Alice graduated from College (more or less)

Alice’s Graduation, as recounted by Cathy Verts:

Our friend Alice graduated from U. Mass. this May with a degree in Geology. Alas, she was not able to have a proper graduation ceremony, so her sibling, Aerin, decided to organize a small ceremony in the backyard today at 1:00 pm. The three of us Vertses grabbed various robes, ceremonial accoutrements, and masks and drove over to Northampton. Bill brought a speech he wrote before he got up this morning.

Upon arrival, Bill dressed up in full academic regalia, RJ put on high school robes, including a mortarboard trimmed with dangling wooden mammoths, and I declared that I was an Audience, so I didn’t have to get dressed up.

Someone went upstairs and woke up Alice, the star of the show. Al and Aerin put on their academic robes and shoved some robes at Alice. Al added a speaker on his chest so that he could play “Pomp and Circumstance” as he walked.

Bill, Al, RJ, Aerin, and Alice lined up and processed around the backyard, while the Audience, Jared, and Lee applauded. Bill, as the only honest-to-gosh U. Mass. faculty member around handled the graduation speech. I include the exact speech in total (Bill read the numbers, too):

1. Thank you to Irrelevant Authorities
2. Welcoming Remarks
3. Stupid Joke (wait for laughter to die down)
4. Introduction of Other Irrelevant Authorities
5. Generic Congratulatory Remarks
6. Comment About Weather
7. Reference to Special Nature of Current Class
8. Thanking of Faculty
9. Thanking of Parents
10. Personal Amusing Anecdote
11. Obligatory Reference to Antonio’s Pizza
12. Long-winded and Boring Tale of Self-Sacrifice that Nobody is
Interested in.
13. Homily about Doing Well in the World
14. Welcome to Ranks of UMass Family
15. Reference to Alumni Association and Donations
16. Will Graduates Please Stand
17. Conferring of Degree

At this point the graduate’s mother, Lee, handed Alice her degree which had been mailed to Alice. We all cheered.

18. Singing of Fight Song (nobody knows words)
19. Go UMass!
20. Under Your Seats you will Find a Pin

At this point, Bill tossed the U. Mass. pin at Alice (social distancing) and she picked it up off of the ground.

21. Please Stay in your Seats while Platform Party Exits (ignored)
22. Random Milling About

We milled around. Lee asked Alice if she felt any different after our ceremony and Alice said, “Yes, the diploma feels more real.” We sat in the shade, wearing our masks, and visited. Chris showed up fashionably late, but brought Lindor Truffles, so we forgave her. A good afternoon.


The first sip of coffee. The first swig of a cold Steel Rail Pale Ale. The first dip of toes in the ocean at the beach on the first day it is not quite warm enough to get really wet (this varies wildly for the people I know). There is a sort of shock of delight at the beginnings of things. The first spring peepers. The first frost in fall. It seems to be combined pleasure and relief, that the thing you’ve been feeling wistful for lives up to the moment you remembered.

I’d like to add to those; the first cut you make with a new X-acto blade. That precision, and ease – it doesn’t happen past the third or fourth cut, and replacing blades for every single cut feels unconscionably wasteful, but that first slice? Just delightful.

What provides that blip of delight for you?

last 50

All fifty are there – the gaps are because I was making double sized pieces on Sundays, so they do not fit together as well.

I am having a hard time stopping, and finished 103/100 today and posted it.

It’s good to have a hobby?

bear anatomy

I mentioned a while back I had been working on making a jointed bear. the plan was to use the laser cutter to cut parts, and then hold them together using some kind of pins or tiny nuts and bolts so the legs and head would move in realistic ways. I was inspired to do this while looking at Laura Mathews Instagram feed – she makes extraordinary articulated animals, and they look like such excellent toys, both to build and to play with.

I started the process with a drawing, and some reference photos, and worked out a first draft, but it wasn’t quite right, and I wasn’t sure why.

I am embarrassed at how long it took me to think to look at actual bear anatomy, especially bone structure and musculature.

I did not look for bear anatomy, because I thought I understood quadruped anatomy, because I have drawn horses for my entire life. Any quadruped I see, I can map it roughly onto a horse, and sketch out something that looks perfectly reasonable. But it is not, in fact, reasonable.

To be technical, a horse is an ungulate. They walk about on their tippy-toes, and hide their (vestigial) thumbs up their legs somewhere. (Alice weirded out another visitor at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology by crooning to a skeleton “ah my little ungulate, and where do you hide your thumbs…?”). Bears (and I realize this is a shock) are not ungulates. The scales have fallen from my eyes, and my bear models are hugely improved:

Also I am looking at all other mammals (squirrel, rabbit, chipmunk, cat), and also many non-mammal vertebrates (BIRDS!!! SO WEIRD!!!!), and thinking “whoa, that is not an ungulate either, I wonder what their bones look like???”

tl;dr Bears are not ungulates, and once you understand their skeleton better the models of them work SO MUCH BETTER. Also I think it hilarious that I was last month years old when I figured this out. There is always room for new knowledge. What have you learned recently?

all distraction, all the time!

I think this is now a blog of ways I am distracting myself – herein, more weaving.

Having done some more weaving now, I think I need to think more carefully about what to use for warping. I have used the Lion cotton yarn and it is fat, and some linen string I have lying around and that is skinny and fierce – there has to be some intermediate string that warps up nicely and can hold some tension. The franken-loom is surprisingly useful. The sett (the number of warp threads per inch) is close to 8, which means I can also warp it at twice that, 16 ends (warp threads) per inch.

I think I need to take the teeth-combs off the inside faces of the blocks they are mounted on, and mount them parallel to the strings and facing out – so that tensioning the loom pulls threads more firmly onto the teeth rather than letting strings slip or get bumped off the top.

There are all kinds of recommended choices for warp and weft and I have access to those recommendations courtesy of the Little Loom class I signed up for, but I also have a budget of basically zero and a lot of things on hand already, so found and repurposed has to be the majority of the weaving right now.

A newsletter of tiny things

I have started a new thing, as one does, particularly in times of uncertainty. If you would like to see a small artwork, or something else small and interesting, mostly daily, sign up using the form in the link. You can always unsubscribe if I talk too much, or you don’t like the pictures, or you have too many things in your inbox already. I sympathize. Nothing personal.

The first one is written, and I’m working on the next one!

distractions for a pandemic

Last year I signed up for Rebecca Mezoff’s class on weaving tapestry on little looms. She is a delightful teacher, and I enjoyed the class a lot. I was working on a loom I had cut from thin plywood using the laser cutter at Smith College – the first loom I made was too flimsy, and the next several attempts were respectively not cut all the way through, excessively burnt and off center. I decided I had enough things to work on in the fall and stopped weaving for a while.

With the pandemic and resulting directions to stay home, I have revisited the idea of tapestries, particularly weaving small, four selvedge pieces. After a good deal of thrashing about in the shop yesterday, I produced a prototype small loom with adjustable tension.

The “comb” parts came from one of the heavier failed laser cut looms. The rest is scraps and a large bolt scrounged from various bins. While I am pleased with myself for accomplishing this object, it turns out to be less than completely functional. The teeth are too fat to make a selvedge (a woven edge that does not need finishing) and the not quite deep enough to hold multiple loops of string for a string supported warp. I found these things through trial and error, and a series of false starts.

On the left, from top to bottom, my first, second and third attempts at weaving, along with another picture of the loom. Not shown, the various warp experiments that failed to stay in place long enough to weave anything. On the right, my first four selvedge piece, with a penny for scale. The side selvedges are spectacularly wobbly, but the basic idea is there, and I am pleased.

And I have ordered a Mirrix Saffron loom, because while I could indeed continue to work on this one, it will be so much easier to get going on a loom that is designed to do what I want from the ground up. And having had a lot of fun weaving, and a good deal of aggravation getting set up, I’m all about decreasing aggravation, and increasing the fun quotient.

I should likely talk about the Daily 100, and the creative project next time!

Bench notes: further printing from embroidery

My notes from printing from embroidery the first time listed the following directions I could pursue.

  • find smoother interfacing, without the prominent bumps of fusible
  • try drilling holes in a stiffer substrate – chipboard or thin plywood
  • what difference does hand sewing make? I could use thicker threads working by hand than with a machine, but the line is not continuous
  • does a different type of thread matter? Nylon, rayon, linen are all on hand for testing

Using the laser cutter at Smith College Design Thinking Institute, I made holes in some of my fabric fused to heavy interfacing, to make the stitching easier. I also used the laser cutter to cut and drill holes into 3mm thick chipboard (which is heavy cardboard, it just has a technical name I did not know).

The chipboard did provide a much stiffer backing for the stitching, but it still grabbed and carried paint from the backing to the image. I think if I had more stitching and less open space, that could be mended, but creating the design well before it is drilled cuts back on flexibility within the design itself. I was surprised how sparse the laser cut designs were when printed – they felt much more complex when I was working on the computer drafting them, than when I had the work in hand and was embroidering them.

I was also surprised at how easy it is to hand stitch on the fabric/interfacing combination – I expected to have to use pliers to pull the needle and I did not. That ease allowed me to develop the design in a much more organic way than when I relied on pre-drilled holes in both the interfacing and the chipboard. I think the resulting image is clearer and more interesting than the pre-drilled images.

Ultimately, I think I can carry my ideas further using hand embroidery on heavy interfacing, and possibly adding in machine work extend the areas I can cover easily. I can still experiment with different thread types.

I’m letting all of these ideas rest for a while. Something will become clear.


I honestly have no idea what to write about right now. My state (Massachusetts) is beginning the sharp increase of cases of COVID-19. Although we are in the western part of the state, we have cases in town, including my friend the mayor. Once the virus reached the people I know, it changed my feelings about pretty much everything.

I have been distracting myself with making blocks for an actual quilt quilt, not one of my usual pieces of quilt-adjacent artwork. I have finished binding a book that was waiting for more than a year to be done. And I have kept on going with #thedaily100project (#66 of 100 today! 2/3 finished!).

As far as I can tell, the entire world is shut down and shut in. Tell me your coping mechanisms, I could use some more –

stay safe, stay well, take care of each other