More Hoopla!

Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery is back in my eager little hands, and this time I remembered to take some photos to share the yummy thread-y goodness with you! As a tech writer, I’ve had a lot of my writing published. I’ve even held entire books in my hand and been able to say “I did that!” But, as a tech writer, you rarely get to stamp your work with your name, so it was amazingly fun to see this:

My pieces were photographed in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, which is only one of the most gorgeous west-coast parks you’ve ever seen. If ever you find yourself in Vancouver, take half a day to wander the woods in Stanley Park. It’s worth it.

Each piece is meant not just to be looked at but also to be recreated. The patterns and instructions for making nests and webs of your own are included.

My little bits of nature weren’t just photographed in the wild; they were also photographed in what was meant to be their natural habitat: the urban jungle of Vancouver city. Tucked against a window grille or hanging from a tree beside a building, they make my heart happy.

But my favourite thing of all is a little piece that didn’t even make it into the book until after it arrived at our house:


As promised… Hoopla pics!

Since my neighbour has my one and only (so far) copy of Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery at the moment, I can’t show you pics from the book. I can’t show you my sister‘s fabulously funny Love Gun either (but you can see it here — didn’t they pick the best, most smarmiest guy to photograph it with?). And I can’t show you the beautiful photos of my three little embroidery projects hanging in Vancouver’s beautiful Stanley Park… but I can show you pics I took before I mailed them off to Leanne Prain.

When I first starting thinking about the whole idea of unexpected embroidery in the context of Leanne and Mandy Moore’s first book, Yarn Bombing (yarnbombing website here, book link here), I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the idea. I had visions of people madly stitching oversized cross-stitch patterns using chain-link fences in place of Aida cloth, or leaving little embroidered messages of hope tucked inside library books and behind cereal boxes at the grocery store… but I was caught up in a spurt of bird-watching and nature-walking and nest-making, and I just couldn’t reconcile the need for urban graffiti embroidery with the natural space my mind was currently exploring.

Until I went for a walk with my dear friend and her daycare kids, and we spied bird nests in the crook of a tree, and chipmunk homes in the middle of a path, and all sorts of other bits of the unexpected. The kids were delighted with every find, and an idea began to coalesce in the back of my mind.

A few days later, I happened to be walking downtown amidst skyscrapers and concrete walls and metal gratings and signposts and streetlamps every which way you looked… when I spied a bird flying into a snug little nook created by a decorative cement ledge at the corner of a building. A few feet further on, I spied a spiderweb filling the space between a street sign and its post. Then a small cluster of asters and buttercups in the crack of a sidewalk. A little past that sat another nest, this one wedged in the corner of a ventilation grate and filled with tiny little eggs and a very protective mother.

It was graffiti, of a sort. Mother Nature’s version of graffiti adorning every possible space of this concrete jungle we call ‘civilized.’ With every new thing I noticed that day, my smile grew bigger and my heart grew more joyful, and yet no one around me seemed to be paying any attention. No one noticed. It was invisible to most people. And yet, had they noticed, it wouldn’t have caused annoyance or frustration or anger like graffiti of the spray-painted kind. Had they taken a moment to look, to really look and enjoy and appreciate the robust strength and delicate fragility of these small bits of nature… well, I like to think it would have made them smile.

If only they noticed.

That thought, that desire to draw attention to the little bits of nature all around us… it stuck with me. It stuck so firmly that as I started contemplating an embroidered version of a yarn bomb, I just knew that it had to draw attention to the natural. So, without further ado, here are my little bits of Natural Graffiti!

All three are little “kites” you could hang from a street sign or a lamp post or a railing, and all three have twig “frames” to give them shape, and dangly bits hanging from the corners. The first nest has three little speckled eggs made from felted wool roving and nestled in a half-circle of spider-web stitch. The second nest is done in a woven stitch called Queen Anne stitch and has two little felted eggs from green wool roving with brown french-knot speckles. The spiderweb is done in a combination of cotton floss and DMC Light Effects in white, with clear, white, and light blue bead “dewdrops” all over.

When I was making them, I imagined them hung in urban environments and sterile city parks as a way of drawing attention to the natural world hiding in our human-built places. Graffiti, of a sort, and an homage to what Mother Nature does so well.

Busy fingers…

I’ve been a bad blogger. A very bad blogger. I haven’t posted anything since… wait… What!?! Seriously??? October 22nd?!? Oh dear. But you see, my fingers have been oh so very busy in the evenings… too busy for blogging, it turns out! But as my fingers have been busy doing the things that make life so fun, I refuse to apologize. Life is for living, after all, and living has been happening in spades these past two weeks.

Hoopla book cover

First, some news: my copy of Hoopla made it into my eager little hands and I just had to spend a day or three devouring it. It is absolutely beautiful, and contains some truly amazing projects. I am astonished that little old me is keeping company with the truly fabulous stitching talent to be found in the book. My three embroidery pieces were photographed in Vancouver’s beautiful Stanley Park and I couldn’t be more pleased with how the photos turned out, but I’ll post more about that tomorrow, and show you some pics of my little contribution to the book. For now, you’ll have to settle for a little sneak peek:

Sneak peek at Nest

There’s been a lot of living and doing and learning going on around here, and the last week of October was full of all sorts of spooky fun, science, and a lot of math, too. Wait, what? Math?
Yes, you read that right. We’ve acquired a new set of math textbooks called Life of Fred. Fred is hilariously funny. He teaches math in the most wonderfully absurd and yet somehow completely practical way. In fact, Fred is so absolutely hilariously funny that B worked her way through 8 chapters of Apples (the first elementary-level book) in a single evening. And then she did some more the next night. And the next. She’s now on to book two, Butterflies, and is flying through it at rapid speed. At this rate, she’ll be ready for algebra next week and calculus by Christmas, and K racing right along with her. Yesterday morning around 6:30 a.m., they were having a convoluted discussion about sets and set theory and whether or not they could make a set out of their breakfast cereal. (They could. Just in case you’re curious. I think I’m going to need to brush up on my own math skills just to keep up with them!)

Just to shake things up a little, we did another science kit from The Young Scientists Club, and this one involved building our own metric spring scale out of a shoe box, two paperclips, and elastic string. It was awesome fun, and they weighed all sorts of things. Once they bored of it, I pulled out a real spring scale (I cheated – it comes in the next kit but since I’d read ahead to prepare, I knew it was there) and they got busy and weighed everything all over again with the official spring scale to check how accurate their home made one was.

This entire experiment just served to reinforce for me the need to have kids learn things from scratch, one baby step at a time. How they need to get their hands right into the learning. And how the learning has to be broken down into pieces that are just the right size to make them really, really think.

Had I simply handed them a commercial spring scale, explained how it worked, and asked them to weigh things, the activity would have lasted 10 minutes tops and been punctuated with lots of “I’m bored!” and “Do I have to?” and “When’s lunch?”  Instead, it was an entire morning of trying things out, adjusting, fixing, frowning, pondering, testing, and trying again. It involved some frustration, to be sure. Some confusion. Some experimentation. It also involved a pinched finger, and a frustrated pair of hands trying to get a little bowl to hang level from a stretchy string.

But those little hands learned, bit by bit, and slowly it came together. This success was followed by checks and double checks, and then cheering and laughing and “Dad! Come see what we built all by ourselves!” It was accessible science at its best. Just like the ping-pong robot, there was genuine authenticity in the learning process.

It occurred to me afterwards that the thing I liked most about the Young Scientist Club and Life of Fred (and to a slightly lesser extent, Jump Math) is the ease with which they integrate authentic learning into their process. Each step is taken, one tiny bit at a time, and in a way that is completely accessible to kids of all ages. If I hand you a spring scale and ask you to explain it, it is complicated. If I instead explain the principles behind a spring, talk about how heavy things stretch the spring farther than light things, then let you build a contraption that does exactly what I’ve been talking about… you are invested in your own learning. You aren’t learning by being programmed like a computer. You are learning by absorbing and thinking and questioning and examining and feeling and touching and trying and making mistakes and finding solutions.

When we tape a ruler beside our homemade spring scale and start comparing objects, and then make our own “ruler” using known weights and a blank card, you understand in a truly visceral way why there are little lines with numbers beside them on the side of a spring scale. What’s more, you truly understand what those numbers represent. You’ve held a single gram weight in your hand. You’ve held a fistful of ten grams. And you’ve carefully weighed them in both your own hands and using your scale.

What’s more, if you don’t understand it right away, because it is made of a shoebox and paperclips and a bit of stretchy string, you aren’t afraid to question what is really happening. To test it. To try things out. To experiment. To strive for understanding, not because I told you that you must understand this, but because you genuinely want to know. And because you can look at this thing, this ungainly beast that is a surprisingly accurate measuring tool, and say “That’s mine. I built that!”

And when The Man We Call Dad raises his eyebrows and tilts his head sideways in an attempt to figure out what, exactly, you are so very proud of, you aren’t afraid to say out loud: “Want to know how it works?” and just that quickly your fingers are full of gram weights and other little objects as you set about teaching everything you just learned to someone new.

Busy fingers are often a sign of busy minds. We like busy fingers around here.


Hoopla is here!

It’s here! It’s here! Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery is here! You can order it at or at and get your very own copy.

Hoopla book cover

So why am I so excited about Leanne Prain’s latest textile craft book?

Because I’m in it, and so is my sister Nat! How aweome is that?! So I’m ordering you to run out and buy it, or tell your local library to buy a copy, so that you can see how wonderfully talented my artist sister is, and so you can see my little contribution too.

And in case you are wondering – no matter how many times you’ve seen your ideas and your words turned into a concrete object that you can hold in your hands, it’s still a huge thrill every time.


Hoopla has a cover!

Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery has a cover! The book won’t be out until fall, but the cover art is in and it’s so fun!

Hoopla book cover

I can’t wait to get my hands on an honest-t0-goodness dead-tree copy of Hoopla, and not just because I’m one of the contributing artists with embroidery projects in the book. While it’s true that I can’t wait to see the final photos of my embroidery projects — photographed in Vancouver’s beautiful Stanley Park no less! — my sister also has a project in the book, a fact which has me doubly excited. I saw her work in progress, but as deadlines loomed, she sent it off to Leanne before I had a chance to see the finished product so I have to wait until the book is out to see how it turned out. I can hardly wait until September!

You can find out more about the upcoming book Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery at the Hoopla website, and you have a chance to win some great subversive stitchery buttons in the latest blog post.