Blog2021-08-04T11:01:45-05:00
29November, 2021

On Sondheim: “Anything you do, let it come from you. Then it will be new.”

Everything Else|1 Comment

You might not know this about me, but I was a theater major for a few years in college. I was a huge highschool theater geek; the queen of the costume shop. I worked for five summers at a summer childrens’ theater and I fell in love with my husband in a truly ridiculous show where I played the Damsel in Distress and he played the giant sea monster that ate me. (It did have a happy ending.) That’s us in the photo above, right in the center.

I never wanted to be an actor; I was a designer. Sadly, I didn’t have the self-confidence I have now and when faced with the larger-than-life personalities in the department, I never found a place where I felt like I was contributing anything other than endlessly washing paintbrushes. So I drifted off and changed my major and found other creative channels.

But it was in my first class as a theater major that I met Stephen Sondheim. I don’t mean that literally of course, but the first thing we studied in “Theater Appreciation” was the musical Sweeney Todd and it was the first Sondheim musical I’d ever seen. I remember that we watched the “Great Performances” version and we had to split it up over about 3 classes to be able to see the whole thing. I sat with all of the freshman theater majors in a row in the front of the auditorium. It was a required class for theater majors and filled a humanities credit for a whole lot of other people, so we were surrounded by football players and business majors. Looking back, Sweeney seems like the strangest choice to introduce to Theater Appreciation, but I still remember it 30 years later.

I remember walking to dinner or somewhere after watching the […]

8November, 2021

New Book: Native Plants of the North Woods

Book Reports, Everything Else|0 Comments

I started this collection of native plant illustrations in an art residency I did with The Bell Museum, a local natural history museum. My project was to study their herbarium collection of preserved plants native to Minnesota and create art inspired by it. I wrote all about that project here.

When I started to make my plant illustrations I realized there was something missing from the plant specimen sheets. You can see one pictured behind my mask, shown below. The plant’s habitat and person who collected the plant were well-documented by the museum. However, even though I could study the shapes and sizes of the plant from the preserved sample, they all looked dull, flat, and brown; there was very little information about the color or texture. As an artist, those two qualities are very important to me!

I went in search of more reference material. I studied local field guides and resources from non-profit organizations that focused on native plants, like MNWildflowers.org. I looked for shapes, colors and tiny details that make each plant unique. By using these details to craft a more complete picture of each plant, I could bring them back to life.

I used hand-painted deli paper to make each cut paper illustration. Deli paper might not seem like an obvious art material, but it’s thin and strong so it’s easy to cut out fine details and make layered shapes. As I painted, I designed one-of-a-kind papers for my plants. I blended colors and created textures with the brush. I drew stripes and speckles. I even cut out a paper alphabet to make a custom typeface for my plant labels. I chose to make the plants larger-than-life rather than […]

21October, 2021

Designing Kits (and classes) behind the scenes

Classes & Teaching, Embroidery, Etsy, Sewing & Design|1 Comment

I LOVE making kits. I like designing small projects and sourcing beautiful materials. I even love the meditative afternoon of packaging things all up. It goes along with my love of teaching. For me, a kit is like a “class in a box” that you can jump into at any time. Instead of talking and demonstrating, I have the creative challenge of figuring out how to capture the important steps in photos and how to write the instructions to make them as simple and straightforward as possible. It’s a different kind of teaching, but for me it’s just as much fun.

This week has been all about cats. The cats design started as a request from students in a class that I taught with a bead embroidered dog. That dog is something I designed for a virtual class with the local county library, but then I loved it so much, I also turned it into a kit. Students in that class said “You should do cats!” and so I thought it would be fun to talk about how I designed those cats.

I always start with a sketch on paper and in this case since I already had the dog design, I wanted to make the two go together and share a similar style. So I started with my dog pattern pieces and sketched cat shapes over top of them.

My first version was too big, but I liked the shape. My next step is to re-draw the pattern pieces in Illustrator, so I made myself a note to reduce the size. That’s super easy to do once it’s in a digital format. I scanned the paper pieces and traced over them to create the pattern outlines. Then I printed out versions at a […]

5August, 2021

You Don’t Have to Spend Money to Make Art & A Symposium Takeaway

An Artist's Life, Spoonflower & Fabric Design|4 Comments

I attended the first ever Surface Design Symposium with Craft Industry Alliance and Spoonflower today. It was a day of webinars on different topics about being a surface designer: marketing, licensing, creating repeats in Illustrator and Procreate. It had a little something for lots of interests. I didn’t go to every session, but I picked three that I thought I would take a little something away from. I think overall the conference was aimed at a slightly more beginner level than I am, but I always learn something new from watching someone else teach. So I had a lot of fun.

There were a lot of messages about embracing your style, getting your work out there, or doing something every day to further your goals. Those are really great advice. The whole conference had a real “can do” and “everyone is welcome” kind of vibe in many ways. But I realized sitting down and reflecting about what I had learned today that there was also a more subtle message: that to be successful, you had to have money to get there. Absolutely no one said this specifically or explicity; don’t get me wrong. The intent was absolutely not to say “you have to buy your way to success”, but in each session I attended, often the advice that the panelists gave involved investing in something with a not insignificant cost.

For example, one person advised getting a fat quarter of your favorite designs and making something with it that you could photograph and show on Instagram. That’s an awesome idea and I think it’s great advice. People love to see samples of the “real thing”. But then I think about my personal budget for “making random things to show on Instagram” and I wonder how many fat quarters that stretches to. Fat […]

15July, 2021

Sewing with Spoonflower’s Cotton Lawn

Everything Else|2 Comments

I was really excited to get a yard of Spoonflower’s new Cotton Lawn to try out. This new fabric is a very finely woven lightweight cotton. It’s very smooth and has a crispness that makes it feel really nice in your hand. I got just a yard of fabric printed in one of my designs and decided to make my favorite tank, which is the Gemma by Made By Rae. I have probably made a dozen of these tanks over the years and if you have ever taken an in-person class from me, you probably have probably seen me wearing one. It’s my go-to teaching outfit.

Usually I make this tank in the poly crepe de chine because it has always been the lightest weight and most drapey of Spoonflower’s fabric options (I am not counting chiffon, which is very transparent and not so appropriate for this kind of garment.) So I thought that lawn would also be a great option, but I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this version in lawn.

Print Quality

The sharpness and color of the printing on the cotton lawn is just outstanding. As I talked about in my earlier review of Spoonflower’s Signature/Poplin/Sateen, some of the finer details can get lost on the more textured fabrics. The lawn has such fine threads that it really captures all of the texture. This is a design that I made with cut paper mosaic tiles made from handpainted deli paper. You can see all of the brush strokes and color depth really well. This might be a new favorite for me when we are talking strictly the look of the printing.

Sewing with the Cotton Lawn

Since this is a pattern I have made many times before, I just got out my pattern pieces and […]

9June, 2021

Fabric Review: Spoonflower’s Minky, Celosia Velvet and Performance Velvet

Everything Else, Fabric Reviews, Sewing & Design, Spoonflower & Fabric Design|2 Comments

Spoonflower just introduced their new Performance Velvet fabric and I thought that it was a great time to do a fabric review of the Three Plush Fabrics of Spoonflower. As always with my other reviews of Spoonflower fabrics, I just want to say that these are my own opinions and experiences with these fabrics. I don’t get any kind of promotional, incentive, or other kickbacks; I just like to be able to share some in-depth info with students in my classes and all of you out there trying to get started designing your own fabrics.

Spoonflower has three great fabrics with a napped or plush finish: Minky, Celosia Velvet, and Performance Velvet. You can click through any of those links to see the detailed specs on each of those fabrics.

What they have in common.

All three of the fabrics have several things in common. All three are 100% polyester and 54″ printable width. All three have a plush or napped surface, which vary in pile length from .5mm (celosia) to 2mm (minky). All three are heavier or thicker weight fabrics compared to quilting cotton.

All of the printed designs are technically sharp, because the plush fabrics move around as you brush your hand over the surface, that can make fine details disappear and edges look softer than if you print on a smooth fabric like Sateen or Poplin.

Key Differences.

Here are some of the key differences I noticed that might help you choose which fabric is best for your project.

Fabric Base Color

Minky and Performance Velvet are bright white, where Celosia has a little more cream undertone. I don’t think it effects the print colors substantially, but you would notice if your design had a lot of white space or lighter colors in it. You can see in the photo […]

Hi, I’m Becka.

Talking about fabric design, Spoonflower, teaching, and the life and business of being an artist.

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