Saturday, September 8, 2018

Pitch Pineys

It's simple. Just send me $10 with PayPal and I will know you want a Pitch Piney. I will mail it immediately to your verified address.

I'm trying a new marketing approach, sales benefit something of ecological importance. This is no different than everything I make and sell, but I'm interested to see if it matters to emphasize the good cause. I am also going for a very low price point. That may make more difference. If $10 doesn't work I will try something lower.

Longleaf pine was one of most abundant tree species in North America before industrialization. Now less than 3 percent of the original forest remains. Half of this is on private land like my family's.

Maintaining the longleaf pine ecosystem is a lot of work. It requires annual prescribed fire to keep the understory open for keystone species like red cockaded woodpeckers and gopher tortoises.

I live out here in my tiny house and keep an eye on the property. If lightning starts a fire I run out there with a rake and I put it out before it jumps a fire lane and sets the neighbors' land on fire too. I kill time between thunderstorms doing science communication and making arts and crafts in my lab. I don't have room for any art in my tiny house, so try to sell things online.

When I say that buying a Pitch Piney supports conservation of Longleaf Wiregrass Savannah I mean I'm going to buy a can of gas with that money and I'm going to mow some firelanes. Or I may buy groceries. I don't have non-profit status, I just don't get paid at all for anything. I have tools from when I had a job and I hang on to materials I can upcycle. Aside from a branch that fell in my yard this project uses file folders I got with a free file cabinet somebody gave me when they moved. And I have foam core scraps from framing posters for a friend. You can check out my testament to smallness over on my other blog to verify my efficiencies.

Gopher tortoise out grazing in my yard
Longleaf pines were nearly wiped out because they are just so useful. Longleaf is the strongest wood for structural posts. These trees also produce a very useful resin that is distilled into turpentine. In certain parts of the tree this resin can become so concentrated it stops behaving like normal wood. It actually allows light to pass through it like stained glass. This is the basis of the Pitch Piney project.

Here's how they look hanging in front of a sheer curtain in my lab.

Plain Pitch Piney
In addition to being visually striking Pitch Pineys have a pretty strong smell of pine trees. This will grow less pronounced as they outgas. 

They will also darken from UV light. They will go from yellow to orange to brown to almost black if you wait long enough. (It takes decades)

 I made a video about them.

You could sand them if you're into that. Here's what one looks like sanded. Kind of hard to tell the difference when it's doing its thing. Sanding will release more of that smell. Be sure it doesn't bother you. It kind of makes my face burn, same as latex balloons.
Polished Pitch Piney

But I did a video showing how it goes when you sand one just in case anybody wants to have a go.

Thanks for your interest in Pitch Pineys! Here's a hatchling gopher tortoise I saw in my yard this week.

Hatchling Gopher Tortoise, Keystone species in the Longleaf Wiregrass Savannah.
My hand is just to show scale. I do not disturb the animals by touching them.

Here he is the next day after he got rained on overnight. You can still see his egg tooth!
Slightly cleaner hatchling gopher tortoise

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

How to Dye Melamine Go Stones

Three player WatUR idea
I had an idea for another expansion for my board game — WatUR for three players. If I add four squares at one end and two on the other a third player could play straight down the center column while players one and two play the regular C shaped routes.

But Go stones only come in black and white. A third player is going to need a third color. Mesopotamians were heavily into lapis lazuli, so blue is the obvious choice for the third color. Koplow makes blank blue dice, so I could make those easy enough. I just need to figure out how to make white Go stones blue. To the internet!

I found some car restoration enthusiasts who tried dying white plastics black. They used Rit Dye More, a fabric dye made specifically for polyester and nylon blends.

The Go stones I like are made of melamine. Wikipedia gives a good specific description of melamine. It appears to be just nitrogen and hydrogen. Whereas, also according to Wikipedia, nylon is a general term for a polymer made from mixing two liquids together. The structural elements are nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. Polyester seems to be missing the nitrogen. It's just hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. I'm not sure what that means for getting the melamine to bond with a dye.

I know that the thermoplastic polymers absolutely cannot be dyed. Polypropylene and olefin fabrics are in this category. If the pigment is not in the vat when it is molten plastic it's never going to happen. (This makes those fabrics extremely stain resistant, as you can imagine.) So I thought I'd compare that molecule with what I've got. I'm no chemist, but it doesn't look remotely the same to me. I think I've got a chance.

I searched online for who sells the Rit Dye More — all the major craft chains and Walmart, but not Target. I went to town and bought a bottle. I had a coupon and got it for under $3.

The dye instructions for fabric require you to keep the dye bath almost boiling the whole time. This sounds totally reasonable to me. They use melamine to make cooking spoons. It will be fine. I wanted to give the dye the best possible chance of working so I decided to scour the stones first. I combined washing soda and water in my dye pot and brought it to a boil. I put in 70 white Go stones and stirred it for several minutes at a simmer. 

Washing soda and Go stones on the boil
I poured off some of the water and then dumped the stones and the last of the washing soda water into a bowl to stay hot.

Waiting for the dye bath to boil
I wiped out the pot and added distilled water a few inches deep. I set my hot plate on high to bring the water to a boil. When it was boiling I added half the bottle of dye.
Distilled water and Rit Dye More is all I used to dye the stones
I didn't add the dish soap that the Rit instructions called for. I thought the washing soda on the stones would serve the same purpose. If I do it again I may use some dish soap just to see if it makes a difference. I think I'll still scour the stones with washing soda though.

After mixing the dye well I drained the washing soda out of the hot stones and added them to the pot, still wet. I commenced stirring on medium heat with a wooden spoon. I stirred constantly for about 30 minutes. I entertained myself by dipping other random stuff in there, like polyester ribbon, the lid to the plastic container the Go stones came in, and a nylon cable tie. The cable tie died the best. That's almost instantaneous.
Dyed stones after stirring on heat 30 minutes or more
I used a stainless steel skimmer to get the stones out of the dye bath. I spread them out on some cardboard to cool.

Cool before rinsing
I cleaned up the rest of the work area while the stones cooled. Then I took them to the sink to wash them. I started with a dishpan of cool water and some dish soap and swished them around good. I was happy to see the water didn't turn too terribly blue.
Wash the cooled stones in cool soapy water
It only took two rinses for the water to stay clear.

Clear rinse water
I dried the stones with paper towels, rubbing each one to be sure it wasn't going to bleed.

Faux Lapis Lazuli Go Stones
I'm really pleased with how these turned out. I like the ones that have swirls and color variations. Some of them are just evenly blue. I can pick out sets that go together.

The next step is to mail these to California for laser engraving. I can't wait to see if the engraved line shows up in a contrasting white color. The line on the white ones is sort of brownish, but if you scrub each one with a toothbrush and soap it goes white. I'm afraid if I did that to the dyed stones I'd take some of the color off. But I will definitely test it. It would be easier to scrub each stone than to press caulk into the engraving and wipe it off.

Here's how they look plain on a wooden board.

Wooden WatUR board with taped lines, water slide decals and hand painted stars

I tried it with orange too, to make stones that look like carnelian. I like it.

This is the idea behind it, lapis and carnelian jewelry from the time frame of the original Royal Game of Ur.

Carnelian look?

I dyed the lines in the dice with hair dye. Not bad.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

How to repurpose a T-shirt into a dribble smock

I got a request to replicate a garment for a baby that's a sort of bib with arm holes. And apron, if you will. Or a smock. I like the word smock. I asked her if she had some old clothes I could use to make these smocks. She went through her old t-shirts in storage and got some with sentimental value that she never wore anymore. 

The sample bib my friend gave me had a knit front and some kind of light gauge toweling on the back. There's a 4" ribbon between the front and the part that fastens in the back. I had some cotton terry cloth so I tried that on one. Then I showed it to my aunt who is a retired kindergarten teacher and she is a spit expert. She said all t-shirt material would probably be fine. Might not need the terry cloth. So for the shirts that didn't really go with white terry cloth I just used the back of the shirt for the reverse of the bib.

I eyeballed the original garment and drew a pattern. The original had velcro on it but I don't like velcro. I tried some plastic snaps on some of the ones I made her but I decided I sort of like this shoelace method the best. I will report back after these are tested on the baby.
Howl's Moving Castle T-shirt

Place the pattern 

Cut the pattern from both the front and back of the t-shirt. Flip the parts so it's right sides together

Cut a shoe lace in half and place the cut end at the turn in the armhole of the bib. Do both sides.
Cut out the pattern from both sides of the shirt. Flip the front and back so it's right sides together.
Cut a shoelace in half and the halves between the fabric layers with the cut end at the cut edges.
Pin together.
Sew around with a 1/4" seam allowance leaving a place to turn it and leaving a gap on both sides at the ends of the shoulders to thread the shoelace through.
Turn right side out.
Thread the shoelaces through the ends of the shoulder straps
Pin the shoelaces with 4" between the fabric parts
Pin the opening where you turned it.
Top stitch around the whole thing under 1/4" from the edge.
Finished front

Back of smock

I did one from a Big Lebowski t-shirt too, but it was a size enormous and the neckhole was so big I couldn't get the shoulder straps to work out. I made a new pattern that I think it not going to fit well. But the design was limiting. Here's how it turned out.

Bib Lebowski Back

Bib Lebowski
This is a good repurposing project without the terry cloth back because you don't need to buy any fabric. It's all just one t-shirt. You can buy this bib apron pattern online I'm pretty sure. A lot of them seem to use bias tape but that seems hard and expensive to me. This is easier.

Update 12 June 2018:

My client sent me a photo of her drooling youth who has soaked the top of Bib Lebowski with saliva. She reports the double layers of t-shirt do a pretty good job of keeping it off his outfit so she only has to change the smock throughout the day.

Update 15 June 2018:

I decided to digitize this pattern so I don't lose it. It fits on a ledger sized sheet of paper so you could print it if you had a big printer.

I ended up making about 16 of these things. I used terry cloth for the backing for about half of them and then decided it was too hard to sew and switched to flannel for the backing. My favorite is half t-shirt, half flannel. This is thin enough I can close it with Kam Snaps. (Shoelaces are expensive.) I can get 4 smocks out of 1 man's XL t-shirt. Be sure to pre-wash the flannel.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

How to Make Round Poster Weights

I made some poster weights on commission 4 years ago for a friend who acquired a flat file for his poster collection. I made them out of some scrap blackout fabric I cut off some curtains. I had to hand finish them and it was quite difficult. I made some for myself at the time and wrote it up on Spasms of Accommodation. Since then I've gotten better sewing machines and have learned about cutting 100% polyester with a soldering iron. I thought I'd like to try poster weights again. Maybe my friend could design something neat to have custom printed and I could sew it into weights and put them on my Etsy store.

I tried a rectangle sized to fit a set of weights in a Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box. It came out 2 1/2" x 5". I immediately didn't like it and dismantled it to use the shot again. I decided to play with a round shape. I finally worked out a design I like and here's how I did it.

First I had to make a pivot attachment for my sewing machine. Lots of tutorials on YouTube say to tape a thumbtack to the bed of the machine. I had two problems with that. First, I didn't have a thumb tack. Second, if I did have a thumb tack the pointy part would be necessarily large and would make an ugly hole in the middle of the fabric. I did have some sequin pins. These are 7/16" long straight pins with a small head. I got myself a scrap of aluminum flashing and made a backing for my pin to make it stand up like a thumbtack. I just held the pin with pliers and banged it with a hammer. When the pin dulled or bent I pulled it out and used another one. I have a bunch. I only ruined about 5 pins making my tack.
Make a fine gauge thumbtack equivalent
After I got the pin through the hole I bent the edges of the aluminum so it would sit flat, taking up the space of the pin head. Then I put a dab of Superglue on the pin head and let it dry overnight.
Pin in the aluminum scrap
I put some masking tape on my aluminum scrap so it won't scratch my sewing machine. I drew some lines on it to help line up the pin where I want it.
Tape applied to aluminum to prevent scratching the machine
I made a little gauge with a scrap of file folder to position my pin in the right place. I placed the card next to my jig and marked 1 1/4" and 2" from the pin so I can get a reliable radius. I taped the outside then moved the card and taped the inside.
Repeatable radius jig

Pin taped down at 1 1/4"
With my pin in place I stabbed it with the leg of some tights I picked up on clearance at Target. This is going to be my secondary containment for the lead shot. If I do a lot more of these I can buy continuous rolls of stockinette on Amazon. They sell it for bandages. 
Circle sewn, opening left for filling
 After I sewed circles out of all the stockinette I had I moved my pin out to a 2" radius.

2" radius set up
I cut some 5" squares of polyester outdoor fabric. With right sides together I stabbed the center on the pin and sewed the circles, leaving an opening for filling.

Here's a close-up of the pin through the fabric. 
I could stick a piece of an eraser on this pin while I'm sewing if I wanted to not stab myself. But it seemed to stay put fine and I only pricked myself once and not that bad.

After I sewed the circle I cut off the excess fabric with my $3.99 Harbor Freight soldering iron. This glass table makes it a cinch to cut and seal these man made fibers.
Cut around the sewn line with a soldering iron
 I use a pair of hemostats to turn the circle right side out. Get cheap hemostats from PJ Tool.
Hemostat helps turn right side out

Turning circle with the hemostat

Turning circle with the hemostat 2

To finish turning I use an 8mm wooden knitting needle

Push the edges out and finger press the seam
Now to the actual weighty part. I found a lot of weights for sale that are filled with sand, which is probably ok, but sounds messy. I also found a lot filled with rice, which is just weird to me. It could attract bugs and it could absorb moisture and make a damp place in your flat file. And aside from that it just isn't that heavy. I like a weight to feel heavy for it's size. I like lead. I want these to be not too fat though, so I'm going to try just half a pound of lead. I tested it to see if it it's enough to flatten a curled up roll of EVA foam. One in each corner will do it, but more is better.
Weigh out half a pound of lead shot
Now back to the inner circle. I cut off the excess fabric with scissors. Stick a funnel in the opening and fill with the 8 ounces of lead shot.
Add lead shot to the secondary containment vessel
The shot just goes right in there. This part is fun.

Poke the excess fabric back in the hole and sew it up on the sewing machine. This is the inside part so it won't show.

Sew up the opening on the secondary containment

I took a picture of putting the secondary containment inside the turned circle but it was blurry. It's kind of hard to get it in there with a small opening, but I like a small gap in the stitching better than a big one that is hard to shape into the curve.

Turn the excess fabric into the opening after the pink lead filled bag is in there. Sew all the way around the edge of the circle so the closing stitches blend in and look on purpose. I use my seam guide at an angle to sew right at the edge of the bag.

Seam guide helps sew right at the edge.
Here's the final product. Having all the lead shot held away from the edge leaves a sort of lip that makes it a lot easier to pick up the circle weight. 
I like this design. I need to get my hands on some more stockinette and some different fabric patterns and see what kind of pretty circle weights I can make. I find weights very handy around the lab. I use my StarTac case weight all the time. That one is over a pound. I may try making some other heavier circles too.