Monday, January 21, 2013

Real Steps to Improve Your Craftsmanship

          Today's post is passing along some important wisdom I stumbled across from my friend, Jon Danforth on acting wisely as a designer in manufacturing a product in the real world. I normally think of myself if pushed as a commercial textile designer. This isn't really very accurate, but bridging two worlds (art and manufacturing) is never easy. Nor is putting a label on someone who wears multiple hats as an entrepreneur. I often get frustrated at the compromises between paying the bills and oh taking off six months to design the perfect historical reproduction hand-stitched from baby's tears. I am often driven to distraction by my jealousy of stay-at-home-mom friends who get to spend months working on one concept that wars with a knowledge I get shinier toys and make more volume. The whole quality vs. quantity argument. Last year, I turned out roughly 400 designs (mostly commercial), maybe a handful made it on the blog, but in my world if you don't produce, you don't eat. We learned a lot in the past year, but man the bruises on my shins from my fall down failures still ache.
          Which brings me to a topic today that I've been debating putting on the blog for six months for my artistic friends, but I've finally seen a good blog series worth mentioning that explains a lot of the hard work people I know have put in to make their designs salable and the logic short-cuts that put most start-ups into the flaming pile of poo catagory. Just read a little about Organic Transit's struggles on their Kickstarter page and you'll begin to understand the words sweat equity. My goal here is to be helpful, not cautionary. Almost all designers/start-ups fail around here when they try to go commercial (Crunching the numbers, I would estimate around 98% of all designs don't make it out the prototype door, especially first timers.). If you're doing a one-off or prototype, the chances are roughly 90-95% that you can get a test prototype off the ground and shiny enough to give it as a Christmas gift or take initial investor or seed money. Which I hope is comforting thought for the average DIY type, but a waste of time if your end goal is to sale to the public because it leads to sloppy thinking.
           If you want to learn to sale to the public, you can't just be able to produce a one-off or "bench copy," but a refine your design to a DFM (Design for Manufacturing). This requires understanding something which is death to most designers, how manufacturing and automation works. I've struggled to explain the differences between what you see in the various factories/industry and what artists and my university schooling insist is the truth. We mock China's manufacturing abilities, but they are very good at understanding using tools to create a system for ordinary people to do extraordinary things by working off the actual abilities of their employees on the floor. The more I work in the industry, the more respect I have for factory owners, employee, and everyone else in the supply chain. If you want the cliffs notes version, here's the best summary of how FUNCTIONAL design works I've ever seen.

The Factory Floor: Part 1
The Factory Floor: Part 2
The Factory Floor: Part 3
The Factory Floor: Part 4

            It also drives home a point I think we often gloss over, there are fundamental skills in making something real. These are skills YOU can learn and get much much BETTER at. Because experienced designers often don't have the same struggles a person just starting out has. So a little wisdom today from the elders. May it help you on your journey. Even if the only thing you ever "manufacture" is Christmas cookies for hungry relatives.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rescheduling the Photography Workshop to the 26th

       Hey, everyone....due to some last minute snow and rain, we will be rescheduling the photography workshop to next weekend January 26th from 2-6 pm. Everything else will be the same including the location at Techshop RDU. Sorry for the delay. Hope you enjoy some hot chocolate and a warm fire this weekend.

Textile Friday: Lint Balls and Dryers

     Ok, back a little bit late than never. My laptop was cat burgled last week after the resident cat found that she could make cool beeping noises with her butt if she sat on my keyboard. I still have no idea how she managed to tie up my computer in knots with no actual knowledge or opsiable thumbs. Thankfully, I have an awesome husband who can fix anything, even feline blunders. Now, I know everyone out there doesn't use a dryer, so next week I will discuss hanging clothing.
     Dryers are an amazing gift in terms of giving anyone anywhere in the world with access to electricity warm, dry clothes in a matter of minutes or hours depending on the model. Anyone who has needed a last minute pair of pants for work or shirt for a date night can attest to how powerful these machines are in terms of saving you time and allowing you to ignore the weather. Who cares if it rains? You can still have warm fluffy towels for your shower.
    They are also incredibly energy inefficient. Like so bad the US government doesn't even bother to rate them bad. There's a lot of improvements on the market, but most are still too pricy to bother recommending or using. There is however, one which I feel obligated to mention, if you don't already have a couple of dryers balls, please go buy a set TODAY. You can find them everywhere for $4-8 a pack (Etsy, Amazon, Ebay, YOU name it) for one simple reason: they work.
      Dryer balls are small balls that provide loft in the dry cycle which translates to 15-50% energy savings (average is around 20-25%) per load. Since it costs a min of $5.63 to run most dryers per cycle, even the sloppiest apartment dweller with a load a week will find the balls pay for themselves every time they run the dryer after 2 months, thereafter you save $1.25 min per cycle. A sweet couple hundred dollars a year for most small families of two like us (multiple the more kids you have). I wish all my advice could be as bottom line helpful. You can also make you own easily compliments of this great tutorial here with yarn and a pair of old pantyhose.
      Ok, I am getting off track..washing machines ruin clothing lots of different ways, dryers ruin things in simple ways. They shrink clothing and harden it. This is normally in response to heat (often heated air) and motion. The motion generally isn't that critical unless you snag a button, but the only have to think about fabric cushions left on the front porch exposed to the elements. It gets hard, brittle, and smaller. Same with your dryer. Dryer balls and dryer sheets help prevent this, so does limiting the heat and time a piece spends in the dryer. The old advice to clean your lint trap each cycle is golden, also follow your general settings. Most cheaper clothing (polyester) needs permanent press or should ideally be line dried. Gentle or low heat is better for cottons to prevent shrinking though you can read the manufacturer labels for specifics.
        Sadly, that's all folks... the best solution to using a dryer is a $5-8 toy and reading the labels to prevent any gross mismatches in fabrics to save you $200 plus a year, but there ya go. I used to say buy Sanfordized cotton as it lasts forever and is designed to shrink less than 1% over time, but you don't see it as much any more so it's not very practical advice. However, if you like shopping thrift stores, I encourage you to snap up anything with the sanforized label on it. Lee, Wrangler, Arrow, a bunch of great clothing lines all mark some of their most durable stuff with this name. Next the world's favorite: line drying. Happy friday everyone!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Team Survey for New Year

            Hey everyone, if you get a second this week, please fill out the A2O Team Survey here. It's designed to help us better serve team members in 2013. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A20 Quilting Bee: February 9th and 16th (2-6 pm)

              Hey guys, remember the Quilting Bee last year? It was so much fun we decided to bring it back this year! :-) I literally spent the whole time having fun and forgot to take a single picture. A first in Acorn to Oak history. Needless to say, you must come. No matter your sewing experience we can teach you. Here's some of the finished ones from last year after the event. Bring your own pattern/fabric from left-over shirts and quilting fabric at the shops up the street or come work on ours which will be donated to the local Linus Foundation make a blanket day in downtown Raleigh. 

Note: If you are interested in donating fabric for the event, please bring machine washable cotton or other fabric that can stand up to heavy abuse. Kids like bright colors and/or geometric patterns. :-) We also invite people to bring their sewing machine if you want to learn how to sew or have a refresher.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A2O Photography Workshop January 19th: 2-6 pm

          Welcome back from Christmas, we are all primed and excited to start a new year. This month and next Roth is remodeling their bar to expand so we will be next door in the conference room of Techshop:

5905 Triangle Drive
Raleigh, NC 27617

         Photography basics is 4 hours of magic. While we will have an outdoor photography session in a few months when the weather warms up, the purpose of this session is to handle the soup, nuts, and bolts of the back end of photography. Especially what to do if it rains or you need a catalog shot. Everyone can take a photo, that doesn't mean it's any good.
         While we could do this as a lecture series, photography is more of an active sport so we will have a number of stations set-up for people to practice their skills. You are welcome to bring your camera and/or product to practice at each station. Each station will be set-up with props and people to hold your hand. Since this is very hands on, we ask that each member limit themselves to 15 minutes at each station so others get a chance to try everything out.

1. Light Cube Station- Ever wonder how jewelry catalogs and shiny new products get those clean shots on small products? The answer is they use a light box and micro lens. Learn how to set-up the cube, position lights, and take shots for small pieces.

2. GIMP Photo Editing Software- Learn how to edit photos with this great free software program you can download off the internet. Please download this program and bring in your laptop, tablet, smartphone...etc.

3. Instagram- Check out the latest internet craze. Fun, fast, and easy to use....try out this new iPhone app.

4. Live models and backdrops- Our lovely Katie will be modeling for you against the backdrop of your choice.

5. Shooting Outside Shots- This last part will depend on the weather, but if it's pretty we will do some practice shots outside (maybe at Umstead Park).

Note: Today's photos come from our latest Instructable on casting metal from 3D Printing. It's already got a couple thousand hits which is exciting. To more fun in your week.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Textile Friday: Understanding The Washing Machine

                Are you excited? It's the first day of our new textile Friday series, taking care of your clothes. First, I would like to focus this month on the biggest contributor to the life of your clothing (or it's death): your washing machine and dryer. When I worked retail, the rule of thumb was that the average person gets 30% of the life of their clothing due to improper washing and dry cleaning use. That's 70 cents of every dollar you spend on your clothing just thrown away. Last year, the average American spent $600 dollars on clothing a year. Wouldn't you like the option to keep $420 of your money this coming year or at least buy better clothes with it? That's an average paycheck for you if you're in your 20s. Of the $420, roughly 30% goes to washing machines and 40% goes to dryers. I hope to save my customers and friends money in the coming year and get better clothing. Because you are awesome.
            So let's take a step back and look at that ugly white (or other bland color) hulking metal washing machine that sits in a back closet or downstairs moldy room of your life. Our modern electric washing machine dates back to 1908. Washing machines were invented to hold between 4 and 12 lbs of clothing (ideally 8) and wash clothes clean between 100 and 140 degrees. European washing machines tend to be smaller and American washing machines to be larger. A smaller machine will always make clothing last better than a larger machine as it is gentler on the clothing as less of them beat against each other in the wash. It is also why European manufacturers struggle in the American marketplace as their clothing is often higher quality in terms of materials and construction, but less durable as they don't realize the fabric itself needs to be twice as durable for the larger washer size. But that's a conversation for another day.
            While you would think that our washing machines would have gotten a lot smarter in the past 100 years, the basic mechanics (and failures) remain the same. Clothes are destroyed in the machine by stains, dye problems (both fading and bleeding), shrinking or warped fabric, and physical damage due to the actual beating motion of the washing machine itself. Let's address each in turn.
             First, stains...we've all been there. Your favorite shirt comes out and it's ruined simply ruined by a night on the town. Stains happen in two ways: you either bring them with you to the washing cycle (red wine you spilled on yourself at a party) or you add them in the washing process (think about the ink stain from your favorite pen you accidentally left in your pocket). If it's the first, stains are always best removed quickly before they set in rather than trying to get them out later. There's lots of magic products, tips, and tricks on the market, I will mention the general basics. Stains are almost always removed with cold (namely water, can also be alcohol or vinegar) inexpensive running liquids to dilute the stain out before it sets and takes up permanent residence in your clothing. Some people blot with baking soda, but that's a personal preference. Afterwards, many people recommend soaking the garment and washing it by itself in COLD water. ALWAYS cold water. NEVER ever wash clothes with stains in them with regular clothes as you don't want to risk ruining other clothing.
                   Alright, so you've managed to protect your clothing to get it to the laundry, how do you protect your favorite shirt or pair of pants from random dyes in the wash? You do your best to limit  dyes from getting into the wash in the first place. You can do that by:

1)Wash your whites and darks separately. If possible, always use cold water
2) Check all your pockets and remove anything in them (That way no pens can break in the wash)
3) Wash new clothing or items separately 3 to 4 times before adding them to the general laundry to remove as much bleeding as possible
                 Now, dye problems. Clothing has been dyed for thousands of years. It is generally done by the addition of dying agents under hot (think boiling) water and/or chemical reaction, often a mixture of both. When you wash your clothes, you do not want to allow garments to dye each other or fade by imitating dye condions. So as much as possible, wash in cold water with the same colored garments (light or dark) and gentle detergent. While I could claim to be an expert on this, I prefer to read on Consumer Reports and let them do the work. Right now Wisk and Target laundry detergent are the top two picks, but this may change in another few decades.
                   Next, we move on to shrinking and warped fabrics. Fabrics normally shrink or warp due to heat or mechanical twisting in the wash. So again, WASH your fabrics in COLD water to prevent them shrinking. Notice a trend on the cold water here? I despise hot water in laundry after I learned how much it shrinks, fades, and generally destroys my clothes. Next, warping. Warping normally occurs when fabrics are twisted or pulled by the mechanical action of the machine itself during the washing cycle. This is generally prevented by actually using your machine in the manner in which is was intended. Most modern washing machines work best around the 8 lb mark for American machines. Yes, you can physically squish more in, but 8-10 pieces of clothing is optimal. If you're a nerd and want to use a computer program to play around to get a feel for this exact number, try the nerdy Backpacking Gear Weight program online for free by Chris Ibbeson. Much like your back, a washing machine benefits from a normal balanced load to do it's best work.
                   Lastly, physical damage. The tried and true method for this has always been to turn your clothing inside out so that it limits trim and buttons from catching on each other or the machine itself. But I find this takes too long. Instead, I've grown to love using lingerie bags (You can buy a dozen on ebay for $10.00.) as they take less time and I only need to place clothing with trim or buttons in them in the bags. Socks, t-shirts, underwear, etc. don't actually go in it. The best part is if a dress shirt loses a button in the wash, I'm not desperately searching for it to sew back win.
                  So there ya go. Now you know the 4 major dangers your washing machine poses to your clothing and how to prevent them on a budget. Happy washing. Check back in next week when we discuss dryers! :-)