. I nailed them together.

    Making good patterns for anything is a skill that I took for granted.

    I wanted to try pottery, but a few concerns stopped me: barium, borax, cadmium, cobalt, chrome, copper, iron, lead, manganese nickel, uranium and a few other poisons.

    Mattress making sounds interesting. My mother put a piece of plywood under her mattress because of her back. Eventually, she had Daddy build a platform for a bed. It had a 2 inch lip around it. She bought a six-inch piece of foam and was free of pain when she slept and most pain when she was awake. She needed surgery but refused. Well, 60 years ago, back surgery often was unsuccessful and made the problem worse, so I don’t blame her.

    I have no desire to surf and would not like continually falling into the water. I was greatly amused at that portion of your narrative.

  7. I have found that putting 4 layers of fleece on the mattress (we just do my side of the bed since DH has no back problems) and a thick, old queen size quilt folded into 3 pieces on top of the fleece has cured my back problems. The fleece seems to cover any knobbly parts and the tri-folded quilt adds softness and more support. Our mattress is 25 years old and not going anywhere due the cost of replacing it.

  8. I was rubbish on the potters wheel as well, got so disheartened, but then I started doing coils and slab work and it was much more satisfying. Both of those techniques are additive and YOU are in control, not the wheel. I even came home with items that I can proudly use.

    I am a bit of a serial learner as well, have ticked off lacemaking, hedgelaying, sugaring, picture framing, stained glass……..

    Learning new stuff is good for us. I have finally got into a woodworking class after being on the waiting list for a year, first project was a briquette mold, next was a screen for sifting vermicompost, currently working on making some new seat slats for an outside chair that I rescued from a dumpster and the project after that will be a solar dehydrator, heavily influenced by yours. Mine will be used to dry the briquettes I will make (using paper that I collect from waste paper bins from my cleaning job) plus any other things that I harvest over the summer (am in NZ so our growing season is just kicking off).

    Love yours and Eric’s posts, both really entertaining and inspiring.

  9. I was so tickled to read your post! I got into knitting a couple of years ago, and that led to trying to teach myself to spin on a spindle. And some ugly, lumpy yarn that is an insult to alpacas everywhere . But I’m still trying. And I love to crosstitch. I have also done a few crochet washclothes, badly. My next big thing is to finally make the time to sit down with my mom and learn to sew. The big passion right now though is canning and do it yourself cooking. I find the more I do things myself, the more I want to do

  10. I’m so glad to know that there are so many nutjobs just like me out there! Thank you all for your support!

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