I love to do a little behind-the-scenes post about the annual Halloween photo to tell you a little about it and this year there is a neat story.  First some fun facts you might not know when you look at the photo.

  • There is only one half of the box.  We made 1 and took two photos of Andy to assemble the scene.  Much easier than actually sawing him in half.
  • There are no star decorations in the background.  We added them later because it needed a little more bling.  Andy also gave our glitter a little more oomph.
  • The saw is our Christmas tree saw that has now been painted gold and had jewels added.  We will be very styling for Christmas.

The neatest part of this photo is the tuxedo.

photo (20)I originally had a whole other plan for the Halloween theme, but then I got this tuxedo in the mail.  It belonged to my Uncle Lester (actually my great-great-uncle).  Lester Grimes, “The Paper Wizard”, was a magician in the 1920s and 30s.  He was known for tricks that involved paper and origami and performed one of the opening acts at the 1932 World’s Fair.  He was a friend and colleague of Harry Houdini and actually acquired Houdini’s collection of books about “spiritualism” after Houdini’s death.

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The tuxedo is one that he wore in one of his acts and family history says that it was made for him by the costumers at Radio City Music Hall.  I raise my coffee in a toast to those costumers because it is beautifully made and it amazing condition.  My dad found this in a box of old family treasures and decided that since I am the family expert in all things fabric that the tuxedo should come to me.  The minute I pulled it out of the box, I knew it would fit and I knew it had to be the Halloween theme.  The rest wrote itself.





I have spent the last 4 weeks making a variety of home dec type objects for a variety of reasons.  Placemats, table runners, pillows.  And the thing is, I just can’t get in to it.  It’s relatively easy sewing as those things go.  Mostly straight lines, lovely fabrics, but I just can’t get excited about the finished objects.  How many throw pillows does a person need exactly?  How about you?  Love it or hate it?  Do you redecorate for every season?

Meanwhile, I did find some fun, helpful and inspiring tutorials while I was working out all of the details on these projects:

I got the faux batik samples in the mail yesterday and I am so thrilled.  They look awesome.  These are all printed on the basic cotton which is a nice middle weight basic fabric.  I didn’t wash or press the fabric yet, this is just what it looks like out of the envelope.

Here is the original colorway.

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Photo Oct 15, 4 13 13 PMAnd a couple of alternate colorways…  (The color in these following two isn’t quite right in the photos because the light wasn’t cooperative, but they look good in person.)

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I also made a set of coordinating prints for each of the colorways.

Photo Oct 15, 4 14 44 PMearthcoolswarmWhat do you think?  Which colorway is your favorite?  Although I love the warm colors I started with, I am also really loving the neutrals and I think that’s the one I might print to make a t-shirt.

photo(5)I had a vast quantity of tiny rolled hems to do this week.  The project is something I can’t really share yet, but I can talk about rolled hems and what I learned.  So I have done both machine stitched and hand stitched rolled hems before and although I am pretty good at the machine variety, I hadn’t really mastered the hand stitch. I could make it work, but they were fiddly and so very slow.  It was frustrating.  So I started to do a little research.  Maybe there was a better way to do the stitch?

The tips that really helped?

Rolled Hem Hankies at the Purl Bee.  Not only are the photos beautiful and clear, but the tip about slobbering on your fingers is essential.  I did just grab a damp washcloth and throw it on the table in front of me, but it’s amazing how much of a difference that made in getting the roll to happen.  She also does the stitch just slightly differently than what I was taught (with much of the stitch hidden in the roll) and this is much nicer.

It turns out that the best “tutorial” I found has no words.  But just by watching an anonymous and skilled seamstress hem a Hermes scarf, I picked up another really helpful hint or two.  If you watch the video you will see how she pins the scarf to a heavy pincushion.  This is genius.  It’s like having an extra hand to put some tension on what you are stitching and I could go twice as fast.  My tomato pincushion isn’t heavy enough.  I ended up weighting it down awkwardly with a pair of scissors.  But the next time I have a batch of hemming to do, I will take a few minutes and make a heavy weighted pincushion.  You can also watch how she does the corner. I am not sure exactly what she did, but based on my observations, I folded just the tiny tip of the corner at 45 degrees and then double rolled to make a neat little miter at the corner and secured it with a couple of tiny stitches.

My own trick is to use a beading needle to do the stitching.  Although this one was a little long (I couldn’t find my short ones), I really like working with tiny needles.  When you are only trying to make a stitch that catches 2 or 3 threads of the fabric, it is so much easier with a small needle.  I almost always hand stitch my hems.  I like hand stitching and I like the way a hand stitched hem can just disappear and not draw attention to itself.

If you want to learn more beautiful hand stitched hems, the Coletterie blog has been posting a really great series about all kinds of hem finishes.  Here is their take on the hand rolled hem.

Part six of our faux batik journey takes us back to Photoshop.

I have all of the motifs for my faux batik laid out, I have my color palette chosen, so now it’s time to put the finishing touches on my design.  This next bit might seem like a little bit of over-the-top, but I want to add a little bit of subtlety to this design, which is why I am going to go back into Photoshop before I add the final colors.

First I hide the colored background layer that I put in to help me lay out my design and I replace it with just basic black in my Illustrator file.  This is going to make it really easy to do the design cleanup next.  I export it, using the edges of my artboard or canvas to crop the design (getting rid of all the bits I left hanging off the edges).  It looks something like this.

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My first task is to make the edges of the design seamless.  Since I have very organic shapes, the lines and shapes at the right side of the tile aren’t going to exactly match up with the things on the left side of the tile.  But I want to make everything match up so there aren’t little flaws in the design when I repeat it.  Photoshop has a tool called “Offset” that will wrap the design around and match up those outside edges so you can do the touchup work.

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Here is one section of that matched up edge. I separated the black background from the other parts of the design and put them on two different layers.  Then, I used a paintbrush and the eraser tool to carefully erase a little bit and redraw these lines to they seem to be one continuous line.  I did this along the sides and top/bottom of the design and now I have a seamlessly repeating tile.

Now I want to add the background colors back in.  I could have used the color blocks that I set up in Illustrator, but I wanted the edges where the colors meet to be a little less like a quilt block with straight lines and have a little more painterly quality.  I also chose 7 colors for my colorway, where my mockup had only 5.  Leaving my white batik shapes as the top layer and the black as the bottom, I added a layer in between for each of the colors in my colorway.  I used a big paintbrush with a little bit of a soft edge to paint in the background colors where I wanted them in my design.  Using a paintbrush allowed me to let things bleed a little outside the lines and to keep the more organic look to match my batik shapes.  By putting each color on it’s own layer, it was easy to tweak the colors if it ended up that I didn’t like one of those colors I chose for my colorway and it will be really easy to make another colorway of this design this way (which I am planning to do!)

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Finally, my white layer had some of those placeholder colors in it that I used to fill in some of the shapes (like the arch shapes above).  To make those fit my colorway, I used a tool called Select Color Range which lets me click on a color and it selects that color anywhere it sees it on the screen all at once.  So I could click the placeholder red and replace it with the red from my colorway.

Here are the finished colors painted in.

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It took a couple of tries to get everything to feel like it was balanced and to make sure that I didn’t have any colors too crowded together.  The next little bit of subtlety I wanted to add was a little bit of a hand-painted or hand-dyed effect, to make the background colors look less flat and even and perfect.  I tried a bunch of different techniques to achieve this: painting with different brushes, playing with opacity and flow, but they were all a little too heavy-handed.  Finally I found the effect I wanted.  I added a layer on top of all of this with a filter called “Clouds” in a contrasty dark and light.

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 6.23.36 PMThen I made this clouds layer adjust the luminosity of the design instead of just layering on top. Luminosity is like the light shining through piece of paper, but it gave my just the effect I was going for: areas of lights and darks, without changing the colors of my design and making them muddy grey or washed out.  Here you can see that effect:

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One last effect and my batik is finished.  For the last subtlety to really make this look like a batik, I wanted to add the distinctive crackled look that you get when working with wax.  It took a lot of experimenting, but a photograph of a piece of marble gave me just the right pattern of cracks.  I made this photo into a seamless repeat as well and added it as one more transparent layer on top of the design.

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I have ordered a yard of this fabric to be printed and in a couple of weeks we will revisit the tutorial and see how it turned out!


Today is all about color!  Now that I have most of my design laid out, I want to start to think about the colorway for this fabric.  The colorway is the set of colors I am going to use.  I really love the colors that were in my original inspiration fabric.  I could pick these colors out on my own in the color palette in Photoshop, but I want to show you a really fun tool that you can use for creating colorways.  It’s called Adobe Kuler and it is a free app for your iPhone or iPad. Edit: You would know it. In the week since I posted this tutorial, Adobe did an update. The app is now called Adobe Color and the screens are slightly different but still work essentially the same.

photo(3)It uses the camera to look at whatever you want to capture a colorway from and it picks out a set of colors from what it sees.  As you move around 5 little circles pop around the scene and identify colors.  You can tap the screen anytime to freeze it and then click the check box to save the colors.

photo 2Once I have saved it, I can open up the colorway by tapping a little icon that looks like a panel of sliders and here is the best part…

photo 1For each color, it shows me the HEX code and the RGB values, which are codes I can type right in to Photoshop or Illustrator.

Now remember that it is using a camera to capture the colors.  Your colors will be influenced by the light the camera sees, shadows and so forth.  So it might not be the final colors you use for your design, but it’s a great place to get started or even to just get inspired.

Here’s a colorway out my kitchen window on this rainy Wednesday and a little vector pattern to go with it.


And here’s a version in a Chester colorway.

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I did a couple more shots with Kuler of my bag and I have come up with this colorway for my faux batik fabric.  I may tweak these a little bit later when I see what they all look like together, but this will be my starting point.

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Part Four of my batik-behind-the-scenes series takes us to the fun part: starting to put it all together.

It’s time to start laying out my canvas for putting together all of the elements into a whole design.  I decided to think about this as two layers: the background colors and the batik designs.  I wanted a large repeat area so I made a new canvas 24 x 24 inches.  The original faux batik design I was inspired by worked almost like a stripe pattern with bands of designs that went across the width of the fabric.  I decided I would like something a little less directional and more versatile than a stripe, so I decided to lay out a “crazy quilt” kind of background made up of squares and triangles.  I made this background as a layer all by itself to act as a guide for where to place my designs.

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The shapes that extend off the edges of the 24 inch square “tile” are my reminder to myself that those blocks are going to help make this design more seamless.  If you look at the large green rectangles on the bottom corners, I want that color to continue across the edges of the design, so when you repeat and put these tiles next to each other, those two green blocks will connect up and look like one larger green block.  Make sense?  This makes it harder to see the edges of my tile.

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Here’s what it looks like when I tile it.  I see that I still have a pretty obvious line going along the right edges of the blue shapes.  I think I can fix that later with some color work, so I am going to leave it alone for now.

How did I make the shapes for the background?  There are two main tools in Illustrator for making these kinds of shapes:  the pen and the “pre-defined shape” tool.  You can draw more free-form shapes with the pen and the shape tool lets you just click and drag to make rectangles and circles.

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The colors I chose to lay out this design in are just placeholders.  I picked 5 contrasting colors so that I could see my shapes easily and to work out a rough color balance, but these aren’t the colors I am going to use for my final design.  I am going to talk about how to pick those colors in Part Five. You can see the color you have currently selected by looking at the palette.  The solid square shows the fill color and the open box is the outline.  My shapes don’t have an outline, so I have the “not” red line showing in that section above.

The easiest way to pick and choose colors is to use the eyedropper tool.  This tool has two “modes” that I am going to call “Pick” and “Push”.  Pick chooses a color from anywhere that you click.  So I can click the blue anywhere on the page and that will be the color that shows up in the palette.  Push you get to by holding down the option key while you are using the eyedropper.  The icon will flip around and now anytime you click it will push that color you have selected to the shape you click on.

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I made a little animated graphic to show you how this works.  First I pick it with the regular eyedropper and then hold down option and push it to the next shape.

eyedropperOnce I have my background all laid out, I lock the layer so that I can’t accidentally select or change something (I can unlock it later).  Now I can go on to placing my batik shapes into a new layer on top.  I already converted all of my shapes into vectors and I have them all in a “toolbox” document.  I use this to copy and paste into my design document.  This way I always have a copy of the original shape that I can go back to and I can pop back and forth between the two documents.  I decide which shape I want to fill, then I choose something from my toolbox, copy and paste it over.

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I rotate and resize it.  Sometimes I need to select and make more copies of a motif or I delete a bit that’s not working.  Once I have them placed and filling the area I want them to be in, then I use the same eyedropper trick to color them.  Choose the color I want and then push it into each section of the design.



Here’s as much as I have finished so far.  Just so you don’t think this is a fast process, this much has probably taken me about 6 hours.

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Part Three of my faux batik tutorial is all about making your scanned paintings into vector shapes.  For this we are going to switch over and open the files in Adobe Illustrator instead of Photoshop.  As I said about Photoshop, there are certainly other vector based programs that you can use as well, but I am not as sure that they have some of the specialized tools that Illustrator includes.  Way back when I was first learning Illustrator, I hated it.  It did not make any sense to me at all.  I think it might now be my favorite tool, but it is a heck of a learning curve.

Making simple vector shapes.

I opened a new blank file in Illustrator and then placed one of my painted elements into the document.  (Place a file by going to the File menu and choosing Place.) Select your image by clicking on it using the black arrow or select tool.  You can tell it is selected because Illustrator draws a box around it.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 5.01.48 PMTo convert this element into a vector shape, go to the Object menu and choose Image Trace -> Make and Expand.  This Image Trace tool has lots of settings you can tweak but I just went with the built in defaults for these designs and that worked great. When it traces your image, it looks for the contrasting edges and it draws new vector lines to match them.  Here’s what it looks like after it has been traced.

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The little blue dots and outlines are showing me the new points and lines it has drawn to make these shapes.  When you look at the shape, you really aren’t going to see a difference.  So what did it do?  The best way to show you is to zoom in to the design very closely.

eyesOn the left is the rosette in Photoshop and the right is in Illustrator after we have traced it.  In Photoshop, you can see the shape is made of an exact number of pixels and you can see all of the jagged or pixellated edges when you look at it very closely. If I wanted to use this design and make it bigger, you would see this jagged edge.  The pixellated edge also makes it difficult to color it in a different color because you can see the edge isn’t pure black but is many different shades of grey. To make a smooth looking curve when it is smaller/zoomed out, it needs to approximate to smooth out the edges.  In Illustrator, the trace tool converts the shape into vectors or “pins and lines” instead.  So now if I make this shape very large, the computer says, “I know there is a pin here and a pin here and a line in between them” and it redraws the shape at whatever size I need it.  It always has a smooth edge because vectors can adapt. Because it is a smooth edge, it’s also easy to switch colors and get something very clean.  Why don’t we always use vectors then?  Some things can’t be made into simple shapes.  Think about a photograph and how many millions of shades and tints and subtle color things are going on.  Neither format is better, it just depends on what you need to achieve.

The last thing I want to do is get rid of the extra white space around my shape.  When the trace tool traced the shape, it included the white background from my Photoshop file.  To get rid of that extra white paper, I first selected the shape. By default, traced images are always “grouped” together so all the pieces stay as one unit.  To ungroup the shape, choose the menu item Object -> Ungroup.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 10.33.53 PMNow click away from your element in an empty space (to deselect it) and click back on the white box to select just that part.  Then hit delete.  Finally, I want to group all of the bits of this rosette back together again so I can move them around as one piece.  To regroup it, I click outside of the rosette somewhere and drag so that I draw a box around the entire rosette.  This tells the computer to select everything that’s inside the box that I just drew.  Then I go back to the menu and choose Object -> Group.  Now it is grouped back together and the pieces will stay where they belong.

To get ready for the next part of my design, I will go ahead and convert all of my elements into vector shapes.  I will place them, trace and keep them all together in this same file, which I call my “toolbox”.  We will work with the toolbox more when we get to Part Four.

Lost?  Confused?  Please feel free to chime in with questions in the comments.


image from Asian Art Museum exhibition

image from Asian Art Museum exhibition

This is a little bonus post for my tutorial series on creating a faux batik.  I know that it is hard sometimes to know where to start a design.  It’s the dreaded blank page syndrome!  If you don’t have a favorite faux batik bag like mine for inspiration, you might need a little help coming up with design ideas.  These are a few places you might look for inspiration:

Ta Ta Indian Stamps at Etsy.  She has a great collection of beautiful wooden stamps for sale.  Plenty of eye candy here!

e-Quilter Fabric store has a huge selection of batik fabrics.  We used to live really close to them when we lived in Boulder but I didn’t know it at the time!

Batik Exhibition from the Asian Art Museum.  Some lovely examples, especially of patterns filling a space.