'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 26 April 2014

Clearing the decks

Since last summer, I've been working slowly, steadily and determinedly through my stash. Stuff like Lutradur and Evolon that I had bought and never used has been tried out, evaluated and, if found wanting, passed on or binned. The knitting machine has found a new home, hand blanket knitting has noticeably reduced the boxes of coned yarns and a similar attack is taking place on the sock wool, as you may have noticed. Books have been looked through and in many cases passed on to charity. 

As part of the blitz, I looked through my accumulated sketchbooks - and, rather worryingly, came to the conclusion that I was more creative before I started the degree than I am now. Regular readers may remember that the muse definitely left Cheese Acres soon after I finished the degree, and although she moved back in, I felt that some of the ideas I had between finishing City and Guilds and starting the degree were better than those I've had since.  

I've been thinking about this rather more in the last couple of weeks, and I've come to a couple of conclusions.  You may have noticed that I have a low boredom threshold and I tend to flit from one technique, style, medium or idea to another, at the drop of a hat. I always thought that when I grew up I would discover what my 'usual way of working', to quote a certain tutor, actually was. I now believe that my 'usual way of working' is to flit from one technique, style, medium or idea to another, at the drop of a hat, and I have to learn to live with it, and enjoy the results. At least I don't get bored, and hopefully no-one looks at my work and thinks 'same old, same old'...

The second, related conclusion is that I should stop worrying about making art with a message, and choose themes that I like. What do I like? Well, what do I photograph, apart from grandchildren? Flowers, trees, landscapes. And it's not just because, unlike grandchildren, they stand still, most of the time. I've always felt that these are a bit hackneyed, a bit old fashioned, not what I should be doing - well, stuff that, I've already had some fun with flowers, so let's give trees a go.

So I made the blind contour, shadow and paintbrush on a stick drawings I mentioned before, and then I started a tree sketchbook. I stuck in a photo from our last trip to Stourhead, made a couple of colour studies a la Karen Ruane, and - to my own amazement, a drawing, which I think isn't bad. I told myself that as I wasn't going to embroider a detailed image of the tree, I should focus on what I was interested in - the interlacing of the trunks and branches.

What I had forgotten is the way that, when you follow up an idea with no preconceptions about where the journey will take you, the ideas start to flow.

I started with the embellisher - not wildly original, but it got me going. Making the (not very accurate) colour studies led me to explore some of the wonderful colours in the photo. (I don't think the detritus on the ground really was purple, but that's what made me pick that particular photo.)

However, the more I looked at those twisted branches, the more I though about knitting. And in monochrome, although I do keep thinking about working the negative spaces in purples and greens....

A combination of high tech (knitters graph paper on line and a scanner) and low tech (tracing my drawing onto acetate) produced a pattern, and I have, at the last count, ideas for six eight nine different versions.

Here are the first two. A lesson in how not to do intarsia (but it is only a sample, and I know where I went wrong). (If you want to see reaaly good intarsia, go here!)

And a version inspired (I kid you not) by old fashioned tea cosies. I've been using up scraps, but I've bought some wool from Texere and thoughts of dyeing and felting are going through my brain.

I also made a stencil, and that has had a good work out. Spray paint, acrylic, moulding paste plus metallic leaf, and pencil. 

I was so busy with all this, that I nearly didn't make a book, but then I had an idea for a non-insomniac stencil based quickie. Except as usual with me it morphed and became less quick. The original idea was to use the stencil to cut shapes out of the back of a (brown) envelope. There's a lot of brown around at the moment, as well as purple and green. But the envelope wasn't big enough, and a search for other brown paper led to some Blue Peter painted paper.* 

When I cut out the shapes, I decided the paper was a bit too flimsy, and it needed backing. With black. Which led to a search for black paper that was big enough. Still, it's finished, and it may even take up residence in the sketchbook.

On Wednesday, I dragged Wensleydale out in the rain to Mottisfont because I knew they had some interesting trees. And we found a dragon - well, it  was St George's Day! 

Where is this leading? I have no idea, but it promises to be an interesting journey.

*Here's some I made earlier.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Is it a bird?

Is it a plane? Is it an Easter egg? No, it's a Visual Marks challenge, as set by me, so I have no-one else to blame. It is the 16" oval collage, including lace and felt, inspired by the sea, and sea green in colour. I've got in everything except the 16", although you may not agree that it is 'sea green'. My choice was based on a 'sea green' T-shirt in a Cotton Traders catalogue, and what I had in the stash.

The 16" (ish) will come when I turn it into an A4 book, A3 paper being 16.5" long. It was going to be this week's book of the week, until it became clear it wasn't - it was harder than I expected to apply the ovalish bit of 'collage'. Hence the cord, which will serve, I hope, to hide the infelicitous edges.

What I learned from this:

No matter how carefully I preplan my crazy patchwork, it won't be the right size.

Cutting out a perfect oval is difficult impossible.

Even a Bernina doesn't like sewing 2 layers of cotton, 1 of felt and 1 of silk velvet.

Silk velvet is beautiful and evil.

So that meant thinking up plan B. Fortunately a bit of paper with something not unlike this on it fell out of a pile of print outs. I'm not sure where it came from, possibly here, but the original was much neater than mine. 

What I learned from this:

Ironing envelopes with windows in them is not a good idea.

I needed more envelopes than I expected.

Measure twice, cut once. (You would think I would know this by now.)

Cut the landscape pieces very slightly narrower than the accordion.

There was a good reason why I hadn't used up that bit of double sided sticky tape which came in a packet labelled glue dots - and it wasn't just because it wasn't glue dots.

Left over scraps of card with holes punched out of them will find a use eventually.

It is very easy to photograph books upside down without realising. 

The purple socks were the biggest success of the week, and despite my anxiety I didn't run out of the darker purple. You may wonder if I am becoming buried in socks, but my shop-bought ones continue to wear out (another two went this week), and I have given some to other people. Which leads me to:-

What I learned from this:

Do not show  nearly-completed purple socks to a purple loving granddaughter. She will covet them, and in exchange for being told they are too big, she will ask demand make it clear that she will be seriously displeased if I do not immediately make something for her. 

Fortunately this will be a scarf. No, it's not scarf weather,but she wants a scarf. A purple one - (good, I have a lot of odd balls of purple in my stash).

Until, on the way to Manor Farm, I go with her to Hobbycraft, for purely altruistic reasons (her daddy wants some glass paint)  when she decides she wants pink, which I do not have in my stash.

It is still possible to persuade her that the £££ per ball stuff will not work but the cheap pink acrylic will - although I suspect this will not last. (Lest you think I am a cheapskate - and I am - she is certain to lose this scarf fairly quickly.)

There are several nice free patterns on Ravelry but if you choose this one, cast on a few more stitches than it says - the pattern suggested 18, I cast on 30 and I think I may pull it back and make it a bit wider - and work a couple of extra rows of bobbles while I'm at it.

After the scarf debacle, while the sun shone, I didn't make hay, but I did do some big drawings of trees. Sort of. One is three blind contour drawings of different trees on the same piece of paper, the others were tracings of two different tree shadows on the same piece of paper.

What I learned from this:

Multiple blind contours work best if there is lots of contrast between the different media - which I didn't have.

Shadows move quickly, even if it isn't very windy.

My aged joints are not keen on sitting/kneeling on the ground to draw on A1 sheets of paper.

When you are tracing shadows the only cloud in an otherwise cloudless sky will move across the sun.

Despite all this, tracing shadows is fun and I got some interesting patterns.

What I haven't learned worked out is what to do next with them.

More mistakes learning opportunities next week!

Sunday 13 April 2014

When I realised...

it was Sunday (I'm always hazy about what day it is between our 'work' on Mondays and Thursdays) I found myself wondering where the week went. And then I realised it went into 3 days with the little guys (albeit shorter days than usual) and three evenings of recovering from 3 days with the little guys. Still, we had fun - an Easter egg hunt at Mottisfont in the rain, the 'spin tower' + a return trip on the Gosport ferry, also in the rain, and, for old times sake, the ducky place in sunshine. (For those not in the know, the Gosport Ferry is Portsmouth's answer to the Staten Island Ferry - just smaller, quicker and with more historical but slightly less spectacular views.  I'd say 'cheaper' as well, but I strongly suspect it isn't.)

OK, that's only 3 days out of 7, but other, mostly less interesting but less tiring grown up activities have got in the way of textiles as well.

So I have only made slow progress on the Visual Marks challenge - although the pressure eased a little when I realised that I can't go to the meeting next Tuesday, due to extra little guy minding. 

Not sure about thad odd bit on the right, the primary purpose of which is to cover up some fraying fabric. I think it will have to come out.

And I still haven't worked out how to get some felt into it, as per the criteria.

The weekly book was an insomniac quicky (which sounds a bit like something completely different, but for that you need two insomniacs...). A variation on the 'instant book', it is mostly 'here's one I made earlier' - pre-painted card, an unsuccessful screen print from last week, and a bit of glue. I think it needs some stitch, which might have been better done before I stuck on the cover, but it was 2 a.m. And if I'd measured it properly the pages would not have been bigger than the cover. I could trim one side, but if I'd trimmed the central fold the whole thing would have fallen apart, hence the extra fold in the fold.   

Today was meant to be spent fulfilling a promise I made before Christmas, when I gave the little guys' mum and dad some redundant cushions. As they didn't match their decor, I promised to make some cushion covers for them, but it didn't happen. Fortunately, as it happened, as they have now redecorated and aubergine cushion covers would no longer do.

On Friday I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that if you go to the right place it is still cheaper to make cushions covers than to buy them. And you don't end up with redundant cushion pads because shop bought covers always seem to come with pads these days. 

I haven't made cushion covers for a while and I thought I could whip up four plain ones today. (I remember how long City and Guilds cushions take, but that involves designing, and costing time and money, and embroidering, and rememebring to do something fancy on the back as well because your tutor will always look at the back and fail you if you haven't...)

I can hear the hollow laughter of experienced cushion makers from here.

I managed one. Partly because I changed my mind part way through, and partly because it was my first experience of using continuous zips (why did no one tell me how wonderful they are, even if they only come in the wrong colour?) and I had to Google them. But mostly because it takes longer than I thought it did. 

And I'm not sure the little guys' dad will like it anyway, so it is probably better to take this one as a sample and get his opinion before I go any further.

My knitting has been more satisfactory. I discovered another advantage to the random stripes pattern - apart from using up oddments of wool, and it not mattering if you miscount the rows in a stripe. If you think you are in danger of running out of the cuff, heel and toe colour (it has been known) you can make the random stripes a little less random so you use more of the other colour. And you would never have known if I hadn't told you.  

Of course you have to be the sort of person who doesn't mind wearing non-matching socks, but I figure anyone who spots that they don't match will only do so because they are grovelling at my feet, when it won't matter.

Sunday 6 April 2014

An easy week?

We thought we were going to have an easy week, because we had the day off from child care on Monday. We took the opportunity to go down to Stourhead, walk round the garden, and buy some cheese. (If you got to Stourhead, do go into the farm shop - 30+ varieties of West Country cheese and lots of other goodies.)

The weather wasn't brilliant, but the spring flowers made up for it, although it was sad to see the effects the storms had had on some of the trees.

Tuesday was errands, Wednesday and Thursday were child care (we didn't really have a day off, it just moved - though it was shorter than usual) so it was Friday before I got down to anything serious in the workroom.

Like book making. Five 'books of the week' plus last week's. I used my drawings from Dionne Swift's course, and every variation of the boustrephodon book I could find - some of them twice.  Some of those pages are quite inspiring!

Yesterday I hauled out the screen and tried screen printing from the long neglected bit of net with lace and stitch on it. With very little success, as you can see. The right side resolutely refused to print. The best one was when I printed with nothing under the screen, to use up the paint.

I meant to try using the net with the Gelli plate today, but my arthritis is playing up at the moment, so I decided to spend the afternoon on the sofa with my knitting. But then, when I tried to sort out the photos for this post, iPhoto, on what the VHC calls the high-pad, kept crashing, which meant I had to bite the bullet and deal with the excess of photos I have had on it. Which meant facing up to iPhoto on Big Mac, a far greater challenge. In theory, I save my photos on Big Mac, which has a much bigger memory, and then delete them from the high-pad. In theory I do it every week. In practice - I don't. And because I haven't done it for ages, I couldn't remember what I'd saved and what I hadn't.

But, after an hour or two of muttering and cursing, I have a whole 4.8GB available. Luxury!

Despite this trauma, the accursed fraternal socks have been completed, with only a small striping error, easily corrected, on the second one, and I have started a second pair, same basic idea, just finer yarn and more stitches. (But why do I keep picking colours which are difficult to distinguish in artifial light?)

I have also done a little more on 'Full Fathom Five' for Visual Marks. 

Next week is the Easter holidays, which means we get to spend more time with the VHC and Babybel.  Trips to Mottisfont and 'Spin Tower' are planned, after which more sofa recovery time will be necessary, assuming the technology will let me...