Wednesday, April 30, 2008


How do I describe myself as an artist?  Gee.  My first thought is that I don't.  Maybe that is at the heart of my problem.  Am I an artist first and foremost?  No, I'm not.  And personally, I think the word "artist" is a bit generous for this stage of my development.  If someone asked me who I am, I'd say I'm a paid employee, a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, a gardener, a daughter, a knitter, a scrapbooker, a needlepointer, an avid reader, a sports photographer, ...  See my dilemma?  Artist appears nowhere on the list, although one might argue, not very convincingly in my case I might add, that one or more of my hobbies could transcend craft and become art.

When I think of someone who calls herself an artist, I think of someone who makes her living, however modest, from art.  I would never describe myself to anyone as an artist because my paid employment comes from non-art sources.  Is this an American phenomenon?  To define the person you are by the level of monetary compensation?  Many people would point out that we all have to eat, so it would be natural to talk about your job if you are asked what you do.

But perhaps it's attitude that is at the heart of the creative process - or lack of it.  If a person calls herself an artist, does that internally validate the artistic process and lead to more/better creativity?  If I stopped defining myself as a paid employee and started calling myself an artist, would that change my daily behavior?  I think it would, at least to the extent that I'd spend more time thinking about my art/craft and less time thinking about my job.  Is that a good thing?  I'm not sure, because I still have to work for at least another two years before I can officially retire.

Of course, I'm a TIF challenge participant who does not do art for a living.  So maybe those of us for whom art/craft is an avocation will respond differently to this challenge.  The difficulty for me will be to figure out how to express in fiber or fabric the dilemma I face.  Who am I?  Hmm.  Something to mull over this weekend as I drive to North Carolina to photograph Clemson's club baseball team in the playoffs.  See? Not artist. Photographer, mother, wife, but not artist.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yippee, I Beat the Clock

Well, I'm amazed.  I actually finished a challenge on time for once.  And oddly, it came out better than I had expected.

Here's a photo of the finished piece.  I stuck with the black eyelash I-cord i had already made to embellish the seams of the page, but I thought it would be over-use to edge the page with the same fiber.  So I selected some polyester fiber called "Candy FX" by Berroco to make the edging.  I bought just one skein of this fiber a year or so ago to see how it would work up.  (Note to knitters:  I do not recommend this fiber.  It has to be one of the most difficult yarns I have ever worked with due to the way the manufacturer attached the slubbed pieces to the main strand.  Berroco says to work Candy FX with another fiber and I did not.  In my humble opinion, however, working two strands together would not improve the ease with which a knitter could work with this fiber.)  I made the edging from Candy FX and it was a perfect choice for this particular project.  The colors in the photo don't really do justice to the actual color scheme.  And the irregularity of the stitches caused by Candy FX's slubbing complimented the eyelash yarn.  I hand-stitched the I-cord and edging to the fabric page.

I left the back of the page essentially unembellished except for a rogue piece of edging that I was going to unravel so that I could use the yarn again.  No big surprise that ripping a completed piece would be a no-go.  So I sewed the edging piece to the back of the page, and left the unraveled end hanging off the bottom.  What looks like unraveled fiber on the side of the page is just some extra yarn that I cut up and tied to the end tails of the edging.  I thought maybe some black beads hanging from the threads would be neat, but it was too over-the-top, so I let the yarns speak for themselves and decided the work was done.

I assembled the backing for the book according to the directions in Cloth, Paper Scissors, as noted in my first post for this month's challenge.  Here's the inside cover.  I used spray adhesive to attach the cloth and the paper to the foam board.  It worked fine on the cloth, but not so well on the paper.  I will go back later and use a stronger adhesive in the places where the paper is sneaking off the backing.

And here is the outside cover of the book backing.  I just love the fabric.  The design is all orange, peach, and yellow on black.

My only disappointment is that I didn't make the page as large as it could have been.  I have decided to turn this into a design feature and stagger the length of additional pages, making each successive page a bit longer.

I am still working out how to use the Weave-It squares in my fabric book.  I have not had either the nerve or the heart to cut them yet, and I haven't worked with any more fibers since my last post.  Depending on the upcoming challenges, this Weave-It experiment will either be free-standing or I'll incorporate into one of the coming challenges.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More Moving On

I was able to spend six hours working on craft projects today.  I need to take more vacation days like this - no packing, no reservations at some strange hotel, no endless drives or waits in airports, no family arguments about where to eat, no frantic rush home.  Just sleeping late, eating a leisurely breakfast, followed by crafting - with an occasional cup of tea or dish of yogurt.  So what did I accomplish for the challenge?

After knitting several fabric pieces and being dissatisfied with their weight compared to the weight of the woven fabrics I selected for my book page, I was about ready to give up trying to combine knitting with textiles.  I felt I just wasn't getting combinations that were pleasing to the eye.  I was moderately happy with the I-cord outline I had planned for the fabric book page I sewed, but I still wanted to work with both my overabundant fiber stash and my growing, but modest fabric stash as part of the changes theme.  Using I-cord on a patchwork fabric background wasn't fulfilling my goal or my soul.  Then, I hit on a possibility.  I had a Weave-It loom (stop laughing, weavers) from my girlhood and I decided to try using some of my fiber stash to make my own fabric.  In my first attempt, I used some vintage nylon super-fingering yarn from the Fifties to lace the loom, and some polyester modern accent fibers to weave. 

I also used some modern crochet thread to lace the loom and to weave.

I have to say that I was pretty happy with the results.  The advantages to using my fibers in a woven format are 1) the resulting fabrics are lighter in weight and more compatible with commercially-produced textiles, and 2) I can control the color variations much better on the loom than I can in a knitted fabric.  The disadvantages?  I don't have all that many synthetic fibers or much crochet thread in my stash.

I have not yet tried to cut the Weave-It squares, so I don't know how they will stand up to being combined in a patchwork and then trimmed.   I am still working on this idea.  I have not used any wool fibers at this point, but I have so confess I am not anxious to do so.  I love how the synthetic fibers bloom after being released from the loom.   And the synthetic fibers are slippery, making them easy to weave on the Weave-It.  The slipperiness also allows the eyelash fibers to spring out of the fabric with a bit of rubbing or gentle scratching.  It's very easy to control what fibers you choose to release, too, so you can selectively set free only blue eyelash fibers, for example, keeping the others woven in the fabric.  Can you tell yet that I really had a good time with this experiment?

In any case, I need some additional stash to continue my research, so my $10 monthly budget for challenge projects will be thrown to the wind this April.  I am definitely going shopping this weekend for more fiber.  And when I get to Allentown in three weeks, I will be asking my dear sister to take me to Tucker's, a fabulous old knitting store that still has inventory from 60 years ago.  Need vintage fibers?  Call Tucker's, but please not before May 12th.  I get first dibs.

Meanwhile, here is a photo of the green fabric that will back the finished page.  The color is actually more of a yellow-green than what appears here.  I am not sure how I will treat the backing - leave it as is or do some embroidery.   I think I'll get a better feeling for this when I get the I-cord stitched on and the edging done.

Finally, here is the fabric I chose for the back cover of the book.  I also selected an orange fabric to line the inside back cover, but I decided to use acid-free orange card stock instead after looking at some commercially-produced scrap books.

Moving Right Along

After a bit of experimenting with fabric and fiber together, I decided that the best use of the materials I had on hand was to use the fabric as a base and then embellish with the fiber.  I knitted up several small swatches of fabric, but none of them coordinated well with the woven textiles.  The knitted swatches were of a heavier weight, and the knit and woven patterns did not mesh well.

So, I dragged out the sewing machine I had just received as a gift, choose several squares from "S-S-Silly Safari", and stitched a book page together.  Do not, under any circumstances, think this was an easy task.  New machine, new sewer - well, what more can I say, other than a serging stitch does the trick nicely, and I'll figure out how to sew a straight stitch at a later date.

When the swatch was done, I matched the knitted swatches against it to determine which fibers coordinated best with the page's fabrics.  I knit up an edging and some I-cord to outline the individual fabrics in the swatch, and now I'm ready to embellish the page.

I also did a bit of shopping in the last ten days.  I picked out the fabric, screw posts, and foam board for the book backing, and I bought fabric to face the finished page.  If the weather cooperates, I'll be out on the patio spraying adhesive on the foam board and attaching the fabric to the book backing.

Today, the women in my housing development are hosting a craft day.  We are going to be working on UFOs from 11 AM to 5 PM.  I couldn't resist this activity so I took a day of vacation in order to attend.  I hope to have made significant progress on this month's challenge by the end of the day.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Salsa Girl is Back

The March challenge left me feeling flat and uninspired.  I think it was because of the project I selected.  I fell way short of my goals, and I certainly couldn't say I had fun.  I was in fact working at the task of drawing and I usually wasn't happy with the results of the sketches I did.

I decided to turn back to wild and crazy in April.  Back to experimenting with techniques, back to having fun.  When I read Sharon's challenge to address change, I immediately thought of my wish to move away a bit from knitting and try quilting.  Fiber to fabric, so to speak.

It so happened that I was in my local quilt shop earlier in the day and found a pack of color-coordinated fabric in primary colors.  Needless to say, I had to take it home with me, but I had no idea what I was going to do with it at the time of purchase.  I have also begun to acquire some "fat quarters" with the goal of learning how to quilt in the coming months.  The fabrics are in no particular palette - just what appeals to me at the time I'm in a shop or at a yard sale.

I decided to address this month's challenge by trying to marry knitted fabric with woven fabric. I wanted the piece to be transitional, in some way incorporating the best of both the fiber and the fabric.  I pulled out some inspirational photos of crazy quilts, with the intention of perhaps using the fiber in the embellishment of the seams.  But I felt I didn't know enough about quilting to complete a project by the end of the month (Lord knows, I have a hard enough time keeping up with these challenges when I at least have a vague idea of what I'm doing!)

I recently completed a fabric postcard class at my local quilt shop, and I thought that maybe I'd do  post card-size piece.  I thought I'd use one fabric as the core or center and then work the knitted fabric(s) as a kind of frame, maybe embellish the fabric with buttons or sequins or beads, and then back the piece with either a knitted or woven complementary fabric.

Here is the fabric stash I started with:

And here is the fiber that I selected from my stash (Note about the fiber:  I stuck to all synthetics or cottons since all the fabrics were cottons or cotton-polyesters):

I ended up selecting four possible fabrics and five or six fibers in coordinating colors:

The fabrics all came from Moda's "Sss-silly Safari."

I swatched up three of the fibers and began playing with the pieces.  Being a nut for color - any color as long as it's screaming, in-your-face, outrageously bright - and as long as I can combine a zillion patterns in coordinating shades with all kinds of glitter, charms, and sequins dangling around, I am REALLY happy.  So I realized after about 10 minutes of shifting fabric and swatches around, I'd need a bigger piece than 4" X 6" (10 cm X 15 cm) because I wasn't content to use just one fabric and two or three fibers.  I wanted several fabrics.  I also wanted to combine the knitted and woven fabrics randomly, rather than having the knitted parts forming a frame around the fabric.

Here's where I'm at for the moment:  I have decided to begin a "book" of fabric pages.  I plan to make several more swatches from the coordinating fibers and I'll play around with them until I come up with something that's pleasing to me.  I plan to use the "build-a-book" instructions that Virginia Spiegel published in the Fall 2006 issue of Cloth, Paper, Scissors (p.60-65).  I haven't decided on the size of the "page" yet, although the instruction suggest 10" X 6 " (25 cm X 15 cm).

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Back in the Game?

When the challenge for the month of March was issued, I immediately thought of the perfect way to make me (or anyone else for that matter) notice details - draw a picture or take a photograph.

I've always wanted to be able to draw better and a couple of years ago, I took a course at the local art center at night.  The teacher was very tolerant of my beginning efforts and I showed up for every class, including the ones where we were asked to draw the human figure from a living, breathing model.  Thinking about that class now, God bless the model.  She'd visit each easel at the end of the modeling period and see how we had portrayed her.  All my renderings of her looked vaguely alien, but she was always very kind in her comments.

In any case,  I decided that I never got good at drawing because I never worked at it diligently.  When I took the class, I didn't draw outside the structured classroom time, and to get good at anything, you have to practice at it daily.  I thought this was the perfect opportunity to see if I could stick to some kind of schedule and get better at drawing too.

The project as I conceived it fulfilled my personal goals for this challenge:  I already had a sketchbook and a set of pencils so I'd definitely be within my $10/month limit for project supplies; I've wanted to practice drawing so that I'd improve the diagrams of projects I'd hope to undertake; and I thought drawing daily would be fun.  My objective was to draw one thing every day, however small or trivial.

Here are the results of my efforts to notice details:

I didn't manage to draw one thing per day, which was a personal disappointment.  The goal didn't seem that outrageous.  But there were days when I got home so late from work that I just didn't have the energy to tackle a challenge.  I did try to stretch myself by trying a cartoon figure, drawing designs from memory, and putting some of the objects of my attention in context (my art teacher always used to pass by my easel and ask me why the fruit/bottles/cans were floating in space without any reference to other objects).

I thought the challenge would be fun but it wasn't.  I discovered that I do not think drawing is fun.  It is not relaxing for me.  I couldn't wait to be finished with each sketch I was doing and get on with my knitting.  As a child and young adult, I never just spontaneously drew or doodled.  I suspect that people who draw or doodle would not necessarily pick up knitting needles, so I am content with this.

I feel more confident about my drawing now - I can at least put a name to each object I drew which is some comfort.  As a result, I have more confidence in recording ideas in sketch form in a project journal.  And it certainly is true that if you draw something (or in my case, try to draw something), you remember it very clearly later.   There are details of the palm plant and the flooring tiles, for example, that I never would have paid much attention to had I not had to draw them.

The challenge also made me look at other artists drawings.  I'd ask myself, "Would I be happy with that if that werre my work?"  I was surprised how many times I'd decide I'd reject the piece because I didn't think it would be good enough to publish/sell/publicize.    Never mind that the drawings were all published in art magazines.  To me, they were not particularly attractive.   I suppose much of that criticalness is merely taste.  But the March challenge did made me think about when something from the craft table is good enough - maybe not perfect, but okay.  I'm still working on this notion of good enough versus perfect versus it's done let's move on.  Settling that in my mind is for some other later challenge, I suppose.

So, I am now off to consider April's assignment.  I have already decided to use fiber, no matter what Sharon throws at us.  I've noticed that most of my fellow challengees are needleworking.  I think it's time to stop bucking the tide and get with the needle arts program.  Also, to those of you have been left comments, I only have computer access on the weekends so I am not intentionally ignoring you if several days go by without a response.  I just don't have the capacity to read and publish your comments more quickly.