How to Build a Stone Wall

If you live in a place where there are a lot of stone walls you’ve probably admired them. Dry stone walls are timeless, classic, and stand as testimonies to historic and cultural traditions that have been usurped by strip malls and housing developments that hollow us of a sense of place and belonging.   Perhaps you’ve thought about having some built on your property, or, if you have stone at your place, you’ve thought of building some yourself. If you’d like to know more about the history ,the dynamics and details of constructing dry stone walls, that is, walls without mortar, you couldn’t do better than to sign on for a workshop with Andrew Pighills.

Andrew will be teaching a week-end long, dry stone wall building workshop on May 14th and 15th at Stonewell Farm in Killingworth, Connecticut. For more information please contact me at: mb@mbeckerco.com and I will send you registration materials.

Intelligence should trump Trump

Back in the day, many years ago, when I was working for a company that did decorative painting, I was called to a Trump property job. The project was to ‘marbelize’ a red fire indicator; a red-painted device in a public space intended to visually stand out so that, in the event of a fire, someone could pull the switch and alert the Fire Department to a fire emergency. The job descriptive was to camouflage the device so that it would be indistinguishable from its marble surroundings. Donald Trump wanted this to be made invisible. He wanted the space to shout elegance and affluence and he thought that NYC’s building codes infringed on his right to create an environment of luxury. As a poor artist, I balked, philosophically, but performed the service of camouflaging the said fire alert device. In the event of a fire in this public place, no-one would be able to find the very well camouflaged fire alert device. Do I feel bad about this? Yes. Does Donald Trump? Absolutely not. Why not? Because he is a creature without a conscience.  This is what I know about Donald Trump. He is a creature without a conscience. Buyer beware.

Goodbye Benazir.

Benazir_01

This is the story of a hen. Not any hen, and not any hen that you could imagine or hope to meet. Benazir was an intelligent hen.  A powerful hen. A beautiful hen. A human friend kind of hen.  My hen.  My frhend, Benazir.  My pet hen Benazir. She lived the same lifespan of a dog and I loved her in the same way that dog-owners love their pets. Benny was an Australorp, black feathers that shone an iridescent teal green in the light, black legs, that faded to scaley grey with age. She was a good Mama. She was a great ‘grubber’. When we dug the gardens in the early spring, and encountered innumerable quantities of squirming grubs in the soil Andrew and I would look at one another and say, “get Benny”, whereupon one of us would head  to the henhouse calling “Benazir, Benazir”, and, she, immediately recognizing her tri-syllabic name, would come running to the door, glossy, fluffy, beautiful, eager, priveliaged. We’d scoop her and all her voluptuous featherdeness up in our arms and head  to the garden, she, comfortable and confidant, thrusting her head forward and back, to our amusement, as if she were walking. Then, once placed on the ground, she would scratch and dig and gobble up the grubs in each planting hole, and then jump on my arm or next to it, cocking her head to look into my eyes for direction, ready for the next planting hole task, she’d jump back down and do it all over again.

When grub season was over, she’d come to the front door and knock on it with her beak. Once opened, she’d look up into our eyes with expectation, and we’d respond with bits of cheese (her favorite) or oatmeal or bread or, even, hard boiled eggs ( I know…weirdly cannibilistic). She’d crossed the threshold once or twice but knew this was not her place, and so remained on the entryway carpet waiting for a treat, even when she could clearly see me cooking in the kitchen, twenty paces away.

Benazir had a favorite place in a nook beneath our bedroom door to the outside. Full sun, dry, (perfect for dust baths), shaded, quiet; far from the madding crowd of the others chickens. When we would encounter Benazir there, we would say, “Hey Benazir, that’s a good Mama”….., which would elicit a soft cluck, in kind acknowledgement and acceptance of us; our human presence. Benny was a matriarch, a mother of a couple of broods, an overseer of others, and a friend of us.

Benazir, dear, sweet, creature. We loved you, we still do. Forgive us.

Goodbye, sweet thing, goodbye.

Wall Building Workshop; more Rock Stars

 

A new wave of rock stars
A new wave of rock stars

This past weekend we hosted another successful dry stone wall building workshop here at Stonewell Farm. The weather was perfect and the attendees were an amazing bunch. I’ve posted a photo album on the progress of the wall on Flickr. Here’s the link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stonewell_farm/sets/72157652366188335/

Below is the final shot of the tired Rock Stars at the end of the day, before we cracked open a few well-deserved beers. Well done!

The end of the final day of the workshop. Phew!

The end of the final day of the workshop. Phew!

 

Another Linnet #99 Tunic

A sleeveless, tunic length version of the Linnet #99 pattern.

A sleeveless, tunic length version of the Linnet #99 pattern.

I’ve made another version of the Linnet Dress #99. Since I’m not much of a dress person, I crafted another tunic version, this one somewhat shorter than the last one, and without sleeves, so it can be worn as a layering garment with shirts, turtlenecks and leggings. I had some remnants of heavy weight linen that I’d dyed for another project knocking around and so that’s what I used, and decided that the contrasting shade of the selvage was something that I liked so I chose to incorporate it into the design. I’m pleased with this project. This is exactly the sort of basic wardrobe garment that I needed and that prompted my wardrobe sewing adventure in the first place. The simplicity of the pattern lends itself to seemingly endless variations. This is a four pleat version, two in front and two in back, but I’m working on a 10 pleat version with long sleeves in an indigo dyed linen. My linen supply has run dry but I intend to make more of these, one in silk and a couple in some  cotton Provencale prints that I have in my fabric stash. With Spring nowhere in sight, I think I might still have enough time to crank out a few more before gardening season is upon us.

Tunic #1: Linnet Dress Pattern #99

The pattern was altered to tunic length.

The pattern was altered to tunic length.

picture of linen tunic sewn with a Linnet Sewing pattern

Detail of inverted front pleats at waistline.

Here is the completed garment, using Linnet Dress pattern No. 99, adapted to a tunic length. For such a seemingly simple garment, there’s been quite a learning curve, taking three times longer than I’d expected it to. (And I thought I’d be whipping these things out at a rate of one a day, passing the snowy, winter days, populating my wardrobe with a dozen lovely, well-made, linen tunics in gorgeous colors all hand-dyed by me, and in time to host garden parties this summer). Uhhhh. Time to re-think that one and set more modest goals, I suppose.

I’ve learned a lot from making this garment, and have a much greater respect for even poorly made garments, like this one, for instance.

I altered the pattern somewhat, eliminating the original shawl collar, which ended up looking rather matronly, and shortened the whole thing to tunic length. The next one I make will be for fall and winter, and the plan is to line it for extra warmth and opacity.

We’ll see how that goes. YouTube tutors seem to make entire garments come together, perfectly and professionally in 7.28 minutes, so…….anything is possible..

Japanese Sewing Patterns-Part II

Linnet sewing pattern fresh out of the airmail envelope.

Linnet sewing pattern fresh out of the airmail envelope.

Hmmm. Operation Japanese Sewing patterns isn’t going as swimmingly as I’d expected. Out of the envelope, what I loved about the uncluttered, clean, minimalist patterns has become a baneful sewing adventure. All that previously admired open space means there’s very little information to guide one in the construction/assembly process; no notches for matching seams, no markings for tailor tacks, no seam allowances.  Very minimal, indeed. I guess the Linnet people expect a more practiced sewist to be using their patterns. The written instructions that accompany the patterns are, at first glance, thorough enough, until you actually try following them. They’ve made a good effort but there’s just not enough direction for a beginning sewist, despite the simplicity of the garment silhouettes themselves.

Sigh. Well, on the bright side of things, I’m glad I’m not using wildly expensive or irreplaceable fabric, and, although I hadn’t really planned on any hand sewing, there is some of that involved, and thanks to YouTube and some generous and skillful tailors-sharers, I’m learning some great hand sewing techniques that I’d never known about.  I’m also keeping careful notes on the difficulties I encounter and how I’m resolving them so that I don’t have to tread this thorny path again. Lesson #1: Don’t try to adapt our measurement system of inches to metric. Just use the metric system. ( Weren’t we Americans supposed to have converted to the metric system sometime in the seventies of the last century? What happened with that perfectly reasonable idea?)

I’ve started this project with an off-white linen, and sewing linen is somewhat more challenging than the more tightly woven cotton fabrics. The next garment will be a cotton print. But while I’m on the subject, let me say something more about the garment I’m working on; Linnet Dress/Tunic #99. The good news is that there’s very little discernible difference between the ‘right-side’ and the ‘wrong-side’ of the off-white linen fabric that I’m using. That also happens to be the bad news as well. Lacking tailor’s marks or notches, it’s hard to tell what goes where and how in the construction. I’ve taken to sticking blue tape onto the fabric patterns pieces and writing RS (Right Side) and WS (Wrong Side) to keep myself sane-ish.

The first garment ought to be completed by tomorrow, and I’ll post the results here.

 

What I miss about Apartment dwelling in NYC

24 Years of living at 97 Arden Street. I miss it sometimes.

Snow was cause for celebration. The building superintendent was responsible for shoveling snow.

Delivery. Food, beer, wine, cigarettes. Pick up the phone, it’s there in 15 minutes or less.

Heat. Always abundant, even in the dead of winter. Often too much….those on ground level apartments always had their windows open, we, on the 4th floor (out of 6) often had them open. Watching snow fall in NYC while you’re cocooned in an overheated apartment and having a bottle of wine delivered is one of the great inventions/luxuries of civilization.

Parties. A lot of artists lived in my building. Painters, actors, opera singers, musical theatre people, and we were all friends. Events, like a heavy snowfall, or a power outage or a heat wave, called for a party. (See the delivery notation, above). One phone call and all and sundry descended into someone’s apartment for drinks and impromptu cheese platters accompanied by laughs and jokes and remarks about the weather, and mutterings of guilt-driven empathy for Richie,’The Super’ who was out there doing his job; shoveling 40 feet of snow.

I miss those days and those friends. Cheers to those of you still out there!

Japanese Sewing Patterns – Part 1

In a previous post I mentioned my desire to sew some basic wardrobe pieces as a sort of commitment for 2015. I’ve settled on three patterns from Linnet, a Japanese company that offers sewing patterns, beautiful linen and cotton fabrics and hard-to-find notions.  I bit the bullet, ordered the patterns and started plotting out my ideas with pencil in my sketchbook. To say I’ve settled on three patterns requires some explanation. If you’re not familiar with the whole Japanese Sewing Pattern thing, all you need to know is that they are driven by a simplicity of construction, a baggy, blousey, casual sort of style, and rely on earthy, natural fiber fabrics (linen, wool, linen-wool blends, etc…) or cute (maybe too cute for me) Liberty of London prints.Some fashion-folk refer to the aesthetic as Lagenlook; I guess that’s our german friends. For me, I chose silhouettes that I think can be easily altered to stylistic adaptations within my limited skillset.  I seldom wear dresses and so I’m thinking that I can make tunics out of all of these patterns and, possibly, with my range of skills, change the collars, alter the sleeves, add or eliminate pockets, add more pleats or substitute gathers, etc….  My stash of many yards of off-white linen, along with an inventory of fiber-reactive dyes, is the basis for this conceptual wardrobe of tunics. In my next post, I’ll illustrate my proposed adaptations as well as the progress of my sewing project. Here are some examples of the patterns I mean to work with:

Linnet Pattern No. 99

Linnet Pattern No. 99

Linnet Pattern No. 25

Linnet Pattern No. 25

Linnet Pattern No. 64

Linnet Pattern No. 64

Here’s what the patterns look like, fresh out of the packaging, and onto my work table.

Linnet patterns just waiting for me to make them.

Linnet patterns just waiting for me to make them.

Why I don’t TEXT.

First try this simple exercise. Here’s a sample with a simple, straightforward communication:

“Hi. Are you at home?” Now spell that out loud, letter by letter, including all necessary capitalizations and punctuation, save for the quotation marks. How long did that take you? Now try typing that out with one finger on your phone. Did that save you any time? Probably not, unless you indulge in an illiterate style of written communication that would render the above as. “hi. r u @ home?” And then what? You have to wait for a response….and then reply. Conclusion; I find it neither time-saving nor easier than sending an email or making a phone call. In fact, I find it incredibly annoying. I hate most things about texting. Firstly; its glib. Sure, it’s fine for confirming plans: e.g. “Dinner at 8?” , ” R U around at 7?” Not a problem. But what do you do with ” Were the firefighters able to save your home?”, or “How are the cancer treatments coming along?”. Well, what else can one say other than “yes’ or “no” or “Fine” or “I’ll see you in the next life.” Seriously. Texting is, well, (and here I’m looking for another word for ‘rude’) a perfunctory form of communication if communicating matters to you.

Maybe I read into things too much. My mother always said I was “too heavy”, and she’s probably right. If I get a text that asks “Where are you?”, I think, ‘dear god, I’m between a rock and a hard place; a sort of midlife crisis, if you will, where things lack sense, where I need to re-discover, explore meaning and a sense of purpose, where my skills and talents can make a difference, where I can feel better about myself…” It just doesn’t occur to me to say “at the gas station”, which is what everyone else does, whether they’re at the gas station or not. They could be smoking crack and having an illicit affair with their drug dealer in a cheap hotel room.

And then, as with cell phones, there’s the whole ‘electronic leash’ aspect of things. Why, I ask,  do we need to be available to everyone all the time? As I type these words I just know that the two or three remaining friends that I have are deleting my name and number from all of their devices, and I will die alone, only to be discovered by the state police after neighbors complain of strange smells coming from my house or the Audubon Society sends out volunteers to investigate and count the number of reported turkey vultures that are circling above my vegetable garden.

Other people may have a different experience, but me?,  I’ve yet to receive a text message from a well qualified, independently wealthy psychotherapist working on a pro-bono basis asking me “How ARE you?”.

Having said all THAT…I’m sure I’ll be texting before you know it. It will just take some getting used to. And to my texting friends, Please, don’t give up on me yet.