Homes for Things for Making Things

I recently found myself looking at toolboxes, the red metal ones with lots of drawers, but not for my tools. My tools already (mostly) have boxes. There’s one for wrenches and one for sanding supplies, one for the angle grinder and one for drywall. I have boxes for electrical and plumbing parts, tiny organizers for screws and for nails, and another just for hammers. I’m planning on building one for my hand tools. And this doesn’t even count all of the cases that my power tools came with. Having all of these boxes, having them all labeled, is really helpful for keeping me organized, but it is also a convenient justification for ignoring the larger issue: I have too many things for making things.

I’ve been buying tools for several years now, mostly one at a time, on sale or for a specific job. I’m very good at telling myself “I need this because…” And they have all been useful, and they have all been used. There just are a lot of them.

The same is true of crafting supplies, camping supplies, cooking supplies, art supplies, brewing supplies. (And I’ll ignore completely the enormous quantity of things I have bought for teaching and for my classroom.) I don’t have two of anything (except for 16 ounce hammers, of which I have four, because maybe someone else needs to be using one at the same time as me?), but I have one of a great many different things. And they are hard to give up. Each one has a purpose and a useful life ahead of it.


Having all of these things means that I have an apartment (and my parents garage!) full of things. I have gone through periods where various collections of things became too much for where I had been putting them, and I was forced to step back, rethink, and develop an organization plan. How many times has Heather come home and found me in the basement, a few hundred tools all laid out on the floor, new toolboxes waiting to be filled? And so, to corral this potential madness, I keep buying containers to put them all in.

This doesn’t mean that my life is as clean and organized as I would want it to be. Anyone who stepped into my studio, my classroom, or my apartment would figure that out pretty quickly. Having things away, organized, and ready is a goal, not always an extant state.

Which brings me to the red toolbox I have been thinking about. While my carpentry tools are carefully put away, the same is not true of sewing supplies, knitting supplies, or art supplies. I have drawing tools in three different places, knitting tools in four, and printmaking supplies in two. If these are going to be useful, they need to be easy to find and quickly at hand.

I am left with a feeling that two divergent ideas can exist peacefully together. I can have tools for making things because they are tools which satisfy a greater purpose. But, I need to stay vigilant in the war against having things just to have them. If I want to buy something “because I will need it later,” I wait. When the time comes when I need it, I can think about getting it then. For now, my things are away, and I am ready to make.

Class with Lizzy House

Iggy helps out

Back in November, Heather and I took a class with the fabric designer/printmaker/quilter/all-around-crafty-lady Lizzy House. As part of my quest to know how to make anything out of anything, we have been taking a number of sewing classes at gather here, a fabric and fiber store in Cambridge. It is the kind of place where there are always a few people just sitting on the couch knitting, snacks waiting for you when you come in, and lots of amazing things to look at and think about buying. I have so far taken three classes with Virginia, the owner, who really knows what she is doing. We stay up late the night classes are posted, so we can pick something we really want to take before they all fill up. If you take the last spot in one we want, we will have to stop being friends.

This class was on color theory and mini quilts, two things I know very little about. I tend to make what feel like obvious and readily-apparent color choices, avoiding fine differentiation whenever possible. Add to this tendency my issues with situationally-dependent color confusion (known to most of you as color blindness, a gross overstatement of fact) and some degree of indecisiveness. The wall of paint chips at the hardware store is completely overwhelming. So I had to be brave with this class and step out of my comfort zone in a big way.

Little did I know, but Lizzie House is a very critical teacher. Within five minutes of class starting, I found myself out in the hall, writing “I will not make poor color choices. I will not make poor color choices.” I was not allowed to have a gold star at the end, and Heather was so ashamed that she pretended not to know me.

Oh wait, that’s not how it happened.

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Fabric colors before the workshop.

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After playing with color temperature, one of my classmates named Becca took off her tape in a very artistic way!

2013-11-21 22.02.35 Figuring out the quilt. I have never quilted before, so it was fun to mess around and teach myself how such a thing is done.

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Piecing the quilt together.

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Front done!

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For the back of the quilt, I designed and block printed a fabric with this forest.

One of the biggest takeaways I had from this class was a renewed interest in making art. Before it even happened, I took out my sketchbook and played with ideas. I made sketches, I doodled little cartoons, I did some meditative mark-making. After spending so much time back in college making and thinking about art, this kind of creative thinking and work has been an unfilled hole in my life, and it was so wonderful to have a project to jump into once again. And so, with encouragement from Lizzy, Heather and I are going to try designing a line of fabric together. We are going to make some prints, make some drawings, play around in Illustrator, and get back to doing something we love. Thank you, Lizzy.

A bench

After making a bunch of the little Swedish footstools, I scaled the design up to a full-sized bench. This one looks awfully nice in my apartment. I’ll have to build another one, because this one and another one almost just like it are getting sold.

These are pictures from before they get painted or stained. One is now a bright cheddar orange and the other will have a cherry stain on the top and a red milk paint on the legs. I’ll have more pictures after they are all done and in their new homes.

In related news, I had my very first Etsy sale today! Happy Thanksgiving!

If you want to buy one of the little benches for yourself, visit my Etsy shop here.

Or, if you want something a little different, send me an email: stephen [at]

What to do

Seeing as how I have some extra time on my hands these days, not having a job and all, I’ve been trying to do something constructive with at least some of my time, besides sending out cover letters and resumes. Of course, I can come up with all kinds of good ideas that never make it into the light of day because they get sucked away by the evil, destructive forces of The Internet and The Spider Solitaire. I could have such an interesting life if I didn’t get drawn into these semi-mindless, repetitive time-fillers. And yet, there must be more of the internet out there that I missed! I can’t stop now!

Last week, I decided to build some more of the little Swedish stools I’ve talked about before. I made four of them, thinking, maybe someone will buy them on Etsy. I plan on eventually going into production mode and mass-producing them for Ikea (because they’re Swedish, Ikea is Swedish, I see some chemistry…) but I just can’t engineer the flat-pack, which is at the core of all Ikea designs. They’re obsessed with it. I also haven’t worked in any fiberboard or bolts for the ubiquitous Allen wrench that is mandatory with every Ikea furniture product. I’m working on it, though, so watch for them to appear in commercials sometime in the spring.

Here is a nice trio:

They’ve out in my parent’s garage with a first coat of paint, just waiting for some more. Then they’ll be waiting for some nice person (like you) to adopt them and take them home. Just look at their little tails wag. I think they like you!

Ms. H. has also helped me out, giving me little challenges in the last two days. Besides sending out a job application every day, I also have things I need to do. Yesterday there were two things: go someplace new and do something new. My new thing to do was to eat cabbage, which we got in our CSA share. It was pretty good, and purple. We always say that anything would taste pretty good if you sautee it in oil, but hey, who can argue with trying new vegatables. My new place to go was Middlesex Fells, a big chunk of land north of Medford with miles and miles of trails. I hiked up a hill with an old stone tower on it and a nice view of Boston. Clearly, many other people think it’s a nice view, too, because they left all their Coors Light boxes, cigarette butts, and broken bottles up there until they come back to get them. The tower was locked, of course, and someone spray painted "HELL IS REAL JESUS IS SAWIOR" on the door, just so we know. It may be the woods, but it is an urban woods.

The other way I kept it all interesting and new for myself was that I walked there. And not just straight there from our apartment, but all crookedly, going out to Arlington first on the bike path and then cutting back northeast to Medford. All told, I walked 13 miles yesterday, which is a lot. It wouldn’t get me quite to Fitchburg if I was HDT, but it’s a start.

A home for things!

After finally comandeering a car large enough to transport this behemoth, it is here, in my apartment! There was a ding to one of the doors while getting it into the elevator, but that can be painted and it just gives it some character.

It is fun to see it all done and in the space, after thinking about it in my head for all this time. I started designing it back at the beginning of June, and I’ve been working on it off and on since then. I started by seeing how big my stereo and cd player were, and worked around these dimensions. Then I made a picture in SketchUp, to be able to turn the thing around in 3D.

And the design has come some since then. It got doors, more drawers, and different legs. I was originally thinking of making the legs with pipes for a kind of modern look. We saw a table that had pipe and plumbing part legs at the Full Moon resturaunt in Huron Village, and I thought that was pretty cool and tried to incorporate it into this project. In the end, it didn’t seem right for this, but it will probably happen with something, eventually.

Look, there’s stuff inside!

And records, too! 

We now have an entire extra bookshelf in one of the cases, which I filled up immediately, mostly just shifting things around, but there were a lot of books sitting in piles around the apartment. We have a lot of books. 

When you have too much stuff

you just need to build more places to put it all, right?

It would seem that’s the theory I am working with. I’m almost (almost, almost, almost) finished with a media cabinet/credenza/sideboard to hold the stereo, cd player, record player, and records, plus whatever else we can fit in it. That will open up a lot of desperately-needed bookshelf space, a valuable commodity, indeed.

The picture above is an in-process picture, before I built the doors or painted anything. I’ll be finished in the next couple of afternoons, after I put the final coat of paint on the doors and drawer fronts, put stops behind the drawers, coat the top with polyacrylic, screw the knobs onto the drawers and doors, and attach the hinges. A mere nothing. This has been a slow project, with many steps.

Almost done, though. Almost done. 

Making some more things…

So, it has been a while since I have posted anything up here. There has been a lot of general busyness, but now I have some down time until my next job starts, so I can make some new things.

After making that first little stool, which was a present for a friend, I decided to make another one. It’s only a couple of hours and not too much money, so why not? You can always use a little stool, right? This one is almost entirely the same design, just a different side apron design, a little fancier.



Little project…

Last week, I was working on a little stool for Heather, and it is almost done. I just need to finish sanding it, and then I think she is going to paint it some nice color. The design is based off of a 100-year-old pattern from the Naas model series, and was in Swedish. These patterns were used in a late 1800s Swedish educational program for woodworking called Sloyd. For me, it was a good excuse to practice some handtool skills and play around.

A view of the sliding dovetail that connects each of the two legs to the seat of the stool. In the end, this joint gets covered with the horizontal cross-piece.

A detail of the decoration on the legs, before it gets sanded… 

A new project

So, here we are.

This blog is a place for me to put new things I am making and working on – artwork, comics,  woodworking projects, etc. – and I plan to post at least twice a week, maybe more frequently.

To begin, a book, but not just any book:

This book is actually just two pieces of paper, folded: one for the cover and one for the text block. I found instructions in the book Origami Omnibus by Kunihiko Kasahara.