Thursday, August 8, 2019

Video of Five Senses Embroidered Cabinet

Here is a video exploration of my latest finish - a double casket worked in tent stitch over 20 count linen.  The piece is finished following the traditional manner of where silk and paper linings are used.  

This is a capstone of almost 20 years of work to get to this point.  

The videographer (my son) had fun working on the video, making new slider equipment and buying macro lenses.  No robots to build anymore!


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Thistle Threads Summer Closure

There will be two summer closure times where I will have almost no ability to communicate and definitely won't be doing any shipping.

July 19-29th and August 9-20th there will be no shipping.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ugh... I hate my Dyslexia

So to make it easier for the staff at Access Commodities it was requested that I use their normal ordering system which I have avoided like the plague for years for a specific reason - I am dyslexic.  So since I started doing it a month ago, I have been making mistake after mistake after mistake even when double and triple checking.  Here is yesterday's shipment I was patiently waiting for two weeks.  I made another series of mistakes that will again delay orders.  I have 4626 instead of 2646, 2112 instead of 2212, 3414 instead of 3314.

It is essentially a multiple choice test.  A long sheet of numbers of silks in order and you write the number of tubes you need on the side.  Sitting with the orders I need to fill on the left and the sheet printed out on the right - I lose the information between reading a 4-digit number on the left and looking for it on the right.  Often, I transpose the numbers or choose the number with one digit in the middle wrong (I see the beginning and the end and loose the middle).  Contrary to the belief that we transpose letters and numbers - it is actually forgetting part of the data string of letters and numbers and putting down or choosing what we do remember.

After spending all year in the agonizing process of proving AGAIN to the new school district that my A/B grade student is dyslexic and needs accommodations in certain situations, I can pretty much explain exactly how this exact mistake keeps happening.  For you teachers out there - I started the process with old testing in hand in June.  My kid got his accommodations in May.  So 8th grade is down the crap hole due to administrative feet dragging.

So our (I say that to represent the three dyslexics in our family) CTOPP digit recall scores are extremely low - in the 25th percentile of all people.  Even worse is our rapid digit naming scores - in the 15th percentile.  And the working memory scores are in the 25th-50th depending on which one of us you test.

What does that mean?  Well, I went around looking for research papers to see a few years ago because shockingly the professionals that handle the 'what do we do next' after the neuropsychological tests are great at telling you the 'what the score is' but absolutely horrible at telling you how that will present to you in life and what you can do about it.  Generally they are presented with kids who test very poorly and do poorly in school and so they shuttle them off to some resource room, lower tier of classes, or extra tutoring (or call them lazy).  They are very bad at being presented with kids whose parents have already spent ten years having specialists work with their kids so the kids is 'preforming' in school as they have learned how to read well but the kids have these weird blips all the time with a test coming back at 60% when they obviously understand the material really, really well if you talk to them.

They don't know how to write legal accommodations that are useful and targeted to what will help the kid and stand up to time.  What I mean about stand up to time is that every year you have to sit down after they have queried all the teachers about how the kid used the accommodations and go through a process of making the kid and parent defend themselves and take accommodations away if the kid is getting A's.  I can't tell you how stressful that meeting is every year.  One year my kid made an excuse to leave the room for the bathroom and apparently spent a few minutes punching a wall and then came back in and hid his hands so he would not yell at the school administrator telling him because he had done so well they should remove some of the accommodations he gets.  Apparently getting Bs is better than getting As is the philosophy - as they never expect kids in this situation to do that well...

So in my research, I found that the link between different types of operations in the classroom and the exact neuropsychological tests is pretty sparse.  You would think it wouldn't be.  If it was known - then teaching and testing petagogies would change.  But one paper made the direct link between multiple choice tests and both digit recall and working memory scores.  No matter how high the IQ of the person or how accomplished - the only predictor of the final score on a test that uses multiple choice and especially the type where you transfer a letter or number of an answer to a bubble test score sheet - was what your working memory score is.  So after you choose the 'correct answer' you have to then move your eyes to a different paper, find the place to put it and recall the "a, b, c, d, e" and color in the circle.  By then, the information in your working memory is gone.

This was a horror show for my son in high school.  The science department only used  bubble test multiple choice tests for most of the classes and even worse needed to keep the testing book clean so did not allow marks in it so when you forgot what letter you were going to fill in - you couldn't look back at the booklet to see what you had chosen and had to solve it all over again.  The only B he ever got was in the first year honors science class.  I had to fight with the teacher over these multiple choice tests.  She, being an analytical person, decided on her own to test this argument I was making. She gave him specific tests and came to that meeting at the end of the year and showed her data - if she allowed him to do this extra stuff to help him transfer the answer - he got a 100%.  If she didn't and he used the normal system - he got 70% at best.  I had to appreciate that she verified the problem/solution.   (What he didn't appreciate is she still gave him a B even though she knew half his tests were invalid).

While you can remediate that child learning to read by doing slow explicit reading instruction so they learn to decode words, you can not solve the digit recall and working memory problem.  That is where accommodations come in to give you extra time to quadruple check or to allow marks in testing books.

The working memory/recall problem comes up in many things for me.  Since I was never taught to read the way my sons were, I recall how I have heard the word before or sight read a word like a picture.  So new words can not be decoded phoneme by phoneme.  So I will tend to recall the first letter and the ending of a name or word and spell it that way or pronounce it that way.  Doing introductions at international science conferences is something that is so anxiety producing for me.  My husband sometimes speaks the names into my phone recording and I play it back just before I go up and that still only gets me maybe a 20% improvement and I embarrass myself in front of a group of 500 and insult the person I am introducing.  Now imagine me taking a foreign language.  Yea.  That doesn't happen well.   And my oldest son was denied the power points the teacher used all year and had to take written notes.  Finally I threatened to go to my lawyer and got him some of them a week before the final exam.  I came to that 'meeting' with his notes and the power points pasted side by side to show that he only had the first word and then last two of any sentence put up there.  His working memory got in the way of listening to what she was saying and reading it on the board and trying to transfer that to the paper as she sped on.  So the modern way teachers ignore the blackboard and use powerpoints - that destroys any child who has an average working memory because they go faster than the kid can transfer information.  They have useless notes and can't study for any test.  And they don't have time to go back and re-read the whole science book (what the teacher told him when he begged for her powerpoint).  His ability to use his notes is 100% correlated to if the teacher writes on the blackboard or uses powerpoint.

I am going over this all because I know some readers are teachers, some are parents or grandparents of dyslexic kids and maybe it will help you help them.   It also should make you think about this horrible college admissions scandal.  Everyone in the dyslexic community is freaking out as the outgrowth will be to tighten requirements on who gets accommodations.  Throw Aunt Becky in jail as she and the rest have now hurt so many innocent kids who need them to get to college.  And the new SAT concept on adversity score is just so unjust to kids like my sons who have to run this gauntlet every year and then will have their super hard fought test scores devalued because they come from a town that is affluent.  Legally, the College Board and ACT is not allowed to tell colleges that a child used accommodations for their tests.  So no college knows the child was dyslexic and therefore disadvantaged in the testing process.  They just see what race and social-economic background they come from.  Adversity comes in many forms.   The prevailing thought is to not reveal that on your college applications either as 90% of the readers of college apps are the newly minted 20-somethings they hire who have just graduated and have no life experience and thus are still prejudiced like most people against learning disabilities.  I had a long conversation just this weekend with a college professor in an education department who actually said 'isn't dyslexia where you turn the letter upside down?'.   Oh god...

Today, my robot-army helper in my office will take all the silk ordering forms and black out all the colors on it that I don't ever order.  I tried and - what a surprise, I screwed it up and had to keep starting over.  Then we will xerox it many times so I have modified copies that I can't screw up.  Those are the extra steps that are exhausting in life as a dyslexic.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Hand Skills - Doctors of Sewing Needed

I found this article on the front page of the New York Times today and it is funny as I had been planning on writing this myself whenever I got a chance to blog again.

Because I teach kids robotics, I get to see the dexterity of kids and how long it takes to develop.  While our robot kids were doing LEGO for several years, they were pretty good already but the transition to screws, nuts, plyers and screwdrivers was the hardest thing they had to tackle all year.  One guy kept snapping the heads off screws, permanently ruining parts we couldn't now get the screw body out from.

So what is happening to our kids?  Well, this article goes over how we have removed shop, hobbies and other activities that develop good hand eye coordination, dexterity and three-dimensional thinking from our kids daily life.  Parents would rather give babies an iPad that work with them and the frustration of LEGOs or heaven forbid, have them help them with tools.

So it highlights that if we want our kids to become doctors - have them become great needleworkers. Yes - it said that.  I am challenging you all to find yourself some aspiring doctor, vet, surgeon, etc and teach them needlework.  Show them this article.  We can save the needlework industry...

I have laughed in a knowing way to my husband that I could make some real money in my town if I opened up needlework classes for kids who want to go to medical school.  It would be a really attractive thing on their resumes.  I live in a town where every person wants their kid to be an engineer or doctor, a top school district in the USA that is half asian or southeast asian.  I am a PhD, MIT grad, world-champion robotics coach, and internationally known needlework expert and I have the right last name.  I could charge a mint to train aspiring doctors.  I have been mildly considering it as the next career after caskets are done.  It helps both keep the craft alive and performs a great function as well.

Funny but needlework got me into MIT and it got my resume selected out every time for grad school and job hunts.  Why???  Well I asked and the answer always revolved around "it says you have great hand skills (think lab work) and creativity (problem solving)".  Wow.

Now that my robot kids have gone to college I see the result of the hand skills they developed in my basement.  My oldest son was hired immediately as a freshman in a well known professor's lab whose policy it is to not hire undergrads.  The grad students have forgotten he isn't a grad student.  He has been given his own project and now some of theirs as well as he can make anything.  He completed the four hour labs for the design class in 20 minutes and would leave early.  No one has three-dimensional thinking skills, hand skills and dexterity right now - and this is engineering school which attracts the people who have been getting some!  As I said to my husband - if the world imploded, he would be able to get a job always and really won't have a problem at all going forward anyways as he is useful the day he walks on a job.

I was talking to my favorite electrician the other day.  He and everyone I talk to in contracting can't hire.  Not that there aren't people to hire or want the jobs, but they are so far down the hand skill learning curve that they can't afford the number of years it will take to get them to apprenticeship level.

So when we go on outreach for the robot team these days, we take basic hand skill items - screws and screwdrivers.  We don't teach robotics as the kids don't have the skills to get there yet.  We work on basics.  It is so sad to see that their minds might be ready but their hands aren't.

Time for adults to get out there and do it themselves - schools have been pressured to remove all this in favor of tests.  It takes patience to show a kid how to make something - but you are giving them real commercially viable job skills while you are doing it.  Don't take the easy way out and do it for them to get it done in your harried life.

Teach a kid how to sew - they may be your doctor someday.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Just One More Trip - But Open for Business Again

Thank you to everyone who has been extra patient waiting for orders placed since April 1st.  I am back up and running and am (almost) caught up with shipping.  I have yet to do the deep dive back through my emails to get all the rest of the custom orders ready to bill or questions answered.

I can tell the hustle and bustle have taken a toil as I just am not up to my usual 10-12 hour workdays and am petering out around 5pm.  One last trip this Friday to the MET for a meeting in the Textile Conservation Department and then I swear I am staying put for a full month!!  Just canceled a trip out to the west coast.  Just can't do it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Those who know me well know I live life on fast forward but I would have to say that even this month has taken me by surprise.  I am currently in the last two hour stretch of 'quiet time' in a hotel in Canada that I will have for the next eight days.  Savoring it as I finally had a full night of sleep on top of it.

Since April 1st the things that have happened.  Oh my.  I have been to six countries on three trips.  Finished two caskets.  Investigated embroidery in the back room of the MFA.  Kayaked through a mangrove tunnel for miles in the pitch black to see glowing bio-luminescent water.  Gazed upon dozens of amazing samplers in a small room in Amsterdam.  Saw a bodybag at Moulen Rouge.  Explored an amazing museum of technical machines looking for something for us.  Ran out of gas talking too long with a friend while she was driving cross country and I was jet lagged.  Snorkeled for hours.  Briefly got back to town and ran a robot scrimmage in front of 15,000 visitors.   Bicycled through tulip fields.  Visited Au Ver a Soie.  And got out of a car in front the moment Norte Dame caught fire and witnessed it all and wept with the French.  (Our apartment faced the South Rose Window).

Only a few in the crowd had noticed the smoke starting.  We turned and walked to a police lady and said "I think Norte Dame is on fire" as the first police car screamed up. 
Wow.  And for me the month is only half done.  I am headed to Detroit with 35,000 kids and robots for the exciting and exhausting week of the World Championship.  Then a few trips to NYC and VT for events thrown in and I can finally sit back on the couch and work.

And in those exciting things - was something privately momentous.  I finished two embroidered caskets!  For me the culmination of over 12 years of research and embroidery.  I can't tell you how thrilled I am with the results and how they look.  And with all the chaos of above, I only have one good picture at the moment and a dozen bad snapshots on my phone.  So I will share the one good picture as a tease.

My first finished Stumpwork Casket - The Harmony with Nature Casket.  An online class for this piece is coming this
fall for new people to the Thistle Threads universe.

Let's hope the next few weeks are only somewhat exciting...

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Shipping Orders

Well there is a major confluence of events that will be taking me away from my business for the month of April and a bit into May so I will be shutting down all shipping of orders between April 3rd - May 3rd as it will be virtually impossible to do so.

If you have any thread or material needs that you anticipate, especially special order threads - please get the orders in ASAP so I can order them in for you and get them shipped to you.

It's all 'good stuff' and I will be in town for some of it but not able to get to the post office as my time will be wrapped up with conferences, etc.

It wasn't going to be 'that bad' and I was going to be able to juggle things a bit because a had a good stretch between two big things but now I have to somehow squeeze a five day World Robotic Championship in between and four days of driving the robot across the country in there and that just took up all my slack!