Oct 202017

While I don’t have any cat photos for this Friday, I did complete a small, but useful workshop project. The spandrel (space under the stairs) in my workshop was used by prior owners as storage – for random crap, dirt, and a tangle of spider webs, as far as I can tell. Inspired by how much I loved using my last workshop spandrel for relaxation, I planned on doing something similar in this one.
My past workshop spandrel hammock.
The old hammock.
Me, in my workshop spandrel hammock, a dozen years ago.
Me, 12.5 years ago, reading in my old workshop spandrel hammock.

That spandrel had a lot of space to work with. The whole place had high ceilings, even in the basement, which meant a much larger spandrel area. There was so much space that I had a storage shelf above the hammock and at the foot area, too. My current spandrel is significantly smaller. I can stand up in the highest part, but only if I’m not wearing thick shoes. The hammock idea was out, but I bought a twin sized, foam mattress for it and figured that would be nice. Crawling into a soft, warm, corner of light and pillow filled space to read, sketch, or maybe have a nap. Sounds good, right? Except I kept not getting around to it (three years have passed since the mattress purchase) and finally, only this past month, realized it was because I didn’t want that so much. What I need more of is storage space, not a corner to chill in. The old spandrel hammock gave me a place to “be”, which was in short supply in the living spaces. Our house now has good amounts of living spaces, which is probably the biggest change to the motivation.

Thus, the foam mattress will get a frame (one day, in the years future) and live upstairs (probably) and the spandrel be mostly storage and workspace. Since it is so small, I need to maximize the unusual qualities of the space and the perfect need presented for this: a screen printing frame storage and drying area. After washing out screens it is good to have a spot for drying with free air flow all the way around them. Similarly, once you’ve coated a screen with photo sensitive emulsion, it needs at least an hour of free air drying in a light-free place. Even when they’re dry and safe for use, they need an undisturbed space to be stored in, preferably a space that is out of the way of curious cats and their destructive claws. I mathed up a design last Saturday morning and, using scrap lumber and a half a box of screws, spent the day building these racks. Racks? Brackets? I don’t know exactly what definition they’d fall under, but I’m calling them racks because it is close and the word is short.
Screen printing frame drying and storage racks.
(Do ignore the sloppy spray foam drippy bits that I’ve not trimmed down yet.)
Racks shown with some freshly recovered screens. This small, diagonal space is idea for a few reasons. One, air flow. The rack uprights and cross pieces leave lots of area for air movement around the frames. The photo doesn’t show, but I have a small fan in here to help. Two, I can reach through them to clean the dustbunnies or murder any wayward spiders that haven’t met me yet. Three, there are power wires running way back under there and I would not feel comfortable having them next to storage boxes or such, which means I’d have to protect and enclose them if I wanted to use this spot for traditional storage. Blerg. This works out great. This setup has slots for 22 frames, or 24 if I’m willing to allow the bottom ones to touch the floor. Oh yeah, fourth is that I won’t ever have to get down and crawl into that space to use it (only clean it, seldom) merely bend over slightly to reach the lower, racked frames.

And, for light protection:
Black felt light-blocking curtain.
A simple and cheap black felt curtain. There will be strings and top hooks to roll it up and keep it out of the way when needed, but I haven’t attached those yet. I will put two small hooks at the bottom also, to keep out mildly curious cats. I’ll add a motion activated air bottle for a few months of training to make sure any more-than-mildly-curious cats are discouraged.

Currently, I have ten screen printing frames which I mostly keep in a rotation of exposing, using, storing until I acknowledge I’ll never use them again, recovering them with remover, cleaning, and storing until I need a new screen print. The whole rotation takes years and I only have two or three (oh, I guess have twelve total then) that I intend to keep mostly-permanently. At the slow rate I acquire additional screens, this rack setup should last me for decades yet. Hopefully, until I die or can’t get down the basement stairs anymore. Or until someone comes up with a personal, laser plotter printer for fabric and I rip them out. Yeah, I’ll probably die first.

Now I’m left with the rest of the spandrel which is about 4 x 3 x 5′. That is a lot of valuable workshop space, although I have to leave access for the racks and for some electrical box stuff in the back. It won’t be an easy shelf build, but I will come up with some method of making good use of it. Currently, it holds about half my Lego collection and unused paint and plaster buckets, so it definitely has room for improvement, now that it has a purpose.

I think I’ll be spending a lot of time next year building in and refitting parts of my workshop. It has been a while since I made improvements to it and now that I’m refining some of my creative focus, it is time to get to it.

Aug 172017

Rabbit in the side yard.
Whilst in the backyard propping up my broken echinacea plant (I’ll share if it survives) I saw a rabbit who’d found the perfect sunbeam through the hedgerow. It was shining only on her and she was stretched out in it, practically glowing.

Rabbit in the side yard.
I tired to get closer for a better shot, but she turned to flee. They are prey animals, after all.

Rabbit in the side yard.
Immediately, I stopped, then stepped back slowly. She returned to her spot cautiously.

Rabbit in the side yard.
Mostly obscured by the corner of the house, I watched her start to relax again. Then I went inside and relaxed also.

Jul 182017

Bombus ternarius (AKA orange-belted bumblebee, or red-banded bumblebee) are bees common in Cheyenne, despite our harsh weather. They are single season (colony) bees, so a colony thrives in our hot summer and the new queen(s) hibernates through the winter. They are ground dwellers, so I’m sure that helps here.
Bombus Ternarius on echinacea.
This worker was on my single echinacea plant shortly after I found the other plants eaten. Should I say that? I mean, the remains of the asters told the tale, but the seedlings were gone, so I couldn’t have found them. They were conspicuous in their absence and I concluded what had happened to them. I could be wrong. They could have been abducted my aliens.


Some success has been had! One bee, one flower – good start.

Jul 132017

Echinacea blooming
Now the echinacea has a proper bloom.
The original plant had two promising buds. The second, lower and smaller one was bitten off, I saw this morning. Ambitious bunny? Busy squirrel? I will never know since our security cameras don’t cover the plant area. Will have to arrange for a flora and fauna cam.

Jul 102017

Echinacea blooming
The backyard revamping is coming along. Above you can see the echinacea plant blooming. I was worried about it because for almost a week after I put it in the ground the lower leaves turned yellow. They weren’t crispy or soggy, so I didn’t take action. That worked out, apparently, because it finally came out of bud mode and into flower mode. The lower leaves are slowly returning to green. The asters are still iffy; three seem like they’ll survive, one of them is shriveling up leaves like it is rebelling against life – or my debased and nugatory dirt. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I had two types of sunflowers started from seeds and they went gangbusters in the starter tray. Had to take them out early as they outgrew the cover and were bending over. Also started from seeds were some dwarf convolvulus (morning glory), which seem to be eager to grow, despite their delicacy. My fourth seed efforts were lavender, which I have a personal history of disaster with. They declined to sprout at all, so we’re both spared the heartbreak of their inevitable failure to thrive under my care. The viable (hopefully?) seedlings all got put in the ground on Sunday and there was still green out there when I peeked through the window on the way out this morning. Their environment looks inhospitable, but that is how it’s going to be. No coddling these backyard plants. If they can’t make it, I’ll find tougher ones.

Jun 202017

Last week when taking out the trash, I saw a tall yellow flower amongst the weeds. In a hurry to get to work, I delayed taking a picture until the evening, but found it closed. This morning I was out and found another of that flower, this one with multiple buds.

Yellow flower
This flower is the root cause of my latest project, which is turning the center area of our backyard into a wildflower and plant haven. If this weed can survive in our crappy, rocky soil, battle off the horde of dandelions, and look pretty to boot then I need a lot more of this type of plant. The center area has been abused over the years (by us and bad concrete contractors) and will take a lot of work to get back to a “perfect” looking grassy yard. But, I hate grass. I hate mowing, I hate wasting good water that we pay for on needy, stupid, pointless grass. So, I’m going to weekly take a shovel and scrape up the bits of grass, the loads of weeds and plant hearty flowering weeds and plants. These plants will all be selected for their hardiness, ability to survive in our restrictive zone with minimal or no maintenance and for their benefit to honeybees (first), butterflies, and birds. I’ve already got an echinacea planted, along with some specific asters. My aim is to add a plant every week so I’m not overwhelmed.

Tiny apples
While I was doing that, I saw a bright green and found that our apple tree has started production on a new batch of apples! Yea! This is the yearly foreshadowing to the apple harvest battle – how many, if any, apples will we get against the ever-vigilant squirrels, the sudden damaging hail, and the resilient bugs.

We have some damaged old lawn chairs that I’ve brought out. Some minor refinishing work and they’ll be pleasant to sit in on the rare cool evenings we’ll get. We can sit and look at the productive plant life out there. If nothing else, we’ll have less mowing to do and something pretty to look at.

Apr 272017

Our apple tree just started blooming those pale pink flowers from their pink frilly buds. So pretty and delicate. Hope I get lots of time to enjoy them before our destructive hail storms wreck them all.

Speaking of hail storms, Slick reminded me that I could hail-dye fabric. He is a fucking genius.

Apr 172017

Yesterday, I set up a little Easter egg hunt in our backyard for Slick as a bit of weekend fun. I put peanut M&Ms into big plastic eggs and spread them around the yard in the morning while the squirrels were out, everywhere, noisy and frisky. It is springtime, after all. After that, I made us a spot of breakfast, made sure Slick had his coffee, then sprung the activity on him. He was game, thankfully, but as soon as we got outside I knew my plan had gone off the rails.

This was the first egg – very easy to see at the start of our backyard, but when we went out to hunt, it was gone.

The second missing egg. There were more, but I’m only showing you the Before pictures of the ones the squirrels got.

The third squirrel egg. While I was making breakfast, I saw from my kitchen window that this egg had been disturbed, but I assumed the squirrels had merely knocked it down as they went about their frisking.

After I notified Slick that the egg hiding had been tampered with, he began a different type of search and found the first, pink egg over in our neighbors yard. It was bitten on both ends and most of the candy guts remained spilled on the grass. Our guess is that we disturbed the squirrel thief from eating his treasure completely.

The third disturbed egg, also bitten, but also split open. Only one M&M candy remained on the grass.

We never found the orange egg. I hope we’ll come across it one day, to see where it was absconded to by an industrious squirrel.

The egg hunt turned out to be more interesting than expected, so that was fun. Slick’s Easter basket was a tool bag with a red stuffed bunny in it. I figured a tool bag would be more inviting for him to carry around the yard, plus it has much greater reuse potential.

Jan 162017

He lost his head on the 9th and has remained the same since.

I’m considering knocking it over and kicking pieces over to the other side of the yard where my two new, young trees are. They need the water more than the dirt does.

 Posted by at 7:28  Comments Off on Snowlump
Jan 092017

Sunday saw sunny skies and our temp got up to 40F! I went to shovel the walks some more (so they could melt away in this warm sun) and saw that the snow was PERFECT sticking temp. Thus:

I haven’t built a snowman for decades. This guy is seven feet tall. I couldn’t reach the top of his head, had to have Slick come out and put the head on for me. The eyes are a pair of rocks we picked up on a beach in Ireland on our honeymoon. He won’t last long in our expected three days of warm weather.

This morning:

Here is what he looks like after about 16 hours in this warmth. His eyes have fallen off to his feet and he’s leaning noticeably The front walk is a pool of snowman melt.

 Posted by at 7:07  Comments Off on Snowman
Jun 052016

Our home landscaping efforts have been slow and usually involve more wreckage and destruction than productive results. This work is positive, though:
New hawthorn trees.
New trees! These two newbies are hawthorn trees. They have white flowers in late spring, and in autumn bright red berries that won’t fall off the limbs. They are hearty enough to survive our altitude and winters. Here they still have blooms. They are good for bees, butterflies, and birds – and squirrels and rabbits can eat the berries, too, if any get to them. Besides narrowly missing a sprinkler line with my shovel, the whole thing was easy and straightforward. We’ll see how they hold up for the coming summer.

 Posted by at 9:18  Comments Off on Trees
May 262016

followed by a discussion of my sewing machines

Alright, it seems that time is getting away from me. I have a number of things I’ve failed to share in a timely manner, so I’m really making an effort to catch up now, but in a reasonable manner. I’m going to plow through all the May things I’ve skipped, in order. Yes, I have some things from April and older, but this is my compromise for catch up.

I did a little workshop work a couple weeks back. I still have so much to do! Cabinets, shelves, finishing items like putting on window trim and outlet covers. It is going to take me years to call it “done” since I only make progress once or twice a year. Can’t be helped – I like working in the workshop more than working on the workshop itself.

One of the small bits I accomplished was to put some semi-dead storage shelves in. My treadmill is a good-sized one, and hefty, since I needed it to get me jogging (or walking) through the long Wyoming winters and run for many years. Unfortunately, the size means there is wasted wall space – that is a sin if ever there were one! The space is behind the treadmill, where the main control panel backs to the wall. It leaves a good 16″d x33″w x30″h space under the control panel, in front of the tread – above where the motor is. You don’t see this area when the treadmill is up, but it sits there, undisturbed and not being useful. And let me tell you that doing the morning exercise for an entire winter will give you plenty of time to think about how to reclaim that wasted space.
Shelf by treadmill.
Beautiful! Since this is only seen while the treadmill is down, and you’d have to put the treadmill down to access it, only items of notable value, but limited usage would be appropriate here. This is why I call it semi-dead. My “spare” sewing machine fits this bill and fits part of the space perfectly. You can read later why I have a spare machine, if you care.

Oh, you can see the new catwalk here, too. Now the cats can get to three different windows without touching the floor, or (and more importantly) wrecking my shit on the way.
Shelf by treadmill.
And with the treadmill up. Not even visible. Ugh, my desk is still exactly that messy. I moved a bunch of stuff onto so I could have some workspace to build these shelves, then never cleared it back off. I have too much stuff.

That’s it! A simple and incredibly useful project for me. If you want to read about my spare sewing machine, carry on. Otherwise, I’ll have more new stuff up soon.

My sewing machines

Yes, plural – I have four as of a month ago, used to be just three. But, with only three machines, I’d still get incredulous people who visited my workshop. “Why do you have three sewing machines?!?!” as if I were mad somehow. These are usually sourced from people who don’t sew. What they don’t understand is that it is like asking a painter why they have more than two brushes, or a woodworker why they have a garage full of tools. Simply, they do different things. Here is the breakdown.

1. Gretchen, my Pfaff, which I bought as a showroom-used model 11 years ago) was (until a month ago) my main machine. It is a basic model, there are no fancy stitches or options, no computer chip, all mechanical. I have used the hell out of Gretchen and I am confident she will travel through hell with me for another 11 years and more. The older mechanical Pfaffs are excellent, new computerized ones not so much.

2. Suzy. Before I learned to free motion sew, I eyed with silent envy the computerized machines that would stitch out cute little icons or letters for you. They seemed so shiny! I found Suzy, my spare machine, at Target, on sale, many years ago. It could do the basics plus decorative, flowery, patterns, and multiple alphabets! All for under $200. A quick check of the internet revealed bad news – the machines are worth what you pay for them. Approximately half them were duds, the rest fine. I gambled and won – my Suzy was a keeper. (I call her Suzy because of all the many stitches she’ll do for how cheap she was = Suzy the stitch slut.) Whenever I had to take Gretchen in for regular maintenance or a timing fix (because of the previously mentioned hell I put her through) and needed to sew during that short time, out came Suzy. Plus, Suzy was good for a number of labels, dates, a short poem or two, some decorative work, etc. As well, I do sometimes run multiple machines at a time for involved projects, but that is a subject worthy of a different post.

3. Diva (or sometimes, that fucking Diva of a machine!) is my Sashiko II from Babylock. This was mostly an impulse purchase at a quilt show, but I love the sashiko (hand stitched) look it will produce. In summary, it is an overpriced, under-functioning, one-trick pony that is unreliable. It only does the sashiko stitch, that is all. It has to be significantly readjusted with any thread type change. The timing is too easy to throw off and way too hard to fix. Even the shop I bought it at couldn’t fix it and replaced it with a new one to fend me off when I took it to them. I’ve cursed more at this machine more than any other machine (any, sewing or otherwise) in my life. I’ve envisioned smashing it with a sledge, setting it on fire, and (sometimes) running it over with a truck. It skips, snags, pulls, breaks, and sometimes shreds threads. It is a fickle piece of crap and I don’t suggest ANYONE buy one. If you’re thinking of it, instead hire a local kid to do stitching for you. Even that will be cheaper and more accountable. However, with all that said, I still love that stitching – when it works. Looking at those stitches twangs my creative heartstrings. While I will put Diva away for lengths of time to avoid harm (to both of us), I keep bringing her back out and playing her damn games.

4. (no name – Janome brand) I had to take Gretchen in for some overdue maintenance. [There was so much lint fluff in there it was becoming felt!!] While at the shop, I decided to look around. I’d only the day before on the internet seen some way-fancy free motion machine designed just for that purpose. Of course, it was overpriced and unreliable, so I wasn’t even thinking of going for it, but I did now have a thought in my head that I could stand to look around, a little, if I wanted, no meaning to it. Yes, that did it. The shop was having a remodeling sale and I found my new machine and it came home with me that day. It is … well, almost awesome. As in, I am almost in awe of it. It does all the basics, it does all the fancies, and it will free motion with a mere foot change and a switch flip. This is heaven for me. Plus, I bought the surface extension that fits onto it. I FMQ’d the whole “Black Cat in Rainbow” quilt as the first project on it. It didn’t snag once, it adjusted tension automatically, and it has an auto-thread-cutter. That alone has saved me a lot of time, especially with the 40+ thread changes I did on that quilt. This thing is great. I didn’t exactly plan to buy it, so I have some weird money-splurge guilt for something I didn’t really need, only wanted. It seems I now have a new main machine.

I still have Gretchen. There is nothing wrong with her, she is as perfect as if I’d bought her yesterday. If I keep her, I should get rid of Suzy, since Gretchen would become the backup and my new Janome can trump Suzy’s fancies with a glance. I am torn about what to do, but I am sure some time will help with the decision. For the time being, anyone who comes into my workshop might still ask, “Why do you have three sewing machines?!” Little will they know I really have four, with one hidden from sight on the new shelf.

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May 182016

Today it is sunny and mild. Two nights ago we had rain, sleet, snow, then more rain yesterday morning followed by wind.
Apple blossoms in the rain.
I’d hoped to catch the apple tree in the snow, but caught the morning rain instead.

Apple blossoms in the rain.
Raindrops on petals.

Tulips in the spring sunlight.
The tulips are still going strong after the storm.

 Posted by at 6:52  Comments Off on Pretty
Apr 272016

As usual, our spring is sprinkled with sporadic crazy weather. After a couple days of perfect 65F + sunshine + gentle breeze, we had a day of wild wind, then a freak two-hour snow storm that made the roads insanely slippery.
Snowy spring in Cheyenne.
A couple hours after that, the roads were completely dry. The air was crisp. It is an unexpected pleasure to be able to walk around on dry sidewalks while there is snow on the grass and layering the trees.

Snowy spring in Cheyenne.
The tulips are continuing to work on their blooms, unphased by the snow. This is the plant that I thought had been dug up years ago. This is the toughest, loner tulip I have.

Snowy spring in Cheyenne.
Well, mostly unphased. That one seems to have lost a petal.

 Posted by at 6:31  Comments Off on Meanwhile, in Wyoming.
Feb 152016

Crescent moon, glowing in the winter night.
The snow has melted away enough that I can find the sidewalks again. The crescent moon the other night was amazingly bright. The photo only shows the glow, but that glow is still magic.

On a bloggy subject, I’ve added thumbnail images to my project bar tracker on the side. It seemed a little boring with only the trackers and text. Yea for pictures!

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 Posted by at 6:52  Comments Off on Winter Moon