Blogs: Do it yourself (DIY)

If you're anything like me, you just looked at the calendar and realized Halloween is less than two weeks away. Eek! What is my kiddo going to be for Halloween?! If you have older kids, perhaps they already have strong opinions of their own, which may be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the idea! But for those of us with toddlers, the task of coming up with a cute costume on the cheap can feel a bit daunting, especially if you want to make it yourself. Or maybe you don't have kids but need to come up with a cool costume for the Halloween party you just got invited to. Never fear, the library is here to help! 


Knitted birds on bike handlebarsWhen I want to make something, the library has always been my source for knitting and sewing books. Or a book will catch my eye because it combines my two favorite crafts in a new way like Craft Bomb Your Bike.

But I hadn't really used the library as a source of inspiration. Jessica Pigza, rare book librarian at New York Public Library, inspires you to do just that with Bibliocraft: A Modern Crafter's Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects.

Part one, finding inspiration at the library, is an overview of how to use your library, different libraries and collections (digital and real), and copyright information. Part two is projects inspired by library research done by designers and artists.Cover image of Bibliocraft

My favorite projects were inspired by a 19th-century geology text book and historical maps. Liesl Gibson's growth chart uses fabric strips for soil profiles. Track a child's growth using pieces of the clothes that no longer fit! Rebecca Ringquist's cartouche embroidery makes a beautiful label for handmade gifts and quilts.

Have you ever made something inspired by a library discovery?

-Shannon L

Sweater selfie of Cathy Carron's belle curve cardiganFall, It took you long enough to come around, but all is forgiven now that you’re here.  Let’s not waste another moment. It’s time to break out the yarn stash and get knitting! I know you year-round knitters are out there, but so far my knitting habit is strictly seasonal. It comes on strong only when the temperature drops and holds steady through the winter, though admittedly, it’s been slow to progress.  

The first year I did scarves: messy and uneven, with lots of irregularities that I tried to pass off as design features. They were presented to family who had the good sense to politely tuck them out of sight. Next it was hats: ribbed hats, striped hats, much too itchy baby hats, and one unintentionally slouchy Rastafarian hat.

Last year was known in my house as the year of the snood, and so this fall I’ve been determined to make a great leap forward: sweaters.  That was until I picked up Short Story: Chic Knits for Layering by Cathy Carron and my great leap has started instead, with an enthusiastic hop.Book jacket: Short story by Cathy Carron

The belle curve cardigan on page 82 proved to be the perfect middle step between knitting circular accessories and piecing together a sweater with sleeves.  It was relatively quick to knit up, has no seams and was knit on circular needles.  Most important, it passed the test of withstanding frequent interruptions and a five year old ‘helper’ without resulting in a wooly meltdown.

Carron is known for her knitting books, loaded with innovative patterns, ranging from basics with a twist, to over-the-top looks for more daring souls and this one is no different. So if you’re not quite ready to knit a sweater, but can’t in good conscience bestow another hat upon a family member, check out Carron’s Short Story and she’ll get you halfway there.

Looking for more tried and tested books for the novice knitter? Check out my list.

Our guest reader is the irrepressible Dee Williams, a pioneer in the tiny house movement and author of The Big Tiny. Check out Dee's recommendations and if you'd like more good reading, try the My Librarian service and get a handcrafted list made just for you.

There are a dozen or so books that have taken up permanent residence in my little house… some are practical, reminding me how to frame up a wall or flash a window, while others simply remind me what it means to be human and alive, and dad-gum lucky to have this time on the planet.  Here are a few of my favorites:  

  1. My copy of Lloyd Kahn’s Home Work is dog-eared and stuffed with sticky notes that seem to have multiplied over the years.  It’s got thousands of photos of beach houses, rolling homes, adobe huts, stick-built houses and stone-built barns.  This book inspired me to rethink form, function and materials, and also made me want to be more like the quirky, cool people that Lloyd writes about.  Lloyd has also recently published Tiny Homes on the Move, and it is equally over-the-top awesome!

  1. Peter Menzel’s Material World (Sierra Club Books) has held me captivated for years.  It includes photos of families and all their worldly possessions sitting out in front of their house (if they have a house), so the reader gets this voyeuristic snap-shot of how a Mongolian family lives compared to that of a family in Guatemala, Serbia, the United States or dozens of other countries.  It’s a pretty humbling comparison to hold in your hands and heart.

  1. I’ve come close to peeing my pants, laughing, as I’ve read and then re-read Deek Diedricksen’s Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts: And Whatever the Heck Else We Could Squeeze in Here.  I’ve learned something new every time I’ve thumbed through this hilarious, well-informed encyclopedia of funky-smallness.

  1. I received Tammy Strobels’ new photography book, My Morning View, in the mail a few months ago, and man-o-man it blew me away.  It chronicles Tammy’s journey of living in a tiny house on a ranch outside Mt. Shasta (effing beautiful!!!), and also of working through her grief after losing her dad to a stroke.  Her iPhone photography project is absolutely inspiring, and full of helpful advice for would-be photographers like me.  

  1. Any thing by the poet Billy Collins, Diane Ackerman, or Mary Oliver.

  1. One of the first books I purchased when studying architecture and building was Francis D.K. Ching’s, Building Construction Illustrated. This book has it all, from an introduction to passive solar concepts to the basics of platform framing.  It even provides the common dimension of kitchen counters, tables and couches… super helpful information while designing a little house.

  1. While I was building, Joseph Truini’s book, Building a Shed provided some alternative ways of framing out the overhangs and basic framing for my house.  This book also offers some good advice for preparing a site for building a “ground-bound” house.  All in all, it’s well worth the read!

Whether you get on the waiting list for these books at the library or purchase them, I think it’ll be well worth the investment.  And of course, there are many other books that I’ve totally enjoyed. Cheers!  And happy reading!

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

Two of my favorite things to do around town when I can’t be at the Maker Faire PDX are going out to listen to music and watching movies. While I’m not bad at making music (yay cellos!) and I can take cute videos of my dogs, I can’t really claim to be great at making either. But not to fear! We do live in a great town for making things, from chairs to computers to art and we can all learn together.

Yellow record player

Are you feeling musical? Explore the science of music with your own musical creations, and learn to make your own instruments from maracas to didgeridoos. (This website is set up as lessons for teachers, but there’s no reason for teachers to have all the fun.) Once you have made (or chosen) your instrument it’s time to make some music: Indulge your inner rocker girl or you can check out the Community Music Center for lessons, concerts, workshops and practice space. Or just find some friends and start playing--it’s how all the greats got started.



strip of film cels

Visual arts more your thing? You can play with your films at the Hollywood Theater with B Movie Bingo and Hecklevison and other series.  The Portland Art Museum’s nwFilm Center has films you won’t find at the mall and classes on how to make your own. If you prefer things to be more non-fiction, head over to Northwest Documentary. They come complete with classes, lab time, opportunities to work with other filmmakers and a great library, all at your creating and making disposal. And if the slow and methodical isn’t your way, maybe The 48 Hour Film Project will be more to your liking.



Do want to make and learn more? Contact a Librarian!

Hey, We're going to be at the Maker Faire on September 13 and 14 at OMSI. Come see us!

Your Victory Garden countys more than ever! 1941 - 1945. From the U.S. National Archives

Why do you garden?

  • I like to know where my food comes from.  More importantly I want my children to understand and appreciate where their food comes from and have an idea of the work behind creating a healthy meal or snack.
  • Growing a garden, even if is just a few tomatoes in pots or strawberries in an old kiddie pool is an act of independence.  Independence from the rise and fall of grocery store prices, from crude oil, and other transportation costs.  A row of one's own to hoe allows us in a small but crucial way to be more self-reliant.  It also allows us to share the wealth of a good harvest within our communities. Gardening is a powerful act, both politically and personally.
  • Finally I am a maker and a doer.  I express my creative streak through what I can grow using a medium of water, sunshine, and soil. I'm an experimenter not an expert.  If something doesn't work out so well one year, for example the 16 stalks of corn each in their own little pot (captured for prosperity on Google Earth), I try something different the next year.  Even better, I ask the experts at the OSU Extension Service for help.

From right to left. Strawberry patch in a kiddie pool, a late summer harvest (corn, beans, and tomatoes), slug on a spade, tomato and basil, the corn experiment, pumpkin vine.

Why the Front Yard?

Why not? In our neighborhood with large shade trees sunshine is at a premium. We put our small vegetable garden in our front yard for practical reasons. We get the most sun there and our backyard is a mud pit and slug haven most of the year. It is also hard to forget to water, weed, and pick when you walk through your garden to get to your front door.

It is also beautiful, even in early Spring when it is just a few small plant starts and bean scaffolding, there something about the sight of fresh soil that promises growth and potential.   Having your vegetable garden in the front yard calls attention to your property. We live in an otherwise unremarkable ranch style home but the container corn field, the massive Russian sunflowers, and the Italian heirloom green bean vines growing up twine to the roof gutters turns the heads of neighbors walking by.  Our tomatoes become red in scores while others in dark backyards hold green.

From Left to Right. Boy studies bean sprouts, beans climbing twine, green beans ready to harvest, bean seeds drying for next year.

Why Victory?

Victory Gardens were popular in WWII when everyone was expected to contribute to the war effort in any way they could.  For many this involved growing your own vegetables to save otherwise needed fuel, tin,  and manpower for the fight.  The oldest continually operating World War II Victory Gardens in the United States are the Fenway Victory Gardens in Boston, MA. "Founded by the Roosevelt Administration, it was one of over 20 million victory gardens responsible for nearly half of all the vegetable produce during the war!"

Today, victory in our garden means being more self-reliant, having a little extra harvest to share, and experimenting to find new ways to successfully grow what we eat and then eat what we grow. One of our tried and true successes is growing Italian heirloom green beans each year from seed.  We pop them in the ground, they germinate in about a week, and then grow, grow, grow!  At the end of the season we save a few seeds and then we are ready for the next year.  

This summer we also learned that we love heirloom tomatoes and are growing Juliet, Old German, and Lincoln varieties.  They are thriving! 

What are some of the victories to be found in your front yard (or backyard!) vegetable garden?  What are your tried and true tips for Pacific Northwest gardening?  What do you make with water, sunshine and soil?

Want to start your own front yard victory garden? Here are some library resources to get you started.  Are you a Maker too?  Find the library at the OMSI Mini-Maker Faire on September 13th and 14th!


Leonid Pasternak, from WikipediaDo you need an MFA? You’re a writer. You write stories. You have a novel brewing. You’ve published some poems in small magazines. Or you’ve sold an essay. Maybe you’ve self-published a chapbook, zine, pamphlet, or little book. Or an e-book! Maybe you write and write, and would like to do these things.
Artists, including writers, might choose to pursue an Master of Fine Arts (MFA!) degree in order to become a professional in their field. It usually takes two or three years, and in many cases involves a substantial amount of money, which often means major student loans. An MFA in creative writing usually centers around a writer’s workshop, where students receive feedback on their work, and provide feedback on the work of their colleagues, under the guidance of a professor who is a published author. MFA students have mentorship, community, an ear to the publishing world, and perhaps most importantly, dedicated time and space to write. Funding and an opportunity to gain teaching experience by working as a teaching assistant are also sometimes part of the deal, but not always. 
Do you need an MFA to be a writer? Well, you already are one, right? Debate rages on (well, perhaps rages isn’t the most accurate term - simmers? drags?) about whether it’s worthwhile for aspiring writers to pursue an MFA. Plenty of writers don’t bother.  
Novelist Chad Harbach wrote an essay examining the social and literary consequences of a writing world (fiction, in particular), in which writers inhabit one of two systems: the world of MFA programs or the world of NYC publishing. This is published along with essays by contributors examining features of life from both sides in MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction.
So, is an MFA right for you? If you think so, some guides to programs might be useful: the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) guide to programs, or the MFA Programs Database from Poets & Writers Magazine. In book form, there's also The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students.
Perhaps an MFA program isn’t in the cards for you. Perhaps you might be be a better writer going under your own steam. Can’t you have mentorship, community and connections without the hefty price tag? Can’t you create your own reading lists and writing assignments, your own deadlines? Meet writer friends and share ideas and constructive criticism on your work? I’ll bet you can do these things. After all, you have the whole library at your fingertips!*
Here’s a booklist for you: DIY Creative Writing MFA
You might try working through an online Creative Writing course: there are quite a few free online courses offered by MIT OpenCourseWare! These cover different topics and genres, with courses about reading and writing poetry, reading and writing stories, writing the personal essay, genre writing, writing about race and border crossings… You can find these and other free (and for-fee) online courses on If you'd like some help finding a syllabus or other course materials that are a good fit for you and the work you'd like to do, please feel free to get in touch with us
Especially if you want to do it yourself, local resources for writers are essential - they include classes, events, and writing groups. Here’s our post about some of them in the Portland area.  Also see our booklist of creative writing prompts and guides for ideas for creating your own assignments!
Let's not forget that the whole point of an MFA program in Creative Writing is to do a huge amount of work in a focused, directed sort of way. MFA students read like crazy, from the masters to the innovators. They write like crazy, all the time, head down and pen moving (or, you know, keyboard clicking). They read one anothers' work and think intensely about how and why a great piece of writing works. They dig deep into the mysteries and ambiguities and theories of language and literature. Get to work! 
*Sorry, shameless plug for library services. But seriously: everything you need to read is here, and plenty of resources for guidance about craft. We can help you borrow obscure poetry books via Interlibrary Loan, if necessary. We can connect you with suggestions for your reading list. We can even provide space for writing. If only we could help with the problem of time for writing.

Photo of curated clutter: plastic dinosaur, drawing, vintage cameraI admire minimalists. I really do. I totally get the peace of mind that comes with clean surfaces and simple outlines. I love natural linen, wood and neutral shades with bare hints of color. It’s just that I can’t maintain it for long.

I gravitate towards clashing patchwork patterns and ric rac. I see an amateur oil painting being discarded, and I have to rescue it. At the beach, I fill my pockets with interesting bits of wood and rock and when my father passed away, I claimed his collection of antlers to remember him by.Photo of corner clutter: oil painting, pillows, anters, books

Rather than see all of this stuff as clutter, I’ve been finding inspiration in my collections. A messy stack of books becomes an art installation when towered high on a vintage toddler chair. Tiny plastic goats balanced on the ledges of picture frames, add whimsy to a room, and in my opinion, antlers look good stacked or hung just about anywhere.

Maybe you’re a collector of objects yourself. Maybe like me, you’ve been trying to suppress your love of found, thrifted and handmade objects for the sake of living simply. Maybe you don’t have to. Check out my list for books that will inspire you to clear out your attic and display the things that bring you joy.  After all, it’s not clutter if it’s curated.

Recently, I recommended some bead jewelry making books to a patron.  This inspired me to write about them.

Beads called my name back in 1992. They beckoned me over to look at them and dress them up with wire, filigree and clasps or earhooks. They are a comfort to me. Hours of joy is bestowed upon me when I spend time with them.  A friend taught me how to manipulate wire, beads and findings together to make necklaces and earrings when I visited her in San Francisco.

Over the years I have heard people talk about their bead obsession: they call it an addiction, a hobby, and a disease. I think of it as a healthy hobby. A hobby that lets the mind relax and stay in the present moment while crafting.

I am mostly a jewelry maker that likes to wire wrap. I essentially connect beads together with wire and connectors. I have also worked with crimp beads and soft flex wire (a type of string) and strung beads together.  And the newest thing I have tried with beads is bead embroidery which is stitching or hand sewing beads onto fabric or fabric forms.  

So of course, I have a list for you if you want to explore the world of beading and wire-wrapping. Have fun!

Feel like moving some paint?  Want to splatter some alcohol inks?

One of my current obsessions is learning how to do mixed media visual art.  To get started I looked at books by Seth Apter. I took classes at the local mixed media center: Collage and with Serena Barton and Chris Cozen.  I also like to follow the blogs of Pam Garrison and Mary Anne Moss for learning mixed media tips and tricks.  

To continue learning I started a mixed media club with a couple of friends. We meet monthly. We share and try new products.  Basically, we cheer each other on!  I have found the best mixed media foundation recipe from the Jenny Doh’s magazine Somerset Studio. Don’t be fooled by the lack of a cover image in our catalog - this magazine is visually stunning. Most importantly I am having fun and I wanted to share some of these resources so you can have fun too!


Subscribe to