Puzzle me

Harriet Russell WindowsInspired by Harriet Russell’s adventures in puzzlingthe post office with her puzzled envelopes, I have just created the Puzzled Postcard Project (P.P.P., for short!).

If you’re up for a challenge, it’s time to get creative!  Create a puzzle for my postal address, mail it to me, and in return, I will send you a free mini-zine featuring your Puzzled Postcard alongside others I have received.

This is going to be an ongoing project (feel free to contribute more than once!), and I will make a more detailed record (yes, probably in zine-form) of all postcards sent and received, as well as other interesting bits and pieces, once the project has been running for a while.  Please check out the full details, and ask if I can clarify any details not covered there.  🙂

Zentangling

Corey is away for the weekend, so I am luxuriating in having a couple of decadent evenings to myself.  What am I up to?  Well, I’m about to make myself a cheese & pickle sandwich, and am otherwise having an evening off from ‘work’ and just browsing online.  That’s very rare!  And after I’ve made my sandwich, you know what else I might do?  I might actually switch off the laptop and read a novel for a couple of hours.  I’ve not done that for ages!  I know what you’re thinking: this girl’s life is just one long, endless party…  No?  Yeah, I know; it’s not the most exciting evening I’ve got lined up, but  I’m looking forward to it, anyway.

zentangleOh yes, nearly forgot the reason I stopped by here!  The reason was ‘Zentangles’.  I suspect, as with most things, I am way behind the times with this one, but just in case you’re in the dark like I was, it appears to be ‘doodling with intent’ (rather than in absentia) – hence the zen part of the name – and then (because they do look pretty cool) calling them art.  It’s not just the ‘tangle’ part of the name that attracts me (honest).  I had a flick through the gallery (see pic, right) at the official website, and a lot of the patterns just reminded me of the kind of doodles I actually do.  Therefore it didn’t strike me as something that would take an enormous leap for me to grasp the gist of.  And looking through the gallery, I also thought the black & white patterns would lend themselves well to relief printing.  I’m feeling slightly more confident in my lino-cutting skills these days, but drawing isn’t really my thing, and I hit a kind of stumbling block (no pun intended) in terms of new projects & design inspiration.  If I can get away with adapting my doodles, I will be very happy!

Now, the Zentangles website gives lots of background information about how great & therapeutic it can be for the soul, and all that kind of new age stuff, but it’s very thin in practical advice when it comes to getting started – mainly, I would guess, because they sell a $50 starter kit, and they want people to buy it, rather than think they don’t need it.  Personally, I would rather test out the principles of the concept before shelling out $50 on yes, very nice, high quality materials, but really not essential to the practice itself.  Having said that, the website does include a free online newsletter which gives clear guidance on ‘learning’ particular filling patterns, and where to find doodling inspiration etc.  But if, like me, you read through the website and can’t quite see how to get started, you might also appreciate these posts on Crazy Art Girl’s site, which demonstrate a beginner’s zentangle from start through to completion.  It really clarified the concept for me, anyway.

I bought a cool notebook from Bad Day Ben Designs on Etsy a few months back, with good thick quality paper pages measuring 2.5 x 3″ each – I think I might have just found the perfect use for it…!  I’ll let you know how my Zentangle explorations progress…

Oh, one more note ‘Zentangle’ is a trademark name, and I think refers to the method they use to teach the Zentangle doodling technique (hence $50 for starter pack).  However, you can also find references to similar stuff with a google search for the more general ‘zen doodle’.  There are ‘zen mandalas’ which are similar, too.

The bumblebee flies anyway

combboardweaveAt my local Pound Store, they sell 2 mouse mats for £1. While I try, in principle, to be against unnecessary consumerism, I am powerless to resist the lure of a potentially useful bargain.  By useful, of course, I don’t actually mean practical in ‘normal’ terms; more craft-able.   I bought them a while back, and one (with a comb glued along the top) was used as a very handy weaving loom.  The other is also very useful: I use it upside down (foam upwards) when I’m making zines & booklets to cushion the pin-stabbed bindings while I stab them.

I’ve been thinking for a while about carving a stamp, either out of a carving block, or an eraser, or…something.  I’ve never really been into rubber stamping as a craft, yet there’s something very appealing in the more primitive aspect of a hand-carved stamp.  I’ve seen some very cool & funky designs around on Etsy, and the simplest of designs seem often to be the most effective.  I thought it would be nice to personalise packages I send out with a stamp from a hand-carving, or maybe use a stamp on the cover of a zine, instead of printing.

Anyway, this morning, there is no coffee in the house, and I am having difficulty getting motivated to get on with stuff.  So for some reason, I decided now is the time to try carving a stamp.  No erasers or carving tools to hand, I just cut a chunk from mouse mat #2, and carved my design freehand with a craft knife.  I could have drawn bee-block1 my design first (just as you can’t see the carving too well to the right, you can’t see pencil marks on black foam rubber, but I could have outlined first with the knife); but I just got stuck straight in.  This is why my intended ball of wool is now a bumble bee… 😉 bee-printI also forgot, in my eagerness, that the design would be reversed in the printing, so it quite took me by surprise to see my bumble bee flying in the opposite direction when I lifted the block (no coffee yet, you see).

For my first attempt, I’m really pleased with how this turned out, and will definitely be doing further experiments!  My trial print (above left) went straight onto the corner of one of my stash of board envelopes (I love the idea of using a stamp as an actual postage stamp), so if you buy anything from the Etsy store in the next week or two, you might receive this very bumble bee, in the mail!

In short, I feel my £1 shop bargain has been well-justified!

Ideas

With the craft show looming (sorry) at the end of the month, I’ve been focusing on getting stock together.  But of course, rather than being actually focused, I have simply been stalked by new ideas, which I have then had to try out (some have worked, some not).  So I think it would be fair to say that my merchandise will be a fairly eclectic collection, with not more than a handful of any one concept.  There’s still time, though, so I might be able to increase quantities in some areas, yet (if I manage to keep additional ideas at bay).  I don’t really mind; there’ll always be another craft fair that I will have more time to prepare for.  But the long and the short of it is probably simply that I don’t have the inclination/discipline to create multiples of similar items.  Not consecutively, at least.

Anyway, here are some of the ideas I’ve been working on (pictures to be added shortly; sorry):

Oddballs1.  Oddballs.  These are little creatures (approx. 2-3″ tall) woven and stuffed with the leftover oddments of yarn, so every one is different.   I guess they will appeal to kids, and to those drawn to amigurumi.  My husband thinks they’re the best thing I’ve ever done, which is lucky, as all of the prototypes appear to have congregated on his desk…  The principle behind them for me is that I would rather use than discard short lengths of yarn, and they are quick to make.  But they are cute.  Feature-wise, I have given them blank expressions deliberately, because the marketing feature is that they are, essentially, an afterthought.  Oddballs will come in individual little cotton drawstring pouches, with the label: “I am an Oddball.  I just want to be loved.” (Currently superimposed on the picture above left.)   Emotionally manipulative?  Me?  😉

2.  Gossamer bookmarks.  The Oddballs are one of those little extras I think people will pick up because they’re cute and comparatively cheap.  But other people will find Oddballs a little whimsical, so the Gossamer Bookmark is the alternative quick-to-make souvenir item for those who don’t want to splash out.  The bookmarks are woven on 18ct tapestry canvas strengthened by a piece of card (glued to the canvas so that only a single row of holes are visible around the edge of the card).  The canvas is warped from end to end, by passing the needle through every other hole along the shortest edges.  Then using the same length of thread (I used a fine spun silk) I wove over and under the warp threads from side to side.  At each side, the needle passes through the canvas and back to the right side 2 holes along.  Once the bookmark is woven from top to bottom, I withdraw the outer thread of the tapestry canvas along each side of the ‘loom’.  All the edge loops can then be easily (carefully) slid from the loom, releasing the finished bookmark.  Because of stitching through the canvas at the sides thoughout the weaving process, the sides consist of even loops from top to bottom, and there is no danger of ‘drawing-in’.  The resulting bookmark is very delicate, though, and needs something extra to substantiate/protect it.  I thought about laminating, so that it would look like the bookmark is floating, but it’s not a very eco-friendly solution.  I think it would look nice mounted on a piece of textured, handmade paper or card, so that people could still touch the actual threads and textures.  Or in a world I have not yet investigated, I know there are stabilisers for delicate fabrics and clever disolving things, so perhaps I can do something with that.  (Any advice, or websites you can direct me to?)

The woven bookmark precipitated another idea that is still in the germination stages; but the process does create a very evenly spaced fabric (unlike densely packed tapestry) that is crying out to be embroidered…

There are more ideas, but the next two are related, and I’m running out of time, so I will post again, shortly…

Bobbin Along – another freeform bargello experiment

Bobbin Along Bargello (freeform) (c) TangleCrafts 2008
Bobbin Along Bargello (freeform) (c) TangleCrafts 2008

It’s another WIP, as (once more!) I have run out of the thread I need to complete the border…  I am also still at the mercy of a temperamental printer/scanner but I’m trying to work around it!

This design posed some interesting challenges for me, although I had learned from ‘Marble Waves’.  I was careful to stretch the bobbin ‘thread’ to fill the first triangular quadrant of the design, so that there would be fewer issues where the mitred corners of the 4-way design meet.  It is still by no means a smooth transition but I think the ‘swooping’ nature of the curves disguises the inconsistency reasonably well, and (by default) actually creates a nice, almost overlapping 4-way pattern when viewed from a slight distance.

Stitching this design prompted various ideas for variations, which I will hopefully have time to explore at a another time.  I like the way a ‘sheet’ of bargello appears to drop behind another bargello wave that crosses in front of it, a result of the ‘thread’ twisting over and around itself.   I think this effect would be emphasised if I worked it on a bigger cut of canvas, increasing the size of the ‘thread’ swirls.  I think it would also be interesting, if working the piece to a larger scale, to make the bargello following the contours of the ‘thread’ into a ribbon of bargello, rather than continuing downwards o fill the quadrant, as it currently does.  This would leave more of the plain, geometrically striped background visible, and add emphasis to the curves contrasting against it.

I also wondered about using a different colour scheme either for the bargello or the plain background.  Again, I think this would only really work if the piece were larger, and more of the background visible.  But the bargello could be in shades of pink-to-plum, to match the bobbin ‘thread’, against a background of contrasting moss-green shades.  I think this would work best combined with the bargello-as-ribbon idea.

Stitching this design has also kick-started the idea for my next design project.  I added the whipped backstitch ‘thread’ in pink as the last step of the central panels, so before it was added, I could just see the green curves against green curves.  Perhaps largely because they were in green (!) this made me think of rolling hills, which prompted me in the direction of a bargello landscape.  This is not exactly a new idea – one of my very first bargello projects was ‘High Desert Stars’ by Iona Dettelbach (shown right), a chart distributed by Rainbow Gallery (click here for my review of Iona Dettelbach’s latest bargello book) – but it set me to thinking about it, and I have something semi-visualised in my head that I am looking forward to realising in stitch.  I’m not sure yet if it will be a 4-way design, like the others (so far) in this series of freeform bargello experimentation.  I’m considering a panelled piece.  But we’ll see how it develops…  Watch this space!

Freeform bargello – Marble Wave update

Marble Wave (c) TangleCrafts, 2008
Marble Wave (c) TangleCrafts, 2008

A friend has very kindly scanned this new version of Marble Wave for me – the main differences being a softer colourway (with greater differentiation between the lightest 2 colours) and a tiered border.  As you can see, this is still WIP, as I have run out of the purple thread, and must wait for a new delivery.  Kits will also be available from that point!

I am much happier with the appearance of this revised version. The colours are from the same family as the original (see right), but much subtler.  I like the fact that the lightest yellow-sea green shade gives the impression of a kind of ‘aura’ around the wave motif.

Janet Perry has recently blogged about this piece, and I hope she won’t mind if I paste what she has written here, as she explains in design terms why it works:

“The design has a central medallion, which is not symmetrical. This makes it lovely, but also makes it difficult to design the Bargello around it so that, while not symmetrical per se, it looks balanced. She achieved this in several ways, which we can apply to our own projects.

1. The space is divided through the two diagonals. The strong line not only highlight the center, but they also divide the space clearly into equal areas.

2. The swirls just outside the central medallion take up much of the space, and turn, so they fill up enough of the quadrants, so symmetry is less important.

3. The overdye comes next and its changing colors make the color change more important to the eye than symmetrical patterns.

4. She uses the different threads in the same sequence, which creates balance. She also uses similar Bargello lines, curves are always on one side of the swirl, spires on the other, which also creates balance.

This is an absolutely wonderful piece.”

Thank you, Janet!

Another freeform bargello experiment

Despite continued printer trouble, I have been able to add a picture of this piece, as it was stitched by one of my model stitchers (Judith Ann Pounder, Derbyshire).

Marble Waves (c) TangleCrafts, 2008
Marble Waves (c) TangleCrafts, 2008

The principle is the same as the Oak Leaf Panel (see earlier entry), with the central motif in basic needlepoint (in this case long stitch/satin stitch), with a freeform bargello background.

However because the central motif is not symmetrical, as was the case wth Oak Leaf Panel, I had to adapt the freeform bargello at the mitred corners, otherwise the patterns would not have met up at all.  They still don’t slot together perfectly, but I’m happy with the modifications, which just emphasise the swirly nature of the pattern.

What I don’t think works quite so well is my choice of colours, which included one multi-coloured shade (yellow, sea green, sea blue) and 3 shades of aqua blue.  Unfortunately, the sea blue within the multi-shade is almost exactly the same as the lightest of the other three blues, which has the result of lessening the definition of the central wave motif, in the places where the 2 blues sit next to each other.  Still, this realisation is one of the reasons why models need to be stitched, and all it means is that I need to reconfigure the colourway.

I will probably also modify the border slightly, to echo the 3 shade border of different thicknesses used in the Oak Leaf Panel.

Oak Leaf Panel – finally completed!

It hasn’t taken me quite as long as it might seem to complete stitching this piece – lack of time aside, I have also been battling with an ailing scanner/printer.  Bless it’s little cotton socks, I managed to sweet-talk it into working for long enough to scan in my updated Oak Leaf Panel (but it is still being temperamental).  Anyway…:

Oak Leaf Panel (c) TangleCrafts, 2008
Oak Leaf Panel (c) TangleCrafts, 2008

My original plan was to stitch a decorative border around the outer edge.  However, I decided that as there was already quite a lot of movement in both the motif and the background that might make it all look a little too busy.  So I opted for simplicity, instead, and I think this plain border provides a good contrast to the myriad curves contained within it.

(I do like the oak leaf border (not shown), though, and may include the chart within the kit as an optional extra, to be added or not at the discretion of the stitcher.  It could also be stitched as a bookmark, which I may do myself at some point.)

The sense of undulation in the freeform bargello background reminds me of fabrics from the 60 and 70s; but I think the heightened sense of movement is also a result of using overdyed threads with tonal changes along their length, but without dramatic tonal difference between the three different threads used.  I normally make my bargello choices in a more pronounced light-to-dark colour scheme, but I like the slightly different effect my alternative choice has created.

The intention is that this will be the first of a series, exploring the different patterns created by different shaped leaves (etc).

Freeform Bargello – ideas & inspiration

Thanks to Janet Perry & her blog for alerting me to this very cool concept in freeform bargello, designed and stitched by Terry Dryden: Pear design.

Lots of bargello patterns create a 3D optical illusion, but it had never occurred to me until seeing this WIP to use freeform bargello in terms of shading for a pictorial design.  It would work for 3 dimensions in less fluid, geometric patterns, too, if you wanted to stick with a more formal bargello filling.

I really love this idea.  I feel some experimentation coming on…!

Freeform Bargello WIP

The long train journeys yesterday gave me the luxurious opportunity to actually spend some time stitching, so I started working on the canvas work (/needlepoint) adaptation of my Noro knitting wool oak leaf design (see earlier entry for pic).  This time I used 18ct canvas and Carrie’s Threads 6-ply cotton, which has given me a little more flexibility with the design, in terms of both colours and stitches.

I’m really pleased with the ‘knobbly’ effect of the acorn cups, and I think the purples work well as a contrasting background colour to the autumnal greens.  I’m stitching the background area in freeform bargello.  By this I mean that instead of following a fixed, charted (or standard) bargello pattern, I have actually used the base lines of the oak leaves as the starting bargello line, so that the background complements the foreground & emphasises its natural contours, rather than detracts with an entirely independent pattern.  In terms of bargello, I am ignoring the acorns, and just following the contours of the leaves to avoid unnecessary complication in the pattern.

It’s a very relaxing form to work, as once the central design has been stitched (which in itself doesn’t take an incredible amount of reference to the chart given its 4-way repeat) there’s no need to refer to a chart at all – you literally just stitch the bargello around the outer edge of the leaves.  I stopped after 2 rows, as I need to work out the placement of the border before I continue – but it was an ideal project to work on while travelling.

Oak Leaf Panel with Freeform Bargello Background, (c) TangleCrafts 2008
Work in Progress: Oak Leaf Panel with Freeform Bargello Background, (c) TangleCrafts 2008

I must confess I am a little annoyed with myself, as I got married earlier this year, and the theme of our wedding stationery was oak leaves (based on a verse about the oak and the cypress from Kahlil Gibran that we used in our vows).  I had wanted to stitch a design to use, but at the time – with all the other wedding organisation pressures – I just didn’t have the time or inspiration.  In the end, I drew a design, instead, which is – actually, essentially, anyway – a freeform bargello design, and we used the coloured ink drawing onthe stationery, instead.  I’m annoyed now, because I seem to have oak leaf stitch patterns practically dripping from my fingers – I just couldn’t do it at the time when it would have been quite appropriate.  Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t go back to the wedding stationery design and re-interpret it for stitch now, and I hadn’t thought about that until I began writing this, but I think, actually, I will.    That’s that settled, then!