Stitchy Gift

While I was crafting around work in Ballarat last month I listened to a few podcasts. One was the Craft Sanity podcast, and I particularly enjoyed the interview with Rebecca Ringquist. So when I saw her book in a shop I suggested Paul get it for me for Christmas.

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I listened to the interview at a point where I was assessing my own interest in embroidery – and craft in general – and a quick look at the book in the shop told me it was something I needed to read, rather than simply for project inspiration and instruction.

You see, while I don’t necessarily want to produce the style of embroidery Rebecca makes in this book, it’s more a book about an approach to embroidery than making the example projects. It says it’s “a ‘bend-the-rules’ primer”, and that’s what I’m after.

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When I look at what I’ve enjoyed and succeeded in making with embroidery so far, a few common elements emerge. When the projects have been small, they’ve been detailed and precise. When they’ve been larger, they’ve been looser and more about texture and colour than representation.

I feel like I’m wasting my time if I’m not working on something useful. That is, either embellishing a garment or bag, or making jewellery. The few times I’ve made artwork, it’s either been intensely personal (the cats) or I’ve intended to make it into something eventually even if I don’t yet know what. While Rebecca suggests letting go of the notion of the piece having a purpose, I’ve recognised that for me that is a creativity-blocker. I’m the same with colouring books. Only when I turned the pages into greeting cards did I enjoy colouring them.

You see, we have so much artwork already that I freeze in horror at the thought of accumulating more.

Time seems to be an cause of me losing interest, as well. The books I write, the portraits I paint, and the sort of weaving I’m exploring now tend to take a long time, on a scale of months to years. I acknowledged years ago that I need some of the craft I do to provide quick satisfaction. Not necessarily instant, but a scale of days and weeks would be nice. And sometimes I have no energy for thought and planning, and it’s good to be able to pick up something and just stitch.

So I’m looking for embroidery projects that are reasonably fast, that can be done in front of the tv or fit in my handbag for waiting rooms and airport lounges, and that has a use at the end. And aren’t old fashioned or twee.

That pretty much eliminates most designs on the market.

I’m happy to design my own projects, but that does require some thought and planning. However, Rebecca’s approach also appeals because it has a freeform spirit to it. Just take a thing and embellish it. Doodle with stitches. Enjoy texture and colour and accident. I love how she says don’t bother fixing a mistake, just stitch over it. And I love her for saying it’s okay to use knots. Honestly, I’ve been hung up on the whole ‘to knot, or not to knot’ question for ages, because I don’t want to put a whole lot of work into embellishing a garment only to have the ends come loose in the wash. Rebecca even suggests putting the knots on the front of the work. I love that!

So I wrote in my visual diary a list of likes and dislikes:

Likes:
The textural look of kantha and boro
The enhancing of fabric in sashiko and kogin
The simplicity of stitch in tambour and blackwork
The modern look of ‘new’ crewel and the colour in ethnic embroidery
Unconventional materials and scale, as in stitching greeting cards or giant cross stitch.
And, conversely, finer and realistic work if it’s tiny, as in jewellery
Fast projects
Portable projects
Projects with no use
Using no hoop

Dislikes:
Fussy, precise work
Traditional and old fashioned (unless subverted)
Twee
Collage-like overly busy work
Slow projects
Cumbersome projects
Artwork
Worrying about knots

Since then I’ve looked in my wardrobe, gone through my old sketchbook, and peered at my to-do list, considering what I could stitch. I’m looking at long delayed sewing projects with fresh enthusiasm, if they provide opportunity for embellishment. And that’s led to some pattern purchasing, downloading, and printing – and planning a sewing day.

Crafty plans for 2016 are well underway.

Projects of 2015

January:

First project finished in 2015 was the Bunny Mink Scarf with inlay.

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It was a good month for weaving. We finally got the pedals on the table loom, which made weaving much faster.
However, the next rigid heddle project, the Memory Scarf, was tortuous to weave.

February:

Paul and I put together a pair of Bedside Bookcases.

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Not a project, but it felt like one: I left Pinterest. And never looked back except with relief.

March:

I twisted my ankle badly, which is probably why the only project I managed for the month was the Stitchy Shirt.

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April:

I made a Shoe Modification ready for my trip to Europe.
A little less work and more down time on this trip, so I managed to stitch a
Beetle Pendant while I was travelling.

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May:

I made a Flamingo Pendant as a thank you present for a friend.
A post-trip bout of finishitis took hold, where I finished the Ribbon Scarf

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Fair Isle Beanie
… and Paua Ruanna Collar.

June:

A simple tweak turned my stiff I-cord Scarf into a relaxed, loopy scarf.

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I finished the Silk Stripe Placemats.
Some knitwear and scarves were spruced up on Overdyeing Day.
I went a little overboard making a Gingerbread House.

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July:

Giving up on altering it yet again, I turned the Origami Bolero into the Origami Bolero Scarf and the sleeves of the Gift Yarn Jacket into the Gift Yarn Scarf.
After a sudden and intense love affair with a pin loom, the Neon Blue Blanket was born.

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More weaving produced the Silksation Scarf.
And I replaced the sleeves of the Gift Yarn Jacket to make it the Blue Sleeves Jacket.

August:

Craft Day among friends was Refashioning Day (dress & two tops) for me.

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I tried a little simple knitting to make Capucine.

September:

With the leftovers I made a Capucine Cowl.
An experiment with circular weaving resulted in the Tapestry Hat.
And my determination to try weaving with fine yarn meant I finally produced the Scary Tea Towels for my Mum.

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Then I lived up to my blog name and, perhaps triggered by all the landscaping preparations, became a little obsessed with jewellery-making, refashioning old pieces to make the Washer Necklace and Tiger Tail Bracelet.

October:

I finally used some paper beads to make Paper bead jewellery.

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But the weaving continued, with another pin loom project, the Hunky Hank Shawl.
Colourful beads suggested to me a Tinkle Bracelet for a friend.
While for myself I made Seed Bead earrings & necklace, though by then the landscaping was nearing its end and the jewellery-making obsession had run it’s course.

November:

A simple solution led to me finally finishing the Art Necklace.

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I started 50 Cards by Christmas 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8-9, 9-10.

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December:

While way on a solo writing retreat, escaping the beginning of the new garage foundations work, I made some Inkle bands.
For the New Year, I bought myself a Katie Loom!
And I embellished a cardigan:

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Overall, it feels like I got less craft done this year than usual. RSI and a sprained ankle held me back in February and March, and I was away for most of April and part of November. Then there was all the landscaping and garage preparations and ongoing tasks that ate up mornings and weekends.

Thanks to the latter, I was exhausted by the middle of November and behind schedule with work. I reconnected with both writing and craft during my solo writing retreat week. In fact, I learned something useful. Because I wanted to avoid a sudden increase of typing, which would lead to RSI, I did craft in the mornings – weaving and card-making which didn’t work my hands too much. By the afternoon I was relaxed and my mind had been working over the story while I crafted, so the writing went well. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been doing the same, with varied success. I can’t help that the garage build and various chores are a distraction, but I can avoid spending mornings stuffing around on the internet – which just adds to the wear and tear on my hands and back. It is hard to switch into work mode, however, when the craft project sucks me in and I don’t want to stop.

A lot of refashioning, modification and reusing of materials were part of projects in 2015. When I did try something new, it was in weaving mostly, and also a few jewellery projects. In both I finally tackled and/or finished a few very long term projects – the scary tea towels and art necklace.

I only finished one portrait this year thanks to starting classes two months late, though the second is close to finished. That’s disappointing, as I was aiming to do four.

This year’s aim with the house was to take a break from big projects and stick to small ones while the pool fence, landscaping and garage preparations were done. The pool fence was ridiculously stressful and complicated. The actual landscaping was fast and stress-free, but the preparations before and pre-mulch preparations afterwards took up far more time than I’d expected.

The garage project is slow and ongoing, but mostly Paul’s task so I’m free to chase the work deadline and craft in 2016. I’m in a much more optimistic frame of mind than I was six weeks ago. In fact, the silly season, which I usually find distracting, stressful and a bit lonely, felt like a welcome break and opportunity to get everything back on track.

Happy New Year!

Cardy Embellishment I

I finished this project the night before NYE.

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At the beginning of last year I bought two cashmere cardigans to wear while overseas – one purple, one red. I took the purple cardy overseas. It served it’s purpose as a layering garment. But while I love the colour of both cardys, they’re rather boring. I’ve always intended to embellish them.

For the purple one I wanted to do some embroidery, but every time I put needle and thread to it the result was disappointing, or the method was too slow or hard on my hands. Eventually I tried chain stitch with thin grey weaving yarn and liked it.

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For the red one I want to do black roses. I bought gauzy ribbon sewn into roses, black velvet ribbon and other trim, and pinned it to the cardy on the dress model, but didn’t find a design I liked. Now I know chain stitch works well, I think I’ll use it and black wool yarn instead.

Crafty Treat No.2

At the end of my stay in Ballarat Paul came up and joined me for the weekend. We headed drove home via the Daylesford Mill Markets, a huge antiques and collectables market. I saw a little mini sewing machine not much bigger than a hardback novel, but it didn’t have the power cord and food pedal so I didn’t buy it.

It got me thinking. I owned a cute mini Elna sewing machine years ago, but I foolishly gave it to a workmate before moving house, reasoning that the less I owned the easier it would be to move. I really missed that machine.

When I got home I did some googling. I looked up reviews of mini sewing machines and searched for them on eBay and in stores. Only one model was available through an Australian online store, and it had sold out. The ones on eBay looked cheap and tacky and the sellers had bad feedback. I even found a model that IKEA sells, but it wasn’t that small and reviews were bad.

Jenome’s model appealed because I already have a full size one, so bobbins, fittings and tools should be compatible. They had good reviews. However, they were only available overseas (which might mean power adaptor issues?).

But then I found one advertised on Gumtree. Trouble was, it was in Western Australia, and Gumtree works more on a ‘pay for and pick up in person’ format. I emailed the seller asking if they would post it. After a bit of too and fro, we sorted out postage and agreed on a price, and a week later this arrived:

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Next to my full size Jenome for scale:

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It’s much lighter – a greater difference in weight than in size. I tested it and it works, if noisily (though not in a ‘I’m broken’ kind of way). It only does straight stitch and zigzag, but so did my old Elna, and that’s fine for most non-stretch fabrics.

So I have a plan that, at the next Craft Day, instead of lugging a heavy sewing machine, sewing box and project bag into the host’s house, I’ll have one bag containing the mini sewing machine and just what I need for the projects I’m making. Though I’ll still have to carry in the same dress model if I’m making clothing, since there’s no way to miniaturise that!

Crafty Treat No.1

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I’ve coveted the Ashford Katie Loom since I saw one at the Guild, but always managed to talk myself out of buying one.

I loved the portability. Since we put pedals on the table loom it can’t easily be released and taken anywhere. Like to classes, for instance.

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However, the Katie’s smaller size did make me pause. I had told myself that when I gained enough experience and confidence to try 8 shaft weaving I would simply add more shafts to the table loom. Which would allow me to weave with finer yarns, as it would double the heddles.

But when I wove the Scary Tea Towels earlier this year I realised that I may never have the patience to weave fine yarns in a large piece. It’d take too long to thread the loom. It’s more likely I’ll make small items like scarves and placemats.

So I’m now the owner of three looms: the rigid heddle for simple, speedy weaving, the table loom for large projects using thicker yarns, and the Katie for complex projects using thinner yarns.

(Though if you include the inkle looms I have five looms. And I still want to make a tape loom.)

The Last Lot

Tuesday, after my morning of card-making, I had a failed attempt at a nap (I slept badly the night before, having pulled a muscle in my side), so I made a cocktail and pushed on with card-making, whipping up ten cards using foam and rubber stamps. Cracking out the acrylic paint and roller seemed a little dangerous even while only mildly inebriated, so I stuck to using stamp pads. First to make a few themed cards:

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Then I went wild with the foam animal stamps, adding an amusing twist by adding bow ties, moustaches and glasses.

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That night I turned to the last four cards, wielding a needle and thread. And tweaked a previous card that I thought was too simple.

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Which means I made it, with an extra if I count the cards I made and gave away before I got a photo of it. I now have 100 freshly created handmade cards on hand – with sentiment stamps and a stamp pad by them so I can customise the cards as needed.

The Eighth-to-Ninth Group

So a couple of days before Christmas I realised I still had more than thirty cards to make. Going through what I’d already made, I listed methods that were working well and other variations I could do, then added a couple of other methods to the list that I wanted to try, and put aside some cards I wanted to tweak.

That’s when I tried the oil pastel and sticker resist methods of the last post. I also tried painting with nail polish, and cutting circles out of photographs from an old diary and tiling them, but I didn’t like the result of either and the cards went into the recycling.

The next day I still had 29 cards to make. To get them done, I really needed to spend more time than a few hours sitting in front of the tv at night. So I set up on the dining table the next morning and got to work.

First up: watercolours. I painted more graphic shapes, and another sticker resist using stamps. I’ve included here a colouring book page card from an earlier bout of card-making that I finally decided I was done with.

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Then I did more Sharpie drawings. They’re fun, but time-consuming.

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Finally I cut, wove and glued more Japanese design paper cards.

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I made half of what I needed to make to reach 100 cards, but had plenty of ideas for the last fifteen or so cards. Before I finished up for the morning… er, afternoon… I traced some cookie cutters onto card ready to do more string art. And I got the foam stamps are out again, to tempting me into getting messy with acrylic paint and roller.

The Seventh Batch

Four of the cards below were actually made before the last post’s. When I did that post my card-making materials were still separated into what stayed at home and what I took to Ballarat, so I didn’t get around to photographing the four I’d already made until now.

There’s one colouring book card, two I drew on with Sharpies, and two covered in paper I painted ages ago:

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The next lot are the most recent, made the same day I wrote this post. I played with watercolour and resists, in this case the donut shaped stickers that reinforce binder pages, and white oil pastel:

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I also tweaked some of the cards I’d already made. The colouring book city was a bit drab, so I coloured one of the windows yellow. The beetle was too dark, so I painted it white. The math-o-mat card looked so much better once it had stencilled letters on it, and I preferred the simplicity of the embroidered card without the bow.

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And the green gardening theme one got another tweak. I’m still not 100% sure I’m done with this one yet.

The Sixth Batch

As I said in the last post, I took some card-making supplies along on my writing retreat. They included a cutting board, knife, ruler, gluestick, card stock and pages from one of my colouring books. I also had my little portable watercolour set with me, which I carry everywhere anyway. So it’s no surprise that most of the cards were made of colouring pages painted with watercolours:

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Though the black one I coloured when I got home, using sharpies.

I also had an embroidery kit on hand, so one of the colouring pages was embellished with thread, too. And after I got home I continued playing with embroidery thread:

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The tenth card never got photographed, since I forgot to take a pic before giving it to a friend. It was another watercolour – of a stack of books.

Portable Weaving

I took myself off to Ballarat for a solo writing retreat last week. It was a nice to not have to restrict myself to a carry on bag and handbag. That meant, of course, that I spent the week before imagining myself packing an unfeasible amount of craft stuff to do in the evenings.

Fortunately, when it came to packing common sense did prevail, and I decided to take a long-neglected inkle band, some cotton and band weaving reeds, a small embroidery kit and some card-making supplies. Though I thought I’d gravitate toward making more cards first, instead I gravitated toward weaving.

I finished the band on the small reed and completed another on a larger one:

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Then I was ready to try something more challenging. I decided to try runic weaving. The instructions in the Weavers Inkle Pattern Directory assume you’re using an inkle loom and have some warp sticks on hand. I just fiddled about until I worked out how to do it using the backstrap method.

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It woke the itch to weave. And a little end-of-year present arrived unexpectedly early this week, so I’ve got bigger plans fermenting in my head for the weekend.