Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Learning to Tat

I have been wanting to learn to tat for a long time now. I have a whole slew of old stapled booklets from around the mid 1900s with pictures and instructions, but it turns out, it is really hard to teach oneself to tat. The verb "tat" isn't even that well known. I recently found a continuing education class held at a local community college and signed myself (and my mother) up. When I told other people that we were taking a tatting class, that we were going to learn to tat, many people shared that they had visions of my mother and I wielding tattooing guns, learning to create permanent ink lines in human skin.

Tatting is a little more... delicate.

Tatting is a form of lace making that uses thread, a shuttle, knots and loops.

When I tried to teach myself, I was able to create one knotted ring, but I had no idea how to attach it to another knotted ring without ends of thread sticking everywhere. I didn't get far.

Last night I realized that there was an essential step in the process that I was missing: transferring the knot. You use the shuttle to make a knot with one thread around another, and before I was just pulling that knot snug. It turns out, you have to pull the knotted thread straight, forcing the other thread to loop / knot, and THEN pull that new knot snug. I'm pretty sure that was the main thing holding me back.

I'm not gonna lie, I found it immensely frustrating for the first hour and a half of the two hour class. A lot of the terminology was relative (under / over) and I found if I did things in the wrong order, I just ended up creating a twist, or a jacob's ladder (like when I made friendship bracelets or hair wrapping in the 90s). It actually reminds me a lot of macrame (though I mostly did it with hemp, and we called the process "hemping") and a little bit of crocheting.

I guess I get why this is more of a lost art than other handiwork -- it is super slow and entirely ornamental. However, I think it's gorgeous and now that I've got the beginning motions down, I look forward to building upon this skill in the next three classes.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


I really enjoy binding books. I started with sewing together travel ephemera that I had folded in half, moved on to blank paper folded in half with a harder cover -- usually some thin cardboard or perhaps a discarded contact sheet from my photography class. Soon I figured out how to create hardbound books, and soon after that I learned the proper way of binding them. Now I bind myself sketchbooks and planners as often as I need. I like that I can customize them to suit my needs and tastes, and I also like that they don't cost me a ton of money. I made this sketchbook yesterday afternoon:

I took a few pictures of the process to share with a friend, but not as many as is necessary to fully explain binding the pages. I'm going to give a brief synopsis of that part, and I would encourage you to find a "kettle stitch" tutorial. 

Hard bound books are created with signatures. A signature is a collection of pages grouped and folded in half. Many moleskine notebooks are a single signature with rounded corners and an oilcloth cover. In thicker hardcover books, several signatures are sewn together. I'm sure they sell extra strong binding thread, but I just use regular thread that I triple or quadruple. 

You can make a cover that fits your pages, cutting down dense cardboard to a suitable size. For this sketchbook, I was reusing the covers of an old book, so I cut the paper to fit. The covers are 7.5 x 5 inches, so I cut pieces of paper 7.5x 10 inches and folded them into signatures 6 sheets (12 pages) thick. 

If I was using blank dense cardboard (chip board) for the covers, I'd cut a piece of book cloth (paper backed fabric) large enough to cover the entire thing, but as I wanted the covers to show, I only cut a narrow strip. 
Here are my bound pages, covers, extra dense cardboard (for the spine) and flowery golden strip of book cloth:

Then I cut a piece of cardboard for the spine as tall as the book and as wide as the thickness of the pages. 
I glued the spine and the covers to the book cloth:

I left a small amount of space (around 1/4") between them so that the covers can bend.

Then folded the bottom of the book cloth up and glued it to the inside. I folded the top down and glued it to the inside as well. 

I sew small strips of fabric to the spine of my book (this time I used some wrinkly bits of book cloth) and use those to glue the spine area of my pages to the cardboard spine of my book. This is probably the most important part in terms of your book not falling apart:

This is just a shot of the spine drying, there was still more to be done:

Finally I glue the end pages of my block of signatures (I usually use special or heavier paper for the outside signatures) to the covers. 

And a shot of using my sign painting supplies to hold everything in place while it dries.

And voila.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pruning Tomatoes

For those of you brave souls growing tomatoes right now, don't forget to prune them! Your plants will be thicker, healthier, and produce more tomatoes. 

What you want to do is pinch off any of the little suckers -- they look like new stems growing from the "armpits" of your plant. Here are some pictures to clarify:

Weeds is a Relative Term

When you're weeding your garden -- don't chuck it. Eat it!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Yogurt Making at Troy Shares / Skills

The last time I attended a Skill Share was 2007. It happened in the Albany Free School neighborhood and was followed by a vegan lunch at The Free School. My mom has ever since been trying to recreate that vegan veggie dish, and it was at Leah Penniman's Urban Gardening workshop that I first was inspired to have my own backyard hens. (My mom and I also attended Betsy Mercogliano's Bread Baking Demystified. Other workshops included Rocket Stoves, Solar Electricity, Rain Barrels, Build a Bike Trailer, Influencing City Politics, Wild Edibles, Dialogue on Oppression, Raw Foods, Wilderness Skills, and Natural Paints and Stains). There were a bunch of workshops I wanted to attend, but couldn't because they were happening simultaneously to the ones I did attend. I couldn't wait to go to Albany Skill Share 2008 or beyond. If another one happened, they did a really good job of hiding it from me.

Not too terribly long ago, Emily Rossier started a time banking system in Troy. This is similar to Ithaca Hours in Ithaca, NY. It really deserves its own post, but in short, it's an alternative system of currency in which participants earn "hours" for their services, and spend "hours" for the same. Services exchanged may include rides, physical labor, instruction, guidance, repair, cooking, and many other things. I love it because it increases the amount of people who will learn or utilize handmade methods instead of spending money on shoddily made consumables that exploit workers in other nations and due to planned obsolescence will soon be contaminating the earth in landfills.

Troy Shares recently began hosting Skill Shares on a monthly / bimonthly basis. I was sad to miss the first one, but I actually got to teach a workshop for the one that happened this past Sunday.

As it had been a while since I'd done so, I made a test batch a few nights prior. It was even easier than I'd remembered. I'm not sure it was a terribly interesting demonstration, as most of yogurt making is waiting. You wait for the milk to heat up, you wait for the milk to cool down, and then you wait for the yogurt-milk mixture to become entirely yogurt. 

Whoever brought a glass jar got to go home with their own container of yogurt-to-be. A few people had made yogurt before, and shared what they did different. The biggest difference was in the incubation period. The recipe I use calls for leaving the yogurt in a turned-off oven, or in a draft free part of your kitchen covered by a towel. Other people had used a low crock pot or a styrofoam cooler filled with bottles of warm water (if my memory serves me). 

Everyone went home with a half sheet of paper with my You Too Can Make Yogurt! on it. 

I've been eating a lot of yogurt lately, in the style of overnight oats. I mix in jam and oats and chia seeds  and let it sit in the fridge during the night. On my drive or during my first hour of work, this breakfast has given me a boost that makes me wish I was home so I could squeeze as much productivity out of it as possible. Making yogurt is much cheaper than buying it (as with everything), and considering this new breakfast habit, I should really get back on that yogurt-making train. Perhaps I'll also take a swing at making jam when the raspberries in my community garden ripen. 

Yogurt making lead to discussions about milk, and home delivery. I recounted my struggles in getting a local company to answer or return my calls, going to such lengths as chasing down a delivery truck. A woman who lives only a few miles from me offered to look into helping me realize this long abandoned dream. 

Now, I wonder if they accept food stamps. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012


A few years ago I was intrigued by a fermented tea in a corner store in Manhattan. It was probably $3 a bottle, but I'm a sucker for novelty, so I laid my money down. Over the past year, I more and more will splurge on a bottle when I'm looking for a boost, so much so that I decided it was time to save some money by making my own.

If you're squeamish, you might not want to read further.

Kombucha is a bubbly fermented tea. It is made using a solid mass of yeast and bacteria, known as a SCOBY, sometimes referred to as a mushroom. (The idea of mushroom tea is enough to put many people off from it. It's definitely an acquired taste, but so is beer, and beer has no shortage of fans.) It is this SCOBY that gets one started making Kombucha. The other ingredients are pretty much just tea, water, and sugar. Apparently SCOBYs multiply, but I couldn't readily locate someone who had 'babies' they were looking to get rid of in my area, so I looked to the internet for ways to make my own. I bought two bottles of GT raw organic Kombucha and tried two different methods. The first involves just pouring half of a bottle into a jar and letting it sit. I let it sit for two weeks before the SCOBY looked like the healthy examples I had seen online.

From there I steeped two bags of green tea in two liters of boiling water and added 1 1/2 cups of sugar. When the mix had cooled to room temperature (so as to not kill the live cultures), I added the Kombucha that I had grown my SCOBY in and the SCOBY itself. Then I covered it with a towel and placed it in a shady warm spot to do its thing.

The second method of growing your own mother involves a full bottle and a cup of sweet tea. It could be because there is more liquid present, but at the two week mark, the SCOBY is clear and bubbly. It smells right, but it doesn't look ready to remove yet.

I'll update this post when I progress in this experiment. I was excited and wanted to throw up what I have.