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.

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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:
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west-facing desk

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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.

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Fabric Sculpture.

Having grown up in the woods of Connecticut, bird stories in my family abound.  There was once a woodpecker that confused my grandparent’s aluminum siding with wood, and hammered away at it (loudly) every morning at dawn for weeks.  There was a saw whet owl that, one winter, perched in an evergreen outside my mother’s bathroom window, hooting for his mate.  We all hoped he’d return.  And my grandmother, lover of hummingbirds, did everything in her power to lull them into her yard.  She planted gladiolas and electric begonias.  She filled red feeders with nectar.  She carved out small spaces for them to hover and drink.

Glassenberg, Abigail Patner.The Artful Bird cover
The Artful Bird:
Feathered Friends to Make and Sew.
Illustrated. 159pp. Interweave Press, 2010, $24.99.
ISBN: 1596682388
ISBN 13: 978-1596682382
745.592-G464a

For years I’ve been meaning to try fabric sculpture, so I was thrilled to see that The Artful Bird featured a perched woodpecker, and an expressive owl.  I was hoping to find a hummingbird pattern as well, but as I fast discovered, sewing tiny pieces of fabric together isn’t easy, and sewing a hummingbird would require magnifying glasses and immeasurable patience.

Abby’s book covers the depth of materials, tools, and instructions needed to create the birds in her book, as well as any bird pattern that you wish to create yourself.  There are 40 bird projects and patterns, plus a gallery of guest artists, a stitch guide, and a resources section for finding specialty tools, stuffing, tapes, and wire.

Even though I have a queue of bird project possibilities, I spotted Abby’s penguin pattern and knew that it would be my first art bird.  I appreciate starting with the penguin for two main reasons: 1). The color palette was simple.  2). I know someone who loves and collects penguins, and I pour everything into a project when I know it has a recipient.  I went to my local crafter’s reuse facility, SCRAP, and dug around for black, white, grey, and yellow fabric.  For this project, I enjoy relying on the spontaneity of what might be found at SCRAP instead of purchasing new materials.

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one of two aisles of fabric at SCRAP.

The pattern pieces for all the birds in the book aren’t large, so many small scraps will do, and—bonus—you needn’t worry about fabric grain because Abby promises that grain variety only adds to the individuality and character of each bird.

I washed and pressed all my chosen fabrics.  I traced the photocopy pattern onto freezer paper with a sheet of blue carbon paper in between; this wasn’t the best idea since the carbon tends to smudge a bit, and rubbed off onto the white fabric I had found.  I had a small hiccup when I realized one part of the bird needed to be enlarged–my own oversight.  I used Photoshop to enlarge to the proper proportion, and re-cut my piece.  This wasn’t difficult, but it would have been easier while I was standing at a copy machine.

Cutting, pinning, and sewing the body was straightforward, and I followed Abby’s directions throughout.  I referred back to the Basic Birdmaking Techniques, especially with the neck, where I struggled to get my seams smooth.

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I thought I had selected thick white fabric for the penguin’s belly, but the inside edges are somewhat visible once the bird was fully stuffed.  Speaking of stuffing, next time I will certainly source Abby’s recommended wool stuffing.  I used the polyfill that you can find nearly everywhere, but it is slippery, hard to pack in, and its micro-threads popped through the fabric of the bird.  I have gone over it several times with a lint roller, and a pill remover with only passable results.  It’s also really easy to puncture through your stitches when stuffing the bird. I reinforced a couple spots along the way, and I did have to close a gap at the top of the head to smooth out a buckle.

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The feet were my big challenge.  In my stubborn, use-what-I-have mentality, I made the whole bending-of-feet part very difficult on myself.  Abby’s instructions are clear, easy to follow, and make sense.  She recommends 16-gauge brass wire.  Well, I had 22-gauge silver wire, which was too light weight, and I had 12-gauge wire that is made for rewiring your “wireless” cable system, or something.  What can I say?  It was in the garage, and it was GO TIME for penguin feet!  Lesson learned.  Bending 12-gauge insulated wire with petite jewelry-making tools is like mixing chocolate chip cookie dough with a fork—doable, but irritating.  As a result, my bird has out of proportion ankles.  But nonetheless, they work!  The armature of the feet is genius: the feet are essentially a giant bobby-pin and the bend extends up into the bird’s neck area.  This design allows for great balance of the bird, and I suspect if I’d used Abby’s recommended stuffing, the bird would perch even more easily, due to solidly packed wool stuffing and the overall weight of the wool.

The only real divergence I made in this penguin was a bit of fun fabric on the inside of the wings.  I’ve had this Route 66 road sign fabric for a while, and it wasn’t until I cut it out that I spied the “I Love Lucy” ® heart that was scattered into the pattern. (“Lucy’s Hollywood at Last” by Quilting Treasures).  This penguin is headed to a new home soon, where she’ll be greeted by a host of smaller penguins that protect a stretch of woodwork in our Auntie’s home.  I’ve been promised that all penguins are welcome in Sacramento, and I’ll get to visit Lucy on occasion.

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I think The Artful Bird is for an intermediate sewist who has experience with following patterns, a sewist who has patience for smaller pieces, a bird lover who can commit to a detailed craft, or anyone who wants the tools to craft their own favorite bird.  Trying one of Abby’s patterns will dramatically increase your confidence in making a fabric sculpture of any kind, especially one that requires an armature for support.  All that said, Abby’s chapter on Birdmaking Techniques is really superb, and will surely guide an intrepid beginning sewist through to bird completion.

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Abby writes regularly at whileshenaps.com.  Every Wednesday she releases a podcast about crafting, sewing, and the business of a creative life.  My favorite is her chat with Ann Wood, who makes sculptural fabric owls and ships and other woodland curiosities.   Abby is very transparent about her craft business, which is refreshing and unbelievably helpful in these competitive waters.  And she is honest about the joy and pain of writing, creating, and publishing a book.

Thank you, Abby Glassenberg, for sharing the tools to help me create my own artful aviary, to encourage ignorance of fabric grain, and to be so willing to discuss the business of crafting in a intelligent, exciting, and transparent way.

 

PS: It’s midsummer, and I’m going to press pause on artcraftnarrative.com until my kids are back in school.  Please come back in August for my report from ALA Las Vegas (upcoming craft & creativity books!), more craft projects (grey denim owls!), and book reviews.

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Knitting: the ultimate endurance craft.

Auntie Joni was the knitter in our family.  My grandmother (who taught me many of the needlecrafts) could repair a hole in a sweater, and she often darned socks, but it wasn’t her choice craft.  Auntie Joni (my grandma’s sister) ruled the roost when it came to wool.  She was fast and adventuresome.  She knit intarsia, Fair Isle, cables, and lace on one hand while playing the piano with the other.  I’m kidding, but you’re picturing her energetic virtuosity, aren’t you?  When I was a kid, she knit up mittens each the size of a Thanksgiving turkey, then shrunk them to just fit the hands of her three children.  The wool of these felted mittens was so dense, they were rendered near-waterproof, and perfect for downhill skiing.  Visiting Auntie Joni was always an adventure through a gallery of works-in-progress.  Like my Grandma, her sewing room was stuffed with bags of fabric and baskets of wool, threads graffiti-ed the carpet, and stray needles barbed arm rests.  No matter the season, Auntie Joni had several projects on the needles.  It wasn’t until I was nearly 30 that I caught a bit of an interest in knitting, and by then, lived too far from Auntie Joni for proper knitting lessons.  I bought a copy of Stitch n’ Bitch and taught myself to knit and purl.  I made a square.  Then I made a scarf for my one-year-old.  And then, I promptly knitted and felted an intarsia tote bag for my sister.  Auntie Joni’s mittens came rushing back to me when I pulled the half sized bag out of the hot, soapy water.

I’m a s-l-o-w knitter.  Being self-taught, my technique is wanting.  I can’t be engrossed in a movie or conversation.  I can’t knit in the passenger seat.  I often lose count.  It’s sort of amazing that I’ve finished anything on knitting needles.  But a few years ago, I went to Stitches West Yarn Convention in Santa Clara with my sock-knitting friend Monica.  I spied a must-have cardigan.  I tried on the sample, and knew exactly which size to knit.  I bought the pattern: Mondo Cable Cardi by Bonne Marie Burns at Chic Knits.  And then I obsessed about the yarn.

Mondo Cable Cardi from Chic Knits

Mondo Cable Cardi from Chic Knits

Knitting your own sweater is brave.  You need to be sure of your sizing and keep your gauge consistent.  You need to love the yarn, because it’s an investment.  And you need to commit: ie. Finish the thing, already!

Sizing & gauge—I felt confident about the size since I was able to try on the sample.  And I generally don’t have problems maintaining tension.  Working from an unknown pattern however, requires research and help from the knitting shop pros—if you’re a sweater novice.  Or in-depth reviews of the pattern on Ravelry, the knit/crochet on-line community.

Yarn—I chose a hand dyed yarn from Madeline Tosh. It is superb. The color is called Thunderstorm, which is an inky midnight blue with flecks of blue-grey.  It is a luxe, non-itchy merino wool that I cannot wait to wear.  I have had to purchase two additional skeins to assure that I won’t run out, and that dye lots won’t be totally off.  If you have a large project, like a cardigan, then it’s best to purchase all the yarn at or near the same time to assure colors match.  There are complicated knitter tricks for avoiding striations when switching between skeins, and you can find many books and Ravelry threads about this topic: just search “yarn pooling.”  Hand dyed yarn has its own innate variation, and that it what I love about it.  I don’t mind that colors pool slightly, or that areas are somewhat splotchy.  It’s part of the yarn.

Commitment–it is 80% complete, as it has been for 2 years.  Until now.  About 8 weeks ago, I spied a nearly complete cardigan in andreacollects Instagram feed.  We have had a good-natured back and forth about the progressive state of her cardigan (now complete), and the stagnate state of mine.  It’s July, or “winter” in San Francisco, and I’d like to wear this cozy piece.

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For the last couple of evenings, I’ve been adding rows to the incomplete left sleeve.  It’s nearly to the stage of switching to double-pointed needles as the sleeve decreases.  Then I must work the collar.  The pattern has a crew neck version, but I like the 4-inch width for warmth.  I plan to wear this cardigan as a jacket.  Lastly, the whole thing will be blocked, or washed gently and dried flat.  This process should even out all my stitches and hopefully lay down that curling bottom edge.  If not, then I plan to take out the inch of intermittent (5 knit to 1 purl) rib, and re-knit a closer knit/purl ratio rib—this should help the edge lay flat.  I hereby vow to post a progress report thereby holding myself accountable to you, my three readers.

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Exploring Image Transfers.

One of my creative goals for 2014 is to take more art classes, and explore new mediums. I spotted a class at the San Francisco Center for the Book which featured image transfer techniques taught by Courtney Cerruti. I peeked through Courtney’s Instagram feed, and knew that aesthetically, the class would be a great fit for me. I have attempted image transfers before (mostly by heat transfer), but I appreciate having a whole day to just play—and thankfully, Courtney encourages that kind of exploration in both her class and her book. So imagine my dismay when I enrolled in the class, ordered the book, and….the book didn’t arrive in time.  In class, I joked with Courtney that she should sign a scrap of paper, and I’d image transfer it into the book.  When I arrived home after class, the book was waiting. Silver lining: Courtney and I are both local, so I’m hoping to meet up with her again, share a pot of tea, and chat about art, craft, and old books.

Cerruti, Courtney.cerruti image transfers
Playing with Image Transfers:
Exploring Creative Imagery for Use in Art, Mixed Media, and Design.
Illustrated. 144pp. Quarry Books, 2013, $24.99.
ISBN: 1592538568
ISBN 13: 9781592538560
746.62 C336p

I have had the benefit of seeing Courtney demonstrate the techniques from her book, and I’ve had a day of studio time to play alongside her and a group of likewise intrepid image transferring gals. I think the class has given me a little more confidence than if I’d just cracked open the book. But truly, the trickiest part is finding and copying all the images you will want to use in all your art journals, collages, handmade cards, and art projects. I have spent the weeks between the class and this review building a file of images to photocopy. Last week, I took two burgeoning files and a stack of old books and Dover catalogues to my local copy shop, settled in and copied—for two hours. I made black and white copies. I made mirror image copies. I made color copies. And I happily trotted home with 75 pages of imagery to transfer.

In Playing with Image Transfers, Courtney covers five main methods to transfer images: 1) packing tape transfer, 2) blender pen transfer, 3) acetone transfer, 4) gel skin medium transfer, and 5) acrylic paint transfer. Each method features a full page of instruction including what kind of image or photocopy you’ll need, and whether the image will be reversed in the process. Also, Courtney includes a few tips for success. There are many techniques for this beguiling medium, but as Courtney states in her introduction: “I’ve experimented, tried, and tested every method and process out there. After many failures and many discoveries, I’ve settled into a set of methods that work both beautifully and consistently.”

At home, with my stack of copies and Courtney’s book, I started small. I made some quick blender pen transfers of birds and butterflies on a few mat-finished cards from Studio Calico for my Project Life® album (this is my week by week family journal with photos and stories). Blender pens are xylene or xylol with a felt-tip applicator. The tip makes it easy to apply to small, detailed images. The Chartpak Blender pen is nontoxic, but really pungent (you will not want to use this pen in an enclosed space or near unsuspecting companions). This pen works best with straight black and white toner photo copies. The results are similar to rubber stamping with black ink, except that the image options are limitless. If your image shifts a bit during the process, it can cause some haloing, which only adds to the charm. This is a very easy process, and can add to your art journaling, collages, and any other variety of paper projects.

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I attempted a couple acetone transfers on those same Studio Calico cards, but the results were spotty. I think the images didn’t have enough contrast, and the stock absorbed too much of the acetone. Then I tried the Blender Pen with the color prints. I recall Courtney saying that it may not work, but she also advises that all copiers are different, and to keep playing. Happily, the Blender Pen worked!

Packing tape transfers are the easiest transfer technique, but I sometimes don’t want the high sheen of packing tape, and I feel limited by the 2 inch wide roll. It does make for a cool project though, and can be done with kids. Just adhere the tape carefully to a magazine page or photocopy, burnish it, then soak the paper pulp off. The toner sticks to the adhesive, and yields a highly transparent tape. I used packing tape transfers in some of the collages I made a few weeks ago.  Here are the latest batch drying on a window with the smooth side against the glass.  I keep them on sheets of waxed paper, as recommended by Courtney.

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Courtney includes 19 project ideas to take you from playing with image transfers to actually making something from them. Collaged postcards with packing tape transfers. A jumpstart for sketching. Wearables, pennants, and stationery. Plus a host of mixed media project ideas.

Fauxlaroids. Brilliant name, eh? This project features packing tape transfers onto Polaroid-sized paper that will take you straight back to 1986. This project inspired me to order a 6 inch wide roll of packing tape. Then I thought it could also be scaled to fit Project Life 3X4 pockets, and take on the appearance of an Instax print. I think the high gloss of the packing tape translates well with this project.

Photo Sur Bois.  This project features my favorite transfer method–the Gel Skin Medium Transfer on wood. I had success with this method in Courtney’s class. At home, I had a couple small wooden plaques. I learned from the class that the hardest part about transferring on wood is waiting for it to dry. So I painted on the gel medium, and carefully smoothed an image (image side down) onto the gel medium, then allowed it to dry overnight. Once wet, the paper rolled away, revealing some marbling on vintage paper that I made a few years ago. Then I layered on some other elements.  Outcome: the transfer over transfer wasn’t a complete success.  Too much text in both images.  Next time, I want to try to cover the wood with vintage fabric, and transfer an image onto it. Or perhaps photocopy the fabric and use that as a background.  Or paint the wood, and use the acrylic paint transfer method.  Likely,  there will be more of this image-play to come since I have a stack of veneer varietals.

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Above left image of portrait & chair, and donut with hands are courtesy of Courtney Cerruti.

Mixed-Media Wall Hanging.  Another method that I want to spend more time exploring is transferring onto fabric.  Courtney’s piece features an assemblage of fabric with a photo of her grandmother framed by stitching, fabric scraps, and buttons. It hangs from drift wood and heavy red thread. An homage, and utterly tactile. This piece inspires me to make.

Modern Magnets.  I’ve gathered the materials for this project, and plan to spend an afternoon making a batch of artisan magnets with my boys.  They each have magnetic boards, and a set of animal-themed magnets is required.  In my copying expedition, I included their favorite animals, and other vintage curiosities.

Typewriter Tape Transfer.  Courtney recommends typing on tape. I was surprised to see how well my old Smith Corona typed onto the washi tape.  No smudging.  And what you can’t see is how deeply etched the letters are. This would work for any type of papery tape like masking tape, washi tape, or artist’s tape. It strikes me as the reverse of a Dymo labeler.

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This book is for the artist or crafter who wants a little image transfer guidance and inspiration.  You do not need to have any previous experience, though an art journal to play in would be helpful.  Courtney’s methods are solidly illustrated, and the materials are easy to find.  Courtney also includes a number of templates for completing the projects, and a resources guide for finding all the materials needed for sourcing and transferring images. The mat-finished pages of this book feature cleanly-designed layouts, and artfully illustrative photography.  I would be remiss to omit mention of the extensive contributor’s section. Each of a wide stylistic range of pieces is visually inspiring, and notes the specific transfer method used.

You can find a window to Courtney’s visual world on Instagram, or at her website, and blog–which features a video peek at Courtney’s process. She works and teaches at Creative Bug, and SF Center for the Book. She also has a new book about the many delightful uses of washi tape.

Thank you, Courtney Cerruti, for creating a tried and true book of methods that have me contemplating the purchase of a giant, grinding copy machine, researching 6-inch wide packing tape, and making great use of all the scrap wood veneer that I’ve been stockpiling.

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Gelatin Printing: in practice & play.

In Vanessa Mooncie’s The Print Making Book, she fashioned a set of placemats from gelatin-printed cork floor tiles.  Since this was my first time gelatin printing, I had no expectations for a finished project; I just wanted to try it.  I adore the unexpected discoveries that happen when I try a new-to-me technique.  I made a cookie sheet full of gelatin (according to Vanessa’s recipe), skimmed a slice of paper across the surface to remove bubbles, and let it congeal on the countertop.  I covered it with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator overnight.  Before printing, I allowed the gelatin to come up to room temperature.  I don’t know if it would affect the viscosity of the paint, but it seemed easier than chancing it.  The plastic wrap left the surface with scattered rippling which may irritate some people, but I didn’t mind, and I found that once the paint was layered on, the ripples weren’t noticeable.  At first, I tried to use the screen printing ink from my Gocco printer, since I have a lot of it.  I tried to work it over a paper palette, but found that the ink didn’t move well enough to cover the 12X17 cookie sheet, and that mixing the paints on the paper palette resulted in a very homogenous color instead of the splotchy, mottled mess for which I was aiming.  So I shifted to acrylics.  I applied them directly to the surface of the gelatin, and used the brayer to both flatten and gently bleed edges. For this initial foray into gelatin printing, I used paint leftover from school and craft projects, even some mysterious paint from Daiso.  I added in some better quality once I got a handle on the actual process.

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I had a stack of papers at the ready: plain white drawing paper, ledger paper, nautical charts, and a hodge podge of envelopes, tags, and book pages.  My tool kit for mark-making includes a scrap of bubble wrap, empty tape cardboards, old tatting, and vinyl placemats with lacey edging. I have two hand-heId tools: one for making the divots in cracker dough, and one for shredding pasta dough into fettuccine.  I also had the negative from a set of magnets, and I think this piece yielded the best geometric results.

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I found that the first print off the freshly inked surface made for a very opaque print, obscuring whatever the paper or ledger had on it.  The second, or ghost print, was a better use of the printed papers.  And some paints picked up more thoroughly than others.  When there was residue on the gelatin, I sometimes used an envelope or tags to pick up the ink/paint.  Or I used a sheet of plain white paper, and repeatedly lifted all excess paint from the tray.

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Once dry, the variety of paints allowed for a range in sheens—from flat craft paint to smooth, glossy acrylic.  In all, I have forty sheets of gelatin-printed paper, and a handful of interesting tags and envelopes.  Next time—which is soon since the tray is occupying a shelf in our refrigerator—I want to experiment with either tube watercolors or gouache, or watering down the acrylics to allow for more transparency.  I also want to try using different shapes and silhouettes in the mark-making.  I plan to work these into a variety of projects: map-making, mail art, art journaling, gift wrapping, and collage.

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Printing: Potatoes, Rubber, Gelatin.

One Christmas, I came home from college, and showed my grandmother how to make potato prints. She had never seen such a thing before, and we made sheets and sheets of snowflake-patterned kraft paper to wrap gifts. Grandma would cut up the previous season’s Christmas cards with pinking shears, and use the snippets as gift tags. But that year, she used every scrap of snowflake paper. She said, with a wink, that it was the first trick I’d ever taught her. It had always been the other way around.

I loved the simplicity and the thrift of potato printing, but I also love to carve very detailed imagery. Potatoes hold up somewhat to detail, but lose their edges after much stamping. Further, you can pop them into the refrigerator to keep from spoiling, but only for a week or so. I eventually graduated to rubber stamp and lino carving, and have a growing collection. But no matter how impermanent, I will always remember those lopsided potato prints in my grandmother’s breakfast nook.

Mooncie, Vanessa.Mooncie cover
The Print Making Book:
Projects and Techniques in the Art of Hand-Printing.
Illustrated. 175pp.  Guild of Master Craftsman Publications, 2013. $19.95
ISBN-10: 186108921X
ISBN-13: 978-1861089212
760—M7789p

Vanessa Mooncie is known for her crochet and textile work, and has an established career as a silk-screen artist and illustrator.  It is clear, when I thumbed through The Print Making Book, that Vanessa took a great deal of time and care illustrating this book.  It is wholly appealing.  The cover has a watercolor paper texture.  The images range from foxes and feathers, lipstick prints and oxford lace-ups, to the line art of a washing machine.  And a plumed zebra!  Vanessa covers relief and screen printing, mono and sun printing, plus a section on images transfers and stencils.  Each type of printing requires a slightly different toolbox, but once you’re set up for silk-screening, for example, the options unfold.

Several of the 23 projects caught my eye.  One example is the Eraser Stamp alphabet.  I love Vanessa’s block font; it is endlessly useful.  The uniformity of the eraser’s size allows for a tidy A-Z set.  A few years ago, I carved an alphabet set based on my handwriting, upper and lower case with variations, numbers, and punctuation.  I use this alphabet often, and have contemplated carving a smaller alphabet.

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There is a useful and fun set of tote bags featuring the plumed zebra and a leaping fox.  I’m always reaching for reusable totes.  I even plan to use Vanessa’s fox image—a two color template that is crisp and fun.  I do not have a traditional silk screen set up, but Vanessa’s how-to is clear. I am eager to learn a home silk-screening method even though I have a small Gocco printer.  As many of you may know, Gocco stopped making the supplies for this small-but-perfect set up.  It requires screens, and bulbs to burn the image into the screen.  And those two things are proving difficult to come by.  And expensive.  Therefore, I try to make screens that will be reusable in the future.  I’m buoyed by Vanessa’s tutorial because then I wouldn’t be limited by any one screen size—I could craft my own!  The hunt for frames and screen printing mesh is on.  I have a couple squeegees, and I hope to use the inks from my Gocco printer.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I’m completely at home with rubber stamp carving.  I have carving tools in spades—I use Speedball lino cutters and pink rubber sheets.  And it’s something that my kids enjoy as well.  In the past, I’ve had them draw directly onto the carving rubber, and remove the negative space.  It’s a fine way to get started, but note that your art will be a mirror image, which presents a problem if you have any text.  This time, I asked my boys to draw on paper, and they filled up pages of medieval bows, arrows, and shields.  And a yo-yo.  Then we transferred their imagery by burnishing the pencil onto the rubber.  My kids have had many opportunities to carve stamps.  (I have formed a habit of writing their names and dates on the flip side for posterity).  I set them up on a cutting board, and always give them a safety refresher: keep your fingers out of the path of the blade.

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I joined the boys, and made a small label stamp—which is vintage in flare.  I hand-drew the label, transferred it into the rubber in reverse, carved the negative space, then stamped my first try.  From there it took five more passes to clean up my image.  I use two main carving blades: a U-shaped channel for swaths of open carving, and a medium V for detailed lines and edges.

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It feels useful to me in many ways: for the spine of a collection of art journals, for a “Nº 1 Dad” card, for Project Life journaling, for a summer jam-jar canning label.

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A giant California return address stamp has been on my to-do list for some time.  I found an outline of California, and sized it to the rubber sheet.  Then I printed out several copies of it, and played around with lettering in our address.  Once I arrived at a well-spaced version, I traced with pencil onto tracing paper, and burnished the reverse image on the surface of the rubber sheet.  I carved away the pencil markings, taking time around our address, the zip code, and the Bay Area delta.  I fine-tuned the southern California islands as a last pass.  And while the islands probably aren’t critical to the overall stamp, I really wanted to include the Farallones, and felt it democratic to include the Channel Islands.  It’s a sizeable stamp, so I use an acrylic block to make the impression.  If the envelope has an overlap or a seam, then I carefully press down on the rubber alone just in that area.  It isn’t perfect, but it is handmade.  If it bothers you to not get a full impression, you could touch up any bald spots with a matching marker.

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Gelatin prints are another method of print-making that intrigue me.  Like potato prints, gelatin printing has a short lifespan, yet yields interesting and varied results.  I have a Silhouette Cameo paper cutter, and while reading Vanessa’s process for making Gelatin-printed placemats, I had visions of all the possibilities: organic shapes like tree rings, bird feathers, and lake outlines.  A menagerie of animals.  My own line art.  The hardest part is deciding what shapes to use.  I have a 12X17-inch cookie sheet filled with solid gelatin in my refrigerator—a note on the door reads: Please do not eat or move or place things on top of gelatin!!

You can view Vanessa’s artwork at: www.vanessamooncie.com or kissysuzuki.com.  There you can learn more about her crochet and knit work, and connect with her on Ravelry.

Thanks, Vanessa Mooncie, for writing and illustrating a diverse print-making book that compels me to get my hands dirty, try a new-to-me technique, purchase an enormous box of gelatin, and add to my hoard collection of hand-carved stamps.

 

PS: I’ve got a collection of inspiration for hand-carved stamps, and rubber stamps in general: http://www.pinterest.com/cortneysf/hand-carved/  And if hand-carving isn’t your thing, there are thousands of artisan stamp-makers on Etsy who will make you nearly any kind of stamp you can dream up.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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…

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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.

 

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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.

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