A Visit to Elfreth’s Alley

Years ago, I met a woman who, for a time, owned a house in Philadelphia’s Elfreth’s Alley. She liked the house she lived in but said she never got used to total strangers peering in her front windows and knocking on her door at all hours.

As the nation’s oldest, continuously occupied residential street, Elfreth’s Alley is a tourist attraction. Not a manufactured tourist attraction. Elfreth’s Alley, located in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia is the real deal. The people who live there are not historical reenactors, and the houses are privately owned, not part of the National Park Service. I’ve always wanted to explore Elfreth’s Alley more closely, (I pass by it on the way to The Clay Studio), but I am reluctant to go snapping pictures of people’s houses without an invitation. And then the invitation came. A flea market of antiques and crafts to support the Elfreth’s Alley museum, complete with guided tours.

I was pressed for time that day and didn’t have a lot of time to stick around, but I did manage to take a lot of pictures.

Plenty to do after you’ve been to Elfreth’s Alley

West Philly Porchfest

I ventured out of my Bella Vista neighborhood this week to visit my friend Patty who was participating in an event called West Philly Porchfest. I’d never heard of Porchfest but it seemed like a fun idea and a safe way to enjoy music and festivities after hiding inside all winter because of the coronavirus.

The West Philadelphia neighborhoods of Cedar Park, Spruce Hill, Squirrel Hill and Walnut Hill are filled with large houses dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Unlike my neighborhood of Bella Vista, many of these houses have large, covered front porches which proved to be popular gathering places for musicians to perform. Porchfest started in 2016 as a way to devote one day, the first Saturday in June, to give any group who wanted to perform the opportunity to play a two hour set if they could find someone to volunteer a porch. A West Philly Porchfest Organizing Committee was formed and set up a Porch/Musician connector group on Facebook so interested parties could find one another. Once the match is made, the porch host registers with the Porchfest site, gets put on the schedule, and is included in on-line and paper maps that show where and when the bands will preform. On the big day, the audience grabs maps and trolls the neighborhood to listen to all kinds of music. What could be better?

Dreaming Thomas playing on Patty’s front porch.

You didn’t need a porch to play

All ages and all kinds of music. West Philly Porchfest is already on my calendar for June 4, 2022. With a little luck, we’ll all be back to enjoy it.

Magnetic Clasp for Polymer

Here’s one of my favorite clasps for polymer necklaces. It’s a rare earth magnet, hidden in a side bead. You open the clasp by sliding the bead open. It’s strong and because it’s not located at the back of the neck, it’s not constantly tension and in danger of opening. Who said that necklace clasps had to be on the back of the neck anyway? Put them where they will work. They should be either part of the design or blend in.

All of these beads are hollow except the black ones in the back, so the necklace is very light. It’s also comfortable to wear because the tube in the back rests comfortably against the neck.
And here’s the clasp. It’s not baked into the clay. I used black Apoxie Sculpt to fix it in place. That stuff is strong! I would have to break the bead to get the magnet out.
The clasp bead closed. I would have liked to have had no visible seam on the bead but that proved impossible for me. But I can say that so far, no one has been able to tell that there was a hidden clasp in the bead until I showed them.

for a great selection of rare earth magnets, try K&J Magnetics.

A Walk to Northern Liberties from South Philadelphia

One of the best ways to see Philadelphia is to walk it. Here are some pictures I took on a stroll to Northern Liberties from my own neighborhood in South Philadelphia.

Julia’s Creatures

I’m not sure how Julia Durand ended up in Philadelphia but she hails from France where she enjoyed a cartoon called Les Shadoks as a child. Les Shadoks inspired Julia to make a whole menagerie of creatures that I’d hardly call whimsical, but they certainly full of personality and each one has a different expression. It makes me wonder that they would say if they could talk. And if they did talk, it would probably be in French.

If you’re interested in checking out Les Shadoks yourself, they’re on YouTube with English subtitles.

Official Portrait

More from the mind of Marjorie Waxman.

Make a Pottery Throwing Gauge

One way to make similar-sized pottery plates, bowls and mugs is to start out with a given weight of clay for each item. Here’s a handy chart of recommended amounts of clay needed for certain items. But I have a hard time throwing consistently-sized items even if I do start out with equal weights of clay. It would be nice to make a set of four mugs that are nearly the same size on purpose and not by accident. A pottery throwing gauge is a tool that is supposed to help you do just that. You set the gauges to the height and width you want your piece to be and, if you don’t knock it over, you might end up with an evenly-matched set of bowls or mugs.

I’d never even heard of a pottery throwing gauge until I saw this video by Florian Gadsby on YouTube. I was intrigued needless to say. I love tools but I’m not the kind of person who buys tools willy nilly thinking they can make me a better artist. But I will buy a tool if I think it will be helpful. (I just snagged a KitchenAid mixer on Craigslist and it sure makes kneading bread easier.) And if I think I can make a tool that will be helpful, even better.

So I decided to make a pottery throwing gauge. I gathered up my nut and bolt collection, and my scrap wood. Aside from some wood screws, the only other material I used was a broken set of pottery calipers from the pottery studio. I sawed these in two, to make two positionable gauges which can be used in tandem to measure the height and width of the pot. They fold up out of the way if they’re not needed. I fastened the gauge parts with bolts, wing nuts and rubber washers like these because they make it easy to tighten the wing nuts and position the gauges. I used bigger bolts, washers and wing nuts to attach the gauges to the center post.

My tool list was short: a drill and bits, an electric screwdriver, a metal saw, a wood saw, a ruler, and a clamp to hold the wood during sawing.

The gauges cover a pretty wide range of sizes. I drilled holes in the main post about four inches apart so the gauges could be taken out and repositioned as needed.

I screwed the main post into a crosspiece which seems steady, but I might have to weight it down with a brick when I am throwing pots on an active wheel. I also drew lines at one-inch intervals let me know how to set the gauges. The center post is about 15 inches high.

Yarn Bombing in Cianfrani Park

I’ve written about yarn bombing before. Yarn bombing is a joyful form of street art that takes knitting and crocheting from the fireside and the easy chair and the knitting circle outside to trees and fences and telephone poles and anything that’s standing still for awhile and can be covered in colorful granny squares and pom poms and stockinette. Always surprising and delightful.

Inspiration Makes a Clasp

I haven’t been making much jewelry lately, but when I do, it always comes back to clasps. I love clasps that are elegant, simple to use, and reliable. I don’t like to struggle to put on and take off a piece of jewelry and I dislike losing it even more. A good clasp doesn’t call attention to itself because it is part of the design. By that, I mean it doesn’t stick out like someone who crashed the party. Even if it functions as the focal in a piece, it should be a working part of the design.

Sometimes, I start a piece and then consider what the clasp should be. Sometimes I start with the clasp and build the piece around it. And sometimes, someone’s else’s jewelry inspires me to create something new. The following necklace is a case in point.

This necklace belonged to my mother-in-law who loved midcentury modern studio jewelry. I think it’s made of onyx and it’s got a lot of heft. The beads are about 25 mm and the necklace is about 18″ long including the clasp. I think the clasp is the best part of the necklace.

The clasp is silver. Note that the open ring to the left it slightly open and ajar. The closed ring slips right onto it. You can put on the necklace with your eyes closed. The weight of the beads pulls in a manner that the open part of the clasp remains on top so the necklace is secure.

Here’s my take on this clasp with a polymer necklace.

Again, I have very big beads. In fact, most of them are bigger than the beads in the onyx necklace. Except they aren’t heavy because they’re hollow. Can you see the clasp? It’s on the right above the red round bead.

The polymer beads are strung on 16 gauge dark annealed steel wire and connected with loops. The back of the choker-length necklace is 16 gauge wire which works because the beads are so light that it doesn’t bite into the neck. This piece of wire is permanently fastened on one side of the necklace and finished with a tiny hook on the other side that slips into the loop coming out of the round red bead. The opening on the hook points to the side and holds the necklace closed and secure.

Here’s a picture of the polymer choker. The wire is rigid enough to hold the beads in place but not so rigid that it’s stiff. The onyx necklace keeps its shape by virtue of the weight of its beads. It’s a heavy necklace and not everyone would feel comfortable in it. My mother-in-law was not too concerned with the comfort of what she wore, as long as it was fashionable. But the clasp is very comfortable and makes up for the weight of the beads.

And here’s a picture of the polymer choker with the onyx choker. As you can see, they are about the same size.

WANTED!

I have a bad cat. Yes, Boris is wanted for Destruction of Furniture. This is a Felony in my house, but cats and small children get automatic immunity.

Exhibit “A”

We have some storage hassocks that we use as foot stools and coffee tables in our living room. When you live in a small (916 sf) house, every piece of furniture has have more than one function.

Boris keeps his sleepy pad one one of the hassocks where he hangs out with his stuffed mice. The little monster does not deserve a new cover on his hassock (never mind that he has three scratching posts on the first floor, plus a cat tree and he uses them all) but I decided that a pandemic sewing project might be interesting.

I used some heavy canvas fabric I got in a free bin at a house sale. I added a design with some fabric paint. The hassock was an 18″ cube, so I measured a strip of fabric 72″ long (the material swatch was huge. I could have also cut and sewn a strip 72″ long) plus an extra inch, and 22 inches wide. I made a giant tube snug enough that I had to finesse it over the hassock. The bottom of the fabric was already hemmed.

The fabric pulled over the hassock. I stapled it to the inside.
The finished hassock

So, what’s to keep Boris from destroying this? And I also decided that I didn’t want to make three more covers for the rest of the hassocks. And I’m not crazy about the fabric. Light colors don’t work to well for a foot stool. Replace the hassocks? And have them destroyed again? But I think I found a solution.

To be delivered this week. I hope it’s Boris proof!