Archive for the ‘Mad inventor’ Category

Sewing is, by some estimates, 45,000 years old. Sewing is older than cloth, but not as old as clothes: First we wrapped ourselves in hides, then we tied the hides around ourselves with cords or sinews, and eventually we poked holes in the hides and started running cords through to hold the pieces together.

After another 5,000 years or so, we came up with needles. Another 10,000 years, and we started rolling fiber together in our fingers to make string. That gave us the basis for cloth, which we began weaving on looms about 27,000 years ago. We’ve had scissors for a couple thousand years.

IPads are about six minutes old. You can point an iPad at the night sky and it will recognize the stars and planets from your location and tell you which ones they are. Wouldn’t the cave people have loved it?

This week, an idea that’s at least a few centuries old helped me hand-sew a simple iPad sleeve. Saddlers and other leather-workers use a device called a stitching horse to clamp thick layers of leather together and hold them steady while they poke holes and stitch the leather. I wanted to make my iPad sleeve from 5mm neoprene, which is thick enough to mess up my sewing machine, and I foolishly decided to use a pretty, contrasting thread, which would really show my usually sloppy hand sewing.

It came out fairly even, though:

What I did was clamp on a couple slim pieces of wood, which held the thick fabric in place but also gave a straight edge to guide my needle. This is basically the clamp idea from the top of a stitching horse. (The stitching horse includes a stool or bench to sit on; a stitching pony is the same thing but without a place to sit; so I dub this … a stitching jenny!)

Basically, I cut a 10.5″ by 16″ piece of black neoprene, folded it in half to make a 10.5″ by 8″ rectangle and then sewed the two short ends closed.  (I learned, too late, the cheapest way to get a small piece of neoprene is probably to find and cut up an old laptop sleeve or wetsuit.)

I made my seams about a quarter-inch from the edge. Neoprene is stretchy, which gives you some margin for error in fitting around the device, but still, measure carefully. Another great thing about neoprene is you don’t have to finish or hem the edges, which makes this project real easy.

You can see there, the wood is thick enough you can kind of lay the needle flat along it. This means you’re coming in at the same angle, along the same line, every time, which helps a lot. I did a simple running stitch all along one side (like this: —   —   —   —   –) and then took off the clamps and sewed back the other direction to fill in the gaps (–––––––).

Gave this one to my buddy @omarg for his wife! They’re sweet folks — who let me play with their brand new iPad. Thank you both!

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When I was a kid, we had plastic items called Decoreggers that held an Easter egg securely while you painted or drew on it. Last year, my family went on a major hunt for Decoreggers and couldn’t find any in local stores. This year, I got out my saw and improvised.

With a saw, a drill and some scrap lumber, you can make this very quickly. Compression springs (as opposed to expansion springs) run about $3 a pair at hardware stores, and dowels are even cheaper. You’ll need both wood glue and a super-glue.

I made the egg cups from Fimo polymer clay, about $2 at hobby stores.  (Cover a wooden endpiece in plastic wrap and mold the square bases on that. For the cups, press a flat circle of clay onto a plastic egg, also covered in plastic wrap.)  Polymer clay bakes up at home oven temperatures. It’s mighty stuff.

The springs I found were a little bigger than I needed, so I used a pretty big dowel and uprights. Assemble these upright parts first and then judge carefully how far apart you need to place them on the base.  Too close together = too much pressure on the egg. Too far apart = not enough tension to hold the egg. This totally depends on your individual springs.  When you get it right, glue them to the base.

I glued foam into the cups to help compensate for natural variation in the spheroid form 🙂  Just scavenged packing foam, cut into circles. (Ever wonder why chicken eggs are pointier at one end than the other? Ask a lady chicken. Or an Aussie scientist)

In the top photo you’ll see little wire collars at the ends, holding the dowels level. That’s a last-minute fix — I’d planned for the holes in the uprights to be only a tiny bit larger than the dowels, figuring the close fit would keep them level. But my biggest drill bit was the same size as my dowel, and I drilled the holes first. The fit was too tight; dowels wouldn’t slide. I tried sanding them down but had to switch to a smaller dowel, which flopped all over the place. Wire collars to the rescue.

Happy Easter egg decorating!

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For my buddies on the City-O-Clay polymer clay listing: Here’s how I made my DIY “cookie” cutters. (These are intended for cutting shapes in polymer clay; no representation of their food safety is made 🙂 )

Materials: Piece of tin roof flashing, about 49 cents at hardware store
Tools: Tin snips, file, pliers (little jewelry pliers are nice for tiny shapes)
Safety: Eyewear and gloves

Feline observer optional.  Long as he doesn’t eat the clay.


Cut a strip off the flashing. It cuts easily, but care is needed to get a nice straight line. Edges are sharp and can slice up your fingers easily.

File down sharp edges or burrs. Feline observer should be briefly evicted during cutting and filing unless he has eyewear.

Seal or crimp the ends together. I have read that it helps to do this step before bending. Haven’t done it, but I bet glue would work. You’d have to clamp it and let it dry thoroughly before bending, though.

Bend it, shape it, any way you want to. Little jewelry pliers help here. I did a Texas shape because after Nora Jean mentioned it, I really wanted to try it out!

When you are on the Gulf Coast part, you should pause and sing:

The shrimpers and their ladies are out in the beer joints
Drinking ’em down, for they sail with the dawn
They’re bound for the Mexican Bay of Campeche
And the deck hands are singing adios, “Jole Blon”
— “South Coast of Texas,” Guy Clark

For comfort’s sake, I plan to bake a clay handle onto the back of any cutter I use a lot.  That makes one more reason not to use these on food or around kids — sharp edges, glue and other non-food-safe materials.

They are sure helping me in my polymer clay amusements, and if they are useful to others, that is even better.

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