Elizabeth Peters, mystery writer and creator of the indomitable Amelia Peabody, has passed away. I have read every one of the books in that series several times, as well as a number of titles under her other pseudonyms. A description from the Washington Post of her 85th birthday party last year makes me certain that she was as much of a character as the ones she wrote about. I am sad that I won’t have any more of her books to look forward to.
Textile Center is giving me an award called the “Spun Gold”, which is a kind of a lifetime achievement award for contributions to the fiber art community and to the field. It is a an amazing honor and so very cool to be recognized and I feel more than a little weird about getting a lifetime achievement award when I haven’t yet reached 40, but I digress. What I really want to talk about is the photo. I designed this for the invitation for the award presentation. They wanted a photo of my work and I wanted something with a little personality. This photo itself is a piece of art.
First, the skirt is called “Strut” and it is digitally printed linen-cotton (printed by my dear friends at Spoonflower) and trimmed with vintage velvet ribbon and hand-stitched sequins. You only see a tiny bit of the ribbon in this shot, there are more stripes down the back. The pattern is just a classic pencil skirt. The peacock is a detail of a bobbin lace fan that is in the collection at the V&A museum in London. We photographed it when we were there a few years ago and I played with it in Photoshop and made this skirt. Here’s what the fan looks like. It is breathtaking in person. That little peacock is about 2 inches high.
Here’s also a detail of the skirt and the sequins.
I wanted to keep the focus of this photo on the skirt so that your eye was drawn right to that and not to my face because I wanted the “message” to be about my work and not about whatever dorky expression was on my face. I have no aspirations to be a model. So I started thinking about a way to make that change of focus happen. The obvious solution was to just crop my face out of the photo, which would certainly work but it seemed a little too obvious. But then I thought of this painting: The Son of Man by Rene Magritte.
You might recognize it as it has been featured in a bunch of movies and the like. It is supposed to be a self portrait of Magritte and he is said to have said the following about it (and a series of similar works that he did.)
It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.
I like this idea, that the “visible that is hidden” makes you fill in the blank about what you know about me and there is a little story going on in your mind. You will notice I have an apple in my portrait too.
My husband and very best and most favorite collaborator actually took the photo; I just “art directed”. The desk is a piece of plexiglass propped between two sawhorses. The computer is suspended from a steel cable (photoshopped out) because it bent the plexi too much and we wanted that high tech looking desk illusion. The glow around the computer was from a really big light behind me and I am standing on a big sheet of white paper which I tip-toed over to on a towel so I wouldn’t leave dirty footprints that we would have to Photoshop out. The computer was the actual machine that sat on my desk at work for many years until the fan died and it wheezed its last breath. But it is cool and I have kept it as a photo prop (although we gutted it so it was lighter). We would snap a few shots, he would show them to me on the screen on the back of the camera and I would step a 1/2 inch this way or that and move my shoulders up or down until we got it just right.
I am absolutely thrilled to be able to finally let you in on a little project I have been working on:
Exciting news: Spoonflower is writing a book! The book will be published by Abrams Books (under the STC Craft |Melanie Falick Books imprint) in Fall of 2014. Our working title is Spoonflower’s Step-by-Step Guide to DIY Digital Design: Fabric, Wallpaper, and Gift Wrap, but we’re still kicking it around, so that may change. Our goal is to make the book be everything you’d expect from us: cool projects, lots of how-to techniques, beautiful photography, and plenty of inspiration for creating your own digital designs.
In fact, we’re looking for contributions from the Spoonflower community for to include in the book! We have specific things we’re looking for right now—from full-blown projects to interviews and examples. If you’re interested in contributing, you can share your projects using these forms:
- Follow our instructions to create a specific bird-design project for submission.
- Contribute a finished fabric project.
- Contribute a project that uses just a Spoonflower swatch.
- Complete a brief interview form about your personal color choices.
The deadline for submitting project ideas is right around the corner. We’d like to have all submissions of the items above by Monday, August 12th, 2013. We have more things we’ll be looking for a little later this summer, so stayed tuned!
Also, we want to officially introduce you to the people who are working on the book. Along with Stephen Fraser, one of Spoonflower’s two co-founders, we’re working with Judi Ketteler and Becka Rahn. Judi is a writer, craft fanatic, and author of the book Sew Retro. Becka is the Director of Education at the Textile Center in Minneapolis, where she develops fiber art curriculum and teaches sewing, felting, and digital and technology skills to beginners of all ages. Becka and Judi will be working together with the publisher and with us to make this book a reality. We could not be more thrilled to be sharing this with all of you! The Spoonflower community has been so supportive from the very beginning, and we’re really excited to be publishing a book that tells the Spoonflower story and further ignites people’s creativity.
We’ll keep you posted!
Please help us spread the word. (You can click all those share links at the bottom of this post.) The deadline is just around the corner and we would love to see YOUR projects. (And if you have taken a class from me I will be looking for something from you! No excuses!)
This is awesome.
There’s been discussion recently in the craft blog community about the “beautiful studio” phenomenon, where everyone shows pictures of gorgeous inspiring spaces that they work in, when we all know that it is a pile 12 inches deep on the floor and an empty coffee cup (or three) on the desk in our own spaces. I feel like sewing blogs are a little bit the same way. Beautiful dress after gorgeous skirt show up in the photos and it makes sewing something wonderful seem easy. So this is another blog post inspired by a conversation today, where a friend and I agreed sewing is hard. Even if you are good at it. And sometimes the hard outweighs the cool factor. Every project has a challenge and not every one works out.
So, I would like to introduce you to my pile of shame.
This is a skirt without a hem. It’s made from some really soft clearance aisle stretch something-or-another. It’s a pencil skirt with these pleats along the back hem. Its issue is that when I tried it on that stretch something-or-another stretches and creates some bulges that I am pretty sure are really not particularly flattering. It hugs where it should hang and the pleats are just slightly off (grumble). I got less inspired to finish hemming it when I looked at it on me and had a big case of “meh”. It should be cute and it is really just mediocre.
This one seemed like a great idea, but it just has too much going on. The fabrics look great together, but when you put it on, it’s LOUD. And it’s an indie dress pattern, which I try to love, but this one has some peculiar construction and it took a lot of re-thinking to do things in a way that I found acceptable. Not up to snuff. It looks a little “homemade” and not in a good way.
The neck facing and hem are all that’s left here and I have an inkling that it is just a hair too big. This was an experiment. I ordered a pattern from Lekala.com and they created this one to match my measurements and sent me a pdf that I printed and taped together. Either they add just a bit more ease than I like or I had some issues with connecting the 36 sheets of paper that this printed on which introduced some extra room. Either way, it is totally alterable, but I just don’t want to. That’s fiddly and the not fun part. And I don’t like how the bias tape facing turned out on the arm holes. I cut my own bias tape and it was not my best work. I really should rip that out and fix it too. I will probably fix this one, but I am procrastinating.
This one is super cute and I love everything about it. But I bound the neckline and arms with yellow bias tape and I ran out before I got to the hem. Need to make a trip to the store and remember it. That is harder than it sounds.
This one just makes me sad. I am desperately in love with this fabric and the design of this dress (the classic slim wiggle dress) but it absolutely does not fit. I don’t often make a muslin, because seriously, who has time for that? And I am lucky because usually patterns from Simplicity and Butterick just fit me with only minor alterations. I always have to shorten the bodice on dresses by about 1/2-1 inch and shorten the hem, but most everything else is pretty dang close. And that’s how I know that I can usually get away with no muslin. (I know, you can hate me now.) This dress however, has seriously 4 extra inches of fabric in the back between my shoulder blades to the top of the zipper. I don’t know what happened but it is ridiculous how much this does not fit. And the really annoying thing is that I lined it because I knew I would love this dress, so there is a LOT to pick apart to figure out how to remove the extra fabric. I hand picked the zipper; I matched the patterns. Sigh.
These are all problems that I might have figured out earlier in the process, but you know that just doesn’t always happen no matter how good we are. Can I fix all of these issues? Probably. But at this point, do I want to? Was this one just all about the process? Maybe this was a “teachable moment” and I have learned everything I need to learn from this project and it is time to say adios? (I am looking at you stretchy skirt.) I think these need a little while longer in time out to think about their issues.
Another conversation, another blog post. This week the topic of conversation has been all about dyeing. We have been gearing up for summer camp at work and we do a lot of dye projects. We have a dye lab and so it makes it very easy for us to do really great dyeing. I have discovered that there is a LOT of mis-information about how and what to dye, so I thought it might be helpful to post some information in the hopes that someone might Google this someday and get some help. I have been the supervisor of the dye lab for about 8 years now, so I have seen a lot of techniques. I am not going to say that any of these things I am suggesting are the right way to do this (there is no one right way), but these are the things I have learned that should improve your chances of success.
What’s your fiber?
So there are lots of kinds of dye and each one of them is great with a certain kind of fabric. So the first thing to do is to figure out what fabric you are working with. Read the tag, check the label. You can even do a burn test if you are totally stumped. If you have a blend that is at least 80% something, you should follow the instructions for the predominant fiber. For instance, we dye 80% wool/20% rayon felt (using the instructions for dyeing wool) and get a nice heathered kind of appearance because the wool takes the dye and the rayon doesn’t.
(Click to download a .pdf of my Dye Chart and to be able to see it larger.) Once you have figured out what fiber you have, then you can find out what kind of dye you need to use. I have given you very very simple instructions for each dye. Check out Dharma Trading’s website for really great how to’s for working with all of the different dyes. They are a great source for ordering both dyes and dyeable fabrics too.
In a nutshell
The reason dyes work is that there is a chemical reaction going on between the fiber and the dye solution. Molecules of the fiber react with molecules of the dye to make a (hopefully) permanent chemical bond. If you get the chemistry right, you will have great colorfast dyed fabrics that don’t bleed and fade. If not, you might have purple ninjas. But more about that later.
Just in summary…
Cotton & plant fibers • Procion/Fiber Reactive/MX dye • needs soda ash • NO heat
Wool & animal fibers • Acid dye • Needs vinegar/citric acid • Needs heat
Polyester • iDye Poly • Needs heat
Silk • Dye like plant fibers or animal fibers with slightly different results
A few interesting facts. Nylon behaves like animal fibers when it comes to dye. You can make really cute tights and camisole dresses by dyeing thrift store finds that are nylon fabrics. Koolaid works great to dye wool because it contains two key components: dyes and citric acid. You can’t dye acrylic. They just don’t make consumer dyes that can do it. There is also one more class of dyes called “sublimation dyes”, which work on most man-made fibers and are activated by vaporizing the dye under high heat. That is what is in Crayola Fabric Crayons. But the process is SO different for these, I am just leaving it at that. I am also not going to go in to natural dyes. Totally amazing and cool, but the chemistry for those is a whole other art form.
You will notice that RIT dye is nowhere on any of my lists. Why? RIT is a Frankenstein Dye. Because they want to make it work with anything you throw at it and so they can say it dyes anything, they mix together all kinds of dyes in one little packet. In the mixture there is bound to be the right molecule to bind with whatever fiber is dropped in the dye bath. The problem is that in trying to do everything, it really does nothing very well at all. All of those extra chemicals just get in each others way and the heat/salt/acid that one reaction needs, makes some other ones not work so well. So the overall result is everything works a little and nothing works very well. A good friend emailed me just before Halloween a few years ago with an example of just this effect. While trying to make a ninja costume in proper ninja black, she got something more like yucky faded purple. Black is a hard color to dye even if you are using exactly the right chemistry; throw in some Frankenstein and you get nothing close to black at all.
Many of you know I work for a non-profit arts center and I have for 9 years now. I have worked for and volunteered for and advocated for a number of non-profits throughout my entire life and all of them have been pretty amazing creatures that do pretty amazing things. So, I have had a couple of conversations lately with a number of different people about “I love this organization, but I can’t afford to donate anything and I feel bad about that and so I don’t know what else I can do.” and I wanted to say that there are TONS of things that you can do that don’t cost you anything, but can be enormously valuable to a non-profit. So here’s my list of 8 simple things you can do that will cost you very little and can add up to a lot.
1. Participate. A lot of grants that non-profits write to help support their free concerts and exhibitions and make and take programs are all about the number of people served. There are whole sections of grant applications that require the organization to talk very specifically about the audience and who will be participating. So, everybody who shows up gets counted and the more people attend a concert or sign their name in the guest book, the bigger the impact the organization can show. So just by showing up and seeing the art in the gallery and then signing your name in the guestbook, you are saying to that funder or sponsor “I think this is valuable” and that makes a big impact. Downloading the email, clicking the link, or showing up at the event are all ways for you to be counted.
2. Comment. Good or bad, take the time to write a comment or complete an evaluation: ”I really loved seing this work in person because it was so amazing to be able to see the detail up close. I will come back again for your next exhibition.” or “My kids and I attended the concert in the park and they spent the rest of the afternoon pretending to play violins and conducting their own imaginary orchestra. What a great afternoon!” One of my very favorite REAL quotes from a teacher that brought a field trip to my art center: ”The second grade says weaving is better than recess!” (We named our annual youth programs exhibit after this quote.) Quotes are also a valuable way for non-profits to communicate with sponsors and funders as a way to say “We know this project is successful because we have this feedback from people who participated.” Evaluations are required by many program funders and feedback good (or not so good) is all really important.
3. Like it or tweet it. Every non-profit would like to reach more people. If you see something on your favorite organization’s website and you hit the “like” button, you become part of the magic algorithm that networks like Google and Facebook use to rank search results. Very simply put, the more people “like” something, the more the search engine thinks that it must be “important” or “relevant” to whatever it is looking for. So something as simple as clicking “Like” on a post about an upcoming class about shibori silk scarves can mean that more people will discover that art center you think is really cool when they are searching around on Google.
4. Link it. Have a facebook page or a website or a blog? Post a link to your favorite non-profit’s website. Links to organizations work the same way as likes and tweets. The more connections to the site, the more important the search engines think it is and the bigger the potential reach for your favorite organization.
5. Spread the word. The next time you are at your art center or a concert in the park, take an extra postcard or flyer about an upcoming event and stick it up on the bulletin board at work. Or at your favorite coffee shop. Or at your church. Let me tell you from experience that getting those beautiful postcards out into the world is one of the hardest jobs ever. There is just never enough time in the day (or postage money in the budget) to get everywhere you would like to get them. If you get an email about an event, pass it on to a friend or post it on your Facebook page. (Or print it out and put it on the bulletin board). Even just talking about it is great! Word of mouth is a really powerful tool, especially if you tell your story.
6. Donate stuff, but ask first. Speaking for my own non-profit program, I am delighted to get donations of stuff, but I have about zero square feet of storage space to put it in. So although I would LOVE to have your yarn, I might have to store it on my desk until I can make room to put it. Which isn’t really ideal. But there are really goofy things that I need (that you might not even think of) that I could put to good use right now. Like a gallon or two of vinegar or a salad spinner or some empty yogurt containers. We used all of those items at summer camp today and we could have used a few more. Other useful stuff? Rulers, sticky nametags, tablets of white scratch paper, flexible tape measures, a crock pot, a wall clock, a really big color wheel… Many organizations have a “wish list” that might contain something you have collecting dust at your house. Win win.
7. Time. Do you have an hour? Would you be willing to hand out programs at a concert? Or stuff envelopes for a mailing? Or weed the garden around our building? Or help clean up after an event? Volunteering seems like an obvious one, but sometimes the hardest jobs to fill are the ones that sound boring. Everyone wants to attend the XYZ Event for free in exchange for some volunteer hours, but maybe you would be just as content to listen to the radio in your car and deliver these concert flyers to all the public library branches in Minneapolis. Or maybe you would be happy to look up the address and contact info for all of the afterschool programs in the metro area and address some envelopes for me so I could send out some field trip applications? Also if you have special skills, tell someone. Are you a lawyer and would be willing to read over contracts for me, just to point out anything I should be concerned about? What a great resource!
8. Photos. Do you love to take photos? As staff at an event, I am lucky to have a minute to snap a few pictures because I am busy making the event happen and although I would love to hire a photographer for every event, that is just not in the budget. But I would LOVE to have your photos if you are willing to share them. Photos are another great tool for spreading the word and showing the impact of a program or event. They are a handy way for us to document who was there and what happened so we can refer to it next year when we start to plan the next one.
So in the spirit of “walk the walk”, here are links to some of my favorite non-profits or community organizations:
Textile Center. This is the art center where I work and I am pretty proud of what we do.
Weavers Guild of MN. A sister organization to Textile Center with some of the greatest staff and members ever.
Northern Clay Center. Ditto. Amazing people, great work.
Upper Midwest Great Dane Rescue. My friend Danielle volunteers like crazy for these guys and the photos of those giant floppy faces just make me smile.
Orchestrate Excellence. My friend Paula dedicates a lot of time to this group that is advocating for the MN Orchestra musicians and their endless lockout situation.
Star of the North Concert Band. My husband is a member of this band and there is nothing I like better than a summer evening in the park with my knitting and listening to them play a concert.
I am teaching a Photo Help class tonight and one of the hands-on projects we are going to do is resizing some images using PicMonkey. As a bonus I thought I would post one of my favorite PicMonkey features that I know we won’t have time to cover in class: Photo Collage. You can totally do this in Photoshop, but it is about 23 extra steps. PicMonkey makes it super easy.
When you go to the front page at PicMonkey, there is an option right in the middle of the page for “Create a Collage”. Click that and the steps are basically to follow the icons.
You just drag your photos from this thumbnail grid over and place them in the template where you want them. Click on a photo with the 4-way arrow tool that pops up when you hover over the image and you can reposition within its box. By hovering on the border of a box, it also allows you to drag around and resize the boxes within the template using the double sided arrow tool, so you really can customize it any way you want to. It even has some built in templates that are sized perfectly for your Facebook page, for instance, so that you can make a new banner with a cool collage of pictures on it pretty easily.
When you save, it gets a little silly.
You can choose a low/medium/high resolution to save it at depending on what you want to do with it. It gives you the pixel size at the bottom there and you can also adjust that if you want or need to. PicMonkey Basic is free and you can do a LOT with the free version. The upgraded “Royale” just has more fun bells and whistles. Abby at While She Naps has also written some great PicMonkey tutorials for some other fun effects, so you should check out her posts too.
I borrowed this photo from my mom because it seemed so perfect for my little post for today. I just gave the blog here a good spring spruce up and there are lots of new features. You can log in to comment with your facebook or twitter account. You can share posts via all kinds of venues. You can subscribe to posts or comments. I updated my upcoming classes. I just finished a huge overhaul on the Textile Center’s site (Go check it out!) and I found and learned so many new features and widgets and things working on that site, that I had to give my blog a little love as well.
I spent part of yesterday at a tiny little county fair. A friend and I were doing a kids make-and-take project making pretty felt beads.
It rained on us at least 4 times and there were mosquitos, so we didn’t have huge crowds of people. I got to walk around and check out the 4H exhibits between rain showers and these are a few of my favorites.