Category Archives: Craft

2015: Creative Resolutions

Hello!  In brief, we can chalk up my absence to pneumonia.  I won’t go into detail because those weeks are lost.  But I have three things that made the whole experience slightly more bearable.  Aside from a variety of western and non-traditional medicines, I found some comfort in: Bronchial tea, herb throat drops with an effervescent center, and the best travel pillow ever (even though I stayed within my own four walls).

Now that I am feeling more like myself, it’s all things 2015.  Here’s my daily journal to start off the year:

IMG_4390 copy

This year I want to make something each day.  By hand.  I’m trying to create more than I consume.  I want to make intelligent mistakes (craft-wise)—the kind that I can articulate to you so you can avoid them.  I want to create with abandon.  I purchased a year-long goal calendar from Elise Cripe.  If I make something, or make progress on something, the circle gets filled.  Perfection won’t happen here, as I am a realist, and I know that one good flu bug could wreck this house for weeks.  Or a crazy day pops up.  Or a friend is visiting from afar.  But my little mantra for 2015 is: create daily.

All this creating feels great, and freeing…maybe a little too unstructured. So I’m adding in a small caveat:  prizes.  In addition to creating with abandon, once weekly, I’ll craft a prize.

What: A Prize Year is a year-long project where I am creating a prize ribbon once a week.  At the close of 2015, I’ll ideally have 52+ prize ribbons, and more importantly, have experienced the creative ebbs and flows of a year-long endeavor (simple, though it may be).

When: weekly, in 2015.  Weekly feels do-able.  I will reward myself for completing each prize with a notation on my calendar.  I bought a very simple kraft paper calendar, and I hand-carved a tiny prize-shaped rubber stamp.

IMG_4391 copy

Why a year-long project?

This is a creative exercise for me.  The weekly format and prize form provide a structure, but beyond that I will try to not limit myself in regard to materials.  I could, of course, assemble 50 prizes now, and dole them out over the year.  But I’m really interested in the process.  I’m curious to see how the project evolves, and changes.  I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a year-long commitment, creatively, and that is precisely why I’m pursuing it.

Why prize-ribbons?

Except for that perfect attendance award I “won” in high school, I‘ve never actually won a prize.  But I love the shapes, textures, varieties of prize ribbons.  Historically, they were personally ornamental.  Then militaristic, designated for royalty, and symbolized valour.  I want to delve into the history and craft of ribbonery.  I want to acquire some old equestrian ribbons, and dip them into Plasticine.  I want to make ribbons out of paper, and felt, and fabric.  In a variety of shapes and sizes.  I like that prize ribbons can be serious (think Nobel Peace Prize), or irreverent (You finished a spool of floss—way to go!)

Who: Me, the one-woman hand-making, prize-loving crafter.  And YOU, if you’d like!  (if you use Instagram, tag your photo to #aprizeyear, or send me a link; I’d love to see your prize creation).

So, that’s my windy road map for 2015.  Care to join me?

IMG_4389 copy

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Sewing on Paper

Unlike fabric, paper is unforgiving when sewn. Paper remembers.  It remembers every fold, and crease.  It remembers uneven tension, impatient presser-feet, hungry feed dogs.  Paper remembers when your stitches are too close, and when your thread empties.  But, like all good memory-keeping, these blemishes and imperfections show the process.

http://sewingschool.org/2012/09/25/sewing-school-turns-2/

source

Disclaimer: I am not a seamstress; I’m a sewing rule breaker. You’ve been warned.  Also, this is an image-heavy article.

I have two sewing machines. One machine is a 16-pound, 12-stitch Kenmore that my mother gave me for Christmas when I was twelve.  It is still one of my very favorite gifts that I’ve ever received.  I have to say that twelve stitches is a stretch; it’s basically straight and zigzag.  But this machine is a beast.  I could sew through sheetrock on this thing.  I’ve reupholstered chairs and vinyl banquettes.  I’ve made countless curtain panels, three quilts, and one pair of jean slippers that I thought would be cool but weren’t.  This machine is approaching vintage status, and even though I have a new machine, the Kenmore stays because it is a workhorse.

IMG_3441 copy

A few years ago, my mom asked me about a sewing machine recommendation for my sister.  And I promptly told her about the Brother CS-6000i that I’d been eyeing for myself.  I thought I needed more stitches.  A fancier interface.  An upgrade.  I also wanted something a little quieter. (The Kenmore roars).  And I was also contemplating a surger—which is a whole other animal.  When my mom surprised me with this new machine a few months later, (she was astonished that I was still using the same old Kenmore!), I was delighted, and test-drove it immediately.  It is a smoother sew.  It is user-friendly.  And it boasts so many stitches (that I really never use).

IMG_3559 copy

The first time I tortured my sewing machine with a stack of paper was over twelve years ago. I stitched the binding on 90 wedding programs for our wedding ceremony.  I can’t recall how I was inspired to do this type of binding, but I do remember that it was time consuming, and I agonized over perfect, straight stitches.  Bookbinders have been sewing together signatures and bindings for a thousand years, with much art and beauty and purpose.

I have some experience with hand-stitched books, but I also use the machine for quick booklets like this little one that I sent off to school with my then-kindergartener. It is filled with family photos and affirmations.  He carried it all year long in a special compartment in his backpack.  It weathered fairly well.

IMG_3436

While I’m still striving for the more artistic side of sewing on paper, I’ve corralled some thoughts here on my process and practice.

I sew on paper because machine and hand sewing act as an adhesive, a way for me to join this to that, and fast. Another reason:  texture.  I have said that the internet robs us all of texture, and even the very best photography fails to give the viewer a truly tactile experience—no matter what filter or app you use.  And, stitching (by hand or machine) is a sure-fire sign of a handmade creation. (Not that it can’t be done in a factory far, far away, but…you can tell).

If you haven’t used your sewing machine for paper, here are a couple things to consider:

  1. Use a new needle, and relegate it for paper only (like we all should with scissors).
  2. Try to keep your needle away from adhesives. You may want to tack your pieces together before attempting to sew; try paper or bulldog clips, or a bit of double stick tape away from your sewing path.
  3. Test thread and bobbin tension on a similar weight of scrap paper.
  4. Widen your stitch length to 3-4mm.  If your stitches are too close, they will lend a perforated effect—which does, however, have its own beauty and use.
  5. Use the same thread in the bobbin as is on the spool.  Or at least the same weight if you want contrasting colors.

Beauty happens when light filters in from the stitches.

IMG_3427 copy

stitching holds a doily in place–no wet adhesive required.

IMG_3424

transparent paper can be tricky; I like to sew or staple it.

IMG_3430

consider the backside of your stitching.

Paper.

I like to test-run all my paper through the machine each time I start a new project. I’ll bet the fabric sewists would concur.

When you are machine sewing paper, the weight of it reckons “Goldilocks.”  Paper that’s too thin, like tissue, tracing, thin floral paper, and old dictionary pages, will likely jam the machine or tear.  You can work around this predicament by using a new lightweight needle, and/or reinforce the paper with interfacing.  Or skip the machine, and stitch by hand.

Stock that is too thick can be coaxed through a machine by hand-cranking the flywheel. Or try a heavy-weight needle for denim or leather, and a very slow pace.  You may have to help the feed dogs by push/pulling the stock along.  You may get tracks from the feed dogs and presser foot pressure.  Speed matters here.

Vintage paper (sheet music and book pages) are sewing staples for me. However, sometimes this paper is really brittle, and perhaps won’t hold up to binding or folding.  You can reinforce the stitching with other bits of paper or fabric, which can be added before or after stitching.  Washi tape won’t gum up your needle as much as other adhesives tend to do.

IMG_3440

unadorned art journal page with machine-stitched edging, and pamphlet-bound signature.

Thread.

Usually, I thread up my machine, and use it use it use it till the thread or bobbin run dry.  I only sometimes change it for a specific color.  It’s auto-pilot on my part, and that could use some evaluating.  I take tremendous care choosing a writing instrument; I should be more thoughtful about thread, line, and stitch.

IMG_3426 copy

these are snippets from our family book (Project Life).

IMG_3428 copy

from 2013 December Daily/Advent Book. white on white delineated lines.

I use all sorts of threads. Modern all-purpose threads work great. (Gutterman, Coats, Mölnlycke are my favorites). But I also find and buy vintage threads because I love the wooden spools, the vintage label, the fading.  These threads work great on paper because you aren’t asking them to hold fast through washes, detergent, or heat.  But know that can be brittle.

Try to back-stitch your ends. That will lock in your thread, and prevent unraveling or an empty hole.  But also, you needn’t!  You can let those ends loose! You can clip them short!  You can leave the tails long and flowing!  See? Rule-breaking.

I sew on paper often. Daily, even.  In making notes for this article, I realized I’m in a rut with my sewing.  I use a one-dimensional technique for lines, outlines, and adhesive.  But little else.  This discovery is exactly why writing and self-assessment are such good tools for creative processes.  I know people are doing amazing things with their machines—drawing with stitches, texture by sew-scribbling over fabric, joining interesting patterns with bold and intricate stitching. I’m now trying to explore and experiment with new-to-me sewing on paper techniques and trials.

Want to see some beautiful, artful threadwork? I admire:

Jody Alexander, Wishi Washi Studio

Mary Ann Moss, Dispatch from LA

Rebecca Ringquist, Drop Cloth Studio

PS: Hey, San Francisco Bay Area bibliophiles! I just wanted to advertise that the San Francisco Public Library is having it’s Annual Big Book Sale  at Ft. Mason next week, Sept. 24-28, 2014.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Summer: August Edition

I have too many project ideas.  This would be a superb problem if my free time were correlative. It is not.  However, I can choose how to spend my small windows of time, and this week—now that school is back in session—I’m making all sorts of things…

  • Fancy To Do: Lists.

913 copy

I’m also making–

  • Wedding place cards and a seating chart: the bride and groom have a monogrammed cork with a pre-cut channel for the card.  We’re collaborating on shape and calligraphy, or well, my best handwriting.
  • Crepe and tissue paper flowers by the handful: I’m working from Paper to Petal: 75 Whimsical Paper Flowers to Craft by Hand by Rebecca Thuss and Patrick Farrell.  I love this book, and can’t wait to share an in-depth review.  And also a synopsis, because I think it would be a good writing exercise to condense my lengthier reviews.  Meanwhile, I’m wrapping floral wire with floral tape on repeat, because it’s the hardest part for me.
  • Thank you notes: I have a lot to be thankful for–good teachers, remarkable friends, thoughtful cousins.  I love to craft personal, meaningful notes that get a stamp, and travel by air, and arrive in a mailbox that might otherwise contain credit card offers, alumnae requests, and grocery circulars.  I cut and fold envelopes.  I use vintage paper and fortune cookie fortunes (among many other bits & pieces). I stitch and stamp address labels.  The whole shebang.
  • Travel Journal: Our family took a wonderful trip to Scandinavia this summer.  There are thousands of things to say about this adventure, and I don’t want to let too much time slip by before corralling photos and tickets and favorite memories into one volume.  For example, I want to remember overhearing a Norwegian mom tell her kids to eat their sangwiches, which is exactly how my Norwegian grandmother pronounced sandwich, and I’ve never heard another person say it that way.
  • And, rituals: Since I make so many things alone, without much feedback, momentum is a challenge.  I am reading Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, and that is helping my perspective.  But also, I’m establishing some rituals to put me in a more creative framework during those small windows of available time.  In the meantime, here’s the current state of my workspace:
901 copy

west-facing desk

900 copy

east-facing desk.

Thus far, my craft ritual entails brushing my teeth, drinking green tea, rejecting the mess, and sitting down with pen to paper.  I’m trying to ignore Salon.com, MLB at Bat, and Instagram.  The ritual needs some work.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Summer: June Edition.

My boys are out of school for the summer.  So, it’s been a week+ of Lego-building, escaping the fog for some pool time, and ransacking SFPL to stock up on summer reading.  We’ve also cheered the SF Giants at a chilly night game, visited the dentist (no cavities!!), weeded part of the yard, participated in a potential World Record-breaking chain letter operation, and made Smitten Kitchen’s Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats.  And today, we’re carving our own rubber stamps.

M carving

carving a yo-yo.

N drawing

drawing an assortment of arrows.

Next week, the boys are off to camp, and I’ll share some words about rubber stamp carving books.

 

 

Tagged , ,

Books for Your Back Pocket.

jotters cls

jotters suitable for gifting. (featuring Poppy’s paintbrushes).

I have a fondness for books. I love the structure, and the variety.  I like that they can hold secrets or daily-ness.  They can contain personal wishes or public proclamations.  They can house technique-testing or sketches or big ideas.  I make books for all seasons, and just as a creative exercise.  I also make small, pocket-sized jotters for lists.  Lists of art supplies and groceries and to do’s.  It began as a way to use up small scraps of ledger and patterned paper.  I bind these jotters with waxed linen in a pamphlet stitch.  Simple, and purposeful.  I have, on occasion, gifted these jotters as opposed to a card, and I affix a greeting with washi tape.  And I often collage or otherwise embellish the front—you know, for fun.

McCafferty, Kathleen.making mini books
Making Mini Books:
Big Ideas for 30+ Little Projects.
Illustrated. 144pp.  Lark Crafts, 2011. $19.95
ISBN-10:1454702001
ISBN-13:978-1454702009
686.3—M1235m

Making Mini Books, edited by Kathleen McCafferty, is arranged from the simplest matchbook projects to the more elaborately sewn accordion books, and includes an appendix to help guide you through an assortment of sewn bindings.  It features the work of 22 book designers, and 30+ projects in total.  Any level of book-maker can leap into this volume and find a do-able project without needing any elaborate supplies.

My journey through Making Mini Books made my art room look like a recycling tornado swept through.  Vintage papers, maps, patterned scraps—everywhere.  The tail ends of waxed linen thread, scattered buttons, and leather snippets.  The books may be tiny, but I made a huge mess.  I wish I took before and after pictures.

First, I made the simple matchbooks, designed by Leslie Werner. I had some 3X3 inch scraps. Leslie’s matchbooks are smaller, so I adjusted accordingly.  I used double-sided scrapbook patterned paper, so when opened, the matchbook would reveal a wholly different color.  I stapled with the tiny attacher; I like the smaller staples.  I also tamped down on the back side of the staple with a flat tool so the sharp legs were embedded and would not snag.  These portable little books would be fine for lists and favors.  But I made one exclusively for dinner-time hang man.  My husband and I recently discovered that our boys (almost 10 & almost 8) love this game, and it is great entertainment while waiting at restaurants or while traveling.

DSC_4727

matchbooks for grocery lists, and hang man games.

I also made the equally simple, sewing machine-bound beveled books, designed by Stephanie Morison. Again, I worked with scrap papers.  (I was given a ream of old company letterhead.  The paper is a crisp, heavy white stock, and once I trim the left margin with out-dated company information, I’m left with a 5½X8½ inch block).  The instructions recommend testing out 14 sheets to see if your machine can handle the bulk; mine needed some manual assistance, so next time, I’ll reduce sheets.  These petite books will make useful jotters for all notes: garden seed varieties, sticker collections and wedding shower gift-listing (who gave what for the Thank You notes).

small jotters

palm-sized jotters for keep-able list-making. (I love hyphens).

Since I had a scrap of leather, I made the petite fold journal, designed by Marie “Wee” Calogerro.  More scrap paper, waxed linen thread, and two old buttons.  I had attempted the French stitch binding, and I had success with the instructions, but I feared that if I pulled too hard to keep the binding tight, I might ruin the holes I punched into the leather.  So I went with a straight stitch.  If you’ve never sewn together multiple signatures before, you may want to find a video tutorial to see the process in action.  I found that the tutorials took a broader approach, and I can see how a beginner might be flummoxed.  I’m happy with how this book turned out.  It’s a good size at ­­­­5½X4 inches (which is larger than the book sample), and it lies relatively flat when opened. Only one of my buttons is functional, the distressed brass one is sewn on, but solely decorative.

DSC_4716

old books, book binding, & a new-to-me matryoshka.

DSC_4711

leather-bound journal, with accompanying minis

My favorite project from Making Mini Books was the book On the Go, designed by Heather Carden.  I had an immediate need for exactly this type of book.  Many years ago, I learned how to cross-stitch and embroider, and worked my way through monogrammed bookmarks and a Holly Hobbie wall hanging.  Lately, I’m seeing great embroidery everywhere (Etsy, Pinterest, Creative Bug), and, if you’ll recall from a few posts back, I have many empty hoops.  So I’m taking it up again (and reviewing a few embroidery books in the process).  I had started with some simple linen and a line drawing. I wanted to take the project on a long flight.  But, how to remember the stitches?  Yes, simple ones are easy; it’s those fancy ones that I always jumble.  I thought I could either print and cut a stitch guide and bind it into a little book, OR make a mirror image photocopy and image transfer the stitches into a book of interesting vintage papers.

DSC_4721

on the go stitch guide! and starting a new hoop.

DSC_4725

it unclips! and fastens up!

The cover for my book On the Go features an embossed bee from an old book, and a mash-up of old pages inside.  I used a lobster claw swivel clasp to allow me to remove the book, and thumb through the pages.  The necklace portion is a length of paracord, enhanced with a portion of rhinestone chain that I simply wrapped and knotted with waxed linen thread.  The book also has a band of elastic bound with a metal eyelet on the back cover.

Aside from my initial stitch guide idea for this book, I plan to make a couple more for our big family trip later this summer.  With this little book, I can—on the fly—record things that we don’t want to forget: observations and priceless words from our kids while exploring completely foreign turf.  Further, this On the Go Book could house pictures of your beloved ones, SAT vocabulary words, knitting stitches, or twenty of your favorite quotations.  The sky’s the limit.

Thanks, Kathleen McCafferty, for rallying 22 crafty book-makers, and organizing a syllabus of simple to complex book projects that are diminutive and practical, and allowed me to up-cycle a stack of old letterhead, and carry on with my embroidery like an old pro.

 

If you enjoy making books by hand, there are many great books available.  Some of my favorites:

Making Handmade Books, by Alysa Golden.

Rebound, by Jeannine Stein.

How to Make Books, by Ester K. Smith.

And a suite of non-adhesive book-binding books by Keith Smith.

PS:  A couple weeks ago, I wrote about miniature faux taxidermy animals.  Lest you think I’m morbid, or that taxidermy isn’t cool, I spied an article in last week’s United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine featuring a UK shop that teaches taxidermy classes!  You can create your own mouse wearing a chef hat or knitting an afghan.  The accessories may be faux, but the mouse is for real.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Big Excitement about Tiny Crafts.

I never had a dollhouse.  There was a communal one that we all played with, made of tin, at my grandmother’s house.  And a grand Victorian that my grandfather made my sister when I was an age considered too old.  It occurred to me when my boys were in preschool that they could have a doll house; they had a vague interest in the giant one at our little school.  But the time came and went, and Legos entered our lives.  Legos.  We could fill a macro-sized dump truck with the Legos in our house.  The most popular series under our roof is the line of Minifigures, from generic space guys to specialized licensed characters.  We’ve got them in abundance.  My almost-ten year old has versions of himself “in Lego.”  Made his whole class “in Lego.”  Made all the Greek gods and goddesses “in Lego.”  We’ve customized some parts with Sharpie.  And I have on two occasions made miniature rolls of toilet paper for a Lego port-o-potty.  This has been the extent of micro-crafting at our house.

McGuire, Margaret.  Alicia Kachmar, Katie Hatz.microcrafts
Microcrafts:
Tiny Treasures to Make and Share.
Illustrated. 87pp.  Quirk Books, 2011. $16.95
ISBN-10:1594745218
ISBN-13:978-1594745218
745.592—M5835

I found Microcrafts while browsing the 745s at my library’s main branch.  There were thousands of books keeping this one company, but the enormous spool of thread on the cover captured me, and when I peeked inside and saw the miniature deer heads—into the book bag it went!  The microcrafts featured are very small scale versions of stuffed animals, sculptures, jewelry, books and cards.  I generally steer toward purposeful crafts, and I have to say that outside of accessorizing a doll’s house, you may have trouble imagining what you’d do with some of these little trinkets.  I suggest that most of the crafts can be glued to a magnet or clothespin, rendering them more useful.  They can also punctuate a gift, be tucked into a lunch box, or be intentionally left on a park bench to be delightfully discovered.

Once home, I fawned a bit more over the deer heads (and ordered a brick of Sculpey).  I also flagged a page featuring a book no bigger than a postage stamp.  There was even a tiny bird feeder made from a clear drinking straw!  (But seeing as how I’m well underway in killing the lemon cypress trees* on the patio, I’ll have to table that idea till I can get a bonsai to thrive).  Meanwhile, I obsessed about those deer heads for three days…

When the Sculpey arrived, I halted the presses.  I preheated the oven, rolled out some waxed paper, and dove right in.  Shaping deer heads isn’t quite so easy; I used some internet imagery to help.  Then, because I have 1 ¾ pounds of clay, I made a rabbit, a tiger, a brown bear, and some feathers.  I baked them while our dinner cooked stovetop.  My husband, the cookie fanatic, was sorely disappointed to discover a menagerie of taxidermy baking in the oven.  I made my deer heads slightly bigger by accident, so I had to size up the mounting plaques.  I should have checked them against the pattern first, because Sculpey doesn’t shrink.  I had plans to use some wood veneer for the plaques, but have you ever tried to intricately cut wood veneer with scissors?  It was like cutting a cracker.  Bits everywhere.  I recommend a cracker box, or chipboard.  Now, to find some proper antlers…

DSC_4645

Absolute magic happened when I showed the book to my almost-8 year old son.  He’s a tiger lover, a magpie, and a hoarder in training.  And green is his signature color.  I once rescued a green sequin from the gutter for this child.  He saw the mini cat project, and had to have a tiger.  Except in green. With gold stripes.  He ran for his own supply of green felt, and green yarn.  We sat and made this tiger-kitty in ten minutes, then painted his features.  He requested orange felt be added to the shopping list.

green kitty

Invigorated with the quick success of micro-tiger, I set to work on the miniature book.  I followed the instructions to the letter, since I knew the binding step would be easier if I didn’t make drastic alterations.  And I must say, if this is your first foray into book-binding, just be patient.  Follow the chart.  Give yourself time to do the sewing in one sitting.  You can hold the book with two fingers, and sew with the opposite hand, unlike a larger book that requires lots of cumbersome back and forth maneuvers.  If you are completely new to book-binding, there are great books that take you step by step through many binding varieties.  (If you fall in love with the craft, visit Dispatch from LA with Mary Ann Moss.  She makes beautiful, authentically-Mary Ann books, and teaches online classes.  Actually, you should just visit her site regardless.  She makes good stuff).  Midway through the process, I chose petite anchor-printed endpapers, and found a snippet of text about fair winds and sailing for the cover paper.  At this point, I also had a recipient in mind, and I spent the rest of the evening building a book that will house a years’ worth of thank yous from a great class of fourth graders.  The miniature book instructions in Microcrafts yielded a fetching little book.  I added endbands made from a piece of ribbon, and also affixed a jump ring so it can be worn as a necklace.

minibook

I order my bookbinding supplies from Volcano Arts (Japanese screw punch bits, endband, needles) and Etsy for waxed linen thread.  A quick search of “miniature” on Etsy or Pinterest produces thousands of small things, perfect for terrariums, doll houses, and curios.  But I think some of them may also have potential for one of my favorite things—water globes.

This book is for all levels of crafter, especially one who likes to sew tiny felt animals or assemble micro-scraps of fabric and paper.  It is light on prose, but is brimming with great photography and descriptive instructions.  Many projects feature a little magnified snippet with a tip on managing such a small pieces.  There is a reference section in the back focused especially on the miniature scale.  (Hint: toothpicks, nail art brushes, and HO-scale railroad people are recommended).  Also, there is a section for modifying Microcrafts, plus a list of shopping resources.

You can read more at: www.quirkbooks.com/microcrafts.  Margaret posts on Pinterest.  Alicia’s Etsy shop is: eternalsunshine.etsy.com.  Katie’s Etsy shop is: katiehatz.etsy.com.  The contributor’s section of the book hosts fourteen more artists, and their respective online spots.

Thanks, Margaret McGuire, Alicia Kachmar, Katie Hatz, and Co., for compiling a book that surprised and delighted all members of my family, helped us use 3 dozen toothpicks, and compelled me to buy a rainbow of felt.

*I welcome all advice on the pair of dwarf lemon cypresses that I happen to think were failing when I purchased them.  They should be bright chartreuse.  They are crispy and brown, and—I fear—done for.

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

Collaborative Crafting for Bibliophiles.

Do you remember receiving your first library card? I wish I still had my card in possession, but I remember it distinctly. It had a wobbly signature, and was hand-laminated by a bi-focaled librarian from America’s first publicly funded library: Scoville Memorial in Salisbury, Connecticut. The library façade is granite mined from a nearby quarry, and from the walk, it resembles a small chateau. And inside it smells like a library. Papery and cool, even on the most humid summer day. I’ve since held many other library cards from other towns, colleges, and cities. And while I think it is still a choice pleasure to browse the stacks of a library, losing hours to that 90 degree head-tilt to read the spines, I absolutely love the ease and efficiency of the “request” system. This ability to create succulent reading lists online and have them delivered to my local branch was the difference between my sanity and an existence I’d rather not acknowledge during those early, frazzled days of motherhood. The library has saved me countless times in my life. So it is with the chiefest pleasure that I offer up my review BiblioCraft, a book that marries my two favorite occupations: libraries and making.

Pigza, Jessica.Bibliocraft
BiblioCraft:
A Modern Crafter’s Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects.
Illustrated. 207pp. STC Craft/A Melanie Falick Book, 2014. $27.50
ISBN-10: 1617690961
ISBN-13: 978-1617690969
745.5—P629b

Written by NYPL rare book librarian and avid crafter Jessica Pigza, BiblioCraft is a tremendous collaboration between a librarian and a crew of artists and crafters.  The range of source material for the body of projects is completely diverse.  This book makes me want to marbleize paper, embroider cartouches, and explore every library in my day-tripping radius.  Jessica provides personal and useful commentary on the partnership of librarian and visiting bibliophile/artist.  There are chapters on research libraries and the nature of special collections, finding the right library, planning your visit, and using the cataloging system.  Jessica includes a copyright primer where there are some guidelines and many resources.  There is a list of digital libraries to reference, and recommended library collections—helpful for planning your next getaway to, say, The American Craft Council Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Or the National Library of the Netherlands, in The Hague, for an exhibit on the history of decorated papers.  Curious?  I was.  Here’s the link: http://www.kb.nl/en/web-exhibitions/decorated-paper.  I completely appreciate the window into a far-flung library.

The 20+ projects included in Bibliocraft traverse stitching, sewing, embroidering, paper cutting, and stenciling a host of home décor projects.  The ideas are all beautifully conceived, with full back-story on each artist’s source point.  For example, the marbled fabric pouch made by Jodi Kahn was inspired by the historical marbled end papers found in old volumes.   A delicately quilled willow pendant designed by Ann Martin sprang from the gilt blossoms and leaves of a book cover.   Each project features a designer who worked with Jessica to find precisely the source material needed to propel the idea into fruition.  There is a narrative about the craft, and its history, as well as the story of how the historical document converged with modern craft designer.  I love reading about this process.

All the projects offer a full set of instructions and templates to complete each craft.  Some projects offer ideas on how to take the project further or alter to your taste.  Jessica, ever the librarian, instills more knowledge about each subject and suggests further readings and subject headings.  There are so many possibilities in this book; I want to make everything.

Pigza quotes

The above quote in the teal spot isn’t from Jessica’s book, but it is a favorite.  Prompted by Jessica’s quote about a wish list, I spent half an afternoon dreaming up wish list topics and things that fascinate me.  Here’s my short-list:

wish list

Bibliocraft is a book all artists and crafters will want to own.  My copy is borrowed, fittingly, but I plan to purchase it for its wealth of references, in addition to great project ideas.  Some of my favorite projects from the book include Jessica’s dogwood blossoms (great for attaching to packages), Grace Bonney’s antiquarian animal votive holders (I need a set: tiger, bear, koala or owl, lion, and maybe a snail), Sarah Goldschadt’s paper towns (I want to make tall, skinny, ornate row houses from the waterways of Amsterdam!)  And Rebecca Ringquist’s cartouche embroidery.  She used an old map cartouche as inspiration for a quilt label.  I have seen entire wall displays filled with hoop art.  I currently have twelve empty embroidery hoops of varying sizes.  I’m thinking about ampersands and arrows, initials, and a family crest.  There might be some mixed media embroidery since I love to sew paper to fabric.  Oh, the possibilities!  My library field trip is scheduled! Phase one: completed!  Phase two: bring copy card, wish list, ear plugs, and rations.

Read more about Jessica’s adventures in making at handmadelibrarian.com.  Also, she writes on NYPL’s blog about events, crafting, and Crafternoons at http://www.nypl.org/blog/author/jessica-pigza.

Thanks, Jessica Pigza, for researching, writing, and crafting a book that makes me want to befriend a librarian and hole up in the rare book corral at SFPL’s Main Library, then come home and turn old tea cup markings into embroidered wall hangings.

Tagged , , , ,

Art & Craft Merger

Last week I was on a terrific bird hunt to make the Faux Taxidermy project from Blair Stocker’s Wisecraft.

IMG_2272

There were birds to be had on Etsy and Ebay, but I’m impatient sometimes, and the crafting cannot wait.  I went to my local Beverly’s, and happily birds were 30% off, which is great because I had big plans to dissect her.

fake bird

This is an example of the same brand/different bird on Amazon.  I might have actually bought and used this finch had it been in stock.  Instead, I bought a really weird looking canvas bird, and I am remiss for not photographing it for you.  But again, I am sometimes impatient when crafting.  The plan for this bird was to make a shadow box, featuring the bird, and a simple calligraphy label.  I love when crafty plans go awry.

Concurrently, I was reading and creating from Randel Plowman’s Collage Workbook.  I was making 5-minute collages and bird-themed collages and map-based collages.  While the collages were drying under a weighty American Heritage Dictionary, I dismantled the bird.  I also rummaged around for the sturdiest box to house my faux bird.  I have a collection of small, strong, hinge-lidded boxes from my Studio Calico Project Life® subscription*.  They are very good quality boxes that arrive monthly, and I knew that I would find a project for them at some point.

Happily, the bird fit into the box!  So I continued with my bird re-feathering, and since it had a metal clip instead of feet, I fashioned some legs and feet from a small piece of floral wire which—all of a sudden—magnetically stuck to the top of the box!  These strong magnets on either side easily hold a small bird upright.

bird foot meets magnet

And while I was delighted to have discovered that a bird could sit on top of the shadow box, I was foiled about what would go IN the box.  Another bird?  (I had several bird-making books on hold at the library, plus an old issue of Somerset Studios with a bird-maker interview).  And all the while, those collages dried flat under the dictionary behind me.  You know where this is going.

Back to the bird:

bird pattern making

After I had carefully taken all the canvas off the foam core, I laid each piece down and traced out the pattern.  Her tail was sort of over the top for her size, so I didn’t build that into her remake.  I kept the same beak, eyes, and wing shape, but simplified the tail, and added some vintage feather bits to her wings.  I cut new pieces of fabric from a vintage linen remnant, and glued them all back together onto the foam core.  I bent two small feet from floral wire, and left them green—she’s already a fabric bird, no need to force the faux issue.

Then I sanded the box.  It had a smooth surface, and the paint wouldn’t stick without deglossing; in hindsight, I probably should have primed it too.  But, as it was in the middle of dinner preparations, and I was throwing together pasta and sautéing vegetables in the kitchen while painting a second coat on my bird-box in the garage.  A juggling act.  Forget priming.  I used a small tester pot from Benjamin Moore called Deep in Thought.  (I have many of these tester pots, and I vow to find other small paint projects to use them up!)

Once the bird and box were fully dried, I set them on my desk, and thought maybe a bird poem would go inside—Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers?”  Lyrics from a song— Jolie Holland’s “The Littlest Bird?”

bird complete

I think this is the point that I pulled out the collages, some of which were portrait in orientation, and wouldn’t fit. But were four horizontal, and fit nicely.  And that made for one happy maker.  A tilt on Blair Stocker’s lovely bird shadow-box-turned-evolving-display for collages!  And that, good people of the internet, is how I got sidetracked from Blair’s project idea, but I don’t think she’ll mind.  I still love Blair’s bird boxes, and will likely make a set as soon as I have the right birds.

The box is light-weight, and I plan to affix it to the wall with a piece of Command Strip, though I haven’t decided where to hang it.  I think a series is in order.

bird and collage

 

*Project Life® is a system of memory-keeping designed by Becky Higgins meant to stream-line photos and scrapbooking.  Studio Calico is a design company who builds fun papery kits in addition to Becky’s line.  I happen to love these monthly small boxes of supplies, and use the contents for all sorts of crafting.  I also maintain a Family Book—my own version of Project Life, and perhaps I’ll share my process for that project here.

Tagged , , , ,

Collage for Keeps

As a mom with two very active boys, the “get started” part of any project is often my biggest hurdle.  It’s easy for me to derail when I don’t have the right ingredient, the perfect shade of paint, or an entire bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  (I do have a neighbor who buys her chocolate chips in bulk, so there is wiggle room on that one).  My chocolate chip neighbor—and friend, opera singer, (& editor: thanks Ann!)—will often send one of her boys running down to our house for large sheets of paper, pipe cleaners, or fabric.  It’s the best kind of neighborhood smack in the middle of our beautiful city.

Plowman, Randel.The+Collage+Workbook
The Collage Workbook:
How to Get Started and Stay Inspired.
Illustrated. 132pp.  Lark Crafts, 2012. $17.95
ISBN-10:1454701994
ISBN-13:978-1454701996
702.812—P726c

But collage!  Getting Started!  Randel’s approach requires very little start-up materials.  You can jump right in with an old National Geographic, scissors, and glue.  You can use what you have.  The phone book you don’t reference, but they insist on delivering.  Junk mail.  Magazines.  Workbook pages from your kid’s homework, especially with some scrawling.  The envelope from your tea bag: Harney & Son’s Paris, hands down. Randel recommends a few other supplies like inks, crayons, paints and a bone folder.  And he discusses foundations for your collage, adhesives, cutting tools, and other media.

plowman quotes

Randel also suggests printing some collage materials on tracing paper.  I love this idea for the semi-transparent quality and layering it creates.  I receive a weekly newsletter from Dover Publications, which features public domain imagery samples that can be saved directly to your computer. I created a few sheets of these vintage images and printed them to add to my bin of materials.

This is a book to help you investigate your own collage style.  The only way to get there is to get started and make.  And make some more.  Collage can be as simple as a few scraps of paper combined in an interesting way. Sometimes, seeing two distinct items conjoined is enough of a commentary.  Randel is a pro at creating.  Several years ago, he started a blog called Collage a Day, and committed to using his collection of ephemera.  His dedication to the art form resulted in hundreds of collages, many followers and collectors of his work, and this book.  He wants us all to make collages!  And he encourages us to jump right in.  This enthusiasm folds into his first exercise: Five 5-minute collages.  Five sheets of watercolor paper cut to 3X5, five minutes per card, and twenty-five minutes later you have surprising results.  Here are a few of mine:

For me, the collages begin with a piece or two of interesting background paper.  The secondary images inject color and texture (snippet of Braille, origami paper, upside down popsicles*). Then, my favorite part, adding in bits of detail (postage stamps, vintage labels, packing tape transfers, washi tape). I layer rubber stamping in plain black ink, and toner image transfers as well.  A few of the collages have some machine stitching, which looks good on a window ledge, since the light peeks through the needle holes.                     *I regret that I do not know the source of this image.

After completing my small series of collages, I took a step back and observed what I was inclined to use.  Old book pages, tattered sheet music, and a forest map.  Birds. Postage. And also texture.  There is a scrap of Braille glued down inversely, zigzag stitching, and a stencil that I spackled with Texture Magic (by Delta/Plaid, which doesn’t seem to be available).  Texture is where the internet fails us all.  I foresee combining more stitching with paper and fabrics, more layers, more pinked edges.

This is a great book for those new to collage, or needing to refresh their style.  But seasoned collage artists will still find value in many of the exercises, and inspiration in Randel’s work.  The fifty exercises vary between color studies and image pairings, geometrics and typography, maps and storybooks.  The  collages feature birds, flowers, and power lines.  And he even incorporates the scribbling of a child.  My favorite collage of Randal’s is called Ten, featured in the section on working with Numbers.  I love the bits of penciled arithmetic, a chemical compound, the digits 10 and word ten, and a vintage bird.  If you search for Randel’s collages, you’ll find hundreds to peek at online.  That alone is hugely inspiring.  Plus, he included a duplicate-able image library in the book to get you started.

Find more of Randel’s art for viewing and for sale, plus collage ideas at: randelplowman.com, acollageaday.blogspot.com.  The Collage Workbook blog features other collage artists: www.thecollageworkbook.blogspot.com

Thanks, Randel Plowman, for writing this book on jump-starting an intuitive collage practice that encourages me to collect (even more) ephemera and forlorn manuals to build into curious vignettes of jump ropers and the U.S. Post Office.*

*among many other agreeable and strange topics.

 

Tagged , , , ,

purposeful crafting.

I love a flea market.  Used book sales.  Thrift stores.  And most especially, my local reuse center SCRAP.  We also have the grand dame of Northern California antique fairs at Alameda Point (first Sunday of the month).  Even if I’m making something with new supplies, I often add in a bit of old paper.  I feel like it anchors the piece in a wholly different time.  I also have crates of old books, vintage notions, and chipped plates all just waiting for divine inspiration.  Enter Blair Stocker’s new book, Wise Craft.

 

Stocker, Blair.

Wise Craft:Wise Craft front panel

Turning Thrift Store Finds, Fabric Scraps, and Natural Objects into Stuff You Love.

184pp.  Running Press, 2014. $20.

ISBN-10: 0762449691

ISBN-13: 978-0762449699

DDC 745.5

This soft-bound volume is jam-packed with ideas on resuscitating old things.  Its’ cover brings handicraft right into modern: embossed title cut from fabric and scraps, subtitle in a cursive chalk, author’s name on a garment label.  There are several tutorials simply illustrated by Lisa Congdon.  The book is well-indexed, and has a host of templates to help you complete the projects as seen.  Blair also recommends a crafter’s toolkit.  It’s a curated list that many people should have no trouble rounding up.  The book is arranged by season, though many projects could overlap.  I relish when cookbooks organize by season, and I can see why Blair takes this approach as we all go through seasons of creativity and making distinctly related to weather, light, and materials.

I find that the process of creating something new from a tired or neglected item makes it feel more special, more intentional.  I am not militantly “green” or obsessed with thrift.  I just find that creating original pieces from gathered goods gives me a more personal connection to my surroundings and environment.  It establishes a sense of value: of place, of family, of personal history.                          -Blair Stocker

Each of the 60 projects begins with a brief, but personal description; I enjoy knowing why and how a person was inspired to make something.  Some of Blair’s projects are very simple and easy for the new-to-crafting type.  This might be frustrating for the more seasoned DIY-er, but I prefer to see these seeds as starting points: how can I make that silhouette leather coaster more interesting for me (who loves to emboss/stitch leather).  The book is appropriate for all level of crafter.

Spring for Blair means cleaning and tidying, and the inspiration to make new things.  This chapter has home décor items like personalized statement dishes—easily accomplished with the right china marker, and a recycled flower mirror (the mirror frame has been embellished with soft fibers and felts cut into leaves and blossoms) that has me wracking my brain to remember where I tucked away those old sweaters I was saving for something special.  She made a series of glittered art wall pieces that features the Stocker Family made-up words.  I instantly thought of a short-list of words and phrases that would look great in glitterati for our house.

Summer, in the words of Blair, “is the peak season for garage sales.”  And when I saw her woven chair back, I was awed.  There are so many times when I pass up rattan or caned chairs because I’m slightly intimidated by the brittle material.  But this chair boasts a fresh seat and colorful woven backrest.  When I recently walked through Salvation Army, I heavily contemplated a gorgeous old chair with an upholstered seat, and a weathered rattan back.  I need to go back; I’m committed to trying something similar.

Fall is my favorite season–aside from that one holiday ALL arachnophobes loathe, therefore I do not decorate with webs or plastic creepies.  I stick to owls and ravens, pumpkins and bats.  So Blair’s spooky dishes are perfect for me.  Sweet, vintage plates with a seasonal surprise.  Even a drawing from a child—a mean pumpkin face or a grimacing candy corn—can be scanned and decaled onto a thrifted piece of china.   Also, the book features a tabletop garden that, even though it is spring right now, makes me want to renovate my current terrarium with rocks, sticks and driftwood.  It features three lonely succulents.  I tried to cajole my boys into a nature walk/treasure hunt for the purpose of terrarium adornments.  I have two sticks to show for it.  To be fair, they did present me with two stolen flower heads—one with a missing petal, and a feather that was supremely battered.  The flowers died by bedtime, and the feather is missing in action.  I think another walk is in order, but for now it looks like this:

terrarium

Another classic project from the book is the miniature faux taxidermy mounted in deep shadowboxes.  I adore shadowboxes.  The hard part is editing what goes into them, and this project has inspired me to keep it simple.  Blair’s shadowbox trio features a single, perched, plumed bird—fake, of course—and a simple, scripted label which is an opportunity to practice your calligraphy or old-school cursive.  Maybe even ask your fourth-grader to pen it out for you.  Where am I at with this project? I have three shadowbox candidates.  I have sticks and dowels for perches.  But I do not have acceptable faux birds.  And even though I’m inspired by Blair’s simple, vintage birds, I haven’t found any remotely natural-looking.  I got lost in an internet rabbit-hole searching for fabric bird tutorials.  And I now have two books on bird-making headed in my direction.

While this book has jump-started several ideas and 50% complete projects, I do have one start-to-finish to share: the bead-bombed tote bag.  Blair made hers from a woebegone tablecloth.  I used a piece of vintage fabric that I’ve been saving for twenty years.  Twenty.  I am so glad to have put this piece of fabric to use!  Further, I live in San Francisco, where reusable bags are a requirement for all shopping (or pay a bag fee, and live with the scrutiny).  I have many bags for the grocery shopping, but I like to have separate ones for the library or new sweaters.  Enter this tote.  I followed Blair’s instructions from start to finish.  I think this is a note-worthy comment since I usually see a picture, and try to wing it.  But, for the purpose of this review, the instructions are clearly written, and yield a great, sturdy tote.  Mine is lined with a medium weight canvas (per instructions) that should support a load from the library, or a long day at the flea market.  In the spirit of making it mine, I added a simple pocket, off-centered for  right-hand wear, for keys and phone.  I started a small patch of beading on the reverse side.  It adds a bit of interest to the old fabric.  I am not sure how it will wear.  I considered sewing the beads in place, but for now, the fabric glue is completely invisible, and the beads are staying put!

beaded tote  bloom for wisecraft

Like the rest of us artists and makers, winter is a scramble to create holiday gifts, décor, cards, and treats, and if you live in reach of polar vortexes, major efforts to stay cozy.  Thus many of Blair’s winter projects are of the felted and fleeced variety.  My favorite from this chapter is a remix of the spring flower mirror, simplified into a single bloom brooch.  (I added one spring-like flower to the strap/bag intersection of my tote!)  This is the perfect, speedy gift for teachers and cousins. It would be a beautiful gift embellishment, or grace a bottle of wine or craft beer.  Or make a collection for your caroling group.  The thing I love most about this idea is that I’m thinking about it NOW, in May.  So I can spend the next few weeks hunting for tartans and plaids when no one else cares.  I feel ahead of the holidays already!

You can find Blair in all her handmade glory at: http://blairstocker.com/

Thanks, Blair Stocker, for crafting a book that presses into service all those special cast-offs I’ve been saving for just the right project.

Tagged , , , , ,