'If you make happiness your goal, then you're not going to get to it… The goal should be an interesting life."

Dorothy Rowe

Saturday 22 February 2014

Ups and Downs.

Starting with  a down.

I think I mentioned that on Christmas Eve morning, we woke to the sight of a large tree across the main road near our house. We could enjoy it to the full because no-one was hurt, and although it  inconvenienced a lot of people hoping to make last minute visits to Sainsbury's, it inconvenienced us not at all. 

On the morning after Valentine's Day (is there a pattern here?) we woke to this. A smaller tree, but unfortunately a lot closer to home. You may notice that there is a gate behind it. Our gate. Which opens inwards. Meaning that we were trapped. Much less fun because it inconvenienced no-one but us - and Cheese Major and the SeƱorita, who nobly gave up an afternoon playing with bows and arrows to come and get the gate open, pending the arrival of the tree surgeon. Fortunately the latter came very quickly and by tea time we could get the car out as well as ourselves.

Things have been generally on the up since then. We had an enjoyable trip to Milestones, together with half the juvenile population of Hampshire - and a coach load of pensioners from London who rapidly realised that a wet day at half term was not the best time to make a visit. 

The rest of the week has passed in a haze of Visual Marks, appointments, clearing and cleaning space before delivery of a new bed for Babybel (she and the VHC have outgrown the existing provision at Granny's, and are moving up one each), buying bedding for said beds, (we thought the VHC would prefer this to the existing, very pink Peppa Pig set) - and a bit of sewing and bookmaking.

Our Visual Marks meeting was spent painting cloth with dye - it was too big to photograph, but here are some samples. It is coming back next time, now it has been batched, washed, dried and ironed, (thanks to M.) to be cut into nine pieces. Each of us will do our own thing with our piece, and then they will be reunited with their siblings in the hope that we have produced something interesting. 

Of course this meant we had nothing to take home and play with, so just in case we felt deprived, W. gave us something to work on in the meantime. This. 

I have an idea. Watch this space.

Most of what little spare time I had during the week was spent fulfilling - or nearly fulfilling - two requests. Babybel has started to receive visits from the tooth fairy. She already has a container for the exchange of teeth for pounds (!?!) but the tooth fairy informed me that he has difficulty getting his fingers into it, and please could I make another one? 

In my day the tooth just went under the pillow, so I researched the subject of suitable containers thoroughly (thank goodness for Google) and came up with this. 

Unfortunately, although I know I have a small quantity of toy filling somewhere, just enough to stuff it, I can't find it... So the doll is on hold until I can go shopping. Hope no more teeth come loose in the mean time.

The other request came from Babybel herself. She snuggled up to her granny on the sofa and asked very politely if granny could possibly make her a 'blanket' with horses on it. I think she meant a quilt, but granny's quilting days are over, so I put my research skills to good use again (I knew that degree in research methods would come in useful one day) and found some fleece, from Abakhan. An afternoon's hemming and it's ready to go on her new bed. The Abakhan website has helpful advice on sewing fleece which suggests using a twin needle for hems, and it did make a very neat finish. (I know you don't have to hem fleece but I'm old fashioned.)

 I also finished last week's book of the week. When I left you I was grappling with the question of what found text to find, and how to make it sequential. Thinking about found text and grids, I had a brainwave. Crosswords! I could cut strips of crosswords, and make a sequence of grids with them, starting with a grid of one strip (loose definition of 'grid' there) and gradually increasing in size. I happened to have a book of (completed) crosswords, so I tore out a few pages, painted them with yellow ochre, backed them with Bondaweb, sliced them up and started. 

And realised that:

it was boring; and

I had severely underestimated how many crosswords I would need.


So I painted and Bondawebbed a few more, and today I managed to finish the book, which now has a title - 'Across'. If I hadn't managed to mislay it in between taking these photos and getting to my antique Singer book press, it would be being pressed at this moment. However, I did find another book I'd lost - it was still in the book press...

This week's book is much simpler. Two spray painted cardboard covers, Arc binding discs from Staples, and some pages from another of my experiments with acrylic inks. (Don't ask about my attempt to use them for marbling. I'm sure it would have worked if I had followed the instructions...)

This one - 'sun printing' - worked. I spritzed the paper with water, dribbled/brushed on the inks, and left them under some plastic stencils till dry. I love the way the colours have migrated. 

Next week will, I hope, be a little quieter, as we need to brace ourselves for a Babybel and VHC sleepover the following weekend - hence the panic to get their sleeping arrangements sorted. 

P.S. There was also some sock knitting.


Friday 14 February 2014

Treading the Primrose Path of Dalliance.

Well, it is Valentine's Day. Although this primrose path is completely indoors, given that we have 50 kph winds blowing outside and it's raining heavily. Again.

I've been dallying with book making again. The book of the week was going to be an experiment, to see if I could make this technology work with my own covers. Just quick paper-covered card covers, a hole punch, some of the 'rings', which are actually discs, and a few pages.

Then I remembered that, ages ago, I bought  'Artists' Books Ideation Cards', from Julie Chen, but had done nothing with them. You select cards at random and then make a book that fits.  Category cards outline the methodology to use, adjective cards describe the mood of the book.

It seemed like a good idea to try them out.

My Category cards were 'multiple openings' (i.e. not just a straightforward start at the beginning and keep on to the end book), 'multiple colours', 'based on a grid', 'no images', 'favourite colour', 'found text', and 'hand drawn or painted'.

Mmm - immediately I could see some potential problems - er, challenges. 

Multiple openings?  The cards suggested, amongst other things, split pages, which seemed like a good idea. I didn't want to make a dos-a-dos ring binder!

Favourite colour and multiple colours? Purple is my favourite colour, but I was definitely not in the mood for a purple book. I often work in black and white plus one colour -but what colour? Amd are three colours 'multiple'?

Based on a grid? I'm not sure what this means, but I found some pre-painted papers with sort-of-grids on them, which covered 'hand drawn or painted' as well.

No images? This seemed to conflict with the above, but I decided it meant representational images, which I was very happy to omit.

Found text? No problem, though I haven't decided what I'm going to find, yet.

I wasn't going to bother with adjective cards but then I thought 'Why not?' That's where my quick and dirty experiment began to go off the rails.

My five adjective cards were 'formal', 'sequential', 'loud', 'historical' and 'sculptural'. 

Formal? The sort-of-ring-binder I'd been planning was definitely not formal. It would have to be a proper book.  

Sequential? I'm still working on this one. In a sense all books are sequential, but I think it implies a narrative structure to the contents, of some sort, which seems to conflict with using found text.

Loud? And formal? Can something be both? My first thought was to use some red cheong-sam type fabric which is bright, if not loud, but quite formal. However I know from bitter experience that it does not like being ironed, and I Bondaweb fabric to my book covers. (I have a hate-hate relationship with glue.) Plus it was too thick to work with what I had planned for 'sculptural'.

Historical? I'd decided to use a simplified case binding, which is quite traditional, so that would do for hysterical historical.

Sculptural? I really didn't want to get into complex book forms. So I decided to try a little embossing on the cover (perhaps a grid?) which is something I hadn't done before. But it would need a fairly flexible covering material, which is why the cheong-sam fabric (no idea what it is really called, but I suspect it's rayon) was too thick. It seemed like a job for handmade paper, so I found my stock and selected a nice bright, middle of a primrose yellow-orange. (That's where the primroses come in!) It was pretty loud, but I hoped the book structure itself would provide the formality.

The book is still awaiting its found text sequence, and I may cut some holes in the pages, but the bulk of it is finished, and I'm pleased with it. Perhaps I'll get round to the experimental sort-of-ring-binder next week. Just so long as I keep away from the cards...

When I wasn't doing that, I did another bit of mad weaving with one of my Gelli printed stitch explorations. That lumpy white stuff is some knitting cotton I've had for years, which seems to have found its role in life at last. This will not be becoming a mad book, however.

Sock knitting has continued, although the last couple of pairs didn't get photographed.

And here's something I made earlier, but which was delivered today, photographed at an odd angle so you can see there are hearts in there.

Hope you've had a good Valentine's Day, without too much wind and water spoiling the party!

Friday 7 February 2014

So much for a low stress week...

On our way to our Monday Babybel and VHC minding, an ominous yellow warning light appeared on the car dashboard. Consulting the manual revealed that we had 'an engine management system' problem. (Don't ask me, and even more, don't tell me. My eyes will glaze over and I will start biting the cushions.) The manual told us to go directly to the garage. So we did.

Fortunately, it was not one of our silly o'clock starts, so it was daylight, it was not raining, we could turn round easily, and a substitute B &VHC minder was readily available. 

So we turned around, did not pass Go, and did not collect £100, alhtough it would have helped with the bill.

In the old days, when you took a poorly car into the garage, a mechanic in overalls came out, looked under the bonnet, sucked air through his teeth and told you what was wrong. These days a young man in the showroom, in a shirt and tie, tells you that they can't tell what the problem is until they've plugged it into the computer, he advises you not to drive it too far, and that they could take a look at it tomorrow.

To cut a long story short, we got it back on Wednesday afternoon, for a price, and all appears to be well. Luckily we have bus passes and a good bus service.

It did mean I got more done than expected, including not one but two books of the week, although neither were going to be books when they started.

My bedtime reading recently, as part of my Visual Marks inspired research, has been Val Campbell-Harding's 'Machine Embroidery - Stitched Patterns'. She recommends trying the automatic stitches on a variety of fabrics, so I collected a few from the scrap box, sat down at the machine, and asked myself ’which patterns shall I use?' 

And the answer came 'All of them!' Apart from the buttonholes. And the basting stitch. And one or two others I couldn't be bothered with. Just under 170 in all, ten per piece of fabric, so I had to find a few more bits of fabric. By then I'd decided to restrict myself to black, so I had to be a bit creative about what 'fabric' is. And decide what I was going to do with 17 6" squares. The answer, of course, was a book. A rather untidy, sort of Japanese stab bound book, as seen above, which I hope will be useful.

This morning, after photographing that lot, I was going to move on from automatic stitches. The plan was to get put the Embellisher and try embellishing stitch-like marks. But first, as the result of some more bed time reading (author's name withheld to protect the innocent, but it was not V C-H) which recommended using drawing inks for the process, to try dip dying some paper and fabric. I have lots of ink I'll never use any other way, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Well, the cotton fabric (top right, bottom left) slurped up the ink like there was no tomorrow, and the paper - didn't. Look at my results and laugh. And the ink was the waterproof type, which is sticky, so the dipped pieces stuck to the newspaper I put them on to dry.      

Chalk it up to experience...

Then, before I got the Embellisher out, I thought I'd use some of my stitch mark Gelli-printed papers for a bit of weaving. And because I'd been reading Sherrill Kahn's  'Creative Embellishments' (yes, in bed, how did you guess? Not laziness, insomnia!) I decided to add some woven fibres and some stitch.

Wensleydale looked at it and said 'Chess board meets Snakes and Ladders' - which is quite an interesting idea.

And I looked at it, and it said 'I am a book cover'. 'No, no', I said, 'You are going in my sketch book', but it refused. A book cover it became. A totally impractical, irritating to use book with an equally silly book mark, but Wensleydale, who writes a journal, has agreed to use it. That man is so noble!

Tomorrow I must get the Embellisher out.


Sunday 2 February 2014

The weekend after the week before...

has been very productive, I'm glad to say.

Although I have officially finished the last Visual Marks challenge, I can't stop exploring ideas inspired by the session. Lots of ideas! I don't think they will lead into anything in the long run, but it's fun seeing where they take me.

My first idea was to do more automatic stitching, but with some variations - like not on felt, and trying  different colour combinations, and not having anyone else to add their bit - as Wenseydale doesn't do machine sewing. I started just after the Visual Marks session, but it got shelved when I realised I'd have to make four. But this afternoon I fired up the Bernina and got cracking.

This is the result. I used net, backed with Solufleece, which I had not used before and was impressed with - although I found out the hard way that ironing it is not  a good idea. I added some bits of lace as well as the stitching. 

My favourite is the black lace on white, bottom left, which has a floaty look I like. No idea what to do with any of them, though! 

I suppose if, by any unfortunate chance, I was asked to provide a bridal veil for the upcoming wedding, the white on white version might lead to something, but I don't think it's going to be that sort of wedding, somehow. I hope.

As an alternative to machine stitching, I decided to up the scale a bit, and try to reproduce the machine stitches by hand. I suppose, if I had really copied the machining I'd have used couching, but instead I worked on canvas. I'm quite pleased with this, although there are problems with the layout - and as you can see, it's not quite finished.

The next step is rug canvas - I kid you not!

I realised as I slaved over a hot sewing machine this afternoon that my experiments are of two types - stitches, and stitch-like marks. (I'd like to pretend this was deliberate, but it just happened.) I had lashed out and bought myself a big Gelli plate as a late Christmas present, so yesterday I made some simple monoprints of marks inspired by the machine stitches. Some were better than others, but there are a couple I really like - I'm thinking book covers.

This is the first time I've used the Gelli plate when it wasn't red hot in the conservatory, and it is much easier when the paint doesn't dry instantaneously. Which may be why I realised what I hadn't realised before - it is very easy to get too much paint on a Gelli plate, but impossible to get too little. Even if all you have is a few smears left over from a previous print, a spritz of water will often give you a second print, which can be more interesting than the first!

The next step in mark making will probably involve the Embellisher - watch this space.