Monday, December 22, 2008

Warm Ewe Up Winter Yarn Swap

I'm pretty darn excited about this, as it's my first swap EVER! Following is the Ravelry Swap Q&A designed to help my mystery swapper get to know me better. I'm not at my home computer so I apologize for the lack of photos, but I've included links where applicable.

Do you knit or crochet, or both? How long have you been at the craft?

I knit. I've been knitting for just over 2 years.

I tried to crochet an afghan once about ten years ago and it was a disaster. It was meant to be a striped stadium blanket for my sister, and it looked like Africa. I swore I would never crochet again. However, the more wonderful edgings I see being done with crochet the more I want to learn.

Do you spin?
I don't spin yet. I have no doubt that I will be spinning at some point. The yarn addiction is bad enough right now that I'm holding myself back from spinning.

What yarns/fibers are your favorites?

I love all animal fibers, but alpaca probably wins. The jury is still out on mohair. I'm knitting a (VERY SIMPLE) lace scarf with some pretty pale green/blue mohair and I like how it's turning out, but I'm still not sure if I like knitting with it.

What yarns/fibers do you not like?
I strongly dislike synthetic fibers, although I did just buy some Berroco Comfort with which to knit my adorable nephews little sweater vests. I also don't like novelty yarns, maybe because when I started knitting I bought WAY too much of it at Michaels (DAMN THEM and their clearance bins!) and I STILL have a lot of it in my stash.

What yarns/fibers would you like to try but haven’t?
You mean besides cashmere? (hee!) I'm curious about linen and linen blends -- I have the Mason-Dixon book and those lovely hand towels keep calling to me. I'm curious about bamboo and silk as well.

What are your favorite colors? Colors that you don’t like?

I like rich colors, jewel tones, and earthy colors. Not a fan of pastels, but it depends on the project. I love colors with a lot of depth to them, and I like heathered yarns quite a lot.

What are your favorite types of projects to knit?
I'm still learning, so right now it's EVERYTHING! I do a lot of felting. I like to make up my own patterns, because I never can find EXACTLY what I want. And sometimes I just like to put the yarn on the needles and see what happens.

What are you currently working on?
The "Swing Thing" sweater for my 2 yo niece, armwarmers for sis. I'm about to start armwarmers for 2 other nieces and a hat/mitten set for another niece and a vest or two for my two nephews... I have a huge family, and a strong desire to cover them in handknits.

What is your favorite FO? (Please post a picture if you have one.)

My favorite FO is usually whatever I just finished, although I am awfully fond of my snowdude. And I love this baby hat and the teeny tiny sweet little mitts.

Are there any techniques that you want to learn?

Mosaic knitting and/or fair isle - I've done a bit of intarsia, and I love knitting with color, but I want to be able to me more flexible in my designs.

I also want to knit lace, and I discovered socks this year, so I want to try some more complicated sock patterns -- or stockings! (I have this strange desire to knit fishnet stockings.) And those gorgeous wonderful things in the Folk Socks book. I love folk knits.

I absolutely MUST knit a sweater for my mom this year, because she's been hinting since I first picked up the needles. (I was hoping to have one ready for Christmas, but now I'm shooting for Mother's Day.)

I'm longing to knit something REALLY BIG -- like a blanket, or a curtain, or a cape. And I'd love to knit something for myself, too.

Do you have a yarn winder and/or swift?
Nope! I'd love a swift, but I don't know where I'd put it, and I often enjoy hand-winding a center-pull yarn ball. It's great when I've burnt out my brain on something.

How do you store your needles/hooks?

Right now my needles are in a crappy, falling-apart toiletries bag, although sometimes I store them fanned out in a jar or vase -- like paintbrushes or flowers. I've made a pattern for a needle case but have yet to sew it up.

Do you collect anything?
Besides knitting needles and yarn? I loathe throwing away useful things, so I have an assortment of cleaned-out glass jars and tin cans that I sometimes use for paint or storage of small things, but I wouldn't say that I necessarily "collect" them.

Do you like sweets?

I love dark chocolate with nuts and fruits in it, or plain dark chocolate. OH! And cinnamon bears. And candied ginger covered in dark chocolate. Other than that, not really.

What are your favorite scents?
lavender, rosemary, and cinnamon. Although not all at the same time.

Are you having a birthday during this swap?


Do you have any online wish lists? (Amazon, Loopy Ewe, etc.) Please include a link for your pal.
I have a wishlist on Amazon. I must find out what this Loopy Ewe thing is. I have a feeling it's going to be VERY exciting.

What is your living situation (Are you married? Do you have kids, pets, or both?)

I have a housemate and two kitties that we share. Vivien was mine, but has adopted Jules, and Xander was Jules', but now owns me. We also call Vivien Squawk-a-lot, and we call Xander (short for Alexander the Great) Master Pathetico.

Are you allergic to anything?
I'm allergic to my cats. hahaha. I'm also allergic to all things melon -- sad, no?

Is there anything else that you would like your pal to know?
I'm an oldest child, with all its attendant rights and responsibilities. I love shoes. I love books, I love to read: Jane Austen, Jasper Fforde, Barbara Kingsolver, Dorothy Allison, and I'm reading Charles Dickens (Great Expectations) for the first time and enjoying it immensely. I also sew and I made wedding dresses for all three of my sisters. I'm a costume designer. I'm an environmentalist. I love filling out questionnaires. I'm addicted to coffee.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This is your brain...

This is your brain on yarn:

That's the yarn I think I want to take with me tomorrow when I go to visit my family for 2 1/2 weeks. And that's AFTER paring it down.

You can also take that to be a metaphor (hmm, or a simile) for what my mind feels like right now.

I don't travel well. I like to think that I do, I sometimes pretend that I do, but I obsess over packing for a trip to visit my parents the way some people would obsess over packing for a three-month trek to Nepal. And I'll still wind up forgetting three or four things. The top four things I forget, every time? Toothbrush, deodorant, contact case, meds. You know, the stuff you use EVERY DAY.

That, and instead of knitting Christmas presents for the last month and a half, I've been trying to update and promote my shop on etsy, so I'm trying to bring yarn for every gift I think I might have time to start, as well as all the UFO's. Not to mention all my knitting needles. So after that, there's room for a couple of pairs of socks and whatever I happen to wear on the plane, assuming I remember to get dressed at all.

So that's my excuse, albeit not a very good one, for not updating y'all about the winner of the drawing. And the winner is:

Marie of Knitted Gems!

She'll win these:

Plus a few things that are just not going to get photographed, the way I'm going! ARGH!

I think I need to lie down.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

We interrupt this program

So sorry, everyone, for not updating with pics of the ornaments. I feel like I have been hit by a truck! I know it doesn't seem like taking photographs would be that tiring, but somehow finding the camera, attaching it to the tripod, setting up the lightbox, and pushing that little button feels like more than I can do right now.

Today is the last day to comment and the drawing is tomorrow!

In the interim, here's another one of my favorites:

It's a switchplate by Fondue made from vintage wallpaper. I got my brother some of their baseball magnets for his birthday -- so cute, and such a great price for a great gift!

Okay, it's back to the Theraflu and the couch for this girl.

Results tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What to get... and a giveaway! Part 2

Because the men in your life are equally deserving of handmade gifts!

For your Dad:

In case you don't want to get him yet another tie, and assuming that either you have already gotten him every possible combination of golf paraphernalia (unless he's not even a golfer, in which case you don't even have that to fall back on) and assuming he has taken you camping at least once in your life:

This wonderful and funny Campfire in a Can candle from Mountainmamaskitchen is perfect to bring back memories of summer in the mountains! Add these beautiful soy wax fire starters from Berry Creek Candles and he'll know that, despite all your complaining, you liked it well enough to go camping with him again.

For your geeky (or is he nerdy?) brother.

You know he likes Star Wars, right? All those home movies of him attacking the couch with a broom -- er, I mean, a lightsaber -- should be a clue! Indulge his inner child while appealing to his all-grown-up sensibilities by getting him this gorgeously crafted Star Wars Fighters and Starships clock by YOUgNeek:

For your hipster cousin:

Okay, so maybe sometimes you just want to slap him silly. Instead, get him this awesome, unique monster tie by beckaboo. The price is perfect, plus it's recycled!

For the creepy guy you picked in the gift exchange at work:

You have to be careful with this one! You don't want him to think you LIKE him or something! Get him this ceramic magnet from CircaCeramics and everyone will wish you had picked them instead.. Add the upcycled shirt coffee cozy from TheLilMonsterShoppe and he'll be the envy of everyone in the office.

How to Win the Giveaway:

1. Search etsy to find an off-the-beaten path gift for someone unusual or hard to shop for on your list -- or you can use one of mine.

2. Comment on my blog with your find and a link to the item on etsy.

3. Every person who comments with a link will be entered into a drawing for a set of 4 ornaments made from upcycled materials, in a gift box which is also made from upcycled materials. (Picture in a previous post, more pics to come as I perfect the design.)

You have until Thursday, December 11 to comment and the drawing will be on Friday, December 12. (I changed the date because it took me so long to put part 2 together. Sorry folks!) Winners will be posted here, with a link to their etsy shops.

You don't have to have a shop on etsy to play, you just have to find something wonderful on etsy for an "ungiftable" and post it here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

What to get... and a giveaway!

This is getting so long, I've decided to publish it in two parts: Part one is for the women in your life, and tomorrow I'll publish part two, for the men in your life.

It's the holiday season, and the "end-of-year" season, and chances are, there's someone on your list who needs a gift and you don't have a clue. So before you do anything else, buy a pound of these succulent and unusual fleur de sel caramels from haveitconfections. If you can resist eating all of them yourself, add a few to anything else you might be giving, or tuck some into a stocking for a sophisticated treat.

All done? Great! Now let's get down to it.

For the person who has everything:

The wonderful thing about buying handmade for the person who has everything is that you can be sure she doesn't already have it. So instead of a sterling silver telephone dialer, why not opt for this gorgeous Berry Bowl from Studio Elan:

For your daughter's favorite teacher:

(or her least favorite teacher, who could also use some love). You can always go with something trite from the mall, or you can show her you care by putting together a gift box made up of this sweet little personalized rubber stamp from cupcake tree: and this ambrosial Sugar Plum Soap from Inseine Creations.

For your picky Grandmother:

Did you know that the reason Grandma is always cold is that, as you get older, your body loses its ability to circulate blood as efficiently? Get her this
gorgeous alpaca scarf by nfall2art. The alpaca makes it extra warm and super soft (see, she can't complain about it itching!), and the beautiful hand-knotted fringe at the bottom makes it extra-special.

How to Win the Giveaway:

1. Search etsy to find an off-the-beaten path gift for someone unusual or hard to shop for on your list -- or you can use one of mine.

2. Comment on my blog with your find and a link to the item on etsy.

3. Every person who comments with a link will be entered into a drawing for a set of 4 ornament tags made entirely from upcycled materials!

You have until Sunday, December 7 to comment and the drawing will be on Monday, December 8. Winners will be posted here, with a link to their etsy shops (if desired).

Here's an example of one of the recycled paper ornament you will receive (I am still perfecting this design. There are more pictures to come, and the ornaments will arrive in a handmade, recycled box, which I am designing RIGHT NOW! But you have to play to win!)

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Handmade Perception

There was a forum post on etsy recently that discussed, in part, the difficulty we sometimes have battling perceptions about the value of our time, the idea that because we are "just artists", we don't need to get paid, that we're doing it out of some altruistic need to fill the world with crafts, and the fear that in the current economic crisis, we will be hard hit. Many are considering lowering their prices, others are thinking about jumping ship, and a lot of us are just continuing to work hard, promote hard, and having nightmares about playing basketball in a swimming pool against Diana Taurasi (or maybe that's just me).

One person, about 100 posts in, said. "Guess we will never get rich at this game. It's done for love, most of the time."

Those of you who know me know that I wasn't going to let that one slide by. My response to her went like this:

"Yes and no. I do what I love and love what I do, but I fully intend to get rich doing it. I mean "rich" may be relative, but still -- I'm not doing it because I just want to spread my love for the world by making beautifully designed and carefully crafted handmade objects -- I'm doing it because I'm good at it! And I expect people to appreciate that, and show their appreciation by paying me what I deserve!"

It's hard sometimes, when you put something up on etsy, something that you've sweated and cried over, something that you've put everything you've ever learned about color and rhythm and line and balance and then you try to put a price tag on it and realize that no price is going to reflect your worth, and you battle with what you think it's worth and what you think people will actually pay for it, and it's tempting sometimes to jump on the latest trend (I'm talking to you, steampunk) just to make a quick buck, and maybe you don't even care if you're gluing crap together if you could just put new tires on the car and maybe even buy that shampoo you like.

It's hard, when your art is your living, and you're sitting there with your needles and yarn, or your paintbrush and a mask, and doing battle with yourself because what you WANT to do, what your inner artist is TELLING you to do, may not bring in the hundreds of dollar that it should, and you have to find that delicate balance where you're not selling yourself short, but you ARE making more than oh, say, 50 cents an hour. And you have to remind yourself that even if you CAN put the tires off for another month, you're still going to need gas. And then you sigh, and knit garter stitch instead of some fabulous lace pattern, and you applique instead of doing intarsia, and you use a die-cut shape instead of creating your own. And you hope that you're still being true to yourself. And the day suddenly seems very long.

I hate to use a basketball analogy again (actually that's not true, I love using a basketball analogy, and the college basketball season is finally starting, so it's on my mind) but we were watching UConn play (it was really more of a slaughter) San Diego State last night. There was never any doubt that UConn would win. They are, quite simply, the superior team, in both experience and content. I asked Jules, "How do you go into a game knowing that you're going to lose? What does the coach say to you in the locker room when the other team has exactly twice as many points on the boards?"

She explained that you can't, you don't, look at it like that. You don't focus on winning or losing, you focus on your goals. You focus on how many shots you can block, on how many possessions you can overturn, you -- and here's the crux of it, I think -- you "play every possession."

This does actually relate to the above discussion. I think as artisans, we sometimes get lost in the big picture. I know that lately, as I've been madly sewing and knitting, I'm so worried about getting enough "product" on my site in the hopes of off-the-charts sales this coming Black Friday and Cyber Monday, that I've lost the joy of what I'm doing. If I do that, then I may as well go back to selling "heads in beds" (hotel slang for occupancy), or answering phones. Because at least then I would have health insurance.

And when I've spent so much time on an item that I would have to price it far, far above what the market will bear, I take a good hard look at what it is that's taking me so long, and whether I could achieve that differently, and whether if maybe I should not be making that particular thing. As I mentioned before, it's a delicate balance.

For a few brief minutes last night, when I was beading an ornament made from an upcycled snowflake sweater, I was just in the moment. I was admiring the sheen of the czech glass beads, and marveling at the lovely symmetry of the snowflake, and enjoying the sensual feeling of the needle slipping into the bead and then through the wool, and simply enjoying what I do. And it was kind of great.

As I contemplated pricing on this little lovely, I bounced around from $24 to $8. My roommate thinks I should "price it to move" and there is that temptation to slash prices in order to make sales, and I understand that urge, really I do, but in the long run, it doesn't just hurt you as a business, it hurts every artisan who is trying to make a living and charging what would equate to a living wage.

And it's a constant struggle. There are always the people who are going to sell something cheaper than you. They don't realize that when they sell something for $9.50 and it took them 3 hours to make, they're selling themselves short. And maybe the people for whom it is "just a hobby" -- that's ok.

But for me, it's a business. That means that not only am I constantly monitoring my prices, other people's prices, my return on investment, the cost of supplies, and the relative sanity of my brain from monitoring all of this on any given day, but I'm also constantly striving for perfection. I want that basket/mask/pincushion to be PERFECT, and not just because I want to be able to charge the big bucks for it, but because I want to be able to take pride in what I do. Sure, I could jump on the steampunk bandwagon, or make something with owls/birds/scrabble tile pendants. But more importantly, I need to be true to myself.

So I'm making hams out of recycled sweaters and shibori fabric. I'm making little bracelet pincushions out of someone else's "trash". I'm making christmas ornaments out of beer bottle caps. I don't know if anyone will buy them. But they're beautiful, and I am proud to stand behind them. I look at my little shop on etsy, and I'm proud to say, "I did that." And I'll keep doing it. And I'll see how it goes, and I'll be flexible. But I'm still going to be true to myself.

This all goes back to what I was talking about a few weeks ago: believing in yourself, and fear of failure.

So my fellow etsians, don't lose heart! I really do believe we are at the forefront of a revolution in changing peoples perceptions about what they buy and where it comes from. It's up to us to set the standard for that, and then defend that standard. And I believe that part of that is educating our consumer about what we do, how and why we do it, and why they should support us doing it!

Because I believe in us. I really do.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Packaging, marketing, and the environment

I've really been struggling with packaging lately. I want the things I make to arrive beautifully packaged. I do think that's part of the experience, and I want to put the same care into the packaging of the product that I do into the making.

At the same time, I think that packaging is a huge source of waste, and I abhor the preponderance of packaging that litters our marketplace and, ultimately, our landfills. I read something on BaublesButtonsBeads blog banner (now there's a mouthful) that said "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." I've heard it before, but it was nice to be reminded, especially since -- for the most part -- I try to live by that philosophy.

For this reason, I started making little origami boxes out of paper that would otherwise be considered trash. One of my favorite instances of this is the little boxes I made out of the pages of a Thomas Guide which lost its usefulness after I got a navigation system for my car.

This box is perfect for the little earrings I was making, and I was able to make a larger one for the bracelets. The problem then becomes shipping. The box itself isn't sturdy enough to stand up to being shipped in an envelope, so instead of shipping in a Priority Mail flat-rate envelope, I need to ship in a small box.

Acquiring small boxes turned out to be easy -- I was at Staples one day (no endorsement should be inferred) and they were unpacking an abundance of school supplies. There was a cart full of little boxes, and after asking the store associate, I greedily pilfered the best of them. I was at Henry's a few days later (feel free to infer an endorsement here, I love Henry's) and did the same. So as far as boxes in which to ship, I'm golden!

I got an order for a tree trio last week, and was scrambling to find a packaging solution when I unearthed some of the lighter-weight boxes that pens were shipped in. I came up with what I think is a swell solution. I took a paint swatch, stamped my logo on it, and glued it over the logo on the box. The trees nestled in quite happily.

I tied a piece of jute around the box, then put them inside another, sturdier box, and off they went! I have to admit, it was pretty adorable!

Yesterday I got an order for two sets of bowls. One was listed as being sent in a handmade origami box, with a picture of said box. This is one that I made from cutting apart a gift bag which had ripped. The box itself is pretty, but not as sturdy as I would like. My bext problem was that the second set of bowls she ordered was MUCH larger, and wouldn't fit into the same box. I found a box from Crate & Barrel which I turned inside-out and tied with some gorgeous ribbon. Each box, individually, was lovely, but together, did not create the experience I would have wished. I found it a little jarring, in fact.

I put both boxes into yet another free box, this one from Henry's, which again, I turned inside out.

I'm less satisfied with this solution, and extremely irritated at the amount of time it took me to put it together. Any profit I might have made on that sale was negated by the hours -- yes, HOURS! it took me to package it. Part of it is that I'm so disorganized right now, and part of it is that I don't have a system -- every time I package something, I have to experiment with a bunch of different options just to find one that works.

At this point, it would probably be easier AND cheaper to just buy some damn pre-made boxes. But I'm so not okay with that. I am really conscious of the impact I have on the environment, and even though I reuse everything I get time and time again, I can't control whether or not someone else does.

Unfortunately, every minute (or hour) that I spend making packaging is another minute (or hour) that I'm not making money. And as I am just barely scraping by as it is, it's something I need to carefully consider, and find a viable solution for.

And if and when I do, you can bet you'll be the first to know!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I'm famous!

Well, not exactly. But Tuesday I got an email from Barbara at Barbara Keith Designs, letting me know that she'd added my Apple Basket to her Treasury! I was SO excited. And after several tries, I even managed to take a screen shot of it. There it is, in the upper left corner.

Then yesterday I woke up to an email from Kate of Organic Odysseys (I blogged about her last week) letting me know that I made the front page! And she was kind enough to take a screen shot and send it to me, since front page spots don't last very long. So there I am, second row, far right:

THEN, this morning Kate again let me know that she found me in a gift guide, too!

As if that wasn't enough, as I was writing this, I got an email from Simply Sentimental letting me know that my little trees had been featured on HER blog!

Whew! I'm overwhelmed just keeping up with all of this! I have work to do, but before I go, I also had a red-letter week on another Top-Secret Project I've been working on with my friend Bridget. She and I have been working for several months on an idea she had that she recently submitted a product to a live product search. Monday they contacted her and said that Westpoint Home is VERY interested in her product, and they wanted a prototype. Tuesday I rushed over to her house and we spent a few hours perfecting it, and off it goes! They have 45 days to make a decision, so think happy thoughts for us -- if they accept it, you'll be seeing it in stores in a little over a year!

Monday, November 10, 2008


Saturday I finished nearly a dozen items that have been in the works for a long, long, time. I spent most of Sunday photographing them, and then was up until nearly 2am cursing at the photos.

Part of the problem is that I don't really like doing the photography, so I tend to rush it. The other part of the problem is that I have no freaking clue what I am doing! I don't understand why my lightbox works beautifully in some cases, and in others makes everything super-saturated and underexposed. Artistically some of the photos might be considered sort of cool looking, but no one is going to buy something when they can't tell what it is.

Some of them turned out beautifully. I'm quite pleased with this, for example:

But one of my favorite pieces is not photographing accurately. Do those large diamonds over the eyes look black to you? Because they're not black, they're a deep, rich, gorgeous purple.

And although I love the staging of this photo, I'm frustrated with the way the beautiful stitching is blurring together into one big fuzzy orange blob:

I want the basket to be in focus, not the apples! (Not that the apples aren't beautiful, they are. But I'm not selling apples!)

The last Virtual Lab I attended on Etsy, Danielle kept talking about using natural light. It was raining yesterday, so the natural light was not readily available, but it looks sunny today, so perhaps I'll go outside (horrors!) and try this again.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

My Favorite Things

I've been spending some time in the Virtual Labs on Etsy lately, and one of the things that thrills me about this is the opportunity to interact with so many different sellers with such unique talents and points of view. So here are a few of my favorite things.

Kate of Organic Odysseys uses her organic farm for both inspiration and raw materials.

She uses polymer clay to capture in minute detail the nuances of the plant, then finishes each piece by hand through a process of firing, sanding, and painting. I don't entirely understand it, but the results are breathtaking.

This is one of her latest. (Pic above, or click on "this" to go to her shop) I find the delicacy and detail astonishing. Not to mention that I can't get over how cool it is that she's taking impressions from an actual plant, and making jewelry out of it! To me, is seems that she has captured my passion for the earth in jewelry -- really, what could be more magical than that?

I fell in love with these from the moment I saw them:

I love the way she's used the bronze to highlight the detail of the tomato, then used the green to add a "patina". And I especially love that the back of the earring is an impression of the tomato leaf!

You can also read her blog to find out more about how and why she does this! And you should see the things she does with tiny little eggplant (which, as you may have guessed from my previous entries, I am in love with.)

Another seller I found during this same lab is Livia, known as SmallPaintings on etsy. Her work is so charming and whimsical. Wouldn't this be so sweet in a childs bedroom?

Another that I love is Wild. It's like she knows how I feel inside, takes the secret magical parts, and paints them. I would love to hang this in my studio.

She's also done some beautiful children's books, and you can see more of her work on her website:

By the way, I asked both of these wonderful sellers for permission to post photos of their work and to link to them.

And in case anyone out there drew my name for Christmas this year -- yes, I would love anything from either of these shops!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Works in progress

Can't stay. I'm working on this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mask Update (and perfectionism)

I have been working on these masks for a long, long time. (See previous post about them)

Yeah. That's a long time. I do them in a sort of "assembly-line" fashion, so once they get to the finishing point, I'll have about 20 all at once.

The reason they haven't gotten to that point yet? I'm a perfectionist at every step of the way. Currently I'm stumped by this guy, because there is still evidence that human hands have touched his face. (He's nowhere near completion, btw, but if more sanding and shaping needs to be done on the lower half of his face, it needs to be done before doing anything else)

Here's part of the problem: I've tried to compare them to similar masks out there. Most of these that I've been able to handle, however, are mass-produced. They are perfectly symmetrical. Mine start life as an actual human face. I cast a mold from that face, make a positive from that mold, then sculpt a clay shape OVER the face positive. After that, I make a negative, then paper-mache into the negative, remove it, trim it, sand it, cut the eyeholes, gesso, and then... you get to where I am now, where at this point I've spent so much time on them, I can see every single imperfection, no matter how tiny. I've completely lost perspective.

And I can't tell if I am being OCD, or simply professional. Are the little imperfections charming, or amateurish? Keep in mind that I intend to sell these in the range of $50-$150. This guy here would probably start at around $75. I can't justify asking that unless I'm convinced that it's worth it. But I also can't spend hundreds of hours on each mask if I'm selling them for around a hundred bucks. It's not logical. (Not that I've ever been accused of being logical...)

So, comment away. And if you don't want to comment, I've added a poll on the right sidebar over there. Just vote! Early and often.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Too Pretty to Eat

I love the fall. Not only are there gorgeous and delicious squashes everywhere, but it's finally cooled off enough that the idea of baking something for an hour is no longer unbearable.

So when I went to Henry's the other day and saw these opulent eggplant on sale, I immediately knew I wanted to make eggplant lasagna. Never mind that I've never actually cooked with eggplant before, or that I've never made lasagna before. As we've seen from previous posts, I have a propensity to forge blindly ahead in these situations.

I found this recipe on Hmm. I have ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan, but I don't have feta. I don't have pesto, but I have fresh basil. I don't have a pumpkin, but I have some canned pumpkin leftover from pumpkin pecan scones... it'll work!

Despite being a total nazi about measurements when I'm baking scones or bread, when I'm cooking, I seem to just throw everything together. So while I'm cooking the noodles, I put about 3/4 of a cup of ricotta, 1/2 a cup of cottage cheese, maybe a quarter cup of parmesan, some pepper, the chopped fresh basil, and the leftover pumpkin in a bowl and mix it up.

Then I slice the eggplant (I felt a little like Dexter while doing this.) and put it under the broiler, along with a sliced sweet onion and beefsteak tomato.

Then I pop out a jar of Classico roma tomato and olive oil tomato sauce. (Those of you who know me well are shocked that I admit to using sauce in a jar. I'm trying this new thing called time management. I'll let you know how it goes.)

Now, even after over ten years on my own, I still cook like I'm cooking for a family of 10. I decide that this time, I'll outsmart myself and bake in a smaller pan than what the recipe calls for.

This probably would have worked if I'd also reduced the amount of ingredients that I put in the smaller pan, or if I'd measured any of said ingredients and had the foggiest idea of how much I actually had.

As it was, I set the timer for the 40 minutes that the recipe called for, not realizing that it was twice as thick as it should have been. Forty minutes later, we cut into some delicious smelling, slightly raw lasagna.

It was good anyway.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The H.R.G. Files, and fear of failure

If I didn't already love Jack Coleman, I would after reading his blog. This in particular caught my eye:

"It's simple really: fear of failure is crippling. You see it in all aspects of life. The great ones go for it and let the chips fall where they may. The perfectionist can be throttled by the voice in his head that considers the consequences of failing. "

My life mission is to let go of that perfectionist streak, the parts of it that grip me so hard that I don't even try. I want to be GREAT. I want my greatness to be talked about. I want to be profiled in Entertainment Design Magazine, right next to Mona May and Debra McGuire.

Over and over again, I practice my acceptance speech for my Indie Spirit Award for a little darling of a movie, one that I maybe even got paid for. I fantasize about being interviewed by the LA Times or Threads or Etsy or hell, even Rhubarb Marmalade (just kidding, Sara!).

I was watching a basketball game, right after Candace Parker dunked in a game for the second time. I wish I could remember who was commentating, it may have been Carolyn Peck, but I'm really not sure. She was talking about how many women dunk in practice, but don't do it during games, and theorizing that it's because women are afraid of looking foolish if they miss, whereas men don't care.

I bristled at this for several reasons. One, I started wondering why women would be "afraid" of looking foolish. But it's not too hard to surmise. For one thing, female ballers already get their share of crap about not playing as well as men, or not trying to play like men, or trying too hard to play like men, or not being as interesting or worthy or blah blah blah as men. Case in point, this idiotic article by Melissa Rohlin about why she doesn't watch women's basketball. (And for a well-reasoned, impassioned response, read what Diana Taurasi has to say.)

And for every mistake a woman makes on the court, there are dozens of people eager to collect them and post them on YouTube, along with some sarcastic remark about "women playing as well as men." (Sure, the men have their blooper reels, but no one uses them as a reason NOT to watch the NBA.)

Now you may be wondering, "Why this digression into womens basketball, Kelly Marie?"

One word: FEARLESSNESS. Watch Diana Taurasi, Candice Wiggins, or Katie Smith play. There's no second-guessing that layup. No beating yourself up after missing a shot. (well maybe a little.) No trash talk for anyone but the other team. It's just PLAY. Play hard. Train hard. Practice hard.

So back to the perfectionist thing, and fear of failure, and basketball metaphors. You don't make the WNBA First Team by being afraid to shoot the ball. You don't get the Sixth Woman of the Year Award by whinging about not starting.

So the challenge for me is, to use the phrase popularized by Nike: "Just do it." Or, to put it more elegantly, (if overused as well) "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."

Um. Right?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Knitting Frenzy

Lately I've been knitting like a marathon runner training for the Olympics, and not doing much else. I blame Ravelry.

It all started, though, when I decided to knit the Mason-Dixon Baby Kimono Sweater. It knit up so quickly and I was so pleased with the (as-yet-unfinished) results, that I immediately went searching for more baby sweaters. I have an endless supply of babies, after all (thanks, sibs!) and baby sweaters are so sweet, knit up so quickly, and use so little yarn, they're irresistible.

This is where Ravelry comes in. I have not been using Ravelry to it's full potential. This week I discovered that you can search for a pattern that you are looking at and see what other people have done with it. Then I discovered that you can search for a yarn you are looking at and see what other people have done with it. THEN I discovered that you can ADD PATTERNS that you want to knit to your own personal project queue. It's been downhill ever since.

Of course, since I'm on a strict yarn diet, don't knit a gauge swatch nearly as often as I ought, think nothing of using a bulky yarn when worsted is called for without altering the pattern in any way, then combining it with a worsted AND a mystery yarn, and have yet to figure out how to count rows when I'm not knitting strictly stockinette or garter, I've already frogged this twice:

When I'm not addicted to Ravelry, I've been sorting and photographing my own stash, visiting my LYS to lust after gorgeous yarns I can't afford, (LYS report to follow) and knitting in line at the DMV, the smog station, and the waiting room at PepBoys while getting an oil change.

It was while I was knitting at PepBoys that a woman approached me and asked what I was knitting (it was a french press cozy that I have since frogged.) We started talking and I found out that she RAISES SHEEP about ten miles from my house, and sells the yarn at the farmer's market. Thanks, Donna. Like I need more yarn lust.

Work? Yes! I work! (Crap. That's what I should be doing right now.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Several years ago, a friend of mine who owned a little shop on Pearl Street in La Jolla hired me to make some masks for her to sell during the holiday shopping season. Although they sold well, (well, they sold out!) she and her husband embarked on a new business venture shortly after, and closed their shop.

For years I've been wanting to get back to making these. They combine a lot of things I love: sculpture, painting, and recycling! Plus they are wearable art, and draw from a centuries-old commedia tradition in Italy.

The process is simple, but time-consuming. I start with a positive plaster mold of a face. I then build clay up on the face until I get the shape I want. I mix some plaster of paris, pour it over the clay, and, after it hardens, I have a negative that I paper-mache into.

Although there are a lot of new products available for paper-mache art, I stick to the classics: newspaper and wheat paste. I started adding in brown paper bags for a little strength.

After building up about a dozen mache layers, I let the masks dry, remove them from the molds, and start sanding and shaping them. After the first sanding, I paint them with a light coat of acrylic paint. Then I can see where more sanding is needed, and I cut out the eye holes.

At this point, I remembered to take a picture! Here's a pile o'masks midway through the sanding process:

The next step will be to coat them with a layer of gesso, do any final sanding, and then, at long last, I get to the fun part: the decorative painting and embellishing.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

How not to knit a sock

Flew to Seattle this past weekend to see my new, one-month-old nephew, among other things. In my mind I had a pair of socks and a hat finished before I landed. I started the first sock in the airport in San Diego, waiting for the plane.

Don't laugh! This is totally realistic, considering that I had an hour-plus flight, a three-hour layover in Salt Lake City, and another hour and a half flight. Besides, baby socks are tiny and I was knitting on size three needles with Regia sock yarn.

I cast on in the car on the way to the airport. The pattern called for 24 stitches. After knitting a few rounds in 2x2 rib, I thought they looked awfully small, frogged back, and cast on an additional 12 stitches.

I had the cuff and heel flap knitted before we landed. Three hours of waiting for the next plane, and I figure I'll turn the heel, finish the foot, graft the toe, and cast on for the second sock before boarding.

But I cast on 36 stitches instead of 24, and the pattern is frustratingly unclear about the heel-turning algorithm, and this is only my third pair of socks, and for the life of me I cannot turn this heel! I understand short rows, have no problem with short rows, I love short rows! But I'm getting some of the weirdest shapes from whatever it is I come up with to turn the heel.

Three hours later we're boarding the plane. I've knit and frogged four times, stopping in between each one and trying to figure out WHAT this pattern is telling me. Do I work a total of ten stitches, or do I work to 2 stitches away from the end of the row? Do I then turn and work four stitches, or do I turn and purl 3 stitches from the end on the other side? I'm doing math, praying to the Sock Goddess, knitting with my eyes closed in the hopes that muscle memory will kick in, I vaguely recall something about SSK and K2tog and slipping and something about three stitches from the end and...

It's no use. I put it aside and work on the other sock I have with me, the one where I am actually FOLLOWING the pattern. We land, have some rental car hell, and get to the hotel after midnight.

I awake the next day refreshed, but we're in a hurry to get going, so I don't have time to get online and figure this out. We finally make it to a coffee shop midafternoon and I find this.

I turn the heel in under ten minutes.

The rest of the day was full, got to my brothers and SIL's house late that night, with babies and mom asleep already. Richie stayed up and we talked for a couple of hours. It's weird to see little brother all grown up and talking about wiring switches and replacing windows. We were able to see Sara, etc., only briefly the next morning but it was great!!! Unfortunately we all had to go in different directions, and I left with an unfinished sock and a threat to return for a week-long visit.

Finished the first sock on the plane on the way back. Did Kitchener stitch FROM MEMORY.

It should fit him perfectly. In two years.

Above, the BIG SOCK and two smaller ones.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Making A Dress Form: Part 1: Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night.

This is Part 1 of a Four-Part Series.

It's important to mention that I made mistakes which required a lot of work later on, probably doubling or tripling the time required to make this. My methods aren't recommended, but are posted here in case you should decide to attempt this yourself, only to find yourself covered in wallpaper paste and soggy newspaper seriously considering taking a hammer to the whole project. Hang On, Little Tomato!

Also I must mention the fabulous resource from Threads Magazine, which is what inspired me to attempt this in the first place.

Step One: Mistake One: Acquiring Plaster Bandages

If you're anything like me, you're trying to do this on the cheap. This is one place you SHOULD NOT SKIMP.

I started with about ten yards of 4" wide bandages and five yards of 8" wide bandage, which I acquired at a local craft store. It was nowhere near enough. Skip the craft store entirely and order an obscene amount of plaster bandages from an online medical supply company.

Fixer: I'd purchase this. That's 60 yards of bandages for about $50. You probably won't use ALL of that, but you'll be glad you had it. Trust me.

Step Two: Mistake Two: Preparing the Model

I thought I'd be clever and avoid ruining a shirt by wrapping Jessica in a garbage bag. I was also concerned about the compression that a tight-fitting shirt would give me. This was a bad idea on so many levels. First off, the garbage bag is slippery, and moved around her body when I was applying the bandages, making it really difficult to get a good impression. Secondly, the heat trapped by the plastic made her even more uncomfortable.

Fixer: Buy a cotton/spandex shirt from a thrift store or something and fit it to your model, making a mock-turtleneck at the top and adding some extra at the bottom to accommodate for the length you want the form to be. You could even buy some fabric and make a simple, form-fitting shift dress. You'll want to be sure it has sleeves, and enough length to cover the body nearly to the knees.

Your model will also want to wear something UNDER this shift, because you'll be cutting it off her. Also have her wear whatever foundation undergarments she's accustomed to wearing. (I was making this dress form so that I could drape her wedding dress, and wish I had made her purchase the breast-enhancing bra BEFORE I made the dress form!)

Jessica is about the most fidgety person I know, and had a heckuva time standing still while I did this. Make your model practice standing in one place. She should figure out what the most comfortable position is and make any adjustments BEFORE you start covering her in plaster bandages. You may also want to come up with a simple arm support system so that she can hold her arms slightly away from her body.

About two hours before the plastering, feed and hydrate your model. Right before starting, put the dress or tee on your model and send her to the bathroom. You'll want at least one assistant and a LARGE area in which to work. You don't want your model to be moving at all during this process. Put a big tarp on the floor, preferably NOT plastic to avoid slipping. You'll want a table nearby to hold your bandages and a big tub for water.

Step Three: Mistake Three: Marking the Form

Before plastering, figure out a good way to mark important points on your models body. Once you have all that plaster on her, it's going to be harder to figure out what her true waist is. You know all those measurements you need when you are flat-patterning? You're going to want to be able to mark those on your body form. The easiest way to do this is going to be to do it BEFORE you plaster.

Since I didn't do this, I'm not sure what the best way to accomplish this would be. I would probably start with pieces of 1/4" elastic on the major measurement points: ribcage, waist, hips, armscye. Of course then you have to worry about slippage as you plaster, so maybe you'd want to marker those places in. (You could also sew them in to place when you are making or fitting the shift dress for her) While you're at it, marker the front nape and back nape. Again, since I didn't do this, I'm not sure what the best way to do it will be.

You'll also want to mark the center front and center back as well as the sides. Use a plumb-bob for accuracy. (You can make one with a piece of string tied to a pattern weight or any heavy, symmetrical object)

Another important place to mark: From the floor to wherever you want the bottom of the form to be. This is going to be REALLY REALLY important later on when you want to mount the form on a stand and all of a sudden you have no idea what the bottom of the form should be, since you were inconsistent with your plastering. (well, you probably weren't, but I was!)

Q: Hey! What's up? You didn't get to the part where you actually put the plaster bandages on her body!

A: I know, I know. It's just so darn long already! So I thought I'd throw this over the wall, since I haven't posted in over a week. Don't worry, there is more to come, and some serious editing to do as well!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


My friend Jules has been wanting me to make a quiver for her tripod for a long long time. This weekend, we're going whitewater rafting, and then spending a day and a half in Yosemite, so what was formerly just a good intention now needed to be actualized.

It started with a simple tube (this is me pressing it on my Very Cool seam roll)

I left two openings in the tube seam: one large one (about 6") for the tripod handle, and a very small one (1/2") for the drawstring. Then I opened the seam up, folded each seam allowance under itself, and stitched along the fold. I believe this is known as a clean finish.

Then I attached the plastic triangles that hold the strap at the bottom:

and at the top, which is longer because I am folding it over as part of the drawstring casing:

After that, I sewed the circle to the bottom, folded the top over to simultaneously finish it and make the casing, and then made the strap, which turned out to be the hardest part. I wanted it to be adjustable and removable, and I just had to play with it for a while to figure it out. And you know those little plastic bits that slide along the webbing to adjust it? They make perfect sense until you are actually trying to figure out how and when and where to put it on, and where to sew it, and which part moves and which part doesn't. I know you're thinking it doesn't seem that hard, and so did I before I had to redo it three times.

Don't you think it's simply fetching with the black dress? Jules likes it -- she said, "It looks like it came from Eddie Bauer." (The quiver, not the dress. The dress came from Loft. The dress FORM is a topic for a much later, much longer post.)

We'll take it for a trial run this weekend and then I'll make any adjustments that need to be done. I'd like to add padding to the strap, and I've lots of fabric leftover so maybe she needs a matching... hat or something.

Funny, now I want to make a bag for my yoga mat... tune in next week to see if I do!

(p.s. we are leaving at THREE A.M. because Jules wants to get through LA before traffic. She's crazy that way. Lucky me, I get to sleep while she drives!)

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Office, Season 2

Just a quick post to say how excited I am about my clean, organized studio/office space!

I finally dug some shelving out of my storage unit and rearranged things a little. I can't begin to tell you how happy this makes me. Of course there are the usual annoyances, like forgetting all the little shelving supports for the shelves on this thing (thank you IKEA for the freebies!)

I also need another galvanized door on the other side, but the hardware for that is back in my storage unit with the shelf supports, so, for now...

This is it:

And this is what I am working on right now.
I've taken my old Thomas Guide and I'm cutting out all the places of interest and decoupaging them onto bamboo tile beads. Then I'm slicing out the map coordinates and addresses of said places and adding them to the sides of the tile beads, which I will then use to make jewelry. I'm not sure if I'm smoking crack or if it's just damn cool. I think it's funny and kitschy. Hopefully other people will too.

And this is what I just listed on etsy:

And now I need to get back to work!