Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Free Flower File

I want to make sure all my new readers know about this giveaway. Here is a link to my article in Bernina Through the Needle Online Magazine . I hope you'll enjoy reading about the design and stitching process behind creating free-standing lace. You can also download a free embroidery file for the flower on the cover. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Thinking About the Box or Who Knew Glue

When I needed to develop a jewelry gift box for some of the small items I make, I realized I’d need to give it some thought. Packaging can be what sets your craft product apart. Especially in the competitive world of Etsy where photos must sell and hopefully attract an editor’s eye.  A product just isn’t finished without being wrapped in a professional presentation.
But packaging generally annoys me. I think the terms “disposable” and “throw away” should be eliminated from our language and lifestyles. So the idea of purchasing and printing professional packaging felt like perpetuating a practical evil.  ;-)   Looking at the market, there are some nice things available – but anything special is also expensive. And even if I were to purchase recycled boxes and cardstocks, customized with green inks, etc., wouldn’t I just be putting out another disposable item?
So I had the idea of creating “Packaging Worth Preserving” and to give my customers a jewelry gift box they might treasure instead of toss. It had to have charm and be something special, but also be practical and sturdy for shipping. My second mission was to make these from recycled materials.
And there, in my recycling bin, were boxes and a mound of paper circulars that arrive each week, unrequested and unrelenting, and I thought….humm…..a ready supply of free material -  I wonder if I could create Packaging Worth Preserving out of this?
Some initial rectangular boxes were clean and neatly utilized the graphics on the recycled cardstock. But they’d never look like my brand:  rather like I was ripping off Coca-cola and Andy Warhol at the same time.  I investigated a variety of other shapes as well, (purse, heart, rounds) but felt the cutesy shapes were, well, too party favor.
 Then I thought of pirate chests and ancient dowry boxes and of trying to evoke that sense of preciousness in a paper box.  Online I found a chest-like shape with some clever cut-on feet and I played with that for a while, altering the top.  I took an obsessive detour and made this tiny paper chest, lined with padded velvet. It has hand-made hinges and a magnet ‘lock’ that snaps closed. It is completely impractical to the gift box purpose, but I had fun making it and it makes me laugh.
While making all these samples I discovered that, perhaps most importantly, my design needed to be easy to cut. Until I get a die cut machine and custom die, they will be cut by hand (mine). Easy to cut means straight lines and straight lines mean… ((shiver))… geometry.
Geometry. And the stern Ms. Mathers who would have been pretty if she hadn’t been so tight around the mouth. I hated that I had her, 2 years in a row, for both Geometry and Algebra. One day, a fellow student posed to her what I considered a perfectly good math question - how much alcohol to buy for an upcoming party?  Ms. Mathers curtly responded, “I don’t drink”. I decided then and there that she was a bad teacher to have missed an opportunity to educate due to her personal judgment and under-age drinking. I stopped listening and learned nothing from her, having also wrongly deduced that, as an artist, I would not be needing math in my life time.
Well, I missed the math lesson, but am reminded of the one on judgments each time I have to muddle around, muttering “I know there is a formula for this” and cursing myself for the millionth time for not paying attention to Ms. Mathers.  I finally figured out how to make a hexagonal box and drafted the design. My prototype cut and assembled relatively quickly and I felt pleased with the results. The shape has charm, is quite strong for shipping, and it tessellates with other boxes so I can pack several into one padded envelope. I like it because it looks like a nut, and is not too feminine. Now I needed the box material. The cardboard in my recycle bin was either too thick or the wrong size, so I decided to try to make a cardstock from laminated junk mail and use this to create my hex gift boxes.
This lead to an exploration of glues.  I wanted to use ecologically sound non-harmful home-made glue – but the short of it is - after many experiments with cold and cooked wheat paste, I couldn’t get it to work. Papers all de-laminated and cracked when the box folding began.  While these paper maché glues would be excellent for rigid projects, my box requires some flexibility.  I tested various ‘white’ glues and glued the inside layers with a non-toxic Weldbond “More Than Great Glue” (a construction glue I picked up at ACE Hardware) and US Art Quest PPA Matte (purchased at Art Supply Warehouse, a real art supply store) on the outside. Polymer based products allow the right amount of flexibility and adhesion. But if anyone out there knows of a way to laminate a variety of papers together using homemade natural glues and without cracking or tearing along the scored and folded edges, I’d love to know about it.
I ended up using grocery circulars laminated together; however by themselves they look dingy. So I applied ‘Jeanine’ wallpaper on the interior side for a clean finish. This was printed on my inkjet on recycled paper, but, so far, I have not been able to find soy/green inks for small printers. On the outside I recycled two nearly obsolete things: maps and yellow pages, featuring fun imagery from both.
I hope people will like and keep these one-of-a-kind gift boxes, and I feel good about recycling the paper.  Perhaps a way around the glue issue would be to grind the junk mail into paper pulp and make cardstock from that….I’d need to add some dryer lint for strength, and then decorate or dye some way because the pulp would be grayish..…well that’s an experiment for another day.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Endangered Beautiful Butterflies

A while back I started working on a series of butterflies... specifically endangered ones. The butterfly, a ubiquitous motif in decorative arts throughout the ages, symbol of life, change and rebirth, adored for its extraordinary beauty and fragility: how incongruous that we should be killing something we apparently love so much. I’ve tried to make these as true to life as I can reasonably represent in free standing lace embroidery. It takes many, many hours of programming, moving stitch by stitch, and usually numerous test stitch-outs before I get all the bugs (sorry) worked out.

Technically lace, being entirely made of thread, their naturalistic pattern and vivid coloring don’t make one think of lace, although they can be lacy.  In an attempt to make them as accurate as possible, I decided to try to replicate both sides of the butterfly. This is difficult because the two sides are usually different, and sometimes radically so.  This is easy to do with the Monarch or the Swallowtail whose patterning is similar on both sides. It is much more difficult with the Blue Morpho which is iridescent blue on the back and a tan bark-like pattern with eye-spots on the underside. I’m still working on that one.
Early tests I found were too stiff. I found the key to keeping the butterflies thin and delicate feeling, yet strong and sturdy, is in careful attention to stitch direction and density during programming followed by attention to the bobbin colors during stitching. This video depicts the soft ‘hand’ of a Monarch butterfly embroidery.
With the Swallowtail design I added stabilizing stitches that serve a second purpose and become the wired legs, antennae, and proboscis of the finished butterfly. In this way, the butterfly requires only minimal finishing after being embroidered. The file and the finished butterfly are available in my Etsy shop.
This last bit – the legs, antennae, and proboscis – are a bit of a nod to an artist I so admire: Annemieke Mein, who has set the bar very high on naturalist fiber work. I recommend her book   Mein’s work depicts the beauty in creatures, some not always thought of as “beautiful”.  Depicting the butterfly as realistically as possible reminds us that it is a living being, part of the symbiotic life cycles of the earth requiring protection, and not merely the colorful, fairy-like creatures that amuse us.
And I think they are pretty clipped in the hair.