Art-O-Mat Love

When I was teaching this week at the conference center in St Cloud, MN, I was delighted to run across an Art-O-Mat. I had read about them and my friend Cedar had sent me photos of one she saw on her travels. You may remember my love for tiny museums from previous posts.

What is an Art-O-Mat? A repurposed cigarette vending machine that now vends ART! How cool is that?

Each slot is now filled with boxes that each contain an original piece of art from an artist. This one had all kinds of media including paintings, photos, ceramics, zentangle, and wax seals. You get a little hint at what is inside the box by a 2 inch label by each pull knob.

I decided that I needed to get two Art-O-Mat boxes, so I picked a collage artist and one that was labeled porcelain buttons.

I opened the porcelain buttons first from Art by Rhonda. I am sad to say that it looks like Art by Rhonda no longer has an active website. But I love the porcelain piece that was in the box. A fish!

From Kathryn Coneway, I got a paper collage of trees. There is a tiny bit of information about this artist at the link, but I can’t figure out where she is located. (The website is lacking in some basic information.)

A couple of mysteries, for sure. I love that my two pieces of art color coordinate so beautifully: black, yellow and turquoise. A great color combination!

I love the concept and I ordered a prototype kit so I can think about applying to be an art-o-mat artist. How fun would that be?


Making Paper Mosaics: A video demo

At my last fabric design class, I chatted with my students about how I make paper mosaic designs. I like to design fabrics using original art like paper collage or drawings or paintings. They were very curious to see the originals that my fabrics had started out as, so I thought it would be fun to make a video demo to show the process from paper to fabric.


Here are a few other mosaic designs I have done. All are made from recycled magazines or other patterned papers.

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A weekend learning to design fabric with Spoonflower

These fantastic ladies spent the weekend with me learning to design fabric with Spoonflower using Adobe Illustrator. I made them work hard. Illustrator is not intuitive and it isn’t easy, so I admire them so much for their great attitudes the whole weekend long. These are the designs they created the very first day, inspired by Ed Emberley drawing books. How many of you have heard of Ed Emberley? He was my favorite artist when I was a kid and I don’t think anyone in my class had heard of him. So it was very fun to make that introduction.

If you want to learn more about the fabric design classes I teach, check out my online classes and master class pages.

Thank you Fiber Art Now

I was very honored to have been selected as one of Fiber Art Now magazine‘s inaugural Emerging Artist Awards. The awards were announced in the latest issue and I am joined by Andra Stanton, Bonnie Kuhr, Hanna Vogel and Xander Griffith.

I am excited to get back to work on the piece that I mentioned in my application. I have started preparing the materials and I should be able to get started putting the design together in a couple of weeks, not only making the art but trying to capture as much video/photo record as I can of the whole process. I am looking forward to it!



You win some, you lose some. Why feedback matters.

You might not know this, but I designed three sets of iMessage Stickers that are available in the Apple App Store. My husband is a software developer and when Apple introduced “Stickers” we thought it would be a fun way to collaborate on something. So he wrote the code and I made the art. I did a set of sewing themed stickers, a set of knitting themed stickers and a set of black cat stickers.

What are iMessage Stickers? Well, that’s part of my story. They are like big emoji but they are only available in iMessage on Apple devices. (Believe me we tried to figure out how to make them work for Android or in Facebook, but they just don’t all play nice.) But if you have an iPhone or an iPad, you can use them in messages. My mom and sisters and I send them back and forth all the time.

The problem is that Apple implemented them in kind of a dumb way. They are hard to find in the iMessage app and if someone doesn’t show you, I don’t think you’d even know they were there. And although when you go to the App store to purchase one, it looks exactly like a regular app, it doesn’t work the same way at all. Instead of installing on your phone with an icon like you expect it to, Stickers get installed inside iMessage. So you download it and it looks like nothing happened. And then you have to go in to some place in your phone settings and activate it before you can use it. It’s all doable, but you are never going to figure that out on your own. Much of technology is like this, sadly.

The other day, I was surfing around in the App Store looking for a sticker set with dinosaurs (I forget why) and I saw this:

That’s my Sticker set of sewing stickers showing up as #19 on the Top Charts for Sticker Sets. WHAT? I was so excited. Getting featured like that is huge! I took a screenshot and texted it to my husband.

It struck me as funny that is was that set because I thought “why is the sewing one in the top charts and not the knitting one? I thought the knitting one would be 10x more popular because I know soooo many more knitters”. So I dug in to the stats a little bit. And there’s where I found the issue.

Horrible Feedback.

That is horrible feedback. Look at all of those angry faces. My sewing stickers had a rating of 4+, but the knitting stickers were rated a 2. I wouldn’t download anything that had 2 stars.

But the catch is that the feedback actually had nothing to do with the quality of my stickers or the way they worked, it was all negative feedback from people who couldn’t figure out how to install them in the first place.There weren’t any reviews that said “Your art sucked.” or “Your stickers are dumb.” I can take that kind of feedback and work with it. But these reviews were not anything I can fix. I can’t make the Stickers install in a different way. I can’t make it so you don’t have to do that extra “activate” step. That whole part of the experience and everything they are frustrated with is something Apple designed and not me. And I know it’s confusing and there is nothing I can do. Sadly, I have a link to a help page that says “Did it install but you can’t see it anywhere? Here’s how to fix it.”, but none of these people clicked through that link before they left these reviews. (Some people do click through and ask for help and I am always super grateful for them. 99% of the time we can fix it with just an email.)

Feedback matters.

There were only about half a dozen negative reviews (all about how it didn’t install properly), but those six people made a huge impact on my product. And that is worth thinking about. The new algorithms with Facebook and Instagram are doing kind of the same thing. Their algorithms favor posts that are getting positive feedback as soon as they are posted (rich interaction like lengthier comments & shares) and demotes those that don’t. It is intensifying the effect in both directions. Likes get promoted and get more likes which get them more promoted, which gets more likes and so on. At the other end, if you don’t have any likes, then they just won’t show it to anyone. So no one ever sees it in order to like it. You get the idea.

When feedback is doing its job, that’s awesome. When I buy a can opener on Amazon, I want the one that is getting positive feedback. I don’t want the one that everyone says is junk. We can all agree on that. Honest feedback is truly helpful.

But the Instagram and Facebook algorithms don’t quite do that. And there isn’t anything I can do about that either. My husband’s Instagram algorithm is insane. It can’t figure out what to show him, so he will have 25 posts in a row from the same person, and he only sees the things I post about half the time. And if you follow me on IG, you probably only see half of what I post too. And not because you don’t like it or wouldn’t like it. But because you only check Instagram on your lunch hour and didn’t instantly comment on the thing I posted. So IG decided that you weren’t interested without you even being in the room. Talk about pressure.

Facebook is scolding me right now about my response rate for messages.

I don’t know what “the badge” is, but I am not getting it. Because I think 100% at 37 minutes is pretty darn excellent considering I have a life that doesn’t involve me being on Facebook 24/7. Ask me about the last time I had to contact the power company to help me with something. They definitely don’t have “the badge”. But that probably means that I get demoted somewhere in the algorithm.

I’ve had students tell me on class evaluations: “I thought your class was amazing, but I don’t believe in giving 5s so you get all 4s. But it was really great.” Not that I expect to be 5 stars to every person, but I’m not exactly sure what to do with that information. I am not sure that feedback is helpful to anyone.

Moral of the story? What’s the takeaway?

I’m not sure exactly. Maybe it’s to think about the feedback that you are giving. My mom was a teacher and one of her colleagues had a rule for students making comments that was something like: Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it helpful? Is it true? Is it kind?  I think those are pretty wise words.

Apple has a new mechanism for letting creators ask for comments to be reviewed and we are doing that and hoping that they will see that the comments are to do with their interface and not our sticker set. Maybe it will help it look more balanced.

Sisterhood of Knitters

It’s International Women’s Day (and my birthday) this week and in honor of that, Spoonflower’s Design Challenge was “Sisterhood Around the World”. I thought this one was really hard and I nearly skipped the week. I really struggled to come up with something that fit the theme and was interesting. I really like to make sure that my designs have a life that is beyond the theme of the challenge because I look at design challenges as a way to help build up my body of work. Having a deadline is great motivation and sometimes having a topic (like Kilim) or colors that I would never choose is a great creative challenge.

So I tried to think about “sisterhood” and I was just bored with the idea of a bunch of little girls in cultural costumes (which was the first thing that came to my mind.) I don’t like to draw people. I was tempted to do an abstract design to represent me and my two sisters and I thought about that for a while but it just wasn’t clicking. Then while in the car driving to a meeting, I had the idea of a sisterhood of knitters. (I absolutely get my best ideas while driving. Something about occupying the active part of your brain so the creative part can wander.)

I take knitting with me a lot when I am out in the world. I knit while waiting for meetings and at appointments. I knit during meetings sometimes. I knit in the evening after a stressful day. I meet friends for coffee and we knit together. I knit while waiting around for my husband’s band concerts to start. I make small projects like mittens and hats. I don’t like anything too complex but I do like beautiful yarn.

There is something about knitting in public that creates conversation. If I were to sit at all of these places and stare at my phone, no one would even make eye contact with me. But when I knit, it’s somehow like giving permission to interact. Someone will watch me knit and smile. Or sometimes they watch me knit and look at me like I am bonkers; it depends on the crowd. Someone will ask me what I am working on. Other knitters will ask me about the yarn or the stitch pattern. Little kids will stare and sometimes, if they are brave, will come over and feel how soft the yarn is. Someone within earshot will tell their friend that I am crocheting or will say “my mom does that”. At conferences, I have been the topic of a whole series of tweets: “Did u see that someone was sitting in that session and knitting?! She wasn’t even looking at it.” I had a delightful conversation with a guy at an airport once when I was making a pair of mittens with dpns. (If you’ve never seen someone working with dpns, it vaguely resembles wrestling a porcupine.) He’d seen little old ladies knitting sedately, but whatever I was doing with all of those spikes sticking out made it look pretty badass.

The best way to learn to knit (I think) is to have a friend show you, one-on-one. That’s how I learned. My first knitting lesson was with my friend Berit (a family friend) when I was about 11 years old. She told me that she was teaching me the Norwegian way to knit (continental) and that people might think it was odd, but it was much better than the American way. I didn’t understand what she meant until I was much older, but I thought it was something special. My first project was a tiny hoodie cardigan sweater for my tiny Steiff teddy bear, knit on size 3s or so with baby yarn. White with little rainbow tweed flecks. Then she taught me how to make cables. I didn’t know that I “shouldn’t be able to” do those things as a beginner, because no one told me it was hard.

I taught a beginning knitting class the last two weeks to some highschool students. Eight Somali girls who chattered through class half in English and half in Somali. I wish I had thought to ask them if there was a Somali word for knitting. One girl wanted to know why there were no boys in class and didn’t believe us when we said there were boys who knit, just maybe not as many of them as girls. I told her about the knitter that did a bunch of costume pieces for the Black Panther movie being a boy and although she was still skeptical, we had a great conversation about the costumes in that movie. That somehow made it cooler. By the end of class, everyone was making knit stitches. Some with needles, some with fingers. One of the girls asked at the end of class, “Can I say I am a knitter now?” Absolutely! She’s part of the sisterhood.

So my sisterhood design is knitters working side-by-side, celebrating that community of knitters. Their silhouettes have long hair and short hair, hijabs and ponytails. You might even see a certain Princess you recognize. There are straight needles, dpns and circulars. And lots of knitting.

The voting for this design challenge doesn’t open until tomorrow, but I was really excited about talking about this today. (If you want to give me a little present for my birthday, go vote for it tomorrow. That would be awesome.) Edited: Here is the link to vote. Open through March 13.

Are you a knitter? Has knitting in public ever been a fun conversation starter for you?

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