What’s In Your Stocking?

Just in case Santa brought you an Amazon gift card that’s burning a hole in your stocking, I thought I’d post a couple of things you might consider spending it on besides books. Not that one can ever have too many books. You know me better than that. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that these are links to my Amazon affiliate store. If you buy from one of these links, I make a little money on the sale.

Sony Cybershot DSC W150. This link is for the students who took my Local Color classes last year at Sievers and The Textile Center and for the Inkjet Fabric students at Bead & Button. This is the camera I’ve been using for the past year. The shooting modes let me point and shoot automaticallyor manually adjust the exposure (remember that P mode?). I can shoot close-ups with great detail, soften the focus for portraits of people and flowers, shoot in vivid color, black-and-white or sepia. This camera also lets me manipulate images I’ve shot in the camera without altering the original photo. For example, in the View mode I can crop an image, blur and dim the periphery, or change the area surrounding the focal point of a color image to black-and-white. And that’s just the stuff I’ve figure out so far. There’s no end to the ways you can use a digital camera to create inkjet fabric. Use it to shoot objects that are too large or awkward to fit on the copy bed of an all-in-one. Build a stock photo library — for example, by shooting, flowers, fallen petals, leaves, plant grouping, and other garden elements to use in floral fabrics. Set up still life arrangements to photograph, playing with different camera angles and reflectors that change the lighting. You’ll find many ways to use these photos as backgrounds for other images as well as on their own.

HP Photosmart C4580 All-in-One Printer. This is the printer used in the above classes. It doesn’t even have to be hooked up to a computer to print wonderful fabrics. You can simply lay elements on the copy bed and press a button. It has ports that accept  the media cards from some digital cameras.(To check out the media card specs, got to my Google Group page and click on Local Color Media Card Specs. And yes, you can always hook it up to the computer to print something scanned to and stored there.

OK, I can’t resist. One book. From Image To Stitch by Maggie Grey. If you love image transfer techniques, this one has some that will curl your toes.

More of my favorite fiber art books are featured in my Amazon affiliate store. I’m adding fiction favorites as fast as I can remember what I read (I really meant to keep a reading journal…). And for years, students have heard me talk about how much I love listening to audio books while I stitch, so you’ll find the complete selection from Amazon here. Search on Young Adult and Classics for some great selections.

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Reconstructed History

Before I wrote that last post, I called my mom to check my memory. But after thinking about it all day, she just called back and I’m posting again. Her time machine is more reliable than mine.

The stockings were made by my grandmother, Bessie Cooper. I’ll share more of my treasures from her after the first of the year. The lady I don’t remember must have made the Santa Claus pillows instead. Ahh.

I’m only posting this so that when you and your mom and your sister are sitting around the table trying to reconstruct history, you know you’re not alone!

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Back To The Future

Decorating at Christmas is a little like stepping into a time machine. As I hang each ornament and put other treasures out for the season, I’m transported to Christmases past. I remember when my parents got the carved olive wood caravan from missionaries who visited our church. Mom remembers how the student who gave her the candy cane cart struggled with spelling; he became vice president of a large corporation. There are three pieces that especially make me feel the rush of time.
One is the plastic canvas mouse that peeks out of a silver thimble. It was made for me by the mother of my first husband’s best friend. We lost touch many years ago, but I’ll never forget her kindness (and I’m still using her muffin tin). Another is the cross-stitched ornament Bill and I received when we got married. This is the 20th time I’ve hung that one thinking how grateful I am to have this second chance. The friend who made it has a child getting married this summer. I need to get started on an ornament for her. The third is the stocking I hang by the chimney with care. It’s made of green felt with red machine embroidery. I’ve never had a name and face to attach to the lady who made stockings for me and my sister. My family moved when I was just a few months old and lost touch, but the stocking has been part of my holiday tradition for more than half a century.

In the flurry of holiday celebrations, you may at some point wonder if the children and young people who receive your handmade gifts really appreciate them. I can’t promise that they will. But if you ever get a chance to step into a time machine, you might be surprised to find what an important role you play in the lives around you.

It truly is a wonderful life. Thank you for the gift of your time during this holiday season. Merry Christmas.

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Fabric Ornaments In A Hurry Tutorial

Pages are flying off the calendar as if this were a Frank Capra movie. Just in case you’re desperately seeking ideas that can be made quickly but show the love in a big way, here’s a suggestion.

Use your inkjet printer and inkjet fabric to make ornaments. They’re flat, so they’re easy to mail and easy to store after the holidays. And for people like us who always get a Charlie Brown tree, they’re light enough to hang on even the skimpiest branches.

Gather Your Materials
You’ll need:
Inkjet fabric
— Photos or a digital camera and favorite holiday ornaments
— Fabric paint like Lumiere (a jar of Metallic Silver comes in handy for the holidays)
— A brush
— Fusible webbing
— Iron
— Felt
— Beads, beading thread and a needle

Print The Fabric
Take pictures with your digital camera of favorite holiday ornaments or anything else you like, or scan images into your computer. Open a document (Word, Publisher or whatever you have) and arrange images to fill an 8-1/2″ x 11″ page. Give yourself a half-inch or so between images and at the margins so you have some room to work.

Read the directions on your inkjet fabric. Put it in your printer, and print the document. Let the ink dry while you load your White Christmas DVD.

Paint The Fabric
Add some holiday sparkle with metallic fabric paint. The carrier paper that stiffened the fabric so it would go through your printer will help stabilize it while you paint.

It won’t take much paint. Just brush on a little Lumiere where you want to mask a distracting element (like the old boyfriend), make a boring background more interesting, or add the suggestion of glittering new-fallen snow. Pick up a small amount of fabric paint on your brush, brush most of it off on a paper towel, then brush it onto the fabric.

Let this dry while you make some hot chocolate and turn on the iron.

When the paint is dry, peel the carrier paper away from the printed and painted inkjet fabric.

Assemble The Ornaments
Use fusible webbing to bond the whole sheet of printed inkjet fabric to felt. You can use craft felt, but I use recycled wool fabric I shrunk in the washer. Just follow the directions of the fusible product and slap the two layers together. If there’s any chance that your fabric paint isn’t dry, protect your iron with baking parchment.

After bonding the two layers, cut the sheet into individual ornaments.

Stitch a simple bead picot edging and string beads to make a hanger.

If you need to make the final embellishment work more portable, instead of beading the edges use embroidery floss and work a blanket stitch edging. Stitch on a ribbon hanger, and you’re done.

Happy Holidays!

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The Age Of Discovery

Last week I made an MP3 player cozy using a technique called cross-knit looping. While I was stitching, I had some time to think about how much my world has changed recently.

In rural areas like ours, internet options are very limited. Until two months ago, we were still on dial-up. Now, with a faster connection, pages load before I’ve lost interest and I’m learning a lot. In the last few weeks, I feel like I’ve traveled around the world and through time.

That reminded me of an article I read some time back by Jennie Durkin. Published in 1989 in the Bulletin of the Needle and Bobbin Club, it’s called Loop-Stitch Embroidery: Peruvian and Elizabethan. Thanks to the University of Arizona, here’s a link to the PDF.

Durkin’s study of Peruvian textiles led to her recognition of an apparent connection between the embroidery version of cross-knit looping (from Peru’s Nazca region) and Ceylon stitch (which apparently was not used in England before the reign of Elizabeth I).

A skilled embroiderer in the Elizabethan age would have been able to look at a sample of a foreign technique and figure out how to reproduce it. There may be no direct connection between the Spanish conquest of Peru and the English court, but there were plenty of indirect routes by which the connection could have been made. As she says,

“The absence of direct contact did not prevent the spread of potatoes and tobacco by the later 16th century. The nature of the interest in embroidery at that time required only one example to reach a competent embroiderer.”

As my voyages continue in my own Age of Discovery, I can’t help but wonder what the Virgin Queen would have worn if her ladies had been reading the blogs.

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What’s In A Name Tote Bag Tutorial

Recently I promised a step-by-step tutorial on how to make a quick gift using a purchased tote bag and inkjet heat transfer paper. It’s personalized, but subtle. I made these bags for a couple of tween girls, and didn’t want their real names plastered on the side. Here’s how to make your own.

Gather Your Materials
You’ll need:
Translucent Inkjet Heat Transfer Paper
— Large hardcover book
— Aluminum Foil
— Baking Parchment
— Iron
— Tote Bag in a light color (I used a ready-made one)

Prepare The Image
Use a search engine to find a site like this one that will help you find the meaning of the recipient’s name.

Open a blank 8-1/2” x 11” document. You can use photo imaging software, Microsoft Publisher, or even Word. Using a word-art tool, type the meaning of the recipient’s name, choosing a font that matches the recipient’s style. Make the text more subtle, if you like, by making a copy of the text block, changing the text color to white in the copy, then layering the white element over the original element just slightly off-register. Flatten, merge or link the two elements. Copy that and paste several versions on the page. Flop (mirror image) some of them. Fill the page with this background.

Use a search engine again to find a site like this one that will translate a name from English into Chinese characters. If you can’t find the name you need, translate the meaning of the name instead of the name itself. Right-click on the image to copy the Chinese characters.

Paste the characters on your document on top of the word art. Resize the element as necessary. I used characters in two different sizes – a large one centered on the page, with a much smaller one centered below it.

Frame the Chinese characters with ruled boxes and put a frame around the whole image. It’s almost ready to print on inkjet transfer paper.

Print The Transfer
This kind of transfer reverses the image when you iron it to the fabric. So before you print, find the mirror image feature in your print properties box.
Read the directions so you know which side of the paper to print on, and run a test print on regular paper to make sure it looks “backward.”

Put one sheet at a time in the paper tray, print, and remove the sheet from the outfeed tray before printing anything else. Let the ink dry completely before stacking printed sheets. Important: Never run an inkjet product like this through a toner or laser copier; the heat could melt the coating and damage the machine.

Make The Transfer
The manufacturer’s directions may tell you to work on a hard surface like a pillowcase spread on a counter. I prefer to work on a hardcover book covered with aluminum foil.

Place the foil book at on a firm surface at a height that lets you apply pressure with the iron – maybe a table, rather than a countertop, if you’re short like me. In any case, you probably won’t get the best results if you work on your ironing board.

Trim away the margins outside the ruled box that frames your image.

Place the foil-covered book inside the bag. Position the trimmed transfer element printed-side-down on the fabric. Apply pressure with a dry iron preheated to the hottest setting (for a cotton tote bag). Do not use steam!

Keep the iron moving but don’t apply pressure as it moves. Once the transfer is warm, the image can slide and smear if pressure is applied while the iron is moving. But if your iron has steam vent holes on the sole plate, you must reposition the iron. Otherwise, you may not be heating the parts of the transfer under those vents.

The manufacturer’s instructions may say to heat for 2-3 minutes. If you’re working on a foil-covered book, reduce the time. If you do transfers one after the other, the book will get hot and you may need to reduce the time for later transfers.

Let the transfer cool, then peel away the paper. It may look kind of plasticy. Not to worry. Cover the transfer with baking parchment and iron (still using a hot, dry iron). Let cool, then peel away the parchment. Repeating this step will make the transfer less glossy, more satin.

That’s it. If you like, you can add fabric paint or embroidery around the image. Or you can just wrap the tote in recycled fabric and ribbon, and it’s ready to go under the tree.

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One Pink Pig

Bill and I don’t have children, but kind friends have produced kids we love dearly. The door frame in my studio is where we mark their heights when they come to visit. There’s a new mark on the door frame because the 7-year-old who is a very good speller was here for the weekend making holiday gifts with me, her mom and her aunt.

When her oldest brother was this one’s age, they still lived nearby. Sometimes the boys would spend a day with me when school was closed. On one of those days, we got out some Dye-na-Flow and silk scarf blanks from Dharma Trading Company and the boys made gifts. This time, their little sister got to paint silk scarves. And she colored another cotton bandana with FabricMate markers, like we did last summer when they were here canoeing. She made another gift, too, but that one’s a secret until after Christmas.

What really tugs at my heartstrings is the pink pig she’s embroidering on a dish towel. Her mom stretched stamped fabric on a hoop and helped her get started, but leaves her alone unless asked to rethread the needle. The 7-year-old stitches for a while, then reads, then romps with the dog, then stitches for a while. There is no clock ticking on this project.

The three of us who do not have our heights marked on the door frame are conscious of the calendar, already turned to December. But there’s a 7-year-old nearby stitching a pink pig for fun. Tis the season to savor that look of contentment and concentration on a young embroiderer’s face. What better gift could there be?

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New Age Looping & A Whole New Mind

Last week I had the pleasure of doing a workshop and lecture on New Age Looping for the North Shore Weavers Guild in Evanston, Illinois. Before I do this lecture, I always spread out the contents of my Looping Trunk Show — a rolling carry-on bag filled with some of the more portable pieces I’ve made over the years. I also put out my bead looping cell phone case, my looped MP3 player pouch, and a few other looped pieces I use daily. Then I fill my travel mug with tea to sip as I speak to the group.

Invariably, after a program I expect to hear two questions: “How long did it take you to make all that?” and “May I look at your mug?” It’s a simple thermal mug I bought because it has a lid I can close completely (I’m a recovering spiller). The freeform looping sheath I made to go around it gives me something textured to hold onto and something pretty to look at.

After the lecture, I drove home sipping tea from that same mug, thinking about the lovely people I had met and replaying snippets of conversations in my mind. One guild member is an archaeologist, and I hope to continue our brief discussion of one of my favorite books, Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.

Somewhere north of Milwaukee, I was struck by an unexpected parallel between Women’s Work and a book I read recently. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink describes a new age of a different kind – one that prizes aptitudes he calls “high concept” and “high touch.”

“High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new. High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in other, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.”

For 20,000 years, stitchers and weavers have done just that. If you’re going to make something that people will see or touch or use, it might as well be beautiful. As Barber notes, for most of human history time wasn’t perceived as a commodity. Something takes how long it takes.

I’ll drink to that.

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Puppy Love & Dog-Eared Pages

Like a lot of fiber artists, I learned much of what I know because I found it in print. I still have and use that little orange embroidery booklet from Coats & Clark. A circa 1959 copy of Good Housekeeping’s Complete Book of Needlecraft by Vera P. Guild, which I pinched from my mom years ago, was my introduction to netting with shuttle and gauge, and much more. In high school, I bought Mara Cary’s Basic Baskets and some reed and taught myself to weave. My idea of a good time is scouring a used bookstore for titles that may be long out of print but still offer insight and ideas.

In the studio today, I needed someone else’s opinion (winnowing or threshing?), and thought maybe I’d find it in Ed Rossbach’s The Nature of Basketry. I got sidetracked in his chapter on Temporary Baskets. That’s where, years ago, I dog-eared the page corner and underlined this:

“The perishable thing which survives speaks most potently of time, of all time rather than the moment of its existence.”

Later today, I read the first issue of a new online magazine, Needle. Fabulous images, lovely articles. Don’t miss Jayne Coleman’s “The Wisdom of Grannies”. My first thought was, how do I dog-ear this page? I want to stumble upon this again when I’m looking for something else.

It’s hard not to think of magazines as perishable, and online magazines even more so. But this one created a beautiful memory for me. I haven’t figured out how to store it with the back issues of Piecework in my basement, but I’ll keep you posted.

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