Tag Archives: DIY

The Last Aphid: Another Charley Harper Inspired Quilt Block

The next block in my Charley Harper quilt is my rendition of the artist’s “The Last Aphid” which features four ladybugs staring down an aphid that they’ve cornered between them.  This block was a challenge because of the symmetry.  Everything has to be lined up or it looks wrong (accepting some error of course because it’s applique and it’s never going to be perfect).

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Like the other blocks and quilt plan, I used Inkscape to design the pattern.

One tool that has helped me immensely through this block and the last was masking tape.  Yup.  Good ol’ masking tape.  It’s not to hold anything down, but rather to lift something up, namely cat hair.  My guy cat loves to get in the middle of anything I’m doing (case-in-point he’s currently sitting next to me and pushing the arrow keys as I try to type) and he’s a real big shedder.  I guess I should be glad he’s a short-hair.  Aside from just not looking that great, cat hair is a problem because it gets into the thread as I sew and causes it to snarl up into a knot more than it normally would.  To get rid of the cat hair, I stick the masking tape down on the fabric and pull it off; the cat hair comes with it.  It’s pretty much a cheap version of a lint roller.


My Big Day of Giving Toolbox

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A graphic used in the 2015 campaign.  Photo editing: XnView.  Layout & graphics: Inkscape.

I think it’s pretty clear from my blog that I’m equal parts scientist and artists.  One of the things I do on the art side is that I’m on the Board of Directors for the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre.  My job is twofold: (1) manage the social media outlets, and more recently (2) I am the Team Leader for our participation in the Big Day of Giving, which requires a lot of social media.  So, I’m doing a lot of graphic design, communications, advertising, and coordination. Big Day of Giving is a day (literally 24 hours) of donating to Sacramento-area nonprofit organizations that have profiles with Giving Edge.

Having a successful Big Day of Giving almost requires someone on your team to be able to film and edit videos and to create engaging graphics all of which can be posted online, added to blog articles, and be sent in emails… not to mention printed materials and press releases.  HOW do you do all of that?  Through my graphic editing and generating needs as a scientist (hello, figures in journal articles!), I’ve collected a set of go-to tools that are all FREE and open source.

Graphic Design: Inkscape

Photo Editing: Gimp or XnView

Video Editing: OpenShot

Why does free and open source matter?  Pamela Trokanksi Dance Theatre is a 501(c)3 education nonprofit.  Read: we have no money to spend on expensive art programs.  All of our operating costs are provided through donations and ticket sales.  Additionally, all of our board members (the board is a major source of volunteer hours) can download and use these programs without incurring costs.  Each of our board members already donates monetarily to the the organizations.  We, as board members, don’t want to have to spend money on software.

“But these are advanced tools!” I’ve heard people complain.  “It’s too much for volunteers to learn.”  Sigh.  All I can say is try.  It helps that two members of our board are die-hard Inkscape fans.  We set up Inkscape templates with the logos already added to make start-up easy for the novices.  So far, so good.


Accidental Ferns

I have this moss terrarium that is not doing that well.  It’s never done well.  I guess moss doesn’t really want to live in a jar.  Probably more than a year ago, I dropped a maidenhair fern frond in there that was loaded with spores.  I thought it might sprout, but after the leaf decayed, nothing happened so I forgot about it… not that I really knew what fern sprouts looked like.  Months ago, I started seeing this strange structure growing out of my dying moss clumps.  It kind of looks like tiny kelp.  I thought maybe it was a liverwort or some moss structure that grows from moss in some last attempt to live.  My “moss kelp” eventually grew some branches, so I thought it was making spores.

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From left to right: some scraggly moss, young maidenhair ferns, and the fern prothallia

Fast forward to today.  My maidenhair fern in my office (a division of the one mentioned earlier) is dropping spores all over the window sill, so I did some internet research on how to grow ferns from spores.  That’s when I discovered I’ve actually already done it.  The “moss kelp” is the prothallium or the gametophyte of the fern (the structure where fertilization happens).  From the prothallium, the fern that we recognize grows.  Now I wonder if I can do it again on purpose.

A note on the photograph: photographing prothallia is really difficult.  I was frustrated at the lack of good photos online, but now I understand, so please excuse my lack of detail in my photo.  I may try to get some better macro photos later.


Plant Eyeballs

plant_eyeballsPlants need eyes, right?  Maybe not.  But these floppy heaps of native grasses that my HOA planted in front of my house needed something, especially for Halloween.  Giving your plant eyes is easy.  These were made out of ping-pong balls (with circles drawn on with permanent marker) hot glued to wooden skewers.  You just stick the skewers in the ground and you’re good to go.  If you had a shrub, you could glue a loop of string instead of the skewer and hang them on a branch like Christmas ornaments.  I have been contemplating how to make teeth for my little grass buddies next, you know, just to make sure the neighbors really question my sanity.


DIY Fish Bowl Gravel Vacuum

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At the pet store every now and then, I see a staff person vacuuming out the gravel in the display tanks.  It’ s so efficient to just get under the rocks and siphon out all of the gunk that settles in there.  But I’ve got a little fish bowl, well, really and indoor pond since I don’t have fish, just live (and plastic) plants and some aquatic snails.  One of those big fish tank vacuums would be overkill.  And, yes, I can drain out all 2 gallons of water and wash out the gravel, but the plants really don’t like having their roots disturbed very often.  You can’t leave the scum in there because it will rot and take all the oxygen from the water.  That’s what killed my shrimp.

One day it hit me: a turkey baster.  Yup.  Simple, cheap, effective.

How it works: squeeze the air out of the blub before you put it in the water.  Bubbles disturb things too much.  Then gently nestle the end of the baster down into the rocks, particularly around the live plants where the majority of the debris collects.  Ease pressure off of the bulb and watch the brown water slide up into the baster.  Just squirt the water down the drain and you’re well on your way to a cleaner tank.  Sometimes small rocks or snails end up in the baster.  When that happens, I empty the baster into a cup to keep the rocks or snails from going down the drain.  Then I return them to the bowl.

Which baster should you use?  Get one that the bulb fits on the end of the tube nice and tight.  Mine comes off frequently and it makes the job much harder.  Also, a plastic tube is a good idea since you’re jamming the end into gravel.

The turkey baster cleaning method isn’t something that you can use all the time.  Occasionally, you’re going to have to do a full cleaning including removing and cleaning the rocks.  Plants, get over it!.


Floral Tape Alternative

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I’m the family florist.  My freshman year of high school, I took Floristry to fulfill my art requirement (Tangent: Why didn’t I take the drawing class?  Who can remember that now?  Logic isn’t the forte of a 13-year-old.) and ever since I’ve been providing floral services for family members.  I’ve done countless arrangements for my mom (parties, work events, etc.), arrangements to cheer people up (the snowman made out of mums was EPIC), and now I’ve made the bouquets for my cousin and my sister’s weddings.  This last one presented some unique challenges and I’m going to tell you how to solve them: Masking Tape!

The goal: turn several dozen roses, mums, stock, and freesias into 4 bouquets, 2 corsages, and 4 boutonnieres using an ample supply of wire and ribbon and 3 rolls of floral tape.  That’s not unreasonable.  But the floral tape was terrible.  It stuck to itself fairly well with some coaxing, but it really would rather stick to my fingers.  I taught another bridesmaid and a groomsman to wire and tape roses to make things go quicker, and about 30 minute into the process of making the bouquets, we were all so sticky that the tape would only stick to our fingers and not to the flower stems.  We muddled through, washing our hands when things got too sticky with harsh dish soap to get the wax off.

Masking tape!

Masking tape!

When all the roses were wired, I started putting the first bouquet together and disaster struck.  The tape wouldn’t hold around anything larger than 3 stems.  I had a dozen roses to get into this bouquet plus other flowers.  The boyfriend cocks his head to the side, knits his eyebrows together, and says, “What about masking tape?”  Genius!  Since the individual stems were already wrapped, the masking tape wouldn’t get wet and fall apart.  So, the clumps of stems got a heavy wrap of masking tape, then the ribbon wraps went on so no one knew what was holding it all together.

Can't tell what's under that map ribbon, can you?

Can’t tell what’s under that map ribbon, can you?


Call for Guest Bloggers

Home-made kite tail for kite aerial photography

Home-made kite tail for kite aerial photography

One of the fascinating things I find about doing biological and geographical research is the tools that scientists make for themselves to help them in their research.  For example, I designed and my dad constructed a set of quadrat frames for me.  I’ve also constructed two low altitude remote sensing platforms and the accessories that go with them like a fuzzy tail and camera housing for my air photo kite.

Now it’s your turn!  What tools have you made or re-purposed to help you collect or process data?  Do you have a creative use for straws?  Have you constructed a tool you couldn’t buy anywhere?  I’m looking for researchers of all kinds who have made their own tools to write a blog post about their creation.  The text can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a page and should describe what the tool is and how you use it.  It can also include instructions for how to make it, if you would like.  All submissions should include at least one photograph of the tool.  Submissions should be emailed to micheletobias [at] yahoo [dot] com.