Sunday, September 22, 2019

Why is the Answer No?

You likely got to this blog post because you clicked the link next to the 'please don't ask me to sell parts of this kit to you'.  Of course I woke up to yet another one of those emails today asking me to sell only part of the Harmony with Nature course and so I have written this blog.  If you are new to my courses, there are very well thought out reasons why the Harmony with Nature class or any other class on my website are packaged as they are and pieces/parts of the experience are not sold separately and will not be sold separately any more.  It is not a lark on my part or an interest in gouging anyone.  It is a part of the natural wrap up of a massive effort to bring embroidered cabinets back for a short time period.

If you are new to Thistle Threads, you will not have the storyline and thus not understand why things can't be broken up and may be tempted to ask.  Don't.  Please don't.  

Let me tell you the story - it is too long for a blog and even the brief outline of the story is too long...

I am a materials engineer and an embroidery historian.  Through my work in product engineering for decades I have had the opportunity to visit many production facilities and deal with getting products to market.  I know this aspect of business well.  So for me engineering of a new heated jacket and remote control in China is exactly the same as getting new threads to market.  It's all technical specs, prototyping, quality control, supply chain, packaging, etc.  So when I was working in my off time on a set of embroidery projects for teaching that required threads I couldn't find in stores and started visiting the suppliers of linens, threads, gold threads, silk, needles, etc for our embroidery hobby - I freaked out.  I could look at a business and see it through the lens of a production engineer and I knew exactly what I was seeing.

I was seeing an industry that had been contracting for 100 years.  Businesses were getting smaller and smaller every decade and less of them.  The owners would often boast of how they now had 'all the equipment', meaning that everyone else had gone out of business and they bought all the machines as they did.  So they had everything.  The world's supply of that type of machine.  Sometimes they had the archives of all the businesses for the last 200 years - the samples of everything that had been made and some notes on the making.  Where would it go if they closed???

Concerns that used to make gold threads had shrunk to the point where we were down to two experts in the world who could remember 'the old days' and how to make most of the threads from the 18th-19th century.  These were the only people on earth left would could possibly have the knowledge to figure out how to make the threads I wanted - those from the 17th century.  And they were past US retirement age already.

I saw businesses where the equipment was 18th century with a computer added to the side in a Frankenstein hacked together way.  Or old Victorian iron and had their labels on them proudly proclaiming that they were made in 1850.  There were no dials, computers or anything to tell an operator what settings it was at.  I asked many questions.  I would find out that 'Herb' was the expert at that process because he knew where to put the brick on the lever to make the rollers the perfect distance to make that thread.  He knew which of the dozens of scratches on that lever was the right one.

For many of you visiting such places, you might wax romantically about how they 'do it the old way'.  But as a production engineer - I had a complete emotional meltdown.  I mean it changed my life.  A complete meltdown.   I often cried when I left.  The list of what I 'saw' was:

- The companies were too small to weather ups and downs of production volume.  Too few orders or too many and they would be stressed to the point of breaking.
- Everyone working was over 55
- Everything was based on artisan knowledge
- No parameters for a piece of equipment were written down for a product
-The knowledge wasn't being passed down to anyone else
-The equipment had no process controls that would allow you to go back to exact conditions time after time (think your oven temperature controls)
-There were no replacement parts for production equipment
- Apprenticing would mean years of working with someone who didn't have years left

 and I could go on and on...

I was standing there in my mid-30s wanting to embroider the most difficult and interesting historic embroideries for another 45 years and I was seeing in front of me that there might be at best 10 years of most of the knowledge left before it was gone forever.  I was witnessing extinction of rare species.  I spent some time getting to know everyone and discussing this with a few others in the business who were long-term knowledgeable to see if that was the estimation they had as well.  Everyone felt the same - we were at the brink of never being able to make current things or remake things I wanted to embroider with.

The most common thing people say upon this realization is 'Someone should do something'.  I knew that there was no 'someone' out there.  If I wanted threads for myself, and to achieve my lifetime goal of making an embroidered casket, I would have to be that 'someone'.   All my life I have done a little exercise every 5 years.  I write everything I can think of that I want to do on little post its and then organize them into goals.  It makes decisions easier.  Making a casket was a big one.  I had also just recovered from an arm injury that almost took the use of my right hand away.  My stitching hand.  So unlike most people, I was acutely aware at a young age that everything I stitched could be my last and I had to get rid of 'cute projects' and do the stuff that I really cared about.  A stitching bucket list.

So I put together a huge 15 year plan.  I was already maybe 5 or more years into the research and looking for my own cabinet maker willing to make me just one cabinet.  I had been talking to many well known historic furniture makers and was compiling a list of issues I had to solve so they could even consider the project.  I had by that time realized that to get the ONE casket I wanted the way I wanted it - I would have to teach it as a project as that was the only way to get the locks.  The locks to make the boxes so they could have secret drawers required locks that don't exist today.   I had to make almost 1000 boxes to get locks made.  That was a HUGE thing.  I mean HUGE.  Now I would have to add thread making to the list as I had just found out I couldn't just 'order it'.

I should have given up at that point.  Really.  But I didn't.  That means I am crazy.  Who would do that?

I often think of one of my favorite scenes from National Treasure where they are talking about the protection of the Declaraion of Independence and how they would need to steal it to protect it:

Ben:  We don't need someone crazy.  But one step short of crazy, what do you get?
Riley:  Obsessed.
Ben:  Passionate.

Yes, so I am crazy, obsessed, passionate.  I would bite off putting together a supply chain to allow 1000 caskets to be made again with all the bells and whistles, bottles and inkwells, hundreds of amazing threads that didn't exist on the market.  I would put all the profits for 10 years into it to make it happen.  I would document the thread companies, the processes, reinvent the supply chain, and it goes on and on.

All so I could have one myself.

I could list out the 15 year plan but it took me about 900 pages of pictures and text in the course Cabinet of Curiosities to explain the process to figure out how the cabinets were made, figure out the hardware and locks, redesign them, remake them, how were the embroideries applied, make the papers again, design the glue...

And test.  That means prototype so you can have a successful project.  What happens when the complicated expensive box gets thrown around the FedEx facility?  Design packaging boxes with a packaging company and ship several test $3000 boxes around the country and back.  What happens to the box when a student lives in Florida in super high humidity or the New Mexico desert?  Yes, we made caskets take a bath and take an oven bake.  Extreme testing resulted in changes.

The glue, the locks, the tapes, the papers... Now start on the threads.  Video the makers making the threads to preserve the process as best as I can.  Make small machines based on their machines in my home and prototype threads so I can explain what I want - the companies are too small to take time to research themselves.  They can't be making threads to make money for their salary that way.  Fly to Europe over and over.  Solve supply chain issues for the companies - find them the supply of colored silks they need - smooth over business relationships.

Find the experts and convince them to join my journey of madness into the rabbit hole.  When working as an engineer I got a backhanded compliment once from a vice-president of the company.  He was shaking his head and said that I could sweet talk anyone to jump off a cliff with me.  Well, if the gain was enough and the vision is big enough... yes, someone will want to come along for the adventure.

Experts aren't usually 20 years old.  They are usually 50+ years old.  They have a lifetime of learning and experience and study to give you.  And unfortunately today, the market for many of the things I need have gotten smaller and smaller so there aren't budding experts behind them.  When you add to that how the hand skills of the younger generations haven't developed - there really isn't anybody to fill in once the expert retires.

So I went and found my experts and they were in the last phase of their careers by definition.  That is of course why they were interested in my adventure.  It interested them and they wanted to be part of something else.  They believed in it - so they agreed to put a significant amount of their time and expertise to support the project.  We gave it a time frame that coincided with their needs to retire or go on to some last opus project of their own before they retired.  And what I was asking was a really, really big ask.  Imagine someone who only makes individual custom art furniture agreeing to make 900 boxes over 10 years that are exactly the same and don't even have beautify grain of wood on them.  That is like telling you that you can't embroider with thread and yet you have to make 1000 of the same sampler.  But they all believed in the project.

So we are at the end of that time.  The end of the Cabinet of Curiosities.  I can't guarantee that the materials, threads, finishing materials, etc will be there in a few years or even next year so I can't any longer sell patterns, boxes or materials separately.  I know that the boxes have to have their finishing materials to work properly.  I have gone out on risk and had over a half a million dollars of stuff made so the last of the boxes can be done as projects.  Why would I take out a part?   I can't replace it.

So please don't ask me to take a piece out of the kit.  It actually hurts me to get those emails, they are painful.  I am sorry that you didn't hear about the project when I started it and you could have gotten in on the easy ground floor.  I am sorry that it wasn't the right time in your life.  I am sorry that you didn't believe me when I said that this was for a limited time every time I gave an interview, wrote an article, gave a lecture, made a mailing, or placed an advertisement.  I said over and over that it was a 10-year ride at best before everything started to collapse.

And that goes for threads too.  Yes, there are threads that you have seen someone have and no, they aren't available in that color anymore.  I get questions of 'when will you be getting that back in stock?'.   I don't know and I am starting to put up on my site if things are now permanently gone.  It isn't because I don't want them - it is because for some manufacturers we are actually working on a priorietized last list of what they make before they disappear - and they are already retired.  Some we ask what they want to make and they tell us what they don't want to make anymore - it is no longer the situation where everyone gets a purchase order and makes that.  If you are 75, you come home from a vacation with your wife and you call us and say that you have a few days to make threads - how about X in Y color.  And we say YES!!  We will take whatever you are willing to still make.  Someone will want it.  This summer I had one of my summer interns inventory vast amounts of my stash and remove threads from inventory - making me a list of the things I need to take off the market for my own use for the next 30 years.  I haven't taken enough I know, and I will be sorry too.

And since I did all this work to develop them, yes, I have first rights to sell them when they are made.  So you can decide I must be bluffing and go off and call a dozen shops... good luck.  I am sorry that the casket costs more than you want it to cost.  That is how much it costs.

So the invitation is to join the adventure and get on the rocket ship with the rest of us - the ride has been so amazing and it is hard to put it all in words.  It is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity.  But please don't email me and ask me for just part of the adventure.  I will have to wait for the next astronaut willing to go all the way to the moon.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Harmony with Nature Casket Course - Open for Registration

I have mentioned before that my cabinet maker is retiring from this project in a year.  During that time, we will have finished 250 short flat caskets and 65 double caskets that have not been purchased previously by the Cabinet of Curiosities students.  In addition, the entire 'infrastructure' for Cabinet of Curiosities - the caskets - is coming to an end.  Everyone was around 55-65 when I started this originally about 12 years ago.  And guess what - they have gotten older.  There are many things that have already been discontinued or the last runs have been made or planned.

Therefore I decided to use these last two sets of caskets to run two project courses which would come with everything in the project class so I would be ensured that everyone would have what they needed to make the casket successfully.  This also allows me to open it back up and allow people who have been watching on the sidelines into the fun and to make a casket.  I really hope as many as possible take me up on it as these will be the 'last chances'.

I opened the registration this week and already 25 students have signed up in 24 hours.  But I have also gotten the many predictable questions from stitchers who are new to the Thistle Threads universe  - they usually center around costs, shipping questions, fears about 'keeping up' or skills that might be needed.  I thought it would be helpful for those thinking about the course to hear from stitchers who have taken a casket course - to hear from their perspective on what it has meant to them as it is hard for me to express all the facets.  As one student told me - it's not just a project, its everything in my stitching life... as you read below - I couldn't have said it better.

If you love the look of 17th century embroidery and have the opportunity to create and own a replica, it's a no brainer. Why wouldn't you do it? I don't think it matters what your skill set is. No one who started out on these courses could possibly have had all the skills needed. Besides, some of them are quite surprising and in any case learning new skills and working things out for yourself adds more layers of understanding, appreciation and obsession. I was expecting the cost to be hideous, but when you consider the research that has gone into every element - the high quality, artisan-made materials, the distances they've travelled and the fact that you can name the person who made them, not to mention the skills of each person involved in the myriad processes - it represents realistic value for money. As for the time involved - I'd say just start, join in.  - Simona

 I had this conversation with a few people while my casket was on display.  It's amazing but cost, or but not confident in my skills or but can it really be worth the money.  I mentioned all the work that went into the caskets themselves but mostly I talked about the class experience and how much I learned from it.  What it really boils down to is that CoC is something entirely unique - a deep dive into this particular kind of object and the embroidery that went with it - and it is an opportunity that will not come again once it's done.  Too much went into this class, all the research, producing locks and hardware for the casket, the specially woven tape for the exterior, the specialty threads, etc etc.  The combination of knowledge, research, and production necessary to produce this was really a one time thing.  The stars aligned for us to have this great opportunity to learn and to make, and when it's gone, it's gone.  As for skills, when I started this class I hadn't done any needlelace, or goldwork, or really much of anything besides pottering around with some floss and a hoop and I am now coming up on a finished casket.  The class teaches you everything you need to know, and it's not like the originals were made by experts.  They were made by girls who were learning themselves.  - Katie

I would especially recommend this course to people who live in far flung areas around the world. It is a simply wonderful way not only to improve your skills, but to feel part of a community without any borders! The Ning site gives you the opportunity to communicate with people who all share a common interest. Sharing your successes and your questions with like minded people really gives you a sense of community. Even if you live in a large center, how often do you see people's eyes "glaze over" when you mention that you are passionate about embroidery, just prior to them asking you what are you "knitting" now
The lessons are a wonderful way to learn new skills, and to increase your own creativity. There is no pressure to produce an item in a specified time. Being able to work at your own pace takes away all the stress that can come from more formal tuition. And what can I say about the actual content of the courses except that everything has been so well researched. The instructions for all parts of embroidery, from framing up to new stitches are so clear that whatever your skill level is, you will just grow in confidence as you progress. And the kits themselves are superb. You will not find better quality and attention to detail anywhere else. - Leslie-Ann

If you’ve always admired historical caskets in museums and wanted to have one, this is your opportunity. The techniques and reproduction materials are as close to authentic as we’re going to get in modern times. This course is accessible to both novice and expert, whether you want to stitch it as designed or tweak it to make your own (I love the unicorn and would have to move him to the front). There are no deadlines or evaluations, you can work at your own pace and dive as deeply as you like into the historical research provided. Prior to taking this course, my only needlework experience was many years of cross stitch and a single gold work project. Now I’m closely examining 17th century works online and in museums, able to identify threads and stitch techniques and enjoying every moment of creating my own museum quality casket.  - Sheetal

Well - - - firstly, to deal with the cost.  Yes the classes are costly -  but the thoughtful way that this has been managed is to use the payment plans - which I've now been doing for years and I LOVE the idea!  It allows me to plan - and to see the progress of the payments in my monthly Paypal statements.  Payment plans for classes have allowed me to be a CoC member - and I think that this is the same for many of the community.
Also - when this CoC eras is done, it's over and it's not going to come back!  If anyone is thinking that they can wait for a couple of years until they retire and "have more time" - then frankly they will miss out.  Back once again to the lovely payment plans - - use the payment plan now - joing Ning for the community - and have Harmony sitting on your own kitchen table ready to go when the time becomes available!  - Wendy
I've admired the caskets in British museums for years.  So when I heard about the course, I immediately went on the website.  I nearly had a heart attack when I converted the cost the course and a double casket from US$ to Canadian $.  Then I took a break and thought about the annual embroidery or bobbin lace convention that I went to every year and calculated what I was paying for air fare, hotels, meals, registration and kits. After dividing that into the cost of the course, I knew how many years I'd have to skip the conventions and signed up. I'm now about 6 months away from completing my casket and I haven't regretted that decision for 1 minute.  - Margot
For me, the most amazing thing has been the sense of community, when I first joined COC 1 way back in the beginning, I thought why not, it may be interesting, but then I realized I was not alone.  In my local group of stitching friends we have 3 casketeers, 2 of whom are way more advanced on their projects than I; then the circle widened to people I met at Koala Conventions, with conversations along the lines “I know your are in COC, lovely to put a face to a name”; and finally out into the worldwide stitching community where I realized I knew far more about things than I had thought. It has all been so much FUN Tricia, thank you so much.  As to the cost.....I’m not adding it up, when I could afford I did, when I could not it waited.  But now I grab everything as I don’t want to miss out for 1 minute. – Mary-Anne 
In looking at this class, the cost needs to be broken down into comparisons to daily activities: 1) The full cost is less than in-state tuition for 6 credits at a state university. Six credits would be one or two classes for 3 months. This class is done over 2 years rather than just 3 months and the learning opportunity is far greater than one or two college classes. 2) The cost per month is less than $5 per day. An average beverage at most coffee shops is about that much. Could one give up a fancy cup of coffee daily for 2 years in exchange for a beautiful treasure and all the knowledge that is needed to produce it?  3) All of this class is done at home. Consider the costs of going to a class out of town - travel expenses, hotel costs, eating out at restaurants, as well as the cost of 12-15 hours of instruction from a very qualified teacher. The costs for that and this are quite similar but that project is much smaller, less intense, and the teacher is no longer available after you go home again. With this course, the instructor is available for two years, (occasionally with a small delay if she is traveling out of town, but even those delays are never that long :)).  In regards to skill level, caskets were stitched by young girls without the benefit of good lighting or quality tools, and to demonstrate what they learned when taught how to stitch. They were beginners. That should mean that anyone with the ability to thread a needle and follow instructions will be able to complete this project if they want to. It will take time and hours of study and stitching, but it can be accomplished. It is not an ornament that takes a few hours but instead 5 or more stitched pictures that are then mounted on a quality wooden product.  I was in the first CofC class. I didn't keep up due to a very busy work schedule. In retirement, I am going about it at a very slow rate, stitching other items as well and enjoying the time I now have to work on it. While I didn't have the experience of sharing with others while everyone was learning the same thing, I have enjoyed going through the materials now that I have time to concentrate on them. I never received a scolding about not keeping up, was never kicked out of class due to not having examples to share, and believe that the same would be true if someone were to take the class and not succeed in keeping up to a monthly schedule.  - Karen

I was also hesitant to take the original casket class because of the cost...until I changed my mindset about the nature of the class. This wasn't a "one-time" deal. It was the time equivalent of getting a Master's degree in 17th century needlework, at a fraction of the cost of a Master's degree. All the wonderful stitching materials, instructions and historical information were included in that cost. Unlike a true Master's degree, I could do the work at my own pace, with no tests, papers or other assignments. Plus, the "homework" was stitching! -Carol

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Handles for the Caskets

When I started this quest, we had a full hardware set at my disposal to make molds from.  That included a set of handles for a double casket.  Some caskets had side handles and/or a top handle to use to carry the piece.

This was a big debate for me and Richard as handles are very difficult to install, especially on the double casket or the flat casket with doors.  The small compartments that fill all the space make it hard to access the inner side of the left and right side where the hardware cotter pin would need to insert and fold over.  And the situation would make it impossible for the cotter pins to fold over a second time and be hammered into the wood to really secure the handle to hold the weight of the casket.  So in the end, we decided not to include the handles in the hardware that comes with the caskets because they increased the cost and could in certain situations cause danger to the finished piece from unknowing people.

Of course, people have been asking for handles.  I have delayed offering them until there was a compelling reason to do it.  The short flat casket (used for the Harmony project) and the trinket box are the most compelling reasons and so I have decided to do one casting of the handles for those who want to add them as 'jewelry' to their casket.  The HUGE caveat is that other than the trinket box lid, there is no situation where I would recommend them to be used to actually lift or carry the boxes.  But they do look good, I have to admit.  

There are two handle sizes - small and large.  The small one is 2 3/8" long and the large is 3" long.  They come with the two escutcheons and the cotter pins to install as well as the four nails per escutcheons to nail them onto the box.  I will be offering sets of them on installment payments as they will be a pre-buy.  I want to do only one casting of these and so on November 1st, 2019 I will put in the casting order and then will fulfill any paid in full or installment orders once they arrive.  Tin and Brass will be offered.  

Small handle on top with its escutcheons and cotter pin (not shown are nails) and large handle on bottom with its escutcheons and cotter pins (not show are nails)

I have taken quite a few pictures of the handles laying against different caskets and situations so stitchers can decide on sizes and if a handle makes sense for the designs they are working.  They work less well for stumpwork unless well planned in.  They look beautiful on caskets that are done in low relief.  And caskets could have a top handle with no side handles or vice versa.

From an installation point of view,  putting the handle on the top of any casket or trinket box is easy.  They can also be put on the sides of the trinket box, short flat casket and flat casket without difficulty.  But putting the side handles on a double casket or flat casket with doors will be a huge challenge.  To do this, you will need to have a very long set of needle nose pliers to reach the cotter pins to expand them in the hole so the secret drawers can be reinserted.

In all situations, the holes for the handles will need to be drilled by you before the casket is covered.  In extraordinary circumstances you could drill the hole after using a large awl to make a pre-drill hole if the box has already been covered with embroidery.  I would use a hand drill and not an electric drill so you could go slow and not shred your embroidery.

Small handle shown on top of double casket lid
Small handle shown lifted on the lid of a double casket.  The cotter pins will be tight and will allow the handle to be placed in a up position for decoration and to limit the blocking of the embroidery
Large handle shown on the side of a double casket.  This is the lowest position that the handle can be placed because of the next layer of drawers.  Again, never lift a heavy casket by the handles as they can't be installed properly for lifting.  They are decorative.
Close view of large casket handle on side of a double casket.  The cotter pins and nails are not installed in this picture.
Example of the positioning of the large handle on the side of a short flat casket.  The casket size is a great for a handle on the sides, but it interferes with the high relief stumpwork of this particular design.  
Small handle shown on the lid of a flat casket (this would be the same look on a flat casket with doors and short flat casket, they all have the same lid size).  
Large handle shown on the lid of a flat casket (this would be the same look on a flat casket with doors and short flat casket, they all have the same lid size).  
Size comparison of the small and large handles on the top lid of a flat casket
Small handle on the top lid of a trinket box

Small handle on the top lid of a trinket box 
Small handle on the top of a trinket box, held up to show how it can be left in the lifted position to add to the decorative effect.  In this case, the handle can be used to lift the lid off the box without a problem.

Small handle on the side of a trinket box.

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.