Learn to Embroider at Trade School Los Angeles

Due to my ostentatious Facebook embargo, now in year two, I rely on comrade Lee of nearby Mixville Heights to pass along important notices via an awkward but mostly reliable chain of semaphore stations and carrier pigeon relay. Brother Lee spotted my post on embroidery and informed me that the barter-based Trade School Los Angeles is offering a free embroidery class on November 17th. In addition to embroidery, they have a zero waste sewing and mending class on the 16th and a class on fermentation on the 23rd. For more information on these classes head to their Eventbrite listing.

Here’s how it works according to their website:

Step 1) Classes at Trade School LA are taught in exchange for barter items provided by students. For example, if you teach a class about building a website, you might ask students to bring 1 of the following barter items: a pack guitar strings; a paperback novel; a bag of local fruit; help with finding an apartment. Every class’s barter will be different, as each instructor sets their own class’s exchange.

Step 2) Students sign up for classes on our website, and, by signing up, they agree to bring 1 of the barter items requested by the instructor.

Step 3)  On the day of class, the teachers & students meet in a space that is made available by Trade School LA. Students give their barter item to the teacher, and the class begins!

Perhaps brother/comrade Lee and I will offer a semaphore class on the hilltop above the Red Lion in the near future in case any of you would like to explore Facebook alternatives.

Embroidering the World

Washstand runner designed by Ernest Gimson and embroidered by Margaret Gimson, 1890.

I suspect that I’m not alone in feeling like I spend way too much time looking at screens to distract from the dystopia that surround us. Neuroscientist Marc Lewis says, breaking an addiction requires a “unique act of reinvention” such as “learning a new art or skill, or religious conversion.” (Richard Seymour, The Twittering Machine, p. 212).

During the daytime I have settled on a successful strategy to hold the Silicon Valley attention thieves at bay. I retreat to my wood shop and either work on house infrastructure, furniture projects or stuff for other people. The phone stays in the house. But I can’t do woodworking at night. I’m just a little too tired and that’s a safety concern. But I think I may have stumbled on a way to stay away from screens at night: embroidery.

Kelly and I took a class with Natalie Richards this past week. She has the qualities of a great teacher. She’s organized, calm, reassuring and inspiring. Her friends apparently call her the “Bob Ross of embroidery” for her soothing patter. If you’d like to learn a few simple stitches, check out Natalie’s YouTube channel. On her channel she shows you the basic stiches, how to make a hoop protector and how to transfer designs. I used her YouTube videos to review some of what we learned in the class. And thanks to her class my past few evenings have been filled by embroidering one of Natalie’s pillow kits.

Both Kelly and I have done some embroidery before but now we have the time to go a little deeper. Beyond being a useful skill, embroidery has something to teach us about life. What if we took back the time that we spend on our devices to make the world a more beautiful place, to “embroiderer” our cities and suburbs? Let’s extend that metaphor beyond a physical sort of embroidery and imagine embroidering this world with a little more love and kindness.

Beautifying the Home Grounds: Your Source for 1920s Outdoor Project Inspiration

I have a simple design process here at the Root Simple compound. I ask the house what it wants. The house, being a fuddy-duddy, vaguely colonial bungalow build in 1920, invariably tells me that it want something fuddy-duddy and vaguely colonial. It doesn’t want innovation or Starchitects or Pottery Barn or Ikea. The house doesn’t care what I want. My most successful outdoor and indoor projects have been ones that nobody notices, that look like they were always there.

If you have a fuddy-duddy 1920s house in need of some trellising, outdoor furniture or an arbor take a look at Beautifying the Home Grounds by the Southern Pine Association, part of the always useful Building Technology Heritage Library on archive.org.

I’m using Beautifying the Home Grounds as a design resource to replace the horrible flipper fence I installed a few years ago and the aging entrance arbor that fence is connected to. I’m thinking of going with arbor number 13.

I’ve already done the rendering in Sketchup. Boring, yes. But sometimes boring is just what your house wants.

Steady

My gappy first attempt at a hand-cut blind dovetail. I’ve got a lot of practice to do!

I spent the past weekend taking a magnificent class with woodworker Chris Gochnour. In addition to being a master of his craft he’s also a talented teacher with many years of experience. Now, this is not a woodworking blog because I’m soooooo not qualified to opinionate on the subject. But I would like to share two things Chris taught that I think apply to any worthwhile task.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson of the class was getting a sense of how to pace work. Sometime in the late afternoon of the first day there was a building crescendo of aggressive pounding and sawing and I think Chris could sense that we were all getting a little too frenetic in our actions. He stopped us and said, “steady, work steady.” He explained that we should not work so slow as to be inefficient but that we shouldn’t rush either. That “steady” pace will, of course, be different depending on if you’re a beginner, such as myself, or further along on the learning curve. I found myself through the rest of the weekend, when I found myself rushing, hearing Chris’s voice in my head saying, “steady.”

The other thing he said that stuck with me is that you, “don’t learn to play the violin in one day.” Skills take practice. I’m familiar with this from studying music and yet I forget that the other needed skills in my life need to be built slowly over time. In music, you have to set aside some time every day to practice your scales.

But where to find the time? Lately I feel like I’ve been paying too much attention to the news. While I think it’s important to know something about what’s going on, I don’t think that I need to follow the day to day drama. What if I devoted the time I spend reading the newspaper to practicing cutting dovetails by hand? What if, instead of falling into the daily political reality show, we practiced sewing, or drawing or learning a language or playing musical instrument? We could probably catch up with the important news in just an hour every week.

While not eschewing power tools, Chris ended the class with a moving plea to consider the more “steady” pace of working with hand tools. “Steady” is not the same as “slow.” “Steady” implies a skillfulness that comes with practice and focus. “Steady” is counter-cultural, at odds with the always distracted ethos of our cheap, plastic, ugly, restless and isolated Empire. So, my brothers and sisters, steady.

The Glorious USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection

Chestnut. Ellen Isham Schutt, 1913.

Over the past few months I’ve been reviving my long lost drawing hobby, partly as a way to fend of the temptations of phone addiction but also as a way of training myself to take the time to really see what’s around me. Anyone who has tried to draw knows that what it teaches is to observe the world without the preconceptions imposed by language. Before the advent of inexpensive photography, drawing had a central role not only in everyday life but also in science. The United States Department of Agriculture’s online collection of watercolor illustrations of fruits and nuts demonstrates how scientific illustration can be both useful and beautiful.

The collection spans the years 1886 to 1942. The majority of the paintings were created between 1894 and 1916. The plant specimens represented by these artworks originated in 29 countries and 51 states and territories in the U.S. There are 7,497 watercolor paintings, 87 line drawings, and 79 wax models created by approximately 21 artists. Lithographs of the watercolor paintings were created to illustrate USDA bulletins, yearbooks, and other publications distributed to growers and gardeners across America.

Rimmer Apple. Deborah Griscom Passmore 1901.

The collection showcases the diversity of fruit and nut varieties before industrial agriculture took it all away and replaced it with easily shipped but tasteless produce.

Pomegranate. Mary Daisy Arnold, 1932.

The human eye can see and perceive things that a camera can’t and the artists who made these exquisite watercolors must have had an encyclopedic knowledge of the fruits and nuts they portrayed. The collection has 3,807 images of apples alone.

Should you have some blank walls in need of art let me point out that all of the images are available in high resolution.