12 December 2006

Pssst! Hey, Buddy, Wanna Puppet?

Although Catherine's blog isn't on my blogroll, I have read quite a few of her posts over the last year or so because of links from other parenting blogs that I read. Catherine's nephew has a form of MD which will eventually prove fatal. Kristen, from Motherhood Uncensored which **IS** on my blogroll, decided to put together an online auction to benefit MD research in honor of Catherine and her nephew. The bidding starts tomorrow and when I went this morning to look around, there didn't seem to be many toys. I decided to donate the puppet I finished after my last puppet class since Miss Sprout hasn't had a chance to become attached and name it Tony yet. The large pink tongue is usually a guaranteed hit with the kids.

If you have a little extra in your paypal account at this holiday season, please consider participating in this Chinese Auction style raffle auction. There are some great prizes. I'm thinking that I may even submit a bid or two on my own puppet with instructions that if my ticket wins, maybe it could be sent to Tanner.

You may have missed the auction (which raised just over $3,000.00 for MD research) but it's not too late to participate in the letter writing campaign for Tanner. Details are on Catherine's blog and on the Her Bad Auction website.

04 December 2006

Etsy Love

As I'm sure you already know, Etsy launched v2 in mid-November. The process was not without some problems. At least one of my images has never shown up. I love the new Etsy and have been busily listing stuff in the MysticSpiral Etsy Shop for the last two weeks.

For those who are interested, there are new Raku Spindle Whorl Pins listed. I've also listed a couple of sets of the scribble pins. Keep the set together and wear them as a group, or break them up and give them as stocking stuffers. I'm loving the scribble pins. I have a couple pinned to my knitted/felted/fulled purse to use as emergency safety pins as well. I've also listed a few of the Facing Forward pins (as I've decided to call the pins with the faces on them) and will be listing more over the next week.

I'm starting to get a little nervous about the holiday. But it is a happy kind of nervous. The best kind to be.

01 December 2006

I love the internet

Plant life pendant
Originally uploaded by flowergurl4eva.
I just finished watching a slide show of artisan ceramic beads in the Beads-of-Clay Flickr pool. (The image shown is just one of the amazing examples of handmade ceramic beads in the group pool.) I can already tell that the BoC Flickr group is going to be a source of much inspiration for me. (I hope that others find it to be as well.)

I spent a quiet evening watching television in my bedroom while spinning. (I got roughly 2 ounces of space dyed roving spun into a very pretty single. I have about 2 ounces more of this roving to spin up.) This is newsworthy because we've had a television in our bedroom for roughly 4 years that we've never plugged in. As Sprout gets older, her daddy increasingly interrupts my television viewing with statements like, "I don't think that this is noodle appropriate viewing material." When I decided to put the spinning wheel upstairs in the bedroom, I thought that I would mostly be using it while Sprout napped. Instead, it would appear that my spinning time will be spent watching crime dramas (think CSI or SVU) while my husband and daughter watch pre-school appropriate DVDs or play downstairs... Whatever gets the spinning done will work for me.

26 November 2006

9 Goddesses

Working on Thanksgiving

'Round here, a holiday often means the opportunity to get some extra time in the studio. I've been working like crazy on pins for the MysticSpiral Etsy Shop, shows, and a couple of trade deals that I'm working on. Yesterday and today, the focus was on Raku Spindle Whorl Pins. I did the torch work yesterday afternoon and spent the evening in front of the television wiring the mica disks onto the bronze pins. This afternoon, I finshed the pins by wiring the raku fired spindle whorl beads onto the fronts. I'm really pleased with the results.

I'll be working on Stoneware Spindle Whorl Pins in the next week or two and then it will be time to start the whole process over again.

One of the things that I love about making these pins is that I am intimately involved with every step of the process. From shaping the mud to make the beads to shaping the bronze rod in the flame of the torch, each pin has a lot of me in it. Each pin is a synthesis of my interests and my love for 3 media, clay, metal and fiber.

I feel such a personal attachment to each and every one of these pins. I had a picture in my head of what I wanted the pins to look like as I carved the clay to make the original spindle whorl beads. I love what I do and I feel so blessed that others, seeing my work, love it well enough to make it part of their lives or to give it as gifts to people that they care about. I could not continue to work the way that I do without the support of the people who take an interest in what I make.

After I finished the spindle whorl pins, I wandered back out to the studio to spend some more time at the torch. I had so much fun making my two face pins that I just couldn't wait to make more. I have the pins done for another half a dozen or so and will probably choose faces from my bead box and start wiring them together tomorrow during the day. It feels nice to be using the faces since I'm not sure when I'll have the time, patience, and energy for the dolls again. Between studio work and puppets, I'm feeling a little like I'm neglecting the Sprout. Fortunately, she seems to enjoy the results of my labors.

25 November 2006

New Goodies

Face First

I've been reading the One Hour Craft blog for quite some time and decided to take some time this morning to respond to the One Hour Craft Challenge. I've had these faces in my bead box since before I made Oya and Innna.

I also got some studio time in yesterday and got new spindle whorl pins made and some new stuff listed in the MysticSpiral Etsy shop. I finally got around to listing some of the scribble pins in the shop and posted shawl pins. I have 4 more scanned and ready to post sometime in the next few days.

I had so much fun making the mask pins that I think I'll probably be making quite a few more of them in the next couple of weeks as well.

My next show is an indie craft faire held at a local night club. I'm not sure what to expect from the show but it should be a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

23 November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving 2006

It's been a crazy couple of weeks and I've been offline as much as possible. I have new pins to upload to the MysticSpiral Studio Etsy Shop and a couple of wonderful swaps in the works that I've not forgotten. I've just been overwhelmed trying to get ready for holiday shows and puppet classes. (Speaking of which, the first puppet class was such a hit that I have one scheduled next week and another the week after... If you're in the Dayton area, and would like to get in on the puppet play, you can contact Arlene Graham's Fiberworks for information about the classes.)

I hope all of my US readers have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. (For those outside the US, the annual food orgy is a big deal around here...) I'm looking forward to a wonderful holiday meal with Sprout and all of her grandparents and other loved ones.

16 October 2006

Just Playing Around

For much of the last month, I've spent most of my spare time making puppets for Sprout using recycled wool sweaters. Once the basic puppet is stitched, I needle felt features onto the puppets to finish them. Ms. Sprout now has quite the growing collection.

I've left several of the puppets at my local fiber shop so that the owner could show them off to her needle felting customers when they come in. To make a long story short, interest in the puppets has been such that I will be teaching a puppet making class at the shop in mid-November. I'm also researching the notion of putting several of the puppets into my Etsy shop. I'm having so much fun making them and Sprout just loves them. She carries on complete conversations with them and gives them hugs and kisses. I love the needle felted eyes because it is so wonderful to have a puppet with no plastic parts. Because the eyes and noses are felted on with a felting needle, they're more difficult to pull free than even the "childproof" eyes recommended for young children.

I'm never quite sure what a puppet is going to be until I've stitched the muzzle shut and played with it for a minute or two. Once I know what kind of animal the puppet wants to be, then I can cut ears, which serve to underscore the identity of the animal. With the ears cut out, I can stitch them into shape and pin them onto the puppet to try to capture the personality.

With the ears stitched on, then it's just a matter of selecting the wool for their eyes and felting on the finishing details. My favorites, so far, are the dogs. There is so much variety available. Whether the sweater that I'm working with is brown, purple, or red, if I can get the ears right, and the muzzle shaped the way that I want it, Sprout has a puppy to play with that doesn't need to be walked or fed.

04 October 2006

Birthday Update

My frantic search for spinable fibers in the deapths of my needle felting box yeilded a small section of Arlene's space dyed roving, precicely one ounce. I've been afraid to touch the handpainted roving I bought on Etsy until I was sure what I wanted to do with it. I figured that a lace weight, 2-ply yarn would be ideal but I'm still not sure whether I want to ply it back on itself or if I want to ply it with a solid contrast single.

In either event, I knew that I wanted the final result to be somewhere in the 18 wpi range. The space dyed roving from my needle felting stash proved to be the perfect practice medium. Based on a little trial and error, it drafted very similarly to the handpainted roving. So, I pulled the space dyed roving apart , figured out how I wanted the color repetitions to work for me, and began spinning onto two separate bobbins.

When I plyed the two bobbins, I had succeeded in spinning the two sections of the roving to within 6 inches of each other. (I love it when a plan comes together...) The result, shown above, is approx. 105 yards of 2-ply yarn. I wrapped the yarn 18 times around a size 10 knitting needle and it measured just a hair under an inch.

I'm actually really pleased with the results. All in all, I feel like it was a really great exercise and an excellent use of some fiber that I bought to add to the felting stash with no clue how I wanted to use it.

02 October 2006

What can I do with...

I just finished plying approximately 183.75 yards (3.4 ounces) of handspun yarn. It started as a beautiful brushed sliver with blue, purple, green and fushia. I'm still trying to get the tensioning right on the wheel so my singles were pretty tightly spun. A tight twist in the opposite direction during the plying actually resulted in a pretty balanced yarn. I'm guestimating (I lifted about an inch worth of fibers from the skein and measured/counted it...) it at roughly 17wpi which would make it a fingering weight yarn. It may, however, bloom some when I soak it in hot water to set the twist so I'll probably re-measure the length and actually wrap some along a pencil or dowel to get a more accurate wpi measurement.

My friend H. is coming into town on Friday so I can pick her brain for ideas about what to make when I see her this weekend. (Consider yourself warned, H.)

It should be an interesting weekend. I'm having a birthday party on Saturday which I seem to have gone out of my way to sabotage. I don't remember when the last time I had a birthday party was. It's easy for me to blame K. for my reluctance to have parties because he's not the most social creature. The truth is, however, that if I wanted to have parties he'd indulge me in that as he does in almost every other way. (He won't let me start smoking again, but really who could blame him and I guess that I'd rather spend the money on spinnable fibers since I really only miss it when I want something to do with my hands.) I don't have parties because I become paralyzed by anxiety at the thought of preparing for a party and no one showing up. On some deep level I'm absolutely certain that no one really likes me or wants to spend time with me. Rather than face the rejection, I don't have parties, or (as I did this time around) I do something stupid to sabotage them like procrastinating on the invitations until everyone has already made other plans.
I'm sick... I need help... Maybe I should find something to do with my hands other than letting them loose on a keyboard to dump the unfiltered contents of my brain into my blog.

What's distressing me at the moment is that my spinning options right now are pretty thin... I didn't think to grab the fiber that I bought from Arlene after my drop spinning lessons so I can't spin that. Of the fiber I bought at Wool Gathering, I've spun everything but the natural black corriedale that I still need to wash the chocolate milk out of. (My beloved put the bag containing the roving on the floor under the car seat. Somehow - we won't point fingers or anything - a bottle of chocolate milk ended up being dropped into it nipple pointing down...) the other options are some beautiful handpainted roving that I bought on Etsy and recieved last week or a fiber sampler that I listed in my Etsy shop and now am really wishing that I had kept it for myself so that I could play with it...

For now, I think that I'll try to distract myself by needle felting features onto a hand puppet that I need to get out in the mail. Who knows, maybe I'll find something spinnable in my needle felting fiber case. I'm afraid that I may have a bit of a problem here... I just love the rhythm of spinning.

01 October 2006

BLOGTIPPING: October 2006

Given my current fiber obsession, I figured I'd focus my October blogtipping post on a handspinner. If you're not familiar with PippiKneeSocks.com I'd strongly recommend a visit.

I love the color sense represented by this site and the accompanying blog. The clean lines of the site combined with the dusky purple and green color scheme really serve as a soothing backdrop and manage somehow not to clash with even the most exuberant yarns posted to the site or the blog.

The availablity of tags for the blog posts makes it so much easier to find posts on the specific topics that I'm interested in at any given moment. I would love to invest the time and energy to read the entire back archive of the blogs that I stumble across either through posts in forums or through random web searches. Unfortunately, I don't have time to read and follow the forums I'm subscribed to and can't remember when I last managed to read a book so it's nice to be able to read selected highlights from the archives on topics that I'm particularly interested in of a moment. That ability keeps me coming back to the blog and encourages me to hit the subscribe with bloglines button on my tool bar. I wish every blog had tags... Which reminds me, I need to get my own tagging system back online. I'm in the midst of yet another computer migration and haven't made a point yet of pestering tech support for assistance in that area.

I love the eye candy. Pippi takes beautiful pictures and spins beautifully. The combination is inspiring to a novice spinner who does neither very well.

Which brings me to the tip portion of my blogtipping post... I'd love to see a photography tutorial for those interested in photographing their handspun. Whether the pictures are intended for use on a blog, ebay, or etsy, there are a lot of bad pictures of good yarn out there and I think Pippi may be just the person to change that.

Other sites that I'm looking enjoying (in part because of the usual acquisative frenzy of consumerist lust that comes with trying to answer the question "What do you want for your birthday?") right now are:

KnitPicks.com both their needle collection and some of their yarns. (They have an amazing collection of undyed yarns... Just what I need, another fibery obsession...)

Brainsbarn Custom Wooden Crochet Hooks are absolutely beautiful. Sometimes, beautiful tools make the work more enjoyable. I have some stunning handmade pottery tools that are a pleasure to use. I can only imagine how much one of these beauties would enhance the experience of creating crochet lace.

And, on that note, I think that I need to turn off the computer and spend some quality time with my baby and her daddy. They really are what's important in my life and I wouldn't want to get too carried away with my materialist day dreams.

21 September 2006

My kingdom for a niddy noddy

It's hard to describe how rewarding it feels to have made my own yarn on my spinning wheel. The fiber is CVM (California Varigated Mutant) roving that I picked up at Wool Gathering. I had about 4 ounces to play with and absolutely loved spinning it up. I'm still getting the hang of adjusting the tension so that it winds onto the bobbin. And, speaking of the bobbins, I didn't do very well at getting the amounts on the two bobbins equal. I haven't had much luck with Andean Plying and the Handy Plying method from KnittySpin is not going so well for me yet either. Since there's not much left on the bobbin, I'm debating either plying it with thread and using it as an accent somehow or using it as an opportunity to learn how to handle singles. It's all about the learning experience.

And, speaking of learning experiences... I don't, yet, own a niddy noddy. This invaluable piece of spinning equipment enables you to wind your finished yarn off the bobbin and turn it into a skein. I have a very limited number of bobbins and/or drop spindles (although I'm making myself more of the drop spindles to play with so that won't be as much of a problem) so the products of my spinning efforts must go somewhere. Although the quality of the image above leaves much to be desired, the yarn is obviously in the form of a skein. Obviously, I've come up with a solution. In the spirit of sharing, I thought that I'd post my (temporary) solution here in hopes that it will help someone else... If you combine a CD drop spindle and my improvised solution to the niddy noddy problem, it is actually possible to begin spinning for almost no capital investment beyond the fiber itself.

Looking at the image above, you see a rectangle. This rectangle is intended to represent a hardcover book, although any rigid, rectangular object will work. (I just happen to always have a book at hand, and there was one there when I needed it so that I could unwind my yarn and free up my drop spindle for the next project.) The illustration should help, the rectangle is supposed to be translucent so that you can see how the yarn wraps around the back as well as the bold pink lines that show how it wraps on the front. The pointing fingers show the path of the yarn around the front of corner A, diagonally across the back to emerge and go around the front of corner B. The yarn then goes around the back of corner C and diagonally across the front of the book and around the back of corner D. This should bring you to where you started, in the middle of the short side of the book, to wrap around the front of corner A and repeat that path until you're out of yarn. It is a kind of elaborate figure-8 which allows you to wind the yarn around, and around, and around the book. Once you've finished, you can usually slide the yarn off one corner without too much difficulty.

20 September 2006

Taking the long way

As a student in art history, I developed an interest in artifacts from Neolithic and bronze age civilizations. That interest is a large part of the reason that I started making ceramic beads and small vessels. Most of what we know about these ancient civilizations is based on the items (most showing exquisite workmanship considering the primitive tools available to them) found amongst burial sites. Some of the most common artifacts are spindle whorls. The spindles themselves, the shafts attached to the whorl around which the fibers were wrapped, were generally made of wood and have long since disappeared. The whorls, however, were often made of clay, stone, bone, or other materials. Many were carved with elaborate decoration. A favorite spindle was a treasured possession.

I'm not sure when I realized what these spindle whorls signified. If recorded history is any indication, spinning was generally women's work. Every thread in every garment was spun in more or less the same way and passed through the fingers of a woman before being wound onto a spindle. Textiles were precious and were, almost exclusively, the domain of women. As such, spindle whorls were vitally important.

Soon after I came to these realizations, I decided that I wanted to learn to spin. I began making beads intended to serve as spindle whorls and even tried (unsuccessfully) to teach myself to spin. On some level, I guess that I believed that learning to spin would connect me with all of those women throughout history who spun during otherwise idle moments to produce the threads that clothed their families.

My own work in textiles has been sporadic at best. I constructed a backstrap loom and learned to weave as part of an art education class that I took in college. I learned to crochet when I was young and have picked up the hook and put it back down many times over the course of my life. I learned to knit in a DoDDS elementary school in 1976 long enough to knit a small acrylic flag for a school project. (The stars on the flag were not knit. They were actually made with gummed foil stars that were glued to the blue field with the foil side facing down.) I promptly forgot whatever knitting I'd learned and didn't try again until about two months ago.

About a week after purchasing my first set of knitting needles and taking a knitting class taught by a friend of mine, I asked the owner of my favorite fiber store if she would be willing to teach me the fine art of spinning on a drop spindle. I'm pretty sure that my life will never be the same. I've been spinning for almost two months now. I have a beautiful spinning wheel which offered me the opportunity to learn about the parts, mechanics, and intricate workings of the wheel before I'd even had a chance to spin my first yarn. (A design flaw in the original footman resulted in a break, either while I was transporting it or at some point before it came home with me... The footman had previously broken in the same place and had been repaired. It was now time to replace it which became an unexpected opportunity to re-design the footman.)

Between spinning and knitting, my interest in fiber and the textile arts has gone from a mild curiosity and occasional hobby to an overwhelming obsession. Since those interests were what motivated me to start making the shawl pins again (combined with the self-doubt that grew from an interpersonal conflict that I've already wasted too much time re-hashing here) it seemed only natural for me to renew my acquaintance with spindle whorl motifs and begin to produce focal beads based on them.

I've already uploaded a couple of my new spindle whorl shawl pins to my Etsy Shop. I'll be uploading more as time permits. (Life with toddler has a way of impressing upon you the things that you **MUST** do vs. the things that you'd like to do.) The process of making them is actually a bit of a departure for me. After carving the spindle whorl beads, I made press molds of them. I've made press molds in the past with varying degrees of success but don't always enjoy using them because I like the intimate connection with each piece that I make. Since one of my goals for my shawl pins has been to keep them as affordable as possible, I wanted to press mold the spindle whorls to reduce the labor and keep the cost down. I used a simplified variation of the technique used by Melanie at Earthenwood Studio. Once the individual beads have been press molded, I refine the carving a bit to clean up the lines and ensure that they don't have a "stamped out" appearance. The result is that each of the beads has its own character and individual feel to it from being hand-worked but I'm not investing several hours in each of them. It feels like a good compromise.

IMAGE SOURCE: Woman, possibly Bedouin, holding spindle, standing in road [Stereo glass plate taken between 1898 and 1946]Taken either by the American Colony Photo Department or its successor the Matson Photo Service. Gift to the Library of Congress from the G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection

15 September 2006

Whiplash: Needle Felt Embellished Hat Entry

whipupThis is my first time actually trying to enter Whiplash. I'm not sure if which ring of the competition to throw it into. It's also my first attempt at a needle felting tutorial. The first step, of course, was to obtain a hat. This one was a $1 find at my local thrift shop. The hat was in mostly good condition but had a minor stain and a couple of small holes, presumably from someone attaching a pin to decorate the hat. For my purposes, none of those defects really mattered. (Unfortunately, I neglected to take any pictures of the hat before I started embellishing.)

After figuring out what motif I wanted to use to decorate my thriftshop find, I located the defects on the hat that I wanted to hide. I sketched my design onto the hat using chalk, placing the eyes of the peacock feathers over the holes that I wanted to felt over. I selected colors of corriedale roving needed to complete my design and began filling in the eyes of the feathers as though coloring a paint by number. I found that the chalk outlines disappeared rather quickly once I started the actual felting process. That didn't really matter much, however, because the lines were only intended as a guide for placement of the eyes and the rest of the feather was built more or less free-form around the eyes.

Once the eyes were finished, I decided that the hat needed a bit more glitz. for the remainder of the feathers, angelina fibers were carded into the roving to add sparkle to the finished project. This picture shows the hat with the blended rolags of the two brownish tones that I selected for the tops of the feathers. In the foreground you can see the clover multi-needle punch and a single needle that I used to attach the fiber to the hat. For tacking fibers in place, I generally keep one or two felting needles in each size with a self-adhesive label wrapped around the top. On this lable, I can write the size and shape of the needle so that I can tell at a glance which needle I'm reaching for. Many manufacturers color code their felting needles, but I can never seem to remember which color corresponds to which size/shape.

I also selected several colors from the eye of the feather and carded them together with the angelina fibers for the "fronds" of the feathers. I hoped that by blending the colors, I would be able to mimic the irridescence of the play of colors on the feathers. To make the fronds, I started by pulling out thin tufts of the blended fiber and rolling it between my hands to make a thin snake. I then arranged those snakes into the pattern that I wanted. After some experimentation, I also found that I could spin (I needed the practice drafting on my spinning wheel) a thick/thin single which I could then pull apart in the lengths that I wanted. Since my spinning is still a bit rough, the overtwisted lengths of fiber kinked back on themselves in a way that I found pleasing and felt contributed to the overall design.

For those not familiar with needle felt embellishment, you begin by arranging the fibers onto the base fabric. It's a little like painting with the fiber. Once you're pleased with the arrangement of your colored fibers, you tack them into place with a single needle. A felting needle is very sharp and usually has either a triangular or "star" shaped cross-section. This cross section creates "blades" on the needle which have tiny barbs arranged along their length. The barbs grab the fiber and push them through the base fabric. To use the needles, you support your base fabric on a block of foam and push the needle through the fiber and base fabric into the foam pushing the loose fibers through at the same time. For this hat, I found that a "Nerf" football followed the contour of the crown of the hat better than the block foam that I had been using and I was able to work much more effectively without jabbing myself in the fingers with the needle as often as I had done with the square block.

From this point, the entire process can be done either with the single needle, or with a variety of multi-needle punches. The punches certainly make the process go much more quickly.

My current favorite punch is the clover multi-needle punch. It holds 5 needles and has a plastic guard which locks when the punch is not in use. The guard also protects your fingers so that you don't perforate them while you work. Once the fibers have been tacked down, the punch makes the actual work of securing the fiber to the base fabric go much, much more quickly.

12 September 2006

An' The Wheel Goes 'Round

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'd recently learned to spin on a drop spindle. What I didn't mention was that I was also the recipient of a beautiful Country Craftsman spinning wheel. The wheel, she hasn't told me her name yet, came to me with a broken footman. After looking closely at the point of failure on the original part, I realized that it had broken at least once before in the same location and had been repaired.

The first thing that I did was to research Country Craftsman wheels in an effort to find a stock replacement. What I found was that these wheels were made by hand by a woodworker in Massachusetts for something like 25 years before he retired a couple of years ago. Needless to say, replacement parts are not exactly growing on trees.

In retrospect, I find that I'm actually glad that I wasn't able to get a stock replacement. I quickly decided that what I needed to do was to find someone to re-make the footman. I took measurements from the original, studied how it fit onto the wheel and how it worked, and took matters into my own hands. I created an Alchemy request on Etsy.

If you're not familiar with Etsy Alchemy, you're not alone. It is a system set up by the wizards at Etsy to connect buyers with artisans/craftspeople who can fulfil their makery wishes. It's also a little confusing. First, the buyer posts an alchemy request saying what they want. They include pictures or links to help clarify their needs. Then one or more Etsy artists bid to fill the request, supplying their own pictures or other information. Then the buyer chooses a bid (or several bids) and from there the commissioned work is completed, paid for, and feedback is left. It is a wonderous and magical process.

In the case of my footman, I got one bid from a woodworker in Canada who I'd corresponded with earlier this year about custom pottery tools. Barry is a great guy and the two of us exchanged quite a few messages about measurements and tweeks to the design of the original footman. In the end, he recommended a footman made of 2 layers of maple laminated together with metal plates on either side of the keyhole opening where the footman attaches to the flywheel. We changed the dimensions of the footman, as well, widening it so that the holes do not come so close to the edges as to weaken the structure of the finished part.

My new footman arrived from Canada in Saturday's mail. In the last few days, have admired it, fondled it, shown it off to my spinning mentor, and finally, attached it to my spinning wheel where it will live until the end of time. With the new footman in place, I took the wheel for a real test drive. I spun up 1/2 ounce of leaf green corriedale wool that I had purchased for a needle felting project. My thought, when I started spinning it, was that I would pull it off the bobbin and allow it to relax so that I could use it as vines for my planned needle felted embellishment. Now that it's spun, however, I can't decide whether to go with the original plan, or to ply it back on itself and save it as a momento of my first real yarn spun on my very own spinning wheel. For now, I'll leave it on the bobbin where I can admire it while I work on glazing beads for this weekend.

Expect some fun fiber posts over the next week or so... A tutorial, a long overdue explanation of my spinning fascination, more images of the large wavy motif in progress, and maybe even some yarn, assuming that I get my clay work done. Wish me luck finding the time that I'll need over the next three days.

Image: [Irish Spinner and Spinning Wheel. Co. Galway, Ireland] Found via Library of Congress online collection. REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-DIG-ppmsc-09892 (digital file from original) No known restrictions on publication. photomechanical print : photochrome, color. [between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900].

08 September 2006

More Studio Stuff

I spent some time today listing new pins in my Etsy shop. Tonight I'm bisque firing the stuff that I made to replace the items that I lost in last week's explosive firing. (I should try to take a picture of the debris inside the kiln before I clean it up but I doubt that I'll bother.) I'm really very excited about the pieces that I'm working on. I'm practicing my carving skills and making press molds which will keep the finished pieces as affordable as possible.

I'm still working on the needle felted project that I posted about yesterday. In addition, I'm about to start a needle felted hat. I found a beautiful wool hat for $1.00 at a thrift shop. I'm going to embellish it with needle felting and take photos at each stage of the process. I'm thinking that it will work up into a fun tutorial. If I get my act together, I may be able to have it finished in time for the Whiplash deadline since the September theme is Hats.

My other big project right now is that I want to re-write my artists' statement. It's probably because of my recent obsession with fiberarts but I've got all of these philosophical points running around in my head about "Women's Work" and the whole Art vs. Craft debate and what gets called "craft" and the value placed on crafts as opposed to "Art"...

I'm sure that reading statements from clothing designers, weavers, and other textile artists talking about their struggles to have their work accepted into galleries and validated by the "establishment" has influenced my thinking about all of this. It's just interesting to me that since I've decided to turn my attention more toward incorporating my beads into finished objects that compliment my interest in fibers and textiles, I've acquired a broader perspective with which to view the Art v. Craft groupthink.

However, if I find myself too tempted to indulge in pointless woolgathering, I just remind myself that I have a show to prepare for next weekend, and beads/pins to make.

07 September 2006

Catching up on Studio Stuff

The image at left is of a needle felting project that I'm currently working on. This is actually very early in the project. After choosing the colors for the piece, I spun a thick/thin single on a drop spindle and then pulled it off into mini hanks. I've drawn the motif that I want to felt onto my base fabric in chalk. With the spun single, I'm tracing the outlines of the motif onto the fabric and tacking it down. I start with a single needle to tack the fiber in place. Once I've got it laid out in a section, I switch to the clover multi-needle punch. (Link is to a tutorial from Betz White which features this wonderful tool...) Once the section is well secured with the clover tool, I then take it to the needle felting machine which gives the whole piece a much better work out than I could by hand. The one thing that I'm learning from working on larger projects is that if I'm going to do larger projects (like the Ruana, embellished clothing, shawls, wraps, etc) I need bigger guns...

I'll be posting more images of this as I get closer to completion. I'm looking forward to talking about the inspiration for the project and the source of the motif. But it will just have to wait a little while. I've got a lot going on in the studio right now, and I'm trying to get ready for my first fiber festival. ***Sigh***

I have several blog entries that I've written and saved as drafts over the last few weeks. Most of them are about depression and therapy and will probably never see the light of day. It's not that I'm particularly depressed at the moment, I'm in about the same place that I've been for the last few months. Therapy seems to be working out well for me. I still haven't decided whether I'm ready to try a higher dose of my medication yet. I'm just not sure if the problem is the dose or the medication and I don't feel like I know how that determination will be made. I have a vague fear of gradually climbing doses until I experience adverse side effects and then have to start the whole process again with a new drug. (I suppose that this is something that I should talk to my psychiatrist and/or therapist about... how odd that because of modern American insurance these are two different people...)

My therapist has given me a homework assignment. I have been instructed to get to work, and that's just what I'm trying to do. Part of it is going out to the studio every day to get something done whether I get my hands dirty or not. I haven't quite succeeded in getting out there EVERY day, but in the last 2 weeks I've only missed 3 days, so that's progress.

I did get a little caught up in the idea of having results to show for my efforts and loaded a kiln full of bisque that I ***KNEW*** wasn't dry. I thought that I was being so clever by setting the kiln on its lowest setting for an extended soak. The problem is that even on its lowest setting, my little kiln gets hot, Hot, HOT!!! The moisture in the clay turned to steam before escaping the pieces and the pressure of all of that expanding water created quite a mess. This is the real cause of explosions in the kiln... Air bubbles don't cause them, it's the moisture trapped in those air bubbles that is the real culprit. I'll have to vacum shards out of the element coils before I can fire any of the stuff that I've made since the explosions. (yes, plural, I lost several items because I was in such an all fired hurry...)

Blogtipping: Mixed Plate

Welcome to the first Blogtipping post here at "the Spiral"... I found out about Mixed Plate, a new blog that aspires "To share some of the craziness that pops into my head and to present the work of talented artists and designers that I think you should know about", from a post on a women's business forum that I read.

1.) Mixed Plate is a mixed bag, part Design*Sponge, part Modish, all through the filter of indie designer Liana of On a Friday. I like her voice. (It is similar enough to the voice that makes Daily Candy so much fun to read without trying too hard. It's a difficult trap to avoid.) I also like that I can see some of the same aesthetic sensiblities guiding her choices for Mixed Plate that I can see in the work that she produces for her business.

2.) I love the conversational tone of the blog, it's almost conspiratorial. It's like the conversations that I imagine I would have in the break room if I got a real 9-5 job. "I saw the cutest Tee Shirt the other day while I was browsing through Bust and I just couldn't help thinking of you." "Aren't these earrings the cutest!?! I would have bought them anyway but with the coupon code from their business card in the Sampler, I just couldn't pass them up."

3.) The crisp clean layout of the blog is a perfect backdrop for the gorgeous goodies served up in the posts. With so many images and so many amazing designs, it would be easy for Mixed Plate to look cluttered and busy. The cool colors and minimalist design really showcase the content of the blog rather than competing for attention.

As for the "Tip" part of the whole blogtipping thing, I'd like to suggest that, in addition to the category tags that you already have in place, perhaps you could add price category tags... As the archive grows (it's hard to believe that this blog is so new) and the holiday season approaches, I can see myself pouring through the archives looking for gift ideas. Those random gift partner price caps can be quite intimidating...

On a parting note, it never ceases to amaze me that with all of the design blogs that I'm reading (my current favorite, BTW, is Print&Pattern which really feeds my obsession with repeated motifs and decorative pattern...) I seldom see the same things repeated. It is almost too much inspiration for one little brain to process.

14 August 2006

Spinning out of control

I've not really had much to say lately, but that's really no excuse for neglecting the blog the way that I have. I believe that I mentioned in an earlier post that I was seeing a therapist. I guess that I've been investing a lot of energy in that process and haven't had much left to say here at the end of the day. I'll try to work on that.

I haven't been completely idle. In the last month I've learned to knit and completed 3 knitting projects. (a multi-directional scarf, a felted bag made by modifying the scarf pattern, and a mobius scarf using the mobius cast-on from Cat Bordhi's book Magickal Knits.) I also learned to spin. The image on this post is my first substantial quantity of yarn made with a beautiful roving that I spun on a drop spindle and then plied with black crochet cotton because I wanted as much length to work with as possible. I'm thinking that I may use it to make a wrap of some sort. I have lots to talk about on the spinning front but I need to close this entry. Hopefully I'll have some time in the next couple of days to post more and will be able to get a better picture of my handspun yarn.

09 July 2006

Stars and Stripes Forever

I've been thinking a lot about my last post. The 4th of July always turns my thoughts toward patriotisim and nationalism and the symbolism of the flag. Patriotism was a cornerstone of my upbringing. Nationalism, not so much. I got to see more of the world as a child than most people see in a lifetime and those opportunities led to more of a feeling of universalism than of nationalistic pride. The differences between "us" and "others" are a product of culture, not nationality and culture is deserving of respect.

Actually, I have to say that summer, starting with Memorial Day (which is coincidentally when I celebrate my wedding anniversary), including Flag Day (which inspires all manner of political posturing amongst congressional representatives trying to buy political cache with proposed legislation to protect American values in the form of flag burning amendments, etc), and carrying through to Labor Day seems choreographed to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever...

I'm hyper-aware at this time of year of the faded bumper stickers and tattered flags being so negligently displayed on ill-maintained trucks and bustling businesses. I was raised to believe that the flag stood for something, that it should be displayed with pride, and that its care should be respectful and ritualized. A flag that drags the ground should be destroyed, as should one that has been soiled or torn.

Under ideal circumstances, the flag is a symbol, of the values we claim as a nation, of our history, our future, our dreams and accomplishments. At other times, the flag is a point of contrast used to highlight our failures, our greed, our imperialism, and our sometimes overwhelming arrogance.

This concept of flag as symbolic vocabulary is why it has sometimes been a popular motif in both folk art and fine art... Whether you're talking about the work of Jasper Johns (like the image at left) or more politically vocal pieces like those of Faith Ringgold, an image of the flag in art jump starts the dialogue between artist and viewer by providing some common vocabulary.

In the same way that the Military Brats documentary explores the contrast between the lifestyle and restrictions of base life and the ideals that the military exists to protect, I am torn between the flag as a powerful metaphor with symbolic significance and my innate respect for that symbol, the values it represents, and the importance of the very ideals to which my childhood served as ambassador. I am very upset with certain aspects of our current administration's foreign policy, and yet I cannot allow myself to use the imagery of the flag as the vocabulary of my protest. Nor am I comfortable trivializing the flag and its symbolism by incorporating it, or its elements, in works of negligible significance.

Thank you to Serena Fenton of Layers of Meaning for a thought provoking post.

First image: "Verona, New Jersey. Sewing stripes on an American flag at the Annin Flag Company"1943 Mar. Collins, Marjory, 1912-1985, photographer. Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

28 June 2006

Being a Brat

Have you ever had an experience that was like having a flashlight shone into a forgotten corner of your life? It's not like looking into a closet or a room that's been closed off. Instead, this area of your life is just a small, unexplored and under-utilized space that has accumulated dust, clutter and easy-to-ignore debris.

My sister and her family are currently living in Geilenkirchen, Germany which just happens to be about 5 minutes away from the place where my family lived for 4 years when I was an adolescent. Last week, she visited the school that I attended (actually we both went to school there) from 8th grade through the end of my junior year of high school. She was hoping that there might be a chance that her daughter could go there as well.

S's visit to our old school has inspired a great deal of nostalgia, for both of us. Today she referred me to the website for a documentary on the lives of military brats. What's funny is that I don't really think much about being a military brat. When I came back to the US for my senior year of high school, I quickly learned that no one wanted to know about the things that I had seen and experienced prior to my arrival in the Ohio suburbs. Talk of life or travels in Europe was more likely to alienate than intrigue. I also found myself completely lacking in understanding of many pop-culture references that my peers took for granted.

Reading the comments on the documentary's website, was a little like having a light suddenly flipped on in a shadowed corner of my life. All of a sudden, the dust and cobwebs are in stark contrast. And I'm finding that the shadows are concealing an alcove that I didn't know or had forgotten was there. This isn't the first time that I've explored the lasting consequences of my upbringing in the pages of my blog, it just seems like interesting timing to have it resurface. I've decided to actually seek professional treatment for depression. Perhaps I should make notes on all this stuff to take with me when I meet my new therapist.

08 June 2006

Nipple Gymnastics

The following is my second writing sample written for the application for the Club Mom blogging gig. Again, I am sharing these here on my blog because I enjoyed writing them and was pleased with the results. I just wanted to post them rather than round-file them.

Nipple Gymnastics: Adventures In Breastfeeding

Like most expectant mothers today, I began learning about the importance of breastfeeding very early in my pregnancy. I was not the first of my friends to go through pregnancy or breastfeeding. Having watched the nursing in progress, my appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the experience was mingled with a measure of fear. Some of the things that I had seen babies do to nipples during their feedings made my own nipples want to run for cover somewhere in the neighborhood of my spine.

Your lactation consultant may, or may not, tell you how difficult some women find breastfeeding. It is a serious commitment of time and energy. For at least the first few months, there is little else you can do while your baby nurses. A sling can help, especially if you have a support team to get everything set up and in the right place. Eventually you get used to doing with two hands what you'd really like to have at least 5 to manage. You may even be able to manage to multi-task. Checking email or talking on the phone while nursing can actually be very manageable.

The standard nursing positions may seem awkward at first. That is nothing compared to some of the non-standard positions that your baby will discover as she develops a bit more control of her body. We used to call the sidelying position the cuddle or snuggle position because there was nothing like curling up with a sleepy baby, the closeness, and the euphoric sense that everything was right in the world. We now realize that the sidelying position is really an arena for the aspiring nipple gymnast.

The first maneuver in nipple gymnastics is the belly roll. With just a little practice, your nursling will be able to roll from her side to her belly without breaking her latch. The stretching of your nipple that accompanies this feat won't seem as uncomfortable as it might have, since by this time your infant's increasing awareness of the outside world often results in sudden head turning while nursing. Most of your nursling's future gymnastic feats will build upon the simple belly roll. Before you know it, your baby will be competing for the gold.

In the coming weeks or months, I would like to share with you some highlights of the under-publicized sport of nipple gymnastics. If your own nursling has a particularly ambitious or daring gymnastic maneuver, please drop me a line and we can compare notes.

Image note: "Mickaninies Kow-Kow" Inuit Eskimo woman breast-feeding two babies. (c)1904 Copyrighted by Frank H. Nowell.
Source: US Library of Congress Online Print Catalogue

04 June 2006

Interruptions Big and Small

The post below is one of the writing samples that I submitted as part of my job application for the blogging gig with Club Mom. I've been somewhat uncertain what I should do with these samples. I'm actually very pleased with the way that these samples came out and I hate the idea of no one reading them. I thought that I'd just go ahead and post them here now that the status of the application has been finalized.

Interruptions Big and Small

Sprout is recovering from a sinus infection this week*. As a consequence of a stuffed nose and an icky disposition she's very clingy and doesn't want anything to do with food or drink other than breast milk. As she sits on my lap nursing, I'm aware of the smell of berry-flavored antibiotics and yet another wet diaper blending in a not entirely unpleasant way. My mind is wandering and making lists of the things that I'm supposed to be getting done.

I knew when we decided to have a child that, during the day at least, everything else in my life would come second to taking care of Sprout's needs. On days like today, that means that writing a blog entry can take 4 or 5 hours or that any hope that I might have had of catching up with business correspondence or shipping is doomed. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't counting the minutes until Sprout's dad walks through the door and I can go into the bathroom by myself or, even better, go out to the studio for a couple of hours and try to get some work done for the craft fair which I have coming up in less than 2 weeks.

My goals now are so much different from my goals before Sprout entered our life. I used to dream of writing the definitive book on ceramic beadmaking and traveling around the U.S. and the world teaching workshops. Now, I dream pensively of typing a complete sentence with both hands.

It is hard sometimes not to think about these changes as a narrowing of my horizons or a loss of momentum. I've heard other women artists speculate that the reason that there are so few important female artists is that women throughout history have allowed their careers to be hijacked by childrearing and then caring for aging parents. Whatever progress has been made in the last 30 years, women are still the lower wage earners, and if one income must be sacrificed, it comes down to us to fall upon our swords. That's what the "mommy wars" are all about, isn't it?

I have to admit though, as I listen to my little Sprout laughing as she watches Noggin, it's really hard to think of her as an interruption. Instead, most times I find myself closing the cover of my laptop and inviting her into my lap so that I can laugh with her.

* This entry was actually written in mid-march, soon after our return from vacation in North Carolina. Our Sprout brought the sinus infection home with her as a special momento. She was so sick on the trip home and it actually really scared me a lot that she was feverish and miserable... Her daddy and I took her to Urgent Care almost as soon as my parents dropped the kiddlet and I off at the house. (Daddy didn't get to join us for the whole vacation.)

28 June 2006 -- Edited at the request of Sprout's father.

01 June 2006

Living With Disappointment

"We regret to inform you that after careful consideration we will not be offering you employment with our company."* And thus a door closes on my aspirations of moving my life/career in that direction.

As I've previously indicated, I applied for a blogging job with the newly launched ClubMom topical blogs. Although I was not selected for their initial round, their response was encouraging and even suggestive of a very promising outcome. They said that my application materials stood out and thought that they could find an audience for my unique voice amongst their members. Their message was encouraging and I was really looking forward to working with them.

As it turns out, the blog roll-out on ClubMom was a larger enterprise than expected and as a consequence, they've found that they don't really have a place for me amongst their ranks. I'm attempting to be philosophical about this. They've got some great writers working for them and I'm sure that they'll be very successful. I'm still trying to work out what this means for me.

In the interest of making the best of the whole thing, I would like to share the sample blog entries that I wrote as part of the application process. I'll be posting them as separate entries. I also have notes for additional entries which I started keeping in a file so that I would have "blog fodder" for slow days or in anticipation of vacations, etc.

This has been a learning experience for me. I have repeatedly read that for an artist to make a living in the US, s/he must write and/or teach to supplement the income from making art. I liked the idea of having a steady writing gig, and with it a monthly income (no matter how small) that I could count on. I haven't decided yet whether I want to try and find a similar opportunity elsewhere. On the other hand, I expect that the direction of this blog will be forever altered by my experiences over the last couple of months.

*This is not a direct quote... it is, instead, a summary of the communication received earlier today.

22 May 2006

Busy with Etsy

I've been busy this week with Etsy stuff. First there was the coproduction contest entry. The "winners" of the contest will be announced on June 1st but I feel (and I know it sounds a bit twee) that I've won simply by participating and getting the project listed.

I got five of my Raku pins posted in my Etsy shop this evening. I absolutely love each of the five for different reasons.

I picked up the yarn for the Ruana on Friday. Arlene, who dyed the wool roving that I used for the needlefelted embellishment spun the rest of the dyed roving from that batch into the most gorgeous yarn. It is so gorgeous that I hate to cut it up to make fringe. But I'm going to try to get over that because it really will be the perfect finishing touch for the wrap.

18 May 2006

Assorted felting thoughts and projects

Here's a picture of Sprout modeling the Ruana. She absolutely loves it. She keeps running her hands over the material, especially the needlefelting and saying "Pitty, pitty." She likes to pull it over her head to play hide and seek. She walks in circles with her arms held out and up so that the fabric trails like wings.

I keep talking about needle felting so I thought that I'd post some links for people who might be interested in trying it out for themselves. I subscribe to the Fieltromania blog via bloglines and found the link to Marika van Esveld's website with a PDF tutorial for a small 3 dimensional needlefelted dog. In Marika's blog, there is also a tutorial for needlefelted Easter eggs that lend themselves to some beautiful embellishment.

On Monday, while we were in the waiting room at the doctor's office with Sprout, I was flipping through a copy of Family Fun magazine and saw a craft project in polymer clay for kids that I thought would translate well to needlefelting.

[Please note that there is quite a bit more needle felting information available in other entries of this blog.]

Filed In:

16 May 2006

Missed Anniversaries

Somehow, I won't speculate about how, I managed to completely overlook the 1 year anniversary of the beginning of this blog. When I started the blog, I hoped that I'd be able to motivate myself to post at least once a week. Looking at the archive, there have been times when I've done much better than that and others when I've gone as much as a month without posting. I've learned a lot about my work habits from keeping the blog.

I've also kept a document of Sprout's growth for the past year. As she develops further in her personhood, it is beginning to feel a bit like an invasion of her privacy to keep posting pictures in a public arena. I wouldn't want my blog to be an embarassment to her. And as tempting as it may be, later in her willful years, to have a document to hold over her head, I'm trying to find a balance point where I can celebrate her role in every facet of my life without exposing her to unwanted attention. I expect that this will be coming up again and again over the next few months.

Right now, things are kinda calm. I'm trying to climb out of a depressive pit that I tumbled into several weeks/months ago. The dark mood, self-abusive thought patterns, insatiable appetite for sleep, and studious avoidance of the studio have peaked and I'm experiencing a dawning enthusiasm for new projects.

One of those new projects is the Wardrobe Refashion '06. I've taken a 6-Month pledge to "abstain from the purchase of 'new' manufactured items of clothing." (See my pledge button over to the right...) This should be an interesting experiment since I don't sew. What I'll be doing, instead of making my own clothes, is scouring thrift shops and trying to find ways of altering clothes that I already have to give them new life.

I've taken the first step in that direction by altering a Ruana that has been floating around my closets for at least a few years. I'm not sure which thrift shop I picked it up at, or what I paid for it at the time. I also have no idea what the fiber content of the garment is. That didn't stop me from adding needle-felted embelishment using a beautiful handpainted marino roving from Fiberworks. With the Marino embellishment, it's probably best to dryclean anyway, so I'm sure that the garment will be fine when I'm done with it. I have another mystery fiber solid color Ruana in the closet waiting for embellishment when I figure out how I want to decorate it.

I'm searching high and low for wool blazers in a size 28 or 30/32 (I have the shoulders of a line backer and it's probably best not to discuss my breasts...) so that I can embellish them as well. I'm really excited about the possibilities that a wool blazer can represent.

I have a couple of pairs of denim capri pants that I inherited from my mother that I want to remake into skirts. I have a pair of worsted wool suit pants that I picked up at a thrift shop that I want to cut and use for the panels in the jeans skirts. I've already washed them to felt/full them as much as possible. I want to needle-felt the wool panels as well.

Well, speaking of my mom, she should be here any minute to pick up her granddaughter and I. Sprout is recovering from a short-lived but distressing illness and we want to spend some quality time with her. I should get ready to go.

03 May 2006

Walking blues rhythm

ST 020Ep
TOne Letter / O

I've been measuring my life in steps for the last week. 3700 per day, on average, usually close on the heels of a toddler who is moving at a dead run. When she's not running, she's seemed glued to me, and when she is neither running nor glued to my side, I can hear the word "Mama" ringing in her clear voice. I got a pedometer in an effort to increase my awareness of my activity level. (Or should I say, lack of activity level?) I'm hoping to work on improving my general health while the weather is so nice.

We took Sprout to Indiana on Sunday for pictures. She is growing into such a little lady. It's hard to believe that I've been keeping this blog for almost a year and that so much of her growth and emergence into personhood has unfolded as I've written about my daily life and the struggle to find a way to balance my creative life and the demands (and significant joys) of motherhood.

Sprout amazes me. She builds and stacks with blocks. Her vocabulary increases every day. She's an amazing mimic. And, she is so beautiful that she takes my breath away. I live in mortal terror that someone will come to me and tell me that she's not really mine and that I'll have to give her back. It doesn't matter how much of her father and my family I can see in her, I just can't quite shake this fear that she's too good to be true.

The word images at the beginning of the post came from this really cool site. If you like them, you might also like this site which does something very similar with letters found in nature or in butterfly wings.
Photo of Sprout taken by Sandy Nabb at Nabb Photography of New Salsbury, Indiana.