Monday, April 18, 2011

Homemade beads--how I got by in Anchorage.

When I was twenty, I headed for Alaska. I had heard that it was a good place to earn money for college, so when school let out after my sophmore year, I headed north. I took a Greyhound bus to Seattle, then stayed in a hostel until I found a ride to Anchorage. That drive was so beautiful that I actually put my book down to watch out the window. I saw moose, and a bear. I saw colors that I had never imagined. My mental paradigm of scope and scale was overhauled. Brittish Columbia--oh how I'd love to go back someday.

By the time we rolled into Anchorage, I had heard back from a company that had interviewed me while I was in Seattle. I had a job, but it didn't start for another week. In the meantime, I used most of my remaining cash for a few nights in the local hostel, but I didn't have enough for the last five days. Food was no problem. I met a man who was visiting Alaska just for fishing. Every night he came back with a fresh caught salmon, baked it, and shared it with me. 

But I needed to find a way to pay for the remaining nights in the hostel. (I had a tent, so if I couldn't make some money, I could camp in the woods somewhere. But I wasn't that daring; I was hoping it wouldn't come to that.) I went to a local craft store and used my last dollars to buy a variety pack of Fimo polymer clay. Then I made beads, cooked them in the hostel oven, and strung them into necklaces. The next day I went from store to store asking if they would like to sell my necklaces; I charged ten dollars a piece and they marked them up to twenty. I made enough money to pay for the rest of my time in the hostel. I feasted on salmon each night. I explored during the day. I read. What sounds like a terrible situation--hundreds of miles from home, with no money--was actually one of the brightest times of my life.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another Felted Cuff

It was time for me to try something new.

I am still happy with the way my first felted cuff turned out, but this time I wanted to try something a little different. I am not experienced with embroidery, but I really like the look of text and designs made from thread. This project turned out to be an ideal learning experience--it provides quick results, requires only a limited amount of space to be filled, and produces a usable object.

This bracelet was inspired by a book called Doodle Sketching, by Aimee Ray. Ray has created a book full of  random embroidery which reminds me of the drawings I used to make in my high school notebooks when I was supposed to be taking notes.

The button is made from coconut hull.

I used felted wool from an old sweater. While the wool was still damp, I cut the base shape. The shape I like to use is that of a long tapered rectangle, approximately 7 inches long, with one short side measuring about 2 1/2 inches and the other a little less than 2 inches. I put it into the tumble dryer to soften the edges a bit.

Next, I hand-sewed an elastic hairband to the 2 1/2 inch edge of the base. I sewed a button on the opposite side of the felt, about an inch from the 2 inch edge. The great thing about this kind of fastener is that it allows almost anyone to wear the bracelet. It fit me well in a snugly hand holding sort of way. It also fit my youngest in a looser, jingly bangle sort of way.

Now I was ready to begin embroidering. I found the random embroidery to be both freeing and limiting. Much like in most of life, when you don't plan ahead you can discover things you never expected...and you can make mistakes that you wouldn't have made with a little more foresight. Hopefully you find more pleasant surprises than unfortunate ones. I really enjoyed the process, and I was surprised to see a little bird take shape on the edge of a planter filled with flowers. 

I filled in some random empty spaces with spirals, my favorite shape.

When I was happy with the embroidered designs, I sewed the entire bracelet onto a largish piece of turquoise eco-felt. It is important that the felt be larger than the bracelet, because the wool can stretch or shift during sewing. If you start with the exact finished size, it will be possible to wrestle with the base wool and the sewing machine, and get the lining on perfectly. But if your lining is half an inch 'too big' on all sides, it is much easier to sew it to the base. I chose brown thread on the top to match the felt base, but I used a bright pink thread on the bobbin to contrast with the turquoise on the inside. I used a zig-zag stitch for durability, but I ended up covering the red stitches along the edge, so perhaps a straight stitch would have been a better choice.

Once the base was sewn onto the felt, I cut close to the edge, leaving just a small overlap to create a color contrast.  The felt lining serves (at least) three purposes: 1.) It covers up the ugly 'back' of the embroidery. 2.) It makes the bracelet softer and less scratchy. 3.) The color contrast makes the bracelet look more 'finished'. There may be more purposes that I haven't thought of yet. The point is, don't skip the lining.

NOTE: I really like the organic feeling of the rough edges, so I made them visible in the final bracelet. If you don't like that look, you can hide the edges by sewing the right sides together along three sides, then flipping the bracelet right side out and hand stitching the fourth side closed.

Even my doodles just can't get away from the sun.

Overall, I was happy with the finished product. It was a good beginner embroidery project because I ended up with something usable even though some of the stitches were lopsided and uneven. It made for a really great learning experience.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mrs. Toasty--amigurumi buttered toast.

Isn't she cute? I have to admit that I haven't quite figured out which items can be labeled kawaii, but I think this one fits the bill.

This sweet little toast is so easy to put together that I made two in one evening. Or maybe I am starting to get a little faster at crochet, now that I have been doing it for six months. I made her from two different colors of wool yarn, with cotton cheeks and butter. I used an F hook because the wool seemed thin, but if you use worsted cotton, you might choose G. When making amigurumi, the gauge is not important. What is important is that the stitches be very tight so that the stuffing doesn't show. I have seen a lot of otherwise cute little amis that were done too loosely and their little bits of stuffing show through.

If you try this pattern, I'd love to hear about it. I would also be more than happy to answer any questions you might have if you get hung up in the process. (My email address is in the About Me section.)

Bread 1 (front):
Row 1: ch11. sc into second chain from hook. sc across. (10)
Row 2-10: ch 1, turn. sc across. (10)
Row 11: ch 1, turn. INC, INC, sc 6, INC, INC (14)
Row 12: ch 1, turn. INC, INC, sc 10, INC, INC (18)
Row 13: ch 1, turn. slst 4, sc 10, slst4 (18)
Row 14: ch 1, turn. slst 4. (Because you are putting these slip stitches into a previously slip stitched chain, it will appear that you have 2 chains to choose from. slst through the middle two strands.) sc 10, slst4 (through middle two strands.) (18)
Tie off, leaving short tail.
Round 1: Beginning at the approximate middle of the bottom, change colors and sc around the entire edge. (When you sc into the slst section at the top, use your discretion, hooking into the middle two strands.) join with slst.
Round 2: ch 2. dc into back loops only around. Tie off leaving a long tail for sewing.

Bread 2 (back):
Exactly the same as bread 1, but skip round 2 of the crust. Instead, tie off after round 1, leaving a short tail.

Row 1: ch 4. sc into second ch from hook. sc across (3)
Row 2-3: ch 1, turn. sc across. (3) Tie off, leaving a long tail for sewing to bread 1.

(Alternative, large butter: If you do not want to put an ami face on your stuffed toast, you may complete the butter in 4 rows of sc4. Then, sc around, ch2 at each corner.)

Cheeks (make two):
magic circle, ch2, however you start.
Round 1: sc6. slst. (6) Tie off, leaving long tail for sewing to bread 1.

Finishing (If you are like me, you might skip reading this part of the directions because it all seems so obvious, but please take a minute to at least look through them. I do recommend doing things in this order.):
1.) Position safety eyes onto front of bread 1. Attach.
2.) Sew on the cheeks, being careful to place them evenly and flush with the edge of the crust.
3.) Sew on the mouth.
3.) Sew butter on, taking a few extra stitches at the corner to emphasize the square shape.
4.) Beginning at the bottom of the toast, sew the two pieces of bread together. Tuck in the remaining tails from the butter, cheeks, and bread as you go. Sew through both loops on bread 1, and into the back loops only of bread 2. When you have about eight loops left, lightly stuff the toast.  Unlike most amigurumi, this one needs to be stuffed lightly. That way she can stay flattish. No one wants a toast with a tummy. Finish sewing. Weave in end.

This would be cute made with embroidered eyes and stuffed with catnip. Just saying.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Coming to terms with book murder.

I would like to say that no books were harmed in the making of this blog post, but that wouldn't be quite true. To defend myself, I can say that no bright young spry books were harmed. Let's just say an old book had a surgical procedure to make it young again.

I have always been drawn to printed words, even before I knew how to read them. One of my earliest memories is sitting in church, looking at the bulletin filled with hymns and psalms, verses and dense paragraphs. To me, the words were just blocks. I knew they held meaning, but I didn't know how to decipher it. My mother had given me a pencil and I drew lines between the maze of words. My goal was to start at the top of the paper end draw a line downward until I hit a word, then trace along the top of the word until I got to the space at the end, then drop down to the next line and repeat the process. If I got to the bottom of the paper before reaching the side of the page, then I won! It was very exciting. This was my usual Sunday morning activity and it kept me quiet week after week.
One day when I was either nearly or newly five, while my mother was reading a story to me, I told her that she was doing it wrong. "Mommy, I don't like the way you read, and I don't like how you always get the voices wrong."

"Well," she told me, "if you don't like my reading, then maybe you should read it yourself."

I wanted to, but I didn't know how. So I asked her to show me. She explained, "You look at the word and you sound out the letters, like this. The 'M' says mmm, the "O' says ah and then another 'M'. M-m-m-o-m-m." I clearly remember the epiphany I had at that point. It was all so easy! Why hadn't anyone told me that before? I could have stopped listening to my mom's annoying character voices long ago. Here I had thought that reading was about memorizing some difficult magic code, but it wasn't. It was just putting the letters together the way they sounded. (I am fully aware that for a lot of kiddos, reading does not come this easy. But for me, one day I couldn't read and then suddenly I could. I remember the whole print world coming into focus, my reading light-switch flipped on in a single conversation.) 

The next week in church, I looked at the bulletin and sounded out words. There was a list with a tidy stack of 'the's making their way down the left side of the paper. There were short words that I could sound out and long ones that I couldn't. I used my pencil to divide the long words into chunks and then those words came clear too.

Maybe it is the early association with reading and church. Maybe it is just the intense way I have always loved books. Or the stories I remember reading about the Gutenberg Press. But for whatever reason, I have always balked at the thought of altered book art. My children, their friends, and even the kids at school know me for saying, "Books are our friends. We treat them with respect." Artist trading cards made from loose pages, and small gifts wrapped in print seem at once sacred and sacrilegious.

But then a couple of weeks ago, a large Atlas appeared in the "Getting Rid Of It Pile". (We have a designated spot for the kids to put things that they no longer want. I go through it every few weeks and pass things on to friends who can use the items, or give them to Goodwill.) Unfortunately, the book was so heavy that the binding had cracked and failed with use. There was no one I could imagine that would use the book, and even Goodwill was likely to toss it. For all intents and purposes, the poor book was dead. Then I thought of all the cool homemade envelopes I've seen.

I took an envelope out of my stationery box and carefully pulled it apart at the seams. Then I used the open envelope as a template to trace onto a page torn from the map book. I cut along the lines, folded in the same places as on the original envelope, and glued the paper together. Lovely! It made me happy to see the dead book coming back to life in a new form.

I still love books, (of course!) but I'm starting to see that they can be altered and still be respected. Now I am on a roll, scooping up the languishing books that have been shedding pages around the house.We have a Calvin and Hobbes book that was losing leaves left and right, so I cut out one relevant strip and glued it to the front of a blank card. An old Prima Guide for Phantom Hourglass has been falling apart, so I used some pages to cover a box I was sending out to a Zelda fan. I've had to keep reminding myself that these were not made on a Gutenberg Press. The books I am using are not one in a million.  My son joined me in the envelope process and produced one cute, somewhat wonky envelope. That envelope he made? The smile he gave me? Those were one in a million.

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