Monday, May 23, 2016

Your Eyes Won't Believe What Your Hands Have Done: Kids Version

A few weeks ago I went into AC Moore (it's like a Michael's) with the sole intent of buying one calligraphy pen and nothing else. I DID buy just one pen, but I failed on the nothing else bit. I had a fifty percent off coupon, and they had a Spirograph set . I'm sure you can do the math. I remember we had this when I was little, and how awesome I thought it was. Now that I know it was invented by a mathematician and the thought and ingenuity that went into it, I think it's even more awesome.

Anyway--does this bring back any memories for any of you?

 

It was a little tricky to get used to (I remember it being super simple) as you have to keep the wheel pressed just so against the ring. But once you get the hang of it, it's like anything else. There's a little guidebook that comes with it that tells you what to do to create certain designs.


I was annoyed that my neon gel pens aren't compatible with this as I had visions of neon ink on a black background and something totally flower-powery. But then I moved on to combining line work with a spiro base and occupied myself for way too long with something sold in toy stores.

Same design, but one is plain and the other is decorated a la moi.

I love the difference! Like those quilt blocks that are constructed the same but can look entirely different depending on fabric choice.

The entire thing is fairly soothing. And the best part is that I start with a nice symmetrical base, so even if my lines aren't perfect the shell is.

If you are sitting there thinking "Did I just really read a blog post written by a grown-a$$ woman about a child's toy from the sixties?" I can assure you that yes, you did. And if you come back in a few days, I'll show you my new quilting toys that are kind of the adult version of a spirograph.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My Very Own Red Ryder BB Gun

Not really. Metaphorically. But with all the feels.

Not long ago was my birthday, and I wrote to you here that my sisters bought me a totally unexpected gift--tickets to a show on Garrison Keillor's farewell tour. I have listened to A Prairie Home Companion on and off and on again for about twenty years--I can guarantee you that I was the only kid (possibly the only person, haha) in my entire high school who listened to an old-timey radio variety show broadcast live from Minnesota. I had no idea he was coming to a theater in a town not far from me, but my sister did, and snagged a pair of tickets way back before Thanksgiving, and held onto them without bursting at the seams to tell (unlike me--I cannot hold onto surprises that long).

Anyway, my mother was my date, and after I had a little pre-date bash at the dentist for my six-month cleaning, we headed out to the Keswick Theatre, an old-fashioned theater that was originally a movie house.


The place was packed--I couldn't believe how many people came out to see this (because whenever I have mentioned his name it got me nothing but blank stares). The stage was set very simply--


-- a piano and a stool. The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, and the man himself walked out onto the stage. And there he remained for two hours straight, no intermission, no cue cards or cheat sheets or notes or anything, just him and the piano player Rich Dworsky. Photos weren't allowed, so my sneaky shot is terrible, but you get the idea.


He starts the show with a sing-along of sorts, and calls the audience his 'choir.' No accompaniment, just clear, soft voices singing "God Bless America" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." And then the tale-telling and the jokes commence, and we were riveted for two straight hours. This deep, soft, melodic voice regaled us with tales of Minnesota farms, and Lutheran ministers, and forgotten Norwegians. It was definitely reminiscent of the radio show, but at the same time very different. At times we roared with laughter. Other times he started to be a bit more serious, but then quickly (and unbeknownst to us for a little while) set the scene for another side-splitting story.

All too soon, it was over, this evening of as-American-as-apple-pie goodness. We wrapped up by singing "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You." Standing ovation, bows, happy faces and teary eyes. All was right with the world. Fare thee well, Mr. Keillor. You may say you come from good-enough-people, but I respectfully disagree.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Brain Yoga

I've been trying to find some simple things to work on to get in some drawing practice. If you follow me on Pinterest you're probably aware that a lot of these 'things' have been in the form of zentangles. What are zentangles? Well, according to their own definition, the "zetangle method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. It increases focus and creativity, and provides artistic satisfaction along with an increased sense of personal well-being." There's a whole 'method' and a kit you can buy, and, I guess, a way that you're supposed to do it. But why would you spend money when there is an infinite amount of inspiration online for free?

So anyway, if you make a 'traditional zentangle' (which is funny that it's traditional because it's only been a thing for about ten years) you're supposed to start with a tile (a small square of paper) and draw all over it. I wanted something bigger and more cohesive, so I traced a bunch of interlocking circles and filled the spaces in with different patterns (if planning was a skill of mine I'd have traced circles to the outer edges of the paper).


Exercises like this give you great practice at pen control and tip-size use, and also work your neurons to come up with different patterns for each section.


I worked on this piece for a few evenings, and it felt just as soothing as my yoga classes to my brain. The practice is so repetitive but can be fairly precise and intricate, forcing you to focus on what you're doing (just like when I'm in my actual yoga class and just trying to concentrate on not tipping over).


Although I am a wicked color fiend, I do love the stark black and white contrast, and the high impact that no color can have, visually.


I've been trying to get in more practice drawing things that are actual things, and I've turned out a few bits that aren't terrible, but I do find that this repetitive line-work is my favorite (right now).


My cousin sent me a message on Instagram to tell me that she thought this would be a great print for a handbag. I don't know if that was a hint or a compliment, hahaha, but wouldn't that be fun, to have fabric designs to your name? A girl can dream. And practice. One must practice, I suppose, when art in any form is not something that comes naturally. My take is that I've worked thousands and thousands of stitches, for what must be thousands of hours, to get to a point where I feel confident in my skills with knit, crochet, and sewing. So I guess a similar investment must be made here. At this rate I'll be famous after I'm dead. Which, I guess, is better than never.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Operetta Shawl...Kind Of...

Last August, I went out to Lancaster County (Amish country) for a day trip (if you were reading my blog in December you might remember the extravaganza that was the Christmas museum). Anyway, there were quite a few fabric and yarn shops in the area. I was trying to be restrained with both, so I bought some quilt binding fabric.  And some yarn.

The yarn shop I purchased from is called Labadie Looms. This has been a family business for over NINE generations, going way back to 1683. They specialize in weaving and spinning, as well as selling looms, spinning wheels and accessories, wool roving, and yarn that is either spun and dyed on-site or is made by local artisans (all sourced from area animals). Pretty cool, right? I bought a hank of their dyed wool of a fingering weight, and a hank of beautiful mohair that was closer to a fingering weight than a lace weight. Both of these yarns have a little bit of sparkle running through them, so it has the slightest shimmer to it that I just could not capture in pictures. But it's in there.

Fast forward a few months and the Skeino company released a new shawl pattern, the Operetta Shawl. I really like this company as they're socially responsible, sell beautiful yarns, and come up with some really unique patterns. Their Arabella Shawl is one of my favorite things I've ever made. Now, their Operetta Shawl kit is a combination of a worsted weight wool and a lace weight mohair. I had two fingering-ish weight yarns that had been sitting in the original paper bag and no idea what I would use them for. So I decided to make this pattern using slightly different yarns, and see what happened. What happened is a shawl that I love.


I was a bit nervous I'd end up with a small scarflet thingee, but this ended up the same size (about five feet across the top, and about three from the center to the point).


It is so lightweight and fluffy, but also warm--perfect for cool spring/summer nights, but also as a little something extra over a sweater in the winter without adding too much weight. The rows of mohair almost make it look like all those wooly loops are just floating.


The mohair feels thin and delicate, like there is no way possible it could hold up, but it's quite strong, and barely created a fuzz cloud when I wound the ball, but bloomed beautifully as it was being knit, giving the whole shawl a misty aura.


The pattern itself is quite smart. Usually in alternating row patterns, you either carry the yarn up the side or weave in more ends than should be legal. This pattern uses a clever back-and-forth-on-circulars technique that leaves you with just a few ends to weave in when you're through.


The only thing that bothers me slightly is that, even with wet blocking and pinning, the point still wants to curl a little bit. I'm certain this has to do with my bind-off--it feels loose enough as I bound off purl-wise, but there's probably just enough pull around the corner to tighten it just so slightly.


The cast-on is that little section that looks just a little different there in the photo--it's a garter tab start, which I've never done before but is quite simple. I was a little worried that the top edge would pull too much on the stitches, but it feels just right. Which is good. Because I don't know if I have enough yarn left to crochet a little bit of strength into that top edge.


This shawl is quite large and of pretty thin yarn, so it took me about a month to knit. I tried to make it while I was watching the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle, but it was entirely too interesting and I didn't get much done (seriously--check that show out). But as it's entirely garter stitch with a few increases thrown in, there's not much you have to pay attention to (except for the slide-your-stitches part).


While I do love Skeino products, I'll be the first to admit that they are by no means inexpensive, and might even be prohibitive for some. However, they do provide their patterns for free on Ravelry--you can find this one here. So if you've got yarn you like you can very easily make your own version at a cost that's more agreeable to you. Skeino also teams up with VeryPink to provide comprehensive tutorials on their patterns. This one is available here.

Happy knitting!

** I'm aware this post reads as a sales ad of sorts for Skeino and VeryPink, but I am in no way affiliated with them. Skeino is a company whose product and ethics I like, and VeryPink is a resource I find to be immensely helpful. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Murder Mystery Quilt Along: Block 4

I almost forgot to post this month's quilt block (I know you sit there at the edge of your seat, just waiting for these). We're up to chapter four already, which seems insanely fast. I still have no idea where this is headed and what I'm making, but I guess that's the point of the whole thing.


There was some debate over what this block is supposed to represent, and it definitely would have influenced my fabric choices. I waffled for quite a bit, and then just went with the suggested fabrics as I've been doing all along. I've never reverse-appliqued before, and I'm not a fan of doing it (though I like the look of it). I originally cut out all the circles in the background fabric at once, but things got very wonky when I tried to sew the appliques to it. So I scrapped that, and cut and sewed one at a time.


I wanted to do a blanket stitch, but called it a day after managing just to stitch these down successfully with a straight stitch. Of course I can always go back and add it--it would probably be much easier with some stitches stabilizing the rest of the fabric.


Normally I wouldn't show you the back, but here it is anyway. I didn't trim anything yet, because at this point I still don't know what is a clue and what is meaningless.

My plan (when I can get a little chunk of time) is to spread out my blocks and reread the chapters to see if the detective portion of my brain can be activated. Or maybe I'll just find a detective and ask him/her to help me out.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunshine on a Gray Day

Today is my birthday. I write that not to garner wishes, but as a simple statement of fact, just like I'd say "I have brown eyes." I'm on the upper edge of my thirties, but I still feel like I could be somewhere between 12 and 19 (I've never felt comfortable in bars so I don't think my 'feels like' age would be legal drinking age, hahaha). It was rainy and cold and dreary today, so the pics are from last weekend when we had a beautiful sunny day. 


I have always liked my birthday, but only in that spend-it-with-your-loved-ones way. I don't like being the center of attention, so I don't think a large party would suit me. But a nice day spent with your loves is just right.


I received some beautiful presents. A fabulous set of watercolor markers that are crazy fun--you can use them either as regular markers with a brush tip, OR you can do a few brush strokes and apply water to achieve a watercolor paint effect. So nifty. No matter how hard I try I cannot paint--what I see in my brain refuses to come through my fingertips. But I can do okay with coloring and doodling, so these markers are great for that.


I also received this very cool looking quilting set that I can't wait to try out and show you. The set comes with a presser foot, and a variety of plastic templates. The point is to help you achieve nifty quilting results on a domestic machine. I only ever grid quilt, so I'm looking forward to trying this out (it's kind of a free motion assist for those of us not inclined to free motion successfully).


I spent the first part of the year in a relationship that we both recently agreed just wasn't working. This afternoon, he dropped off a gift to me, catching me by surprise. It was a beautiful assortment of teas. Other than my one cup of coffee in the morning, I drink tea and water all day long, so this is a delightful gift.


My brother, sister-in-law and nephew gave me a beautiful mug and some tea that smells so delicious it's insane, along with some other goodies from a boutique shop in the mall that I love.


And then my sisters, brother-in-law and nephew gave me something that was a total surprise that they've had since before Christmas. I could not imagine what was in the envelope they handed me, and at first I thought they gave me concert tickets (I don't do concerts--I've never been to one, and don't mind if I never go). But then I realized that they bought me tickets to a Garrison Keillor show on his final tour (he's retiring after forty plus years). For those of you with a blank stare on your faces, Garrison Keillor hosts a radio variety show on NPR with an old-timey feel called Prairie Home Companion. If you've heard of Lake Wobegon then you probably have some idea of who he is. Anyway, it absolutely shocked me that they kept the secret for so long, and that they knew who he was enough to know that I'd love this gift.


Aside from perfect presents, even the food was divine. My dad made some hot caprese bruschetta (not sure if that's a thing but that's what I'm calling it). My mother made ravioli for dinner. And then there was German butter cake and homemade ice cream for dessert. All the food things I love. To finish it off, we all sat around the table creating various pictures with those aforementioned watercolor markers. All-in crafty sessions almost never happen, so I loved it.


So that was my day. Combined with a very productive Saturday, and a Friday night couch-vegging session, it was a perfect weekend. I've now topped it off with some tea, and I'm headed to bed to do some reading--I want to finish the book I'm currently reading before I dive into another one of my birthday presents. I've been waiting for months to continue the story, and I'm thiiiiiis close to it. So good night!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Things I Drew on Black Paper

I know I say it quite a bit that I'm a twelve year old girl at heart, but I feel my love and affection for gel pens and black paper makes that super true (as does over-use of the word super). Actually, I've always loved stationery in a very weird sort of way. Like...I'm a legit grown-up and I love that I get to order the stationery at work so I can buy sticky-notes in fun colors. And if someone has a nifty looking pen I look at it lustily and ask if I can write my name with it to see if I want to steal it. Ahem...anyway...I found this pack of black card stock on clearance, and it wanted to live with me, and I have a lot of gel pens, and I've been making them play together.

First up is a mandala I drew. I follow a few artsy Instagram accounts, and the mandalas they show are just so good, and symmetrical, and impossible looking. Mine is ok, and not entirely even, and definitely possible. But I still like it anyway.


I started off by drawing two circles: one is in the center so I'd have a true circle to work outwards from, the other is the final outer circle that I planned on using as a checkpoint to make sure that things were even before continuing, but decided to stop. It's not the easiest thing to come up with different little doodly bits for each round, but it's a fabulous brain stretching exercise. 


I used these gel pens (and a white one) for the main part, and I used some of these to try to add some sparkle that you cannot see at all in the photo (except for a little bit of it on the green bits). The pens have a bit of a paint texture to them, so it's not as smooth as a regular marker might be, but it's worth it for the contrast with the black paper.


Next I played around with some neon gel pens in a starburst pattern. Starburst? Fireworks? One of those.


This one is a bit dizzying to the eye, but is probably the easiest thing ever. Other than all those filler dots. Oy.


And last is a drawing done as part of a Creativebug class, with the inspiration being a Japanese wave pattern. The demo included a white moon 'shining' over a paper of waves, but I left that part out (didn't have the paint) and just did waves.


This felt quite weird at first, in that "OK, now where do I go? And what do I do when I get there?" sense, but once you get going you can feel your brain relax a little bit more. It definitely creates a very cool pattern, and the white on black is just so nifty looking.


I'll tell you this--practicing the piano was nowhere near as fun as practice doodling.

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