Tag Archives: Project Life

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/

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Journal-Keeping: 612 Days (and counting) on Record

My Grandpa Ray kept a calendar journal.  He used the annual free wall calendars from Hoffman’s Hardware store.  Each day, he’d jot in the weather, and maybe a note.  For instance: “Cloudy. Cort called.”  Or “Rain-1 in. Morgann here.”  He might state a doctor appointment or if he filled the gas tank, but always the weather.  I love these calendars, and I wish I had them (or just one of them!) to browse through. I really admire his consistency, and his simplicity.

On January 1st of 2013, I decided to start a daily journal.  Just a few lines each day recording minor happenings, and things the boys said.  It was all in an attempt to remember our days, and allow for better documentation and storytelling for our family book (which is my version of Project Life™ that includes stories + photographs).  I wasn’t sure if I would stay on track with the journal.  I have always kept small books for jotting down ideas, and lists, and memories, but I had never had success maintaining a daily journal.

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At the end of February, I’d filled the first journal, and moved into Book Two…which lasted through mid-May, and so on.  I kept the journal on my night table.  By adding the day’s happenings each night, I got into a great habit, and it was so satisfying to have one full journal.  It made me wish I’d started the practice years ago.

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I use journals that had been lying around empty.  My handwriting in these books is downright messy compared to a thank you note or even my grocery lists.  I just wanted to capture the essence of the day, with my filter, mark our course as a family.  Sometimes, I forget a few days.  I take the journal to the dinner table, and we all four chime in and recollect those events.

It turns out that I’m particular about the size.  I think this has to do with the content I’m writing down.  I want to fill a page or two.  And 4X6 inch books are near-perfect.  I happily use lined, unlined, gridded mid-weight paper.  But I always customize the covers.

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I am feverishly repurposing some journals that I have had for a while.  I deconstruct the hardcover, split the too-thick book into thirds, and re-bind in soft cover.  (This process is a whole other story that I’m happy to share).  I don’t need for these journals to last forever because it seems that the very act of writing it down helps me remember things more clearly.

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The journals have become excellent argument enders.  For example, when did we see that Stephen King opera? (Saturday, September 28th).  Who’s turn is it to host a holiday? (Up for grabs).  We also charted our progress through Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.  After starts and stops through Book 1, we pulled out Book 2 on Monday, October 14th and read almost nightly through Book 13 on Sunday, February 23rd.  Whew.

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There are days that only have lists of watercolor paint names, or Oscar nominated films we should watch, or notations about the weather (still no rain; we are in a drought!), or what I cooked.  There are lists of what we’re reading, if we see family or friends, and whether the Giants won.  There are days that don’t get recorded, and that’s okay.  To me, it means we’re living.

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Every once in a while, I interview my boys, time-capsuling their favorites; the simple things that they are enjoying right now.  And sometimes my own favorites.  This may seem vain, but here’s the thing.  I would love to have a record of this daily-ness from my mom or my Grandmother.  I’d love to know her go-to nail polish color or how often she met up with her friends.  I’d love to know her small triumphs (forced amaryllis is blooming!) and her challenges (car battery died…again).  Even though I don’t go into much depth, I think you can tell what’s constantly on my mind: my family of four, and the orbit we’re on.  Daily.  And simple.

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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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Art & Craft Merger

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

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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