Archive for March, 2008

A Finished Project, Almost: Kanzashi Lite

For an event tonight, the organizers requested we bring the flowers- made ones, by hand, please. I sewed mine, and it’s all recycled- made of fabric scraps from various projects, and some beads from a broken necklace. I modified a template for kanzashi, which are Japanese folded fabric or paper flowers worn mostly by Geishas. Here’s the chain of inspiration: I first saw the fabric version on etsy, then found a website with plenty of links to different tutorials for both paper and fabric versions. I adapted the instructions at this site, since I was using a flimsier fabric for the petals. And, voila:

flower petals

I had a petal base. Basically, I cut triangles of fabric, and folded them twice (so you have two folds at the top, and two loose ends and one fold at the bottom), then sewed a couple of times through the four layers at the bottom of the petal. I stitched each new folded triangle to the same thread, until I had a long chain that, when I held it in a loop, formed a solid flower circle with no obvious blank spaces yearning for its own petal. I then sewed through the circle at the bases once more, to space them a little more neatly.

You flower budcan see the “hole” in the middle, where all the petals meet, and it looks a bit uneven. Iflower stem needed a bud, which I made by stuffing a little square of fabric with some leftovers, and sewing on the beads. I also made a stem by rolling a bit of rectangular cloth and sewing up the sides in a spiral- when it was long enough, I trimmed the top to make a neat circle. By poking the bud through the middle of the hole from the top, and whip stitched the sides of the petal to the top folds of the petals. This allowed me to flatten out the bud over the entirety of the messy middle, and to hold the petals evenly in place around the bud. I then stitched together the mess at the bottom of the flower center- all of the folded bases together with the bud base poking through- then whip stitched the stem over all those to the single fold at the bottom of each petal, to space the bottoms of the petals neatly. The results:

kanzashi flower

As you can see, I added a few more beads and a little stitching to the bud, and leaves (folded the same way as the petals and sewn to the stem).

If I get a chance, I’d like to try and add some thin wire to the beads, so they poke up perkily- I’m going to dig out some twisty ties after this and see how that works. And the bud looks unfinished, since I’m no good at embroidery (yet). I’d like to finish it with some cool contrasting beads, and I haven’t got any of those. But otherwise, I’m quite happy with it.

I found other instructions for fabric flowers here, through a post at Crafting for a Green World, and they look pretty cool, too. I went with the kanzashi for this project because I liked the more defined petals, and thought they’d look good in larger sizes.

So, one handmade thing finished! I should have a few more over the weekend for you. If you have any questions about my methods, feel free to ask, of course.

Changes?

We drove less last year than in 2006- it was the first time in 20 years that we drove less. Granted, we only drove .4% less, and we still drove 3 trillion miles. 3 trillion! But hey, the budget deficit is still 9 trillion dollars, so at least it’s not the biggest Crazy Staggeringly Huge Statistic That Worries Me.

So it looks like fuel prices are changing the ways America behaves, right? Slowly, but it’s happening. BusinessWeek reported a couple weeks ago that consumers are buying more efficent cars (especially the cheaper ones), SUV and big truck sales are dropping, and we’re taking more public transportation. But they ask a pretty good question- if prices for fuel go down, will we stop being efficient and go back to our old ways? That’s exactly what happened after the last energy crisis in the 70s. For those of us who do the energy efficiency thing for reasons other than cost, no. But how many of the people economizing are doing it because they have to, and are just waiting for $2.50 gas to come back so they can buy that Escalade? (Are Escalades still cool?) Or is this a national shift- will the green wave make it past the breakers of the economic crisis and drift lazily onto the sunny shores of a new consumer paradigm?

Also, if consumers are buying more efficient cars and not buying trucks and SUVs so much, why are car companies still saying they have “no idea” if consumers even want more efficient cars? And more importantly, why does BusinessWeek publish articles wherein car company executives whine about the CAFE standards and this supposed lack of consumer interest, with no attempt at investigation of consumer interests (or even perusal of their own archives)? That article has some interesting analysis of how the car companies are dealing with CAFE, actually, but man, it irks me that auto executives use that tired “nobody wants efficient cars” refrain.

Oh No, Not the Cheese

Toxins released by the trash that Naples still hasn’t figured out what to do with might be tainting a regional delicacy- buffalo mozzarella. Reports of elevated dioxin levels in the cheese, found last week, have caused a 40% drop in sales. The NYT article doesn’t make it clear that it’s specifically the toxic waste in the city that’s causing the dioxin in the cheese, and some locals affiliated with the cheese industry imply that it might also be the fault of “shady mozzarella producers”.

“It really is a problem of criminals making a counterfeit product from God-knows-what,” said Mr. Ursini…“Mozzarella-wise, we’re in good shape. I just hope the whole thing doesn’t become a panic.”

The trash problem is also linked to an Italian criminal element, so hopefully dealing with the trash will remove the cheese issue, either by clearing the environment or removing the shady producers.

How discouraging to learn of an exciting cheese product (buffalo cheese? really?) and have my sampling hopes be so quickly discouraged. In Alexandria we’ve even got a cheese boutique (Cheesetique, yes, really), so I bet they’d have some. I hope it’s dioxin free.

Fix your trash issue, Naples: I want to discover your cheese.

Fast Flip-Flop How-To

Actually they’re not flip-flops, really, they’re nuno-zories. At her blog, Ecosamurai has translated the instructions and posted some in-process pictures of her new-no zories. (Har har! Forgive me.) They’re adorable and so practical! Having just spent way longer than I meant to in a shoe store, I do feel the need to sit down and contemplate life and consumer choices while weaving my own from all those free teeshirts that I no longer have space for. Plus, making a pair of these will isolate you from dirty floors- you’ll never sweep again, or suffer while waiting for someone else to do it first.

Thanks for the post, ecosamurai!

I’m adding it to my list of handmade things to do. And in a couple of days, I promise pictures of what I’ve done so far.

Sheesh, Russia

Relations between Russia and Britain have been strained for over a year now, what with all the radioactive poisonings and art shows and cultural office tussles, but now the Russian government is upping the ante. The ministry for Natural Resources, Rosprirodnadzor (in the long tradition of awesome Russian names) announced an environmental inquiry into the practices of British Petroleum’s operation at Samotlor oil field late last week. Production at that field alone accounts for about 1/4th of BPs oil production.

Soviet oil production was never know for its responsible environmental practices, and a conglomerate was formed in 2003 with BP to improve the widespread leaks and groundwater contamination already at the Siberian site. But Russia has been trying to consolidate oil production under their nationally-controlled Gazprom, and things aren’t looking good for BPs investment. In 2006, the same environmental inquiries were made into another foreign-run oil field in Russia:

In 2006, the same Russian environmental agency threatened Royal Dutch Shell with multibillion-dollar fines in a months-long campaign that led to Shell’s selling a controlling stake of its Sakhalin Island oil and gas development to Gazprom.

After Gazprom bought the stake, the agency dropped its environmental complaints and work continued.

The same inspector in the Shell situation, Oleg L. Mitvol, the agency’s deputy director, was appointed to lead the investigation at TNK-BP’s Samotlor field, according to the statement.

So.  Hurrah for the concept of environmental enforcement, I guess.  But Russia is just using “concern for the environment” as a shield in their quest to do whatever they feel like.  I admire them for their skill in doing whatever they, like, actually- it makes keeping up with international events that much more scary, entertaining, and bizarre.  But it’s discouraging to open an article on the environmental failings of Big Oil and sympathize with Big Oil after you read the details.  Sure, their site might be a mess, but I bet it’s not much worse than any other oil field in the former USSR.  Russia makes a mockery of environmental protections.  I guess it’s what’s left to do, after they’ve made such a mockery of open democracy and the rule of law.

It’s Official

Today was officially the beginning of Spring, in the astronomical sense- the day and night are exactly equal today, so the Earth is going to start getting more sunlight than darkness and cause things to grow, finally. Except, if you’ve been outside the past couple of weeks, things are already growing- the trees were all just plotting something for a couple of weeks, and then bloop! Buds everywhere!

trees

Spring is a fantastic time of year. Well, except for the part of it where it looks lovely out, then you walk to work and it’s actually still cold and windy and starts to rain without warning; stupid spring, just admit you’re sneaky winter, hiding under a pretty face. And then it’s time for the cherry blossoms on the mall (officially, March 29th-April 13th) and the metros are all crowded for two weeks. Except for those parts, spring is awesome.

For all its tantalizing niceness, it’s not such a great thing that we’re getting the season earlier and earlier every year. Discovery News reports on how the accelerating spring is damaging to migratory species, and disruptive to the seasonal life cycles of others. And for humans, a shorter winter may mean lower heating bills this month, but it will increase allergic reactions to pollen sooner, too. Data from all the way back to the 1400s shows a significant jump in the earliness of spring starting in the 1980s- on average, the green is coming 8 hours faster each year.

On the upside, that should give us a hint to go see the cherry blossoms in the next few days- so we don’t miss the peak blooms, and we do miss the rush.

tree with bag

Ah, the green is coming back! It sure is too bad that our improperly disposed-of plastic bags got there first. Bah.

Crochet Oceans, Beads in Space

Just in case you were wondering how awesome handcrafts could be:

The Institute for Figuring is traveling the country with a crocheted coral reef. It grows at each stop, since along with lectures on the dying ocean reefs, they teach crochet classes and add the finished projects on. The IFF Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef combines environmental activism, a smattering of feminism, and mathematics into multi-colored ruched woolly bits, now measuring over 3,000 square feet.

Apparently, in addition to calling attention to the destruction of the wet environment, crochet helped solve one of the oldest problems in mathematics- whether space can be described in geometry as anything but flat (you learned that one in high school) or spherical (you might have learned that one a bit later on). The third option, hyperbolic space, is the one Einstein used for relativity. From the IFF Website:

Mathematicians’ skepticism about hyperbolic space had been based in part on their inability to imagine how it would look, for they had no way to model it physically. Most were thus astounded when, in 1997, Dr. Daina Taimina, a Latvian émigré at Cornell University, presented a hyperbolic structure made with crochet…

Lettuces and kales – the crenellated vegetables – are manifestations of nearly hyperbolic surfaces, while in the oceans, corals, kelps, sponges, nudibranchs and flatworms all exhibit hyperbolic anatomical features. And so a woolly manifestation of a reef is not as unlikely as may first be supposed. Through the lens of crochet we may thus discern a hitherto unsuspected line connecting Euclid to sea slugs. Ways of constructing once perceived as “merely” women’s craft, and dismissed from the cannon of scientific practice, now emerge as revelatory forms of a more complex, embodied way of thinking about the world both mathematically and physically.

Apparently you can crochet a third hyperbolic geometry just by predictably increasing your stitches too much. Thus, it’s not a mistake, it’s a discovery. Pictures are up at the IFF website.

From the depths of the ocean to the far reaches of space! Devorah Sperber is making images from Star Trek of shiny beads and spools of thread. The beads she uses make it look like Captain Kirk is actually being beamed up- all the time. Yes, that’s as cool as it sounds. For a Fiber Optics part, she makes mosaics of spools of thread, then encourages the viewer to look at them through a magnifying glass, as a commentary on both human perception, and the number of Star Trek Episodes about mirrors. Check out the low-res, upside-down Spock through the glass- he’s still dreamy, of course.  Those Vulcans, and their bedroom eyes.

They’ll both be in NYC at the same time- the crochet reef gets there April 4 (location is in the first article) and the Star Trek stuff is up until April 26th at the gallery with the Spock picture link.  Sounds about time for my spring break trip.

Handcraft Update:  Sorted my fabric this weekend, gathered supplies for watercoloring some lampshades, knit another inch, and am headed off now to cut out a and sew together a fabric flower.  Have been awed and inspired by these articles. Currently plotting to quit my job and make a living watercoloring lampshades.

They’re Asking For It

One of the most popular arguments against government “intervention” in alternative energies and the green economy is that government regulations are always inefficient, they slow the natural progress of the economy, markets work best when they’re totally unfettered, etc. Stuff like that. The jatropha-in-Myanmar post a couple of days ago might even lend that argument some support.

But the capitalism-loving, -touching, and -squeezing heads of huge companies like BP, GE, and Dow Chemical disagree- they’re urging the government to come up with a coherent energy policy that favors energy efficiency, clean fuels, and even carbon taxes. They contend that the piecemeal regulations the Bush administration half-heartedly doles out are costing America jobs, and US companies the chance to compete internationally. Apparently, since European countries tend to take alternative energies like nuclear and wind seriously, their governments have created favorable investment climates around those technologies- and the clean tech money is settling abroad.

GE’s Chief Executive Jeff Immelt makes a case for government subsidies, carbon trading, and investments in clean technology from a purely business standpoint- and to the free-market crowd, he has a response. From the WSJ’s “Environmental Capitol” blog:

And government largess helps drive progress—like in GE’s aircraft engine division half a century ago. That admission riled free-market types in the audience (and on stage) who took him to task for subsidy-hunting and accused him of—gasp—betraying his capitalist credentials.

“Don’t worship false idols,” he countered. “The government has its hand in every industry. If we have to have them, I’d prefer they were productive rather than destructive.”

Defending the “free” market is quixotic in the most literary sense, as the pure market is the pure Dulcinea: entirely a product of fevered imaginations. I’ve ranted about it here before, but observe that very successful capitalists realize this, and gamely play the market (and government) by the existing rules. There’s money to be made in clean technology (even capitalists who think global warming is a fraud know this and invest accordingly), and there would be even more of it if the US government stopped noodling around.

Last month, BusinessWeek reported on how the Bush Administration’s failure to lead on clean energy policies has left it to the states to invent their own. The magazine pointed out that a sustained federal push was essential for bringing the US up to speed in a clean tech economy already dominated by foreign companies- but not to hope for that push from Mr. Bush.

Maybe next year your dreams will come true, practical capitalists.

Showing off

thrift store 1-4thrift store 1-1Here’s what I found at the thrift store this weekend, in my search for a dress to wear to a black-tie event. All these are from the Unique in Silver Spring, MD, which has a very large selection of clothing and house stuff. I’d like to note that all this was just laying around on a busy Saturday afternoon, several days after their last shipment of new things. The green bag was $2.50, the tank top was $4, and the sweater was $5. The coral dress was the best thrift store 1-3find at $7- and no, it won’t work for the event I had in mind. Though, thrift store 1-2after some dry cleaning (see previous post) and a few alterations- including in my diet and exercise regime- it could do for another event later in the year. And yes, from now on I’ll be posting the awesome things I find at second hand stores, for your inspiration.

Jatropha: Junta Hijinks in Myanmar

The leaders of Myanmar’s Junta have formed a plan to reduce their country’s $600 million dependence on oil imports– reductions in oil subsidies sparked the popular uprising last fall- with biodiesel. They’re relying on hearty, drought-resistant jatropha, which produces nuts that may be processed into a vegetable oil, and which displaces no food crops. Since requiring farmers to plant them in unused spaces in 2006, much of the country has got jatropha growing wherever they can fit it, even in window boxes in the sometime-capital, Yangon. So far, so good, right? Energy security, no loss of food supplies, widespread public participation…

Except, with their busy schedule of oppressing their own people and making meaningless gestures toward democratic change, the Junta hasn’t actually gotten around to building the refineries necessary to turn the jatropha nuts into fuel. Whoops! What with having a centrally planned economy and all, you’d think they’d have remembered to actually plan.

The American government messed up biofuel by putting all its eggs into corn. The Myanmar Junta messed up by blustering their way into the project and not funding the necessary infrastructure. There are plenty of ways to do biofuel wrong- how many such predictable failures will we see before a government gets it right?


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