December 2011

Substituting Yarn: Match Yardage, Not Weight

Not all Super Bulky yarns are alike!
Over the holiday weekend I became smitten with a pattern that calls for Rowan Big Wool. I have worked with Big Wool before, and it's a very nice yarn! But at about $15 per 50-gram skein, it's a LITTLE BIT out of my price range. This particular pattern calls for five skeins of the yarn, and although I like the pattern, I balk at shelling out $75 in yarn for just a chunky cowl, no matter how cool it looks!
So the question was, what other yarn could I use?
Big Wool is classified as either a Bulky or a Super Bulky yarn, depending on the whims of whoever tagged it. And this brings us to the crucial problem with yarn substitutions: not all Super Bulky yarns are alike. Not even close! In fact, as I went browsing the major online yarn retailers, I found that a lot of the yarns classified as Super Bulky are actually twice as thick as Rowan Big Wool!

Do You Set a Crafting Budget?

When I go into a craft shop, I always – and I mean always – spend more than I planned to spend.  I think it’s the curse of the craft stores.  Either that or very clever marketing tactics.  In any case, my husband heaves a big sigh of resignation, squares his shoulders and looks to Heaven any time I mention hitting up a craft store when we got to the city.  I started thinking that perhaps I should consider creating a craft budget.  We budget everything else pretty tightly, but crafting is one place I allow myself to splurge.

New Year’s Eve Crafts for Kids

If your children plan on staying awake with you until midnight, you may want to prepare a few crafts to keep them busy. They can also use these crafts while the ball drops, and the clock changes to twelve.

Noise Shakers

Give each child two dessert paper plates. Place one dessert plate upright and lay some beans inside it. If you don’t have beans, use beads, rice, or dried peas instead. Flip the second dessert plate over and set it on top of the first plate. Staple around the edges so that the beans are secure inside. Allow the children to decorate the outside of the dessert plates. They can use paints, tissue paper, wrapping paper, ribbons, or any other decorative craft supplies. Once the paints, or glue dry, the children can begin shaking their new noise shakers.

Truly Subversive Cross Stitch

Captured British soldier gives the Nazis the middle finger - in cross-stitch code!


To all outward appearances, British WWII prisoner of war Major Alexis Casdagil was a model prisoner. He was held captive in a German prison camp for nearly six years, from 1939 until he was released in 1945. And during his captivity, he created incredibly intricate cross-stitch pictures which were so popular that they were displayed at all four camps where he was held prisoner.
One of these works is a huge work made with red and blue fibers stolen from a fellow prisoner's sweater. It depicts the Swastikas and a "banal inscription," clearly aimed at pacifying his captors. But it also included a border of irregular dots and dashes: Morse code, which spelled out the messages "God Save The King" and "F*ck Hitler."

Saving Money on Craft Supplies

When it comes to craft supplies, they can be quite pricey depending on the craft you are doing and where you are with it.  Getting started is typically the most expensive part as you need to buy everything you need.  But if you know someone who is already involved with the craft, you may be able to borrow from them and cut down your expenses. 

That said, if you cannot borrow supplies from someone, there are different places that you can look to save yourself some money.  This may be especially important if you are on a budget or if you are not sure you are going to like the craft. 

Thrift Shops – Quite often thrift shops end up with craft supplies due to deaths in the family and there are no crafters in the remaining family.  You can pick items up for quite cheap but you do need to know what you are looking for.   If you don’t know a crochet hook from a sewing needle, you are best to go elsewhere.

Brushing Up on Brush Types

How Should Your Brush Collection Grow?

As a new artist, you may be tempted to purchase every type of brush available. That's fine because it gives you ways to play with oils, acrylics or watercolors. With each, you'll discover perhaps a new technique or simply discover that one works better for you over another. Pros have already settled in with their favorites, of course, but (at least for me), I'm always willing to stretch a little, take a few risks to see what happens.

Here's a list of standard types you'll find when shopping for brushes. As an artist who's worked in many mediums, I own them all. However, my favorites are flats and rounds. The art store is a wonderland for me!

Buy Small Yarn: My 2012 Resolution, And Where To Find It

Support your local shepherds, spinners, and retailers!
A lot of us are busy roughing out our resolutions for 2012. As for myself, I want to spend more of my yarn dollars on "small yarn." By which I mean yarn that has been raised and produced locally, or by small independent producers. 
Beaverslide Yarn is a great example of the kind of business I want to support. They raise and shear their own sheep, in as humane and low-impact a fashion as possible. They have the fleeces sent to a mill which processes them with the minimum amount of carbon footprint. Beaverslide isn't local to me (they operate out of Montana, and I am in Washington) but it is a small family-owned business that treats their animals well.

Homemade Scented Christmas Ornaments

Children love to help their parents create homemade ornaments for the Christmas tree that can be enjoyed year after year. This year, I decided that we should make scented ornaments. Mainly, this choice was made because we put a fake tree each year that has no joyful evergreen smell. At least the ornaments will fill the room with a pleasant odor.

Creating the ornaments is simple if you follow the directions below to create your homemade dough. Don’t worry, the dough will harden, and won’t rot when you store it away for next year.

Classes to Learn Crafting

Learning to craft can be a lot of fun but it can also be exasperating.  A most important element to make learning a pleasant experience is to make sure that you have the right tools as well as the right instructor. 

Depending on where you are going to learn, you can likely find out in advance what types of tools you need and where to purchase.  If you are taking a class through a store, they probably have the correct tools there and they likely will give you a discount if you purchase those items the day of the class.  The discount may just be on the items related to the class or it might be on everything in the store.  Your class fee should include everything you need to be successful with the project and it may include the tools you will need as part of the cost.   Make sure you ask when you register what you will need to buy before the class starts and what is included.

Help! My Stockinette Is Curling!

Want the truth? The cold, hard truth?
It breaks the heart of every seasoned knitter. A beginning knitter, having just recently learned how to knit and purl, chugs through weeks - even months - working on a treasured scarf. But at the end, after casting off the final stitches, a problem becomes apparent: the scarf, worked in stockinette, curls like a mofo.
"Help," the knitter posts to an online forum. And help people do, or attempt to. One person will advise adding a crocheted edge. Another will advocate working the first and last few stitches in garter stitch next time. A third person will suggest picking up the stitches along the edge and working a border in ribbing. Yet another person will swear that an aggressive blocking will do the trick.

Brushes for Acrylics, Oils & Watercolors

Choosing the Right Tool for Each Medium

Artists are allowed to be picky about their brushes. These are our main tools, after all. While I'm a proponent of saving money on some supplies, when I want to turn out a "masterpiece," you can bet I want the best brushes. On the other hand, I tend to protect those very best brushes. For pieces that will be scanned and then used in on-line work, I might tend to use my less expensive brushes.

Beyond quality, however, there's even more to choosing the right brushes. Each medium - oils, acrylics, watercolor - requires a different type.

The Pain of Frogging

The question I ask myself is, "How much is this mistake likely to bother me?"
I have had two somewhat painful frogging experiences back-to-back this month. When you make a mistake with your knitting, one that you can't (or won't) fix any other way, you have to rip it all back and start again. (Rip-it rip-it being what a frog says. Thus, "frogging." I hate the term, I find it saccharine and annoyingly "dweebish mom humor," but what are you gonna do? That is what everyone calls it.)
How do you know when it's time to frog? Look at your mistake. How big is it, really? Be honest. If your plan involves "blocking it out," be aware that this is not likely to work unless your mistake is off by less than an inch. If your plan involves turning one side away, or hoping no one notices, these are warning signs.

Portrait Christmas Ornaments

"There is no right or wrong way to do this. "

Kids grow so much over the course of a year. One way to capture your child’s development from year to year is to create a portrait Christmas ornament. We have several, and I enjoy taking them out of the ornament box each year. The best part about the portrait Christmas ornaments is that they extremely cheap to make.

Proteigon: Fluid Paper Cubes

Papercraft-based short film does a lot with a little

The only thing you need a lot of for a good stop-motion film is patience. You can illustrate a full story using only legos or clay or paper provided you have enough time and an extra dose of diligence. If you don't mind taking a lot of shots--and setting them up over and over and over again when things inevitably go wrong--you don't even really need any sculpting skills. Just the ability to craft a cube and the willingness to take pictures of it for hours on end. 

Embroidered Kanye Tweets

Now for sale on Etsy
The problem with internet absurdity is that it's often fleeting. All too often, a blunder made by an unwitting social media participant will be hastily retracted before the whole world can laugh at it. Sure, if you're a celebrity, people will screencap your mistakes with the knowledge that you'll probably delete the stuff that makes you look stupid, but don't you wish there were a more permanent way to document the foolishness of the famous? Like etching in stone, or perhaps stitching in thread?
One Amy Sheridan has done just that with the fantastic Twitter effusions of Kanye West. Sure, his tweets aren't going anywhere anytime soon--you get the feeling that he's darn proud of any perceived internet tomfoolery--but won't you want a memento of one of the best things to happen to the Twittersphere once the web finally crashes and everybody goes nuts for lack of memes? Well, maybe an embroidered Kanye Tweet won't be the first thing you reach for in the event of an internet blackout. All the same, her work is pretty hilarious.

Learning to Craft Independently

For those that are more independent or live somewhere that there are no classes offered in their chosen craft, there is no need to despair and give up.  There are other options available to those that are determined.  It may be a bit difficult to learn on your own, but imagine the feeling of accomplishment that will come once you have it tackled.

The Right Gift for Artists

Suggestions for Artists of all Ages

Artists fall into two categories (generally) when it comes to choosing supplies. Some are quite picky while the other half is extremely grateful for anything they receive. Typically, the former group is one that has already been a bit brainwashed as to which tools and brands are considered "best." The latter may still be experimenting with style and may fall into the beginner category.

Of course, the first step is knowing what medium the artist prefers. That might be pencil, pen and ink, watercolors, acrylics, or oils. Beyond that, mixed media can cause a bit more confusion. Accessories are often a safer choice, especially when selecting art gifts for adults.