Category Archives: Tutorials

My not so hidden agenda sort of tutorial

Last June my computer had a little snit and ate my calendar. For the second time. Not all of it–I could still access most of the years on it, but not all. But that was it. I could no longer trust it. I still keep a calendar on my computer, but my main computer is kept on stone tablets now. I sat down the day after the Palm betrayed me and made a paper agenda. It has served me well.

On Saturday of this past weekend, though, I realized I’d come to the last page of my year, which, just because of what happened when, now runs from mid-June to mid-June. Time was up. I spent the rest of the weekend making a new one. I started with this:

And took these steps. More pictures here than words, and I apologize for the fact that the shadow of my head is in some of the photos–it was a dark stormy weekend and the lighting was just weird.

Soft Kut from Dick Blick:

The carved block and the printed page:

After flirting briefly with hand-cutting and block printing the name of each month and each numerical date, I came to my senses and wrote them in by hand with Sharpie markers matching the color of the ink I’d used on each page:

Cutting scraps (they look like the homemade noodles First Child and I made a couple of weeks ago). I’m so cheap that I spent a ridiculous amount of time pawing at and trying to figure out how to reconstitute and reuse these. Common sense prevailed and they went into the trash, but it took a while and was fairly wrenching. Seriously, think there’s gotta be a use for these somewhere:

A little cover decoration was in order:

And then, maybe, a little color:

Second child likes the black and white prints better. I left a few like that. And I don’t know why I printed so many, but it’s just as easy to do a run of quite a few prints and I’m already thinking up some good uses for them (stay tuned).

I’m always seriously in love with the blocks from which I print. Would it be weird to mount and hang them somewhere? They’d have to be accessible for repeated use. I also have among my treasures some woodcut (actual wood) blocks that my dad carved many years ago. Some of them were commissioned for the covers of a magazine for which he was the art director back in the 60s and 70s. My sister has some of them, too. Hmm . . . I might actually have to print some of them in the near future.

For now, though, these are just mine.  And this, finally, is my new calendar, complete with its own sunflowery cover, its nice tabs (scavenged from some monoprints that didn’t completely work out), and its important back pocket (everything should have pockets). I’m happy to have a nice place to keep track of what day it is.


Semi-tutorial: Spiffy quick birthday banner

Second child celebrated a birthday recently, and invited 46,342 45 friends to her party (ok, not even quite that many, but several brought dates and possibly several wandered in off the street, so that’s more or less the actual head count). Given the square footage of our house, that’s . . . well, by my calculation, that was about 5 teenagers per square foot.

Happily, they were all reasonably well behaved, and polite, and most of them brought something yummy to eat to add to what we’d prepared (I’d show you pictures, but . . . 46,342 kids versus a number of pans of pasta and chili and ravioli and mac and cheese and pie and cookies and cupcakes and so on, not to mention an ocean of soda and enough chips and candies to pave the way to the moon and . . .the math will clearly demonstrate why there’s nothing left to photograph).

Anyway, about 2 hours before the party I got it into my head that there should be some kind of birthday souvenir for the guest of honor to keep, so I whipped up the banner you see above–neatly hung across the stone face of the kitchen fireplace. Yeah, it gets a little messy over to the right, when it has to pass by and over a hanging bag of onions and a big box of cat food.

I grabbed a yard of lightweight canvas and laid it out across the washer and dryer in the mud room (after pinning a note on the door warning her highness to keep out). I folded it as you see here, so that there would be two fold edges from which to cut pennant shapes.

I quickly gathered up some gesso and several tubes of cheap watercolor, a brayer, a big old paintbrush, and some odds and ends (soda bottle caps, some of those fake credit cards they send you in the mail, a paper plate) and set about painting the canvas in broad strokes, adding some imprints in contrasting colors of the bottle caps and making lines and squiggles with the cards. This is what I got–you can see it here having a quick dry on the clothesline (hint: a windy day is a boon)

Now back to the cutting table (aka the washer and dryer), where I cut the canvas into pennants. The more geometry savvy among you will have figured out that this left me with a bunch of triangles with an edge fold that would drape nicely over the 5 yards of cotton cording I bought for hanging them up but also with some pizza slice shaped pieces with no backs, and some backs with no painted fronts.

Remember, though, this was a quick-and-dirty operation–a few deft moves with a stapler connected the pizza slices to their backs, and I was able to drape all of the pennant shapes over the line. Where they looked like the top photo above.

I brought out markers and pens and crayons and interrupted the din merriment several times to ask everyone to–at some point in the evening–come and leave their mark–a message, a piece of art, a scribbled birthday greeting–and spread the banner on the kitchen table. Kids wandered in and out all night and had a great time signing and drawing and writing poems and advice and loving words, and the birthday girl had a great time the next morning reading and oohing and ahhing over all that love.

I knew I would not be allowed to photograph the thus-embellished banner after it was done, so I was glad I got a few detail shots of the painted fabric before I cut it up. Here are a couple–you can see more (and slightly more detail about making the banner) on my flickr site.

Now, what can we celebrate next so I have an excuse to make another one?

Have-it-Your-Way Craft Apron Tutorial

I’ve been getting together regularly with a few friends to do a little art-making. We’re all writers (though one of us–not me!–is also an accomplished artist) and it makes us feel better to dust off the right side of our respective brains together once a month.

We are all approaching a certain age–no complaints at all, but I’ve noticed that we spend a lot of time on these occasions hanging out around a long table saying things like “Did anyone see where I put down my bone folder?” and “Is this your hole punch or mine?” and “Where the hell have my scissors gotten to now?”

So I’ve been making craft aprons for us. Each one is different and I feel like each one has evolved a bit over the previous ones (to the point that I want to take back some of the earlier aprons and do them RIGHT). The first two have been rather short, like cafe aprons–I made them with paper crafts–not messy stuff–in mind. But we’ve got a painting day coming up, and I thought it was time to try a long apron. Et voila–it all came together today and I thought you might like to see what I did.

It was soooooo easy.

It was soooooo cheap.

Best of all, it’s totally adaptable to the wearer and their craft and the tools of choice, so you’ll end up with an apron that has places for all your bookbinding tools, and you’ll make one that will hold all your paper schnipsels and so on and you will remember where you put your glasses.

Here’s the finished product.

I must say that, like most aprons, it looks a little better when it’s actually on somebody. and the details (close-ups coming) are everything. And that already I can see little things I’ll do differently next time. But, overall? Very pleased. Want to make your own?

Course you do. Here’s how:

I made this crafter’s apron from two linen/cotton blend dish towels that were 50 cents each at the local odd lots store. My towels were 26-1/2″ by 15-1/2″–your results may vary depending on the size of your towels, but you can mad adaptations as needed–they do need to be rectangular, though. You can also substitute fabric of your choice, but it will need to be hemmed (take this into account when you measure your yardage).

NOTE: throughout this tutorial, the right side of the towel (check the hem if you’re not sure which is the right side) is the right side of the finished apron.

Besides your two dish towels, you’ll need:

  • a strip of contrasting fabric about 2″ wide and 2″ longer than your towels are wide
  • about 2-1/4 yards (a bit more or less depending on the size of the person you’re making it for) of woven cotton belting from the fabric store or sturdy cotton twill tape about an inch wide
  • a sewing machine, pins, a measuring tape, and scissors.

NOTE: this is a good sturdy apron but it won’t protect you from anything more than you’d expect a dish towel to do–no very wet stuff, nothing radioactive, no alien body fluids. If you work with a lot of liquid-y paint, you might want something denser than this. That said, the linen is nice–tight weave and not so absorbent that it simply transfers the mess to the other side of the apron–and your favorite shirt.

TO GET STARTED: Lay out one of your towels and fold up one end (not one side) about 6″. Cut along the fold line (across the towel), and set this small piece aside. See above photo–this piece you’ve cut off is henceforth to be known as “the pocket piece.” To avoid confusion, we’ll call the piece from which it was cut “the apron front.”

Now it’s time to lay out your pieces. You have four pieces of fabric: the long strip of contrast fabric (not seen in this photo–its time is coming soon) and three pieces of toweling.  In the photo above you can see that the whole, uncut towel is at the bottom of the assemblage above, laid horizontally beneath the other two. On top of that, arranged vertically (and centered over the bottom piece) is the piece that will be the front of the apron and–laying precisely over the bottom of this–the pocket piece. This pocket piece overlaps the bottom edge of the apron front. (If this is all a little murky, this photo might make things a little clearer.)

Take a really close look at the photo and you’ll notice three things:

  • the pins in the picture are only there because they helped me to find the vertical center of the bottom towel–they aren’t actually holding anything together
  • the pocket piece is laid right on top of the apron front such that its side and bottom edges match up with the side and bottom edges of the apron front–you want the pocket piece to just cover the apron front piece at the bottom
  • All three pieces are right side up–facing us (check the hemmed edges of each piece).

Got that? Okay, the hard part is done–now it’s assembly time.

First (and there’s no photo for this one, so you’re going to have to trust me–remove the pocket piece and set it aside, but don’t move the apron front on which it lay. In fact, pin that to the apron skirt (the underneath, uncut, horizontal piece) and machine stitch them together so they maintain their positions. This seam isn’t going to show but it’s structurally important–sew them together close to the top edge of the apron skirt.

Now leave the apron body for a few minutes and get the pocket piece.  Lay it right side up on a smooth surface and get ready to unite it with the contrasting edge strip. Here are my pieces, laying on top of my ironing board (I have really got to get a different color ironing board cover).

See the bottom edge and sides of the pocket piece–all nicely hemmed? Good. The top edge of the pocket piece is the part you cut off right at the beginning, and that cut edge is going to be finished with the contrasting strip.

Take the contrasting strip and flip it so the wrong side is up.  Arrange it over the very top of the pocket piece. See–two fabrics right sides together getting ready to be sewn together just like in a normal project. Make sure the contrast strip sticks out about an inch on either side of the pocket piece–this will make it look nicer soon.  Pin ’em if you’ve got ’em, but I managed just to hold them together with my fingers as I sewed them together.

Now, machine stitch along the top edge of the pocket piece/contrast piece using about a 5/8″ seam, like so:

I know, I know–my picture shows me sewing this strip much closer to the edge. One of the things I decided after the project was finished is that a wider contrast edge would look nicer, so I’m telling you to stitch yours rather further from the edge–just do it. Ahh, the power! The power! BWAAHAAAHAAHAAA . . .

Now flip that edge strip so it’s right side up (see, mine looks a little small and mingy–wider is better, really) and topstitch at the lower (pocket) edge of the strip, like this:

Now fold the top edge of the contrast strip behind the top edge of the pocket piece. Don’t fold the pocket fabric along with it, just encourage the contrast strip to cover it neatly. Remember that this part you just tucked away won’t show, so don’t worry about the rough edge you’re folding back, but do try to fold back the sticky-outy pieces jutting out at the ends of the strip–finesse these so thee ends look pretty and neat, then topstitch again, this time quite close to the top edge of the contrast strip-covered pocket piece.

When you finish this step, your pocket piece will look like this:

See how I’ve laid it back where it was before, on top of the apron front? Now we’re going to bring it all together.

Make sure the pocket piece is lined up so it lays on top of and corresponds with the bottom of the apron front piece.  This time I do recommend pinning–use pins to stabilize the whole thing–you’re going to be sewing through all three layers along the sides and bottom edge of the pocket piece.

OPTIONAL: as I pinned, I added two things (remember–have it your way?).  First, my own tag, which I love:

And second, a strip of the belting about 8″ long, folded in half and pinned in at an angle. Sometimes when I’m bookbinding a have need of a small hammer, and this should hold it right by my side so I can’t lose it:

Think as you go about how you’d like to customize your own apron. Can you add a hook for keys or a tool you use a lot? An elastic loop for a wiping rag? A special pouch for the different cutters that come with your screw punch? It’s your apron, so make it so that it will be useful to you.

This is also the time to think about that big pocket you’re about to sew on. Do you need one big pocket? Three small ones? Eight skinny pencil holders? Decide how to allot the pocket space you have and stitch accordingly

Now stitch around the sides and bottom of the big pocket, making channels in it as you go. You can see from this picture (here’s  a larger view) how I stitched mine, starting at the red circle at the top left and pivoting the machine needle as I went to make pockets for the things you see–scissors, glasses, a little bottle of Nori paste, my bone folder, a pen:

The last two steps are simple: cut your neck strap and waist ties to the desired length (my neck strap is about 13″ long and my waist ties each about 30″). Sew the ends of the neck strap (make sure it isn’t twisted in a way that will hurt your neck) to the top corners of the apron front. Mine are blue and sort of pretty, so I just folded the fray-able ends of the strap under to hide any rough bits, and sewed them to the front side of the apron, but you could put them on the back side if you like. I handled the waist ties in a similar way, attaching them to the top corners of the apron skirt:

I’m thinking a little Fray-Check on the tie ends would be a good thing–will have to get some next time I’m out.

But for $6 (look for those 50 cent towels–or, even better, look in Goodwill or thrift stores or your grandma’s cupboard for some) and an hour’s work, I’ve got . . . the craft apron of my dreams. At least, until I figure out how I could have made it better.

A little wall art

More wall hangings–some gifts I made this morning for some people who have been very helpful to me lately:

Hui Neng: “The meaning of life is to see.”

From Basho:

a cicada’s shell

it sang itself

utterly away

And a Chinese proverb: “That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”

The quotations are printed on some of my suminagashi pieces. A wonderful easy craft–great for teachers’ gifts at this time of year. I did a little tutorial for them back about . . . well, about this time of year! Seems to be the season for thanks.

Solstice baby

I love Christmas, though I don’t always celebrate it in what we have come to think of the traditional way. I’ve also been doing some reading and giving a lot of thought to the winter traditions and themes that are shared by various religious and cultural groups.

Take, for instance, the theme of nativity. which just means birth. Last winter I wanted to represent this theme in our holiday decorations, and I came up with this little swaddled child (“swaddled,” by the way, is such a great word).

Anyway, I had a huge bag of scraps of merino wool felt from Morehouse Farm in my stash. Back in the day when they had their fabulous retail store (Sheep’s Clothing) in Red Hook, New York, I used to stop in a few times a year on my regular trips to the Catskills and buy scrap bags of this stuff (they don’t seem to have these any more, though they do still have wonderful yarn and related items–wonderful knitting patterns, for instance–at their web site). Yummy.  This felt is so thick and soft, and comes in such brilliant colors. So I played around with it at the last minute last Christmas and made and gave away a number of these little babies, who look so warm and cozy even though they were born in the middle of the winter.

At first I made them in what we think of as traditional skin colors–the faces, that is. But after I ran out of tans and ochres and pinks and blacks, I just started mixing them up. I made babies with purple faces, green faces, orange faces, gray faces (only one of these, actually–it looked a bit macabre) and used all the colors I could.

I promised you a tutorial for them, and here it is. The only trouble is that Second Child is taking a photography class at school and she’s had my camera all week, so I thought it might be fun to draw one up by hand (and it was). Have a go and see what you think–the finished babies are about the size of hen’s eggs, but you could fiddle with the pattern and make them any size you want.

Click here to go to the illustrated tutorial. And I promise I’ll put up some actual photos when my camera comes back to me.

Tiny notebook tutorial

This is another tutorial for something that seems rather intuitive, but someone asked how the little notebooks were made, so here goes:

What you need:

  • Backing: A rectangle of cardboard, like the ones at the back of a legal pad
  • Filler paper: 20-30 rectangles of plain paper of just about any kind suited to the use to which you’re going to put your notebook (e.g., printer paper for a notepad, drawing paper for a sketchbook, miscellaneous papers for a funky look)
  • Cover: A rectangle of decorative paper for the front (here I’m using a piece of lightweight art paper on which I’ve used one of my hand-carved stamps)
  • A small ponytail elastic (I like the “non-ouchy” kind without the metal part, but you can use an ordinary one as you like)
  • A small paper clip
  • Something to cut with: scissors, a craft knife and ruler, or a paper cutter
  • A hole punch
  • A stick, wooden sandwich pick, or the like

The first three items, the back, filler paper and cover bits should be the same size. We made our notebooks 4 x 4 1/2 ” (because we needed a lot of them and needed to get an assembly line thing going) but you can use any dimensions that are pleasing to you.

The sticks should be a bit shorter than the smaller side of your notebook, and should not have any splintery or rough edges

Step 1: punch your holes. If you’re using a handheld paper punch, make a template for the hole placement using an extra sheet of the filler paper. Fold the paper in half and punch a hole through both thicknesses about 1/4″ from what will be the top of the notebook and about 1/2″ froom the side. Unfold this paper and line it up with a few sheets of your filler paper–punch holes through the holes you’ve already made. Repeat until you have as many filler sheets as you need. If you’re using an adjustable multi-hole punch, set the placement for the holes using the guides on the hole punch.

Do the same for the cover paper and the backing cardboard.

Step 2: Sandwich the filler paper between the backing and the cover and line up the holes so you can see all the way through.

Step 3: unbend your paper clip as shown:

Poke the small hook you’ve made through one of the holes, working from front to back, and pull through a loop of the hair elastic:

Insert one end of your stick through the loop, then repeat with the other hole, the other end of the same elastic, and the other end of the stick:

All done!

Floating Ink on Whipup!

Sat down with my cup of tea to surf some blogs, and look what I found on Whipup:

Me! They’ve linked to my tutorial from a few days ago on how to make inspirational wall hangings.

Made my day. Thank you, Sandi, for suggesting it to Whipup.

The neat Whip Up button above, by the way, is by Ann Benoit.