Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Let It Snow

If you live in the Northeast of the US, the view out your front door might look a little something like this:

And, if your employer follows the federal government with regards to weather decisions like mine does, you got to leave work 2 hours early.

(If not, I'm sorry. And, neener.)

What else is there to do on a snowy day but be crafty, right? If you have kids to entertain, get them being crafty too! I'm working on the sewing project I mentioned in my previous post, various drafts of posts that I have in the works (because I can never just do one thing at a time), and practicing the hand quilting that I learned in a class this weekend (this blog is totally motivating me to DO more of what I am thinking about doing). Surely, this evening will also end up producing something high in calories and sugar, too. I have a whole vanilla bean to use.

What do you are your families like to get up to on snowy days? Any creative pursuits? Leave a comment and perhaps we will give each other some ideas.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

I got my sewing machine out again a few days ago, after a bit of a hiatus. I just couldn't muster up the motivation to work on quilting in summer and fall. I got into gardening, and going for regular evening walks (I'm such an old lady). But I had an idea for a small, quick sewing project, and thought it would be a good way to get myself back into the swing of things.

My machine is a Singer 132Q Featherweight (for whatever that might be worth),

which my friend Turk had ended up with, and gave me when I started quilting. (Isn't she awesome? Yes, yes she is.) Straight away I remembered how to wind the bobbin, and the way to wind the top thread through the gears and into the eye of the needle, and how to pull the bobbin thread up from below. That part was smooth sailing.

And, it's a good idea to test things out on a scrap piece of fabric, because sometimes sewing machines do things like this:

Jammed up, terrible noises, lots of broken thread, maybe some swearing on my part. Someone with more knowledge of sewing machines could immediately tell you why that happened. For me, I just had to keep trying, until I eventually discovered that, in this case, there was a small piece of thread tangled up in the gears of the bobbin compartment thingy (what, you expected me to know the proper word for that too?).

Once I got that sorted out, the stitch length and tension had to be changed. Stitch length is easy. Tension, on the other hand...

Maybe you can see in this photograph how in between the stitches, there are little knots of thread (easier to see because I used variegated thread). From the WikiHow guide:

Most domestic sewing machines are of the "lockstitch" variety. That means an upper thread and a lower thread "lock" together. If they don't lock together in the correct place, the tension is "off" and the seam lacks proper strength.
As the threads lock together, they form a knot. If this knot is in the correct place, it is never is hidden (locked) between the two layers that are being sewn together. When these knots are obvious on the bottom or the top sewing surface, it's time to adjust your tension.
Basic Concept: If you get a picture in your mind of the tension knob as a device to raise and lower these knots, it makes the adjustment much easier.
If there are knots on the bottom, increase the tension. If they're on the top, decrease it. But excuse me internet, what if they're on the top AND on the bottom? Well, I did my best anyways. To get a more professional adjustment, I'll have to wait until the next time I see my mom.

What's funny is that after all that, I discovered that this little project doesn't exactly lend itself to machine sewing. Because three edges eventually come together at once, you can machine sew the first seam, but have to hand sew the rest. And that's more than okay with me, I enjoy the old fashioned way just fine. Stay tuned for a post on that project, as soon as it's done!

The exercise was worth it, of course. In achieving our goals (and generally when trying to get anything difficult done), I've learned that you must "slice the apple thinner". Take an overwhelming task, and tackle a small, doable portion. So, in getting back into quilting and other machine sewing, here is the first, thin slice.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Three Hundred Sixty-Five

Have you discovered Etsy's blog, The Storque? It's really fabulous. In fact, let's first establish that you know about Etsy to begin with. If you don't, you: A) have been missing out big time, and B) have probably been living under a rock. Okay, that was mean. But seriously, you should go there, and be prepared to ignore your loved ones and all other responsibilities for a good few days as you bask in the glory that is Etsy.

Anyways. The Storque had a great post the other day, pointing readers to the fascinating concept of 365 projects. Wherein, you make something, every day, for a year. Did I really need yet another thing on my plate? I already have a billion ideas about getting creative for this blog. But, this just so happens to be very applicable.

Look here! There's this guy named Noah Scalin, who started it all. In 2007, he made a skull a day for a year. Watch the blink-and-you'll-miss-it photo collage of all 366 (it was a leap year) skulls he made:

 A daily project. To make something every day, centered around a theme. It could be a photograph. Or, a thank you note. A doodle. The image of a burger.  A flower. A smiley face. The adventures of a gnome. You get the idea.

So, can I do it? Can I come up with something? And do it every day for a year? And share it with you, as part of this blog? It's kind of weird. But maybe it's just weird enough.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Belated Paper Crafting

Oh hi, internet. It's midnight, and I should really be asleep, but instead I'm blogging. It's all your fault!

Anyways, I've been doing a Google Reader audit over the last few days. Do you have way too many blogs on your reader, like me? You know you have a problem when Google just gives up counting and says you have 1000 + unread posts. Gah. It was incredibly cleansing to delete those that I'm no longer interested in, or that have no new posts.

The real fun of it was catching up on some of my favorite blogs, particularly the crafty ones. I had missed a lot of great holiday crafts! It's probably just as well, as I was very busy experimenting with new recipes, yum. But you see, I have this obsession with Christmas tree ornaments. They're small, you can hang them, I don't know, I just love them alright!? So it was fitting that I found this great tutorial over at How About Orange (great name right? I command you to go over there immediately! but come back, okay?)

It was so simple! A great alternative to TV on a Wednesday night.

Stripey UFO with menacing hand shadow, eeeee!
I did a few things differently. Namely, I used buttons instead of beads (you know the ones that come with clothing, except if you're like me, you never label them and have no idea what in the world they belong to).

I discovered that a penny sized paper circle (in blue) was too close in size to the button, so I traced around a quarter instead.

I sewed the button to the circle. I cut up the strips (using my rotary cutter and mat for something other than fabric for the first time), folded the strips in half, and threaded through each strip towards the end. I then started threading through the other ends, starting with the FIRST strip that I threaded before. This instruction seemed counter-intuitive - looking at the middle photo below, it makes more sense that you would start with the white strip to the far right, rather than the yellow one to the far left.

But I dutifully persevered, and ended with this:

Which, is exactly what happened to How About Orange: a gap on one side. it's impossible to avoid - the strips of paper descend like a spiral staircase, only Escher could make them match up.

Ahah, I decided, she must have done it wrong - if I thread it the way my instincts told me, it will be nice and symmetrical.

Well, hubris, etcetera:

It doesn't work that way at all. The strips don't fan out nicely like they should, they just nestle, and flail. Bah.

But! I sort of worked it out, by tying a big knot on either side of the stacks of strips, so they didn't separate along the string. Am I making any sense? Probably not. Nevertheless, that seemed to reduce the gap.

The tree is down, so it can live on the chandelier for a while.
So, I might be crazy for making ornaments in January. But we all know how bleak it can get this time of year. December is so full of the newness of winter, in its fresh, invigorating way. Christmas celebrates the season, with the snowmen, and the hot chocolate, and the matching gloves and hat wrapped under the tree.  But then January comes around, and we're faced with 2 1/2 more months of not-so-novel-anymore hybernation. I say, it's time to keep the joy alive, in the form of oh-so-addictive paper craft.

Which is why I made some snowflakes this morning at work.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Not Your Grandma's Crochet

Today I'm going to tell you all about a pretty weird but wonderful project I got involved in this past August. I met one of the organizers of it on the Metro, in fact. My advice to you: talk to strangers. Sometimes it turns out really, really well.

Feast your eyes.
The what? That's right, the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef! It's a temporary exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (my lifelong favorite museum in DC), conceived and created by twin sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim at the Institute for Figuring. Combining mathematics, marine biology, handicraft revival, community art practice, and environmental activism, it doesn't get much more interdisciplinary than this, people. I could blab on about it more, but Margaret does a much better job of it, here:

I strongly encourage you to watch the video before you continue reading! Okay I'll admit it, I kind of have a crush on her. She's just so brilliant! Don't stop when she gets to the math, I promise it won't be boring, and it doesn't matter if you don't quite get it, I didn't at first.

And here's the thing: this stuff really looks like coral. It's beautiful, sculptural, soft. And the process of making it is Sometimes I get stuck by the restrictions that patterns impose - this is probably why I've never knitted anything more complicated than a scarf (maybe this blog will inspire me to conquer that fear) - you have to make sure that you have the right worsted weight and needle size and the right number of stitches so that your work reaches the correct size so you can actually wear that damn sweater. But with hyperbolic crochet, you just go. Just stich baby. And increase. And increase some more, until it's all frilly and crenulated. You can increase every 10 stitches, or every 2. You can do single, double, half-double, whatever type of stitch you like. And you can use whatever old yarn or other material you have lying around from 20 years ago.
In fact, that's the beauty, and somehow, poetry of this project - you are encouraged to repurpose. A portion of the reef is dedicated this: a Toxic Reef. Participants used what could have otherwise gone into a landfill to draw attention to all the effing garbage in our beautiful oceans. Strips of plastic bags, cassete tape (what the hell else are you going to do with that in 2011?), chicken wire, strips of an old t-shirt...etc. Much like Will It Float and Will It Waffle, you too can answer the question of: Will It Crochet? Yes, yes it will.
Made from trash! Word.
These are what I made (and now they're in a museum - consider my mind blown):
Three made from yarn, and the bottom right is made from strips of plastic supermarket bags. The top left is for the Bleached Reef.
I was lucky enough to be get the opportunity to help "curate" (I use this term very loosely) the exhibit once all the submissions were in (nearly 4000 individual pieces, from nearly 800 contributors in at least 3 countries). Some volunteers carefully put every contributor's name into a database (our names are on a plaque!), others sorted each piece by color, and I had the fun of sorting the pile of pinks into purply pinks, reddish pinks, brown pinks, coral/orangey pinks, hot pinks, etc.
We turned this...

...into this.
The full time curators managed to organize the mass of contributions into a breathtaking display, now on at the SMNH, as part of the Oceans Exhibit, until April 24, 2011.

Get ye to this exhibit, stat! You might even see me there, as I've become a volunteer docent specifically assigned to the reef.

Want to learn how to do this? Go to YouTube or this great tutorial series to help you learn the basics of crochet so you can get started, and then head here or to the group on Ravelry for patterns (they're really just guides, make them your own), and to the Flickr Pool for inspiration.
Can you tell I had fun with the collage function on Picasa today?

Friday, January 07, 2011

To Call Each Thing By Its Right Name

When I was in college (oh so many years ago), I had a friend who lived about 2 hours away. Sophomore year, we began trading care packages. About once a month, we would send each other small boxes, full of gag gifts from the dollar store, handmade items, silly notes with doodles on them, and the like. Usually we had some confetti lying around (as you do) and we'd fill up the empty space in the box to make it extra festive. These packages made my week, every time.

On one such time, it came in an old Tiffany box, with that lovely, trademark teal blue color. I thought it was just so pretty. A blank canvas! What could I do with it?

So I picked up some magazines I had lying around. I started flipping through the pages and cutting out words and phrases, in varying sizes, fonts, and colors. Everything to do with friendship, fun times, something I thought might make her laugh, a value we shared - whatever reminded me of her and of our friendship - it all got glue-sticked on there. We exchanged that box for quite some time. I don't know where it is anymore. I wonder, if I saw it now, would it surprise me? Make me cringe? Would it give me some insight into who I was back then, based on my choice of words?

FAST FORWARD: 10 years (Aaaahhhh!!!)

Well, it happened again. That magazine collage thing. I wanted a place where I could collect words of inspiration to me: song lyrics, poems, quotes, mantras, or words of my own invention. I could add to it as they occurred to me, and refer to the book whenever I needed a little something to pull me back in, to remind me of what beauty there is in life.

I love words.

Finding the right words, giving a name to something - it clarifies the world for me in a way that nothing else does. I say to myself, ahh, so that's what that is. There is so much richness and depth in language, so much material for us to use to define what we see, do, feel.

And so it began that I searched far and wide (if far and wide means Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Paper Source) for just the right book for the job - just the right size, blank pages, and a beautiful design on the outside cover. Well, all I have to tell you is this: all the cool journals have lines. I didn't want lines! I wanted to write as big or as small as I pleased, and maybe draw on those pages. All you diary writers get the pretty ones. In a moment of clarity, I remembered that little blue box from years ago, and it's flurry of letters. Ahah! This could work.

So I bought a blank sketchbook...

Aah, the possibilities...
At least the end papers are fun.

and turned it into this...

The front.

The back.

Here's how the process looked:

Apparently I was also collecting leaves that day?

I tried to keep things tidy.

Verdict: there were way too many words! Winnowing them down was part of the unexpected joy of this project. Yea, that word is nice, but this other word really speaks to me, it's going on instead. I also did not expect to discover this: you see different words in different types of magazines. You won't find the same patterns of language coming up in Time as you will in Smithsonian, and certainly not in Cosmo. Of course, I had a lens. I was looking for warm, positive words, ones that would hold me, energize me, make me smile.

(I'm just saying, I passed by the word "perfect" in those women's magazines sooo much. Take that to your women's studies class, do with it what you will.)

Desiderata is in there, of course.

So is this.

Here's a crowd pleaser.

Words inside, words outside. And much more to come.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Catching the Crafting Bug

Sixteen months ago, I got the idea that I wanted to learn to quilt. Who knows where the idea came from. The last time I had sewn was in middle school Home Ec. class. I knew almost nothing about it. My friend was due to have a baby, and I guess I decided that I just.must! make a quilt for her son. And like most of my projects/crafts, I quickly became obsessed. I started reading quilting blogs. I went to the fabric store (and fell in love). I researched classes. Spent too much money on supplies. Dug out my mom's 30 year-old sewing machine, and got some rudimentary lessons from her.

And you know, I was looking for something. Something to focus on, something to add purpose to my life. Something to be mindful about. Isn't that how Julie Powell got started? She was feeling a little asea, and it just so happened that cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in just a year was what did it for her. For me, it began with a four month quilting class. When I had finished the weekly homework from the class, I began working on little hand sewing projects. And sketching again. I dreamed about designing my own fabric, and selling stuff on Etsy. I tried pottery painting. Got back into crocheting and knitting. And taking photographs. Scrapbooking.

ETCETERA. It was a bit of an explosion.

I'll get back to all that. My major focus though, during those months, was the quilt. A beginning!

Not all my photos are crappy like this, I swear!

So, here you go. My first quilt block. It's crooked. And about half an inch too small. Each seam has been ripped out at least once (I did a lot of that in the beginning. It's effing hard to get those four corners to match up just right).
I kind of love it.
Because it's not perfect. Because I was okay with it not being perfect. I look at it now, eased (read: strehhhhtched) in with its neighbors, and I see a story.
And that's just the prologue.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Calling All Creative Types!

Or not. Maybe you just like stuff. You probably like stuff. So sit down and stay awhile. Pour a cup of tea. You might see something you like.

So what's this blog about? Creating. Making. Doing. Thinking. Art. Craft. You get the idea. And here's the thing, many of us don't think we're creative. I believe we all are, in some unique, perhaps undiscovered way. Let's expand what it means to create. That's what this blog is really about. We'll do it together. Listen, and participate. Make meaning. Discover. Contribute.

Thanks for stopping by.