March 2008


I’ve mentioned before how frustrated I am with western clothing and its lack of flexibility. To that end I’ve been exploring draped clothing, starting with saris and dhotis, the draped clothes native to India. However, Chantal Boulanger’s Institute of Draped Clothing offers links to other countries’ draped clothing styles as well. I don’t know what the cultural misappropriation rules would be here–in India they’re generally happy to share the local dress and customs behind them, but not all countries have the same attitude–but I’m quite taken with the kanga, a 66″ by 40″ (approximately) piece of fabric with a border and a swahili saying, meant to make all kinds of draped clothing. Unlike most draped styles, this one is fairly recent, having (apparently) originated in the 19th century on the East African coast. More research is definitely in order. I can’t find much on the internet, except that these cloths may have been printed in India and probably have an origin connected to Portugal. According to this website, you can do all kinds of things with them, from halter tops to turbans to dresses. I am continually amazed by how much is possible without sewing. Why did we ever take up stitched clothing? One has to wonder.

update: some internet research has turned up a few websites about kanga, but none more interesting than this one which actually touches on cultural appropriation and domination. It is interesting to note that the article seems to be interested in having Westerners adopt African fashions as long as Africa and Africans benefit–that is, not African imitations created by Europeans or Americans, but real African fashions, created and marketed by African designers and manufacturers. I can see the logic in that. I do wonder how a diaspora dovetails with that kind of cultural claim. It is also becoming apparent that the saying, either a proverb or just a statement, is a key part of what makes a kanga’s function. They are a form of nonverbal communication in a culture that seems to value discretion and nonconfrontation. I’m intrigued, although I can’t imagine doing that myself. I guess bumper stickers are a similar thing here in the States. I’m still interested in the ways they can be tied, though. Like sari drapes, the more I look the more I find.

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earlier I posted about Muslim and Christian dialogues, which sound well-planned and very inspiring.

Now I read that apparently the Pope, in a surprise move, baptized an Egyptian-born Italian Muslim into Catholicism…in a big spectacle on Easter. Blogger Real Live Preacher writes about it here, which is where I found out, clearly having spent Easter under a rock.

Credit where due: the gentleman was under a death threat for criticizing Islam BEFORE the baptism, and such a prominent figure may well have a legitimate claim to the attention of the pope, and of course we all have to do what we think is right. I don’t agree with the violence of RLP’s first fantasy.

But it does seem that perhaps a little less spectacle about this might have been prudent given the world climate right now and all. I worry. Sure you CAN, and you may even have a right to, but what is the most effective way to make change?

In this article from the Christian Science Monitor, we hear about dialogues between Muslims and Christians being organized to help make the world a more peaceful place. These are the things I love about being human.

Happy equinox! From today until September the days are longer than the nights, and we look for green and growing things. To mark the occasion Mother Nature has given us drizzle to replace yesterday evening’s snow. It’s grey. It’s soggy. But the snow is slowly losing ground. We might even see growing things soon! I hear down in Kittery Point they’ve got flowers already.

Regardless of what one may or may not think of Obama in other arenas, his speech on race (two days ago in Pennsylvania) was right on.

I’m a big fan of open-source software, the open source movement in general, and creative commons licensing. These are all sets of practices that move away from the mine-mine-all-mine model of intellectual property and toward a more collaborative way of being. To my way of thinking there’s a lot of good that comes out of financial motivation, but there’s also a lot of good that comes from collaboration, including most useful science. The trend toward racing-to-publish, secrecy, and sabotage in the science community really disturbs me, so I’m always glad to see something leaning in the other direction.

For a variety of reasons, my work computer has given me the chance to experiment more fully with open-source computer systems. I’m still running Windows Vista for practicality’s sake, but nearly everything else that I use regularly is open source, and it’s working brilliantly. By my calculations, that’s several thousand dollars worth of software not purchased from large corporations. I don’t mind supporting good R&D, but at some point it starts to look and feel exploitative. Further, we’re a church–we have a lot of the same needs as a corporation, but at least in this stage of our development, we don’t have the same kind of budget, and our values suggest that maybe supporting other endeavors should be our first priority.

So for the curious, here’s what’s working well for me:

    web browser (instead of Internet Explorer): Mozilla Firefox
    mail client (instead of Microsoft Outlook): Mozilla Thunderbird
    drawing program (instead of Adobe Illustrator): Inkscape
    layout program (Instead of Quark Xpress): Scribus (warning: this is ever so slightly harder to install than the others. If you want it for Windows, go to the scribus page and under “choose your platform” choose Windows. Read the whole page through, don’t forget to install Ghostscript first, and then look for the download link all the way at the bottom.)
    photo editor (instead of Photoshop): the venerable Gimp, possibly one of the oldest of these open-source projects, and one of the first to gain widespread use.
    photo viewer/slideshow maker/simple editor: Irfanview, and no, I don’t know how to pronounce it, but it’s tiny and fast and flexible.

These will serve most of the needs that most of us have, with no licensing headaches and no major dents to our purses. Of course, all projects accept donations if you are so moved.

I had some time today without contacts or glasses, which means I couldn’t do much if it wasn’t three inches from my face. I spent it reading, which is the one thing I have always done with or without corrective lenses. Today’s focus was environmentalism. When I spend time online I tend to bounce from thing to thing in a stream-of-consciousness research fog, noting and bookmarking as I go. I’ve learned a lot of good things that way. I’ve also lost some time to things to esoteric to mention, but when you spend time online you have to take a certain amount of chaff with the wheat, no matter how good your search strings are.

Today was more focused than most, though–something about the 3 inch radius of my world. So I started with my “lived values” bookmarks.

I delved back into furoshikis and found some more pictures, but not any more styles of using them. I seem to have exhausted what is out there for the time being. I hemmed off some pieces of fabric and have been using them–and the more I use them the more I want to play with them–so I’m still interested. There’s a book called Gift Wrapping With Textiles that may be next on my list. I’m really enjoying the variety of possibilities with furoshikis. For one thing, they can be reused. For another, the bags can be made to fit their contents (more or less) and the icing on the cake is that they don’t have to match anything. If you see an appealing, two-sided or through-dyed fabric, you can use it. For someone like me who revels in beauty, this is a great way to make use of small amounts of beautiful fabrics without having to make clothes of them.

After furoshikis (don’t ask how I made the leap) I started researching transportation options. I’ve been wanting a recumbent trike for a while now–ever since my very dedicatedly environmentalist friend in Minneapolis introduced me to recumbent bikes and I discovered that they were lovely, except for the falling-off part. (A ‘bent allows riders to sit more or less naturally and pedal with their feet in front of them). What I discovered today is that the base price for trikes has dropped from about $3000 to about $1200, and in some cases, as little as $999. That was hopeful news. But the truth is, living here in Maine it’s hard to justify even that much for something that has a shorter season than a kayak. Ice, sand, salt, poor visibility, and cold, driving rain will get you off the road long before the snow flies, at least if you’re me. In addition, we have some wicked hills. Eventually I’m sure I would master them. But that would certainly make the difference between commuting on the trike and going out for occasional pleasure rides. I have a $70 used touring bike that is perfect for riding twice a year. If I’m buying a serious vehicle, I need to have plans to use it.

So naturally I started looking at fully faired, electric-assist trikes, also known as velomobiles. Holy cats, are they ever cool. And not just cool, but sensible. Apparently there are two down in the Biddeford area, but no others in the state of Maine. A fairing is a shell, made to reduce drag and increase protection from the elements. It can be made of anything from neoprene to molded fiberglass to wood, as long as it does its job. Of course, with a human powered vehicle mass is a factor, but so is structural stability. If you get rolled or hit you don’t want to get hurt if you can help it. Some velomobiles are basically frames with thin shells; others use the shell for the structural strength. With electric assist you can even make it up steep hills despite the doubled or tripled weight (these things tend to weigh 60 lbs or more) and reasonably arrive at your commuting destination ready for work, and not for a shower. Living here in Brooklin with Wooden Boat School just around the corner it of course occurred to me that a stitch and glue or strip-built fairing would be fun to build and stunning to look at…but it would also be heavier, and I have no experience with either of those building techniques. Still, given the prohibitive $6000-and-up price tags (closer to $12000 with all the options that would make them Maine-winter-ready) it’s tempting to give it a try. Given the price drops on the recumbent trikes, though, maybe I should just wait for mass production and importation to have its effect; a good third of that cost is getting the machines from Europe, where they are somewhat available, to this side of the pond.

I think a Subaru and a fully-faired trike with studded tires would make a good two-car solution for our household. Somehow, though, I suspect the bank won’t finance a velomobile. Ah well, someday.