Wednesday, February 26, 2014

flax for a friend

A friend of mine recently polled her facebook friends, looking for seamstresses who would be willing to sew up some flax packs for her new massage business. Eager to help out (I'm still grateful that she's letting me paint her - you'll see her here in the next month or so!), I volunteered, and was asked to produce two 6" X 16" packs for wrapping things and one 12" X 16" pack for backs.

It's a very simple construction, basically a pillow that is filled about halfway with flax seeds, and sewn shut. So, with the two rectangles right-side-together, I sewed three sides of each rectangle with a 1/2" seam. I turned them right side out, and pressed the unsewn edges under (to the inside of the pack). Then I topstitched around the three sides I'd already sewn at about 1/4" from the edge, for added reinforcement (flax seeds are small; you don't want them slipping out between your stitches!).

The image my friend shared as a sample showed channels, so I followed suit and made 2" channels, sewing from my topstitching line at the base to within 1/4" of the open side. I think the channels help to distribute the weight and warmth of the flax evenly across the pack, and prevents overstuffing, so that the pack is flexible.

Then I used a funnel to fill the packs, one channel at a time. I only filled each channel approximately half-full, so that the pack would be flexible. I pinned the top of each channel shut right above the seeds. When I had filled a full pack, I took it to my machine and stitched the open side closed, stitching 1/4" from the edge so that it would match my other topstitched edges.

These are made with almost the last of one of my favorite fabrics, a toile-print cotton canvas (I read that tightly-woven fabrics like canvas were preferred for these). I guess you just warm them up in the microwave and they hold their heat for hours. All in all, the cost to me was about $4 for a big bag of flax (I didn't quite use it all), and I suppose I'll wind up paying $5 or $7 for priority shipping - and I used up more of my stash of leftover fabric scraps.

My friend asked how she could repay me and I requested a surprise in the mail. I am excited for this exchange! I love barters, trades, and sending delightful little gifts in the post -and who doesn't love to get a package? It's always like Christmas, when that happens!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

a new venture

Later this year I'll be opening an etsy shop called Months and Years. There I will be selling heirloom-quality handmade baby clothes. Each will be unique; I will not be making multiples or runs of sizes. Each piece will have its own inspiration drawn from mythology, poetry, folklore, song, something; I'll include the story of each piece in each posting. I will post items in batches, a half-dozen at a time; and they'll be priced to move. My goal is to hopefully empty the shop almost as quickly as I fill it.

I'll be sure to post a quick preview shot of each of the six items here, as I finish them, and then I'll post an update about when they'll finally be available for sale.

Why am I doing this? Well, earlier this winter, I realized I wasn't satisfied with how I was spending my time. My evenings were long vacant swaths of TV-time - and I was feeling bored and a bit stifled. Sewing and embroidery are - I think - ideal evening activities. They require a kind of engineering-brain, able to follow instructions, and pay attention to details of measurement and construction, but they don't require the draining focus and observation and judgment of painting. So it's a good evening activity for morning-bird me, who is already pretty much done for the day, cognitively, by the time I'm having dinner.

So, what to sew? Well, my own weight is in flux, so I'm not really sewing for myself right now - better to wait and find out where my body will settle, THEN sew. And to boot, I have a lot of scraps in my fabric stash, as I tend to buy fabric in 3-, 4- or even 5-yard increments (so that I have flexibility when I sew - I can make whatever I want!). This leaves significant scraps - and as I only buy natural fibers, we're talking yards of silk, wool, cotton and linen here. This is not the kind of thing you just throw away.

So I settled on baby clothes. Plus, I've always LOVED baby clothes. I've always loved working in miniature in any medium; I love the fussy perfection of it, the detail, the smallness. I love that with very little material one can create a very rich effect. I even love the excess of it; what newborn child needs a hand-embroidered, herringbone silk twill dress (above)? No child, not really. Antonin Artaud, one of the French Surrealists, author of The Theatre and its Double, theorist of the Theatre of Cruelty, once wrote that excess without cause was the beginning of art. That pretty effectively describes the power of fascination that beautiful, artistic, tiny clothes hold for me - and why I like to make them; there's a potential to make the simple act of dressing into an art form.

So. Months and Years will be a kind of repository for periodic tiny collections of unique handmade clothes in a variety of sizes. The first piece of my first collection, above, is the "When the Violets Return" dress. It is inspired by an Irish prayer spoken when the gentians bloom in the Burren - and more on that when I finish the rest of the collection. It is a size 0-3 months, made from a warm and soft 100% silk herringbone twill (it has the weight and softness of a nice flannel shirt) with a cotton calico collar. The bodice buttons up the back, and the embroidered violets wrap over the shoulder and continue on the back of the yoke.

The next dress is inspired by line that I found very striking in a story from the Brothers Grimm; I'm still figuring out how I'm going to execute the ornamentation, but I'm excited to start cutting the fabric tonight; I have to measure my scraps and make sure I've enough cloth, but it should be a size 2T or 3T and made from fuzzy navy wool.

Monday, February 24, 2014

project 52:22

foil, ink and acrylic on paper

Well, despite the fact that we swore we wouldn't do anything for Valentine's, Cass turned up with some surprises for me after a very late meeting at work (I think he got home around 8:30pm?), and I bought him a really cute card and a little bag of chocolates in pretty wrappers with pansies on them. He's always liked pansies - and chocolate!

As we were nibbling those chocolates over the weekend, Cass worked the foil wrappers until they were completely smooth and then started folding cranes out of them. He's amazing; so careful, so meticulous. And the results were beautiful - the colorful centers of the flowers appeared only on their rounded backs.

I took a photo of a handful of his cranes the handful of remaining chocolates to use as a model for last week's postcard. You can't really make it out in the photo (here is one time in which real life cannot really be captured and reproduced!), but I made the cranes by applying cut pieces of the foil, recreating the actual shininess of the cranes. I had to cut apart some of his cranes to have enough foil, using an exacto blade to carefully remove wing joints and cut off limbs before unfolding and then recutting the foil in order to collage it onto the paper base. I used washes of acrylic paint to shadow and highlight, giving dimensionality to the otherwise flat-and-shiny collage.

I rendered the still-wrapped chocolates in ink and acrylic; I wanted them to be a little flatter and simpler so that the cranes would really pop. The result was rather eye-searingly bright, shiny, very pop. I like it; it's so cheerful.

No prints of this one, though - because guess what you can't put in a scanner? That's right: foil. I did try; the results were hilariously blown-out. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

hand-painted envelopes

It was great fun to put these very pretty little envelopes in the mail today, like a party in my mailbox. Inside these envelopes are leftover postcards that I printed for project 52 two weeks ago:

As I mentioned here, I was curious if anyone wanted the leftovers. I wasn't likely to send them myself (I mean, sure, eventually I would have used them, but I'm more interested these days in using things up and clearing out the scraps and leftovers than hanging onto them). Two of my facebook friends asked to claim them. I wanted to be sure that they could actually use/send the postcards if they wanted, so this meant packing them up and mailing them.

The problem was, I didn't have any 4X6" envelopes in which to mail them. I asked my husband to pick some up for me on his way home from work one night. He agreed, but as he looked in vain for them, he asked me over the phone, "Why do you need to buy these, anyway? Can't you just make some?" "You know, you're right," I said. "Okay, I'll just make some."

Of course, on Friday, when I started to think about making envelopes, I started thinking about really MAKING envelopes ... as in, making them unique and special and fun and pretty ... as in, hand-painted envelopes! Of course! And why not?

I printed out a free 4X6" envelope template from here (and in case this information is useful, a 4X6" envelope is an A4 size).

I centered the template on two pages torn from my 12X16" sketchbook (so I had a bit more paper to work with; I wanted larger flaps so I'd have a larger glue-able area when I assembled the envelope, just for that extra sturdiness and reinforcement).

I scored and folded the edges, then unfolded it and set about painting the envelopes with large abstract flowers in acrylic paint. It was fun, and the perfect activity for my Friday afternoon combination of physical exhaustion (I've been working out regularly and not sleeping well of late; the combination left me drained by Friday) and rainy weather.

I let both of the envelopes dry in front of heating vents for a little while, then folded them up and glued them using acid-free bookbinder's glue. Of course, you could just use tacky glue or even Elmer's glue. Just take the time to spread the glue (with a brush or your fingers - I used my fingers) evenly over the areas to be glued, and to wipe away excess so it doesn't squish out of the edges and accidentally glue the sides of your envelope shut.

 After gluing, I pressed my envelopes between two heavy books (I always use my hardbound editions of the complete works of Shakespeare ... no disrespect to the Bard, but they're the heaviest books I own!) for a couple of hours to help flatten out any warping caused by the painting. And there they are! Aren't they pretty? I've got to do this again sometime; it really make the mail feel special - though I suppose these days, just getting any mail at all feels pretty special, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

project 52:21

lino block print and acrylic wash on paper

And here's yet another postcard inspired by Evangeline Walton's The Mabinogion Tetralogy. I'd just finished the last of the four branches the day before I started on this card which - if you know the legend - is about Blodeuwedd. The heir of the ruling family of Mathonwy, Llew, is cursed by his mother to never know a woman - you know, "knowing" in the Biblical sense. So his uncle Gwydion and his uncle's uncle Math (rulership passes through the sister's son at this point, as assurance of shared bloodlines) use magic to create a beautiful woman out of flowers. She is Blodeuwedd, the "flower-faced." Unfortunately, after some years of happiness, her head is turned by another man and she helps him to murder Llew; her lover uses magic to assume the face of Llew, whom he replaces. Eventually, Gwydion and Math figure out what has happened and, after restoring Llew to life, Gwydion hunts down Blodeuwedd. She attempts to flee to a fortress in the mountains, but Gwydion catches her in the night. Her punishment? She is turned into an owl, so that she may forever flee into the night.

I suppose this is kind of a dark card to make and send at Valentine's, but I didn't really put two and two together until I was actually mailing it - ON Valentine's Day. Yes, I was quite late with this one - not only because the lino block took me a couple of days to design and carve, but because I printed this with an oil-based ink, which then needed a few days to dry. Ah well, I quite like this one - and I have a stack of leftover postcards (just printed, sans paint) if anyone is interested and would like them? I printed about five or six of these, so that I'd have a few to choose from; given time, I'll probably use up the leftovers, but if you would like them, and would use them, let me know! 

The postcards were claimed, thank you! However, I have made prints of the original postcard (with acrylic wash) available on my Society6 page: please click here to view and order.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

marmalade season

And then there was more marmalade; this is actually only about half or two-thirds of the generous batch of Seville orange marmalade I made this year. I use Martha Stewart's recipe - it's a classic, even she says so! - except I add two whole vanilla beans to the mix while I cook it (I scrape the seeds in AND throw in the pods; just take the pods out before canning). The vanilla gives a nice sweetness to balance and tame the sharpness of the bitter oranges. I love this marmalade. Nothing comes close to the depth of flavor. Oh, don't get me wrong, the bergamot marmalade is heavenly perfume in a jar, but it's not what I think of when I think of classic orange marmalade. And now I have a big stock to greedily hoard (just kidding; I'll share) and enjoy all year, until next winter - and the next crop of oranges.

Monday, February 10, 2014

project 52:20

(ink and acrylic wash on watercolor paper)

last week, project 52 was inspired by my reading: I had dogeared the page of Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion Tetralogy on which this appeared. Of course, I dogear a LOT of pages of my paperbacks. I knew I'd read some good lines in this book and I went back through it, looking for one to inspire me. This was it. I started googling pictures of the milky way, to find some color combinations that inspired me (my Milky Way is more of a freehand scribble) and then pictures of various mountains (I settled on Shasta).

I really liked how this one turned out. In fact, I've really liked how a lot of these have turned out. But this time, for the first time, I took a high-res scan of the card before I mailed it. And so, if you are interested, I have posted this postcard to my society6 page and it is possible to buy prints if you are interested - just click on this link!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

the tiniest baby dress

Isn't this darling? I think this is the smallest baby garment I've ever made. It's a size  0-3 mos. dress. Thank goodness my friends are both rather on the short side; if they were tall, I might worry that their baby would be too big for the dress from the get-go.

I've always liked sewing little clothes; when I was a child, I'd sew things for dolls and teddy bears. I am a meticulous person; I enjoy the precision required to churn out miniaturized things, and I love the fact that making smaller versions of things makes it possible to indulge in more ornamentation (like this embroidery) because there is less space to cover.

Anyway, a note on this pattern. It's a vintage 1950s pattern that Simplicity has reissued, Simplicity 2392. I picked it up on a day when my local fabric store happened to be having a great sale on all Simplicity patterns, knowing that eventually I would have an opportunity to make this darling dress with its Peter Pan collar. It's a nice pattern; the collar and collar facing are particularly ingenious. I used french seams on the skirt and picked up some hem tape to bind the seam where the yoke meets the skirt, just to give everything an extra bit of polish and finish.

I made my dress of cotton and tencel: cotton brocade for the yoke, a tencel crepe in gingham for the sleeves and skirt (it was sheer, so I decided to do a double-layered skirt), and cotton eyelet for the collar (though I wish the eyelet pattern was a bit denser so it would be more obvious). I used little yellow flower buttons on the back and trimmed the collar and yoke edges with rows of palestrina stitch in a dark slate grey cotton thread (the colors reflect the palette in the parents' registry).

I've decided that I need some hand work to fill my evenings. I don't draw or paint at night; I'm usually too tired to give proper attention to that kind of work. So for now, while I'm still unemployed and have my daylit hours to devote to painting, I'm going to try and "bust my stash" of fabric by making some more baby clothes, and then post them on etsy for a song. I'll probably wait until I have a half dozen or so pieces, and post them together. No rush here; I'm going to take my time. Each piece will be completely unique (so I won't do any "runs" of sizes - because that would get boring and the whole point is to enjoy my evenings more while also using up some of my fabric AND hopefully making some pocket change to boot), and I plan to take my time embroidering and adding special trims and details. I've already registered an etsy shop and set up an email account just for this purpose - and I'll be sure and post here when I have my first items up for sale. 

I think it'll be fun, a nice way to reduce my possessions and spread some special heirloom-quality items around to a wider community. =) I've already cut the pattern pieces for my first item: I'm sewing this dress up again, also in the tiny 0-3 mos size, but this time I'm making it from mauvey-pink silk herringbone with a deeper plum collar. It's going to be lovely!!

Monday, February 3, 2014

project 52:19

ink and acrylic on watercolor paper

Here's a little view from last weekend's trip to the mountains to see my in-laws. It was sunny (!!) and gorgeous, and we went for a walk along the river. Then my mother-in-law fixed a hole in a friend's sweater with some serious textile-magic: we hunted through seams looking for long tails from knots, which we pulled out. She carded these little nibs and bits of yarn, then pulled over her spinning wheel and spun the fluff into a couple inches of new yarn, then magically re-knit it into the hole and somehow secured all the ends ... in about 5 minutes. Magic, I tell you; a serious craftsman is part-wizard, don't you think?

It's a little hard to make out in this photo, but there's a mountain hidden in the haze behind that massive electric pole/totem/structure.

It's sunny again today in Seattle and I haven't figured out what to send on tomorrow's card. Ack! I'd better get cracking!