bear anatomy

I mentioned a while back I had been working on making a jointed bear. the plan was to use the laser cutter to cut parts, and then hold them together using some kind of pins or tiny nuts and bolts so the legs and head would move in realistic ways. I was inspired to do this while looking at Laura Mathews Instagram feed – she makes extraordinary articulated animals, and they look like such excellent toys, both to build and to play with.

I started the process with a drawing, and some reference photos, and worked out a first draft, but it wasn’t quite right, and I wasn’t sure why.

I am embarrassed at how long it took me to think to look at actual bear anatomy, especially bone structure and musculature.

I did not look for bear anatomy, because I thought I understood quadruped anatomy, because I have drawn horses for my entire life. Any quadruped I see, I can map it roughly onto a horse, and sketch out something that looks perfectly reasonable. But it is not, in fact, reasonable.

To be technical, a horse is an ungulate. They walk about on their tippy-toes, and hide their (vestigial) thumbs up their legs somewhere. (Alice weirded out another visitor at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology by crooning to a skeleton “ah my little ungulate, and where do you hide your thumbs…?”). Bears (and I realize this is a shock) are not ungulates. The scales have fallen from my eyes, and my bear models are hugely improved:

Also I am looking at all other mammals (squirrel, rabbit, chipmunk, cat), and also many non-mammal vertebrates (BIRDS!!! SO WEIRD!!!!), and thinking “whoa, that is not an ungulate either, I wonder what their bones look like???”

tl;dr Bears are not ungulates, and once you understand their skeleton better the models of them work SO MUCH BETTER. Also I think it hilarious that I was last month years old when I figured this out. There is always room for new knowledge. What have you learned recently?

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: 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

Sumac three ways

Sometimes I get stuck on a particular topic. The staghorn sumac berries were speaking to me. I finished the first one, with two colors of velvet providing depth and one variegated thread defining the berries. But!! I was not done! The second piece used one solid color of velvet for the body of the subject, and I added three different variegated threads to shade the shape. The third one I used heavy perle cotton in the bobbin, and worked upside down, over brown velvet. I used two related colors of thread to give lighter and darker sides.

There’s a modern, painterly feel of the first one, and it surprises me how much I like it. The second one has some delicate shading in it, but the background is … busy. The third one feels most like my usual work.

What do you think?