Saturday, December 25, 2010

Xmas: nostalgia, reflection, and making gifts

Even though I'm a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, I really love the Christmas holiday. I love it for several reasons. Each reason, I hope, offers an alternative to the consumer-frenzy a lot of us find ourselves in this time of year.

NOSTALGIA. My paternal grandparents (not Jewish) were of the "greatest generation" and when I was a kid we celebrated Christmas in style: electric candles in every window, super boozy egg nog in every cup, and Bing Crosby on the crooner radio station that you can only tune in on a stereo cabinet like my grandparents had -- a large, waist-high piece of furniture with a record player under the hood and built-in speakers covered with shimmery golden fabric. A few years back I made a four-song holiday record inspired by those recordings. And this year I learned a few more carols on guitar and played them at gatherings. Fun!

REFLECTION. They say that Christmas is the season of giving and you'll see in the next section that I enjoy that part too. But for me, Christmas is 90% reflection. It's when I take inventory of all that I've done or seen over the year and every year I feel more and more grateful. Sure there have been some real tough times -- my mother's early death, my cancer -- but all in all I live a charmed life. I enjoy this time at the end of the year to really think on that.

MAKING GIFTS. Since I am averse to made-in-China crap, and since I can't afford to buy high-end craft for all of my friends at once (unlike birthdays when you can buy one item at a time), I roll up my sleeves and get to making. In the summer we pick fruit at eco-village and  make a ton of jam, so we give that. And then I make truffles, this year two flavors: kahlua and rum (we even made the kahlua). And this year, for the first time, I made felt brooches. About 30 of them. I used a process called needle felting in which you take semi processed wool, called roving, and bind it together with a barbed needle. It's kind of like drawing in slow motion with limited control. I really enjoy it and hope to get better at it over the year, maybe even figure out something to do with it for Maker Faire.

May you have a wonderful holiday season. Don't forget to look at the past. There's a lot to learn there. And try making something with your hands. Even if what you make seems small and not as jazzy as something made in China, it is a large and generous gesture filled with meaning.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Systems Approach to Hunger

Just before the Thanksgiving holiday I met with the head honchos at Foodlink - Executive Director Tom Ferraro and CEO Jeanette Batiste. Foodlink is probably best known as Rochester's premier food bank but really it's so much more. Tom and Jeanette spent two hours with me showing me around the facility, an old oil refinery on the Genesee River, and telling me about the breadth of work that they do. 

A plain old food bank, as I understand it, takes food donations and then distributes those donations to organizations that feed hungry people. Foodlink does that, for sure. They have a gigantic warehouse, a fleet of trucks, and food sorting system that seems, to me, to operate like a well-oiled machine. 

But then Jeanette and Tom told me about their R&D. This non-profit has some cutting edge R&D that just about blew my mind. For starters, they have a pesticide-free farm just 10 miles out of town called Freshwise. Not only is the farm environmentally-friendly, but it's socially responsible because they employ developmentally disabled folks with farm work. 

Then there is Freshwise Catering. I'm not completely filled in on all that they do. I know that part of what they do is a "backpack" program - they feed kids healthy food when school is not in session and school lunch is not available. I also think they have, or are about to launch, a straight-up catering business. More on this when I find out more. A sustainable catering business is a dream project of mine and Freshwise is way ahead of me on implementation. In addition to healthy locally produced food, Freshwise and Foodlink are very interested in job creation. So I'm curious to find out about who is working in the kitchen. 

And then, just as I was about to leave, Tom walked me over to the warehouse across the parking lot where they've got - get this - a small business called Epiphergy whose founders are turning food waste into fuel. This is fantastic because Foodlink has a fleet of trucks for distribution that need, you guessed it, fuel! And guess what else Foodlink has? Access to a lot of food waste. 

In the sustainability literature, all of this coordination is called "Industrial Symbiosis." But it my mind, it's just effing awesome. Foodlink is way beyond a plain old food bank. It's on the verge of implementing and entirely new system for food production and consumption - a system that not only has a positive impact on the environment but is incredibly sensitive to the needs of people from a wide range of economic and social backgrounds. People at the base of the economic pyramid need good food and they need meaningful work. Foodlink is working on it and they are succeeding. Cheers!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Repost: interview with Aurelie Tu of CraftedSystems

Recently I sought out an interview with Portland-based designer-entrepreneur Aurelie Tu, founder of CraftedSystems. The production model that Tu designed for her business is creative, interesting, and sustainable. Instead of outsourcing assembly of her products overseas, she works with women-in-transition at the YWCA in Portland. This is the type of innovation in business and design that I fantasize about ( see previous post ) and that I go ga-ga over when I actually find it. 

To read the interview, follow this link to industrial design super site, Core77

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Beyond Consumer Centered Design

This video is based on a paper that I'm working on for the AAA conference in November. In it I encourage designers to think beyond the needs of consumers claiming that doing so will yield more interesting and innovative products, services, and systems. Let me know what you think.

PS. Thanks to Hilary Austen for helping me find the courage to embrace complexity in an artful way. Pick up her new book from U of Toronto press Artistry Unleashed (review coming soon)


FELLA: Hey, don't you know that Human Centered Design is all the rage? Every body's doing it.

LADY: That sounds interesting. What is Human Centered Design, exactly?

FELLA: It's a design process that borrows methods from anthropology so that designers can empathize with consumers.

LADY: So, in the end, designers give consumers more of what they really want?

FELLA: O yeh. Isn't it great?

LADY: Well, I'm not so sure. I thought that I read some where that hyper consumerism is kind of a problem. The article said that a lot of the stuff we buy in the west causes environmental, social, and economic problems in other parts of the world.

FELLA: O gee. I guess so. But what can we designers do about that.  Isn't consumerism a force that's beyond our control?

LADY: Well, let's think about this for a minute. What if, 0and this is just a thought experiment, what if we designers could extend our empathy beyond consumers. Could we extend our empathy to all people along the value chain of a product?

FELLA: Gosh.  That's sounds daunting. But I'll run with it for now. So, who would we be looking at?

LADY: Let's start at the beginning. I guess we'd look at the people mining the natural resources that make our products.

FELLA: Sure. Then we'd look at the people who work in the factories that manufacture products. And the people who live near those factories 0(ever see Erin Bronkovich?)

LADY: Right. Then there are the people that drive our products around in trucks and there are people that sell the products to us.

FELLA: This is getting overwhelming.

LADY: I know. But I think we agree it's important. So let's stick it out. No one said it would be easy.

FELLA: Right on, right on. So, here we are looking at the consumer. From the point-of-sale, through the use of the product, and the eventual disposal of the product.

LADY: Right. I heard somewhere that 90 percent of the products we buy in the west are disposed of within six months of purchase.

FELLA: I heard that too. It seems like Human Centered Design could address this problem. so let's keep plugging away.0 Who do we look at next, once the product is disposed of? Is that the end?

LADY: Well, no. A lot of the products that we "throw away" are actually shipped off to other countries so that people can take them apart and extract metal for resale.

FELLA: That sounds like recycling which is a good thing, right?

LADY: Sigh. Yeh, but there are a lot of toxins in these products. So the people that are taking them apart are exposing themselves and their families to really bad toxins.

FELLA: Um. I'm starting to hate design. Maybe I should just do what my parents wanted me to do and go to med school.

LADY: Ha. I guess you could but if design is the problem, then perhaps design can be the solution too. We have to begin by asking the right questions.

FELLA: You are right. And then we redefine some terms. Like Human Centered Design. Focusing on consumers only seems too easy.

LADY: Too easy indeed. From now on, we designers need to empathize with people all along the value chain of a product, service, or system. It might take ten years or so to get this right, but I'm up for the challenge. You in?

FELLA: Totally. Let's keep the conversation going. Be sure to post a comment below or send a tweet to our pal @xanthm on twitter. She's really good about sharing your feedback. Peace.

LADY: Peace.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

BarCamp Roc - Design as a Breathing Cycle

I'm excited to run a workshop over at BarCamp Rochester this afternoon. I don't plan on taping the talk so am putting my notes here so that the contents of the talk can be shared. Let me know if you have any questions. And enjoy. 

Design As A Breathing Cycle* - Discussion and Workshop at BarCamp Rochester / October 2010

1. We are all designers

Programmers, Artists, Engineers, Managers, Entrepreneurs-- We all make things for other people to engage with.

2. Design is a way of being in the world.

(It is not an object)

3. Our goal, our duty, is to be open to new ideas all of the time.

If we increase the volume of good ideas, then we increase the chances of finding a remarkable one.

4. HTF do we do that?

It’s simple. But like anything else that we want to be good at,  it takes practice.

5. Design As A Breathing Cycle

INHALE - all of the ideas that we can possibly imagine.
Encourage Wild Ideas
Suspend Judgment
Build on the Ideas of Others
Write Every Idea Down

THE EXHALE - filtering
Categorize the Ideas
If an idea fits under more than one category, put it in more than one category
If an idea doesn’t seem to fit, put it in a “special” category
Connect ideas


6. Summary: We are all designers. We need to be open to new ideas all of the time. Practice makes perfect.

*Like most great ideas, this one would not exist without the principle of "Building on the ideas of others ." Thanks, Bruce Corson.

photo: Community Msg Board from a historic 19th C. tavern in Rochester, NY

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sign up for Design-thinking at RIT

Design-thinking & Concept Development is a new Gen Ed course offered by Saunders College of Business at RIT but open to all students, from all disciplines, with junior standing. In the class we learn and practice creative methods for new product and service development by exploring two main lines:

1. EXERCISES - tons of them - that help you reach beyond your habitual thinking patterns and

2.  HUMAN CENTERED DESIGN - it's an approach that's more like social science and less like the techno vodoo that you (already) do so well.

So sign up and increase your creative vocabulary and skill set ten fold. Course number 0102-421-01.

QUESTIONS? Contact Prof. Matychak at

(hot dog toaster not included)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tools for developing new products, services, and systems

This year I've been thinking a lot on how to use sustainability frameworks to inspire ideas for new products, services, and systems. Here is a link to my ever-evolving google doc that explains the process and includes an exercise (this one geared toward business management students). If you'd like to try it out, then be my guest but please give me some feedback on how it went. Or better yet, invite me to your class or event and I'll facilitate the exercise with you. Peace <3

Saturday, October 2, 2010

World Maker Faire 2010

Last weekend, Andrea, Michelle, and I took our interactive exhibit, RIVER MEMOIR, down to World Maker Faire in NYC. As you can see from the picture above, folks were really engaged with the exhibit and we had fun sharing it with the wide range of people that passed through the fair.

Unfortunately, as exhibitors we didn't have much time to check out the rest of the fair. There were some great speakers, performances, and exhibits all over the site.

The most exciting part about being there for me was being in Flushing Meadows Park, the site of the 1964 Worlds Fair. The 1964 fair was all about the future of big industry. Growing up on Long Island, I saw the site as a beautiful yet tragic monument to a faded vision of that future. So, being a participant in this enormous celebration of DIY culture, in that location, is especially meaningful for me.

Thank you to the organizers of the fair. I think you did a fantastic job considering this was the first time working at this venue.

Above is a detail of the "river" we made at the fair. We collected little stories from people at the fair and then cast them on to a river (a piece of knit wear) using a knitting machine and a computer. The process was amazing and the final product, as you can see, is pretty.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fibers, Modernists, and Makers, o my


As you know, I'm interested in ideas and projects that challenge the status quo. This September has been full of stuff like that and so I'm super happy. I'm going to write a brief overview of some of the projects that I've been privileged to be a part of this month and hopefully, when I get another chance to write, I'll dig a little deeper into some of these. Do let me know what you'd like to hear more about.

FIRST, THERE WAS FIBERS NIGHT. There's a new textiles studio in the RIT Innovation Center that my colleague Andrea Handy built along with some faculty from CIAS. It's fantastic. There are sewing machines and knitting machines and a slew of tools that I plan on learning how to use over the course of the year. Ever since craftavist Carla Sinclair came to visit RIT a few years ago, I've been obsessed with the urban craft movement. It's all about getting back to knowing how things are made which, in this day and age, is a radical concept.

The next fibers night is on Oct 22. If you want to know more about it, then find the Fibers Night event in the RIT Wearables group on facebook. Wearables, for those who don't know the term, is a genre of fashion that incorporates technology. If you've seen clothes that light up or move or make noise, then you've seen wearables. Diana Eng is probably one of the more well-known designers working in this field. (And she'll be at Maker Faire this weekend - see below).

VIGNELLI CENTER OPENING. As a graduate student, I was privileged to study with RIT's renowned design historian, R. Roger Remington. He taught me all about modernism and the grid and even though I rebelled a bit at the time (c'mon, are you surprised??), I've come to deeply appreciate the modernist foundation I learned while studying with Roger. I equate this modernist education to learning the classics while an undergrad in music school. Did I love practicing Mozart five hours a day? Of course not. But learning those pieces helped me build a framework for the the entire range of music I would take on later in my career. The Vignellis are my Mozart. Roger's relationship with them enhanced my education and is now enhancing RIT as their entire body of work has found a new home in the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at RIT.

The well known blog, Design Observer, ran a series of pieces on the Vignellis last week that are outstanding. And this quote is among the best:
If — as Mark Twain once wrote — the Creator made Italy from designs by Michaelangelo, then who made the rest of the world?

Lella and Massimo Vignelli may not have made it, but they sure as hell designed a lot of it.
If you aren't yet familiar with their work, head on over to the new center on RIT campus. I'm sure you will recognize quite a bit of their graphic and product design.

FRESHMEN. Speaking of education, we're doing something new this year. In Saunders College of Business, where I work, we have this incredible freshmen sequence called "Biz 1-2-3" in which our freshmen learn business fundamentals while discovering, developing, and delivering their own new product or service. If that weren't fantastic enough, this year we're teaming some of them up with some of the freshmen in the design program. Below is a picture from their second meeting. They are working with maps of the campus that the design students made in order to find good problems for solving. Ask any successful designer or entrepreneur, great products and services come from identifying juicy problems.

SUSTAINABILITY = CREATIVITY. As you may know, I teach a class called "Design-thinking and Concept Development" out of Saunders College of Business. Design-thinking is really just creative thinking in disguise. There's a fun yet deceivingly rigorous methodology for teaching creativity that's focused on helping students break out of their habitual patterns of thought.

Even though the course is listed under management in the course catalog, it's a course offered to all RIT students with junior standing or higher. This is the third quarter that I'm teaching the course and we've got a nice mix of students from business, engineering, and design.

In today's class,  I introduced the students to a sustainability framework called "Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)." LCA helps us dig into how our design decisions affect people, planet, and profit all along the value chain of a product. Neat stuff. And LCA lends itself really nicely to the teaching of creativity as it embodies multiple perspectives. I'll be talking more in depth on how LCA increases creativity at the AAA conference in November.

AAA is an anthropology conference. What does design have to do with anthropology, you ask? We'll, that's another story. But in short, anthropology is about human-tool relationships and so is design.

THE FUTURE OF (FILL IN THE BLANK). I keep getting invited to meetings that are about the future of this and that. One recent meeting was about the future of journalism. Another on the future of design. Every time I get an email invite to one of these things, I feel blessed - - like I must be doing something right for people to be thinking of me in this way. (I know, enjoying work emails sounds nuts. Believe me, I don't enjoy all of them!)

WORLD MAKER FAIRE. And finally, to finish off the month with a cherry on top, my colleagues and I are taking our wearables exhibit down to the World Maker Faire at the NY Hall of Science. This is the same location that the 1964 Worlds Faire was held. Except this time, instead of industry making the exhibits, the exhibits will be made by hackers and crafters. The speaker line-up is fantastic, including a talk from Chris Anderson on 3D Printing, one of my fave topics.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Design-thinking and Concept Development course at RIT

Attention RIT upper class men and women. Do you still need a general education course for fall 2010? Then  sign up for design-thinking. It's open to all majors and super fun.

We'll be working on at least three hands on projects involving instructables, sustainable, found object furniture, and social network tools for neighborhoods. No previous design experience necessary.

The course number is 0102-421 and meets Tuesday/Thursday mornings from 8 to 10. Sure it's early, but we've got Java Wally's running a coffee line right down to our classroom. No problemo.

Questions? Ask Prof. Xanthe Matychak at


Monday, June 21, 2010

Writing in rivers and on the wall

I have some pretty pictures to share. Above is the latest development on our Maker Faire project. It's called Rivière Memoir. We're knitting a river into which you cast on your memoirs either with "stones" or "river grasses." The river is further enhanced by LED-sparkle and a virtual river of swimming memoirs. I can't wait to take this thing out on the road. Maybe we'll do a little of that later in the summer just to find out what people do with it. I hope for some surprises.

And here are some pictures from a hand-lettering workshop we attended last week at The Future of Reading symposium.

The woman in above is Professor Lorrie Frear. She teaches graphic design at RIT and her hand-lettering skills are off the chart. Below is famed type designer, Kris Holmes. Both instructors took a "just do it, you can't fail" attitude with the workshop participants which, as you know, I adore. We had fun. I definitely need to pick up one of those giant markers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Rules.

A few local foodie pictures to share. This morning we went to market in Dewitt Park and were o so happy to see garlic. And carrots. Lookit how pretty!

Additionally, we picked up duck eggs from the Daring Drake Farm folks. Mmmmm. Duck eggs.

After the market we went out to Eco-Village because we have a berry share there. They have all kinds of small businesses running out of Eco-Village. It's impressive. The one we support most is Kestral Perch U-pick Berries. How it works from our end is that we pay them a lump sum at the beginning of the season and the owner/operator, Katie Kreeger, emails us every week telling us what and how much we can pick. We're very impressed with how Katie runs her business. It's an honor to support her.

Today we got to pick two quarts of strawberries (actually Cory picked them - I roamed around). The strawberries taste even "sweeter" this year as last year it rained too much and there was no season.  Strawberries grow very close to the ground so when they get too wet they mold and mush up : (

What to do with my silly little dog is always an issue when we go out to Eco-Village. Often I tie her up to the posts that frame the blackberry patch. Here she is glaring at me. On the left of the glaring image are the beginnings of raspberry season which is almost always super plentiful. The darn things make fruit in summer and then again in fall. 

So that's my local food report for early-mid June. We pick up our first CSA delivery later this week. As for the Rochester falcons, Archer and Beauty ended up having two girls. They grow bigger by the minute and are due to fledge by the end of this month. You can check in on them here. Maker Faire project is moving along and hope to report on that soon. 

Summer rules. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

WIRED Magazine App as High Art / Craft

This past Thursday I heard Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief at WIRED magazine, give a talk called "Tablets and the Future of Media" at the Future of Reading symposium at RIT. I deeply enjoyed his talk.

I'm a fan of Chris Anderson's because he has some pretty radical theories about how new technologies and new social behaviors will disrupt traditional markets. (He didn't really go into them with this talk but you can check them out in his books: The Long Tail and FREE). In this talk he wore the hat of a magazine editor with a lot of creativity, failed experiments, and insights under his belt. He spoke artfully about his periodical and his plan for maintaining its relevance in a digital media revolution.

His approach to maintaining that relevance was to look deeply into what it means to be a monthly magazine. Anderson dove in to the temporal element of a monthly magazine and claimed that a monthly periodical wasn't really suited for the web. The web is really good for a daily continuous, link-filled news feed but that WIRED, a monthly periodical, is something else.

A month is a weighty amount of time to wait for content, and thus a lot of planning goes in to making it worth the wait. The staff plans each issue six months in advance. They maintain secrecy about its content so as to deliver a Christmas morning experience with each issue. And his research shows that when people read it, they spend close to an hour with it not the three minutes or so that you spend reading a web news page.

They tried web experiments with WIRED, but the experiments failed. So Anderson went kind of retro with the approach to the iPad app. It's not cuttable, it's not pastable, it's not linkable, it's not sharable. It's not any of those things that we expect from digital media. What it is is a highly curated, highly crafted monthly magazine in digital form.

Douglass Rushkoff's book about innovation, called Get Back in the Box, argues that firms often put too much emphasis on "thinking outside of the box" when faced with disruptive technologies in the marketplace. Instead, he suggests that what firms really need to do to stay relevant in a disruptive environment is to return full throttle to their core mission. To figure out what they do best and go even deeper. This is what Anderson is doing with the WIRED app.

Of course it's not the first time that people working in a seemingly fading technology sector dove deeper into their craft in order to survive a technological revolution. If we look at the technological revolutions that have come before, we see a similar pattern.

SCRIBES AND THE PRINT REVOLUTION. Before the print revolution, scribes owned the words-on-paper market. When movable type came around, sure, they could have been out of a job. But instead, they dove deeper in to their craft and crafted pages that were so ornate that no press could reproduce them. They employed what type designer Kris Holmes refers to as The Radical Hand. Would these ornate pages ever compete with the distribution capacity of pages off the press? Of course not. The best scribes survived the print revolution by making something that was deeply expressive and beautiful (and thus expensive).

CRAFTPERSONS AND THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. Industrialization brought mass-produced goods into many people's homes. Just like the printing press did, modern machinery reproduced stuff, this time objects, that common folks did not previously have access to. There were the luddites, of course, who monkey-wrenched the works to protest being replaced by machines. But there was also an incredible emergence of craft. These people made furnishings, for example, that were so intricate that they could never be replicated by the machine. And that made them pricey. Again, was craft furniture available to the masses? No. Did its quality and beauty keep the best artisans in business in a machine made world? It did.

MONTHLY PERIODICALS AND THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION. It's funny for some to think of monthly magazines in the context of craft or high art but as a trained graphic designer, the interplay of luscious images with type is as high as art can be. Anderson showed us an example of the WIRED app. The team had clearly dove deep into what it means to be a monthly digital publication. The app is incredibly rich and thoughtful and well crafted. Is the WIRED app cuttable, pastable, linkable, or sharable? No. Will it reach as many people as the bits of WIRED that they will inevitably release for free online? Of course not. Will it keep an artful monthly magazine alive through a digital revolution? Probably. Anderson is leaps and bounds ahead of his fellow crafters in the magazine business.

For more on the Future of Reading symposium, click here

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


This poem is inspired by stories that my mother told me, or by things I observed, about her life. My mother's life was a series of could-be failures that she turned in to opportunities over and over again. As for the poem's form, I played with the constraints of six word memoirs and I chose to make the poem twenty lines long. Let me know what you think.

Peddled Ice Cream on the boardwalk

Four in a one bedroom on Ocean Parkway

When he drank, she ran away

She was the son he never had

Disrespected her mother for staying with him

After high school, sailed to Europe

Brought back a love of primary colors

Bought a Stingray, drove to Miami

Was a go-go dancer in Lake George

Fell in love with a musician

Made him quit drugs, then married him

Moved to Brooklyn, had a daughter

Traded in Corvette for a Beetle

Moved to suburbs, there were snakes

Brooklyn girls don't like snakes

Built a house called "Dreamland"

Either he left or she kicked him out

The first wave of divorced parents

Clan of single mothers reclaiming their lives

They roller skated in shimmery tights

still image: W. Michelle Harris

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Can/should retail train makers?

If there's one thing that I believe will help the sustainability movement, it's the maker/urban craft movement. Many Makers and Crafters hold that if we get back to making stuff and understand how stuff is made, then that understanding will transform how we consume mass produced stuff. All kinds of stuff - mass produced food, GAP clothes made in sweat shops, cleaning products that change the sex of fish, suburban homes that make us drive all over town just to get to work - you name it. Mass produced stuff is every where and for the most part, it's awful trash that helps us trash the planet.

At present, the maker/craft movement is on the fringe of culture. Sure it's gaining momentum but will it ever grow big enough to change unsustainable behavior at large? I'm not sure. It might. OR we might look around for alternative, unlikely venues for strengthening the movement.

For a while now I've thought it would be smart for places like Walmart and other retail corps to install co-creation software and rapid prototyping in their stores. Kind of like how kodak has digital camera kiosks in drug stores. If big retail decides to go this route, I hope to see an upsurge of common folks making their own stuff, taking better care of their stuff, and shedding this tacky disposable attitude that is one of the sustainability movement's greatest challenges - "If my toaster breaks I'll just get another one at K-Mart."

The presentation above just dips our toes in to that water. But hopefully it helps you understand what co-creation looks, feels, smells like.

Friday, May 14, 2010

My hero and one of the most creative minds of our time

More co-creation with textiles

My colleagues and I are starting on a new project to bring down to Maker Faire NYC in the fall. We're not sure what it is yet, but we know that it involves the following elements: six word memoirs, knitting, rivers, conductive thread (for animation of some kind), text based costumes, and a 'take-away' for participants.

The co-creation part will come from attendees of Maker Faire - as we knit this river (with Andrea's super cool machine - see below), we'll ask passers-by to write their memoirs on ribbon. Then we'll weave collected memoirs into the river.

I love this stage in a project. When it just starts to take shape. Exciting.

Here's the machine we'll use to knit. This thing makes textiles FAST. Amazing.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Yesterday we had our 3rd annual Imagine RIT Innovation and Creativity festival with a record breaking 23,000 visitors to campus. Wow. The event was amazing and too much for me to report on in entirety. I do, however, want to give props to one little corner of the Innovation Center that caught my attention.

In a sea of hi-tech games and robots, I really appreciated three textile exhibits. One was put on by my students. Above is a picture of Lauren and Sarah with their concept called RocSmock. It's a retail concept in which they assume that digital textile technology lives in the retail space. This technology allows common folks to design and print their own patterns on fabric. But even more interesting than the technology itself is how Lauren and Sarah employed it. They propose that locally grown produce can live in the store for sale and consumption but also it can serve as inspiration for textile designs. When you can design your own clothes with inspiration from your local produce, you are likely to grow your values as you transfer them from one aspect of your (what you eat) life to another (what you wear). 

Just a stone's throw away from the RocSmock group was textile guru Andrea Handy. Andrea was generously teaching folks how to work this awesome knitting machine. I didn't get the full scoop on this, but I see Andrea later this week so more to come. Here's a pic. Andrea's on the right.

And finally I was just thrilled to see this young woman from the Young Entrepreneurs Academy displaying her quilted saddle blankets. I didn't catch her name, the one seated on the left, but I will and post a link soon. Just in case you know any riders in need of a super hip blanket.

As I said earlier, the entire festival was great and you can read more about it here. Just wanted to make sure that this sweet spot of textiles people got their moment in the spotlight.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Collaborate with dead people

Ha. I don't mean to sound grim. But I've had two pieces of music stuck in my head that are making me think on local history and how inspiring it can be. One piece of music is this Natalie Merchant record called "Leave Your Sleep." It's a project that Merchant worked on for six years or so. I really admire how she gave herself permission to remove herself from pop-star life and take some time, serious time, to explore and discover something new. Or in this case, something old.

Merchant dug up old American and English poems, studied the poets, and set their works to music. What I've heard of "Leave Your Sleep" is about as far from a churned out pop record as you can get. (Not that I don't also love pop. Believe me, I do).

For a deeper look at "Leave Your Sleep," check out this TED performance. I also recommend buying the record. I plan on buying and giving several copies for Mother's Day. And just to make this post super local, I think Judy Hyman and Richie Stearns from the Ithaca Horseflies are on the record. I know for sure that they are doing live performances with her. They were on Good Morning America the other day. Seriously. Look for it.

The second piece of music that's on my mind is a rendition of The Erie Canal Song recorded by Suzanne Vega and Dan Zanes. I suppose it's common for folk singers like Vega to look to the past for musical material. But we non-folk singers should also look to the past any time we are in explore mode (which for me is almost always).

I stumbled on the song bc I drive along the Eerie Canal almost every day. Sometimes I walk along it. Every once in a while I read some history about it. What I love about the history of the canal is how crazy the idea of it seemed before it got built. And yet, there were a bunch of crazies who poured tons of effort and money into trying. They didn't even have real engineers in this country yet, but everyone was trying to build this thing. What a hoot. When it finally opened, barges were pulled by mules (like "Sal" from the Erie Canal Song). Then later, barges were powered by diesel. Did you know a gallon of diesel can carry a barge about 10 times more distance than the same gallon can carry a truck? Man, I wish that we could find the same mojo to create a carbon neutral transportation system....

The work of all these dead people gets me a thinking, for sure. Read more about the canal here. And when looking for new ideas, don't forget to collaborate with dead people.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Radishes, Ramps, and Random Craft

Picked up these radishes at the market today from. um. I did it again. I forgot the farmer's name. I would totally recognize his face. But anyways.

I got some ramps too and I cooked them up with some piggery confit and frozen root veggie puree from last season's farm share. It was tasty although the ramps are pretty strong. They are referred to as wild leeks, but they behave much more like garlic. This puree calls for something more subtle, like shallots. Next time.

I also picked up some embroidery thread and I'm just playing with the stuff. Here's is a little felt container that I made.

Not anything to write home about unless you like to write home about your process (and I do).

So, this is where I'm starting. It's a 3 sided container and in the first version (this is altered), the sides were made from square pieces of felt. Thus, it didn't have much stability when standing, so I snipped the upper edges and tapered them in.

It's fun to play with this stuff. I've never been much of a crafter, but I used to sculpt in other media. I see this as an extension of that.

Hackers and Sharers and Tweetups and Mittens

Local communities benefit from sharing knowledge. This past Thursday a bunch of smart, creative locals got together at the Pixel Lounge in Collegetown to host Ithaca's first IGNITE Ithaca. IGNITE is a series of five minute talks given by smart folks on hot topics. The talks are "sponsored" by the ever-innovative O'Reilly media who launched the concept in Seattle back in the mid 1990s. To find out more about the history of IGNITE, click here.

On Thursday night there were about a dozen talks given, but the ones that intrigued me most were explicitly about the spread of knowledge. For example, my colleague Matt Bernius gave a clever talk on file-sharing at the dawn of the print age. Matt has a gift for relating contemporary problems, for e.g., Napster, to the history of publishing. Then Peter Marcheto from gave a passionate talk on the need for a hacker space in town. Hacker spaces are places where people come to gether to take shit apart and put it back together. A great way to learn from local tinkerers. Shira Goldberg from Share Tompkins (Ithaca is in Tompkins County) told us about the Community Swap Meets that she and her gang have organized. Why buy new crap when you can get your neighbors old stuff for free, right? Then Franklin Crawford chatted up his absolutely charming publication, Tiny Town Times, which is everything the local news should be - focused on local flavor and local characters (The DandC in Rochester could learn a lesson or two from these folks). And then the last talk wasn't explicitly about sharing knowledge (it was more about being humbled by great patterns at work in the universe) but the talk was given by Matteo Wyllyamz who organizes tweetups in the Ithaca Area. Tweetups are yet another face-to-face venue for locals to meet up and compare notes.

If you're looking to get some things happening in your community, I highly recommend organizing an IGNITE. They are fun, educational, and o so effective. 

To see the complete list of speakers from Thursday's event, click here.

photo by Franklin Crawford