Feat of Clay

For the first few weeks after having Covid I didn’t feel any urge to paint. Instead I either tidied up or organised my art supplies. And then I had two of those dives into a craft I only occasionally dabble in. The first was jewellery-making, which led to ideas for making brooches, which led to me unearthing my small supply of air-dry clay.

Well, it’s been a long time. It turned out that the terracotta version I’d used to make some macrame beads years ago was now too solid and crumbly to use. After consulting the internet, I crumbled it up into a container, added water to soak in overnight, then spent an afternoon pushing it through a sieve then spreading the resulting paste out to dry on the shiny side of the glass slab I use to grind up pigments for ink.

That was going to take a few days, so I opened a pack of white clay and started to play. Even though it had to be over ten years old, it was still in good condition. The first pieces I made were simple flat shapes to paint later, so I could get a feel for how the clay worked. Then I made circles, a square and a heart with an edge, with the intention to make little mosaics.

I haven’t yet made anything from the flat shapes, but I had fun painting the ‘frames’ and filling them with tiles. They have brooch pins glued to the backs.

Having opened a pack of clay, I was worried it would dry out in the years that were likely to pass until I got the inclination again. I hadn’t used up much clay, so I tried making something bigger: a brush holder, which isn’t the most attractive thing I’ve ever knocked together but works.

Then I went even bigger and made a mug-sized candle lamp. Not something I’d normally use, but I thought I might be able to hang earrings on it. The mistake I made was to not let the side panel dry a bit before attaching it to the base. The holes reduced the integrity of the clay, too. The side slumped in on itself and the holes started closing up. Fortunately, the plastic cup I was using for water was exactly the same size as the vessel, so I wrapped it in baking paper and inserted it inside the piece, then turned everything upside down. Now gravity was in my favour, stretching it out again – though I still had to re-cut the holes. The next day the vessel was dry enough to remove the cup. When it was dry I painted it black on the outside and silver inside. The sides are too thick to get earring hooks into, so I guess it’s going to have to be a candle lamp after all.

In the meantime I’d had more brooch ideas, I made a paint tube and paint box…

… and a pair of abstract shapes with round hollows in them. I filled one with glitter and the other with scraps of wire and beads.

I also made some mushrooms and abstract flowers that were painted with some of the terracotta clay paste thinned a bit to make a slip. The stems are florist wire. No idea what I’m going to do with them.

When the terracotta paste had finally dried to the consistency of clay, I gave it a good knead. By then I didn’t have many ideas left to try, so I decided to use it up all in one project. To do this I made a a flat leaf shape and pressed that into a bowl covered in cling wrap. When it had dried enough to hold its shape I took it out of the bow. It took aaaages to dry.

This whole clay adventure took a lot longer than I had expected. Much longer than my enthusiasm lasted, unfortunately. On the day I sanded the white clay items I was really over the whole clay thing, but it got more interesting once I began painting things and glueing in mosaic tiles, glitter and jewellery scraps.

But I’m done. I’ve put the unused flat shapes in among my jewellery making supplies until I know what I want to do with them, and both clay and jewellery-making supplies have been put away. Now, with the craft table cleared, I’m free to dive into the next thing.


A couple of dowels sticking vertically from a wooden base. That’s what I’ve been using to hold both cones and reels of yarn when winding warps or bobbins. Even though the dowels weren’t straight and sometime fell out, it did the trick. But as I was weaving the pinwheel towels, I noticed how the yarn wound up with quite a twist to it. Reels of yarn ought to sit horizontally when unwound, while yarn from cones needs to come off vertically.

Since I was doing a bit of carpentry anyway, making the warping mill, I got to thinking about making a new yarn stand. The usual lazy kate design came to mind first, then converting one of the boxes the local specialty wine store sell. But the prospect of transporting it to a workshop made me realise it needed to be light, multi-purpose and collapsable.

Immediately I knew all I needed was two pieces each of dowel and timber. For cones it could be used like this:

For reels it can be used like this:

Or this:

And then be broken down like this for travel.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most satisfying.


At some point we’re going to wind a warp using a warping mill in class. I haven’t used one before, though I’ve watched demonstrations. The Guild has only a small number of these, and I find I get quite overwhelmed and mistake-prone at in-person classes, so I considered making my own. After doing a bit of research, I bought a horizontal folding warping mill plan and knocked one up with a bit of help from Paul (because the big saw makes me nervous, and his system for storing tools is rather, um, personal to him).

I made one tweak – using cord instead of wooden braces at the base, inspired by my late Pa’s clothes airer. It’s much faster to just spread the legs until the cord is taught than to lift up each side, line up the holes of the wooden brace with the dowels and ram it on. And, of course, when you’re done you just lift it and let the legs swing together.

It had also occurred to me that if I sell my sectional warping equipment and make a folding warping mill I’d free up some space in my rather cluttered loom room. Having a warping mill means I won’t need my warping board, though I’ll keep it in case I need a more portable option. I’m thinking of selling my floor inkle loom too, as I’ve had it for a few years and haven’t used it once.

The urge – and need – to declutter and simplify always comes when I’ve had health issues, but there’s also the approaching start of a new year that’s driving thoughts of needs, wants and hopes for the near future. Last year I decided my mottos for 2021 were “be flexible” and “make no commitments. This year I keep returning to a great quote from Kieth Richards:

“I ain’t old, I’m evolving”.

So I’m thinking “evolve and simplify” is my motto for 2022.

Happy New Year! Here’s hoping it’s less trying than 2021.

A New Thing

It’s not like I don’t already have plenty of hobbies to entertain me while in isolation, yet some instinct or unconscious wisdom told me that there’s no better distraction than learning something new but not too complex. What popped into my mind when I considered what would fit the bill was temari.

They are small, so I wouldn’t be wondering where the heck I’d put them later. They’re not an overly big commitment in time, but enough work to keep me distracted for more than five minutes. They use materials I have at hand already. They’re pretty and could be nice gifts. And they don’t, if done in small sessions, bother my hands or back.

Just watch a few YouTube videos, I told myself. Maybe buy a book. Well, it turns out books on temari are rather expensive, and the videos mostly focus on getting started, not what you do once you have your grid marked. The most valuable resource I found was temarikai.com.

Even so, there’s a fair bit of ‘work it out for yourself’ involved. Stare at the picture a lot. Take a deep breath and start stitching. My first ball is a bit wonky, but came out much better than I expected.

My second was partly done during a Zoom meeting of the Sweary Stitchers Craft Group, which turned out to be a good social crafting project. And there were requests for balls, if I continued making them.

It’s not good tv crafting, unless the program only requires the occasional glance. Audio books and podcasts would do nicely. It’s a good portable craft, too, though with the same risk with losing needles as with embroidery, and it’s not really suitable to stitch while in a moving car or train.

I’m glad I set myself the challenge to try something new, and found this little art form. I think there will be more temari in my future.

Raffia Revamp

Waaaaay back in my 20s I did a two day short course on raffia hatmaking. I remember the first class was all about the braiding, with the teacher constantly urging us to “weave tighter!”. She told us to keep braiding our stash of raffia at home, and the next week we used hat forms to sew the braids into hat shapes.

I particularly remember I wound up with double the amount of braid than I needed and very sore hands.

So after my hands had healed I decided to see if I could make another hat. Since I didn’t have a hat form I made a boater-style hat – straight sided so no need to get the dome shape right. It came out a bit tight, unfortunately, so I figured I’d give it away.

It never found a head that fit and wanted it. The hat from the class did fit and I wore it quite a bit. But recently I put it on and realised it had shrunk. So I decided to unpick and resew the braid a bit looser, and completely resew the boater hat.

Then followed a long, boring and fruitless search for suitable raffia. In the end I gave up and used some waxed linen thread I’d bought for coiled baskets. It worked fine.

First I tackled the braid from the boater hat. It took a lot of unsewing and resewing, but eventually I got a shape I liked that fit. Then I unpicked the braid of the class hat back to a row before the brim and resewed it a little looser, reusing the raffia it had been originally stitched with. I ran the raffia across some beeswax I used to use for bookbinding thread, and that made it much easier to stitch with.

They’re not as tightly sewn as they were the first time, but I figure the few gaps are air-conditioning. I should get plenty more wear out of the class hat, and I love the shape of the new one, so it’s finally going to get some use.

I have to say, though. I’d be happy if another 20 years passed before I made another raffia hat.

Soft Macrame Owl

A few weeks back I saw this in an opshop, hiding under some shelving.

I couldn’t leave it there, lonely and unappreciated. And unfinished. The yarn was wonderfully soft, too. The plant hanger projects weren’t there, but the owl was. Someone had made a start, attaching the yarn to the top rod and doing the first few rows of knots. Some of the pieces were missing: the bottom rod, and one ring and bead for the eyes, but they were easily replaced from my box of macrame supplies.

It was the perfect project to do on a Craft Day I held recently. Amusing and nostalgic, as well as simple enough to do while chatting to crafty friends. I was surprised at how long it took, keeping me occupied the whole afternoon. I had knotted the wings and did a few rows of the body when we wound up for the day.

I finished it over over a few tv watching sessions.

The claws aren’t quite as instructed. I was supposed to glue the ends together and shape them into curved talons. Glue just didn’t seem right, so I wove the ends back into the knots.

Now I have to figure out what to do with the offcuts.

Inclusions in weaving? A stitched bowl? A tiny mop?

A Day on the Tiles

When I was planning the laundry renovation, the thought of cutting ordinary tiles to fit the taps and power point was intimidating. I’d heard stories of people using up dozens of tiles in the attempt. It occurred to me that if I used sheets of little square mosaic tiles then all I’d have to do was remove the ones where the obstructions were.

Or I could do a mosaic! I’ve always wanted to try mosaic-making.

But I suspected doing a mosaic that size would be like trying to waltz before you learned to walk. I bought a little kit at Bunnings, then I found a mosaic class being run just a few weeks later, so I signed up – and persuaded a friend, Liz, to come with me.

I had the BEST time. It quickly became obvious that my suspicion was right: tiling the laundry with a mosaic was waaaay too big a job to launch into any time soon. The piece I made was only about 30 x 30 cm and it took me over seven hours to complete. I’d taken some photos of kookaburras that Paul took, drew a design from one and did it in glass:

Everyone in the class did vastly different pieces, using glass, ceramic tiles, broken crockery, broken glass, and making artwork, covering a bird bath, a pot and a clock face. I was so inspired by the time I was done that I bought some tools and materials ready to launch into a half dozen projects I was already itching to try.

However, I haven’t started any yet. I’ve found that every project has one or two materials that are difficult to find. Either it’s the substrate or glass colours to match the kookaburra, or a mould to test an idea for a mosaic made out of slate.

But I did get around to doing the kit from Bunnings. I thought the design they instruct you to do was a bit kidsy…

… so I mixed up the tiles and laid them in a different pattern, and grouted with black.

Much better!

Just last week I finally found a source of Marmox, the board we used in the class. It’s lightweight and waterproof, so good for wall hung art for outdoors. I’m planning to make a big clock. Now I just need to find a large clock mechanism…

Ball & Change

For the first two to three months of last year I had to stay off my feet thanks to a bout of plantar faciitis. Fortunately it settled down enough that I was able to move house in the second half of the year with no new flare up. However, the sprained ankle has stirred up the plantar facia again, because when I was limping more force went into the non-sprained side, which was the most prone to pf.

I’m off overseas again soon, and my old multi-purpose mary janes aren’t going to cut it. I needed shoes that were not just going be robust, able to be worn with a skirt, nice enough for an evening out and taken off quickly at airport security gates, but they had to be supportive and impact-absorbing. I went to Gilmores, a local shoe specialist for people with problem feet, and the only shoe that came close to filling my requirements were, well, not exactly pretty.


Paul calls them ‘old lady shoes’. I think they’re just boring.

This moccasin style of shoe usually has a few more features. A buckle or bow across the top. A thin leather cord tied at the middle. A bit of leather fringe. Heck, I’ve seen them in a street fashion photo with fur and a chain. Looking at the website of the shoes’ brand, there are plenty with these embellishments, but perhaps only this one had the extra-good-for-plantar-faciitis internal structure.

Still, this did mean I ought to be able to decorate my shoes without it looking odd.

What to do, though? I experimented with all of the above, cutting up bits of leather and experimenting with buckles and cord. I realised that if I could somehow attach some loops to either side of the shoe I might be able to switch around embellishments as I pleased.

So I got stitching. A bit of black leather and waxed thread later I had the loops on.


After applying a bit of boot polish to make sure they blended in with the rest of the shoe, I considered all my decorations and settled on the simplest: a chain.


I figure if I get the time between now and leaving, I’ll make some more embellishments. Maybe some black bows. And I rather fancy a strip of leather with studs in it. Hmm.

Short & Sweet

Over January I did slip in a couple of very quick crafty projects. The sort that take less than an hour. So quick I forgot to blog about them.

These bracelets, following the little tutorial over on Honestly WTF:

Then another inspired by a different tutorial at the same blog:

And then I dug out these shoes, which I vaguely remember buying while on holiday after getting blisters on my heels from the shoes I took with me. I always found them rather boring and ‘beige’.

Some acrylic paint, a leaf-shaped cutter and some address labels later, they weren’t so boring any more.

I also tried solar dyeing with flowers from our flame tree, but all they did was make the cloth slightly pinker.

Some Beads, Some Wire, Some Chains

A few weeks back I had a sudden itch to make – and remake – some jewellery. After refashioning a few pieces from old ones, I made a few new things from my little box of beads and supplies:

Early last year I bought some discounted bundles of glass beads from an art store in Canberra. They were a bit ‘too much’ all strung together, so I spaced them out with some seed beads. I’m not in love with the result, but I like it enough to wear it. At least until I think of a better idea.

I saw some elaborate necklaces featured on a blog with lots of chains draped between beads. This is much less fancy, but I like the simplicity of it and have worn it out twice already. It incorporates a glass bead I bought at the craft show last year.

This looks much nicer worn than lying on a flat surface, because the strings of beads hang slightly in front and behind each other. It’s based on a wood and gold necklace I bought cheaply at a dress shop. I had one of those moment when it occurs to you that two things you’ve been keeping separate would look great together. In this case, there’s a lot of black and white fashion about, which I like, so the combination was in my mind when I looked through my beads. The white beads came from a necklace I bought at an op shop, the black ones for another necklace that only ever worked in my head.

It took many, may hours to make it, partly because I used tiger tail on my first attempt and I couldn’t get the lengths of each strand of beads quite right, and then I kept running out of one or other kind of bead. Eventually I strung them separately on plain sewing cotton, then transferred them to beading thread when I was satisfied with the combination of beads and how everything hung together.