Recovery

Recently I was watching a video in which an artist talked about burnout and I realised she was describing how I’d felt in the last few years toward my work. I’d assumed that back pain was the cause of my lack of enthusiasm – after all, it’s hard to be keen about doing something that hurts – and I hadn’t considered there might be more to it. Acknowledging the burnout felt right, like finding the piece of a puzzle. And because it’s hard to recover from something if you don’t know you have it.

Deciding that this was the year of being flexible and avoiding commitments was a good idea, in retrospect, but it’s been frustrating as well as beneficial. While it’s been less stressful, the break has confirmed that I do need an aim or challenge to work toward. But I needed time to consider what I wanted to do, and what I am capable of now.

Looking back, I’ve always maintained three passions in my life: writing, art and craft. I’ve turned two of them into work, as a designer for four years, a self-employed illustrator and designer for nine, and a writer for twenty…

… and as I typed that last paragraph, I remembered that I was seriously burnt out as an artist by the time I wound up the illustration business. It took time and taking up a new medium (oils) to recover my love for art. Maybe that’s what I’ll need to recover my enthusiasm for writing.

I’m in no hurry to get writing again, though I am feeling like I’ve recovered some interest. Until I do, I have art and craft to call upon for my aims and challenges. Yet at the same time I’ve been wondering how I can avoid spoiling either by turning them into work. Well, ‘work’ and ‘work at’ are entirely different things. Deadlines, clients and money are involved in the first, but aren’t essential for the latter. What matters for the latter is learning, practising and improving. Becoming good at something can be fulfilling in of itself.

I think that’ll be more than enough for me for now.

The 7 Day Urban Sketching @ Home Challenge

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been watching lots of fast motion videos of artists working and talking about their methods, and one I stumbled on was a young woman, Taria, who runs the Urban Sketching World website. She had done a series of videos of herself sketching at home during lockdown earlier this year, presenting them as an artistic challenge for others to try.

Having decided I should do some art around the house, this seemed as good a place to start as any. I have a sketchbook I draw and paint in when I go on day trips or weekend away, which I had nearly filled, so this could be a way to finish it off, too. It turned out to have five pages left, so this challenge would not only complete it, but get me started on a new sketchbook.

The first day’s theme is ‘art supplies’. Always fun and easy to depict:

The second day’s is ‘something from the cupboard’. I chose the shelves in the door of our TARDIS liquor cabinet:

The third theme is ‘plants’. I live on an acre with more than half of it garden, from native to vegetable beds. Spoilt for choice there, you’d think. Only it was freezing outside so I brought in this little pot:

Theme number four is ‘modes of transport’. I’m always up for drawing my Mini, and I was fortunate that it was a sunny day:

The fifth theme was ‘the room’. I thought this one would be difficult, so I was thinking about it ahead of time. I settled on the corner of the kitchen:

Day six’s theme is people. Lockdown meant my subjects were limited to me and Paul, but then I remembered that people like to walk along our street and drawing people quickly is an interesting challenge. However, in 1 1/2 hours only four people passed, and one of those I spotted too late. So I started sketching Paul, then realised I didn’t have enough space so abandoned that and drew his head.

For the seventh day we could draw anything. It was a dim, overcast day and it was hard to make out the cat on his bed under my desk, so I went for something brighter:

It’s been fun most days and a great way to reacquaint myself with my sketching tools. It finished off my old sketchbook with a ‘bang’.

I’ve been considering whether I’ll do Inktober, but I’m not sure about the prompts. Another idea is to paint the same subject a day for a set time. A friend is doing horses for a year and is still at it seven months later – and she says it’s worth doing even if she’s totally over drawing horses! Trouble is, there’s a good reason I called this blog ‘creative fidget’. I tend to cycle through my interests so I don’t get tired of any. Daily drawing might not be my thing. Still, I am intrigued by the idea of regularly drawing or painting flowers. The subject has never attracted me in the past, but I really enjoyed painting the spring blossoms. I can do some from photos and some from life, and play with different mediums.

Pinwheels Scarf

Some while back when I had a backlog of posts to publish I decided not to post about the 8-shaft weaving certificate course samplers. I am having fun and learning heaps, and maybe at some point I’ll do a catch-up post.

I’m also toying with the idea of weaving an item in some, if not all, of the structures we explore. The first was twill, which I’ve woven plenty of times but I’ve never made anything that utilised a tabby binder. At the last Guild meeting of weavers on Zoom the subject discussed was weaving with handspun. Some of the oldest yarns in my stash are handspun, and I’ve been wanting to use up older yarn. Somehow the three ideas – twill, handspun and using older yarn – came together, and after the usual planning I got stuck into winding the warp for two scarves using a corkscrew twill in Strickler that looks a bit like tyre treads.

Before I could get that on the Lotas, however, I needed the loom for a class sampler. The colour-and-weave sampler was meant to be done in the Guild on one of their floor looms, but since we’re in lockdown and I have the same type of floor loom, I offered to be ‘one less student to worry about’ and do it at home.

The sampler was meant to be 50cm long, and since the loom waste is 50cm, it made economical sense to increase the length to the warp and make a scarf. Though I tried a whole lot of fun varieties of colour-and-weave and designed my own, none jumped out and said “do me for the scarf”. It was a project for pinwheel towels in Handwoven I found while researching colour-and-weave that caught my attention. I decided my scarf would be made up of 20cm sections of all eight pinwheel versions – or seven if I didn’t have enough warp.

It turned out to be quite addictive and fast to weave, but I had to make myself not weave the entire thing in one sitting and cause a back flare-up. As I suspected, I only had enough warp for seven of the pinwheel designs, but that’s fine. Odd numbers often look better than even, anyway.

One of my favourites for the year, I reckon.

Helping Hands

Recently I’ve been watching art demonstration videos on YouTube, starting with James Gurney, then various other artists. Inspired, I’ve been doing a bit of art at home and wishing I could go out and paint en plein air.

Many more portable easel options are available since I last looked, from expensive ponchard boxes to cheap DIY set ups that attach to tripods. I was particularly amused by a laptop conversion I saw, though I suspect it wouldn’t be a practical solution in the long run. I have a DIY ponchard box I made in 2010 and a plastic version I put together for our trip to Central Australia. They all rest on my knees, which means I need to sit down when painting. Having something fixed to an easel would be much more flexible.

I bought James Gurney’s video on his DIY sketching easel and as I watched it, I couldn’t help thinking all that wood looked heavy. Or at least, heavier than I was willing to carry. All the clips and magnets holding things to the boards made me wonder if the boards could be eliminated and the clips remain. A bit of searching later, I bought this:

It’s called ‘helping hands’, and is for soldering. I was worried that the arms would be too weak to hold a palette, diffuser and sketchbook/canvas board steady while I worked, but they’re impressively sturdy. It has a hole in the base for screwing it to a table, which Paul enlarged and created a thread that matches the quick-release plates on tripods. And that hollow in the centre is just right for a water container.

The next step was to gather the things the clips would hold. James uses pencil tins as palettes, and I didn’t manage to find one before the lockdown, so had to order a tin of pencils online, which took ages to arrive. The first diffuser I came up with used bamboo skewers and bendy straws for the frame and white plastic sheet for the fabric, but both double-sided and masking tape peeled off the plastic so I wound up sewing on some white poly-cotton instead. I wasn’t going to attempt to buy kite fabric from Spotlight as they’re slow getting orders out so with Aussie Post delays on top who knows when it would arrive. At the moment if something can’t be bought in a supermarket, chemist, baker, butcher or green grocer, I’ve got to either make it using bits and pieces around the house and garage, or just do without.

Once I had all the components lockdown had eased enough that I could leave the house for a ‘picnic’. Reluctant to go out on my own in case people approached me, I invited a friend to keep me company and shoo people away. She agreed and we set a date and time… and when the moment came it was waaaay too cold.

I had to begrudgingly acknowledge that all this waiting for the perfect conditions was silly, and I should just paint, darn it! I found a sketchbook challenge and put the easel aside. But then it turned out one of the themes did require a bit of outdoor work:

I’m pleased to say that my easel idea worked. I wound up swapping the front and middle sets of arms around so that the front ones weren’t in the way and the book was closer to me, which meant the water bottle had to sit on the palette, but that was fine. The least successful thing was the diffuser. It flaps around in the wind too much, which is a problem with the construction, not the arms holding it. I’d need a lighter tripod if I’m going to carry it far, too, and the IKEA kid’s paintbrushes are about as good as you’d expect.

Overall, a surprisingly successful, if rather whacky, DIY easel.

Sewing the Good Stash

All this stretch garment sewing began a few years ago when I bought two fabric remnants, a black jersey with flowers and a navy and white striped knit. The striped fabric was meant to be the test fabric for the leggings I was going to make from the floral.

A few years, various hesitations and much fabric and sewing machine buying later, I have finally sewn that floral fabric.

When the fabric arrived it proved to be a bit thin for leggings, so I figured I’d make a long-sleeved top or skivvy. Of course, laying out the pattern pieces required care to ensure I didn’t wind up with big flowers in unfortunate locations, but I managed it without too much fuss. However, what I found then was that even if I’d plonked the pieces down in the most space efficient way, I’d still wouldn’t have fit in both sleeves.

That left me with a choice. Either I have 3/4 length sleeves, which I hate, or cut outs at the shoulder. So I went with the latter.

Expecting disappointment, I have tried using the cover stitch machine again with varying results. Sewing two layers seems okay, but it wouldn’t stop dropping stitches when I attempted two layers either side of waistband elastic on a pair of leggings. After I’d exhausted the setting adjustment options in the manual, I tried pulling the thread out of the lefthand needle, which is the side that always fails, and just sewing with two, and you know what? It worked!

Obviously, it’s not okay for a brand new machine to not sew as it’s supposed to, but the internet tells me it’s a common problem and most likely operator error. Still, I will be checking the guarantee to see how long I have to work out the source of the problem.

Spring Inspiration Scarves

While weaving the chenille scarves, I got to thinking more about using up more old or unusual yarns in my stash. When I had searched for something to use up the white warp I had tried weaving some slubby white cotton, but decided an all white scarf didn’t appeal. Could I use up that yarn next? I wasn’t feeling energetic enough to dye the cotton, but what if I wove it with a coloured warp?

Looking at my collection of 8/2 cotton, I chose three that were around the same value. The combo looked very Spring to me. I also had two balls of slightly thicker slubby cotton in a teal, so I wound enough warp for two scarves.

I chose a draft in Strickler (#102) that produced flower shapes, reproduced it in Fibreworks ao I could play with colour placement, and altered it to eliminate a long float.

The white wove up really well:

The teal is okay. You have to look closely to see the flowers. But it is cushy and soft.

I have enough slubby cotton in another brand to weave several more scarves, but after joining the Guild’s weaving group Zoom meeting on weaving with handspun, I was inspired to do that instead. The two balls I picked are also some of the ‘oldest’ yarns in my stash, and the warp yarn was probably a few years old when I picked it up at a destash.

None of these old yarns are particularly ancient, mind. They’re just the oldest in my stash. But I wouldn’t want them to end up so ancient that whatever I made out of them wouldn’t last long, which is a good motivation to weave yarns I’ve been intimidated by or not sure what to do with.

Newness

For my first garment on the new machines, I decided to make a top out of the striped jersey I’d bought as a test fabric way back when. Since it was supposed to be sacrificial, I decided to also trial changing the skivvy pattern to a top with a scoop neckline.

Referring to a top from my wardrobe, I sketched out the new neckline and made a template for cutting out more fabric rather than cutting into the pattern.

I didn’t do this for the pattern back, which would come back to bite me later, I just trimmed a bit off the back piece after I’d cut it out. Then I got down to sewing.

To get around not having enough cones of thread in the colours I needed (because my old overlocker only takes three) I used black for one thread, which isn’t noticeable. One day, when lockdown is over, I’ll buy not just an extra cone of navy and grey, but an extra five so I don’t have to rethread the overlocker and coverstitch machine at least twice for each project.

(I did try to order more navy and grey cones, but couldn’t find any shops selling the brand and shade of navy I have, and I really need to match the grey in person. Which was probably a good thing, since there was also a big delay in the postal service thanks to Covid exposures and a surge of online orders.)

Some sewing later, I had a new top:

Which went well apart from two things:

First, the coverstitch machine is SO finicky! I went through all of the offcuts of the fabric test sewing, each time adjusting the various settings until the machine stopped skipping stitches. And yet when I came to sewing the actual hems… skipped stitches. Watching videos online helped a bit, but even when I finally got it to work and managed to sew the wrist and bottom hems successfully on this top, the machine then could not handle the neckline. I gave up after unpicking it several times and returned to using a double needle on the sewing machined.

Second, I really should have done more than snip a little bit off the back neckline. It stuck out so far that when I pinched it in to fit snugly, I found it was about 6cm too big. By then I was so over unpicking that neckline that I waited several days before taking a deep breath and redoing it. Fortunately, I only had to unpick the back, trim the back neckline and resew it, and then it was fixed.

I’m not sure what to make of the coverstitch machine. The fabric I used was thin, slippery, and had a very fine and grippy knit structure, so maybe that was the problem. I need to try other fabrics before making any conclusions about it. It’s a whole new thing, so naturally it’s going to take practise and experience to feel confident with using it.

But I am very happy with the sewing machine and overlocker, and keen to tackle the next project.

Test Run Bags

If there’s a down side to refashioning and recycling it is the tendency to keep things because they might come in handy one day. I should have thrown these away two years ago:

They were from the wardrobe of Late Lucy, which had contained several of these folksy tent dresses. I can think of five off the top of my head, all hand made, of different weights from light summery fabric to warm winter wool. The white flecky one was probably a poly cotton mix, and the olive grey one 100% polyester, so while the prints looked nice I wasn’t going to be making clothes out of them. I guess I only kept them on the vague notion of weaving them into rag rugs.

When my new sewing machines arrived I wanted to get familiar with them by making something simple. Drawstring bags, maybe. When I was considering what fabric to use, these dresses happened to be in line of sight, and I had an epiphany. I’ve been wanting to make cloth bags to replace the plastic bags that organise clothing in my suitcase. Something that could be tossed in a hot wash when I got home to kill off any bed bugs or their eggs. The polyester of Lucy’s dresses was the perfect fabric for this.

Zippers were preferable to drawstrings for this purpose, so I hunted through my stash of habby harvested from old garments and op shops, and found that dress zips were the right size for the big bags. Skirt zips were perfect for the smaller bags. Soon I had a pile of them, and a good start on understanding my new Juki.

There’s still more familiarisation to gain before I’ll be fully confident with the new machines, but I did notice this on the packaging from the shop:

They know their customers well.

Grounded

Grounds are a subject I’ve also been thinking about recently. What happens when an artist and photographer live together, accumulating not just our own work but work by friends and people we admire? And neither of us have the energy to try selling our work except to friends? No wall space left and unhung artwork stowed behind doors and on top of shelving.

Portraits are great in that you can just give them to the subject or their family. Pet portraits are similarly practical in that way. But I don’t want to only produce portraits and pets, so how do I work without this problem affecting what I paint and how often?

By changing what I’m painting on. Stretched canvasses are nice and sturdy, necessary when painting large, but they are bulky. Canvas boards take up less room. Even better, canvas ‘paper’ is no thicker than a thin card. If I’m going to get better at painting I need to paint more, and if I paint more I need to go for smaller and thinner grounds.

I remembered, then, that I had a bag full of raw canvas scraps from when I used to stretch my own canvasses. I’ve always meant to make my own boards out of them. After a bit of playing around I concluded that PVA is the best glue, wrapping the fabric around the card rather than trimming at the edges is better, and greyboard is less inclined to warp than mountboard.

Mum’s old flower press proved very useful for keeping the boards flat while the glue dried.

It was a bit of a shock to realise that she painted this at the same age I am now. Which means if I inherit the dementia she suffers I might have only 20 more years of healthy brain function left. And if that isn’t sobering enough, if I inherit her father’s early onset Alzheimers, I may only have 10.

Pa’s slow decline and death taught me to not wait to do anything in life. And I haven’t. And if it turns out I’ve inherit the brain of my Nana, who was pretty sharp into her 90s, all the better!

Two coats of gesso finished off the boards.

I now have a bunch of little canvasses to work on that cost me almost nothing. The unexpected advantage of this is I have some interesting non-standard rectangles.

The oils came out, and I painted this over a few weeks:

There’s plenty more fabric to use up, so I’ll be making more of these boards in future.

Chenille Scarves

When the Venne scarves came off the loom I wasn’t sure what to weave next. I have a few linen projects I’d like to weave, but the heating here is very drying so I’m waiting until spring. I’m not ready to weave another rug yet. I also didn’t want to tackle anything mentally challenging when I was about to launch into the 8-shaft course.

Opening my stash spreadsheet, I looked at the oldest yarns there and found a few potential sparks of inspiration. Maybe I could weave up some of the small batches of interesting yarn I’d been procrastinating over for years. Taking out whatever appealed, I wound up with three batches of indigo blue and white yarn – clearly something about the colour was attracting me. I chose the chenille that was ikat dyed in one of Kay Faulkner’s workshops.

I’ve woven this yarn (undyed) into a scarf before, using it as both warp and weft on a rigid heddle loom. It was hard to beat and the warp was a twisty nightmare, and the scarf came out a little stiff. Then I tried dip dyeing in indigo later, didn’t like the look and dip dyed the white end… and hated the result.

A different approach was needed. I’d seen chenille woven as weft on a 8/2 cotton warp in a project before, so based the sett and structure on that. I chose a simple 4-shaft 2×2 point twill with a straight treadling on a blue warp, which was easy to warp and fast to weave. When the scarf came off the loom it had the perfect drape for such a cushy yarn.

However, I had only used up one of the two balls of chenille. I decided to weave another scarf using a white warp. But then I thought… just one scarf? Wouldn’t it be more economical to warp up for two scarves? But what to use for weft on that second scarf? I could try unweaving that stiff chenille and use the weft to make a new one. Or, if that didn’t work, there was plenty of white slubby cotton in my stash that I could weave – and perhaps dye.

The second chenille scarf is much busier, because the white weft makes the twill more obvious and breaks up the blue.

In the meantime, I tried to unweave the old chenille scarf. It turns out chenille locks in pretty determinedly when woven with itself. I abandoned the task went looking for another yarn to use, but something about the unwoven chenille, which had a speckle effect thanks to being tightly woven then overdyed, kept calling me back to the old scarf. So I gave unweaving another try and found if I trimmed off the warp every 2 cm it was not so laborious that I wasn’t prepared to do it, over a couple of days.

Turns out I was right. It did weave up nicely. This time I wove point twill, which gave it a kind of flowery feel. However, it barely wove up to a cowl length. I added a bit of denim at either end and buttons to make it easily removable.

Which left quite a bit of warp on the loom. Not enough for a scarf, possibly too little for a cowl, but too much to just cut off and ‘waste’. This was an opportunity to play, I decided. I then played around in Fibreworks until I had a pattern I liked, and decided to weave it in black.

I’m thinking maybe fabric for a small bag.