Category Archives: Stuff I Make

Another fabulous art night

This time at the home of a friend who really did it up royally–a dozen or so of us showed up in her (really amazing) home to find art supplies of every variety arranged on tables–wet media here, dry media there, stamping stuff in this corner (stamps are dry but inks are wet–decisions, decisions), gesso and all kinds of gel media and molding paste, jars of brushes and clean water, a sewing machine set up and ready for use. And, of course, a table of wines and sodas and the kettle on for tea. Every time I thought, “Oh, I wish I’d brought my X,” or “Too bad we don’t have any Y,” I’d raise my head and the needed item would be right there. It was like having all your art dreams come true.

We all brought our own offerings: paper and other ephemera, tools and toys, and something to add to the dinner table to go with the amazing veggie chili our hostess had made. Yummy things everywhere you looked.

I wish I had a photo of each of the beautiful or funny or elegant works that were produced that night. The emphasis was on smalls (ATC sized) but there were larger things, too, and a number of small books made on the tiny bound pads of nice paper that had been provided for us.

I even took advantage of our patron’s insistence that we take some papers and cards home with me, so, at least at my house, the party’s still going strong.



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.

Easter bunnies on parade

Just a quickie here, with a tutorial to follow later today. These three bunnies are about to go out to new homes, but I wanted to get them their 15 minutes of fame first.

The large map rabbit contained a couple of surprises. Purely by accident, his right flank includes the town in West Virginia where my mother was born (okay, the town large enough to be on a map at all that’s closest to where my mother was born) AND, on his left ear, the town in Ohio where First Child is in college.

These are some smart bunnies, I tell you.

A play date

I was recently invited to a fabulous event–an art-making day at the home of my dear friend Leslie. She provided the hospitality of her beautiful, Swedish-inspired home in the woods, the company of her charming dogs Luna and (the newly rescued) Broomis, and a spectacular seafood curry soup.

And large, blank houses cut from illustration board.

Her ten or twelve lucky guests brought rolls, salad, chocolate, chai, and bags and bins and boxes of art supplies and ephemera.

What a day we had, and how beautiful the resulting town of houses was when we finally–after 6 hours or so–stopped for show and tell.

I wish I could show them all to you, but, alas (and damn!) they don’t belong to me, but to their individual makers. But I will show off mine if I may (yeah, try and stop me). This baby’s been working up through the murky recesses of my consciousness, Magic 8-Ball style, for weeks, and it was both challenging and freeing to help it find form.

Here she be.  It’s called (after the Lhasa de Sela song of the same name) Soon This House Will Be Too Small.

The house is hinged with silk ribbons along the left side, and opens like a book; it stands about 9″ tall. Here’s the outside:

And the inside, with a somewhat closer view of the right-hand page (note the tiles that show through the windows on the front):

and the rear view:

Each woman there made something different–there were cheerful houses, somber houses, homes, shops, houses with words, houses that held their tongues, tropical houses and beach houses and fantasy houses. Amazing.

Here’s the interesting thing. Since that day I’ve been having incredibly vivid, long, detailed dreams about houses of all kinds, so real, so insistent on being recognized.

I think we need another art day. Soon.

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.

A pretty thing

I made a present for someone with a birthday this week (who doesn’t, fortunately, read this blog).  Someone who likes blue.

My Better Half came home from an estate sale a few weeks ago saying, “there was a lot of cool stuff there–you should make me a list of things you want me to look for at tag sales and auctions, in case you aren’t with me.” Art supplies and old kimono fabric, said I.

He looked crestfallen. He had seen both within the previous two days.

It was too late for the kimono fabrics, which apparently went for a song at an auction, but I did get to go back with him to the estate sale selling art supplies, and picked up some wonderful big brushes, some old books that can ethically be cannibalized for projects, and a whole heap of canvases–the whole lot for $5.00. Sometimes these sales make me sad, but at this one the grown son of the artist (his mom) was genuinely happy to have her art supplies being carried off by people who appreciated and were going to use them that I didn’t feel so badly.

But the kimono scraps stuck in my head, so I started surfing for them online, and . . . voila: I bought the first of what I hope will be many. This one started life as a sleeve, probably in the mid-20th century, and over the last day or so I transformed it into what I think is a quite elegant scarf.

The fabric is silk crepe de chine with a pattern of what might be highly stylized clouds, but might also be ripples in a pond. Either way, they’re lovely, the fabric is in great shape, and I was able to find a nice silky crepe in a contrasting color (a sort of storm-cloud blue-gray) that works either way to use as a backing for it.

I took the top picture yesterday when I was starting the (hand) sewing, and the bottom one this morning after I finished it. I took them in different rooms and in different weather, but the top picture gives a better sense of the actual color, which is slightly grayish. Looking at both pictures, though, shows the slight difference in the pattern–one side is sort of a negative of the other. I debated long and hard about which side to have show, and involved everyone in the family in making the choice. In the end, Second Child pointed out that it was a win-win, as the two sides are equally pretty.

And, honey, you picked exactly the right thread color when you went to the fabric store with me, but I still don’t get that you don’t get that a scarf doesn’t have to be wooly and warm to be desirable.