Friday, February 22, 2013

You Think You Know A Bottle

Photo courtesy Flickr

I’ll never look at an empty peanut butter jar quite the same. Last week the in-house archaeologist and I spent a day in the hot shop at Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. If you want to spend a few hours watching a tight team of experts play basketball with a fifty pound blob of napalm on a small floor snaked with hoses and surrounded by pits of hell, this is the place to go.

The crew was supporting a glass artist who had won a week in the hot shop. They were working on a large project that was taking hours to execute, so I had a chance to observe and experience the working conditions necessary to produce the large pieces of glass art that all too often evoke not much when I cruise through the galleries.

I can look at a painting and have a notion of how it was produced. Likewise, woodworking is no particular mystery, nor even pottery or iron work. Glass is another matter: trade secrets were closely held, and the technology is new to the Northwest’s abundant energy.

Technique alone holds no charm for me. My favorite work at TMOG is still the Kids Make Glass collection, in which young ‘uns compose and the masters execute. The gallery hall has the easy joy of child’s play and early rhythm and blues. Really, who could want more?

Photo courtesy Flickr

Nonetheless, I was happy to stumble across a day in the glass theater when the story of a major piece was being played out before our eyes. The project was not a success: after six hours’ work, a critical move failed, and the body of the figure that was being constructed shattered in a second. On the bus on the way home, Indiana mentioned that projectile points being fashioned out of obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass, can fail the same way. Sometimes an impact resonating along their length causes them to self-destruct. He mentioned that the tribespeople used to temper various stones with heat to improve their working qualities for producing projectile points, and that construction of the high West Seattle bridge in the Seventies had unearthed points knapped out of rum bottles. I also learned that glass burns have unique qualities that chem majors discover while making custom lab gear. I learned enough to decide not to learn any more. I’ll stick to roux burns when the gumbo pot is out.

I suspect the hot shop crew have found the cure for ADD: I could not blink or tear my eyes away from their process. Sit next to a boiling radiator and boot up the live feed for a sample of the real thing.

-30-  More after the jump.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Photo courtesy Flickr

Construction in the neighborhood altered the amount of daylight that falls on the house. Fortunately, we anticipated this change when we bought the place. It’s not a welcome change, but the minor challenge is interesting.

One bedroom developed an alarming musty odor, and I had nightmare visions of mold developing in the countless layers of wallpaper that have ornamented the space over the generations. I fiddled with keeping the radiator on, with observing weather patterns, with tightening up the drainage pattern in the closest downspout, and finally, I discovered the simple source of a simple problem: the bed was not airing properly.

A seventeen-watt plant seedling mat installed under the bed did the trick. I’d make a seedling mat part of any bed installation, now, if I wanted to conserve heat.

-30-  More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Winter Winners

Photo courtesy Flickr

This beautiful old house and I learned the hard way that leaving the furnace off altogether produced a fine network of cracks in the visible original plaster in the upstairs bath. That degree of heat economy did not favor the original varnish on the unpainted woodwork either, so I’ve kept the furnace at a balmy fifty-five in all but one room that is used all day long.

The real curse of rigorous heat conservation is cold feet, a burden to the body and to the spirit. There’s never a golden retriever around when you need one. The outdoor community advises that if one feels cold, one is cold. It’s best to act ahead of time rather than playing catch-up. If the tip of your nose is cold, do something immediately. Hypothermia affects judgement, and doing sedentary work while chilly is dangerous.

I found that installing the three by five electric heat mat on the dining room floor provides constant gentle warmth from the right direction. Heat rising from the floor establishes a reliable base line comfort that needs little additional energy to keep the space livable. A seventeen-watt seedling heat mat is nearly as effective under the table. It is skirted to the floor with a two designer bedspreads, so sitting there is like enjoying the traditional Japanese table that is covered with a quilt and warmed with, um, a charcoal burner (not for this kid).

The Great Big Hiking Co-op offered a long knit wool skirt that I’ve had on since the package arrived. 

The dining chairs, Award Winning director's models, are draped with Oregon Rodeo wool lap robes. When guests are in the house, I turn up the heat.

Pear-shaped incandescent six watt appliance indicator lights installed in night lights have made effective background illumination. Against a painted floor, they recreate the warm, shadowy period look that was designed into the architecture. One is a good safety light on the stairs, and the trivial air flow it generates fends off the stagnant humid chill that is the most dangerous element of our climate. Another is set below the towel rail under the kitchen sink, and it’s enough to light the room at night and dry things, as well. Thank you, six watts.

There’s an inexpensive dimmer switch on the market that looks like someone from Pomme designed it. It switches a lamp from off to high, and it generates just enough heat to circulate air in an unoccupied space and just enough warm light to create a period look in a room.

The incandescent modifications of an overlighted twentieth century interior are safe and graceful substitutes for candles and other low-tech fuels. The video screen, be it television or computer, thrives against low light. It’s a small matter to raise the lights for reading or close work. Often, a solar-charged task light from the Great Big Northern European chain is adequate.

The constant workhorse of energy conservation is the freestanding heated towel rail that sits across the bathroom from the tub. The only flaw in the system is that the rack keeps towels so fresh that it’s hard to tell when it’s time to put them into the laundry.

The house was designed before central heating came to Seattle, and the air flow from room to room was consciously planned. The main sources of heat were the kitchen range, a gas fire in the dining room next door, and the fireplace in the front parlor. I can leave all the hot water radiators turned off, if the one in the dining room is fired up, and the gentle rising heat from the room will keep the chill off the rest of the building.


More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

White Sale Season

Photo courtesy Flickr

Apparently, the winter sale of bedding and towels began with one New York merchant in the nineteenth century. White’s a misnomer. I find the variety of goods on offer in the surviving old school department store absolutely bewildering, especially since so much of the inventory is sold as sets and is stoutly packaged in clear wrapping.

Trouble yourself to find and finger a single thickness of whatever piece of goods is interesting. That’s the only way to avoid an unpleasant surprise when you get home. The market seems to have perfected the art of superficial appeal.

As a student, I imprinted on a set of rustic handwoven linen sheets a classmate brought home from Switzerland. They were a souvenir of the skiing vacation that left her bedridden for several weeks with a broken leg. The Swiss medical people preferred not to encase her limb in a walking cast. The sheets had a soft, gentle hand and a thread count of about twenty to the inch. The threads themselves may have been hand spun.

One doesn’t find that kind of product on a Seattle shelf, nor the high-end Italian designer linens that sell for thousands, either. Something in me doubts that a thousand threads per inch are actually necessary in a sheet. If I want a silky feel in bedding, I’ll go for silk. Back in the day, two hundred cotton threads per inch was regarded as quite good quality. A cheaper muslin sheet had about a hundred threads to the inch. The higher thread count percale sheets were, as far as I understand, woven from more tightly spun fibers of a longer staple and were better value.

It takes a generation for me to wear out a sheet, so my learning curve is flat. About eighteen years ago, I picked up a duvet cover from a line the store still carries. It was deeply discounted, and I was happy to use it as guest bedding in the front room: the color was right. The fabric is a twill weave, where the cross threads are thrown over several of the warp threads, giving a silky feel to the fabric. I have found that the twill snags on a sharp look-it’s more temperamental than hose, and I went hunting a replacement the other day.

It took a weary hour to decide on a duvet cover from Herself made up of two hundred thread count plain weave cotton. It seems like a decent piece so far and a better value than the two twin flat sheets I had been planning to buy and sew together.

The Big Name Designer continues to offer bedding that will look as good in a living room as in a boudoir, a canny small space strategy. One of his offerings is a simply woven cotton blanket that can easily be replicated with coarse cotton monk’s cloth, at least in a narrow application. The white sale tour gave me an appreciation for a narrow bed that can be furnished richly with yard goods.

-30-  More after the jump.