Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hand painting a ruana: Don't get cocky!

My latest project on the loom is a warp painted ruana. It is going to be gorgeous! But it has been a struggle, mostly because I got cocky and missed little details.

So, it started well. I sat down with my client, and we batted around ideas and picked colors. I usually do my warp painting with about 4-5 colors of dye, but she picked out 10 colors. We figured out how to put them together, and off we went.

When I had the dye and the yarn, the measuring began.
And then, the dyeing. Here was snag number one. I usually dye with foam brushes, but I forgot that I only had enough for 6 colors of dye. And I was working with 10 colors this time. And I started dyeing after stores closed. So, I shrugged and got eye droppers, which I had plenty of. Annnnnd dyeing took a bit over 8 hours, non-stop. Eye droppers are NOT the way to go. Lesson learned. It turned out, but that was quite the marathon.

Also, see the strips of cut up plastic bag that I tied on the ends of the warp chains in that middle picture? I use a permanent marker to write numbers on them, so I can keep track of the order of the warp chains. That helps me get them back onto the loom in the same order that I dyed them in. Lesson two: use Sharpie, not the knock off brand even if it is near to hand. Because the knock off brand washes off in the rinsing process, and then you have a puzzle to solve when you take the chains to the loom!

Lesson number 3: It is quite ok to use your top loading washing machine to soak your warp chains when you are rinsing them, to get the excess dye out. But for the love of God, do NOT turn your back and let it flip over to agitate mode. Luckily, I had put the chains in lingerie bags, so it wasn't a total disaster. But I had some serious untangling to do to separate things back out.

Lesson number 4: Double check which reed you have on the loom before you start sleying it. I got halfway done, and realized I had the wrong one in. I had to take the old reed out and lay it across my lap, then one by one transfer the threads into the new reed. Again, nothing I couldn't recover from, but a pain in the neck! And it would have been an easy catch if I had looked before I started.
Thank goodness for the warping trapeze! It took some patient work to straighten out the tangles from my previous goofs as I beamed the warp on, but I did eventually get everything on the loom under even tension.
From there on out, things have been much easier. I've got enough warp on here for three garments. I'm using black cotton for the first weft choice, purple cotton for the second, and I'm currently weaving black tencel for the third.

So, all's well that ends well? This is turning out beautifully. But boy, have I said a few words along the way!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Needle felted life drawing

So, if you've been following along for awhile, you know that I'm a life drawing model. Mostly retired now, but I still work every few months with TriPal Studios. They have a drop in class every other Tuesday. Last time I was there, I brought the needle felted pieces that I showed in my last blog entry, and the lady of the house was intrigued, but couldn't quite figure out how I did it. So, this week I went to draw instead of modeling. I figured I could draw on the shorter poses, and felt on the long one at the end.

It has been over a decade since I did any regular drawing. I was RUSTY. The two minute gesture poses went ok...

But the 20 minute poses showed me that my eye for proportion is quite off.

I have a tendency to make the legs too short. Need more practice!

But this is the reason that I showed up tonight. I brought not only my paper and charcoal, but my wool and felting needles. This was my first time trying to felt from a live model. I could really have used more time on it, but I can see the start of something really neat here.

I used white and black wool on a grey background. The piece is about 8" x 11". I think I would like to work larger, to get the ability to do finer details. Or, next time I should just felt part of the body, and blow it up to fit the background piece. But, so far so good.

With access to a model on the Tuesdays that I'm not working, I think I may need to drop in to draw more often. I could really use the practice. And I'd like to see where the needle felting might take me. I have skills to learn!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Dyeing sock yarn, making flip-flop socks, eclipse pictures, and needle felting.

So, what have I been up to this past month? Playing in the dye pots! I'm really getting a kick out of creating variegated yarn by dyeing it in my crock pot. I love what is coming out of it so far.

I had a request for flip-flop socks, so I've been teaching myself how to do those on the sock knitting machine. They are a bit fiddly, but I'm getting the hang of it. I'm part of a circular sock knitting group on Facebook, and there were instructions for these in the files. So far, so good.

I had a great time getting these shots of the lunar eclipse. My husband Eric got up early, I stayed up late, and we made a drive out to our favorite spot in the White Tank Mountain regional park west of Phoenix to stalk the super blue blood moon. I'm quite pleased with the results.

And speaking of pleased with the results, I tried my hand at two dimensional needle felting, using some 8x10" wool prefelts for a base to work from. The first picture was me just doodling over the course of an evening, trying out layering different colors in an abstract piece to get a feel for the materials. The second was my attempt at fiber figure drawing, using just black and white wool felted over a medium grey piece of wool prefelt. I am loving the results!! I am definitely going to be pursuing this medium for my art. I dyed many of the colors in the top piece, by putting a length of white roving in with my sock yarn when I dye it. So, this combines my dyeing, my felting, my drawing, and hopefully in the future my photography. I'd like to take pictures, and use them as reference photos for my fiber painting.

I am really really excited by the possibilities here!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year's moon rise

Happy New Year, all of you! This is how I started my year. After the wonderful hustle and bustle of the past several weeks, I took the day just off. The last stragglers from last night's party (I had maybe 60ish people here?) left after lunch, the kids got back to their respective homes, Brian went on over to the game day at our friends' place, and it was just me and Eric at home. I suggested we grab a bit to eat and head on over to the White Tanks for a picnic. And so that is what we did. We had time for a half hour hike before the sun set, and then spotted the full moon coming up as we were getting ready to head out of the park. And so, of course, I had to grab a picture. It was just stunning!

I love the times when I have all my friends and loved ones gathered, and we can take time to just revel in each other. And then, I love when they all wander back to their lives, and I can find stillness.

Today was for stillness.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Christmas crafting recap, and a family photo

Happiest of holidays, everyone! This has been a very hand made Christmas over here. The above photo is one example. My husband Eric's mother usually asks us for a family photo, and we usually trot over to the local Target to have them take a professional one for us. This year Target isn't doing that any more, and I have a perfectly good camera anyway. So, we headed out to our favorite spot in the desert and took the photo ourselves. That is me in the top row with my two husbands, our two kids in the middle row, and my son-in-law down in front. All the kids are home for the holidays, and the house is merry and full of laughter.

So, I did the family portrait, and I updated the nature photography screensaver that I give out each year. I also made 14 of the needle felted ornaments, 4 pairs of socks (one dyed to order), 4 hand woven napkins, 1 Viking wire woven necklace, 1 triloom shawl, and 12 pairs of hand dipped candles. Whew! On top of the stuff for the Tangible Daydreams shop, that made me a very busy lady indeed. But there were smiles all around, and joy was had in the making and the receiving.

I swear I'm starting earlier for next year though.

I also say that every year.

One of these years I'll learn.

Really. I mean it.

And you all can laugh at me next year when I'm posting the same resolution once again. Because I know better. Christmas in the Arizona desert sneaks up on me every year, because the seasonal cues are just so off from what I grew up with in the Midwest. When I still have the air conditioner on in early November because it is still in the 90's F out there? Christmas crafting just doesn't occur to me. My hindbrain knows there is plenty of time. But, there really isn't.

This year for sure!!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Tutorial: Hand dipped candles

So, this is what I was up to last night. I had some candle wax, wicks, and color/fragrance left over from making dip candles years ago, and Christmas is coming. I figured I could make a batch of dip candles to hand out to friends at the party Christmas afternoon/evening. I learned how to do this as a child, watching folks at the Miller-Cory House in New Jersey make them. That is a restored colonial era farm house, where my parents volunteered on the weekends. I had my own little costume and ran around the grounds, wide eyed and just soaking everything in. I remember seeing candles like this hanging in the gift shop for sale.

Now, I'm using paraffin rather than bees wax or bayberry, and raided my husband's work shop for nuts/washers for weights, but the idea of a gradual build up of wax over repeated dips is the same. Here's what I did:

paraffin wax (No, I didn't measure, I eyeballed it)
candle wicking
added color and scent if you want it. Refer to the box for amounts
(I found supplies at Michaels. Check your local craft store.)

a container to hold melted wax
a pot of water
a wide stick to hang the wicks over (I used slats from blinds)
chairs or something to support the sticks
scissors to cut the wick
hammer & chisel or screwdriver to break the wax into chunks for melting
disposable chopstick or something of the sort to poke at the melting wax if you are impatient
candy thermometer
So, put your melting pot in a pot of water, add chunks of wax, and heat things up. Keep your water warm, but not making bubbles. You are looking for a temperature of about 150F for the wax. You can check that with your candy thermometer. The melting will take awhile.
While the wax is melting, prepare your wicks. Figure out how long you want your candles to be, keeping in mind that you are limited by the height of your dipping pot. Double that number, and then add maybe 5 inches more, so you have enough to tie weights on each end, and still have enough connecting string to hang over your cooling rack. I used nuts this time for weights on the end, since they have a hole to tie through. Also, once the wax melts, you can add color/scent if you want to, using the directions on whatever product you have.
Ok, when you have liquid wax, go ahead and start dipping. Hold your wick by the center point, and dip straight down and back out. Don't dawdle in the melted wax, or the heat will melt previous layers of wax. Hang your proto-candles over your cooling rack. Don't worry too much about how straight the wicks are for this first phase. I had a dozen pairs of candles going, so I just rotated through them and had no issue with them being too hot by the time I got back to the beginning ones. But, some folks recommend having a tall bucket of cold water to dip the candles into as you work, to cool them faster.

Once you have several layers of wax on, you can straighten out your candles as you need to. Keep on dipping. This process took me several hours. As the amount of wax in your dipping pot goes down, occasionally add more chunks of the unmelted wax, and let them melt down before continuing. I also added more color as I went along, so the outside of the candles would be gradually more colored than the insides.
When your candles are as thick as you want them to be, take a scissors or knife and cut the weights off of the bottom of your candles. Dip your candles a few more times, just to smooth out the cut edges. Then, hang your candles to cool thoroughly. I hung mine on my back porch overnight while I slept, and they were fine in the morning.

I did find it was easier to get the weights out of their wax coating while the wax was still pliable.

And voila! Candles!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tutorial: Beginner Needle Felted Christmas Ornaments: Pine Trees on Balls

Merry Christmas, everyone! In my family, we often make each other hand made ornaments as gifts at the holiday times. My tree upstairs is filled with love and memories.
Yes, we have a dog gate around our tree. We have 4 dogs and 2 cats in the house. It just seems prudent. Anyway, most of my family doesn't actually read my blog unless I link to it on my Facebook page (, so I'm going to take a risk here and let you all have a peek at the needle felted pine tree ornaments I'm making for them this year.

First all, my materials:
wool roving
a wool dryer ball

needle felting needles
a bit of foam for a work surface
a needle for the yarn
needle nose pliers

You can pick up the needle felting needles, needle felting roving, and wool dryer balls off of Amazon. The needle felting needles have tiny barbs on them, which will tangle the fibers of your roving down into the wool of the dryer ball as you gently stab stab stab. You will want at least brown and green roving, though I like having a few shades of each for this project.

 So, take your dark brown roving, and pull a wisp of fibers an inch or so long out from the main mass of wool.
 Twist your brown roving into a straight line. Hmm, the focus isn't very good here. Hard to take pictures without a third hand.
 Anyway, your brown roving will look something like this.
 Take the tip of the line of dark brown, and gently tap it into position with your needle. If you look at the top of the dryer ball, you can see that I have very lightly tacked a random bit of wool into place to mark which way is up. I ended up needle felting three trees onto this ornament, and this helped me place them.
 Tack the brown of your tree trunk very lightly down the line until you get to the bottom. Then, flare out the fibers just a bit to give you a sense of the trunk spreading into roots at the base of the tree.
 Tack the base of your tree into place. You can fold the stray ends of the fiber up into the tree trunk. Double check that you are happy with the placement and length of the trunk. Since you have been tacking very lightly, you can still rip things out at this point.
 Grab a similar wisp of pine green fiber.
 Lay the fiber crosswise, centered on the top of your tree trunk. Needle it to the tree trunk with several stabs up and down the width of the green fiber.
 Now, use the tip of your needle to drag the ends of the green fibers down at an angle, and lightly tack down the end of your branches.
 Do the same on the other side of the tree.
 Grab another wisp of pine green, and add it below the batch that you just did. Again, needle it to the trunk first to anchor it, and then tack down the tips of your branches.
 Move all the way down the tree this way. This gives you the outline of your tree shape. Since everything is still just lightly tacked down, you can still move things around.
 Do you like the general outline? Then it is time to needle felt in earnest. Gently stab stab stab, following along the branches from trunk to tip and back again. Be careful to enter and exit the wool ball at the same angle, or you may snap the tip off of your needle. They are fragile. In the above picture, I've been working on the right side, and not the left, so you can see the difference.
 Ok, you have the skeleton of the tree in place. But there are obviously some bare spots. Grab some more wisps of wool, and tack them into place where you want them. Use the pine green, but maybe also some other colors mixed in as well. I've got some of the lighter green here.
 And maybe some of the various browns scattered here and there might be nice too.
 There, that looks good for me.
 Ok, time to work on the base of the tree. I took another wisp of the dark brown, and tacked its midpoint in at the base of the tree
 Then, dragged the ends of the fibers out sideways and tacked them lightly down to show the ground line.
 I grabbed some of the light brown, and tacked it in below the tree.
 And then, I filled in between the two colors with the medium brown. I left things lightly tacked down on the ground for now...
 ...and then repeated making trees in two other places on my ornament. When I had trees next to each other, I drew the ground fibers toward each other to make a continuous ground line.
 Then I needled the ground fibers firmly down in place.
 Ok, once I had three trees in place, I didn't need my top of the ornament marker any more.
 Since it was just lightly stabbed down a few times, it popped right off.
 To add a loop for hanging, you can use a straight needle if you choose to...
 But I find a curved needle a bit easier to work with. Cut a length of the yarn, thread your sewing needle, and position the yarn at the top of your ornament.
 I find it is easier to use pliers to grab the needle to actually pull the yarn through the wool dryer ball.
 Tie a knot in the top of your yarn to make a loop.
And then, on to the tree it goes!!

You can use this same general idea to add whatever pictures you want onto the dryer balls. I figure my family gets these this year, and I'll see about adding a variety of ornaments to the Etsy shop come holiday time next year. I really liked this process, and want to do more of it!