Monday, December 29, 2014

Martial Sewing Arts

I've been working on a bunch of sewing projects over the past month.  Some were for the holidays, including some fleece pj bottoms for the kiddos, stuff like that.  I've been slowly working through tailored shirt patterns, learning my way around that stuff.  Got a couple of cool pattern books from Japan for Christmas, and those things have me all excited to try out shirts and jackets.  So why, you might be tempted to ask, why would I, in the middle of all of that, suddenly take up an entirely different project? this case, I will have to plead self-defense.

For a little over two years now I've been taking karate at a local gym.  It started out as an activity for one of the kids, and twice a week I would drive her down there and sit on the parent-bench (you know the one), with all the other parents, waiting for the 1-hour class to finish.  The class was fun, my daughter was enjoying herself, which was nice.  The bench, however...well, it might not have been the Group-W bench, but it filled me with a kind of dread nonetheless.  Parents slouched on the bench, staring into their smart phones, in various states of could-be-better health.  I noticed that there was a beginner's class for adults happening at the same time as my daughter's class - it took me all of two weeks to put two-and-two together and I enrolled for classes.

Since then I've been training away, several hours a week, for more than two years.  You might know that karate, and other martial arts, uses a special outfit for training called a gi (pronounced "gee", like geek....shut it).  When I started out I got the starter uniform, a lightweight and ill-fitting piece of work, its only positive attribute being...... actually, I don't remember how this sentence is supposed to end.  Upgrading to a heavier-weight gi is a bit of a gamble, the sizing and such is always a mess since they are made out of cotton canvas, which can shrink and move quite a bit.  On top of that, they need to be sturdy (for all of that grappling and throwing around stuff) and roomy (lots of athletic movements).

I got a heavy-weight gi about a year ago, and I like it fine.  The pants are great, I really like them, but the jacket is less than perfect, especially in it's length.  Gi jackets are cut in a bunch of ways, depending on use and tradition of origin, but I have come to want a longer "apron" on mine, meaning a long jacket that hangs down to mid-thigh.  So, I took out my heavy-weight jacket and started creating a pattern from it, then altered that pattern to create something more to my liking, and a bit more fitted.

I finished the project today and will wear it to practice tomorrow night.  The gi ended up being great practice for several techniques, mostly due to the heavy-weight, sturdy construction that is required for a piece of clothing that will undergo so much use-stress.  Flat-felled seams are used throughout, a yoke piece is integrated into the shoulder area in an interesting way, several ties and gussets are incorporated, and all hems are super-reinforced.  Lots of top-stitching to do, often through several layers of canvas.  A denim needle (or two...broke one near the end) is a must, as well as a healthy dose of patience, especially when approaching seams where layers are stacked up.

The jacket will get its real test in the coming weeks, as I work out in it and see how it wears (and tears).  But I am pleased with the way the thing turned out so was a big project, but came together fairly quickly and is something I can put to use right away.  I marked it with an improvised tag, working in some tartan colors along the way.  Highland colors on a karate gi!  Fusion!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Makers' Mark

We have been having a creative bonanza here at home.  The holiday season has provided materials, motivation, and time - all the necessary ingredients for a Maker's movement.  Here are a few of the results!

Kilt Hose - knitted by Duncan

I started learning knitting maybe two years ago, a combination of necessity and opportunity.  The opportunity portion came about with a sudden abundance of wool fiber, the contributions of our little flock of sheep, shorn annually.  Anticipating this, I thought it would be nice to start learning a few ways to put that stuff to good use.  The necessity bit...well, necessity is a bit of a stretch.  But still, a man that wears a kilt now and again needs some kilt socks.  And let me tell you, good kilt hose are hard to find.  Heavy-duty, cable-knit make the best impression when showing off a Scotsman's calves.  The best quality fetch a handsome price, probably because they are hand-made gems that come right from the source, deep in the Highlands.

After a couple of starter projects (cable-knit scarf, that kind of thing), I put together a design for the socks, drawing from a variety of sources in order to get the look I wanted.  I actually produced a pair in a charcoal color, then started these in a classic creamy wool.  Then I set them aside....for like...eight months.  Then, a week before Christmas, I decided I wanted to wear them with the kilt for a Celtic Christmas Eve service we hold at the church every year.  So, I drug them out and finished them off.  They turned out great, I'm very happy with the weight and wear of them.  In the photos you can catch a glimpse of a sgian dubh (pronounced skein doo), the "black knife" that is part of a kilt outfit.  I crafted the knife, too, though it is not quite finished, lacking a proper sheath and a final polish.

AT-AT, Snowspeeder, et al - constructed by Evie

Evie had a Christmas list this year that was topped by pure awesome: she wanted a LEGO Star Wars model of an AT-AT.  Yes, an Imperial Walker, famous for stomping around Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.  She nurtured this want for months, and, anticipating that we would make this awesome dream come true at Christmas, we primed the pump on her birthday by getting her a Snowspeeder model, complete with Luke Skywalker in pilot garb and a still-living Dak Ralter.  Having now completed both models, she is well on her way to staging complete battle re-enactments.  StarWars parents are the best parents.

Of course, I had to stage a few extra pics with these "toys", trying to capture a few movie-moments.  I think all fans will appreciate the way Luke is working his way to the underbelly of the walker.  Also, take note of the Imperial troopers as they march on the rebel stronghold.  "The shield will be down in moments.  You may start your landing."  Oh, good.

Proud and accomplished builder.

He is the Special - LEGOs by Tavish

What?!?  You haven't seen The Lego Movie?!?  Well, you should - it's a fun romp for anyone who has ever played with the famous interlocking block system.  Tavish has put together a variety pack from the movie, including a Micro-Manager ("Micromanager, commence micromanagement!"), Metalbeard ("Be ye disabling of yond shield."), and Emmett's awesome construction-themed destruction robot.  He even has an angry Unikitty to complete the set!

We've also converted an old coffee table into a lego table, which is a fun staging ground for all of this creative work.  Everything IS awesome! (That is totally my jam....)

Making Believe - by Piper

All making starts with imagination, and Piper has lots of it!  This one lives with one foot in this world and one in a fantasy world - she now has a travel companion for her flights of fancy.  Her new doll, her top-line request for Christmas, even comes with glasses - tea parties for the near-sighted can now commence!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

One Leg at a Time

It's like welding.  Or carpentry.  It's just assembly, except instead of wood and glue, the materials are twill and thread.  Anyway, I don't need to justify myself to you, dear reader, by now you must know that I can't help but do for myself what might easily be done for me.  Case in point - PANTS.

I've been playing around with the new sewing machine I got for Shannon last Christmas and eventually some web surfing led me to  Let me tell you, though self-making is a growing trend and online instructions are an amazing resource in the Information Age, men's sewing patterns lag far behind, remaining an obscure cul-de-sac off the information superhighway.  The good folks at Thread Theory are working to change that, producing some amazing patterns, instruction, and encouragement all in order to help poor saps like me find my way to a new pair of pants.  One leg at a time.

The pattern I selected for this first run was their new Jutland Pant, a straight-leg, relaxed fit pant that would be suitable for a heavy work pant, a jeans pattern, or even an outdoor waterproof hiking pant if someone was determined to hike in the rain.  I decided to make mine a kind of wearable muslin in a green twill with a gold facing fabric.  I have some selvage denim I have been holding onto for a bit, trying to build up skill and courage to do a couple pair of jeans.  I figured the Jutlands would be a good pants primer, and the clear instructions and pictures didn't disappoint.

I failed to document any of the process, which mostly involved late nights huddled over the sewing machine, thread and fabric bits slowly piling up around me, and occasional beer breaks while I puzzled over each step.  It took several days of on-again off-again effort, but the finished product turned out great!  The pattern includes several cool options, like reinforcements for the knees and hem, cargo pockets, etc.  I went with cargo pockets and the knee bits, and had to shorten the length of the inseam (of course) and grade the pattern for my size.

There were some challenges, too.  The flat-felled outseams turned out well, but then trying to run the top-stitches on the inseam after the leg was closed was a trial, to say the least.  Topstitching in general was always a little bit of a finicky operation, but I am overall pleased with the results.  The fly construction was a learning process, and though I was able to muddle through, I learned enough that the next run at that operation will no doubt be better.  And I had to make some alterations to the pattern, like raising the knee patches so that I they lined up on my knees and not on my shins (which meant that they fell further up the taper on the leg, which meant that the edges didn't extend far enough for the flat-fell seam, which meant the seam had to be pressed from the back to the front).  Learning to anticipate the ways in which pattern changes have downstream repercussions is part of the continuing education.

These are very wearable, and should hold together well as the construction, based upon Thread Theory's excellent guide, is very solid.  I have a shirt project to put together, but the Jedediah Pants at Thread Theory are high on the to-sew list, and I'll start studying that pattern soon enough.  Anyone wanting to stitch a pair of these together before the holidays would do well to visit the Thread Theory page and jump onboard with their Jutland Sew-a-Long, scheduled to start Dec. 1!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

New Home Construction

Spring is trying to break through, it really is.  And in anticipation of it I have been busy building boxes for bees.  Though I have utilized Top Bar hives in the past, I am changing my equipment over to Langstroth hives, for the most part, and keeping only a few Top Bars here and there for fun.  Since I have ambitions for a LOT of hives in the near future, I have been working on production methods for the new hives so I can turn out eqquipment on the cheap and when necessary.  Here's a look at five boxes and some other bits as well.

First off, we start with 1x8 pine lumber.  I grabbed four 8'ers from the local big box store and got enough for 5 medium supers, with just a few bits left over.  I like working as efficiently as possible with materials, and this counts as a win for the good guys.

After basic dimensioning, including rips and cross cuts, I run the pieces through the table saw using my handy-dandy box-joint jig.  I made this thing a few weeks ago, it works like a champ.  The ends get milled to fit together at the corners in a very strong joint that will eventually get glued and nailed.  I like working with sled jigs, they allow for some real fine-tuning and keep fingers safe when working with the saw.  I set the table saw up with a 3/4" dado blade and away we go.  You can see the stack of sides adding up.

A rabbet along the short sides is required to create a ledge that will hold frames eventually.  I use the stacked dado and created a custom top-plate for it using some oak scrap laying around the shop.  It is a cool little accessory, fits the table perfectly.  Cutting the dado on the short side, as well as planning the joint correctly, means that I can make the dado cut across the whole length, rather than stopping it and squaring out the cut.  Don't know why people bother with that, but plan after plan seems to suggest that route.

The sides then get glued up and assembled.  It's important to keep the boxes square, so I utilize no small number of clamps, including a 90 degree corner clamp and then some long ones to draw the joints together.  There are 32 nails per box, these things are not falling apart anytime soon.  But then again, they have to endure the elements as well as handle the weight they will carry when full of bees and honey.

Good jig design and careful layout means that I can bust out tight joints quickly and with regularity - it's a nice thing.

One of the little touches that I like on commercial boxes are the scalloped handholds that are set into the sides.  So I did a little research and found a handy design that can get a similar result using a skill saw.  It mounts to the finished boxes and cuts the handholds pretty neatly.  Not bad.

Making boxes is just one part of a whole hive.  Each box holds 10 frames, which the bees will use to build their comb on.  I got a bulk package with pieces for 100 frames, they have to be assembled one at a time.  But the pieces are all coming together, and soon spring will be here and all the separate bits will combine for a productive whole, much like the colonies they will house.  Looking forward to it!