Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Advent Calendar: Hidden Worlds

TP cardboard rolls wrapped with microscopy images

The advent calendar series continues in 2018. In past years the calendar theme has included ball gowns, a time machine, haute couture, the mega terrific fabuloso surprise ball, and more. This year the focus (pardon the pun) is on the hidden worlds all around us. 

Step one was to collect a lot of my favorite recyclables, cardboard toilet paper tubes, which you can fashion into little boxes simply by folding in the ends. You'll need one tube for each day of your advent calendar. Because I have two recipients, I needed to collect 48.

Supplies: a ton of toilet paper tubes
The next step was to collect a lot of visually striking, funny, creepy, fascinating, weird microscopy images (photos taken using a microscope). I made this stage unnecessarily labor-intensive by tediously searching through microscopy images online and downloading the ones I thought were intriguing. I then used photoshop to resize the images, add titles to identify what they are, and add the number of the day on which they are to be opened.

Step Two: Wrap and glue microscopy images around TP tubes

In retrospect, I realized I could have saved myself a huge amount of time and effort by simply snagging a used photo book of striking microscopic images from Amazon for less than $5, and adding the daily numbers with marker pens. Images could also be identified using marker pens.

However, my do-it-yourself approach assured that I was able to include a fair number of fascinatingly bizarre images with a high amount of kid appeal, including creatures that live on your face and worms that live in your eyelashes.

Remembering the creepiness appeal factor

For the daily calendar surprises, I took advantage of a sale on a set of 48 kid-friendly mounted slides offering fascinating peeks into the hidden world. They're mounted on plastic instead of glass, have rounded corners, and clear labels on each slide. I needed to make two calendars, so this gave me 24 slides per calendar, one for each day leading up to Christmas. In addition to a slide per day, each little TP box also contains a traditional foil-wrapped chocolate coin.

Sample from slide set

Note that the images on the outside of the calendar boxes do not correspond to the slides within the boxes. The idea is that they are getting a double-peek into the hidden world each day: one via the image on the box, the other via the slide inside the box.

To enable them to view the slides, I included a pre-advent gift to be opened a few days before the calendar kick-off on December 1. It contains a budget, easy-to-use microscope for kids that was well-reviewed on Amazon. Happily, I have an Amazon credit card that racks up points, and discovered I had enough to cover both the microscope and the slide set, so the whole calendar ended up as a no-cost project.

Kid friendly, dirt cheap microscope

The next step was to string the little TP boxes into a garland for each recipient, using scraps of fabric and ribbon I had in my sewing supplies. I like to mix up the numbers on the garland so that each day of advent involves a hunt for the right box.

Creating a garland

One of many ways to hang the garland


The calendars have been packaged up, ready to be shipped to two little girls in Colorado. Having done my bit for the holidays, STEM education, and human perception, I am now ready for a long winter's nap.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Water Drops: Bojagin Wrapping Cloth

Bojagin wrapped object

The latest in a series of "bojagin" - Korean-inspired cloths hand-stitched together from scraps, each designed to wrap a specific object. Click here to learn more about bojagin and to see the rest of the bojagin on this blog: Bojagin Series.

This piece utilizes scraps of indigo-dyed cloth from an earlier shibori session.

"Indigo Girls" shibori session

Here is the water drop bojagin displayed as a wall hanging.

Indigo scraps, recycled thrift store men's shirts, redwood branch

Close-up detail

Close-up detail
And here is the object to be wrapped: a vintage brass water whistle in the shape of a bird. You fill the base with water, blow, and the result is chirping bird sounds.

Object to be wrapped: vintage water whistle

And finally, the object wrapped. This is the magic of bojagin, when the wrapped object holds untold possibilities and unlimited potential.

Wrapped in wonder

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

All the Rage: Trump Thaumatrope

Postcards and thaumatrope toys

The All the Rage brand has branched out from couture to do-it-yourself toys! The thaumatrope was invented in 1825 by Dr. John Ayrton Paris, and this simple optical illusion has entertained children and adults alike for almost 200 years. The classic version of this toy is a bird in a cage.

A classic thaumatrope

With a bird on one side of a disk and a cage on the opposite side, one only need "wind" the attached strings and release them to set the disk spinning and, voila, you see the bird in the cage.

A simple illusion
In this version, we get more ambitious regarding the cage contents.

Postcard front with a do-it-yourself thaumatrope

Postcard back with instructions (click to enlarge)

These were designed with the mid-term elections in mind, as a give-away incentive to encourage people to go to the polls. You may download a template for printing up your own thaumatropes at home using this link: Thaumatrope Template. Print them up, pass them out, and urge people to vote.

Two completed thaumatropes showing front and back

Sunday, September 16, 2018

All the Rage: Voices Against Trump

Wearing your politics on your sleeve

"Well I have news for you. We're already in a constitutional crisis." - Dan Rather

If ever there was a time to suit up, speak up, and stand by your values it is now. Thus the "All the Rage" series (click on "Politics" here or in the menu at right to see other creations in this series.

Clothing label

This shirt, created by collaging two men's thrift store shirts, is embellished with hand-embroidered quotes about the current president.

"He is a wolverine." - Dan Rather

Shirt front

"Mr. President, we are not afraid of you." 
- Maxine Waters

Shirt back

"Mexico is not going to pay for that fucking wall." - Vicente Fox


"Trump's action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees and raining sulfuric acid." - Stephen Hawking


"Sorta makes me look pretty good, doesn't it?"
- George W. Bush


"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges is not Christian. - Pope Francis


The quotes included on this shirt in addition to those highlighted above:

• It is our consensus view that Mr. Trump in the office of the presidency is a danger to the nation and the world. - Dr. Bandy Lee, Professor of Psychiatry, Yale

• The earth is not flat and climate change is real. Can someone please inform the folks at the White House? - Xavier Becerra, California Attorney General

• I think his remarks are divisive, stupid and wrong. - David Cameron, former British Prime Minister

• Standing up to bullies is the hallmark of a civilized society. - Robert Reich

• I don't like him. - George H.W. Bush

Wearing clothing with a conscience 

Time to go out and stitch some statement couture of your own and if you don't sew, use magic marker!

Friday, August 10, 2018

All the Rage: Political Fashion

Photo transfer onto cloth

There comes a time when it is incumbent on citizens of good conscience to wear their politics on their sleeve—literally. This is the first in a series of upcycled political fashion titled All the Rage.

Say them loud, say them clear: 

"Transgender, fetus, evidence-based, science-based, entitlement, vulnerable, diversity. 

These are the seven words highlighted in a memo and follow-up meeting at the Centers for Disease Control under the Trump regime, advising staff members not to use these words in any official documents prepared for the budget. Follow-up on this story indicates this wasn't so much a ban originating at higher levels of the CDC as a strategy to avoid trigger words that might reduce chances of getting funding from a right-wing, reactionary, Republican-controlled government. (Meanwhile, references to climate change have been removed from the Environmental Protection Agency website, but that's a censorship shirt for another day.)

What better way to provoke conversation among the populace about these seven words than to don a forbidden words protest shirt? The words, along with vintage black and white photos of Laurel and Hardy making shushing gestures, were printed onto photo-transfer paper, ironed onto cloth, and stitched onto a linen thrift-store shirt.

Ironing photo transfers onto cloth

Shirt front




Shirt back



Inspired? Go out and make some protest couture of your own.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Urban Summer Vest for Discerning Gentlemen

Summer vest

What to wear during summer in the city, trying to keep track of glasses, bus passes, money, and other assorted crap one simply must have on hand while simultaneously fighting sweltering heat? The gentleman's summer vest, of course, a lightweight garment fashioned from recycled thrift store men's shirts.

Piecing detail

As always when piecing together thrifted fabric, some of the garment's most alluring details are the result of sheer necessity (i.e., patch this piece over that piece or you will have a gaping hole).

Vest back

Because the recipient of this garment is a man on the move, I've added a small graphic from an ancient Persian text onto the back, created using photo transfer paper.

Swimming against the tide

Monday, July 16, 2018

Indigo Girls: At Play with Shibori

Awash in indigo

Here are the results of a session of shibori dyeing with two young apprentices ages six and eight. Above you see the fruits of our labors, including two t-shirts, two stuffed animals (designed and stitched by the girls), and lots of dyed cloth using a variety of shibori wrapping techniques.

To learn more about traditional Japanese shibori dyeing, just google "shibori," or visit this site, which has one of the best overviews of various shibori techniques in a series of easy-to-follow photos: https://honestlywtf.com/diy/shibori-diy/. I highly recomend the Dharma Trading Company shibori dye kit as an easy intro to this technique. We could have dyed a lot more with their kit (https://www.dharmatrading.com/kits/starter/sets/indigo-dye-kit.html), but we simply ran out of cloth.

Dream bear

Dream cat

Note that the stuffed animals are actually "dream animal pillows." This sewing project for the girls was based on the folkloric wisdom that sleeping with your head on something that has been indigo dyed produces deep sleep and pleasant dreams. Other than help drafting the initial pattern and a little stitching assistance with the faces, the girls were on their own.

Once the girls had their animals completed, I packed up the remaining fabric and later pieced together two dresses, combining the indigo-dyed cloth and recycled fabric from thrift store men's shirts. Here is the dress for the eight-year-old:

Dress front

Dress back

Dress detail

Dress in action

And here is the dress for the six-year-old. She has not kept still long enough for a photo.

Dress front

Dress back with surprise pocket

Once you dabble in indigo it is easy to get hooked. 

It's hard to be unhappy in shibori

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