Category Archives: Crafts

A Project to Honor My Spirit Animal

Hey, remember a couple of posts back, when we looked at taking non-credit college courses online?  [Creativity and Connections] I took a Coursera class taught by some instructors at the University of Florida, called Healing With the Arts.

The class took us through a module a week, covering visual arts, music, dance, creative writing, drama, and we breezed through many interesting forms of expression. Although my life was hectic during the time, I’m now on the final week of the class, and I found myself needing to submit a final project, so here I am.

At one guided imagery session, the instructor encouraged us to become acquainted with our own “Spirit Animal.” [Being a Harry Potter fan, I usually substitute “Patronus” whenever the phrase Spirit Animal is used.] During the actual session, one of my cats, Ponyboy, burst into the room and insisted on cuddling with me at the exact point in the guided imagery when I was supposed to come to a clearing in the forest and meet my Spirit Animal. So, he became, in actuality as well as in imagination, my Spirit Animal.

This video goes through the process I used to create a bracelet that has a drawing I made of Ponyboy, laser engraved on it. As shown in the video, you could make a drawing, reduce it or enlarge it, or you could use a photograph, or you could laser engrave a .pdf you found on the Internet. A client could change up the decoration on the bracelet, using colored yarn, different beads, or any number of variations. If the laser printer was used in a hospital setting, it would need to have some ventilation.

Altogether a very interesting class! I will keep going back to the journal I created for the class, and try to keep it going to stimulate creative projects that have other good, healing results!

People and Things From the Past

Long time, no post!

We’ve each been sucked in to pursuits other than Crafting in the 21st Century recently: Skip has been moving wood into a new woodshed and pondering a new series of lectures he wants to do involving some of the many antique tools languishing about the place. Check out the trailer:

I’ve been consumed by my OTHER hobby, family history.

My mom passed away a few years ago, and although I’ve looked through the several boxes of her family history files here and there, it was just a few weeks ago that I felt that I should really get into it and do something with all the data that she collected during her lifetime.

In the boxes, I found letters to and from people who gave her pedigree information, notes from Historical Society meetings, receipts from Vital Records bureaux, from back to the days when first-class postage was 2 cents. She would go to a county courthouse or a library, and copy passages from books in long-hand, because there wasn’t a photocopy machine back then. [And her handwriting wasn’t the easiest to decipher, but who, besides me, can decipher it?]

She compiled a book about one of the ancestors, born in 1740, and now I have her notes and correspondence from that. Sometimes I’ve looked up things on websites, and been ecstatic at the new data I found about one of the ancestors, only to go to her files and discover that she already had that piece of information, for which she actually paid money to a record researcher, but somehow the information never got recorded on a chart  or got lost.

She wrote out reams of family group sheets and pedigree charts. At the bottom of each one is a list of her sources. I can now look up some of the books she found, in Google, and many have been digitized and are available online for free. Awesome; if I can’t read her writing, I can sometimes look up the source and the page number, and voilá, it comes up online, like magic. I just copy and paste the URL of the source document on my online pedigree chart, and it is there for another cousin to search up and collaborate with.

Probably the site I love to work in most, is Familysearch.org. I love the Sourcelinker, the Search Records functions, the Wiki. And the site is free. How in the world can so much information be available to the public for free? I know, because I served as a volunteer support person for the site for 3 years. And, in that role, I became aware of the fact that the site carries a global tree, seeing as how we are all part of one big huge family, and anyone can supplant your data with their data, and you can’t cry foul about the outcome. So I’ve been transferring lots of the information I have into some of the other sites that have individual trees, which can’t be changed by anyone but the owner. Those sites are excellent, too. Family history has become such a popular hobby, and more records are being added all the time to help with the ongoing research.

It’s been great to find that some of my female progenitors also sewed, quilted, and crafted during their time in mortality.

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Maternal great-great grandmother

This female progenitor grew up in New Brunswick, the daughter of a Canadian and a Scottish immigrant. She crossed the border  to work at a textile mill in Maine, where she met her future husband.

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my grandmother (on the right) and her sister

These sisters came to the US with their family in 1912. They came equipped with phenomenal knitting skills!

grandad and mother
grandfather and his mother

I have the remnants of a crazy quilt made by this great-grandmother, in beautiful mauves and beiges and indigo fabrics.

Family history: another “craft” using 21st Century Technology to document and delve into the past! Amazing, isn’t it, how clear and beautiful are these photographs that have survived many decades!

 

 

A Little Mermaid with Remnants

Google “Mermaid Blanket” and, would you believe, you’ll get way over nine million results!

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results for Mermaid Blanket

Mermaid blankets were one of the “it” gifts for Christmas this past year, for a  girl toddler,  teen or tween relative. Some were knitted, crocheted, and sewn from fabric. I didn’t jump onto the trend wagon, but I saw on Social Media that many big and little girls were posing with their fishtail blankies for the camera.

I found a couple of remnants that might go together as a cute mermaid blanket. What do you think?

fish tail remnant fabrics
fish tail remnant fabrics

This size blanket is for a tiny four-year old. The blanket sheath is a polyester teal metallic mermaid fleece, 57 inches wide, remnant of .972 yard. The tail fin is from a remnant that I’ve had in the stash for eons, no idea where it came from. It’s a stiff, satiny, iridescent fabric that looks pink from one direction and purple from another. The saran-wrap looking flap on both sides of the tail is a Bumi Pearlized sheer lilac remnant just less than a yard in length.

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fish tail

No pattern was used in the creation of this project. I just folded the pink/purple fabric, double,  in half and sketched a tail fin  shape on one side so that the fold was down the center of the fish tail, then cut it out. Thus, the tail was symmetrical on both sides. Then I unfolded it and seamed it together on all sides except for the opening at the top. Then I turned it inside out and pressed it, so that the edges carried that fishy curve.

It would have been perfect if the pearlized fabric was the same size, so I could have just duplicated it and made a casing for the purple satin. But the pearlized remnant was smaller than the finished tail. So I played with the idea of attaching the pearly fabric as a ruched flap on either side of the tail, so it would flutter and swish like a real fish’s tail swerving around in water. Maybe a hair-brained notion, but there it is.

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the plume-y tail

After ruching the sheet of pearl in several places (centers, sides, and diagonally at corners), I cut a slit in the top fold, and since the slit ended up being a few inches longer than the tail side of the blanket, I sewed a basting stitch around the edges of the slit and drew it together, pulling on the basting thread, until it matched the size of the satin tail. Then I sewed the pearl fabric on to the satin tail at the top. Turning the blanket fabric inside out, and matching it up to the opening of the tail, with right sides of blanket and tail together (a fabric sandwich of blanket, wrong side up, on top;  pearl right side up, in the center; and satin, right side up, on the bottom) sewed tail to blanket in a 5/8″ seam, making sure the pearl material was lying flat at the seam line inside.

Continuing to play around, I hemmed the top edge with a rounded Short Serpentine stitch:

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hemmed edge

It’s still a little chilly at night. This can be a toddler blanket or a grown-up foot warmer. Or maybe the kids can use it as a costume for Let’s Pretend, maybe a little kid version of  Cosplay.

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little mermaid

While technically not a quilt, it is a blanket that is pieced together so it’s pretty close…happy #NationalQuiltingDay and hope to see how others celebrated the day as well!

Kitchen Redo with Stone and Wood

 

Recently my wife “suggested” that it might be time to upgrade our countertops from 25 year old grey Formica to granite.

old Formica countertops

So off to the big box store to look at granite samples.  Way too many choices!! But we found a sample we liked so we pulled out the check book and started what turned out to be a very efficient process, unlike any I have ever experienced.  Soon after selecting the sample, someone showed up to develop a template for cutting the granite.  A week or so later we got an email inviting us to go to Tallahassee to inspect our granite slabs. In lieu of making the trip we asked for photos and got a gallery of shots showing us what our slabs looked like. Once we approved the slabs, we soon got a call to schedule the installation. Two very experienced installers showed up, removed the old countertops in a manner so as to not damage them, so they could be recycled to a friend’s home needing new countertops, and installed our new countertops and cleaned up before leaving for home.  The next day a plumber showed up to reinstall the kitchen sink.

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Same sink

This is when I got the bright idea to “upgrade” the kitchen cabinets by adding some wood trim to the cabinet doors.  The cabinets, despite their age, are in great shape.

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new counters, same old plain cabinets

I picked out some red oak from the shop and milled out a piece about 3/16 inches thick, 1 ½ inches wide and long enough to fit on a cabinet door.  I then picked out a couple stains which I thought might match some colors in the new countertops and passed this by my wife.

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some of the various woods and finishes

She picked the golden oak stain as applied to the red oak, two applications followed by a clear coat.  After the selection of the stain, I showed my wife a selection of cabinet handles in the Lee Valley catalog.  A copper and bronze handle seemed to be the best selection for working with the wood, countertops and existing cabinet finish.  The wood strips would be applied to the opening edge of each cabinet door as an accent to the cabinets linking them to the colors in the granite.

After the handles arrived it was time to get to the wood working. Pieces of red oak were cut and milled to size, sanded and finished with stain. The plan was to fasten the handles to the wood strips and then fasten the wood strips to the doors.  Of course the screws which came with the handles were too long, made for ¾ inch thick doors and not 3/16 inch thick trim.  Off to Ace Hardware, where I found 8x32x1/2 inch machine screws to fasten the handles.  Since the wood strips were to be fastened to the cabinet doors, the screw heads had to be recessed in the wood trim.  I used a Kreg cabinet jig to drill the mounting holes in the wood trim for the handles.  Using a Forstner bit set to drill to a depth approximately equal to the screw head thickness, I lined up the mounting holes with the Forstner bit and drilled a countersink for the screw heads.

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attaching handles to wood strip

After mounting all the handles, it was time to start applying these to the doors.  I marked and drilled two holes on each door to allow screws to be inserted from the back of the door into the wood trim. I then applied thick CA glue to the back of the trim, sprayed the door with accelerator and applied the wood with clamps. When the glue had set, I drove screws from the back side of the door to further secure the wood trim.

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wood accents with handles

We were both happy with the outcome.  Now, on to the kitchen drawers, wood trim on the top edge of the drawer fronts with a matching bronze/copper knob.

Here’s a You-tube of the whole process so far:

 

Exploring Creativity and Connections

One of the things I’ve noticed about crafting blogs and You-tube channels is that creative output sometimes comes with a price.

Our creative efforts (and sometimes the efforts seem monumental) don’t always get rewarded with multiple views, likes, and comments. Some of our You-tube videos are “monetized,” that is, they generate a little payment of a fraction of a cent whenever they get subscribers and views beyond a set amount. It’s exciting to go to the analytics page and see if our projects  are popular, to see if some of our fellow creatives subscribe to our sites, or give us comments we want to  respond to.  And BTW I don’t know what happens to that fraction of a cent, do you? I’ve never, to my knowledge, gotten a check or deposit from Youtube, although there’s a couple dollars’ worth of views on the page once in a while. 

We like being creative and doing projects for the fun of it. When it gets to be a competition, that can introduce stress. And suddenly I don’t like doing stuff like that as much.

Having recently “retired” from a volunteer job I was doing for the past three years, I wanted to find something new to do. Did I want to go back to school and pay thousands of dollars to get another degree? No.  Did I want to get a part-time job? No.  I could just do creative stuff with more frequency and intensity. Sounds good in theory, But I would need to self-motivate,

I was Internet-surfing and found some free university classes, which can be accessed from the Coursera ap or web site. I signed up for Healing with the Arts and Personality Types at Work. So far, they’ve been rather transformative!

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profile pic for the site

Note that the courses are free but unless you pay the certificate fee, you may not be able to access every section of them, like the quizzes and the peer review. What’s not to like about that? No quiz and no peers judging or criticizing your work, YAY! However, I may heed Skip’s point of view that if you feel the instructor is doing a great job and you are benefitting from their time and experience, you probably ought to go ahead and pay the fee.

I’ve done some journaling on my own, and some with prompts from Julia Cameron’s Walking in this World, one of her great self-help books for developing creativity.  I like looking within to boost creativity, and also looking at other blogs and videos for inspiration.

In these online classes, I guess you could hide from the teacher and your fellow students, but you could project your true persona, too. You get to be creative and interact with like-minded and different-minded sympathetic people, and no one is grading you or goading you. No one is competing with you. No one is trying to change your mind about something you feel strongly about or maybe don’t even care about. It’s for fun. It heals your psyche. You won’t get fired if you create something ugly. You don’t have to hawk your wares. You won’t get your idea for a great project, that got you 10 You-tube views, hijacked by another You-tube personality who then gets a million and a half views. Your friends with their fine arts degrees won’t look at your picture and say, “That’s very…interesting...”

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Collage in journal for the class Healing With the Arts

Sometimes you need to give that creativity a little jump start!

Easy, Earthy Presents From the Back Yard

It’s the day before Christmas Eve (Christmas Eve Eve) and we decided to make a crafty Christmas present we’ve been wanting to make ever since Thanksgiving, when some of our grown children showed us how to do it and asked for dad’s help.

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Candle holder made by son

Natural-edge log tea-light candle holders were easy, earthy, and a breeze to make. We have a big pile of firewood out back, which probably won’t get burned any time soon since it’s been in the 70’s and 80’s this and the past few Decembers. And we have a pile of Yankee tea-light candles with delicious-sounding names like Christmas Thyme, Gingerbread Maple, and Christmas Cookie. I bought a bunch of them online for a friend’s son’s school band fundraiser, but you can also get a bag of tea-lights from the dollar rack at CVS pharmacy (although they may not smell as good!)

Skip explains all the steps we took to make a couple of these things, in the You-tube video:

They look good as single candle holders, completely natural with no embellishments, or grouped together and tied with a ribbon or raffia.

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candle centerpiece

Thanks for all the interest and love this past year. We wish you a very happy holiday the next few weeks, and hope for the best for each of you in the coming new year.

 

Quilting Assembly Line

In a previous post, I referred to the multitude of quilt tops I had ready for quilting.

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future table runner on Realtree camo fabric

Since I got the Qnique and Grace Frame, I may have quilted about 5 or 10 items. I hoped to have acquired expert status with this set up by now, but it hasn’t been like riding a bicycle. The  brain and muscle memories haven’t automatically renewed every time I tried a new project. Each project has its own set of peculiarities!

Since most of the pile (seven of them) consisted of table runners, I thought maybe I could pin several of them up to the Grace Frame, and quilt them all at the same time, and see how it went.

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5 table runners pinned up to the quilting frame

This frame is supposed to accommodate fabric to make a king-size quilt. I was able to comfortably fit 5 of the 7 table runners across the width, with a little space in between each. The backing is pinned (with the right side facing down) onto the first (top, furthest back) leader cloth, and to the second (center) leader cloth. I have marked on each leader cloth a mid-point. Normally I would fold the fabric of the top, bottom, and batting in half and pin that half-way point to the mid-point on the corresponding leader cloths. To match up the mid-points on all these separate fronts and backs of the table runners, I just counted the marks on the top leader cloths and lined them up with the marks on the bottom leader cloths. I realized later, that not all of the table runners were the exact same length,  so that was one major problem with this set up!

A while back I bought 2 big rolls of batting on sale, anticipating that I would be making a whole bunch of quilts. I use one of them most of the time, for the smaller baby quilts and lap quilts. I can position the roll on the floor in front of the frame, and just roll out the batting up  onto the frame as I am rolling out the fabric to be quilted. The one end of the batting layer is pinned to the backing, and then the quilt top is pinned to those two layers, forming the quilt sandwich. I actually purchased a fourth rail for the Grace frame, onto which the batting roll can be wound. One of these days I will find that fourth rail and install it. The second of the two batting rolls is for larger-sized quilts. The batting is folded double, and then wound onto the cardboard roll. So it doesn’t conveniently unwind from the roll like the first one does. You have to unroll the estimated length of batting, cut it off, and then unfold the large section of batting in half, and pin it to the backing.

One thing I enjoy about the Qnique and Grace Frame set up is that pinning the fabric layers to the frame takes significantly less time than pinning the layers of a quilt for quilting on a home sewing machine. You pin the selvedge edge of the backing to Leader #1, then the opposite end to Leader #2, then roll it up on the rails, smoothing it out with your hands. No need for fifty-thousand pins with the little foam bobbers, or safety pins, or clips. However, in this case, since all the table runners were not the same length, and there were so many separate edges above and underneath the batting layer, a bit of mayhem ensued.

batting, top jennyskip
removing the quilted table toppers en masse

All five pieces were conjoined in the batting layer, as seen above. But when the ruler base attached to the throat plate of the Qnique slid across to continue quilting the top next to it, it sometimes slipped the backing layer of its neighbor (underneath the throat plate) out of alignment, which wasn’t easily seen from the top side. And because all the tops and bottoms were of slightly different dimensions, some of the backing layers had a bit of slack, which wasn’t easily seen from the top, and which resulted in a few big puckers.

DH (Skip) suggested that next time, I sew the edges of each runner together prior to quilting them on the frame. I don’t like that idea, because I feel that the seam ripper should be used for ripping out undesirable stitches that occur by accident, not on purpose. But, if I ever do 5 at a time again, it might be worth a try to see if sewing them together causes less shifting of layers.

After the quilting, and cutting out the separate runners, and truing up the edges, I found that I would need to rip and redo several areas of quilting, due to puckers, overlaps, and other unsightly mistakes. In a couple of spots, when I slid the Qnique over to the next runner, the hopping foot got entangled in the edge of the top fabric and had to be cut loose with scissors. Sheesh.

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overlap from the throat plate sliding under and shifting the backing
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big pucker

The worst shifting and puckering occurred in the inner  three table runners. The outer two turned out with the least amount of rework needed, perhaps because the bungee clips which hold the fabric taut, are attached to the two outside runners. This is the reason for DH’s suggestion that all the lengthwise edges be seamed together for quilting, so that the tops and bottoms are one continuous piece of fabric during the quilting step. But I also feel that these errors can be chalked up to overall unfamiliarity with the process. Perhaps they could be prevented in the future by smoothing all the fabric pieces, exercising extreme vigilance of the under layer, and perhaps installing the fourth rail and rolling the batting on it, thereby keeping the batting layer more taut and uniformly stretched out during quilting.

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Best result, one of the two end runners

Next pass, I pinned up the last two table runners to the frame. These, too, were of slightly different lengths, so one of them had some slack in it during the quilting step.

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last two runners quilted together

I pinned them up closer together, practically touching, but I didn’t sew the edges together. I ended up with a couple of minor puckers and overlaps. But the one with the pink backing, because of its additional length compared to the other one, had about a 5-inch space at the end that couldn’t be passed over with the machine, because its neighbor was already at the end of its quiltable area.

end of runner jennyskip
unable to finish this area

So this last little bit, as well as several areas on the previously mentioned runners that had to be picked out and re-quilted, were done on the Brother SC9500 with the free-motion hopping foot installed. BTW, that Brother is an awesome little machine, and very affordable!

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Rework on the Brother machine

I did manage to get all the quilts (3) and table runners (7) finished, reworked if necessary, and bound. Here are a few pics of the finished items.

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lap quilt from Robert Kaufman Celebrate Suess fabric collection
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Lap quilt with Robert Kaufman Celebrate Suess IV precuts
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Christmas Tossed 9-Patch lap quilt (pieced last year) with red satin blanket binding
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Orange and Blue/Camo table runner

 

 

 

Mossy Oak runner
Mossy Oak Breakup/ stitched camo remnant runner
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Gator collegiate fabric/ RealTree remnant runner
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Red berry Tree Hugger/Real Tree remnant runner
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Pink Tree Hugger/ Real Tree remnant runner
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TrueTimber MC2 remnant runner

The last one is not bound yet, because I couldn’t find anything in the stash right away that would make it “pop.” But the cats love it already. This is a slippery, satiny fabric that is possibly meant to represent snowy winter camouflage. For a backing, I used a silvery hologram-looking knit fabric. I love all of the camo remnants!

The Tree Hugger machine embroidery pattern came from Embroidery Library.

So the Assembly Line experiment was not trouble-free, but it was an adventure!

 

 

Building a “Cat-Proof” Christmas Tree

For the first time in many, many years, we decided to forgo getting a regular Christmas tree and make our own…out of wood.  The reason became very clear as we watched our six month old kittens repeatedly try to climb an artificial plant in our TV room only to have it come crashing to the floor.  Now, we have had cats forever and we have witnessed them denuding the Christmas tree one or two feet above the floor, drinking all the water out of the tree stand and pulling the tree skirt out from under the tree to make a nest.  But this year we decided to surrender to the cats and make a cat proof tree, or as one of our sons calls it, a cat accommodating tree!

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basic plywood tree

I acquired three 2’ x 4’ sheets of ½ inch Baltic plywood, and using scraps of wood and green deck screws, fastened the sheets together to form a 6’ x 4’ pallet for my wife to draw a Christmas tree. The plan was to construct a tree that could easily be disassembled once Christmas was over and to store the tree in the attic. I asked Jennifer to outline the tree and locate two large openings for shelves and two smaller openings to use for hanging cat play toys.  When this was completed I took a jig saw and cut out the tree and large openings. I used an electric drill with a 4” diameter hole saw to cut out the smaller openings.

I painted the tree with forest green paint and took it inside for Jennifer to decorate the tree.  We covered the dining room table with brown paper and it became our inside work bench for constructing the tree. Jennifer will tell you that our dining room table is my favorite work bench!!

While Jennifer added snow, popcorn, holly and beads, I began construction on the boxes that were to provide the support for the tree. The plan was to mount a 5” wide by 10”  deep by 10” high box to the back of the tree at the center. Five inches of the box was left exposed from the front and would be decorated as the tree trunk.  Two boxes 12”x 12” x 10” deep would be constructed and decorated as Christmas presents, these would be attached to the front of the tree on the left and right side of the trunk. This provided a very stable tripod arrangement to support the tree. These were fastened from the back of the tree using the same deck screws used throughout the build. The boxes were constructed using ½ inch Baltic plywood. I used a skill saw to cut out all the parts since my table saw was still occupied by the Boy Scout Eagle project we are working on (Adirondack chairs for a homeless shelter in town. Maybe a topic for another blog… how to build chairs with 10 boys 13 to 14 years old trying to use electric drills and sanders!)

Two 12” inch deep shelves were cut from the same ½ “ Baltic plywood. These had their front corners rounded off with the jig saw and painted red. Later these had a wooden strip attached to the bottom which provided a bracket for attaching the shelves to the tree.

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three wooden boxes form tripod base

The tree was moved to the TV room and placed in front of the fireplace. The backup plan for supporting the tree was to run a board between the tree and underside of the fireplace mantel.  We then loaded the tops of the boxes and shelves with treats and hung two catnip toys in front of the small openings and sat back to see what happened. Our 16-year-old cat and the two kittens immediately put the tree to use. They climbed the front, the back and in between. The tree did not even shudder! Success!

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cats checking out the tree

Of course, after 30 minutes the newness wore off and they haven’t been near the tree again. However, my wife and I have felt stress-free! No broken glass Christmas decorations!  No throw-up from the cats reacting to the chemicals added to the Christmas stand water to extend the life of the dying tree (only kidding about the chemicals). No urine stains on the Christmas tree skirt!  No 50,000 pine needles all over the floor to clog up the vacuum!  And I figure that if I get one of those tree shaped things you hang up in your car that are pine scented, we can even enjoy the smell of a real tree! Next, we might even add LED lights, battery-powered so we don’t duplicate the cat-atrophy I saw on the movie Christmas Lampoon!

Building Raised-bed, Easy-water, Easy-weed Garden Planters with Family and Friends

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garden planter #1

 

My wife and I have started gardens in the past with a moderate level of success.  We have picked out a patch in our back yard, tilled the earth, worked in some potting soil and then after germinating some seeds, transplanted the seedlings and then watered and watched the bed to see what happened.  We found that the bugs liked our tomatoes, but didn’t like our squash enough to pollinate the squash flowers. Our food production was minimal.  And we hated having to bend over in the hot sun to tend the garden!  So when I saw Jon Peters’ YouTube video on constructing a raised bed garden, I was inspired to build a couple of these beds for our future garden efforts.

Urban Lumbering and Photovoltaics

We were fairly true to Jon’s design with just a few variations.  I’ll cover these variations in the following paragraphs but first, a few words on urban lumbering.  About four years ago, I entered into a contract with my local utility company with what is called a feed-in-tariff  agreement. Basically if I purchased a photovoltaic system for my house, the utility company would meter my power production and pay me $0.32/kWh for the next 20years. I received a 30% tax credit and was able to write off the cost of the system over four years. [I won’t go into the political ramifications of this program. I’ll save that for another rant on another blog.] So what has this got to do with urban lumbering?  In order to maximize our solar exposure to the photovoltaic system, we had to cut down some red oak trees and some pine trees.   Since I am a woodworker and a wood hoarder, I couldn’t bring myself to the decision of cutting down these trees and having them hauled off to the local wood-burning power plant.  So I called Lumber by Lance and Phil the Tree Guy and had them come to my house and turn these trees into beautiful stickered piles of lumber.  I watched as 4/4, 6/4 and 8/4 slabs of beautiful heart pine and quarter-sawn oak fell off the portable saw mill.

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Part of the wood piled up in the back yard

This project was perfectly timed, since one of my wood piles had air-dried for four years. We decided to not plane or joint any of the wood since, for this project, it was going to be used to hold a bunch of dirt!  

 Help from Family Sustainability Experts

Our two sons from Puerto Rico came home for Thanksgiving and wanted to help build the raised beds.  Our older son is the director of an educational  non-profit organization based in Puerto Rico, focusing on promoting sustainability and ecological agriculture, Plenitud PR (www.Plenitudpr.org or Plenitud PR on Facebook).  Our younger son is an instructor and project manager at the Plenitud farm and teaching center. This was just the type of project they live for!

box components jennyskip
preliminary work on the planter box components

We used the same dimensions that Jon Peters used, 36 inches by 57 inches. The boys found lengths of lumber from my stash that were approximately 8 and 6 inches wide. These were cut to length, and using battens cut from old bed slats, they were fastened together to form 14 inch high sides for the boxes that would make up the raised beds.  Hardware cloth (purchased at a local hardware store) came in 3 foot widths in a roll 10 feet long, just enough to make two beds. This hardware cloth was stapled to the bottom of the boxes with crown staples. Then 1×2 slats of wood were used to frame the hardware cloth for additional support. Before adding the 1×2 slats, pressure-treated 2×4’s were used as cross pieces to add additional support to the hardware cloth. Jon Peters had suggested that additional support might be needed. In a kit-build, Jon Peters demonstrated that another way to construct the bottom of the boxes was to use slats spaced with gaps for drainage.

We took a different approach for the construction of the legs. Jon used 32-inch lengths of pressure-treated 4×4’s.  He removed half the thickness of the 4×4’s for a distance of about 14 inches from one end of the board. This formed a step for the box to sit on. My experience with the current method of pressure-treating 4×4’s is that the penetration of the chemicals into the core of the wood is not always as thorough as it could be. We decided to go with two 2×4’s, one 32 inches long and one 18 inches long, glued and screwed together. These legs were then fastened to the boxes with 2 ½ and 3 inch Robinson deck screws.

planter boxes jennyskip
attaching legs to planter boxes

The boxes were moved to the back yard deck. This kept the boxes out of the way of lawn mowers and weed eaters. Once located on the deck, architectural (weed prevention ) cloth was stapled to the inside of the boxes. This was to provide for a layer to retain the soil while letting water drain through.

planters on deck jennyskip
in place on the deck

Our Puerto Rico Sustainability Experts then stepped up and set about helping us put together a perfect growing media for the new raised beds.  The basic recipe for the soil mix was 40-50% organic matter, 25-30% perlite and 25-30% peat moss (not a sustainable component) or coconut fiber (a sustainable component). Our specific mix was comprised of Black Cow © (cow manure fertilizer as a source of nutrients), CocoLoco © (worm castings, coconut fiber, perlite and soil), peat moss, potting mix, and additional perlite.  This was mixed up on a tarp (see the YouTube video) and placed in the raised beds.

soil mix jennyskip
ready to mix the garden soil

After filling each raised bed with the soil mixture, we added a layer of hay to the top of the soil mixture. This layer of mulch slows down evaporation of water from the bed and protects new seedlings.

Additional Support System for the Raised Beds

The next day we acquired some 10-ft lengths of ½ inch PVC pipe and clamps and constructed a support system for each bed.  The support will provide for shade (50% black cloth) during the summer months and for cover during the winter to protect the plants from frost.

garden bed support jennyskip
shade cloth is still on order

Now on to the local nursery to pick out some fall/winter seeds and seedlings!

Thanksgiving Day

We have so much to be thankful for!

We’re having our big get-together tomorrow so all the kids involved can also celebrate the holiday with other family members as well. We are all pretty much in good health at the moment. We’re looking forward to a fulfilling future. We’re grateful for the ancestors who survived, in spite of many challenges, to extend the familial pedigrees up to this day.

A  recent tendency is to “boo-hiss” the Pilgrims who came to America and displaced (a generic way of stating it) the Natives.  I don’t think I have any actual Mayflower ancestors, but Skip does. Some of our ancestors may not have done the right thing. They could have stayed in England, or France, or Ireland, or Germany, or (according to Skip’s DNA map) an obscure island out in the middle of the ocean, but somewhere down the line they made a decision to come to the New World. Did they ever imagine a time when someone could record their thoughts and instantly project them, electronically, to folks around the world, without waiting months for a letter in return? Thankful for communications, media, technology. Even though it will, at times, make me totally crazy.

puzzle Thanksgiving 2016 jennyskip
Thanksgiving 2016 wooden puzzle

Here’s the panel I hastily painted for Skip to cut into puzzle pieces–about 120 pieces.

back of puzzle jennyskip
cutting pattern on back of puzzle

We’ve made puzzles before that have the pieces cut out first, then we painted a picture on top of the cut-out pieces. He likes it better to have the image painted on first, then he draws a jigsaw pattern on the back and uses the pattern as a guide for where to cut with the saw blade.

Prior to cutting, he masked the image on the front with painter’s tape. Then, after cutting out, he removed the pieces of tape.

tape jennyskip
painter’s tape

Cutting the pieces generates some dust and small fibrous pieces on the cut edges, which we will deal with once the puzzle is reassembled.

puzzle in box jennyskip
in a lidded plastic box for safekeeping

Next step: printing a copy of the subject matter to attach to the box so the kids will know what the puzzle is supposed to look like.

Happy Thanksgiving!