Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Where are the 12-Days of Christmas?

For several years I have had a 12-Days of Christmas giveaway and that was again the intent this year with a bunch of giveaway stuff ready in a pile.  As Christmas came and went without it up I almost gave into the stress of not having it up on the 26th but drew a deep breath and decided to go with not posting at all.  Sorry to disappoint and perhaps things will get to the point where it is in the cards.  I hope so as that means that I have excess time to spend!!  I have read that all super-successful women with children really got going after 50.  I believe it!  Think about the extra effort in being a mom and when that weight is lifted after they launch, that energy gets poured into career/job.  Watch out - my empty nest is coming up.  But life is certainly throwing in quite a few curveballs trying to get there.

As I breezed through the news yesterday, I came upon another article on the theme of 'women doing too much' on CNN.  There have been quite a few in the last two years brought on by the shear exhaustion borne by women during these pandemic years.  They concern the new understanding (now didn't all us women know!?) that there is significant energy and work in the process of thinking about everything that needs to be done and it isn't shared equally at home.  In the past we called it 'wearing too many hats'.  In this particular article it pointed out that it is usually the woman of the family who is keeping track of all the to-do items regarding the holidays.  The mental lists of who you need to get a gift for, what to get, shipping schedules, etc.  That takes energy to make sure things don't slip through the cracks.  And often because we are all socialized for this, we end up holding in our heads the tasks that our spouse said they would take on to 'help us' and hasn't gotten done yet (i.e. forgot about).  Yes that one hit hard as on the 23rd, hours before my extended family was to show up I asked my husband as he was cooking (yes, he does do a great job with that - as long as I plan it) - did you get that gift for your mom?  Uhhhhh...I grabbed the keys and back out again I went to save the day.  Exhausting.

I had a business trip to work at the MET mid-Dec on some amazing embroidery research for several days and that added to the balancing act and likely was the time that would have ended up being the 12-Days giveaway.  But at the same time, I needed out of dodge badly and I didn't realize it until I had been on the train a few hours.  The experience of the last few months melted away as 'it wasn't my job' at that moment to be Dr. Mom (ok, so the Dr. Dad texts were coming in for me to dispense advice on what to do).  As I was able to focus for a few hours on my work, I realized how much I haven't been able to do that for months.  My son at home had three concussions since late Sept and the dizzying set of symptoms have kept me on a knifes edge constantly.  I swear that even when I get him to school, he shows up a few hours later back with a migraine and I go into high gear again figuring out the triggers, calling the school, etc.  While the doctors are caring, they don't have answers.  My friend who is at Children's Hospital admitted to me that the research on recovery and thus their recommendations are changing every six months (yes, I agree!).  And on top of it, people who have learning differences are removed from all studies as they 'mess up the data' and doctors don't know what to do about their different symptoms.   

So I have had to dig into current research myself and figure out what is going on in my son's head and search out the right people to help him.  I play 20-questions with him constantly to tease out all the cause and effects daily in an effort to deduce what is going on.  We play small games to figure out capabilities as his abilities/deficits are confusing.  He can 'robot' like normal now but will often throw up after taking a math test.  I kept track of all the complaining and realized that he was right - he wasn't forming proper memories of new material.  All the while, holding him up emotionally, dealing with his teachers and the school about the big picture, and listening to my husband (who feels powerless) endlessly worry while keeping my worries to myself.   It got really dark for about a week and I stopped doing anything but making things move forward so my son had hope.  Since our other son was in the middle of his own exhausting competition and needed support as well - oh my gosh I felt like a ping-pong ball.  He tried to collapse here for Thanksgiving but couldn't as he had to do grad school applications, due days after his robotic competiton - so I spent that weekend being his muse and editor for the dozens of essays and videos he had to pop off so quickly.

Things are looking up, we have found the right specialist.  The therapies are slowly working - I am doing them with the kid daily to get them done and extend his brain time with them (they work at minimizing headaches in dyslexics so good for me too).  He and I stayed back from the family Christmas vacation because he isn't allowed to fly.  So we are alone here since Christmas in 'brain bootcamp' as he calls it.  He isn't liking the low-inflammation diet.  His brother has been a saint - offering immediately after his apps were done to tutor his brother in all his AP courses to catch him up on 12 weeks of high school.  Since they both get up insanely early this time of year, they work on it between 5-7 am.  That was one of the huge issues, the kid can't really read well at the moment and is toast at the end of school day - so we couldn't hire anyone to catch him up during normal hours leading him to be despondent.  His brother has been fabulous at getting a moody 18-yr old to do everything he doesn't want to do.  It's a whole family affair, I would have to say.  We have about three weeks in the new year to catch up the entire semester so his college apps are valid and move forward.  It is so much pressure - the Canadian colleges who would have already made a decision have put his apps on hold and he is starting to get deferrals from his early admissions applications.  The elephant in the closet is that with the high stakes college environment where the slots are going early, this short term injury may change his result and that is so hard for him to swallow after four years of just doing everything right.  

Once the new year gets going, I have to manage the school.  He has taken all the tests for Q1 but they still aren't graded as the teachers are in a slow-down, impending strike action.  God, I hope they don't strike that week or I will go nutcase.  Some colleges are waiting for the results of the incomplete transcript to put his application on the evaluation track again.

So I have had to take my 'Thistle Threads' hat off daily to put on my 'Dr. Mom' and 'Dyslexic Concussion Expert' hat on instead.  I was going to launch the Stumpwork Course again next week.  I was going to do a ton of new things - lectures up - papers written - new projects up.  Even those things that are pretty much ready to go - I have put aside as I just can't add to my mental load until late January.  Sometimes your injured family needs you to help carry them across the finish line.  I hope then I can celebrate with a 12-Days of Valentines Day or something like that!

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Katie Strachan - "Queen of Color"

Maybe many of you know that during Covid I ambushed Katie after seeing so many of her class projects and original designs on NING (and winning in some of my contests) and begged her to become a needlework teacher.  I called her "the Queen of Pale" and called Lamora Haidar of Access Commodities and told her that Katie would be one of the stars of the next generation of teachers/designers.  It has thrilled me to help answer questions about the needlework industry and give encouragement and advice to get her going so she can bring her own unique vision and color sense (absolutely outstanding color sense!!) to the field.  

You might know that Katie is doing Flosstubes on YouTube to grow an audience that crosses over from the cross-stitch field up to the COC experts.  She has been gaining quite a following with her videos that sneak in quite a bit of special knowledge and tries to stretch people in their stitching skills. One of her recent videos is just such an example with her new Christmas ornament, Theodora, using sequins from the couture industry and historical colors that are explained in detail.  Even the name has references in history.  Take a watch!  

Theodora:  2022 Holiday Ornament by Katie Strachan

She is introducing her first online class, The Elzabethan Valentine in January - but it is already sold out!!  It is a really lovely piece!!  I have been supplying lacet and the fun scallop thread for it and need to get my own butt in gear to make her more so she can run another version for her waiting list.  Sooooo exciting to see Katie be successful!

The Elizabethan Valentine by Katie Strachan


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

New Witney Catalog for Preorder!

There haven't been many new publications in the last few years of significant embroidery from the 17th century.  That drought has been broken with the Nov 2022 publication of Witney Antiques annual exhibition catalog.  Witney Antiques is a fine purveyor of 17th century embroidery and 17th-19th century samplers in the UK.  Their fall exhibition is always a mix of stunning pieces for sale and a selection of embroideries from private collections loaned.  It is a wonderful way to see things that you would not normally see.  And for those who aren't lucky enough to make it to England for the month it is up, the catalog is the next best thing.  

This year's catalog is special enough to be something you need to have on your shelf.  A stunning 70 band samplers from 1630-1730 (with most being 17th century) are portrayed over 140+ pages with new research done by owner Rebecca Scott and Isabella Rosner.  The genealogy and sometimes school information is discussed.  The catalog is soft cover but glossy and well photographed.  The style of the book is in the tradition established by The Goodhart Samplers and The Feller Collection books that are almost impossible to find now.  

Access Commodities made a special appeal to get a pallet of them here to the USA to make it easier to get a copy, as they knew it would become an instant classic.  Witney Antiques does not do online ordering, so this is an opportunity to get the book that way.  The shipment is already on its way and I am making the book available for pre-orders now.  I hope to be shipping them to you before Christmas.  

Rebecca confirmed for me (I have my copy already!) that the samplers are marked "Private Collection" if they are not for sale, and that several have sold already, but if you are interested in something you see - you just might have an opportunity to purchase the piece.  

If you love English band samplers, spot samplers, or whitework samplers - this is a must for your bookshelf and a treat for the holiday season!

Friday, November 18, 2022

Store Opening Again - Amazing Embroidery and Robots too

I will be opening the store again Tuesday, Nov 22nd - Friday, Dec 9th.  

As always, you can order in between when the store is 'closed' but I might not be here to ship immediately or I may know that I have a deadline or family events that keep me from being attentive.  Unlike many stores, I am only one person and I am also handling all the stitching for class models, instruction writing, thread packaging, kit packing, and the R&D and production of new materials.  Put on top of it working with museums on various historical research and you have a perfect storm of being pulled in many directions.  So putting the store on an Open/Close situation was a way to better control the expectations.  

When the store is open I am around and shipping is fast.  

Now what has been up?   This fall has been consumed by several research projects and trips to take the knowledge that has built up from thread manufacture, stitch identification and working on these big reproduction projects and apply it to some big questions in the field of historic embroidery.  An intermediate goal was to present my findings on Martha Edlin at Winterthur in October.  I am currently working on multiple research papers with colleagues with an end of year due date.  I am very excited about the future publications and will let everyone know when they are available.

One set regards an amazing piece of gold and silver embroidery using the needlelace, interlacing and braid stitches that I figured out and taught in courses online.  The piece is currently on display at the MET in the huge (and amazing) Tudors Exhibition.  If you are anywhere near NYC before the exhibition goes off display - PLEASE go see this piece of embroidery.  It is next to many fabulous portraits of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.  It will take almost a book to explain what has been learned from this piece.  During the research, the object went from an unknown to a bearing cloth for christening. 

MET 2016.526 Bearing Cloth

When I am not consumed with the research and embroidering on the Four Seasons Double Casket, family has to be first.  This fall has been consumed with three main things - both boys are applying to college or grad school, the younger has had three concussions which have just made me drop things at a moments notice constantly to deal with the ramifications that haven yet ended since mid Sept, and then the older kid was in a worldwide robotics competition.

I know you will say - hey, but I thought he graduated!?  Yes, but there are a few technology foundations or  government agencies which try to jump start major technology leaps with these high prize money competitions.  These are the type of things that are constantly talked about in tech circles and end up becoming NOVA episodes.  Commercial spaceflight was the result of a massive contest by a foundation called XPrize put up about 20 years ago.  That's right - the first university or corporate collaboration which could make sub-orbital flight got big money.  Now we have Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX.  Ever seen those creepy robot dogs or backflipping humanoid robots?  Another result of XPrize and DARPA.  Carbon capture (XPrize), autonomous cars (DARPA), and many others have kick started new technology industries.  

Well the research that my son started freshman year ended up being entered into the Avatar XPrize competition in 2021 and became the 3rd place semi-finalist.  That won them a spot in the finals and money to go whole hog trying to develop a full system.  He was on co-op when the grad students and profs called him and told him and begged him to find as much time in 2022 to work on it.  So other than a few classes, he has spent the last year on this project.  What is it?  

The concept is a robot that is multifunctional that can go into a situation, driven by an operator that is as far away as possible (in this case in a room far from an arena), like around the world.  The operator can use the video from the robot (up to each team how to implement) to see and use some sort of control that gives them feedback (called haptics) to feel what the robot is doing.  So if the robot reaches out to grab something, you feel what it picks up.  Some teams, including my son's team, had a hand/arm system that the operator put their arms in and everything their hands did was translated one-to-one to the robot arms.  This is why it is called Avatar XPrize.  The use cases are enormous, but the easy to understand one is a disaster at a nuclear power plant where the robot goes in and the operator can actually act if there to mitigate the situation but not die instantly of radiation poisoning.  

It was a tremendous amount of work.  The results were stunning.  He ended up leading the mechanical side of the team and we all flew to LA to watch the finals live with the teams from around the world competing.  Only four teams successfully finished all the robotic tasks in the time limit and their speed and user interface were judged.  His team won the $1 Million 3rd place prize and was the highest placed US team between companies and universities!  

What was so funny was he also trained the judge/operators.  Part of the competiton was to evaluate the user interface and how good the haptics were; so the team only had 45 min to train someone given to them as the operator (a person versed in the field of robotics but completely unfamiliar with the system) and couldn't direct them but sat behind to answer a direct question if required.  Most of these trainers were stoic, but David just isn't.  His facial expressions were noted by the profession announcers and were tweeted around the world by viewers.  He said in one interview - 'if anyone thought I didn't care....'

Each round was 25 minutes but this video cuts it down to the most exciting moments - When you see the robot work with the drill - the audience went nuts.  Most operators would forget that they had two robot arms on most systems.  Of course my family was quite excited with how it all turned out - and I didn't get any embroidery done that week (but did squeeze a visit to the storage at LACMA!).

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Winterthur Conference - Virtual Talks

For those who couldn't make it to the Winterthur conference in person, there is a virtual option and that is still open for registration until Oct 14th.  The talks in the main sessions were recorded and will be available to watch for a month for those who register for the virtual version of the conference.  At $200, it is a nice way to support the museum and see talks from your own home.

My talk on the life of Martha Edlin is one of the lectures.  Afterwards I got quite a few comments that no one expected the level of information or detail that I had uncovered.   Lynne Anderson did an amazing talk about Mexican samplers - bringing them to life with both primary sources, descriptions of the stitches in Spanish, and even books describing how to teach them!  The images were quite yummy.  Kelli Barnes gave a talk about her work on samplers worked by black girls/women in the European tradition either in Africa, the colonies, or the USA and drew upon embroidery tradition in Africa to give context.  

Kate Sekules talk about mending knocked it out of the park.  She was so engaging - starting out with the earlier than understood prehistoric use of needles to modern day co-opting of mending as an environmental movement among the younger generation by fashion houses.  It was extremely illuminating to everyone in the audience, not only about the technology of mending during war years but how we are manipulated today by mass marketing.  Everyone loved it.  We asked for her to come back and do a take on darning samplers someday.

Other traditional embroidery topics were to be had - from 17th century Boston Coats of Arms and a wonderful, wonderful talk from historian and author Marla Miller about a turn of the century embroiderer who worked a reproduction design on cloth that was spun and woven by ancestors in the 1700s.  I don't want to spill the story.  

A unique aspect of the talks this year were the inclusion of newly graduated students from the Winterthur program giving short talks about either investigation or conservation of a piece.  The conservations were fascinating - seeing how tattered pieces could be stabilized and brought back to life so they could be displayed.  Each required very cutting edge technology.  Then there was one Massachusetts embroidery which was being scientifically examined to try to understand the slips attached to it.   Laura included this one as it had a twist that had the entire audience sit up and say "hello!!" in great surprise in the middle at the conclusion of some of the analytical data.  Previously it was 'yeah yeah... silk, metal... and then - WHAT??"  There was a real story in there and not at all what we all sitting there expected which made it fun.  

Register here

Friday, August 19, 2022

Winterthur Needlework Conference

The Winterthur needlework conference is going to be held this year in person, but with a virtual component where virtual attendees can watch the talks that will be released a few weeks later. The subject of the conference is "The Needle's I: Stitching Identity" 

Needleworkers have always used needle and thread to tell stories of family, memory, and tradition as they stitched samplers or clothing. Join Winterthur staff, visiting scholars, designers, and artists for a series of talks, workshops, and discussions that will explore the ways stitchers past and present have employed their craft to express a sense of self.

The in-person conference will be held October 6-7 in Delaware.  If you are interested in finding out more about the conference and the talks as well as the virtual option - visit the site for details and registration

I am excited to be speaking there with a subject that was totally unexpected and exciting to me.  While looking to understand the socio-economic background of the girls who worked embroidered caskets, I stumbled on a clue that unlocked a treasure trove of documents that weren't previously known about Martha Edlin.  Martha's series of 17th century schoolgirl embroideries and casket are written about in numerous publications, but with a bare bones number of facts about her.  This discovery has allowed me to document her life to a degree I would never had thought possible.  That made a talk about her perfect for this conference - a formerly famous needleworker whose 'identity' was known but not understood. 


Thursday, May 26, 2022

Amazing Casket Finishes!

It's time to celebrate two casket finishes by the same person!  Sandy Gaponow from Canada has been working on the cabinets for more years than she would like to admit (Sandy is an original casketeer and was lucky enough to travel with me on some tours looking at them).  It has been a journey of studying originals and working hers.  She said she had the panels done for one for awhile but finished the two together to get the gluing done at once.

She has now turned her attention to a third large casket and a few original design trinket boxes as well.  I have to say that once you have done a cabinet - you are kinda hooked on them!  And the excitement that people have when they see them finished!  Congratulations Sandy - you are part of the exclusive 'two-box' club!  Seems like there should be a secret handshake.  :-)

I sometimes forget that those who aren't in the classes wonder 'does anyone finish that?'.  When you are in my courses, you get an invitation to a group sharing site called NING that allows for discussions and sharing of pictures.  So we are constantly delighted with pictures of panels in process, finished works and the finished cabinet.  I forget that no one else gets to see these delights.  Of course, it is sometimes slow progress as a double casket has 18 panels, so we drool especially over the original design ones as they are slowly leaked out to the gang - excitedly wondering what the entire thing will look like together!  

I have recently seen some tops for the Harmony with different treatments in the center and I will have to ask permission to share with the outside world.


Sandy's Harmony with Nature Casket

The inside and front of her lovely version!

The Five Senses Tent Stitch Casket by Sandy

The back of the casket

The inside - so well done with the finishing on both pieces!

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Whitework Lecture for SNAD

I am giving a lecture on Whitework Samplers of the 17th Century for SNAD online as a webinar.  Tickets are $10 and the lecture is about an hour with questions after.  You can register on Eventbrite through the San Fransisco School of Needlework and Design.  It is June 1st at 1pm EST/10 am PST.  

If you have been thinking of taking the 17th Century English Whitework Samplers Course I offer, this is a great overview of what is taught in the course.  

Monday, May 23, 2022

More Panels for the Four Seasons Casket Finished

I have been so incredibly busy that I haven't been posting here my finishes for the Four Seasons Double Casket!  This project is an over-the-top stumpwork piece that is in many ways for me fun to design and execute ahead of the rest of the people in the course.  

Finally got the two doors done and am working like made on the top of the casket.  That leaves the back and a surprise to go before this one is finished!  The left door is the allegory Spring and the right door is the allegory Summer.  The tree sits in the middle and shows is both flowering and holding fruit depending on the side of the tree.  I will be putting it on the casket as soon as the top is done and it will really start to look great.

The basket of fruit is quite three-dimensional and I had to work a strawberry dotted petticoat for Summer, of course!

This course aims to do something different and stretch skills on each panel as well as use fun threads so it is a delightful set of surprises for each lesson vs same old/same old.  And it will be the opus of every student who does it.  I certainly hope that those who are (and will) work on it will also tweak the design by changing threads, colors, stitches, and some design elements along the way too to put it either into a comfort zone or personalize it more to their liking.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Thistle Threads Store Opening May 24th-June 3rd

So the store will be opening for some amount of restocked inventory and new kit bundles for the Four Seasons Stitch Along. I have a little over two weeks between my last trip (arrived home last night) and my next event (Gold Thread workshop taught for AIC - American Institute for Conservation).


To answer a few questions about the last blog - no my graduates have been pretty focused on their college experience and moving into industry or graduate school and aren't doing things like Battlebots.   There was something about the way we talked to them and what they observed that pushed them in that direction.  We saw plenty of kids who wanted to hang on to the 'glory days' like old football players and the kids generally felt weird about that and talked about taking what they learned and moving on.  So no one has gotten involved in the adult or college versions of these project teams so far.  I think we stressed that this 'is now' and move on and do great things with your lives - solve problems.

Talking about great things, one of them had their undergraduate research part of a Google XPrize entry into the Avatar competition.  They placed 3rd against other companies and research universities and became one of the 15 finalists.  The university won money and now he is working hard until the end of this year when the 15 finalists go up for the final prize.  It is all about telepresence robotics to do things like enable remote surgery.  He has two parts he is working on - making the robot manipulator as agile as a hand and on the other side, the device the person wears to control the manipulator give feedback that feels real.  I had a chance to try it out before it was entered the first time and was amazed.  And now they are 6-months on with it.  Many different problems can be solved with this type of technology push.  

So you won't see them on TV in those types of competitions.  I would prefer it that way.  I have told them over and over to solve climate change, cure cancer, etc.  Go solve some unsexy but super important problem. 

And yes - the grit and problem solving is awesome.  And you don't have to win the top award to have experiences that are so forming and important.  

Friday, May 6, 2022

Where has my Robotics Team been?

I wish that a quiet blog meant that I have been somewhere sipping a froo-froo drink but of course that is far from the truth.  I think in year three of this pandemic all of us have been taking one step forward and two steps back in everything we do - with anxiety as well.  Nothing that used to be typical and easy and normal to do goes without a hitch.  Especially business at the moment.  One reason I have been quiet was to not attract attention or business when it has been nearly impossible to fulfill orders either from my own travel (two steps back) or materials not being available (three steps back).  

I have used the blog in the past to talk about the other aspects of my existence to alert those that while I am loving embroidery and working hard in that sphere, I am also a mother and doing all of those things that can not be set aside.  It has been lovely that many of you have enjoyed those excursions into the tech part of my life and I appreciate the grace everyone gives me when that is consuming my time.  It is incredibly hard to be both a good mom and a good single businessperson at the same time. The tech part had to go kinda quiet as well because what I often talk about, their robot teams, got really public and I could inadvertently leak out info or pictures that could be used by others.  But it has consumed much of my time for the last five months when combined with a shortened college visit season.

But a three-year run is now complete and the robot field has been put away for the first time since fall before Covid hit and I can speak about what has been going on more freely.  My robot team, this is the younger of the two teams, hasn't had a normal 'run' of a season.  The start of the pandemic coincided with an amazing finish of the regular season becoming the state champion in 2020 and ranked #2 in the world.  The kids were just beezed and raring to go to the Worlds and knew they would be a serious contender.  Two days later - canceled and life was canceled.  It was a hard hit after working for that day since they were 8 yrs old.  We quickly pivoted to zoom and gatherings (once we could) outside to be all about purpose in life and mental health - us parents using it as a tool for some sort of social outlet and normality for the kids.  The robot stayed out and some off-season competitions were held remotely, which gave my son, when forced to be alone, something to do every day - rebuild the robot with all the learning he had over the season.  

Our 2019-2020 Season

The organization pivoted and came up with ways to do the competition remotely for 2021 and thought that they would be able to hold the Worlds again in person in the Summer of 2021 as vaccines were rolling out.  Our kids worked on this new challenge - mostly outside, pivoting to zoom, and then masked with tons of HEPA filters in my house with those whose parents were ok with the risk because their kids needed it so bad.  The season was drawn out from 7 months to 12 months (talk about exhausting) and at the last minute, after our kids had dominated the field and ended #1 for the regular season, canceled the Worlds contest again.  Demoralizing.  We did get to go to one off season event that was held just as Delta was starting up again.  It was hard, new rules had come into effect during covid that allowed robots to hit each other and we weren't prepared for that level and the refs weren't either.  Robots had been built expressly for this event that were "the Brainstormer killers".  We finished the as the finalists and #2 with a totally broken robot, amazingly.  

We had been the surprise top contender in 2019 and now the kids realized that they were target #1 on every teams' radar everywhere.  The quote is "The Brainstormers have broken the game again!"  Slang for figuring out exactly how to optimize the robot for the third year in a row.  Social media had been a factor in years past but now it had exploded with Twitch and YouTube TV shows every week analyzing footage of our robot (often you have to publish a remote match to prove your score).  A top 25-robot show being monetized like e-games talk shows held each week during competition season with sport announcers dissecting the kids moves and mistakes. At the live event, they did that with the show being live and I hated it so much.  Announcers and people around the world talking like the kids were objects on the running comment feed on the side. As a coach I make decisions on who to put into the game based on personal reasons - not on winning the match.    This is a learning experience not a pro sports team.  Our graduating senior was given the spot by the best driver as he said - I have another year to drive.  This is her last time, she should drive.   I hated seeing people who have no idea what is going on criticizing kids.  People taking screen shots and dissecting it jointly on social media platforms, trying to figure out the engineering to copy or design a defensive robot.  Requests for on-internet live facebook interviews (we don't give them).  Because there are many kids participating on other teams in our high school environment, casual questions in the classroom became industrial espionage found on social media chat groups within minutes.  The kids have felt under siege for two years now - they can't even talk about what they are doing in their own classroom else it will show up on Discord that day.  So I had stopped blogging about the kids as a badly chosen word or picture could show up on social media blown up and dissected.

Our 2020-2021 Season

We had four weeks 'off' from that season and then the current season started again.  It looked more normal as everyone who wanted was vaccinated and scrimmages and meetings started in person.  The kids were absolutely determined that this would be the year they would get to play the championship.  Its most of their last year to have something show up on their college applications to show their excellence.  So it was super stressful.

As Christmas approached and the live competition season was going to start, it went to hell a bit.  First they announced that only half the teams that would normally qualify for the world championship would in a reduction of the size due to covid.  And the apportionment meant that other covid effects resulted in regions that were powerhouse ones (like MA) would only get 2 slots vs the 5-7 they normally did.  That was HUGE.  It meant that only the captain of the winning team in a state would move on, not the rest of the partners on the winning aliance.  So you had to win every match to get to be a captain in the first place - and since each match is played as a pair and the partner is assigned randomly - you will pull the teams who just started and have a non-scoring platform on wheels sometimes.  In fact this year, many of the partners pulled not only no points but often penalties because they hadn't ever done this at a competition before and really didn't understand the rules.  It was incredibly stressful.  How to not be a jerk when you might have to ask the partner bot to stay out of the way because their one bad move could destroy your whole season.  

Then omicron hit and the competitions were delayed.  And then the number of qualifiers for each state were slashed to one.  We were registered in two other states and one decided that while we are from the most vaccinated state in the country, our coming would of course bring covid and kicked all out-of-state people out (they don't have enough teams to run a legal competition but they got a pass).  So their kids had a 1 in 13 chance of advancing.  In our state it was 1 in 96.  Our state had the top three teams from the last three years in it.  Someone wasn't going to go.  Two of us teams traveled to the south to try to qualify.  But it was during all the whole country ice storms.  I won't go into the travel chaos, but we have had seven canceled legs since Feb.  I can't tell you how hard it is to be chaperoning kids and have your flight canceled.  Now four times. I have gotten really good at rebooking on an iPhone for 10 people at once.  Cost be dammed - it might be their only chance.  

The new rules for robot hitting are something dreamed up by the games committee to make it more 'exciting'.  But the last 25 years of this competition has been all about gracious professionalism and elegant engineering.  I really hate the new rules.  And so does the crowd.  And the rules haven't been well read overall by the teams as they had a year of remote play, so they haven't engineering for it and the game is designed to have opposing robots in the same exact spot to score.  So they are forced to touch.  We had one invitational where only top teams came and we got our butt kicked at the end of the previous year under the new rules.  So we built for the final Worlds matches and have an over-powered tank.  So lightweight, top heavy robots that bash into us or we touch get thrown.  It isn't against the rules but the crowd gets angry.  So in our last matches in the south, the long time dominate robot got tipped over and the refs were 'they were designed to tip' and touching them wasn't a penalty so at first refused to penalize us.  The crowd continued to scream bloody murder and a repeating gif was all over the internet.  Upon the intervention of some higher-ups, we got yellow carded and the kids had to withdraw from the last match and hope their partners would somehow win and send us to worlds as my son stood there almost crying realizing that the crowd had overruled the rules and might have ended our season.  But the partners did it - OMG - I have never seen my normally very reserved son so effusive.  He ran over and hugged them all in one giant bear hug screaming.

Time to prepare for Worlds.  Fix things, make the robot more error proof and practice.  It had been such a struggle that the kids all took two weeks off to just chill.  Started back up and immediately my son got hit on the soccer field and hit the ground with a concussion.  Dark room and nothing.  No school.  No robots.  We were filled with dread that he wouldn't make it to the championship.  So he was extra good, no TV, no screens, nothing but boredom to let his brain heal.  He got the green light a week before the competition and started cramming work in while trying to start catching up with school. 

The event was in Houston and no way to get our stuff there other than fly it.  The logistics of this event were the worst of all of them I have attended since 2015.  So many issues - down to not being allowed to bring a bottle of water into the event.  They checked us like they were TSA and made you pour it out.  But had a lack of vendors.  So I had to have medical notes faxed to me to get basic water in for my kids - especially the one getting over a concussion.  But yes, it got worse.  To get the robot there, we had to put my husband and son and the robot on a $1500 flight down direct.  Nothing else direct.  I was to fly with the rest of the team later that night.  Canceled.  In the end, I had to have the kids sleep at my house to get back to the airport at 5 am to try to make the start of the matches, we would miss the judging and give up on all the judged awards.  Back down in Houston, two of the girls had flown with mom on a cheeper flight two days ahead.  They were working with my son to get the robot inspected, etc.  And he started throwing up.  Bug? Food Poisoning?  My husband was not Dr. Dad.  I wasn't there to realize that he had a migraine start on the plane that morning.  And it wasn't his normal migraine presentation of throbbing headache.  It went straight to what is called an "abdominal migraine" (four doctors later).   I had texting capability through the plane and played doctor and coach from the air to my husband and three kids as Andy couldn't get out of bed and the girls were going to handle the normally 8-kid judging.  Of course all the required documents and presentation were with me.  Hotel printing, etc. going on.  Me texting the girls 'you got this'.  

Andy threw up and got to the venue in time to walk into the judging and do the field inspection with our robot.  We landed and came in like the calvary with all the rest of the robot parts in four pieces of luggage.   Just in time to drive the first match and go back to the hotel.  Andy was a mess.  He was also the only driver 1 type of the two driver pair.  With omicron and rolling covid through the group we just hadn't had the time to train up a second to worlds level and he just has specialist knowledge that the pandemic wouldn't allow us to duplicate.  So he had to be there.  By the third day he still wasn't eating and we were winning.  All the parents who were supposed to be with us (and were doctors) had canceled flights so he was in bad shape by the time they arrived to help me out.  He was living on tums and electrolytes.   We upgraded to pepsid and he could barely make it through the day eating some toast and then giving it up the next morning.  There was no way to get away from the event.  

The kids were awesome.  They knew they could get through anything together and pulled together.  Our booth was just mobbed with fan boys, people who wanted autographs on their shirts, and coaches that just wanted to ogle the engineering.  The kids formed a protective wall for Andy so he could put his head down and try to close his eyes between matches.  But getting away was impossible.  The event is like a NBA game married with a rock concert and there are CDC/TSA level conditions on it.  7:30am-6pm all day.  Then dinner and quick back to the hotel to do 2 hours of practice with other top teams as you are all doing a 'dating dance' in the night to figure out possible partnerships for when the captains have to pick. There is so much strategy.  Five days of this grueling schedule.  From the coach logistics side, you have to spend a month ahead getting the food all pre-positioned.  Ordered, private rooms reserved at restaurants as 30,000 people are there in groups of 20-50.  No one can walk in off the street for food in a city hosting this event.  Now the venue wouldn't let food in, so leading your kids to meet the vendor who is trying to drop off on the side of the street the catering with tons of other trucks and finding some sidewalk to eat on.  I would be out side the hotel each morning for a very early delivery of hand-held breakfast and take it to each hotel room so they could walk out to the venue while eating.

Our next calvary member arrived on Thursday.  He is our best Driver 2 and he had a tryout scheduled with an academy in Spain (feeder system for pro soccer) so he flew straight from Spain and I collected him from his dad at the hotel - no time to put stuff down - and took him right to the venue as the kids were hitting a low and needed him to come in and inject enthusiasm.  He did the trick as a wilted Andy was in the match queue line and went to hit a high score.  I was so thankful to Cruz for that valiant effort to get to the competition.  He drove the next day and all the eliminations. 

We were now sure it was a migraine as Friday morning, it was throbbing and we sent the team to the venue while I sat in Andy's room with car keys to get him there direct.  Pumped him full of tylenol on doctors orders.  It was dire.  He asked me if we withdrew from the last three matches if anyone would pick us for an alliance or if their run was done.  I just didn't know.  Thank god the tylenol took the edge off enough for him to get up.

We climbed to #3 captain out of the 160 teams and ended up on the #1 alliance as the first pick of the alliance selection.  The last day was the eliminations.  We were in the hardest division and creamed everyone.  Andy pretty much tossed between matches.  It was brutal but they were all hugging each other and keeping each other in as best spirits as they could - everyone was taking turns shaking the big bottle of his Canada Dry to get the bubbles out so he could drink.  Our one senior who graduated last year made it from Austin in her gear to be there the last day - it was a huge shot in the arm again.  The girls had bought her a sash that she wore "Retired and Fabulous".  They would go out 'together' whatever happened.

They lost the final match and became the World Champion Finalists on a mistake of their own.  It was bittersweet - the community feels bad for them as it was obvious they could have won it.  The other side played their heart out and deserved it and never made a mistake.  No one knew how much our team had gotten through during that week.  Us parents were prouder than we have ever been.  No biting each others heads off, nothing other than clinging to each other and propping each other up and happiness.  It's like the lessons of the last few years had taken root.  They were there - they proved that they belonged at the top.  Nothing was more important than their friendship and the deep, deep, deep respect of their peers.

An amazing number of kids came over to jersey swap or ask our team to sign their shirts

We are on week two now of recovery.  He lost 10 lbs.  Of course our flights were canceled on the way home.  Of course the only way home was to fly to New York and drive.  And that one was delayed over and over as well.  The kids reacted by playing their phones and singing "If you can make it to New York You can make it Anywhere!!!!" in the second hotel van of the day.  

They are Champions in my book.  We put the field away, Andy is slowly recovering on meds (it will take a month the doctors say), now we have special migraine meds for next year, they are making up homework and tests.  He got his AP tests delayed.  And of course - in the way our school does things (no celebration for achievement as it stresses out the kids who haven't achieved) - no one but the geeks on this rarified robot social media knows what happened.  The teachers think the kids just had some travel problems getting home from some beach vacation.  Not that these kids showed mind-blowing grit to become the second best robotic team in the world.  Our third partner in the alliance - their whole private school watched live in the auditorium and put up huge posters of them for their arrival home.  Our local paper didn't find it interesting enough.  Everyone achieves in this town, so it is boring.

Our 2021-2022 Season

If you have Disney+, last month a documentary was put up called "More than Robots" which documented the season that was cut short by Covid.  At first when I heard that it was that season which was filmed, I screwed up my nose.  It is all capped by Worlds which is this higher than high octane drama - and worlds was canceled.  So I thought it would be a bad film.  But watch it.  It follows the larger size robot division and shows clips from the year we won the Championship in Detroit (yes in the clips we are there).  But the film makers took the part where covid canceled the season and showed the kids as they dealt with it.  It captures exactly why mentors like me will give up so much of our time, our professional lives, etc. to continue to take a set of kids through the process.  You think it is all about programming and mechanical systems.  It isn't.  It is about forming young adults who can solve problems, keep life in perspective and at a young age think about how their actions can affect others and maybe they can do something good in the world.  It is about resilience.  About building good citizens.  The kids who were in the program didn't take the covid period of lockdown laying down.  They got up and did something about it.  Organically, because that was what they have been taught to do - not to wait until the adults around them come up with solutions.  No textbook.  No manual.  They figure it out and take action.  I am so proud of not only the hundreds of kids my team mentored through this, the dozens of face shields parts they made with other teams for hospitals, but their own resilience to push off the setbacks and march forward to excellence - believing that if they did they might succeed.  That's why I take chunks of time off and why the business has been open and closed in a weird way for a few years.  

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Two 'Casketeers' Take Exciting New Steps to Share Their Knowledge

I am super excited to let those who haven't been watching the internet-sphere that two of our casketeers have taken some new steps in their sharing of their tremendous design acumen.  I am proud to have played a small role in encouraging and mentoring these new ventures as I really want to help ensure that there is a next generation of fabulous teachers.  It is payback for the amazing teachers - Shay Pendray, Mary Dick Diggs, Judy Jeroy, and Joanne Harvey who saw what I might have to give in the future and decided to mentor me and not see me as a threat.  Their generosity requires that I pass it along to bright talent that crosses my path.

We have all known that Rachael Kinnison is a tremendous artist, teacher, business woman, etc. for years and had been really enjoying travel teaching to some fine events in England and the east-coast pre-covid.  Rachael seems to master any media she touches!  The shut down with covid seemed like the perfect time to establish an online teaching presence.  Rachael was going to teach a beaded piece at a small seminar that had to be canceled in 2020 and I just couldn't watch so much preparation sit on the shelf!  So we worked together to have my site secretly host the course so she could learn to build out her own and bring her computer/internet infrastructure up to where it needed to be to host her own Online Academy.  It has been fun to get the inside scoop on what is coming and help with all the frustrating bits about web building.  Just last week the final edits were finished and I 'test drove' the new site.  So excited and I think I was the first to sign up for her gummed-silk casket course!!

Katie Strachan has graced our eyeballs with amazing works of original embroidery and beading as well for several years on NING.  She has had an independent show of her works at the San Fransisco School of Needlework and Design, doing small projects with them and a lovely talk about her stumpwork.  I secretly popped up in the talk - looking to see if her speaking was as awesome as her design and technique and it was!  Then I conspired with Access Commodities to ambush her.  :-)  Lamora and I convinced Katie that she was going to be the next 'it' girl in needlework.  Both Lamora and I believe that Katie is the bridge between our older audience of historic needlework fanatics (you have to admit, we are a bit fanatic!) and the younger generation who have a different color sense and desire for creative exploration.  So regular zooms commenced to talk about the business of needlework and the ways in which she could reach out to the next generation of embroiderers began.  I know she has been noted!  Her floss tube videos have gained an audience and I won't spoil the surprises - but watch Katie for a lot more really great stuff!!  She has all kinds of things cooking.  

As I study the caskets and the long time period they were popular, it is unescapable that the teaching went over generations of women with originators and those who picked up the mantel and expanded the reach and scope.  I am excited to see what they do next!!