A newsletter of tiny things

I have started a new thing, as one does, particularly in times of uncertainty. If you would like to see a small artwork, or something else small and interesting, mostly daily, sign up using the form in the link. You can always unsubscribe if I talk too much, or you don’t like the pictures, or you have too many things in your inbox already. I sympathize. Nothing personal.

The first one is written, and I’m working on the next one!

distractions for a pandemic

Last year I signed up for Rebecca Mezoff’s class on weaving tapestry on little looms. She is a delightful teacher, and I enjoyed the class a lot. I was working on a loom I had cut from thin plywood using the laser cutter at Smith College – the first loom I made was too flimsy, and the next several attempts were respectively not cut all the way through, excessively burnt and off center. I decided I had enough things to work on in the fall and stopped weaving for a while.

With the pandemic and resulting directions to stay home, I have revisited the idea of tapestries, particularly weaving small, four selvedge pieces. After a good deal of thrashing about in the shop yesterday, I produced a prototype small loom with adjustable tension.

The “comb” parts came from one of the heavier failed laser cut looms. The rest is scraps and a large bolt scrounged from various bins. While I am pleased with myself for accomplishing this object, it turns out to be less than completely functional. The teeth are too fat to make a selvedge (a woven edge that does not need finishing) and the not quite deep enough to hold multiple loops of string for a string supported warp. I found these things through trial and error, and a series of false starts.

On the left, from top to bottom, my first, second and third attempts at weaving, along with another picture of the loom. Not shown, the various warp experiments that failed to stay in place long enough to weave anything. On the right, my first four selvedge piece, with a penny for scale. The side selvedges are spectacularly wobbly, but the basic idea is there, and I am pleased.

And I have ordered a Mirrix Saffron loom, because while I could indeed continue to work on this one, it will be so much easier to get going on a loom that is designed to do what I want from the ground up. And having had a lot of fun weaving, and a good deal of aggravation getting set up, I’m all about decreasing aggravation, and increasing the fun quotient.

I should likely talk about the Daily 100, and the creative project next time!

Bench notes: further printing from embroidery

My notes from printing from embroidery the first time listed the following directions I could pursue.

  • find smoother interfacing, without the prominent bumps of fusible
  • try drilling holes in a stiffer substrate – chipboard or thin plywood
  • what difference does hand sewing make? I could use thicker threads working by hand than with a machine, but the line is not continuous
  • does a different type of thread matter? Nylon, rayon, linen are all on hand for testing

Using the laser cutter at Smith College Design Thinking Institute, I made holes in some of my fabric fused to heavy interfacing, to make the stitching easier. I also used the laser cutter to cut and drill holes into 3mm thick chipboard (which is heavy cardboard, it just has a technical name I did not know).

The chipboard did provide a much stiffer backing for the stitching, but it still grabbed and carried paint from the backing to the image. I think if I had more stitching and less open space, that could be mended, but creating the design well before it is drilled cuts back on flexibility within the design itself. I was surprised how sparse the laser cut designs were when printed – they felt much more complex when I was working on the computer drafting them, than when I had the work in hand and was embroidering them.

I was also surprised at how easy it is to hand stitch on the fabric/interfacing combination – I expected to have to use pliers to pull the needle and I did not. That ease allowed me to develop the design in a much more organic way than when I relied on pre-drilled holes in both the interfacing and the chipboard. I think the resulting image is clearer and more interesting than the pre-drilled images.

Ultimately, I think I can carry my ideas further using hand embroidery on heavy interfacing, and possibly adding in machine work extend the areas I can cover easily. I can still experiment with different thread types.

I’m letting all of these ideas rest for a while. Something will become clear.

bewildered?

I honestly have no idea what to write about right now. My state (Massachusetts) is beginning the sharp increase of cases of COVID-19. Although we are in the western part of the state, we have cases in town, including my friend the mayor. Once the virus reached the people I know, it changed my feelings about pretty much everything.

I have been distracting myself with making blocks for an actual quilt quilt, not one of my usual pieces of quilt-adjacent artwork. I have finished binding a book that was waiting for more than a year to be done. And I have kept on going with #thedaily100project (#66 of 100 today! 2/3 finished!).

As far as I can tell, the entire world is shut down and shut in. Tell me your coping mechanisms, I could use some more –

stay safe, stay well, take care of each other

Bench Notes: printing from embroidery

I had an epiphany the last day of the North Country Studio Workshop, when I was captivated by the work in the print studio, and I came back to the fiber studio and looked at all the stitches we had put on things-that-were-not-fabric – the stitches made a raised surface that looked like it could be printed from.

I feel like I have been broody about this idea for the last three weeks, like a hen all spread out over her nest, protecting the eggs and keeping anyone else from looking at them too closely. Including myself; if I examine an idea in this stage too hard it just evaporates out from under me. Whereas sitting quietly with the tiniest beginnings allows them to grow, to gather steam and become big enough to work on.

These are tests, so they are fairly small (2.5×3.5″) I started with the process I am most comfortable with, using my sewing machine with #8 perle cotton in the bobbin. I worked with the piece upside down, which was helpful in part because that is the way the image will look printed. This is just the first two iterations, and some notes on what I think I want to change for the next iterations.

Notes:

  • the dots of fusible on the interfacing come through
  • stitching or not stitching the background does not seem to matter
  • the interfacing might not be stiff enough to hold the threads up, proud of the surface, enough for printing without the substrate carrying and transferring ink as well
  • wetting the embroidery slightly makes the ink soak into the threads, and provides a bolder print
  • except it also makes the ink soak into the substrate more, so there is more background noise

Next Steps:

  • find smoother interfacing, without the prominent bumps of fusible
  • try drilling holes in a stiffer substrate – chipboard or thin plywood
  • what difference does hand sewing make? I could use thicker threads working by hand than with a machine, but the line is not continuous
  • does a different type of thread matter? Nylon, rayon, linen are all on hand for testing

progress

I have been keeping up with both the 100 Day Project and Daily Feb 2020, and the collection of tiny things looks like this:

I made some sampler pieces at the workshop – I never made it terribly far past running stitch. I got very interested in the weights of stitches I could achieve by varying thread weight and stitch length.

preparations, long and short term

I am packing for a workshop today, and leaving tomorrow, and coming back on Sunday. The workshop is at Bennington College, in the lower left corner of Vermont. A bunch of different things are being taught, from glass and woodworking to embroidery. I signed up for Embroidery Expanded, which I am very much looking forward to.

I have a rudimentary knowledge of embroidery, and enough knowledge to look up stitches I do not remember. I signed up for this particular workshop to gain some ideas for how to embroider on non-traditional surfaces, and with unusual materials. I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of things we talk about, and the community of people who think this sounds like fun.

I’m also pulling together materials for the #DailyFeb2020 challenge that starts this Saturday on February 1st. The plan (subject to change) is to embroider something every day, honing my newly acquired skills, and post the results on Instagram. I have a bunch of tiny laser cut frames for that project, although I have also been thinking very hard about three dimensional shapes and how to form and embroider them. Plans are allowed to change – that’s how I learn things!

The third thing I am working on is the 100 Day Project. I started that (stealthily) on Jan 22. It will run through the end of April. I seem to be able to think about 100 days more easily than a whole year. I’d like to try another daily for a year project, but my last couple of tries have not been successful, so I’m scaling back, and looking for a shorter horizon. You can see my progress with my 100 things on Instagram, with the tag #the100dayproject.

#DailyFeb2020

Hey people – remember last year, and the year before, when we made a bunch of things in February and learned some stuff and possibly used up some stuff and etc.? I’m doing it again!

There are only three rules: A Very Low Bar, Very Clear Boundaries, and Quantity Not Quality.

A Very Low Bar – An absurdly low bar invites anyone and everyone to step over it, to prove, in fact, that anyone and everyone can step over it. Having cleared it once gives you a little jolt of accomplishment, which is a good thing, and encourages you to do it again. We are chasing that tiny jolt of endorphins that come from doing the thing. The theory is, that will propel you to do it again, and again, and again, which is practice.

To assist in making the bar even lower, choose something you have tools for. Choose something that you can set up quickly and clean up easily (or set up in a corner somewhere that won’t be disturbed). Lower the threshold for doing the thing as much as you possibly can. To that end, it is perfectly legit to lay in a stock of things before Feb 1 – like pre-cut paper, sharpened pencils, the paints for this February’s palette, or all the ends of sock yarn you have on hand. Get a little excited about this process!

The Very Clear Boundaries: This is a lesson from Twyla Tharpe’s book The Creative Habit and reinforced by personal experience and even Orson Welles (“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” ) To this end, 1) you must put some lines around what you want to practice, and B) make that measurable. So choose a size, limit your palette, limit the number of stitches you are knitting, or the time spent, limit yarn size, commit to buying nothing new, or using up all of a resource. Basically think about what you need to do, to make the box you are creating around your project small enough to be a little constrictive. Those constraints let you can experiment with pushing at the edges, without having to spend too much time finding the edges first.

Quantity Not Quality: You want to make a LOT of something this month. To make that measurable, choose metrics you can see, and count, things that are strictly mathematical or true/false. Your metrics matter, a lot. “Make one nice picture” is useless because who says it is nice? “I used up all the paint I had” is a very good metric because you can tell when you’ve achieved it and also it is pushing you towards more using and making.

My plan for February 2020: make something small that is out of my comfort zone every day. Since I am taking an embroidery workshop at the end of January, my plan is to make a tiny embroidery every day, and frame it up in a small laser cut frame. I’m working on making the frames this week, so they’ll be ready to go, and I have the floss and other materials on hand. I even wound all the floss onto bobbins, so I won’t get the appalling tangled disaster than I have encountered before!

If you’d like to join in, that would be great! I’ll be posting my work on Instagram, and tagging it #dailyFeb2020 – if you use the same tag, we’ll find everyone’s work!

Happy 2020

I had almost reached that point of embarrassment about not posting that I was contemplating shutting down the blog and staring over, but it seemed like an over-reaction to a medium absence composed of medical issues and holidays.

Hi! I’m back! I had a teratoma (it was a Mass!! It was a MONSTER MASS!) removed when it twisted some internal stuff and hurt a lot. That was the beginning of December. Then I recuperated on the couch, and then the holidays happened and I took the family and fled to the Florida Keys to be warm and together.

We got back in time to have more winter weather happen. Last night friends came to see the perfectly timed evening fireworks (my little city is so civilized!) and come back to the house for dinner and foolishness.

Today I am catching up on the things I meant to do earlier, and thinking about what I want to accomplish this year.

I hope you are also entering the new year with hope and enthusiasm –

whatever the weather

Thanksgiving happened in the US – in an unusual move for us we split along generational lines, and the kids went to see my Mum, while Al and I traveled to see his grown-with-huge-children niece and nephew. Reports from the far north indicated a fine dinner was had by all, and the kids stopped to see their cousins and baby cousins on the way home.

We had a glorious snowstorm Sunday – Tuesday morning. It was moving so slowly, so it hovered over us dropping snowflakes for well over forty hours. It felt luxurious, to have a snow day following the Thanksgiving break, I guess less luxurious once the shoveling is taken into account. And now on Friday it is snowing again, although less than an inch is predicted. I’ve taken advantage of the weather to sit in the studio doing hand work on tiny things in frames:

I did some freelance theatrical scene painting for the Pioneer Valley Ballet’s Nutcracker this week, marbling a few pieces and making a ground row look fluffy enough to be snowbanks or clouds depending on lighting.