Sunday, November 02, 2014

progress report: in motion!

i'm glancing around my living room at furniture i made before I knew much of anything about woodworking.  it's all beautiful and functional!  it's all made from scraps of wood i found here & there.

the table i'm making now has joinery inspired by timber framing.  just very simple mortises and tenons, plus maybe a couple of dovetails to support cross pieces that support the table top.

i've been paralyzed for months on this table because i spent about $100 on the wood and another $160 on a vise.  so this table has to be perfect!  or awesome, or a showcase of my skill, or something.  which doesn't help one to actually get moving on a project.

but anyway my new system is just to put in hours and see what happens.  by just putting myself in my space (in the basement), things are happening.  this afternoon, i plan to clock in and do at least 2 more hours.  i don't have the ideal tools, but i can make do with the ones i have.  so far:  2 tenons, 1 mortise complete.

i've started.  i'm not scared of making a mistake on my beautiful 4x4 cedar leg posts.  I just went for it.  and the joinery works.  i did a test fit and it works.  the pieces even meet at almost a 90 degree angle!

Monday, October 20, 2014


My goal is to consume less and create more.  Specifically, less "research" and "inspiration" time spent on tumblr, blogs, and pinterest.  More time working on actual projects I already have in the works.  Here is a drawing of a table/work bench I'm making right now.

(The quality of my photographs is a subject for another post.  As you may guess it hasn't been a priority, but I'd like to return to posting with really beautiful photographs.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Creating Beauty

"Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul."
--Alice Walker

That sentence captures what drives me when I make things.  Whether sewing clothes or building furniture, I am creating in a way that heals me.

One challenge that I face is that beauty is so easy to find online.  There are so many pictures.  I get a big hit of euphoria when I overload myself with beauty, as is easy to do.  You can see one of my picture collections here.

Beauty is also easy to find if you want to just shop for it.

But if you want to be a maker of beautiful things, you will have to adjust to a slower pace.   Rather than scrolling or clicking, you must go slowly and patiently, and wait days or weeks for your creation, which will not be perfect, to be completed.  It's a real thing though.  And it's all yours.

So I'm wondering if I should take a break from all the pretty pictures I love to look at online.  It's too much!  And it satisfies me before I even lift a finger to make the things i want to make.

Monday, October 13, 2014

timber framing

Last weekend I did three days of timber framing at a workshop in Virginia.  I took the workshop at Heartwood Building School in Massachusetts last summer.  This workshop helped to refresh my memory of all the terms (arris, slick) and techniques I learned there, plus more.  

I like the purity of timber framing.  Using only a chisel, mallet, and pegs, you can turn timbers into the framework of a home.  Of course, you can incorporate lots of power tools too, such as a chain mortiser, which cuts down on time a lot.  Or planers to smooth the timbers so they look less rough than the one in the picture above.

There were maybe 20 or 30 others working on the frame, a mix of experienced and recreational timber framers, and a few people who were completely new to it, but had carpentry experience.  There was plenty of guidance, and a laid back, friendly atmosphere.

This is what we built:

It's called a woodshed, but it could serve other purposes too.  It will be auctioned off to benefit a program that prevents violence in families.

On a project like this, you work on pieces, and at the end, we put all the pieces together.  My own contribution felt small but it's there.

Friday, September 05, 2014

comfortable clothing and related thoughts

As summer was winding down, I finally got to make some tank tops I've been wanting to make for a while.  I used this pattern and made six.  It was such a great experience!  

I have a hard time finding clothes because when I go to the mall I tend to settle.  Things that are on sale aren't necessarily what I like best.  At thrift stores selection is unreliable at best.  However older things are often made better than what's available now.  Compare vintage L. L. Bean to the stuff made in China they currently sell.  You know, sweatshops are bad vibes as well as low quality.

So I struggle to put together a wardrobe that feels right for me, that looks like me.

Making these tanks feels like a breakthrough.  I have a pattern I've customized slightly, that I could repeat.  I can get one done in a day.  I have fabric for 2 more in the pipeline.

Having clothing that fits right and is of high quality makes you feel different.  Growing up I didn't often have those types of clothes.  I often felt uncomfortable in my clothes, and now, looking at people who appear to feel comfortable in their clothes, I wonder if that affected me.  

Those clothes made me feel that life was inherently uncomfortable.  

That's something I would like to change.  Starting with these 6 tanks.  And hopefully expanding to other items, whether purchased or made, new or used. 

I want to feel comfortable and well-equipped for my life.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

what i've learned--kitchens

Not my kitchen; from here
I've moved a lot.  I can look back and remember a lot of places, and what they felt like.  In my search for home, I'm looking for a place that reminds me of the best aspects of each place I've lived.

My tumblr page has a lot of images tagged kitchen.

We like to cook as a team so it's important to me that a kitchen functions smoothly with 2 or more people helping.  This is what I've learned so far about kitchens:

1.  Our current kitchen and the past 6 kitchens were laid out with the sink, stove, and refrigerator in a line.  In my opinion the best layout is a u shape that isn'
t too big or too small.

2.  There should be ample space between each work station:  washing dishes, prepping/chopping, and standing at the stove.  Our current kitchen has about 12 inches between the stove and the sink, so it's hard to wash dishes if someone is at the counter chopping vegetables.  I've read that 24 inches is ideal.

3.  There should be a suitable place to set things that you take out of the fridge.  The best arrangement we've had for this was a tiny kitchen with an extra small fridge.  It worked because you could sit at a chair (at the table) 2 feet from the fridge, and unload what you wanted onto the table, and then start chopping/prepping on the table.  The other person still had easy access to the stove and sink.  It's amazing that that tiny kitchen functioned so much better than the larger kitchens we've had since.

(That kitchen was also laid out in a line, but because the tiny table & 2 chairs were on the opposite wall, it formed something of a triangle.)

4.  Natural light is best.  Our current kitchen is quite fancy, with granite countertops and classy dark wood cabinets, but it has only 2 windows, one to the outdoors and the other facing a carport with limited light.  The dark cabinets seem to block a lot of light, particularly when cabinet doors are open.  I'd far rather sacrifice some storage and have more natural light, which is so much brighter than the overhead lighting.  It's really hard to see what I'm cooking, even with the over the range light on.

5.  Open shelves.  This works best if you regularly use everything that is displayed on the open shelves.  Otherwise, they do get dusty.  In our last place, we removed the cabinet doors from the upper cabinets and left the lower ones on.  (I'd love to do this here, but the cabinets are fancier and from my 1 day experience as a cabinet installer, I know this type would be very tedious to re-install.)

Open shelves means you can skip the step of opening a cabinet and directly reach for the bowl or mug you need.  Your plates, mugs, and collection of mason jars and spice bottles is rather appealing to look at.  You can keep the less beautiful things in the closed cabinets.

If you've ever bumped yourself in the face opening a cabinet too swiftly, you'd probably appreciate open shelves.

6.  Regarding counter height, I would like to copy the following snippet I found in a book recently:  "In rethinking the philosophy of the kitchen, I realized the need for a new approach to counterspaces in terms of height and materials.  First, there should be a stainless steel or granite cooktop that is impervious to food acids and can handle very hot pans;  then, two different heights for food preparation and chopping, made both of hard end or flat grain wood such as maple, cherry, or oak.  A water repellent teak or stainless steel surface that slopes surrounds the sink.  The sink itself should be at the highest level to make working in the basin (generally 8 - 10 inches deeper) comfortable.  The chopping block is then about two inches lower.  Finally, think about installing another counter six inches below that--or slightly higher than a table for such appliances as a Cuisinart, juicer, or coffee maker, that can double as a food prep area for children."  --Johnny Grey, custom kitchen designer

I'm already of the mind of having eclectic furnishings in the kitchen rather than a matching set of cabinets, and this suggestion works well with that.

7.  Eat in kitchen is desirable!  Even in my tiniest kitchens I've managed to squeeze in a small table which I've always used rather than a larger table in the living area (it ends up being the work/project table.).  In my dream kitchen I'd build in a booth next to a window.

8.  Access to the outdoors, preferably via a patio or deck.  I like to step outside and pick some herbs.  If the outdoors is visible and directly accesible, you're more likely to take breakfast or a cup of coffee outside.  If you have to step through 3 doors and a gate, it's easier to stay in.  The outdoor eating area would ideally be shady in summer and sunny in fall and spring.  You can get this with a removable canvas awning or a pergola with a vine (grapes, wisteria) that loses it's leaves in the winter.

9.  I like to hang pots & lids on the wall.  I also hung the biggest bowl and a colander over the sink where they can drip dry.  These items are harder to store in cabinets and they're easily accessible this way.

10.  Pantries and cabinets should have shallow shelves so items are not stacked in front of other items.  This way you won't lose track of what you have, and you don't have to move something to get something.  Also, if you're not using something, you can think about getting rid of it since you'll see it all the time.

11.  You can place a viney plant in the corner of the kitchen farthest from a window, and it will grow toward the light.  Place a few hooks in the wall to support it.

12.  I wash plastic bags and then hang them to dry using clips that stick to the fridge.  Then I have a storage system for the bags (a smaller card board box for regular bags and a clothespin for ziplocs) so that I can reuse.

13.  Compost.  If you compost, you can keep quart sized yogurt containers with lids on a counter.  Once they're full, place them in the fridge or empty them into the compost.  When we lived in an apartment and didn't have our own compost, we'd wait until we had 6 or more yogurt containers and then made a trip to the compost pile.

14.  Keep a stack of dishtowels (ones you like) for using as a napkin, drying rack, or to pile washed greens and veggies on.

15.  I have a cabinet dedicated to coffee and another for baking.

16.  Make a little cubby for a kitty to keep you company while you cook.

17.  Have a place for recycling.

This is my very personalized summary of kitchen design notes.  I may come back and add more if I think of it.  Otherwise I'll move on with my weird and wacky ideas about bedrooms and bathrooms.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


we live in a house.  there are trees in the back yard.  the trees drop twigs, which we collect.  a flame catches on the wood.  this is fire.

flour, water, salt, and oil makes a dough.  the dough is cooked over the embers of a fire, and turned.  we add tomato sauce, pesto, cheese, and wait.  this is pizza.

i print a pattern and cut and glue the paper into shapes.  i pin the pattern to cloth.  scissors cut the cloth.  i will press it and sew it with a needle and thread.  this is a shirt.

life offers us objects.  certain tools cut materials.  other materials join them together.  being humans, we like to make things, so we learn the skills, and make things for ourselves.  this is my life.