art, beading, beadwork, craft, design, jewelry design

Speculation

Craft, art, and design

And yes, I do see that all three of those words can look negative. :) In the sense of, “artifice,” I mean; or, “craftiness,” or, “making designs,” on something or someone. It seems the English language doesn’t trust creativity too much. ;) The below may be overanalysis of my own work; I can’t really tell. People just say I try to analyze things too much…

For reasons that would likely be understandable if I were to relate them, I’ve been away from this blog for about two weeks. A lot of this has to do with breaking out of my habit of writing about life instead of actually living it. In particular…I’ve been doing more beadwork than is normal for me. I wouldn’t call it, “a lot of beadwork,” though it probably would be so by the measure of most people.

There are a number of skills which go into beadwork: there’s an element which reminds me of my engineering projects from when I was a kid (what fits together?); there’s the color element; the attention to detail; hazard awareness (fire, chemicals, flying metal, pointy things); and problem-solving. I’m getting more of an understanding of the process of design, where you have basically an infinite number of paths, a smaller number of paths which will work, and an even smaller amount which accomplish your goals at the same time as they work. Right now I’m looking at jewelry as wearable art…it just makes more sense to me.

There are a number of things being at the bench (or table) recently, has taught me…prime among them that the work requires just the basic task of showing up and putting in hours. That’s something I was told in the Art Program…that the greater part of success is tenacity, not talent. Talent really doesn’t mean much if it isn’t applied. That advice isn’t specific to one art; it’s just kind of a truism. It applies to every art I’ve dealt with. Every art, regardless of medium.

I also think I’m beginning to understand the difference between art and craft, and art and design…though it’s slow going. “Art” denotes many more decision-points than craft, while craft can be generated from a design with no loss of its craft status, and design is generated out of a set of basic restrictions that can’t be violated.

I’m still figuring it out, as I have been for years (I’m in no way an authority on this); but it’s interesting to meditate on while making something I’ve never made before, and which I know I’ve never seen before, which no one taught me how to make. That mode is basically art and design, or design + engineering. The “art” part comes in when I’m trying to cognize what my next step could be; while “design” comes in when I’m trying to figure out what will work in this context. If I were doing it from the perspective of following someone else’s directions toward a predetermined endpoint, that’s craft — until I start going into unknown territory, where art and design factor in.

As I see it currently, it’s like this: generativity (art) + constraints (design) + technique (craft) = production (of…?). I hope I’ve got that somewhere in the ballpark of reality — no one taught me this. I’ve seen people make sculptures with beads, so we aren’t limited to jewelry in what we can make, in terms of beaded objects. (I deleted a term, “possibilities”, above, as regards art, and just wanted to mention it here, in case it turns out to matter.)

Anyhow: beadwork contains all three of these things. I obviously started off as a crafter (everyone has to learn the basics of needle, thread, beads, and wire; and most people learn from books, tutorials, and maybe other people), but if I keep going in this direction, I could be more thoroughly an artist and designer in the same field. That is, there’s nothing about beadwork that makes it inherently a, “craft,” and not an, “art,” as I’m looking at it, now.

However: If I wrote a book to tell others exactly how I did what I did, so they can do exactly what I do, without holding my reasons for doing so as organizing elements in the background of their thoughts; then I would be a designer, and the reader would be a crafter — if they followed the directions to the letter. Working my design would give them an insight into how I do things, but it won’t teach them how they do things. (Trust me, they can be different, and likely should be, if one is following their own aesthetic drive, personality, and experience.) It may only lead them closer to an understanding of how and why they were attracted to the work, and what they would change: and that can slingshot them off onto a trajectory of becoming an artist.

If they played with the design I gave them, and changed some things, that might be considered derivative work: but I should note that playing with designs in this way is often expected, and sometimes encouraged. Especially if a beadwork design is super-simple (like a specific, unremarkable version of an extremely common stitch which is demonstrated for the purposes of teaching), it’s unrealistic for a designer to claim ownership of it. After you’ve been doing this for a while, you can see when someone is just demonstrating because they want to broaden your approach to the work; not saying that they’ll sue you if you copy any of their versions. Unless I overestimate the benevolence of the author/teacher, that was never the point.

That’s…still, not legal advice. None of this can be; I’m not qualified to give it. But there are many authors who write books for the purposes of teaching. Not the purposes of litigation.

Now if this new beader, with the knowledge of the mechanics of the stitches they’ve learned, takes what they know about the function of each motion and anchor in beadwork to create something totally new that can’t necessarily and clearly be documented or slotted as, “right-angle weave,” or, “two-drop peyote,” or, “herringbone,” or, “brick stitch,” for example, then that looks clearly like artist territory to me. If they document their work and teach others how to make the exact same thing they made, given that it’s not the exact same (or close to the exact same, or derived from the exact same) pattern someone else taught them, then they would seem to be designers.

I should note, though, that it can take quite a while to reach that stage. I’m just starting to draw out simple legible patterns now, and I’ve been at this for over 25 years.

In other words: there’s way more that can be done in beaded jewelry than what published patterns demonstrate. One’s ability to see these possibilities depends one one’s horizons and familiarity with other crafts (techniques) which can and should intermesh, if one can find a way to do so and still create a strong product. We aren’t stuck with just stringing and beadweaving, that is: there are also wirework, knitting (including colorwork) and crochet, knotting (including micromacramé), lacemaking, embroidery, ceramics, leatherwork; and even silversmithing can theoretically be integrated, though I haven’t yet tried it. I also wonder about enameling…but I’ve not practiced that; I’ve only seen it in action. Then, there’s lapidary…for those special few who can actually work (and want to work) that field.


Swarovski Professional

I have wanted to mention something about Swarovski ending its sales of beads to the craft community with the anticipated shutdown of Swarovski Professional. Sam of Wescott Jewelry published something on this about 10 days ago: the comments in that thread, substantiate the rumors. I won’t repeat that thread here; hop on over to Wescott Jewelry for more information.

Since that time, I’ve been taking an in-depth look at Swarovski offerings and prices. What I can say is that I found another warning on this from 2016, and a third from 2013, which makes me wonder if we’re being subject to market manipulation, more than an actual threat. I’ve also been doing some digging around possible alternatives.

I haven’t used cut crystal beads so much in the past, because 1) they’re expensive; 2) they’re sharp, and can cut thread a bit more easily than I’d like. However: finding out that Swarovski is reportedly planning to discontinue distribution of their beads, led me to get some while I could. There are a lot of woven “recipes” (designs) which rely on tiny bicones, for example.

What I can say is that attempting to “stock up” doesn’t seem like an altogether cost-effective measure. Especially if one generally doesn’t use them, anyway. “Stocking up,” in this sense, is more like, “getting a sampler set,” because one won’t be able to truly stock up on this stuff if they’re moving a lot of inventory and don’t already know the colors they’ll use. (Or, as in my case, are unwilling to drop thousands of dollars on buying up existing stock for some as-yet-unknown purpose.) It’s possible to use up over 100 3mm beads on one St. Petersburg chain bracelet alone (though that’s a casual estimation; which you all should know I’m not great at, by now). With Swarovski as expensive as it is already, that means the cost of said bracelet is going to be, well, high. That, in turn, probably doesn’t matter too much, unless you intend to sell it.

In my case, I have heavily used Czech fire-polished glass beads, which I’ve experimented with minorly over the past couple of days (particularly looking at Right-Angle Weave), and they look different, but not inferior. It’s kind of like using a CzechMates Tile instead of a Miyuki Tila: the hard lines aren’t there, and maybe you don’t want them to be there.

The major difference between glass and crystal, however, is fire. Austrian crystal just reflects a lot of light, and can make glass look dull, next to it.

The big thing I can see coming up is a lack of replacement for Swarovski’s rose montées, which have perpendicular drill spaces that allow special design options. However: there are also Czech glass versions of these…and to be honest, getting a “silver-plated” rose montée doesn’t really reek of quality to me, when the only base (i.e. non-precious) metal in the piece is on the Austrian crystal component. Which may tarnish, I don’t know yet. But I’d rather the back be Sterling-filled or Sterling (or Fine) silver, so that the customers wouldn’t have to worry about rubbing the silver off when polishing it. Which I predict will need to happen. Because it’s just silver-plate.

I mean, if we’re going to make the stuff, shouldn’t we make it well?

From my own comparisons: Swarovski is reliably more expensive than Preciosa, for example (I’m going to avoid a ballpark comparison; it’s viewable online), which offers comparable crystal components. I have some Preciosa crystals, and they don’t disappoint me in terms of color or cut, though I have yet to try weaving with them.

Where Preciosa doesn’t touch Swarovski at this moment is in the wider range of colors, cuts, and special finishes that the latter currently offers. However: the consumer very much pays for this variety. In terms of cost for comparable merchandise, Swarovski cannot compete with Preciosa.

Then there is Chinese cut crystal, which I don’t have much experience with, other than some components I’ve purchased at craft stores — which are beautiful; it’s just that they’re a bit large and gaudy for my taste (they have a tendency to out-sparkle everything else). I am thinking, however, that both Preciosa and the Chinese crystal producers are going to rush into the void left by Swarovski. Plus, Swarovski is likely to put some manufacturers out of work…who will know how to make the stuff, even if they don’t have the capital to buy the machines to make the stuff.

For now, I don’t know what to say about this, so far as any recommendations go; I wouldn’t have even known it was happening, except for contacts online. I did, however, want to say something…

beadwork, craft, creativity, design, fashion design

Switching modes…is difficult.

As is making even not-so-difficult decisions about whether to accept an interview (for a temporary position) offered by HR. The HR that let me go, after 10 years of service. That HR.

Then there is my Vocational program assuming that I’ll either be in college or working…when right now I’m re-evaluating my life and what I want to do with it (a.k.a. finding reasons to stay alive — which is important)…which doesn’t quite involve them.

And then there is University, which I’m only in to get an inroad into a job I may actually be able to tolerate long-term, where we’ve entered the end phase of tons of group work and have stopped communicating. I want to ask when we will get started…

Then there is my personal life, which is beginning to turn over into creative work: particularly, sewing and beadwork. I’ve gotten enough together that I could make a good return beading…though I wonder, at this point, if I would be willing to sell patterns as well as (or instead of) finished objects.

The major issue with either is that many beadwork patterns are easy to deconstruct, if you know what you’re doing…and I’d venture to say that all can be replicated, with the right skill set. But I have bought some self-published books that are as good as, or better than, books coming from the major publishers…which would be Kalmbach, Interweave, and Lark Crafts, for beadwork.

There are some decent books from other publishers, too, but as we move from craft domain to domain — the publishers change. The people who publish books on silversmithing might not be into bead knitting, for example. So far as I can see, those are totally different market segments, with different motivations, different investments, and different levels of familiarity with different technologies. But both of them can make a bracelet.

Beadwork (often) entails a love of color, while hot metalwork entails a love of form and fire (and is relatively starved of color work, in my experience — with the exception of enameling, and working with brass and copper [which also technically fall under “silversmithing”, as non-ferrous metalworking which is not goldsmithing]).

I would only expect the love of color and texture to be magnified in bead knitting, which is kind of a hybrid between straight-out beadwork and the tactile and meditative pleasures of knitting…but I haven’t yet tried it. I do have a set of Size 1 knitting needles now, though. I also know a couple of places where I can get (heavyweight) spooled silk beading thread.

The thing is, to do this, you have to have interest and skill in knitting, which is an area I touch on tangentially, not fully. Lacemaking is another area I’m touching on, specifically with tatting — because I could see its application in craft jewelry.

A while back, I taught myself shuttle tatting, though that’s harder to do in a jewelry context than needle tatting. I started working with the latter just recently to see what I could do, without having to wind a shuttle to the middle of the work. Right now, I know I can make button loops with C-Lon Standard (TEX 210) and the heavyweight C-Lon TEX 400. This is with Sizes #5 and #3 tatting needles, respectively.

The resulting buttonholes are large, round, and relatively stiff…not that much of an improvement over making my own toggles out of glass seed beads (which I’m always afraid will crush or chip [after having heard the squeal of Mother-of-Pearl against glass]), but definitely more finished-appearing than a braided loop.

Using anything finer than TEX 210 and 400 basically requires using a shuttle…the needles I’ve been using (Handy Hands) just aren’t the right diameter. In shuttle tatting, you’re wrapping the thread around another loop of thread; in needle tatting, you’re wrapping it around the needle, which may not be the same diameter as the thread. With something like C-Lon, which doesn’t have a lot of stretch, that means it’s hard, with finer diameters, to slide the knots off of the needle and onto the thread itself.

It makes sense now, intuitively, as to why the heavier diameters would be easier to use: you get a lot more wiggle room in relation to the size of the cord. The cord is also harder to flex to create the double knots, which gives extra space next to the needle.

C-Lon Micro (TEX 70), for example…doesn’t work well with any of the needles I have, as it catches at the eye of the most appropriate-sized tatting needle. It will, however, work with a shuttle. C-Lon Fine (TEX 135) also doesn’t work with any of my needles. Either the needle is too wide (causing a “scrunchie effect” once completed), or I can’t fit the thread through the needle’s eye.

I have also tried working with Milliner’s needles, prior to having broken down and bought the Tatting needles: it works, but I question if they’re long enough. (Milliner’s needles are also much sharper, so you have to be careful not to scratch or stab yourself when forming the hitches.)

If I hadn’t tried this, I’d still be thinking of the possibility, but not the reality, of using tatting to form buttonholes for clasps. I still can do it, but the possibility is now limited, in my mind. Either use TEX 210 and 400 with tatting needles, or try TEX 135 or 70 with a shuttle…and keep in mind that you may get a stiff and very round buttonhole.

The other route is to find a set of tatting needles which will work with finer threads, meaning that the eyes have to be especially fine. Given how firm all forms of C-Lon cord I’ve used are, I’m not betting that I’ll be able to fit something like that through (or over) those needles. Tatting (to make lace) is generally done with softer threads — which beads may damage.

On the other hand, I’ve just finished a necklace which has been years in the making. Using the C-Lon Micro for it seems to have been a very good choice: it feels tough, and was thick enough to hold knots at the terminations. As I’ve been using clamshell bead tips to finish the work, I was glad when the knots were large enough not to slip through the holes.

Finding out possibilities and what they actually look and feel like in action, is extremely important. At least so, from a design + construction perspective. Thinking up dreams of, “what could be,” is something I did for years; it doesn’t necessarily get anything done. It takes experimentation to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Maybe I should say, it takes the risk of failure, to find out what works, and what doesn’t.

The forgiving thing about beadwork is that if your design doesn’t work out, you can clip your piece apart and try again.

It feels difficult to get myself out of Academic Mode and into Creative Mode. It’s even harder to let go of Creative Mode, once I’m in it, and slide back into Academic Mode: I want to stay where I am. I get involved with my projects. This happens even knowing I have to get back into Academics at some time, which tends to fill me with dread and anxiety. It’s hard to get out of Academic Mode in the first place, because I have a level of guilt for not spending my time studying.

I’m thinking that’s not a good way to enjoy living. Especially if what you’re studying, in order to earn a livable salary, doesn’t fit your core drives (or relieve your core banes: like uncleanliness, and random social interaction with strangers). It’s just something you do so you aren’t homeless or dependent. It’s not like you actually want to do it, or in a perfect world, would choose to do it. At least not after you’ve encountered the reality of the job and environment.

And it’s like, how many more years, how much more of my resources, am I going to commit to this? For the sake of a salary?

There are other things I can do, if cash is my only motivator. I may not be able to afford to live in the San Francisco Bay Area while I’m doing it…but to be honest, most of the world can’t afford to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re dealing with an inflated economy and gentrification, with high-wage earners moving in from outside, displacing the people who made the place what it was: the people who made this a nice place to live. What I can see is that someday — when technology shifts again, or when the climate shifts more completely — this area risks becoming another ghost region.

Early morning, on November 2nd — I began writing a post after having had a conversation with relatives. Its details should likely go into another, separate post, but I realized that through my clothing and jewelry, I could develop my own identity expression. I could also help others define theirs, or at least give them more options.

I’ve had a consistent problem with being able to present myself as I wish, with ready-to-wear clothing. The problem is that the clothes which fit my body usually also code me as a woman, socially — which is not something I’m set on. I began thinking on how to alter that. It’s not like it isn’t possible. It just requires creative thought, and the ability to realize those thoughts in reality.

That is, it’s possible to create clothes cut for and which will fit female bodies, without also making them to code as, “feminine.” It’s not like there isn’t a market for this: or there wouldn’t be so many people who are assumed to be, “women”, wearing men’s clothes. The problem is, after one reaches a certain point in their maturity, men’s clothes don’t quite fit correctly. At least, that’s been my experience. The body type I had in my early 20’s is not the body type I have in my late 30’s.

The point is that there is cultural space and coding made for cisgender men and cisgender women which signify their gender to people on sight. If you’re a gender minority, however: that isn’t necessarily the case. Not only are there no words to describe who you are, but there are no special signifiers that positively match your identity. And if there were, I’m not sure it would be safe…but, progress is being made.

I’d hope that in 40-50 years, there will be vocabulary and a safe place for people who are gender-nonbinary or third-gender, or otherwise currently not provided with correctly-coded tools with which to present. I would also hope that the erasure of gender minorities in the English language and cultural sphere, finds a way to cease in a respectful manner.

The night before last, I realized that I could and should get back to work on the “blouse” I’ve been trying to make for 10 years. I got about halfway through construction (having cut and marked the pieces previously), though I still have some alterations to make. This is Folkwear #111, “Nepali Blouse,” which I’m altering to have a much longer hem, and side inserts. I appreciated the toile, but it was much too short and revealing, for me.

The pattern itself is for something worn as an undergarment in Nepal, which makes sense if you live there, and it’s cold! Instead of the traditional fabric choices, though, I’m going for a dark cotton batik. After this is done, I can work on some outer layers.

And no, I don’t know the gender status of those who would be wearing this, normally. The pattern and styling is just something I like.

At this time, though, I find myself required to get back to my graded work…which I don’t want to do. Of course. Writing this, is kind of edging me back into thinking in words…which I need.

Wow, though. I mean, wow.

I am wondering when the last time was that I was so reticent about getting back into schoolwork…

beading, beadweaving, Business, craft, creativity, jewelry design, self care

Well, I screwed that up. :)

I did work with my beads today (technically: yesterday), and have a new design and a fresh set of earrings, for it. My major dilemma is whether to show these on the blog, if I want to eventually sell online (which is looking like more of a likelihood, than not). Personal information, professional identity, and all that. I shouldn’t mix my personal blog with business.

The drawback to doing this, tonight: I got so involved in my work that I completely (as in, entirely) forgot to take my evening medication, so I may not be tired until 2:30 AM, or so. As I start this post, it’s a little before 1 AM.

This is the first design I’ve made, that’s layered. I rather like the look, but the major issue will be sourcing a couple of bead shapes, going forward — if I make these to sell, that is. There are a couple of shapes that I’m either having a difficult time sourcing, or my best supplier is on the other side of the globe, and shipping takes 3 weeks in international mail.

Actually — now that I changed my search terms — I’m finding them. I need to look under “drop bead” instead of “teardrop bead”. One of the weaknesses of Web searching is the lack of a consistent vocabulary. The names of beads aren’t an issue in a brick-and-mortar store, where you can see the things…but, well, then there are text-based search engines.

I’ll go to bed now, so I can work on this more, tomorrow. I’m not sure whether I’ll actually need to write a pattern for myself (or at least, take notes and make drawings)…I just find it odd, that I’d come out of the night with three working earrings (of my own design).

That is — I can do this, and maybe should do this. I mean…I’m apparently good at it. I just have to make time for myself to do it, and stop berating myself for taking a less efficient path to sustainability…

beading, craft, design, fiber arts, jewelry design, macrame

Woo! An all-nighter!

Last night was the first night in a long time that I got no sleep. Like, absolutely zero sleep. Don’t drink a Coke at dinnertime when you only got up a minute ago.

As is often the case, however: while I was unable to sleep, my mind was working. I puzzled out a new earring design (or designs), or the beginning of some. By dawn, I had pretty much had it with lying around in bed trying in vain to pass out, so I got up, sorted through the fabric laid out over the chair contemplatively (I haven’t made any masks since I burned myself with steam from the iron about three days ago), and then set to trying to make the earring I had designed.

As I had only essentially learned how to tie vertical and horizontal clove hitches (a.k.a. double half-hitches) a couple of days ago, it was kind of wondrous that I was able to transfer that to a chevron pattern. There are instructions for tying chevrons, Cavandoli-style, in Micro-Macramé Jewelry, but I did kind of have to puzzle out some things in construction. I’m pretty sure I won’t be following project instructions exactly, going forward. After all…they’re guides, and many more possibilities exist than are apparent from instructions.

An unfinished earring featuring a purple and orange panel of Cavandoli knotting, suspended from brass wire and terminated in beads.

Right now, the earring design still isn’t really complete. I’m trying to figure out what to do as a termination, given that M was in love with the piece with all the threads still attached to it.

On top of that, I’m not too happy about the color scheme, but considering this was a trial, I used colors that I normally would not use, in order to save the good stuff for the time at which I know what I’m doing. :) Unfortunately, then, this earring turned out almost looking like the wearer is a Lakers fan…and that’s about all I know about the Lakers. :)

However! For something I designed in the middle of the night and made on the fly in early morning, it turned out pretty well! At this point, I’ve knotted off the 4mm Fire-Polished bead at the bottom; all it’s waiting for, now, is cement, trimming, and possibly switching out that round earwire (inferred by the shadow at the top of the image).

I…could get into how I designed this, but…I’m not sure I have the energy to explain it, right now. I have set aside a notebook for jewelry design, which I should copy my drawings into; there were just so many design phases for this, however (incorporating macramé and wirework)…that the idea of the task is daunting.

This is a prototype, though, using C-Lon standard gauge. I’m hoping to make more of these, in more attractive colors. :)

beading, beadwork, color, craft, design, macrame, seed beads

Swatching C-Lon gauges

From left to right: C-Lon TEX 400 with a 6/0 seed bead, C-Lon (standard) with 8/0 (blue) and 11/0 seed beads, and C-Lon Micro with 11/0 (purple) and 15/0 (opaque blue) seed beads.

Recently, I invested some time in knotting macramé, with the idea of posting images of it this morning, when I can photograph what I did in sunlight. I created some square knot sinnets with C-Lon TEX 400 (heavy weight), C-Lon (standard weight), and C-Lon Micro. I’ve posted them here so you can see some of the difference in scale between the different cord/thread weights.

Pretty obviously, the TEX 400 is way more substantial than Standard C-Lon. If I work at it, I can fit two strands of this through a size 6° seed bead (dark brown, left). I can fit two strands of Standard C-Lon (blue, center) through a size 8° bead. (Remember, the higher the number, the smaller the bead.) With the Micro, I can fit two strands (possibly more) through a size 11° seed bead, while it is also thin enough to fit one strand through a size 15° seed bead (light brown, right). I don’t have any samples of the Fine weight, so I can’t comment on that; but it is apparently somewhere between Standard and Micro.

I’ve put these square knot sinnets — two cords tied in square knots over two “carrier” cords of the same material — next to an American dime (the Web says this is about 18mm wide) for size reference.

I do realize now that I left out Miyuki Delicas in addition to Toho Treasures or Aikos (these are all Japanese cylinder beads which have larger holes relative to their size than comparable Japanese seed beads. I’m not immediately aware of the difference between Treasures and Aikos; they’re both made by Toho). I believe, however, that I only have Delicas…and possibly one vial of Treasures.

I can see possibilities for using the cords and beads right now…but I don’t know yet exactly how to get to the place that will fulfill that (or have a solid idea of my endpoint…which will likely evolve). I’ll have to puzzle it out in different iterations. What I can see now as a goal is probably just something I’ll have to keep in mind as motivation, and be open to re-visioning. I might also have to take notes on what I’m doing. There is a system of charting I know (as demonstrated in Macramé Pattern Book by Märchen Art Studio (2011), for example…though I have my homegrown version), but I’ve never used it for anything complicated.

The biggest hurdle, I think, is dealing with standard parts. That’s not as much of an issue now with fancy multiple-hole Czech glass beads on the market, but in designing jewelry, there is a “form” component as well as a “structure” component. By “form,” I mean the physical shape of the piece made, as though everything were made with the same color bead in a neutral color (different sizes and shapes allowed). By “structure,” I roughly mean thread path, connecting points, wirework, knotwork, thread terminations, and other functional architecture.

When you’re dealing with form and structure, things get more complex as one gains more different sizes and shapes of bead, and number and position of drill holes. If you have a collection of glass seed beads which goes back over the last 25 years, though…you probably have a lot of beads of the same style which are mostly just different in color, finish, and lining; but similar in physical form. Note I said, “similar,” not “identical.” (I might go out on a limb here and say no beads are truly identical…though Delicas, at least, come close.)

Alternating square-knot sinnet with 8/0 beads (left) and without (right).

That leads to…a somewhat limited number of outcomes for beadweaving or macramé, unless you get creative. Which is the point, right? It is possible to get really creative; but that means that patterns that teach you how to weave or knot are just where you begin. They teach you how the beads, thread, and knots work. Once you’ve got that, the rest is up to you.

Up until recently, though, form had been relatively…elusive for me, as a concept. I had focused much more on color and color interactions; probably because I started with loomwork and flat peyote stitch, as a child. It is the case that haphazard choice of color scheme can detract from a design…but attention to form and structure is also important. The thing is, it’s difficult to deal with the latter two without incorporating some color which alters perception of the piece: no bead is truly neutral.

In contrast, Silversmithing has been almost entirely about form and structure, for me. The main ways I can think of to incorporate color are through using 1) brass, copper or patina, the colors of all of which are naturally in flux; 2) heavy use of colored stones; or 3) enamel. It’s for this reason (among others) that I realized I had found a distinct strength in beadwork, which complemented my interest in color. (This may also be why I’m attracted to quilting.)

Last night, I also did an alternating square-knot sinnet sample with incorporated beads (right). It’s nothing complicated, but I wanted to record it. I’ve seen similar but different methods online…not that I’ve done them, but I can see different thread paths, and I know that means variation in construction.

Ah, I remember what I wanted to say! No one’s compensating me in any way, for writing this post.

craft, fabric, sewing

Sewing problems 01: fabric grain

Last night, I found something very interesting: the consequences of cutting and sewing strips across the lengthwise fabric grain, instead of with the lengthwise grain. I now have to scrap eight face-mask ties (or use tear-away stabilizer; even then, I’ve basically ruined one tie because holes are all punched in it) because they weren’t aligned correctly with the grain when I cut them. Because of that, the ties stretch and don’t sew correctly, getting pushed into the hole below the sewing needle, by the needle, itself.

M helped me troubleshoot last night, and this is what we discovered. I had thought I was sewing over a selvage (the edge of the weave) or something, and that this was why I was initially having such difficulty with the needle going through the fabric (the motor was stalling)…but I was also having difficulties with the feed and the flow of thread. The answer turned out to be the orientation of the grain of the fabric (which I didn’t know to watch out for, when I cut the pieces).

I did learn something from this.

It’s extremely similar to what happened with the good batik I tried to sew, causing me to wonder whether the problem was actually the fabric itself, or because I might have cut the ties cross-grain (across the bolt), instead of along the length of material. The symptoms are a noise the sewing machine makes (“pok pok pok” every time the needle drops), a tie that stretches and curves along its length, possible loops of thread above the sewing line, and the fabric puckering next to the needle (under the presser foot) every time the needle drops.

The trouble goes away (quiet, smooth sewing) when sewing other fabrics in other orientations, so we know it’s not the bobbin. (I earlier had to troubleshoot a bobbin: it was wound too loosely because I didn’t feed the thread in correctly, which resulted in weird noises and giant loops of thread on the back of the fabric. Reminisces of childhood. Solution: get another bobbin, use the poorly-wound one as a spool, and re-wind the new bobbin at the correct tension.)

It’s possible the effects aren’t so magnified when sewing garments, but these are ties, which are 3/4″ wide, at the most. (I’ve been eyeballing a width of about 6-7mm when I’ve turned in the edges…so they’re 1″ wide minus about 6mm to 7mm [a bit over 1/4″].)

If I’m correct, the grain of the fabric runs lengthwise down the bolt. Cutting across the grain is cutting across the shorter side of the fabric: the side which is scissored off of the bolt. Because I was using Fat Quarters especially, sometimes it’s difficult to tell where the selvage is…though I’ll be watching for it, now. At least one side should have a different edge, and that will be the selvage, and parallel to the lengthwise grain.

I should also be able to tell what grain to cut along by testing the fabric for stretch. M showed me the difference in stretchiness between the crosswise and lengthwise grain…lengthwise, the fabric doesn’t stretch. Widthwise (that is, crosswise: across the bolt), it does. Along the bias (at a 45° angle to both grains), stretch is maximum. When making ties, I want to cut and sew in the direction in which the fabric doesn’t stretch.

That might solve all of this. I’m not sure.

Knowing this, however, means that when I’m cutting ties out of the fabric I just obtained — which are not Fat Quarters, they’re 0.5 yard to 1.5 yard segments — I’ll likely need to cut the ties along the selvage, that is, along the length of the bolt. That should prevent these problems, but it also means that I may not be able to make 45″ long ties out of one length of fabric. That’s okay, so long as I don’t waste it…

I had been questioning, as well, whether the fabric folds more easily in one direction, than the other. I guess there’s no better way to answer that directly, than just trying it…

color, craft, fabric, fiber arts, sewing

Fabrics!!!

Remember how I mentioned that thing about having too many choices? I was partially referring to this:

A bunch of quilting cottons divided by color, into blue-greens, pinks, and purples.

And this:

Orange quilting cottons on the right, and a couple of cottons I don't like, on the left...

I obtained these after decimating my Fat Quarter stash for COVID-19 face masks. Of course, these will also be going (first) to COVID-19 face masks.

I’m still not certain whether to launder these before I begin cutting and sewing. It is tempting to wash everything, though that also means pressing everything. I don’t mind it, but it’s a lot of work, and this is a lot of fabric! The textures of the fabrics also change, and there may be differential shrinkage.

I’m almost scared to start, because I know that if I cut and construct one mask out of these, it may not last through the wash…though I have been encouraged to try making at least one mask and laundering it, to see what will happen. If it comes out poorly, then I wash everything else before cutting. If it comes out fine, then I don’t have to worry. I’m planning to tack on an extra 0.5″ to 0.75″, to account for shrinkage (the mask face should be approximately 6″x9″)…the thing is, the shrinkage via warp (length) versus via weft (width)…may not be the same. And it probably won’t be the same among all the fabrics.

I have extra yardage in the pink materials, so my first trial should come out of those…I had been planning to use the two fabrics on the left in the second photo, just because I like them least (with apologies to the designers). However, I have less of each blue and green Kona cotton (first photo, top left, plain fabrics), in exchange for more shades of those colors.

Six sets of mask cottons, ready to sew.

Ahh, decisions…

(I probably should be saying, “Ahh, inexperience…”)

I have nearly run out of the Fat Quarters I used for my initial masks. I basically slaughtered my initial stash, because I needed to. They were willing sacrifices of quilting cotton.

The cuts on the left are what I have had matched up, though I only have a few of these left to sew, and I’ve rearranged some of the pairings. Because they are all from 1/4-yard cuts, I wasn’t able to make two long ties as versus four short ones.

However…that could be rectified in what I’m about to get into.

I haven’t sewn in about two days. I think I’m still getting over the shock of the new fabrics. If I’m correct, all in all I’ve made about 16 masks, so far. What I don’t use on masks is going into quilts; I already have an interesting idea laid out, though I can’t right now find the image file of the quilt block I designed. It’s basically based on paper-folding…I can’t find the relevant post right now, though.

I really need to start an “origami” tag…and/or a “quilting” tag…

Oh hey, look. ;)

craft, design, fabric, garments, sewing

There’s always more to do, isn’t there?

Always. More. I was just looking through the (sparse) image logs I have on my current machine. I also have about 30 gigs of images archived on a memory stick. Most of it is from the community-college Art program. I’ll likely want to note which classes I was taking, when; that information is not in the same place.

What I’ve been advised to do is to copy all of my image storage onto my hard drive, then deal with it from there. It sounds like a good plan, especially as I’ve learned that, “save it and forget it,” is overly optimistic. (Backups can fail, that is.)

Today, I’ve mostly been dealing with face masks. I have 21 cuts of pre-shrunk, ironed batik for the outer portions (which I may have overdone); right now I’m picking out which Kona cottons to use on the backs, and what fabric to use for the ties. I have a lot of light-to-midweight quilting cotton which should be great for ties…but I don’t know how many I’ll get out of one Fat Quarter. All it takes to figure it out, though, is measurement and a little math.

Anyhow, there is not going to be a shortage of masks, here. I can see why people say they get burned-out on them; they can get really repetitive, at least unless I refine the design on each iteration. The latter keeps things interesting, but I can also see just wanting to get through them, as they’re needed almost immediately. The ones we need to send out, we can send out; I have a plan to replace them (plus), now. I just don’t want to send the ones I know are fragile…I can fix them, I don’t know if others can.

Not to mention that there is the stress of what to do when I run out of fabric, or thread. It may not have been the smartest thing to do, but that’s why I cut up the entirety of the batik Fat Quarters. It stops me from guessing, and lets me know what I do have. (The batiks are supposed to be good for filtering, so there are some on the outside of almost all of my masks.)

I also have more batik; it’s just more closely woven, more expensive, and in larger quantities. In other words: it’s nicer. :) But the higher quality does make it harder to sew, as it’s more resistant to the sewing machine (I’ve had the motor jam on me multiple times while trying to sew through too many layers of either the [tightly woven] good batik, or the [midweight] Kona cotton).

I also have quite a bit of soft, fine muslin, though that would likely go to ties, if it went to anything. I am not sure how effective it would be as a mask, even doubled. The reason to use it for ties is to avoid bumps of fabric at the corners of the masks (I have a sizable length of this which would allow one long tie instead of two short ones), though if I just moved in the corners of the ties a bit, I could probably take down a lot of that bulk.

Right now I do, actually, want to get back to work on the Nepali Blouse. It’s something I can do anytime, but I haven’t even wound the first bobbin, yet. We actually have more bobbins than I thought; I stalled because I thought there was only one empty one. Apparently, there are a bunch more empty bobbins, which just aren’t with the rest.

Right now I’m using Coats & Clark Dual Duty thread, which seems good enough (this is what I grew up with). The blouse, I got Gutermann thread for (it was a nice color match); but how old is it? I’m not sure — but if I look at my archives, it’s probably really old. I also don’t know how the fabric it’s made of, will sew…particularly, I’m not sure if I’ll have to use a different needle (or if I damaged the one that’s in there). I’m not quite advanced enough to know that, yet. M can help.

But tomorrow, I can wind the Gutermann bobbin, sew some scraps of the blouse material, and see how it comes out and if the needle needs changing. I’ve also just checked: I’ll need to make ties that are 2″ wide…unless I need to wrangle that a bit, in order to fit a multiple of 2 or 4 onto the Fat Quarter. Math, right?

The Internet (not my ruler, I haven’t checked) says the Fat Quarter should be 18″x22″. The 22″ is likely the length that I have lined up with the long side of the ruler (it has shrunk), which means the 18″ length is what I’m fitting 8 strips into, 2″ wide each: giving me 2″ of wiggle room and full ties for two masks.

That is what I’m talking about. Math.

I stopped work on this earlier tonight because I needed to think about what I was doing. It’s apparent, now, that I’ll end up using a lot more fabric for ties than I had predicted: however, it’s all (or, almost all) washed, dried, and ironed, now.

And I don’t have to make all 21 masks. :) However, I do have little cuts into the edges of some of these Fat Quarters. I’ll go and check on them now; I can easily swap out these lightweight things for uncut Fat Quarters, if I need to.

Just. Who knew that sewing would be such a useful skill (these days, at least)?

craft, fabric, libraries, sewing

Sewing? Who the…wha…abt…sorry, I’m tired.

I’ve spent long enough working on masks today, that I think I need a break. Right now I’ve got another batch of batiks and Kona cotton (though the latter is for ties; it may be too insubstantial for filtering) in the hot-water-shrinky-washer, so it’s not a great time for a shower…

I find it amazing, though, how much of sewing is pressing. I hadn’t really thought of it, before. In any case, today was largely spent picking fabrics, laundering them, pressing them, cutting shapes out of them, pressing them again, figuring out how to make pleats in a rational manner, ripping out bad work…and then, sewing. Sewing takes the least energy of all these things! (I found out that creasing the fabric in the center, then along 1/4 lines, makes it much easier to lay out the pleats…ideally, I’m working with a 2″ joint, but it was wider this time, as it was my first try.)

So, right now, I’ve got one mask. That’s one more than I started the day with, and because it is teal, it does look like a hospital mask (which I’m not fond of). But still. It actually catches the moisture from my breath, which is what I think it’s supposed to do. Plus, I now know what I’m doing (and where I might improve on the design, with the limitation that I’m working with a bunch of Fat Quarters, for the most part).

In specific, I’m thinking of overlapping the ties over the pleats at the sides of the mask…which will require longer ties, but I can fit four of them into a Fat Quarter, along with two mask panels. It would take down the bulk at each corner.

Work on the Nepali Blouse has stalled; it was more important to work on the I’m-not-gonna-give-you-Corona-mask. But there’s a lot to sewing that I realize now, I remember. Even threading the bobbin and the machine. It’s a different machine than I’ve ever worked on, though I did once take a Sewing Machine essentials class, so I remembered the direction in which to run the thread…(IIRC, I make a “p” with the thread if the bobbin is drop-down, and a “q” if it’s a side-loaded bobbin…don’t quote me on that, though).

I’ve also restarted reading, as I’ve realized that this is the one big thing I need to be doing, that I’m not doing. Reading, practically, anything. I did just start Radium Girls last night, and got through the 10th chapter…it’s fairly gory. Having…well — painted — myself…I know how cheap camel-hair brushes are, and wonder what the outcome would have been if the radium dial workshops had used brushes that actually would have kept a point…not to mention the lingering question of why specifically, “girls,” were recruited to perform the task of ingesting radioactive pigment with no protection.

Anyhow. I realize there may be a lot of questions as to how to access eBooks, so I had to run through getting access for myself. (It would help to know that, at least!) I still haven’t tried all the platforms, though, and I can’t try all the devices.

Right now…the fabrics are out of the wash, and in the hot-air-shrinky-dryer. Maybe I have it in me to go and sew again? Or maybe I should give it a rest and get some rest, to preserve my health…

Yeah…I’ve been up, for a while. Take meds, brush teeth, wash face, then read more Radium Girls and go to sleep when it gets disturbing enough… ;P

art, comics, craft, creative writing, drawing, illustration, sequential art

Needing to focus…

“Focus,” that is, on which projects I want to work on, now. There is the issue of where to put my resources so as not to overwhelm myself. It wasn’t long ago that I was looking at embroidery (I still am)…and then at quilting and sewing. A helper at a quilt store nearby introduced me to English Paper Piecing (EPP), which I’ve been browsing about, tonight.

If I did work with EPP…I would either be using a trapezoidal (EDIT: wait, no, just quadrilateral) pattern I made up myself (though I’ve seen something like it [along with a bunch of other stuff] called “Whirligig” [“Whirlygig?”] online), or hexagons with trapezoid borders. The latter might be…well…more systematic and predictable. I know a place where I can get whole hexagonal pattern pieces and then cut them up to make a modularly-edited quilt. (Is that a term?)

The Whirligig pattern that I’m thinking of, by the way — if I’m remembering it correctly — is made of an origami-paper square which is folded so one corner meets the midpoint of the side it’s folding towards. Unfold it, then turn the paper 1/4 turn and fold the other three sides in the same manner, turning it in the same direction each time. When you unfold it, you’ll have a cross in the center of the paper marking the midlines (which you can ignore), and four other lines which — if you cut across all of them — will give you the pattern I have.

If you, instead, fold the paper so that the parallel lines touch (it helps to mark the midpoint on one side before going to fold the other), you’ll get a Whirligig without a center square. If you then arrange these symmetrically, you should get a repeating, borderless hourglass motif.

Right now when I look at my quilt square that I did — likely years ago (time flies when you’re not a kid anymore) — there’s a cross going by the interior borders, and a square in the center. So when these pieces are placed as I placed them, you get a lozenge border contrasting with an hourglass border — I think (depending on color placement and where you focus; it’s easier to visualize with the little colored paper pieces here) — which are filled in with solid blocks.

Of course…it’s easier to envision when you have the pattern pieces in front of you. I don’t have the original pattern next to me right now. I had to go and get a paper to fold so that I could report accurately what I did. Something in me remembers, but it’s not the part of me that is good at writing. :)

But I’m curious as to whether I should do this project, now, just because it’s mine. I do have plastic sheeting to make templates (from the paper prototypes). I got it for this. I just left off of the project, I think, because of the whole demand for precision (flatness requires precision) and the question as to why I was hand-quilting it instead of machine-quilting it. (There are lots of straight lines.) I’d either have to mark or eyeball a lot of pieces…whereas if I were machine-piecing this, I’d have a built-in guide in the plate below the needle.

The helper at the quilt store encouraged me to make a pillow cover as a starter project. I can, seriously, do a pillow cover. I can do lots of friggen’ pillow covers. In different colors, for different moods. :)

I guess I can also make pillows.

So, then, there is also the issue of embroidery. I picked up some more stuff for it, thinking that I’d use a new book I’ve bought (Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches), which…I haven’t used, so far. I’ve been flipping through it, a lot. But this…from what I can see, it’s a serious embroidery book. So when I’ve just relatively recently taught myself how to do Feather Stitch (which required deciphering what each pierce of the needle and wrap of thread would do), it can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, I was able to find some more beginner-level stuff at the Library, one of which includes a pattern for a needle case. Which…I could use.

So we have that.

Otherwise, what am I working on? There’s the ‘zine thing, and the development for it. I’m probably still waiting to get back around to scanning, optimizing, and uploading my images of those tests with the black drawing inks, and the Ecoline “watercolors”. However…what I’ve learned is that bottled dip-pen drawing inks labeled “India Ink” are more likely to be waterproof. Just as a blanket statement. I am not entirely sure why; I just observed it as a pattern.

I’ve also really got to see whether I can use a dip pen on Marker paper (I’m thinking more along terms of Bienfang Graphics 360 Marker or Borden & Riley Layout [which is translucent], as versus Aqua Bee or Deleter paper [which is opaque; and that is if the Bee paper I’m speaking of is even still made]), or if I’ll need to use fineliners for the lineart, and markers otherwise. This matters because if the paper can take liquid media and dip pen, I can use everything I’ve got: ink and brush, pens, watercolor, etc. If it can’t, I’m limited to markers and fineliners (the latter of which I would also, actually, consider a type of marker).

The alternative is to work the art out entirely on a wet media paper: something like a smooth Bristol, or hot-press Watercolor paper, being my first thoughts, though “Mixed Media” paper might also be okay. I need to test it out. I should also remember that as long as the drawing is to scale, I can always digitally shrink it to fit (though the lines will also shrink).

A night or two ago, as well, I made a prototype model of the book binding I might be using. It kind of matters to know this, so I can size the images correctly as I make them. Right now I’m aiming for a 5″x7″ booklet, which opens up to 9.5″x7″. Since I don’t yet know how to bookbind with an awl and needle yet, it may (unfortunately) end up being stapled. But that assumes that I won’t learn the skill. (I do think I have cork board around here…)

There’s also the possibility of not worrying about the image alignment and sewing the volumes the normal way (Coptic binding?), which might be easier. Because of this, I’m going to want to print across all 5″ of each page (to give me leeway if I change my methods). It’s just that no critical data can go in the inner 1/4″, next to the spine. And the page order will take some rearranging, if I go the Coptic route. I can’t remember how many pages a “magazine” (a internal section) in Coptic binding is supposed to hold, but I can look it up. (Ah: 8, 16, or 32 pages.)

And then we also have…that script I’m working on, which is somewhat fun, even if somewhat disturbing. When I get into a flow state, though, it’s really easy. Editing the script and composing the images, will be different.

I kind of think that’s enough on my plate, for now.