Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Some Interesting Craft Sites

In my post about National Craft Month, I said Craftplace had a fascinating page of blog links and that I planned to check them out and post a few favorites during March. As I made my way through the list, I realized that how a reader is attracted to a blog is a personal thing, partly based on interest in the content, partly on the writer/reader chemistry of the blogger. To find blogs you might prefer, check out for yourself the rich offerings on this Craftplace page. You're bound to discover some new voices and fresh resources for your crafts.

As for me, I'm naturally attracted to embroidery, crochet, and jewelry making. Consequently, I was less attracted to scrapping or knitting blogs (that's what I mean when I say attractions are so personal). If you're interested, here are some sites I especially like for various reasons:

I'm not that taken with contemporary embroidery (or stitchery) designs, which often are more simplistic and therefore not challenging for me. However, I like Kelly Fletcher's designs on her blog, materialistic. They have a crisp, contemporary look but require more than back and stem stitching and some French knots. Fletcher has an online shop where you can purchase her patterns as downloads; she also publishes The Stitch and Thimble, which she describes as "a quarterly digital hand embroidery publication in PDF format." If you're interested in especially attractive modern hand embroidery designs, take a look.

A "spoon" brooch I just sold on Etsy.
J Vacanti's The Studio8eight Jewelry Beat includes 29 interesting jewelry projects created with found objects. Several involve spoons, which attracted me right away because I've been experimenting with my old souvenir spoon collection lately, cutting them up into charms and pounding out bowls to use as pendants. She also offers a project incorporating the metal typeface from an old type block, something I can't wait to try.

Finally, I rediscovered CraftGossip on the Craftplace blogger's list. When I worked on staff as associate editor for Krause and North Light books, I checked CraftGossip every day for all the latest in the craft world, from needlework and polymer clay to edible crafts. Exploring the site, and keeping up with daily updates, will put you in touch with other great sites, as well. Personally, I plan to reactivate my CraftGossip habit immediately.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wall Hangings for St. Patrick's Day

I love it when I can combine crafting with needlework, especially when I can create a collage by pulling together random items carefully chosen.

A couple of years ago I made two Irish-themed wall hangings for St. Patrick's Day, one for me and one for my mother. I split a fat quarter in half so each hanging was compact (I think I wanted something I could hang on my cubicle wall at work). The needlework part involved hand quilting, embroidery, crochet, and some hand sewing. I digitally altered some St. Patrick's Day antique postcards and printed them out on fabric, and I combed through my stash of weird odds and ends for items I could use on each hanging.

The hanging I made for my mother (upper left) featured several vintage buttons, both green plastic and metal; a square of orange and green from a vintage quilt block, which I quilted; a brown plastic buckle I thought had a swirling Celtic feel; an Irish crochet motif with a rose center; two of the postcard appliques; and a crocheted shamrock edging along the bottom.
An Irish rose, antique buttons, and crocheted shamrocks.

For my own hanging I included a Guinness bottle cap, an antiquated-looking jewelry box key, and a stray key from a musical instrument, as well as a variety of vintage buttons of all kinds. I embroidered shamrocks in the corner of the hanging to contrast with all the 3-dimen-
sional items I'd glued or stitched to the hanging.

Embroidered shamrocks combine with 3-dimensional items.

Even a little commercially embroidered trim works with the theme.
I think the key to finding items to work in collages like these are to go for a "feel" rather than being too literal. There's nothing Irish about the embroidered trim with its yellow blossoms, but I liked the look. The jewelry box key and instrument key evoked aspects of Ireland to me, including the castles with their huge ancient doors and the traditional music I love. Sometimes the buttons were Victorian or from the '30s or '40s; as long as they contri-
buted to the effect, I wasn't choosy about their composition or style.

Although I did use green binding on the edge of my hanging, I left the edges of my mother's hanging raw. Again, I let the look of the piece dictate how I wanted to finish it. These hangings show how imagination can substitute for authenticity when gathering items and images for a collage or similar piece.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Hate Doing Amigurumi, And Yet...

I really do hate doing amigurumi, the popular Japanese-influenced practice of crocheting cute little animals and other things. First, I find it boring; I prefer complex stitching patterns. Second, I hate doing any stitchery where I have to join parts together.

And third, I don't do little figures well, whether amigurumi or simply lacy little Victorian birds. Usually my shapes are out of proportion and the edges don't match up well. The result is a sweet little example of fiber roadkill.

That being said, I did crochet my sister, The Warden, a '70s owl for her birthday. It's actually a Christmas ornament pattern offered by Red Heart yarn on their website (go here for the pattern if you'd like to make one). The original, designed by Nancy Anderson, is gray with colorful accents. However, since this owl needed to reflect The Warden's love for the gold/avocado/burned orange color scheme, something that usually makes me want to poke my eyes out with a No. 14 crochet hook, I changed out all the colors.

I also used perle cotton and cotton crochet thread instead of yarn. I'm not fond of working with yarn (hence why never attempt to crochet socks or afghans or the like). I had enough bits of this and that in my stash to come up with an appropriately hideous owl The Warden loves. I didn't have avocado green, so I substituted some lime green that was almost day-glow. I also added some purple for the darker features and to give the accents added contrast. (By the way, you'll notice in the photo above that my owl's ears don't mirror one another. It could have been worse, I guess.)

I didn't do direct substitutes for Colors A, B, C, D, E, and F in the original pattern. I kind of eyeballed it. Basically I used orange for the owl's body; orange, purple, and lime green for the wings; lime green, burned orange, variegated yellow, and purple for the stomach patch; variegated yellow for the feet and beak; and purple and variegated yellow for the eyes, with a black bead in the center of each eye. (If you use the Red Hearts pattern, note there's some confusion in the way the feet are explained; I wound up simply repeating Row 2 as needed to shape the little claws.)

The Warden is considering hanging that ugly little owl from her rearview mirror in the van. Whatever. The sad thing is, The Warden has a couple of '70s-ish things I've made for her, and I'm not bad at recreating the proper retro style--a fact that disturbs me no end. I didn't even like this stuff when it was new and popular back in the day.

If you, unlike me, are entranced at the thought of crocheting some darling little varmints, here are some books you can try:

Monday, March 5, 2012

My Sister, The Knitter

Last June, I wrote this post about my lack of knitting abilities, and how my sister, The Warden, took right to it and was knitting away. (She's not really a warden in the literal sense; that's her blog handle.) My last sentence was, "Maybe she can make me some really swell socks for Christmas."

Well, she did! My mother and I each got a pair of the red-striped socks pictured above. Even in this not-so-chilly winter, I've worn them as often as possible. They're my favorite socks. And since The Warden knitted them from a supreme Alpaca/Merino blend wool, they're much softer and luxurious than the socks I'd knitted previously from your basic craft store wool yarn. 

She's continued to develop her skills and fanaticism, and now she's sharing her creations with the less fortunate. She recently knitted a dozen glorious hats to send to an orphanage in Kiev (read about in her blog post here). Not that such activity is anything new. The Warden has donated countless crocheted afghans to such charities as Project Linus. However, now that she's a knitting devotee, I seriously doubt whether she'll ever pick up a crochet hook again.

Am I jealous of The Warden? Hell, yeah. It's rare for me not to become at least basically proficient in a needle art. Even bobbin lacemaking, which turned out to be beyond me, yielded me a blue ribbon at the state fair for a yard of lace. There are several things I do well, such as tatting, that I tend to avoid, and several things I do well but neglect, such as rug hooking, needlepunch, and needle-turned applique. And there's quilt piecing, which I flat out won't do because of the potential for brain damage due to confusion and angst; no harm done there. But I was able to do just enough knitting to know I'd never be accomplished. Come to think of it, I once won a state fair blue ribbon for a length of knitted lace, but still--knitting is a struggle for me.

So, I bow to The Warden's ever-increasing skills in knitting. And if I get a luscious pair of socks out of it once in awhile, I can take my jaw-grinding jealousy in stride.

If you'd like to see more of The Warden's work, explore her posts at The Warden's Log, and also check out this page on the Roving Acres website. Roving Acres sells the gorgeous hand-dyed wool my sister has used in so many of her best projects, especially gifts.

Here's a photo of our mom, Lillian of Lillian's Cupboard, wearing the cowl The Warden knitted for her birthday last September:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Relaunching My Blog for National Craft Month

Since March is National Craft Month, I thought it would be a good time to redesign and relaunch this blog. Unfortunately, I let it become overshadowed by work on my Nudged to Write blog last fall, then came the holidays, then I got busy with some writing/judging deadlines. Don't ask me what happened to February. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Actually, I don't mean to say I was totally inactive. In fact, I've got a raft of new items to list in my Etsy shop, NudgeryFaire, over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I'm aspiring to be a better craft/needlework blogger with more frequent posts.

Have you ever heard of National Craft Month? The Craft & Hobby Association (CHA) blog gives a brief history. CHA created National Craft Month in 1994 to "help people learn about and re-discover the joy of crafting and all its many benefits." CHA also owns and operates CraftPlace, a site filled with resources, projects, and information. Their "Craft Happenings" page includes a calendar of events celebrating National Craft Month by various publishers and product companies. The round-up of craft blogs is so interesting I plan to examine select blogs in future posts throughout March (and probably beyond).

If you love crafts and needlework, this is your month to celebrate, try something new, and let the world know how creative you are.

A note on the new design: Besides tweaking some colors and typefaces, my biggest design change is creating new right and left borders for the blog. Like these? I cropped this photo of a doily I sold in January on Etsy:

I then used a distortion feature in my photo software to transform the cropped center of the doily into this:

Next, I loaded the photo into my blog template and chose the "tile" option. I love the colors and the intricate pattern this creates. I crocheted the original doily from two different balls of Coats & Clark variegated cotton thread, plus terra cotta-colored accents from some leftover hand-dyed cotton thread.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Scottie Goes Trick-or-Treating

Here's another migrated post from my first blog, SalmagundiExpress. I originally published this post on October 23, 2007:

Simulated pumpkins have been around for a few years now, but only recently did I realize you can actually carve them. The idea of a "permanent" jack-o-lantern doesn't really appeal to me, and I adore real pumpkins; so I've been pretty lukewarm toward the proliferation of polyester pumpkins (or whatever they're made out of).

This year, though, I've seen some intriguing creations with "altered pumpkins," so I broke down and bought two foam specimins when they were on sale at Michael's recently. 

I've seen the vintage and folk art Halloween sites showing resin pumpkins with designs carved on their sides: witches, reproductions of old-fashioned Halloween decorations, autumn scenes, mottos, etc. I wondered if I could do something like that with one of the simulated pumpkins I bought.

My mother collects scotties, and she doesn't have a single scottie item related to Halloween. I thought some kind of scottie scene on the side of a pumpkin would be unique, and something maybe I could carry off.

I have a diecut scottie gift tag in what I consider the ideal scottie shape. I used that as my template and traced the scottie outline on the pumpkin with a ball point pen. Then I freehand-sketched the other elements I wanted, making things up as I went. (I'd make a terrible artist. I hate to plan things out ahead of time. For me, the creative process is all about the slow reveal as a project develops, with chance and chaos playing their parts in producing the final result.) Naturally, things were a little lopsided and uneven, but generally I was satisfied with the bare bones of the design on the pumpkin's surface.

I knew I wanted all the lines of the design etched into the pumpkin for an engraved effect, but I wasn't sure of the best way to do that. I browsed the various electronic tools available at the craft stores, but I wasn't sure any of them would be appropriate. (Woodburning would have created just the effect I wanted -- if these pumpkins were made of wood. However, there's a big "warning" sticker on the bottom of each pumpkin that says "Flammable," so applying any kind of heat at all, even with an embossing gun, was too big a risk to take.)

Finally, I remembered I'd gotten a simple linoleum block print kit for Christmas, which I'd never opened. I tried the smallest carving point, and it was adequate for engraving lines of my scottie design.

However, it was MESSY, with flecks of plastic all over the place; and it was time-consuming. It was effective, though, and I was happy to move on to the next step of my project.

Here's where I learned an unfortunate fact about working with simulated pumpkins: Everything stains the surface. Even a simple line of ballpoint pen ink is impossible to remove. I tried Scrubbing Bubbles, rubbing alcohol, plain old Dawn and water, cleanser, hairspray, and Alcohol Ink solution. All I did was disturb the surface to the point I was afraid the orange would start to flake away. I was stuck with many wayward pen marks and not sure what to do about them.

Instead of worrying about it, I got out a bottle of acrylic craft paint in black. I dabbed it over the lines a little at a time, then wiped away the paint to leave the carved lines filled in. Immediately I learned that acrylic paint also didn't want to come off the pumpkin's surface. This time, though, the effect wasn't so bad. It left just enough darkness behind to create a antiqued effect, including crazing. This also helped camouflage some of my pen marks. (Again, this part of the process was very messy.)

The final step was to paint in parts of the design to make them stand out. This worked pretty well, and it didn't take nearly as much time to complete as the previous steps. To make the painted sections pop a little more, I brushed a couple of thin coats of matte acrylic varnish over them. (This, I hoped, would also offer some protection to the paint.) I'd thought of coating the whole thing with matte spray, but I could just imagine my entire pumpkin melting before my eyes. (This once happened to me as a teenager when I tried to spray paint some Styrofoam balls to make Christmas ornaments. It was a horrifying experience.)

Mom was pleased with her one-of-a-kind scottie Halloween decoration (although my sister, Diamonqueen, mocked it; and J. Hooligan called it "ridiculous"); and I was pleased with the outcome of my experiment to craft with a fake pumpkin. I don't intend to try this again, though, unless someone comes up with a better technique than mine. I still have that other simulated pumpkin, and I've yet to decide what I want to do with that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Craft Project -- Make a Halloween Wand

I'm migrating some posts from my original blog, SalmagundiExpress, that relate to crafts or needlework. I didn't have a full post on this, but it's an easy project, so I thought I'd give the instructions here, expanded from the original.

1) Choose a photo or image for the front of your wand. The photo above, a shot of my brother and me in our Halloween costumes back in the '50s, was originally black-and-white. I tinted it digitally before printing it out to make this wand. You can also use stickers, images cut out of magazines, or other embellishments to decorate your wand instead of a photo.

2) If using a photo, print it out in the correct size to fit on the front of your wand. Make it a little smaller yet if you want to frame it first by gluing it to a piece of patterned paper, as I did with this wand. Set aside.

 3) Paint a paper mache box black. If you're making a rattle, put the gravel or other items in the box now, then glue the lid in place so it can't come off. Cover the top of the lid with Halloween-style scrapbook paper.

4) Cut a wooden dowel the desired length and paint it orange with craft paint. The dowel should be about 1/2" in diameter so it won't snap when carrying the wand.

5) Make an X-slit in the side of the box where you want the dowel to go through as a handle for the wand. You could also try a drill, but be careful with a power drill and don't use a drill bit bigger than the dowel. Paper mache is sturdy but not impenetrable; cutting or punching a hole in the side shouldn't be too hard.

6) Cut a strip of patterned paper for the ruffle. Make sure the strip will be long enough to go around the wand head after folding, or you can overlap two strips and glue them down. Fold the strip like an accordian, then tie the folded paper, with one end short and the other longer. Fan out the longer end to create the ruffle, gluing the ends of the long folded side together so it resembles a ruffled wreath. Use tape, if you prefer.

6) Glue the ruffled wreath to the back of the paper mache box, with the box centered in the middle of the ruffle. This could get tricky as the folds may not want to adhere to the box well. If you use glue, let it dry thoroughly before you try to move the wand. You could also try taping the ends of the short folds to the box.

This step is optional, but if you want the back to look more finished, cut a circle of patterned paper and glue it to cover the folded ends of the ruffle.

7) Put some glue around the hole you cut or drilled into the side of the paper mache box. Insert about 1" of the dowel into the hole. Add additional glue once the dowel is in place. If you prefer, place a collar of glued paper or tape around the dowel and hole so the dowel won't slip out. Let the glue dry thoroughly before you move the wand.

Patterned duct tape is another possibility for securing the dowel in the hole; you could even extend the tape down the dowel, winding it barber pole fashion.

8) Glue the photo or other embellishments to the front of the wand. Add glitter glue, if you like. Tie black ribbon around the dowel where it enters the box for an added touch.

Read the rest of the original post, minus the wand directions, at Nudged to Write.