Sunday, December 30, 2012

Because I Can

Often, my reason for doing something is simply "because I can." I've been wanting to make one of these for a while, and since I was in a chapeau sort of mood, I did.

I used this pattern at Fleece Fun, but I didn't bother to read directions or watch videos; I just dove in and hoped it all worked out. (Honestly, I learn best this way.)

I used the same ivory fleece as with the other hat, some "natural fiber ribbon" (not sure what it's made of), some feathers and a large gold and white button. It's a teeny bit lopsided, the shaft of the top hat leans forward, but with the embellishments it doesn't seem as noticeable. I did use cardstock to make it a little rigid, as the pattern called for, but I didn't really read how I was supposed to put it in. Perhaps had I read the directions, I wouldn't have that lean up there.


Not bad for a first attempt! :D I can see that making these could be completely addictive. I wonder how ridiculous it would be to wear this to the grocery store...


I love hats, even though it's a rare day that I wear one. Oh, I'll put on a ball cap to mow, or a sun hat to garden, but I don't often wear one for fashion. Not too awfully long ago, I encouraged my husband in his quest to find a fedora. We drove into Chicago, to Hats Plus, and found summer and winter hats for him, and I think he looks dashing. I rather love fedoras myself and had a straw one (that I loved but rarely wore) when I was a teenager. In a recent closet purge, I got rid of some... I never wore them, so why keep them? But dammit, I am 42 years old, and if I want to wear hats, why shouldn't I?

Yesterday, whilst running errands, we looked at a few casual hats at Target and JC Penney's. What they had were mainly cloches, fedoras, trilbies and variations on the newsboy cap. None of the fedoras were quite right, the trilby brims are just way too small, Marc didn't like the newsboys or the cloches on me, and the sequined beret was right out. So, frustrated and discouraged, I conceded defeat -- to my daughter's relief.

Back at home I started surfing, looking for someplace that wanted to sell me a hat that I might conceivably wear and not look like a dork. As usual, my personal sense of style and what the garment industry actually sells are vastly different. This is one of the reasons I wanted to learn to sew, after all. I remembered that Mom had given me some patterns that she had bought to make things for me, including a pattern for hats, from which she made many many berets. (Those I still have.) I have miles of fabric. I have piles of polar fleece, and polar fleece is easy-sew, has some body without being rigid, and I thought it would make some awesome hats.

©1986 - does that count as retro or vintage yet? Twenty-six years old...
the pattern may or may not be vintage, but knowing that makes ME feel old.
I dug out the pattern, and decided to try the pillbox style first, mostly because it used a small amount of material and was a quick and easy sew. I'm pretty sure that this was the fastest thing I've ever sewn. Unfortunately, hubby didn't like the silhouette on me; too hard. "Old lady-ish," he said. (I think it's cute and warm, but perhaps he's right about the silhouette.)

The star detail is made of felt, three layers, and stitched on with a button.
I thought that such a detail would keep it from being a boring pillbox,
but the hubs apparently didn't feel it was enough to keep it out of Oldsville.

OK, fine, I'll try again. I dug out some larger pieces of fleece, and found a lovely warm ivory and a creamy beige and decided to do some color blocking. I cut the top in beige, cut the sides on a fold to double the height in ivory, and then cut another piece (slightly longer than the pattern piece called for) to make a cuff at the bottom in beige. Since I was making it up as I went, this took a bit longer.

First I sewed the sides into a tube and stitched the top on, just like the directions called for. The only difference was that my tube was twice as tall. I cut the long beige piece on the selvedge because it had a nice rolled look to it, without being rolled. The disadvantage there was the visible pinholes from the manufacturing process. No problem; I stitched satin ribbon over the holes and got more detail -- problem solved. I sewed that into a tube, and then played with the pieces to determine how to sew it together. This piece needed to be longer (half an inch, maybe?) than the other piece, because it was going on the outside of the main body of the hat. Fleece is bulky, and I needed to allow for that. Fortunately for me, eyeballing it worked.

Once I got the cuff sewn on and everything turned right-side out, I tried it on. I thought I could just sort of smush it down to get the effect I wanted, but no. Fine, gathering it is. I used the front, back, and sides to gather it down, using a basting stitch and ruching it. I pinned on some embellishment, and figured I was done. (DH still didn't care for it, but allowed if I was happy, he was happy for me.) It bugged me a little when I went to bed, and it bugged me while I slept. I needed to gather it more, and use doubled thread this time. The four gathers were just not enough, and they were pulling the crown out of shape. This morning I added four more, and am much happier with it.

You can kind of see here how the gathering isn't consistent, since it's only on four points
on the crown, distorting it. Once I added more gathers, I got a much more consistent look
and the crown isn't pulled out of shape.

The feathered thing I got a JoAnn's, and was sold as a pair of elastic bracelets.
*shrug* I dunno, I thought it was goofy, too, but it worked.

So if he thought the silhouette was too hard before, the doubled/gathered sides softened it, plus the addition of the ostrich plume thingie and the vintage brooch made it more than just a warm winter hat. I love this hat, I really do, and I'm proud of it. I love the subtle colors, I love the texture, and I like the way it looks. (Like not love; I'd really prefer something with a brim, but I'm no milliner, and this was an experiment to see if I could do it at all.)

I ordered a couple more sewing patterns, and will experiment with those, too. I think I have to try a fleece beret while I wait for those to arrive...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Partidges for the Pear Tree

Yesterday, I got the brilliant idea to make ornaments for my daughter's teachers and aides. The last day of school is tomorrow (Friday). I had an idea to make little birds like I'd seen in a recent image search for felt ornaments, and initially thought that I'd machine sew them in felt and blanket stitch on wings of flannel. After perusing the remnants at JoAnn's, I reversed the idea: flannel bodies, felt wings, tacked on (faster than blanket stitching).

I found a template I liked and modified it a bit. I cut out a dozen bodies in felt and glittered cotton fabric, and combined those with some fancy printed felt. I used felt for the beaks, tacked the wings on with a bead accent, added black sequin eyes, and sewed in a ribbon hanger. Once finished, I added a coordinating feather in the tail. I am enormously pleased with the results.

There are 5 not pictured here. I wrapped them for school tomorrow before I took this picture.

I also made one in brocade for my mother-in-law. The brocade didn't stitch up the same as the flannel, and it wanted to fray much more than the cotton fabrics did. Still, I'm pleased with the result.

They just look so cheerful and happy! They aren't necessarily Christmassy, other than the brocade one, but I love the bright, fun colors. I hope the recipients enjoy them, too.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Experiment

The cuffs I have in mind to make for my daughter and me made me wonder just how I'd go about it, so I thought I'd experiment a little. I cut the ribbed cuff off of one of the pink sweater sleeves, and blanket stitched around the edges. Then I went and played in my fabric scraps.

It's not as heavily embellished as some of the examples I found online and loved, but it's a nice first attempt at this.

The disc is a Japanese postage stamp, with a circle of a page in Japanese (I think), sandwiched in fused plastic. That was sort of hit-and-miss. It was trickier than it seemed it might be.

I used ribbon and a button for my toggle/clasp, and stitched more buttons and beads to it.

The bow in the last picture was my first try at laminated felting. I used a rectangular scrap of lace and felted variegated purple wool onto it. It didn't quite work out as I'd hoped, so I pinched the middle and tied ribbon around it to make a bow.

I did the blanket stitching and the felted lace piece while watching tv last night, and that didn't take any time at all. I did the embellishing all this morning. Everything was stuff I had on hand already, so it also went quickly.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mother/Daughter Cuffs

Yesterday, I was able to talk my parents into a trip to Antiques on East State in Rockford. Mom had been there with me before, but we'd never dragged Daddy along. (I didn't want to leave him at home alone, while my husband and daughter went to the mall on their weekly "date.")

There, I found this:

and I knew immediately what I wanted to do with it. I would disassemble it (easily done, since it's on elastic) and use the pieces to embellish the pink felted sweater cuff I want to make for my daughter for xmas. When I saw that some of the charms were mom-related, it felt like I should make a pair of them, not necessarily matching, but using the same components on both. Not sure how I'm going to make that work, since the image in my head is pretty nebulous... but I have almost 2 months, right??

Yes, I had 2 months, but I was finishing them up just days before xmas, making my own cuff last. I foolishly neglected to get photos of all three together. Oops... Here's mine (top) and my daughter's:

Mom's is actually more of a bangle. She has a wool allergy, and since there is wool in the felted sweater -- it's cashmere blend, I was afraid it would irritate her skin. I found a wire cuff form at JoAnn's (made by Darice), sewed the material to that, and then lined the inside to minimize the amount of wool that would touch skin. Other than the form it took, all three bracelets are embellished with the same components, with added touches to make each one unique. I used the "Best Mom" charm (upper right in the top photo) on my mother's bracelet.

Currently the only photo I have of Mom's. You can kinda see it!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Felting Sweaters

I saw something in the Summer '11 Art Quilting Studio that I just loved. Roben-Marie Smith's felted cuff bracelets were featured in the "Art Quilt Walking" article, and they are just gorgeous. Since felting ("fulling" is the proper term) old wool sweaters is something I've been dying to try, this really lit a fire under me, and the other day I went to Goodwill and bought 4 sweaters for this purpose. One is 100% lambswool, so I am positive I'll get what I want from it. Unfortunately, it's also the drabest in color: charcoal grey. The other 3 are wool blends, with lambswool, angora and cashmere (woot!). Two of them are 30% viscose, which according to this guide, might not work out as planned. The final one has only 10% nylon, so I think it'll be fine.

Two have cable patterns, two are basic rib-knit. The pink one has a small hole,
so this was a good sweater to recycle.

My hope is that the brighter ones all end up being suitable for me to make bracelets for my daughter for xmas. I love the color combination of green/aqua/pink, and think that these cuffs would be perfect for her. Smith's cuffs are ivory, tone-on-tone, lovely monochromatic mixes of texture and fibers with lace and vintage buttons. Lovely as they are, white, even off-white, is not a good color choice for my daughter or me. (She tends to wear her jewelry until they literally fall apart, and ivory would show grime fast, and I just tend to be messy.)

Right now, the sweaters are in the dryer, still in the pillowcases. Because the felting process can shed fibers, it's a good idea to protect your washing machine from all those fibers that can clog the hoses, as well as the dryer (for the same reason). When I removed the pillowcases from the washer, I didn't see any evidence of fiber in the drum, so hopefully that worked.

Naturally, I am dying to see if it worked, but I'll let the dryer go for a bit longer before I check. My biggest concern was seeing the pillowcases flowing freely in the washer; not enough agitation might have prevented the felting process. If I have to run them through again, I'll use less water. One site I read suggested putting a pair of jeans in the wash with them to "beat" the fabric up a bit, but I don't wash jeans in hot water (which is required) because I don't want to shrink them. We shall see...


Well, it's definitely working. All 4 sweaters have shrunk, and the knit is tighter, but they're not quite felted yet. The green sweater was a ladies medium, and is now small enough for a 5 year old. I think it was probably washed before, because it was too short already, but now it's teeny.

The pillowcases are all full of "pills" that would be in my washer if not for them. I think they will be something I can use on the bracelets, as little felted bobbles. I'm washing the sweaters again, in less water this time, and hope the agitation is greater, producing better results.


Two of the pillowcases came open in the second wash. I'd opened them to see how things were coming along and retied using two corners rather than twisting and knotting like I had initially (see pic above). The washer had some pills in the drum, but not as bad as I feared. I think after this drying I'll be all set. If it turns out that the 2 with only 70% wool content still aren't quite fulled, I'll stitch to reinforce any cut edges.

The two I retied came untied in the dryer, but the lint filter was not badly clogged up. Don't use the corners to knot the pillowcase; an overhand knot works better!

Whether it was the second wash and dry, or the lesser amount of water in the washer (and more agitation) I couldn't say, but they definitely look felted now. The charcoal sweater, a man's extra-large, is now more like a child's medium. Something I didn't notice about it when I bought it: holes in the elbows, one of them more a tear than a hole. I feel better about buying it now, since I was potentially taking a useable sweater out of the hands of someone who needed it. But seriously people, really? Taking sweaters that damaged to Goodwill? You're buttheads...

ANYway. I have them on drying racks on the table to finish drying and collected all the little pills. Unfortunately, I don't have as many of the blue and green, since those were the ones that came open, probably washing away a lot of them. They're on the flattish side, which means I bet I could even use them in some papermaking projects.

Not sure why the pink one produced so many more pills. Fiber content most likely.

Once the sweaters were dry, I turned them inside out and cut all the seams off. I saved them, too, because I'm me. Now I have a bunch of pieces and scraps that I can start playing with.

One site I read suggested using the seams as cording.
The ribbed necks I think I'll use as necklaces (choker-length).
Here's what the knitted patterns look like after their second wash. They shrunk up nicely, but the pattern is still visible, if fuzzier.

After two trips through the washer/dryer.

There's enough felted material to make several cuffs. I'll go through my fabric scraps to find bits and pieces to coordinate with these colors, dig in my yarn stash, and try to track down some interesting buttons (holy crap -- vintage buttons go for way more than I wanna spend on ebay!), plus I have a ton of beads. I think they'll be awesome.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Trust in the Process, in My Vision

A couple months ago, I bought a styrofoam head (like for use as a hat stand). My thought was to cover the surface with Wonder Woman, images from comic books, découpaged on. I found a pedestal to put it on when it was finished. I bought the comics, back issues from Volume 2, with George Pérez as artist and writer. I can see in my head how I want it to look when it's finished, but I am honestly scared to get started.

Once I cut up the comic books, that's it. Once applied to the head, there's no undoing it. From that point on, it's me, my vision, and my ability to execute the plan. And I don't trust my own vision, my abilities.

Upon reflection, that's why a lot of my projects sit unfinished, or not even begun: Fear. Lack of trust. Lack of faith. In myself. If you don't start, you can't fail; if you never finish, you can't be wrong. And acknowledging that to myself just makes me mad.

I was "lucky" enough to work retail in the Chicago Loop -- shoplifters and robbers galore -- and I faced them all fearlessly. But ask me to have a little faith in myself, and I can't manage it. All the reassurance and compliments from family and friends cannot make me believe what I cannot see for myself.

Maybe it's time to reread Art & Fear. Maybe it's time to let Diana -- Wonder Woman -- to speak to me; maybe I need to listen harder.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


It's been ages since I did any serious writing (not counting blogging, and that's often pretty sporadic). I wrote Creating an Heirloom and got it published, and now it's overdue for an update, and I can't get moving on that. Basically, I only have a single chapter that needs rewriting, but it's a pretty important chapter.

Various professional writers will tell you to treat your writing like a job because it is one. Treat it like a hobby, casually, and that's how you can expect to make money from it. Since I was in high school (before, really), writing was something I wanted to do. Over and over, I've let it take a back seat to other things in my life. I've treated it casually. Since I've been pretty cavalier with it, it's not treated me any better. Creativity is a muscle -- it atrophies when you don't use it. And while I have been creative in other outlets, I don't treat that any more seriously.

I finished a short story, about 2500 words (too long for micro or flash fiction, too short for what most people consider to be a "short story"), and now have to decide if I want to shop it around or go the epublishing route that so many authors are using. I'd really like to sell it, but anxiety can be pretty crippling. It's what keeps me from doing most things, actually. I hate it, that evil little voice in my head.

A friend made a suggestion about taking the completed short story, and turning it into a series of related vignettes. I kinda like the idea, I think it would make a nice "package" to publish, but after the (somewhat crazy) inspiration of the first, I'm not sure the others will come as easily. (Back to that creative muscle again...) I got an idea for another story, but the inspiration for it is taking me in the direction of a considerably longer work.

There are other things, too, of course -- there are always distractions. I have an art show this weekend, the first commercial art-related thing I've done since the gallery closed in December. (Shame on me...) I've had some health issues come up this summer. Meetings and appointments for my daughter. Stress. Depression. Frustration. It's been a rough year. You'd think that losing myself in fiction writing would be just the thing! And maybe once I get back after the weekend art show, I'll be able to do that. But today will be consumed with the mundane: dishes, laundry, packing for the weekend.

It's only quarter after 7. Maybe I can sneak some writing in before The Kid gets home from school...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wonder Woman Shadow Box

Cross-posted on Plastic Heroines.

The other day, I saw a small shadow box at Homegoods. It was about 8 inches square (they had larger sizes, too, but the smallest one suited my purposes) and came in two finishes -- crackle white, and distressed grey. I didn't care for the crackle, and it would have left a texture to paint over without extensive sanding; the grey would be immediately paintable.

I brought it home and dug out a 12x12" sheet of Wonder Woman scrapbook paper I bought years ago and never knew what I was going to do with it. Apparently, I bought it for this.  :) The somewhat subdued colors of the paper look great with the grey frame... which I promptly decided not to paint, since they looked so good together.

The tricky part was getting the back off. It was nailed on with tiny tacks, down too deep in the fiberboard to pull, so I ended up carefully pushing the back off. This left the tacks above the surface of the lip of the frame and I knew getting them to line up would be a pain. Instead, I used a screwdriver as a nail sink, and tapped them down with a hammer.

I had to sand the back a little, because in addition to the tacks, there was also some glue. The backing board is 8" square; I cut my paper 7 3/4" square after I made sure that would cover all the backing visible from the front. I used a permanent glue stick (not too wet, but plenty sticky!) and smoothed the paper down with a credit card. I hit some of the dried glue inside the lip of the frame with sandpaper, dusted it off, and put a thin bead of Tacky Glue all around the lip. The backing board went on next, pressing firmly to seat it in places, and to ensure good contact with the glue.

And here's what it looks like finished:

front view

looking down into the shadow box; it's about 1 1/2" deep

Sorry; I forgot to take pics "in progress," but I hope you can follow along with my process. This was super simple, and a really quick project.

Some of you might be looking at that and thinking, "wow, that's a really busy background, the figure sort of gets lost." And you may be right. Even though the colors of the frame and background are not really bright, it's a patterned background for a small object. I am considering going through some of the old comics and finding a suitable speech bubble to cut out and put near her head, and mat it on white to give it some definition. Others of you might be thinking, "of all the action figures, you chose that one?" Yep! Because she was my first. Plus, she gets totally lost on the shelf with the other Wonder Woman figures (she's only 5" tall with her arm raised)

This idea would work for maybe a trio of small figures (GI Joe-sized) or a pair of larger ones, assuming they don't need more than 1 1/2" deep to stand in. You could showcase some of your favorite smaller figures this way. I say "favorite" because the shadow box was $15 -- expensive if you plan to put all your figs on display this way. And you don't have to go all out like I did and change the backing, you could leave it plain, paint it a different color, or paint an actual background if you're artistic.

If you try it for yourself, I'd love to see the results!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Chipping Away

I had the thought this morning, that if I could finish one project-in-progress a week, I could maybe, maybe, get caught up to the point where I didn't feel overwhelmed by everything. I could feel productive, work on new projects guilt-free, and have that sense of accomplishment that has been missing lately.

I want to start writing again, and because of the many many things racing around in my head -- ideas, thoughts, images, textures... -- I'm too distracted to do so. If I could chip away at the WIPs and the UFOs, it might allow me some breathing room. in my head (if you'll pardon the clumsy phrasing) to do some other creative work.

With that in mind, I decided to repair one of my daughter's threadbare blankets, that was coming apart at the edges. It's a quilted crib blanket my mother made for her, but the edges needed repaired. I bought bias tape, but wasn't happy with that, so I got some satin blanket binding and used that. This should be a simple and quick thing I can finish, before moving on to more work on the basement... HA! I had more trouble with that thing. The stitches are a mess, I had to rethread the machine several times, changed the needle, etc. etc. I'm confident that it was user error, not the machine. It seems to be working fine on material that's not got batting in it. However, I did get the binding on the blanket, even if it isn't pretty, and now she can have it back.

No more sewing for me today. Shoveling and sorting through piles of miscellaneous stuff will be like a vacation after the last hour + I spent fighting with this thing...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Long Weekend

I spent the weekend in the basement and I got a lot done. I tried to take pictures from the same angles as I too the ones Friday morning, but honestly I'm so tired I can't hardly think. I'll let the photos speak for me...

Taken from the stairs, you can see I still have a ton of work to do.
BUT there is more floor showing than there was!

The basket is empty, and the green bin behind it is full of lids.
The sewing and drafting tables are cleared off and useable spaces.
The shelves that were in the corner are now in the closet. It looks so much tidier!
The bookcase on the right holds craft books that were in the library upstairs.
I hung a small corkboard above the sewing table, and some of my photos.
The wheeled bin with the blue bin stacked on top are for the art show later this month.
Getting better organized all the time...
So that's what I've been up to since Friday. I sincerely hope that it looks like I got something accomplished. I've been staring at it for so long, I'm not even sure anymore...