Amanda F*ing Palmer

I can’t stop listening to this song. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra just released their new album, Theatre is Evil, and it’s available now for “pay what you want.”

I’m new to the AFP-universe, but reading her blog and her love for her fans and her retweeting her haters and her participatory instructions makes me love ARRRRRRRRRRRRT.

(here’s a review of Theatre is Evil and here’s another one, if you’re not convinced)

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Jonathan Harris’s Creative Mornings Talk

A few of you know that Jonathan Harris is one of my professional crushes. I’ve known him for his projects like We Feel Fine and Whale Hunt, and I received his daily photos and stories in my inbox the year+ he was working on Today. I admired his ability to craft data and code to tell stories and craft experiences. At IdeaMensch, Shivani Siroya talked about the fact that one is only able to “connect the dots” of one’s life in hindsight, and Harris uses his Creative Mornings talk to do just that: to reflect on the big ideas (Paint, Data, Life, Me, Tools) that have driven his work along the way, the promises they promised, and the shortcomings they cost.

Now I better understand his trajectory.
And why the vulnerability of physical art led him to data,
whose superficiality led him to chasing intense life experiences,
whose limited scale and depth led him to recording his internal life,
whose constant documentation hindered actually living,
which refocused him on building tools–software that engineers our lives & habits & cultures, that change our behavior, that exaggerate our urges, that give us our new normals.

His new company, Cowbird, has been designed to counteract the trends he’s been seeing in the way tech has shaped our lives:

He also talks about the need for people working in tech to start thinking about ethics because software are our testing grounds before the technological interventions start merging with our bodies.

Is your company Healing (solving a problem, fulfilling a need, marketplaces connecting people to other people) or Dealing (attention economies, convincing people to spend a lot of time here, using people and their info as currency)?

And in the most refreshing way, he wraps up his talk with a story about turning Cowbird into a company–being on the treadmill, being in Silicon Valley, surrounded by people who were all starting their own companies, raising rounds of money…and then pausing, reflecting, realizing this isn’t what he wanted to do, that it wasn’t what was right for Cowbird, and stepping off that path. Cowbird will remain small, they didn’t take the seed rounds, they will figure out how to make some money in the near future without ads, and they will let it grow organically. Allowing this project to teach him and lead him and evolve him as a person–just as he has always done.

An Indigo Story

Some processes–like developing photos in a dark room, brewing beer from hops, or making your own clothes–require commitment, care, knowledge, and equipment to master. How often do you get an opportunity to play and experiment with a full process in a weekend? I was lucky enough to be able to dye my own fabric with natural materials during my recent trip to Austin. Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers put out a call for volunteers to help tame her overgrown garden of indigo plants, and I volunteered moreso for the break from computer work than anything else. Since I wasn’t going to be in Austin for very long, I hadn’t planned on taking any of the indigo plants she offered to us after our work in the garden. But as she explained that the process could take as little as a few hours, I couldn’t resist the urge to try my hand at something new. With a little borrowing and scrounging (of jars, sewing machines, thermometers, unused fabric, and a piece of backyard space), I got to play with indigo dye and experience some more chemistry magic. (A new trend, perhaps?)

DAY 1 Harvest

Harvesting indigo from Folk Fiber’s secret garden.

Maura (right) explains the dyeing process to Cheyenne and Melba near a pile of harvested indigo.
Maura shows Ruby how to strip the indigo plant.
My personal bag of indigo leaves.
Maura let me borrow a 1-gallon jar to soak the indigo leaves in the Texas sun.

DAY 2-3 Ferment

The summer heat meant that in just a day or two, the leaves started to decompose and the water starts turning blue.

The mixture looks pretty and smells funky.

DAY 4 Dye

I cross-referenced many recipes that Maura generously shared with us to make sure the directions were clear in my mind.

Strained out the liquid into a container large enough for my fabric.
Added baking soda and aerated with a whisk.
Left it to sit. Then added Rit Color Remover to remove the oxygen from the mixture, removing the bubbles and turning the dye greenish. Fabric is soaked in warm water before soaking in the dye bath for 10-15 minutes.
The fabric is yellowish when it comes out of the dye bath but slowly turns blue as it oxidizes.
The oxidization process. AKA magic.
The exhausted dye bath.
Dyed fabric drying.

DAY 5 Sew

Here’s Kathryn wearing one of the shirts we dyed. The pattern on the shirt must have been made using synthetic thread, it didn’t take to the dye—a lovely surprise.

The dyed linen was washed with liquid detergent and some vinegar to remove the smell–and became really soft in the process! I brushed up on my sewing machine knowledge–relearning how to thread a bobbin and the machine properly–to sew down the hems of my fabric.
The final fabric. (Lighter than I had expected since I had tried re-dipping them to create gradient patterns, but still a lovely shade of indigo blue!)
And now my cloth napkins have a story I’m proud to share! :)

If you’d like to try your hand, here are some books and resources:

Many thanks to Maura & Kathryn for inspiration, tips, and helping hands along the way!