My art supports my community.

I posted this collection of photos to Instagram the other day and it got me thinking. I took the photos as I was walking over to the post office that is just down the block from my house. This is part of my regular routine: walking over to the post office to drop off an Etsy order. Unless it is -20 degrees, I usually walk over there; I don’t like to “work out”, so I make myself walk places a lot. I thought to myself (and laughed a little as I thought about it) “I bet nobody knows that every Etsy shop order they place with me is delivered part of the way on foot.”

And then the more I thought about it, the more I thought that’s part of the story I should be telling. That’s part of the cool thing about both having a small business and working with small businesses. It’s not about distribution centers and corporate culture; it’s about people with stories.

So here are some stories that you wouldn’t know about my business.

I do hand deliver every order you place with me to my neighborhood post office on foot. Sometimes I walk my dogs over too. I have known the people that work in that post office for more than 12 years. It’s a really nice group and they are super helpful whenever I have a question or a problem with shipping something.

My small business also helps support a bunch of other small businesses. There is an art form in itself to sourcing materials to make handmade items for sale. When I first started making and selling things, I used to save all of my coupons and buy everything at Joann Fabrics. But as my business grew, I started to find other sources for the things I needed a lot of. I get all of my zippers for zipper bags from a shop on Etsy called Zipit. She carries everything I could possibly need and she lives just 1 state away from me, so everything ships to me super fast. Similarly, I get purse frames from another Etsy shop, and ribbon for zipper pulls from another Etsy shop. I ordered ultra suede scraps from a shop the other day for a new project I am working on. All of the buttons for the garments for my last exhibition came from Etsy shops. That’s always the place I start when I need a new material; I love the idea that I help make those shops successful too.

I also make a lot of my items with the help of two companies: Spoonflower and Ponoko. They are bigger businesses than mine, but they are still small businesses. And they are small enough that I have a relationship with them. I know people who have worked at both places and I have visited Spoonflower many times. They own equipment that I could never have access to without them. A $100,000 fabric printer and $40,000 laser cutter are really not in my budget. Not to mention that my house is just too small to fit either machine. I have all of the technical skills to design things and I get access to this professional quality equipment. They get to handle all of the tech support and maintenance of those machines. What’s not to love about that?

The holiday show I was accepted into in November is renting space in a local artist studio building. My booth fee is helping to support that small business. I did a lecture just last night with a focus of helping other local sellers to be more successful selling on Etsy. I’ve spend the last almost 2 years partnering with theaters and museums in my community to design and make things for their gift shops. Those partnerships help support me and the organization, which is part of my community.

The more I got thinking about this, the more I realized that is a core value for my artistic practice. And I think it’s a pretty cool one. My art supports my community. And that’s a story I need to tell more about.

Fabric Design for Back to School: Pop Art Shoe Bag Tutorial

When you live in Minnesota, “Back-to-School Season” is quickly followed by “Snowboots Season”. When I asked my sister what she thought would be a great back-to-school project to share with the Spoonflower Back to School Blog Hop, she described a “stuff sack” type bag to put the kids’ shoes in their backpacks when they have to wear their snowboots to school. Something to keep the papers from getting dirty and books from getting crumpled by dirty sneakers. With each kid needing regular shoes, gym shoes and snowboots, there are a lot of shoes getting hauled back and forth on the bus every day.

Creating the fabric design.

Color & scan.

My niece and nephew are 7 & almost 9 years old and I thought the bags would be the most fun (and more likely to get used) if I could get the kids to help me with the fabric design. What better for a shoe bag than a fabric print with shoes?

So I drew a coloring book page with a canvas sneaker. I drew it in fine tip sharpie, scanned it and emailed it to my sister. She printed copies and let the kids color the shoes any way they liked. They chose colored pencils for these, but this would also work with markers, crayons, or watercolor.

Download: If you want to make your own shoe print, you can download my shoe coloring book page here. It is yours to use any way you like.

I love to add texture and dimension to my designs so when I got the colored shoes back from the kids, I used a 1/8 in paper punch to punch holes at the eyelets and I made shoelaces from colored yarn. I threaded it through like lacing the shoe and tied a bow. Then I scanned the completed shoes.

Make the background transparent.

I opened each shoe in Photoshop so that I could cut out the shoe and make the background transparent. I used the Magic Wand tool to select the white background and then unlocked the layer so that I could delete that white edge and leave just the shoe.

  1. Choose the magic wand tool.
  2. Click the white area in the background of the shoe.
  3. Unlock the layer.
  4. Hit the delete key.
  5. The background should now be transparent (checkerboard).
  6. If your first click didn’t remove all of the white background, continue to select and delete the parts you don’t need.
  7. Here is a tutorial on how to adjust settings on the magic wand tool to fine tune and select more/less area.
  8. Save each shoe as a .psd file. (That’s a Photoshop file.)

Create the background canvas.

I wanted to do a repeating Warhol-inspired pop art design with the shoes by putting them each on a brightly colored background rectangle, so I set up a new canvas in Photoshop for the background. I created a new file that was 7.5 x 9 inches at 150 dpi. That’s the size I decided to make the repeat for my design.

I filled this canvas with 6 rectangles, each 2.5 x 4.5 inches. I drew these using the Rectangle Tool (yellow circle below) and filled them with a random color. Hint: If you click once with the tool inside your canvas, it will bring up a dialog box and you can type in the exact size of the rectangle you would like. Just repeat that to make all six rectangles. Here’s a little more about how to use the Rectangle Tool. Use the Move Tool to move the rectangles into place and be sure that you have selected the layer that you want to move. (Each rectangle will be on its own layer.)

 

I am going to match the colors to the shoes a little later, so the colors don’t matter at this step, just pick ones with a lot of contrast.

Add the shoes to the design.

Next, I placed the shoes into the design, using File -> Place Embedded and chose the edited version with the transparent background. I resized each one as I brought it in so that each shoe would fit in a rectangle. I adjusted the height to make each one 4 inches tall and made sure to click the chain icon (to the left of the yellow circle) to make sure it was scaled proportionally and not “squished”. If you want to adjust them after you have placed them, be sure that you have the right layer selected. Each rectangle and each shoe will be on a different layer at this point.

Match the background colors to the shoes.

Finally, to recolor the rectangles and match them to the colors in the shoes, I used the paint bucket/eyedropper tool in combination. The annoying part of this step will be keeping track of which layer you are on, so I recommend going to Layer -> Merge Visible and making your design all one layer for this step.

I then switched to the Paintbucket Tool and hovered over a color in a shoe. When I hold down the option key with Paintbucket selected, my Paintbucket will transform to an eyedropper. I clicked with the eyedropper to choose a color from a shoe and then released the option key. Now the cursor switches back to paint bucket and I can click inside a rectangle to fill with that color. Continue to select (hold option – click) a color and paint (release option – click) until you have colors that you like.

My finished repeat is below.

Save it and order a yard.

Now save this design as a .jpg and upload it to Spoonflower. I liked mine arranged as a half-drop repeat. You can get two bags out of one yard of fabric. I chose Basic Cotton Ultra for this project because I wanted the bags to be sturdy but not too bulky since they are designed to go inside another bag.

If you aren’t feeling like you want to design your own fabric or you don’t have kids around to do some coloring with you, I also curated a collection of great shoe fabrics by other Spoonflower designers. You can shop that Shoe collection here.


This is a great place to tell you that Spoonflower is giving you, my readers, a 10% discount! Use coupon code Rahn10 when you place your order. It’s valid until September 30, 2017 for orders of fabric, wallpaper and gift wrap and can not be applied with any other promotional offers.


Sewing the bag

Materials you need to make the bag.

  • 1/2 yard of shoe fabric. Basic Cotton Ultra is a great choice.
  • 1/2 yard of lining fabric.  I chose a lightweight cotton/poly broadcloth in bright green.
  • a 22 x 2 inch scrap of very lightweight fabric for the drawstring casing. I used a scrap from the selvedge of a piece of Spoonflower’s poly crepe de chine. Nylon or poly lining fabric is also a great choice. You want something that will allow the drawstring to bunch up and close the bag.
  • 1 yard of 1/4 inch paracord
  • A cord lock toggle. I got mine from this shop at Etsy.

Cut out rectangles.

You need three rectangles to make each bag.

  • 23 inches x 14 inches of your shoe fabric.
  • 23 inches x 14 inches of your lining fabric.
  • 21 inches x 2 inches of a very lightweight fabric for the drawstring casing.

Hem and fold the casing.

Start with the small rectangle of fabric for the drawstring casing. Make a narrow 1/4 hem at each short edge. Then fold the strip in half, matching the long edges and press.

Stitch the casing (top) edge.

Lay the shoe fabric right side up on your table. Place the casing in the center of the long edge of the rectangle, matching the raw edges. Place the lining fabric right side down, matching the long edge. Pin through all the layers and then stitch the long edge using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.

Turn the layers right side out and press so that the casing is free at the top and the shoe and lining fabrics are pressed down wrong sides together.

Stitch the side seam.

Unfold and open out your bag and refold it in half matching lining to lining and shoe fabric to shoe fabric. We are going to sew the outer and lining side seam all at once, making a tube. Match the long edges, pin and stitch with a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Press the seam open.

Mark the center, stitch the bottom.

Turn the tube so that the casing is at the top, the shoe fabric is to the inside and lining is outside. It will be like a doubled over tube, open at the top and bottom.

We need to mark the side of the bag for the next step. Fold the tube in half along the stitching line at the side seam and lay it flat on a table. Then mark the opposite folded edge with a pin, about 3 inches from the bottom corner. You will use this pin to help make a corner gusset in the next step.

Stitch the bottom edge of the bag through all the layers, using a 1/4 inch seam allowance. You can serge or zig zag over this raw edge to keep it from fraying.

Open out the corners.

Starting with the side with the stitched seam, open out the corner of the bag and match the side seam (black arrow) to the bottom seam (white arrow). Stack them one on top of the other and fold it flat, creating a point right at the corner. Pin it to keep the seams from shifting.

Mark the gusset.

Measure 2.75 inches from the tip of the triangle and use a ruler to draw a light pencil line. Your line should be 5 inches from folded edge to folded edge. Stitch across the corner through all layers, following this line.

Repeat for the other corner.

Since you don’t have a side seam on the opposite side, use the pin you placed to match the side to the bottom seam. Mark and stitch the same way. This will form square corners on the bottom of the bag. You can trim away the excess at the corners if you want to remove some bulk, but I like to just fold it towards the bottom and use is as an extra layer of reinforcement.

Turn it right side out & add the drawstring.

Turn the bag right side out. Cut a piece of paracord that is 36″ long. You can get one of my laser cut needles to thread the cord through the casing or use a large safety pin or elastic threader.

Slide the cord lock over the ends of the cord and then tie the cord ends together in a knot. Melt the ends of the cord so it doesn’t fray. (Please be careful! It gets hot and you should work in a ventilated area.)

If you want to follow along with the other blog hop posts in this series: Wednesday, August 2 – Robin Szypulski | Kritter Stitches – Bookbag on SF blog • Amy Watkins | Cozy Reverie – First / Last day of school photo pennants  • Kimberly Coffin | Sweet Red Poppy – 1st day of school outfit • Abby Glassenberg | While She Naps – Plushie key chain • Heidi Kenney | My Paper Crane – snack bags • Erin Williams | Printable Crush – book covers

Spoonflower Fall Masterclass – Class is full.

Registration opened today for the fall 2017 Spoonflower Master Class and it filled up in just 4 hours. I can’t believe it. You can still add yourself to the waiting list in case of a cancellation or make sure you are on the list to get an announcement before the next class happens.

Do you love postcards?

If you have been following along with my Sunday & Seurat posts, this black dog will look familiar. I decided to print him as a postcard too. These are mailable size, professionally printed on heavy weight card stock with a nice matte finish so they are easy to write on. They are available now in my Etsy shop as sets of 4 cards.

Teaching is all about the preparation.

This is me teaching a school residency where I worked with 700+ students in 5 days.

I am prepping for a teaching trip this week. I am heading out to NC to teach some highschool teachers about how to use Spoonflower in their classrooms. It should be great. I like teaching teachers.

As I was getting ready to start polishing up my slides and handouts I was thinking about some of the more interesting teaching gigs I have had over the years. A few standout examples:

  • Taught a digital photography class in an unheated 4-H barn with no wifi access. Had to use my LCD projector by projecting on to a piece of foam core propped up onto a chair. It was supposed to be an adults class, but the venue registered just two 8th grade girls in the class instead. Talk about revising your class on the fly.
  • I taught at a national conference where instead of booking classrooms for some of the smaller classes, they put us in a regular hotel room with a bunch of extra chairs in it. I taught the class sitting on the bed and pointed my projector at the bedsheet which we took off the bed and taped to the wall to make a screen because the walls were dark and textured.
  • I showed up to teach a digital design class at a venue on a Saturday morning that had a policy of turning off their internet access completely on the weekends. No wifi at all. We ended up gathering everyone up and driving nearby to a student’s house. I taught the class using her pool table as my work space.
  • I taught a quilting workshop to non-English speakers, using a college student as a translator. None of my adult students had ever used scissors before.
  • I had a daughter who bought a class for her mom as a surprise gift. The mother walked in to the shop and when she found out what the class was about she said to her daughter “Who does that? I am not taking any damn tatting class. Why would you think I wanted to do that?” I (the instructor) was standing right there.

Let’s just say that I have learned to be very flexible and just a little over prepared. As Tim Gunn says, “Make it work!” I am basically ready for everything. So, I wanted to share a few thoughts about what goes in to that prep work; call this a teaching “behind the scenes” post.

Preparing to be flexible

For a while now I have been sending out pre-class surveys to students who are registered in my classes so that I can get a handle on who is in the class. This way I have a chance to adapt to the group I have and to make sure that everyone is really getting the class they thought they were getting and I can troubleshoot a few things in advance. I teach with technology; there is always troubleshooting to do.

For example, a venue I worked with recently really wanted me to teach an “advanced” Photoshop class. They assured me that all of their pool of potential students would already know how to use Photoshop well and they were sure that we could skip over the beginner stuff and go right into an intermediate/advanced class. So I put together a description and projects and so on, and after registrations were all in, I sent out my survey.

Yes, that is 0% of my “advanced” class that say they are experienced with Photoshop and about 4 students who have basically never used it at all. This isn’t the first time that has happened. Fortunately, I had a feeling that this was going to be the case and I was mostly prepared for that.

The importance of class descriptions

A lot of that preparation is spending a significant amount of time writing the class description. I know that I need it to be specific enough so students have a concrete idea of what they will be doing in class, but flexible enough that I can actually accomplish the projects with students who are at a different skill level. Nothing makes a class start to head for disaster more quickly than poorly matched expectations. Now that I know that my “advanced” class actually has very little experience with Photoshop, I can make sure I am introducing things at a level where everyone can have success, starting with the basics.

This was from a class that I took where the teacher actually labeled our stations with post it notes so she could keep track of our experience level. I was a beginner, so I was a “1”. I have my students rate themselves too.

I spent this morning writing new class proposals for something in 2018 and thinking a lot about the students I thought I would expect to see at that venue. I basically construct a “model student” in my head. For the proposals I was writing this morning and based on what I know about the venue, I was pretty confident that my students would be:

  • quilters and crafters (not making clothing)
  • retired or near retirement age, budget conscious
  • not very technical/computer focused
  • skilled and experienced sewists

I have taught at this venue before, so I feel like I have a pretty good model to go on. So when I wrote my class descriptions, I wrote them for that audience:

  • Classes focused on process not product. We will be designing fabric and learning design concepts, not making a bag or a tea towel. They know how to do that already so that project won’t get them excited.
  • Beginner level technical skills. Several of the techniques can be done in more sophisticated ways with Photoshop or Illustrator, but you can do the basic version in any graphics software. It’s about the concept not the tool you use to get there.
  • Using free/online design software. You can do them in Photoshop if you have it, but you can try it out without having to invest in a lot of software and equipment. Making it approachable so people are willing to try it.

As a teacher, the phrase “That was worth the whole price of the class right there.” is a huge high five for me. That means I exceeded expectations and that’s awesome. I took a silversmithing class once where the supply list was so full of technical jargon that I showed up for class with not quite the right supplies and ended up spending a lot of time (and $) making something I hated. The instructor assumed that I knew more than I did. Expectations can work both ways.

What do you think this class is about?

Another question I ask in my pre-class survey is “What would you like to get out of this class?” Sometimes people skip over this one, but when they answer, the answers are always super helpful. For the “teacher training” class I am teaching next week, most of the answers were about getting ideas and inspiration for high school students and projects to do in their classrooms, specifically for interior and apparel design. Which is exactly what you would expect from that audience and assures me that I am preparing the right things – less about personal designs and more about ways to incorporate this into lessons, projects and how to break it down into components you can teach to others. I can do that.

I have had overzealous copy editors edit my class descriptions in ways that unfortunately changed the student’s whole expectation of the class. I learned this the hard way in one of the first professional classes I taught at an art center venue. It was a purse making class that I thought was a beginner sewing class where you made your own simple paper pattern, but it suddenly evolved into a pattern drafting class for designing your own purse. Similar on the surface, but a few words can make all the difference. I ended up with a horribly mis-matched class of beginners who didn’t know how to use a sewing machine (which I was prepared for) and a few students who thought they were getting a pattern drafting class for custom purse making (which was far beyond the scope of what I was teaching). It was awkward for everyone. The beginners felt like they were dumb, the experienced students looked at the project samples and said “Is that all we are doing?” and I wanted to crawl under a table and die. The venue had written the description for me since I was a newbie. That was a valuable lesson. Most venues still don’t check back with me when something gets edited before it gets sent out, so this survey question is also a quick reality check for me to make sure we are all still on the same page.

So, I am curious, what’s the weirdest venue where you have taught or taken a class? How did you make it work? Can you beat my hotel room story?

Sunday & Seurat: Sailing the Seine

This is part of a series of “behind the scenes” posts about my Sunday & Seurat designs for the Guthrie Store. Click here to see all of the posts in this series or see a gallery of the collection.


Another detail I noticed in the Sunday on the Isle painting was the sailboats in the distance. Since Minnesota is nicknamed the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, I knew that a print with boats would probably be something people here would love.

I started this print by creating the water. I collected about 15 different patterned and colored papers, everything from newsprint to sheet music to scrapbooking paper. I laid them all out on my table and gave them all a wash of blue paint. I wanted to obscure some of the patterns a little bit, but I also wanted to give it a cohesive color palette. By giving everything a wash of the same blue, they suddenly all become variations on a theme, rather than 15 separate colors.

I tore the papers into long strips and started layering them together to look like waves. I deliberately tore them a little unevenly to get the “foam” of white paper showing on the tops of some. I glued this all together as a paper collage. My scanner can only scan a piece 9×12, so I needed to carefully adjust and mask the edges of that rectangle so that I could make a seamlessly repeating pattern that could fill any amount of fabric. There is no magic formula to making something like this appear seamless, just lots of time zoomed in and manipulating pixels one by one to disguise the edges of the tile. Totally tedious; totally worth it. Many hours later, I had made a seamless water pattern out of it, which I saved as is, because I reuse patterns like this all the time once I have the hard work done.

Next I created a cut paper illustration of the sailboats and scanned it. One of the things I loved about the sailboats in the painting was the reflection in the water. I thought that was such a lovely detail. So my illustration had a reflection as well.

I made several different sailboats and added those in a layer on top of the water. I was careful to place them on the waves so they looked like they were sailing along and not just plopped down. Finally, I added a flock of birds. I originally had made a set of water lilies as well (my favorite flower) to go in among the boats, but the scale just didn’t work out. If they were small enough to make sense with the sailboats, you couldn’t tell what they were. So those got scrapped.

You’ll notice that the color of my water and the color that it is on the finished fabric aren’t the same thing. When I looked at my finished design, I realized that it looked a little somber. Although the colors matched the painting pretty well, it didn’t have that summer sailing kind of feeling that I wanted. So I went back in and brightened up the water and shifted it to look a little more turquoise, a color that made me think more of sunshine on the water. I also tweaked the tiny flag at the top of the mast so there were pink and yellow flags just for a little sparkle of color.

The final layer, of course, was my Seurat-inspired pointillism texture added in layers. You can still see a tiny bit of the polkadots in some of the patterned papers, but I love the complexity that gives to the design. I love this one and I hope lots of you love it too.

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