Y Is For… Yarn! – Of course!

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I love yarn, (which is probably obvious, since I wrote about the joys of a yarn stash on my main blog today, too).  But I do love the stuff – I adore digging my hands into it, squeezing it, feeling it reflect the heat of my hands back to me.  I relax when I feel yarn – it’s a very tactile sense of calm.  Sometimes, when I’m working on a new design project and don’t yet see the pattern in my mind, I will walk around the house holding a ball or skein of the yarn.  Doing that lets me meditate with it, commune with it, and let it speak to me.

I know that probably sounds a little wooly-bully (or, let’s face it, a little nuts), but it’s true.  Designing for me is a very tactile process.  I think it has to do with the fact that I don’t translate 2D to 3D in my head, so my design process is physical and not conceptual.  By holding the yarn, I literally “get a feel for it” and am able to see what kind of textile I want to create with it.  Is it light and airy?  Do I want to make something lacy?  Is it heavy and chunky, with a strong body?  Cables might be more the ticket.  This particular yarn in the picture is a Merino wool and alpaca blend with a little bit of silk I think, if memory serves.  It doesn’t have a whole lot of bounce to it, so it’s not very springy; but it’s very soft.  The shine that it has, which isn’t all that visible in this picture due to the lighting, says “sparkle” to me – and I plan to use beads in the lace.

What about you, Dear Reader?
Do you think in words, images, sensations, or something else?

X Is For… X-Stitch!

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Cross-stitch is one of the easiest needle arts to learn.  It’s just making little “x’s” all over the fabric, using different colors to create a design.  This particular one is from a book called Hand-Stitched Boxes by Meg Evans.  The box is remarkably easy to make, and I’ve done several designs, but this is the pattern that’s in the book and I’m sharing it here because it has cross-stitch motifs.  I made a miscalculation on the canvas, and my design is a little modified because of it, but that’s the beauty of cross-stitch – it’s very easy to modify it and come up with things that you like better.

One hint when working cross-stitch:  decide which direction your “X’s” face.  Either have all the bottom stitches going right and the top left, or vice-versa, but keep it consistent throughout the pattern.  This is how you get the characteristic sheen that’s one of the hallmarks of good cross-stitch.  Also, keep your stitches on the back as neat as possible and don’t use knots to secure the thread.  Just sew over the tails.

What about you, Dear Reader?
What would you put in a box like this?

W Is For… Weaving!

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Weaving is one of the oldest textile arts in the world. The most complicated looms, like the huge one featured in the movie Wanted, are the same in principle to the simple back looms used in the mountains of Peru for centuries.  The idea is you use something to put the warp under tension.  Shown above is my simple Cricket Loom, with the warp threaded and some of the weft worked.

The thing I find interesting about weaving is that it’s more complex, at least to my brain, than knitting.  I have to make peace with winding on the warp, and with the mechanics of the loom itself.  The process of actually weaving, meaning putting the shuttle back and forth, is relatively straightforward.  But, as my weaving teacher Natalie Boyett of the Chicago Weaving School pointed out, half of weaving is winding on the warp.  Accepting that, embracing it, helps one enjoy the process of weaving even more.

What about you, Dear Reader?
What unexpected thing has your crafting taught you?

V Is For… Vinegar!

VI love vinegar. I use it in salad with fruit instead of dressing; I splash it on vegetables when I steam them; and I use it as part of the seasoning when cooking chicken. I particularly like flavored vinegar.

Making flavored vinegars isn’t difficult.  You cook the vinegar with the additives, either before you let it steep or after, depending on whether it’s fruit or herbs.  Then you let it steep for a few weeks in a dark, cool place and voila, flavored vinegar.

I’ve got plans for a vinegar book that talks about how to do it, but until I write it, you can find some amazing vinegars at a shop in Grand Haven, Michigan, USA called Grand Haven Vinegar and Oil.  Their dark chocolate balsamic vinegar is worth sipping on its own and their fruit vinegars will make you want to find the nearest spinach merchant.  Lovely stuff, vinegar.

What about you, Dear Reader?
What’s your favorite condiment?

U Is For… Upholstery!

2015-04-24 Pic 1Yes, I know. It’s an ugly chair.  I, however, happen to like it.  It belonged to my great-grandfather and is in serious need of re-upholstering, but because of its construction that’s not inexpensive.  For one thing, the pegs that hold the armrest in place are broken and the glue holding them in place is congealed and hardened.  Never fear, I have the missing piece in a safe space.

What you can’t see is that when I inherited the chair, my cat at the time took a serious dislike to it – I can’t see why; what’s not to love about brown and yellow plaid? – and scratched the back left side to bits.  I finally got him to stop but the damage was done.

When we moved, my husband and partner both said, get rid of the Ugli Chair.  But I can’t.  I love it.  It wants to be loved, it wants to make people happy.  It wants a place in the home.  And it’s damnably comfortable.  And let’s face it – when you’re sitting IN the Ugli Chair, you can’t SEE the Ugli Chair anymore.  Problem solved, right?

And in the meantime, until it can be refinished into a less… baby shit brown and pancake sort of color scheme, we’re plotting to design a soft, brown, washable afghan that can be draped artfully over it so it at least looks intentional in the library and not like a “Dear God, what is that?”

What about you, Dear Reader?
What furniture do you have that you can’t bear to part with, even if it’s no longer the height of fashion?

S Is For… Soapmaking!

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Soap.  We all use it.   But do we really understand what it is?

Most, if not all, of the stuff we buy at the grocery store or fancy upscale shops isn’t soap, it’s detergent – or, if you’re lucky, it might just be glycerin, which is a part of the soapmaking process but still not actual soap.  Soap is made when you add lye to fat and it saponifies, the chemical reaction that results in soap.  Far from producing the harsh bars of yesteryear, today’s craft soapmakers can make a variety of fine products that nourish the skin instead of stripping it of its natural oils.

The bars above are a simple, basic soap that can then be grated down and mixed with more water, as well as other additives like essential oils, herbs, flowers, and fruits, to create French milled soap.  Made by “cold process,” they contain pork fat (lard), olive oil (pomace), coconut oil, and lye.  C’est fini.  That’s all.  The great thing about these bars is that if you have sensitive skin, as I do, it doesn’t irritate it (unless you have a specific allergy or intolerance for the ingredients themselves.

What about you, Dear Reader?
What kinds of body cleansers do you like?

 

R Is For… Rubbings!

RGrave rubbings is a hobby common in genealogy.  People interested in their family history sometimes make rubbings of their ancestors’ grave markers as a way of preserving it as art.  I don’t know where most of my ancestors are buried, so that’s not something I’ve been able to do with my genealogical research; however, that doesn’t mean it’s not something that is a satisfying way to spend an afternoon.

Some friends and I went to the memorial at Tippecanoe Battlefield, not far from Lafayette, Indiana.  Many of the graves had gorgeous stone carvings and we took a box of crayons specifically saved for this purpose.  We wandered the graveyard for about three hours, looking for designs and my friend’s ancestors.  It was sobering to know that so many people died there, but we came home with some beautiful reminders of our trip.  Sadly, when researching for this post, I couldn’t find the file where I stored them, so clearly I need to do some more filing.  But the memory of the day, and spending time with a friend who herself has now passed on, is bright in my mind.

I found an interesting article in Family Tree Magazine that details how to make grave rubbings, if you’re not familiar with the practice.  As I said, I keep a special box of crayons (one of the deluxe ones with all the colors, I might add) for the purpose.  It’s even got bold writing on the lid, “for rubbings only.”

What about you, Dear Reader?
Where might you go to make some rubbings?

Q Is For… Quilling!

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One art I’d like to try someday is quilling.  This is an art that uses small strips of paper, wound to various tightness, to create a three-dimensional art.  When I was a child, I remember seeing ones that were usually monochromatic, usually white.  I don’t know if that’s because it was in vogue at the time or if that particular area of California just had artists that liked working in plain colors; but when I did some research for my post, I found some amazing, inspiring images.  Take a look.

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I love how simple this star is, and how it cycles through the colors of the rainbow.

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I love peacocks!  This one is incredible – look at the level of detail!  The height of the pieces differs depending on whether it’s the branch or the bird, too.  Such complexity!

I found a detailed YouTube channel that has classes in quilling for free, here.  You can see all the different kinds of designs possible and maybe get inspired to try it yourself!

What about you, Dear Reader?
What art calls to you, that you haven’t tried yet?

O Is For… Ojos de Dios!

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Ojos de Dios is translated from the Spanish as, “Eyes of God.”  First worked by the coastal South American indigenous peoples the Huichol, they are a  combination between a prayer, hope, and protection.  They became popular in the States during the 1970’s during the resurgence of the Arts and Crafts revival.  As a Wiccan, I see them as a lovely way to intentionalize my craft and to make something tangible out of a wish.

This one was made from a continuous yarn and woven with differing weaves (which is why you can see the dowel in the center at different points on the diamond).  I bought the dowel at the hardware store, sanded it, and then painted a combination stain and varnish on it to darken it and preserve the wood.  Tip:  if you decide to do that, let the finished wood sit for at least a week so the fumes dissipate and any stickiness is gone.  It was pretty pungent to work on the next day.

What about you, Dear Reader?
For what would you make an ojo?  New job? Writing project? Love?

 

N Is For… Needlepoint!

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This is one of the earliest pieces I’ve worked in needlepoint.  It’s comparatively early in my stitching career, since I did it when I was sixteen to seventeen; it took me about eighteen months in total.  It was, at the time, my most ambitious piece.  Sadly, it was damaged by the recipient when it was removed from the frame and returned to me; however, the fine folks at North Shore Needleworks were able to help me start the repairs (which is why their tape is around the edges, stopping the canvas from unraveling).  It’s incredibly difficult to age-match colors, let me tell you; but North Shore helped me do so in a way that will look good in the final design.

This piece is characterized by long floats, where the yarn is brought several inches across the canvas.  This is to simulate the difference in texture between the water, the objects in the picture, and the sky.  Most of the stitching is just satin stitch, which made it a pretty easy piece and certainly something a beginner can work.  It was originally from a kit, though I no longer recall the company’s name that produced it.  I like it because it reminds me of Coyote Point near San Mateo (it’s actually in San Mateo County, though not the city itself).

What about you, Dear Reader?
What crafts did you do as a child that make you nostalgic?  Or, if you weren’t into crafting, what places did you visit?