Drawer dividers for Ikea Alex

October 1st, 2015

I’m smack dab in the middle of four separate deadlines/commitments, so it seemed like a great time to destroy my work area. I’m logical like that.


The thread came, so I’m a step closer to divorcing the Chain Fabric Store from Hell. However, I needed a place to put the thread.

I don’t use wall racks. Some folks like them, but my house gets incredibly dusty what with two dogs and a bird, plus Apple building a spaceship half a mile from my house. Anything that sits out for a couple of days disappears under a half inch thick layer of filth.


I’ve been using spool storage cases from Allstitch. They hold 48 spools, keep the dust out, and at $12.75, aren’t too expensive. Unfortunately, I’ve run into some issues finding room for the cases, plus pawing through a bunch of them is getting tedious. Getting even more didn’t seem like a good idea.


Alex series – about $120 at Ikea

My next thought was to stick dividers in some drawers. I had some wide, shallow Ikea Alex drawers that seemed about the right size for storing thread. Perhaps, since they’re a standard item at Ikea, they or somebody else might sell drawer inserts? Barring that, maybe I could head out to the garage, scrounge up some wood, and make my own?

I poked around on the web. I didn’t find pre-made dividers, but I did learn that the Alex series is incredibly popular with crafters and artists, as this pinterest page demonstrates. From there I also learned that many people make drawer dividers from foam core board.

Foam core! Why didn’t I think of that myself? It’s cheap, easy to cut, and in some sense is more forgiving of mistakes than if I started fiddling around with wood. I headed down to Michael’s with a 40% off coupon and grabbed a 20 x 30 x 3/16” piece of foam core for around $2. That piece of foam was big enough to furnish dividers for three of my drawers. If I’d bothered to plan ahead, I could have optimized my cutting scheme and made even more.

The top three drawers of the Alex are about 2” deep. There’s an added complication in that the back 4 1/2” of the drawers is obstructed, so it isn’t terribly useful to run dividers all the way back there. Thus, I opted to make my dividers 1 1/2” tall and leave about 6 1/2” clearance behind, so one can wiggle other items in and out.

Other specifications were driven by the fact that I was storing spools of Madeira Polyneon, which are about 3″ long, and the pieces of foam core were 3/16″ thick.



To make dividers like mine, begin by cutting four 1 1/2” thick strips across the 30” length of the foam core. An X-acto knife (Or, bleh, a “craft knife”) and long metal ruler or T-square work well for this task.


Put waste cardboard or a cutting mat beneath the foam core to avoid cutting in to your work surface. Or, you know, you could just do what I do, which is pretend the scratches and cut marks aren’t there and throw a cloth on the table when you have company.


Measure the width of the drawer and cut three of the 30” strips to that length. Or, if you aren’t fond of measuring, take the strips over to the drawer and mark them there.


Mark lines 6” and 6 3/16” in from each end of the long strips. Next, mark horizontal lines about 3/4” down from one edge, as seen above.

The goal with these lines is to outline the area which will be carved out to make notches. I like to draw an X over the area to be cut out, as a reminder.

Set the long pieces aside.


Cut two 10” pieces from the remaining 30″ strip.


On each 10” strip, measure and make the following marks:

  • 3/16” from one end (3/16″ being the thickness of the foam core board)
  • 3 5/16” from the end  (The above measurement + 3 1/8”, which is the length of one spool of Madeira thread plus 1/8″ wiggle room)
  • 3 1/2”  from the end (The above measurement + 3/16”, which is the thickness of the foam core board)
  • 6 5/8”  from the end  (The above measurement + 3 1/8”)
  • 6 13/16”  from the end (The above measurement + 3/16”)

You should end up with a series of marks which alternate the thickness of a piece of foam core and the length of a spool of thread.

Next, make horizontal marks about 3/4” down from one edge. These will determine how tall your notches are.

The finished marks should look something like those shown in the photo above.


With the X-Acto knife, cut out the notches in all of the pieces.


You should end up with three long notched pieces and two short notched pieces for each set of dividers.


Test fit the pieces before gluing. I like to use hot melt glue; it sets up quickly, and this application isn’t going to require much strength.


Oops. The drawer is full of junk. Also, I’ve managed to photograph it so that it looks like a trapezium rather than a rectangle, which is kind of a neat trick.


Junk removed, with a test fit of the drawer divider. There’s just enough room behind the divider to wiggle stuff in and out for storage.


Thread in place, with some assorted rulers stuck behind the divider. Hmph. My drawer has reverted to looking like a trapezium again. Maybe we’re in a universe without ninety degree angles or something.


There’s a way to cut out the foam core more efficiently, so as to get more dividers out of it, but I didn’t really plan before cutting. So, um, just throw the waste pieces in a random drawer and hoard them for twenty years. That’s what I’d do. They’re bound to come in handy sometime. Bound to.



Some of the other thread drawers.

Okay. That was fun. Now I guess I’d better deal with the wreck I made when pulling junk out of the thread storage drawers, then get back to work … hope this helps somebody and sparks some ideas, anyhow. It turns out foam core is incredibly easy to work with, and is a natural for making drawer dividers. If I was somebody who enjoyed folding underwear rather than wadding it all up and mounding it in the dresser, it might be worthwhile to make foam core dividers for the bedroom, too. (Spoiler: not happening.)

Coming along

September 21st, 2015


This is coming along. Thanks to those who labor to grow and pick coffee beans, thus enabling me to have marathon work sessions, the sky and the sides of the plastic ice cubes are roughly stitched. However, I’ve decided that I’m not leaving the house anymore except to walk the dogs or go to the gym.

Yesterday I headed to the fabric store to pick up thread to match the bear. The following exchange took place (please tune out if you’ve already read this on F-book).

Clerk: “Are you doing some embroidery?”

Me: “No. I’m working on a quilt.” (Note to self: MISTAKE!!! Never tell people in fabric stores the truth! Nothing good ever comes of it.)

Clerk: “This is embroidery thread. It isn’t quilting thread.”

Me: “Yep. That’s what I use.”

Clerk: “The embroidery thread is more expensive than quilting thread.”

Me: “Yes, but it’s what I use.”

Clerk: “I just want to be sure, because most people use quilting thread.”

Me: “Yes, well, the embroidery thread works great when I’m thread painting or stitching densely.” (May I please just pay and leave?)

Clerk, still not quite believing me: “So what are you quilting.”

Me: “Something depressing.” (Still hoping she’ll ring me up and I can leave.)

Clerk: “Yes? What is it?”

Me: “It concerns global warming. It features a drowning polar bear.” (Just kidding. It’s a bunch of Sunbonnet Sues humping drunk frat boys who have STDs. Please may I leave?)

Clerk, pretending to be perky: “Oh, more people should make quilts with drowning polar bears! Will you, you know, put it on your bed?”

Me: “No. It will go to shows. Galleries. And so forth.” (%$#@#, I’ve tried to be polite, and there’s now a line about a mile long. Here – see this magazine? My stuff is in it. I know what kind of thread I want. Can I please. Just. Pay and leave? Or would you maybe like to see my passport and credit report while I’m here? Maybe get a sample of my DNA?)

The gatekeeper of hell finally, reluctantly rang up the thread and decided that I could go.

I have a little sympathy for the clerk, a tiny amount. I’m sure the people at fabric stores end up doing quite a bit of “tech support” with novices wandering in and not knowing quite what they need. In fairness, if I was working on a utility quilt rather than a piece of artwork, I would indeed make different thread choices. However, I’ve experimented to find what works for me, and after the second round of “this is what I use”, she should have desisted. The thing about my putting a rendering of a drowning polar bear on my bed was over the top; probably I should have just left at that point.

Well, she was right about one thing: the thread was overpriced. The convenience of being able to drive a mile or two to the Chain Fabric Store Which Shall Not Be Named versus ordering thread online and waiting turned out to not be worth it, especially once she singlehandedly removed the convenience.

No, it’s time to do what I’ve been threatening to do for ages. I need to sit down and inventory my thread collection, then order every color I’m missing from Allstitch. All of them. I don’t care if it takes months of budgeting and multiple orders. I don’t care if there are drawers and drawers of thread left when I die, thread which has to be given away to the home for pregnant teenage iguanas. I never want to go back to that fabric store for thread or, really, anything at all.


Check this out. This is what I purchased yesterday, eight spools of 250 yards each, $36.92 before taxes. That comes to 2000 yards for $36.92.


Here, by contrast, are some of Allstitch’s offerings, fourteen spools of 1100 yards each, at $2.63 each. That’s 15,400 yards – 7.7 times as much thread as from the Chain Store from Hell – for $36.82, ten cents less. Buy $150 worth and they’ll throw in free shipping.

Need some needles? Sure we do. I change needles and dust out and lightly lube the machine after every 4-5 bobbins, so I go through lots of needles. The good news is, Allstitch will sell me bulk needles at around $12/100, or about 12 cents per needle. The Chain Store from Hell wants $4.29 for a four-pack of needles, making them run over a dollar per needle. At that price, one would need to come up with a needle-sharpening jig and reuse them!

You know what else is great about Allstitch? They let me buy stuff without giving me the third degree. In all the years I’ve been buying supplies from them, there’s only been one goof, which they promptly rectified. Otherwise I simply order stuff online, perhaps while sitting in my pajamas and sipping coffee, and a week later it appears, as though by magic. Unlike some vendors, they don’t constantly dun me with advertising emails or otherwise bother me. I give them money. They give me stuff. It’s wonderful.

Suck it, Chain Store from Hell. I’d suggest that you rot in hell, except you’ve already attained that state.

The Cake is Not a Lie

September 17th, 2015



I’m recovering from a shoulder injury, so I can’t yet do the things I want to do: paint, 3D work, stitch. However, I can put a shirt on without groaning and I can sort of type, so here we are. Let’s talk about the Portal party.

The boy just had a birthday, which meant that there needed to be a party. That’s one of the things you don’t think of when you’re longing for a little bundle of joy, that if you’re from a culture which celebrates birthdays, you’re going to be in the party business. It doesn’t matter how awkward your social skills are, how little you know about parties, or what your socioeconomic status is. When the kid gets old enough and his birthday rolls around, you’re going to do your best to dredge up some family or friends and come up with something vaguely cakelike, even if it means stacking up a pile of Ding Dong clones from the dollar store and jamming an emergency candle in the top.

Now, I don’t know anything about birthday parties. They’re a mystery to me. Maybe that’s why I’ve hosted some really bad ones. The worst was at a miniature golf facility. The “concept” consisted of hosting a few games of miniature golf, playing some arcade games, and hacking down greasy snack bar food inside the windowless, stained concrete cell grudgingly set aside for ingesting food. “No stress!” crowed my husband, “They’ll provide everything! You won’t have to worry or do any work!” Bless him. It sounded like a good idea at the time.


“Father, may I have my party here? I’ll be ever so good!”

We invited only two guests, one of whom was quite late. We waited. And waited. And waited. The other guest, who’d arrived promptly, was bored to tears. So was his family. So were we. (Actually, that’s a lie. I wasn’t bored; I was anxious and stressed out.) At one point I ended up watching the guest’s younger sister for a few minutes. You know how you can sometimes tell that you give people the creeps? Yeah. I severely gave her the creeps. She really didn’t want to be around me at all, much less alone with me, yet there we were, alone in the grease-stained concrete pizza cell. I edged over to the doorway and stood half in and half out of the room so I could plausibly make sure she was safe yet respect her need for space. Ghastly.

That party was beyond awful, somewhere in Dante-circle-of-hell awful. I wanted this year’s birthday party to not be awful. I also wanted to not have it at a facility. This falls under the category of “first world problems everyone should be fortunate to have”, but I’m tired of drumming up marginally interesting activities which fall flat (“Go karting! Laser tag! Indoor skydiving! Travel to low Earth orbit!”), haranguing people to RSVP, and hauling around a small mountain of food and cake and other nonsense.

No, this party would be at home. We’d provide food, entertainment, and relaxed hospitality and not worry over whether people showed up or not. It would be intimate, more modest, and hopefully more fun. We just needed some ideas.

I started poking around and found about the Game Truck. Boy, that sounded neat, like something a pack of boys would really enjoy. The Game Truck folks would quite literally bring a truck load of video games and consoles around to one’s house. We could herd the kids in to the truck, have them play video games until they’d lost thirty or forty IQ points, stuff some food down their gullets, then kick them out to the curb beside the forgotten garbage cans. Why not? Game Truck was well reviewed and their fees weren’t outrageous, given that a human being had to drive an entire truck out and manage a bunch of children for hours.

Unfortunately, we’d be paying someone to bring out a bunch of equipment we already had. The boy loves video games more than anything else in the world, so for years he’s spent every penny he gets on games, video consoles, and more games. We even have two copies of the much-reviled E.T. from 1982, courtesy of my in-laws. Well … how about hosting a game party in our house, then? How about bringing out ALL of the consoles and ALL the games?

My husband and the boy thought this was a great idea. Yeah! Games! Food! Young men  grunting at each other! Alright, then. That was settled.

Now we just needed a specific video game to theme on, something other than Minecraft. Minecraft is great, but as far as parties go, it’s been done and done and done. Enough pixellated blocks of cake have been served to blanket Mongolia. It’s the same with Space Invaders, PacMan, etc. “PacMan! We’ll cut a wedge out of the pizza and call it PacMan pizza!” Dear lord, no. Didn’t we get all that out of our systems in the 1980s?

No, the boys are transitioning into moody tweenagers. Hormones are coming on. They have an ever-greater urge to beat each other up without knowing quite why. They’re beginning to experiment with swearing and heaven knows what else. (“Boys, mind the swears.”)

It was time to go dystopian. Portal. Oddworld. Bioshock. (Big Daddy bento box, anyone?) Obscure would also be good. For example, a party themed around Soviet Arcade Games could be interesting.

So, Portal it was. Never mind the fact that the guests have been kept in tidy little nests of cotton wool and the Portal references went right over their heads. Kids can feel when something is thematically right. They can feel the respect. They can appreciate the Combustible Lemons and Companion Cubes. They can threaten each other with the lemons, even.

I sent out invitations and got to work. It was time to make some props.






I didn’t want to throw a Portal-themed party without portals. After all, the games are named Portal and Portal 2. One solves nasty little puzzles using portals. Also, portals make nice large wall/ceiling/floor embellishments, thus taking care of some of the party decor. Portals were a must.

Making them was straightforward:

  • Take photos
  • Digitally add orange and blue portal outlines.
  • Print the resulting graphics at human size or as large as one can manage. I pieced ours together out of 8 1/2 x 11” sheets of paper because I’m cheap.
  • Laminate the prints at an office or school supply store for extra durability, especially if they’re to be placed on the floor.

Voila! Portals! Did anyone notice them and think they were cool? Nope. But they made me happy.

Cake, cookies, combustible lemons



Cake – there are a jillion recipes for Portal cake out there. Some wiseacres have even made “cake” from meatloaf and mashed potatoes, thus ensuring that “the cake is a lie” and leading to hordes of groaning guests. This one was a basic chocolate with chocolate buttercream and grated chocolate. I suggest freezing the chocolate shavings before trying to press them into the frosting. I didn’t do that initially and I ended up with melted chocolate shavings all over my hands. I couldn’t let the dogs lick the stuff off my hands, since chocolate is bad for dogs, so I had to do it myself.

On second thought, maybe don’t freeze the shavings. Having to lick chocolate off your hands isn’t the worst fate in the world.


Portal cookie cutters – These used to be available from ThinkGeek, but have since been discontinued. They can still be found at the usual places around the web for often-ridiculous prices.

We included a few of the Companion Cube cookies in favor bags, despite my doing a crummy job decorating them. Not that it mattered – I don’t think the kids knew what Companion Cubes were, so I could have drawn a picture of Richard Nixon on them and they wouldn’t have known the difference.


Combustible lemons – The poster with Cave Johnson’s classic rant is available from a vendor on Etsy.

There are instructions for making combustible lemons out on the web, not that one really needs them: stencil a logo on a lemon and glue on the top section of a toy grenade.

The most difficult task was finding inexpensive plastic toy grenades. Sure, they can be bought on Amazon and eBay, but who wants to pay ten bucks or more for some chunks of plastic which will get sawn in half then thrown in the trash? Fortunately, some cheap grenade toys turned up at a party and costume store.

If I had it to do over again, I’d use stronger adhesive, maybe E6000. It was predictable that a group of young males would pick up the combustible lemons and start heaving them around, and the hot melt glue didn’t hold up well. Cave Johnson would have been disappointed in me.


Fan Art

There’s some wonderful fan art on the web. People have spent hours recreating signage from Portal, rendering significant quotes, or coming up with their own take on the Portal theme. It’s pretty amazing.

I printed a bunch out and used it on the walls as decoration. Afterward, since my son really loved people’s artwork, the prints went up on the wall of his room.

The Portal bookends, which can just barely be seen in the photo, can be found on Amazon or ThinkGeek.



Companion Cube cookie jar

If you’re going to have a Portal party, you need at least one Companion Cube. This cookie jar used to be available from ThinkGeek; maybe it still is. There’s no seal on the top of the thing and its lid rattles around, so it’s lousy for holding cookies. However, it does make a decent planter.



Potato battery

The GLaDOS quote/potato graphic is, or was, available on Etsy. The potato battery is, well, just a standard potato battery. There actually is a company which makes GLaDOS-like potato batteries. Alas, I didn’t find out about them until a day or two before the party.

Oh, lovely. My hand is going numb. Blasted shoulder injury. Will I finish typing this? Let’s see.


Surprise Deployment Device

I had mixed feelings about this. My goal with the decor and favors was to stick to Portal canon as much as possible and not “mom things up”. For example, sticking a bunch of orange gumballs in a plastic test tube and labeling them “Portal Pellets” is momming things up. There are no Portal Pellets in Portal. There’s very little food of any kind, except for the cake and some cans of beans. (And yes, before you ask, I did ask my kid if he wanted some cans of beans as party decor. He declined.)

I wanted some streamers, though. What’s a birthday party without streamers? Were there any streamers in Portal? Yes, as it happened, in Portal 2, GLaDOS obnoxiously plopped some confetti down a ceiling-mounted chute. Not quite streamers, but close enough that I could reasonably hang streamers and claim that it was sort of canon.

Making the chute was a problem, though. I considered spray painting a small laundry basket and hanging it from the ceiling, but I was running out of time and energy. In the end, I hacked away at a cardboard box, painted it primer gray, and stuck it to the ceiling with masking tape. “Surprise! The surprise is that I did a crummy job on the surprise prop!”

I don’t think the chute in the game is called a Surprise Deployment Device, though. I sort of made that up in case the guests wondered what the box on the ceiling was about. Sigh. I guess I mommed things up after all.



My metric for good party favors is whether the kids will have good, fairly innocent fun with them and the kids’ parents will barely speak to us once they see the contents of the bags. Things like whoopie cushions, gigantic rubber bands, homemade marshmallow guns.

I thought about sending the kids home with homemade potato battery kits. How bewildering would it be to open the favor bags and find a couple of potatoes, some copper and galvanized nails, and other bits of electronics? I didn’t get all the stuff together, though, so that didn’t happen.


Cans of silly string rebranded as repulsion and propulsion gel. I got most of the text from the Portal and Half-Life Wikis. I’m sure the guests’ parents found it all deeply disturbing.

CCchocolate CC2

Chocolate Companion Cubes – These were molded using ice cube trays from ThinkGeek. To make the cubes, I melted Nestlé white chips, filled a cube space about halfway, then shoved in a chuck of milk chocolate. I then topped the milk chocolate off with more of the white goo so it was covered and the Companion Cubes appeared uniformly white.

I doubt any of the guests discovered the milk chocolate inside, though, because the white chocolate/toxic Nestlé goo was so sickeningly sweet that it could instantly induce Type 2 diabetes.

PortalDevice1 PortalDevice2

Miniaturized Handheld Portal Devices – Picture this. Your kid has picked out cheap 39 cent toys for the party bags. You don’t want to say no, because the things are only 39 cents and they look fun, but they aren’t really consistent with Portal cannon. So you slap a bogus label on them and toss them in the favor bag, kind of hating yourself because you’ve once again mommed things up.


Ah, well. The kids seemed to have fun, or if they didn’t, they kept their yaps shut about it. They ate junk food and played video games for a few hours, then they went home. In another year, their parents will have forgotten about the stuff I sent home with them and we’ll throw another party.

Maybe next time we’ll theme on Little Big Planet. Sack people and prize bubbles everywhere … maybe a giant prize bubble piñata … yes … I can work with that.

Nice news

September 16th, 2015

This is nice. The latest edition of Textile Fibre Forum is out. It has a profile of Annabel Rainbow with, yes, some photos of the matter-of-fact, unsalacious nudes which many magazines are too immature and squeamish to print. It also includes a fascinating article on curation by Brenda Gael Smith, a profile of Denise Lithgow, and a shot of one of my pieces over in the reader gallery.



Me me me me me me me. My work my work my work.

The Australians have a nice tradition of fiber art, much of which we unfortunately don’t see in the U.S., so Textile Fibre Forum is refreshing and a delight. Neroli Henderson recently became editor of the magazine, and her hard work is evident.

I haven’t had much luck finding Textile Fibre Forum on newsstands here in the U.S. Fortunately, it’s available on the iTunes store for a pittance, about the same amount I’d pay for a venti caramel latte at Starbucks. That, plus the fact it’s free of calories and cholesterol, make it a pretty guilt-free treat. I believe it’s also available on the Android store.



This piece, Why Knot?, will be at IQF Houston next month. I’ve received some nice news about it. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make the trip to be present on awards night. I’m very happy for whatever award it receives, though, as well as for the other people who have work in the show. I’m sorry I won’t be there to celebrate and view the exhibits.

Adventures in Fabric Printing

August 26th, 2015

You know that excited feeling you have when you open a much-anticipated shipment and look at your goodies? The “Oh boy, oh boy, this is great and I can’t wait to tear into it” feeling?

Yeah. I’m not there. The custom fabric for my next quilts arrived. Things aren’t so great.

This piece with the bear is okay. I can work with it. Some areas of saturated color have washed out a bit, but that’s to be expected when taking an RGB image and printing it with a limited number of ink colors. Some RGB colors can’t be reproduced in CMYK. There’s also some loss of sharpness, particularly in areas of low contrast; see the sides of the ice cubes and the bear’s face. However, I can touch these areas up with Tsukineko ink. Things will also change considerably when I begin quilting.


Image file



Fabric printed from the image file


Alas, the other piece of fabric is a total loss.

Here’s the rendered file, the one submitted for printing onto fabric:


Here’s the resulting printed fabric:


Notice that much of the detail is lost, particularly in darker areas. If the fabric is not outside in bright sunlight, the conveyor belt and background blend together and the cups, balls, and even styrofoam containers aren’t particularly noticeable. The whole image disintegrates into a muddy mess. The photo above doesn’t capture how truly horrid the situation is.

Alright. I’m not pointing fingers of accusation at Spoonflower, by the way. I appreciate their service. Really, they just print whatever files one sends them. This situation is just stuff, the sort of stuff which occasionally occurs when one is taking RGB images and having them printed in CMYK. If one’s monitor isn’t well adjusted, if colors are too saturated, if one doesn’t take into account the quirks of printing onto fabric or the quirks of the printer itself, the end result can be less than desirable.

I’ve actually been very fortunate to encounter almost no problems of this nature during years of creating artwork for books and magazines. I’ve also had fabric printed a couple of other times with no difficulty.

Back to the drawing board. I’ll make some adjustments and get fabric printed for Gusher, the oil derrick piece, another time. Since I like to get two images at a time printed on a length of fabric, this unfortunately means waiting until I have another image ready to produce. Annoying, but not the end of the world. The ruined piece of fabric won’t go to waste, either; it’ll probably become base fabric for one of my shopping bags.


See? A shopping bag made from odds and ends.

Based on this experience, I have some takeaways. I hope my observations will be helpful to others, but of course, your mileage may vary.

  • The more forgiving the image file in terms of color saturation, contrast and detail, the more satisfactory the printed fabric is likely to be.
  • When dealing with any fabric printing service, thoroughly scour their help files. Also, find out what kind of printer they’re using, research its color space (CMYK, Hexachrome, etc.) and its quirks, and plan accordingly. Based on the images on this site I believe Spoonflower may use the HP DesignJet L26500 for some of its printing.
  • Get one of the company’s swatch printouts and compare to the colors in one’s file.
  • Don’t count on images or fine detail printing out as crisply on fabric as they would on paper.
  • Increase the contrast of one’s image. Visual elements with similar colors or similar intensity may simply muddy together. That’s particularly the case for darker colors.
  • Consider tweaking curves in Photoshop or some other program so as to lighten the mid and deep tones. These can always be deepened on the final piece of fabric with Tsukineko ink, but it is very difficult to lighten tones on a piece of muddy, dark fabric.



Tweaking curves in Photoshop to lighten midtones. Click image to enlarge

Farewell to summer

August 20th, 2015


“Happy New Year … of SCHOOL!!!!” my husband bellowed at the boy this morning, thus jarring him out of a peaceful slumber.

Thus dawns the beginning of a new school year and my frantically trying to remember what I was doing back in early June when the boy’s school let out. There isn’t enough coffee in the world to make my brain work right now. I know this because I’ve drunk most of it and all I’ve accomplished is several trips to the bathroom.

Maybe I should start by shoveling out my work area, which is seriously trashed. That way it’ll be ready to go when the base fabric for my next two quilts arrives from Spoonflower. Spoonflower’s website assures me that the fabric is headed my way from Durham, NC via truck or plane or maybe muleback. The Donner Party sort of made it over the Sierras in their horse-drawn covered wagons, give or take a little starvation and cannibalism, so I’m sure the fabric will be here in no time.

I’m excited to start stitching on these new works. Their subject matter has been in the back of my mind for quite awhile, and I finally used 3D software (Blender) to help jell the imagery. As a side note, I’ve discovered that even though the quilts are barely started, they’re good for shutting down conversations.

A week or two ago, we headed out of town to a wedding. “Oh, what are you working on these days?” asked the lovely, glowing bride, hoping to start an innocuous discussion. I told her about one of the new quilts with its apocalyptic man/automaton figure wildly gobbling down oil and defecating out plastic goods. “Oh, um, that sounds dark,” she said diplomatically. Huh. I guess it is.

It was her wedding day and all, so I didn’t mention the second quilt. It features the red plastic polar bear figure from the children’s game “Don’t Break the Ice”. The ice has been broken and the hapless polar bear is clinging to a chunk in a large, featureless ocean, in danger of slipping away in exhaustion and drowning.


Here’s the latest incarnation of Mr. Bear now that he has eyes and skates and such.

I’m trying a new, smaller size with these quilts to see if I can get them done with good quality and out the door. It was pretty disheartening seeing submission dates blow by this summer. Good to spend time with the boy, though. In another couple of years I’ll have to handcuff him to me the moment he gets out of bed if I want to see him. Much as I hate blowing submission dates, there will be more.

In the meantime, farewell to the sights and sounds of summer.








Box modeling “Game Over”

August 2nd, 2015

I’m working on some 3D models for a quilt whose tentative title is Game Over. This is as good a time as any to post about it, I guess, because my Carpal Tunnel and Thoracic Outlet syndromes are acting up. (A “nice” reminder of my time as an engineering physicist at a particle accelerator, contorting my body and twisting knobs for 8-12 hours straight at a time.) It doesn’t happen too often, but when it starts to flare up, I “get” to take a break for a couple of days. Usually I notice the signs and can avoid it. This time the mouse I use for modeling broke and I foolishly decided to try a different style of mouse. Whoops! Ibuprofen and rest time.

Anyhow. Models. Gotta say, I love the tools that are commonly available these days. As noted elsewhere on this site, back when I started doing 3D work, modeling with primitives (spheres, cubes, cones) plus some lathing and extruding and maybe some spline curves were the rule of the day, at least with consumer-level software. No doubt one could get more advanced/flexible tools if one worked at one of the studios which were beginning to spring up, or one bought some of the higher end software packages which were starting to appear. I didn’t have access to those, though, and I was burdened by the small issues of having to work my way through school and earning a living. It was one of those “claw your way up” situations, and I had to put my dreams aside for awhile.

Here’s what I’m working on now, “box modeling” a character. One starts out with a cube …


which one subdivides …


starts moving around the vertices …


extrudes some faces here and there …


smooths things out …


adds some ears …


starts to build a body …


adds some arms and legs in a similar fashion, etc.


Box modeling! Neat stuff, eh? Maybe in a couple of days I can make the bear some eyes, skates, and a little hat.

Here’s another model from the same project. It may seem familiar to those who’ve played a certain child’s game which involves hacking apart a plastic iceberg, thereby sending a plastic polar bear to its doom.


Here’s a water model. Haven’t decided which direction I’ll go with the sky, whether it’ll be gloomy or sunny.


You can probably guess where this is going. I hope that when I pull all the pieces together, I’ll have a nice cautionary apocalyptic scene to get printed on fabric for my next quilt. I have a couple in the works. Global climate change and environmental matters are much on my mind these days. Maybe that’s one of those things that happens after one has a child, one starts thinking about how one is leaving the joint for future generations. (Not to imply that those without kids don’t.)

Years ago, after one of my failed relationships, it seemed wise to get out in the sunshine, do some volunteer work, and focus on something other than myself. I considered volunteering with an environmental group such as the Sierra Club. There are always organizations, both local and national, which need a hand with mundane tasks like removing kudzu and poison oak from trails, counting two-tailed polywogs, etc.

My mother darned near defecated on herself when I mentioned it in a letter. “The Sierra Club is a pack of devils!” she replied diplomatically, then there was a bunch of spittle-flecked stuff about how God had put man in dominion over nature and it was there for us to use, etc. Ah, my mom. Always good for a crackpot letter. The problem is, I think her attitudes reflect those of many Americans, right down to “n—— carry razor blades in their shoes” and waiting with great glee and anticipation for the Biblical End Times to arrive. (She may even have a special End Times Potato Salad recipe. I wouldn’t be surprised.)

There are a lot of humans on this planet. We have a tremendous impact on what happens here. The stories we tell ourselves and how we respond to them matter.

Are we, like my mother, enchanted with the notion of Biblical apocalypse and think it’s coming any day now, so heck, why not help it along? Yep. We can certainly do that. Drill baby, drill. Let’s burn, drill, frack, bomb, pollute, and kill slavishly, without regard for the consequences. What does it matter? The End Times are coming. We can make sure of that.

On the flip side, would we like to respect and nurture the diversity of the flora and fauna that remain? If we’re of a Biblical bent, do we think that “in dominion over nature” has more to do with being mindful caretakers than with being spoiled children who stomp all over their toys and then whine because they’re ruined?

Well, it’s probably clear which side of the fence I’m on. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my arm and shoulder are still too messed up to quilt, so I have some two-tailed polywogs to count.

The Halfway Point

July 19th, 2015

About halfway through summer, halfway through various projects …


This arrived last month, the July/August edition of Machine Quilting Unlimited.


There are several neat articles in the magazine (Marianne Williamson! Awesome!), and they also included my piece Why Knot? They’re a nice magazine to work with and their graphic designers/layout people do a great job. It’s a pleasure to have my work in their publication.

While I’m on the topic of Why Knot?, I’ve learned that it has been juried into IQF Houston, so it’ll be making a road trip to Texas this fall. I don’t think I’ll be going, so I hope my quilt won’t be taking on bad habits in my absence … smoking, eating barbecue, harassing coyotes. Who knows?

What else do I have? Work I can’t post. Hot diggity. It was totally worth visiting this page for that, wasn’t it? Seriously, I find it a pain. Just when I’m juiced up from working on something and could cheerfully post progress photos and the like, I can’t. A couple of things have the “work must be hermetically sealed” exhibit requirement. By the time I can post progress photos, I’ll be on to the next thing and my attention and enthusiasm will be on that, not on whatever I’m working on now.

I will note that I’m working on some 3D-rendered surface designs, though, a couple of apocalyptic environmental pieces. Once the designs are fixed up, I’ll ship them off for printing, then stitch on the resulting fabric.


Sometimes I spend days trying to get something just right and it goes to pot. Here I was trying to do a fluid simulation to depict an oil well. Yep. Things weren’t going well that day. Fortunately, I save versions as I work. I was able to go back a version or two and rescue things.


I also had the great idea of creating a mountain of rendered garbage for the scene’s background. The result did look like garbage, but more in the metaphorical sense. The texture I have on the garbage bags makes them look more like laundry detergent pods or a nasty variety of candy, and the bag arrangement looks more like a stone wall than a mountain. Okay. Part of art, writing, and many other endeavors is fearlessly trying stuff and being willing to admit when it isn’t working out.

I’ve spent hours either making or casting about for 3D models for my scenes. Here’s a model I ended up making, one of those ubiquitous red plastic cups:


Hmm. Maybe should have added a few more vertices to smooth it out. Anyhow, good enough for the job at hand. I could have bought a model – here’s a nice one for $19 – but it wasn’t that hard to make and didn’t need to be too precise for the scene I was building.

There are many, many sources of 3D models these days, some free and some for coin. One such source is the Daz3D site. They particularly specialize in models of humans and accessories. Now and then they offer freebies. A couple of months ago, when they were offering something gruesome like a haunted asylum or zombies (maybe it was zombies haunting an asylum?) I asked my ten-year-old son whether we needed such models. He took a look at the gloom and gruesomeness in the ad and bellowed “Oh HECK YEAH!” He could think of jillions of occasions when he might personally need 3D models of zombies or an asylum, and that wasn’t even taking into account my own needs. Really, is there any occasion for which zombie or spooky asylum imagery aren’t appropriate?

I duly registered with Daz, obtained the freebies, and filed them away on my hard drive. Strangely enough, our need for zombies and asylums wasn’t as great as we thought, so they haven’t yet been used.

Since then, though, Daz and I have become great friends. I say this because they send me an email every day or so, which is what good pen pals do. Usually the letter is filled with colorful and, dare I say it, fetishistic imagery. The subject lines are things like “BOGO is a Go-Go” and “It’s a Zevtastic Weekend”

Here are some samples:


Hot damn. Everybody knows how much I care about fashion. Sea vehicles, too.



Not sure I want to know what the related fantasy items are.



Huh. I’ve never seen anything like that at the hardware store. Maybe I was too focussed on stuff like caulk and bolts.



You know, I’m beginning to suspect that I’m not in the core part of their target market. Members of their target market are probably more the sort who like to gaze at breasts.



Bleh. Nope nope nope. Don’t want to know. Seriously. I’m not joking. I don’t want to know what people are doing with this model, particularly the way it’s dressed and posed. I’m a mom. I even get skeeved out by boy bands. Justin Bieber naked? Bleh. Get thee hence, Satan. Don’t want to see the buttocks of anyone younger than me unless they need a diaper change.



Wait. The rest of the ads weren’t already freaky?



No idea. More breast imagery, though. The outfit looks uncomfortable – the strap across the chest, and what if you need to use the restroom? – but I guess 3D models don’t care.



She looks annoyed. Maybe the 3D models do care about wearing freaky costumes. Or maybe the ears are uncomfortable.

I’ve considered unsubscribing from Daz’s emails, but I never know when they’ll offer something I need. Also, I’ll reluctantly admit that I’ve begun to find them entertaining. I never know what they’re going to send next, and I can only speculate that the young men who form their target audience eagerly await each email and find it very, um, stimulating.

Meanwhile, summer. Outings. Camps. Play dates.

At the beginning of the summer, I drug the boy down to Legoland. I like going to Legoland. My kid doesn’t, or at least not as much as he used to, but he endures it for my sake. I have to have a child to visit Legoland; adults aren’t allowed to visit by themselves.

I took these photos with my hand-me-down iPhone, thinking that I should pare down the amount of stuff I carried on the trip. I wish I’d taken a decent SLR along. There was lint and dust under the iPhone’s lens. Cleaning it out will require taking the phone apart. I can remove artifacts with Photoshop, but it gets to be a pain. Kind of a waste of time to remove something that shouldn’t have been there to begin with.


Legoland. Is there a more perfect amusement park on earth? I don’t think so.



I love every bit of it. The giant models of buildings in Miniland …



… the Star Wars exhibit. Okay. I’m not into Lego Friends, but I guess I can’t blame the Lego company for their pink-burqaed, cynically capitalist attempt to lure in young females.



You know that windmill you drive by when you’re going through Carlsbad? That’s the hotel we stayed at. The interior of the windmill is sad. There’s a massive vaulted space which should feel airy, but somehow it contrives to feel depressing and outdated. Just off to the side there’s a TGI Fridays which is accessed through a door in the windmill, a door which slams uncontrollably and loudly enough to rupture one’s eardrums. The experience pretty much destroyed every fantasy I had about windmills.



Here’s the view from our hotel room. Gorgeous! Pipes. A wall. Wires draped here and there. That must be the deluxe courtyard view touted on the reservation website.

Well, I guess this is what happens when you don’t cough up the $400+/night to stay at the Legoland Hotel during the height of the season.



Another trip, just for the day, up to the Musée Mecanique on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The place is so cool. Tons of old coin-operated mechanical arcade machines. One can have a lot of fun on $5-10.



Plaque outside the building. It has a decidedly grotty, impromptu look about it, as though a passerby stuck it up with an entire tube of adhesive. I imagine Ann and Sam aren’t with us anymore – not too many people reach their 70th anniversaries – but their plaque lives on.



Laffing Sal. I believe one of her twin sisters lives in Santa Cruz.



Good. Guess that takes care of sex ed.



Poor fellow. He has a skin condition. Hope he’s not on meth.



Another case of substance abuse, perhaps strong drink?



I didn’t look at this Nickelodeon reel. I had a strong suspicion that it would depict something unpleasant. Dishwashing or toilet scrubbing, maybe. Putting up storm windows. Other things married women wish to avoid. To heck with all that stuff.



While up at the wharf, I made my family visit the Rainforest Cafe. I was curious. I’m glad we did it. Now we never have to go again.

Seriously, if you enjoy dim lights, fairly expensive food which aspires to be more than it is, and animatronic animals which make jackhammer-level racket every so often, this is a great place. Otherwise, perhaps not so much. The waitstaff were pleasant enough, though. Can’t blame them for the fact it’s a tourist trap.


They do hand out rather nice little paper hats. I need a bio photo for some website or other. Maybe I should send this.



Also hauled the boy and one of his friends up to the Adventure Playground in Berkeley this summer. Think “Home Depot meets Lord of the Flies”. I’m kidding. It’s a great place, actually, where kids can earn the right to use tools and woodworking materials to build their own creations. The staff there go to great pains to make sure the kids have enough freedom to learn and enjoy themselves while keeping the experience safe.



One of the kid-built play structures, formed from salvaged materials.



Inside one of the structures. Spooky-cheerful.



Another day, taking the dogs out for a walk beside a lake, because I’m an idiot.



I thought it would do the dog we recently adopted, the white furball in the photo above, some good to get out. Go someplace in the car other than the vet’s, get some fresh air, see some new things.

Alas, he whined pitifully all the way to the lake and most of the way back. Ryan the weiner-basset didn’t whine, but he did slobber all over the front window and pass gas in my face during the drive. Neither dog particularly wanted the (plain) hamburgers we bought them, saving them until they were home again. Too excited, I guess.

Both of them were brats at the park, pulling on their leashes like crazy and barking at other dogs. At least they had the sense to not try that with the geese. Ryan seemed to tell Jake “Be cool, man. Be quiet and don’t look ‘em in the eye.”

Ah, well. Maybe it’s like dealing with kids. You have to take some chances and work with them a little before things get better.



A disguise for every occasion? Yes, please! I particularly appreciate the lack of gender discrimination. I might want a mustache to supplement the one I’m already growing. One never knows.

Only 4 1/2 weeks of summer left. It’s palpably trickling away. Time to get the boy out for more experiences while he isn’t old enough to be ashamed of being seen with his mom, and get another quilt design or two ready to go.


May 31st, 2015


 “Bust Banks” seen at ToysRUs; ready to leer salaciously at a child near you.

The “Bust Banks” above have nothing to do with the rest of this post. I just found the scene amusing.

May has been a good month. I had work at AQS Lancaster and AQS Paducah, back when those occurred. As a result, some opportunities have just come my way. More on that another time.

I’ve also been accepted into the Textile and Fiber Art List, a top notch organization of fiber artists and textile businesses. They showcase some really amazing artists and artwork, so I’m quite tickled to be included. (Seriously – go to their site and check out the artwork! Even if you aren’t in the market for artwork at the moment, browsing the site is very enjoyable.)


Meanwhile, I’ve been steadily chugging away on Odalisque, as shown above. It’s taking forever to stitch. Maybe if I wasn’t so intent on faithfully depicting textures, I’d be done by now, but noooooo. I have to obsess over the details instead of just stippling over the surface like a normal person might. At this rate it’s going to take a solid year to complete.



I’m also working on a new piece or pieces for an exhibit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the moon. These are supposed to be under wraps until the exhibit, so no photos of the surface design. Once I fulfill my commitment to the exhibit, I’ll be getting some more 3D/CGI-based fiberworks in the pipeline.



Yesterday I made this, a 3D/CGI image which will inflicted on one of my son’s friends in the form of a birthday card.

The other day, I had lunch with a nice lady and had trouble explaining what I do. “3D/CGI. Are you working in CAD?” she asked politely. Ehhhhh … not so much. It’s sort of a cousin of CAD, and increasingly I’m using my renderings as surface designs for fabric.



On a personal note, my kid won a blue ribbon at the school district’s science fair. His experiment involved prepping strawberries to see if the onset of room temperature molding could be delayed, then days and days of checking the berries for mold. It grew a bit foul at the last, when some of the samples began to liquify and ferment instead of molding. Then there was the whole process of analyzing the data, doing a writeup, and talking to judges. It was a good experience for him, and I really appreciate the fact that his school district held the event.



Another of the boy’s school projects, producing a board game to help report on one of the insipid Boxcar Children mysteries. You know – the ones which were written around the time of the Great Depression and had a group of four orphaned kids living in an abandoned boxcar. They often feature scenes like:

Henry: “Wow. The four of us sure did work hard solving that mystery! Now we’re all really hot and tired! Benny, let’s go swimming!”

Violet: “Super! Jessie and I will stay here in the hot boxcar, do dishes, and cook! Then we’ll sweep and dust instead of having fun, because we’re females living in an indeterminate year during the 1920s-1940s!”

The first time I read a scene like this with a group of kids, I had them flip to the front of the book and look at the copyright date. I then asked them to compare the scenes to current social norms to see which things have changed and which have stayed the same during the last 60-80 years. Personally, if I’ve been working really hard and other people are going swimming, I’m going too. We can all roast potatoes in the fire together later.

Anyhow – fun project. Good opportunity to show the boy some features in Adobe Illustrator and introduce him to bland clip art.


Another project. It has little or nothing to do with artwork – well, other than my needing to eat in order to create art – but it made me happy. These sliding racks aren’t as space efficient as simply jamming pans willy-nilly on shelves in the cabinet. However, I’m trying to transition to having less but appreciating and using it more. I still need to finish this job by screwing in some side shims, though. (Feel free to place bets on when and whether I will actually get that done.)


Another project. There had been wooden raised beds, but they gradually rotted away and become precarious. Demolition of the old beds was fun – occasionally I’d call my son over so he could watch me tear a 2×6 in half with my bare hands, and sort of not mention to him that the board was completely rotten. The new beds are composite. I hope they’ll hold up better than the wood beds, but we shall see.

In the back, one can see a large barrel. I’m using that to store clean waste water, such as the cold water one normally flushes down the drain while waiting for one’s bath or shower water to warm. I also salvage water from the kitchen whenever I rinse vegetables, drain a pot of pasta, etc., and pour that directly on the garden. California is in the grip of an epic drought, and there’s no telling when – or if – matters will improve. So far I’ve been able to water the garden using only water we’d normally waste.

Meet Jake

May 7th, 2015


This is Jake, the newest addition to our household. He was a neighbor’s dog.


Things Jake likes #1: hitting us up for food, particularly if meat is involved.

I’m not sure how we ended up with him, other than he and our existing dog, Ryan, may have had a conspiracy. Jakey stayed with us on an emergency basis several months ago and Ryan took a shine to him. They played like little furry madmen. When the neighbor retrieved him after a week, we figured that was that and said our goodbyes.


Things Jake likes #2: napping.

Jake and Ryan weren’t okay with this. Jake would shove his face under the neighbor’s fence gate and howl when we went outside, or escape and come scratch on our door. When that wasn’t going on, Ryan would insistently try to lead us over to Jake’s house. The dogs wore both us and the neighbor down. In the weeks and months that followed, the two of them had many play dates together and would sulk when they were apart. “Jake’s hiding under the bed,” the neighbor would report, “do you mind if he comes over?” Ryan would look at us like puppy murderers when we took Jake home after a play session.


Things Jake likes #3: play-fighting with Ryan.

It was pretty clear that, at least in his mind, Ryan had adopted Jake. One day the neighbor walked Jake over and formalized it. The neighbor needed to move and wasn’t going to be able to have a dog for awhile.


Time for more napping.

Jake and Ryan are now spending their days together doing happy dog things like passing gas, napping, hunting for rats, digging, and going for walks. They’re buddies. We weren’t planning on getting another dog, particularly one whose yaps are weapons of eardrum destruction, but sometimes one needs to accept love when it comes. Not all good things in life are planned.


Getting cuddles from a human


Aaaand … more play fighting


Time for another nap


More fighting, this time by my work table while I was foolishly attempting to work.


Tidy dirt pile? Who needs that?



 Treat time, which is always a big hit with dogs.


Fight time.


Nap time. Do you see a pattern here? Naps, fights and walks with snacks in between.


End-of-week “doggie soup”, made from the remains of a CostCo roast chicken and whatever veggies are okay for dogs


Nap time.


Beg for food time.


Fight time.


Napping with his bear.

We hope he’ll be happy here. We’ll try our best to give him a good home.