Getting ready for February

As I have mentioned before, I don’t suffer from a case of January start-itis when it comes to crafting. Instead, I take January to breathe in all I have finished in the preceding year and finish up a few odds and ends I didn’t quite manage to get done the year before.

And then, in February, I find myself admiring this and ooh-ing over that and before I know it, I’ve started half a dozen projects and have my eye on half a dozen more.

But this year, I found myself selling far more pieces than in previous years and I had almost more work than I could handle in the lead-up to Christmas. So much so that crafting for family was put on the back burner and crafting for myself hasn’t happened at all for almost half the year.

It’s hard to fathom.

As 2016 wrapped up, I started taking a mental inventory of all the things I want to finish, or at least make more progress on. And then I went digging through my shelves to see what I had meant to start but not gotten around to in a while, and found all sorts of buried treasures. I suspect I have enough to carry me through the entire year if not longer, especially given that I am still getting commissions for other things and will be devoting time each week to those items and have less time than usual for my own crafting. So I am determined to at least make a little progress on some projects–some that have not been touched in quite a long time now.

The first of which is a fire truck that I thought a certain young man had long outgrown a fascination for, but it turns out he remembers that I had started stitching a piece for him and he has decided he wants me to finish it for him after all.

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Working on this piece, even for a little while, made me recall a few other cross stitched pieces half done and sitting in the cupboard, so progress on those would be lovely, too. A Christmas sampler:

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A lovely witch/wizardess/goddess piece that was gifted to me partially done and our girl B instantly claimed (so I could finish it on her behalf, of course. She’s generous like that). I think it was the fact that the lady in question is reading a book that caught her eye.

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And a gorgeous Teresa Wentzler that I started many years ago and had completely forgotten about.wentzler

Of course, before I get to those, I have a mermaid tail to finish up – it’s almost done, just weaving in the ends to do. Approximately 6 bazillion ends, and you know how very much I love weaving in ends. (I don’t. At all. Why I keep taking on crochet projects built from blocks is beyond me. Remind me, would you please, to stop doing that?)

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This mermaid tail is from a pattern by The Felted Button. She has the most colourful, textural, gorgeous crochet patterns – check out her site if you never have. Here a closeup of the tail so you can get a better idea of what the triangular blocks look like:

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The tail is done in sock-weight yarn (it’s skinny!) and the yarns all have either a strand of glittery metallic thread or sequins or both woven in to them. It makes for a lovely, shimmery, fish-scale effect that’s missing from the photos above.

Another crochet pattern I want to finish up is this:

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It’s a lovely lace-weight shawl that I started on the plane to Cuba and then never found the time to get back to. As it’s for me, it’s easy to put it aside for other people, but when I look at it, it has been over a year now since I set it down. The pattern is lovely and intricate with bands of colourful lacework in various stitches in the centre and a wide strip of Bruges lacework on either edge.

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It’s going to be a couple of months at least before I get my hands back into this one, but I’m hoping to finish it by summer. Then, maybe I’ll find the perfect pattern for this lovely yarn:

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It has been sitting in my “wishful yarn bliss” pile for a few months now. I’m not yet sure what it will look like, but it will be either a scarf or a hat to keep me warm in winter.

On the embroidery front, I’ve been working on another tree skirt project. This one is from a kit, but I will be embellishing heavily with embroidery, as I did with the Peace Joy Noel wall hanging a few years ago. You can see how thoroughly embroidery-encrusted I plan to make it in the Love Letters piece I did after taking Sharon Boggon’s class.

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Last, but certainly not least, I hope to get another 2 blocks finished on my crazy quilted and embroidered wall hanging.

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The currently finished blocks are on the right in the picture above.

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The two empty blocks on the left are pieced, but not yet embroidered.

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The blocks are 10-inch squares and I think the finished piece will end up being 3×3 blocks with a border of some sort.

So, an ambitious plan for 2017, but one of progress, not necessarily completion, given how many other things are in the works both with myself and for the kids.

What do you have planned for this bright and shiny new year?

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A stocking is the thing

It dawns on me that in all the pre-Christmas crafting craziness, I never did show off all the stockings I managed to finish this year.

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The cookie stocking is the one you saw in bits and pieces in November. Bit by bit, it came together until…

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…a finished stocking was ready to head off to it’s new home.

Just in time, too, as there were a few more stockings yet to do before the big day.

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One with a sweet little reindeer…

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…one with Santa about to hop down the chimney. These two were destined for two little girls, sisters, who apparently loved them very much.

And then there was this one, simple and plain, but so much fun. The embroidery at the top was done using a couching technique, which gave it much more elegant curves than I usually manage with stem stitch and I am thrilled with how it turned out.

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But the one that captured my heart this year was a custom design that took many hours of back-and-forth discussion before we settled on a final plan, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

It started with a wolf.

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A few trees and some snowy hills filled out the body of the design.

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And a generous helping of embroidery and beading made the snow sparkle.

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The trees were embroidered, too. They were stuffed lightly first so that when the embroidery stitches went in, the green felt took on a life of its own with branches and twigs, full and leafy, coming to life in more than just my imagination. A sweet little owl made its home in the branches, too.

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And finally, the top cuff was put on in layers, embroidered, and beaded.

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It was based on a traditional First Nations design and together with the feather dangle, adds a huge amount of character to the stocking.

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All in all, I am so very pleased with the final result.

Hours five, six, and seven

The hours between 5 and 8 o’clock in the morning are a study in extremes around here. At 5, the house is wrapped in stillness. Nothing is stirring, not even the birds, and certainly not the teenagers, nor The Man We Call Dad.

By 6 o’clock (and certainly by 6:30 at the lastest), at least one of the teenagers has come to life, often in a frantic flurry of clothes finding and breakfast making and schoolbook packing. The birds have unpiled themselves from their funny little sleeping pile (they sleep together in one tiny birdhouse, all piled atop one another in a cuddly heap). The moment a human sets foot on the main floor, the birds start calling out their hellos, making sure you’ve noticed that they, too, are awake and hungry for breakfast.

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By 8 o’clock, with the birds fed and content, and both kids out the door, I find myself settling in at my desk to begin my day’s work in a house gone quiet once more.

It feels different though, the 8 a.m. silence. Unlike the utter stillness of the world a few short hours earlier, 8 a.m. hums with movement as the world outside intrudes with its determination to seize the day. At 8 a.m., you can hear the washing machine churning away in the corner, the animals outside socializing as they visit our feeders, the kids waiting for the schoolbus, and the adults roaring off to work in their cars.

You can also smell the sausages and maple syrup from breakfast, and the remnants of autumn in the crisp smell of leaves and cold air that wafted in when the door was opened.

The 8 o’clock house may be quiet, but it is anything but still.

Likewise, the 8-hour-old stocking has undergone a radical change. What started as a single element has now become merely part of a larger whole sitting on the arm of the couch in the morning sunlight.

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A small hand lies ready to hold the gingerbread cookie tightly in its grasp…

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A bearded face is taking shape…

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And an apron is slowly aquiring some embroidered elements before it takes its final place somewhere above the boots.

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The gingerbread man with all his embroidery took shape so very slowly. By comparison, the past few hours of work on the stocking have been a veritable explosion of activity not unlike that I see most weekday mornings around here. Yet now, with so many pieces cut and waiting for embellishment before being attached to the stocking itself, there’s a new kind of pause taking shape as I sit and embroider and bead and fuss. Progress will feel slow again until these pieces have been fancied up, though like the 8 a.m. house, there’s definitely a feeling of movement in the quiet.

 

 

A new stocking has begun

Very recently, I discovered that yet another big-name publishing house is not actually paying its writers, despite being quite a profitable venture. (If you want to read more about it, go here.)

As someone who writes professionally and has for years, and as someone who makes things as a hobby and sometimes for pay, I find myself baffled by the idea that anyone would give their talents away for free — or worse, at a cost to themselves — so that someone else can profit from it.

Don’t get me wrong; if you want to volunteer your time or donate your goods or services, go for it. But don’t do it “for the exposure” because that’s just a fancy way certain companies have of saying “let me exploit you so I can make money.” Make sure you’re doing it for your own reasons and that you have realistic expectations of what you’re going to get out of it. (Hint: getting “exposure” usually means you’re getting taken advantage of and in the end only serves to devalue the work we all do. Please don’t do anything just for the exposure.)

Part of the problem, though, is that in this age of instant gratification where anything you want to buy is a click away on Amazon, books are an instant download within seconds of seeing a review, and seasonal foods are available year round regardless of their proper season or country of origin, many people don’t understand just how very long it takes for things to happen.

Apples are a fall fruit, not a spring one, and it takes years to establish a tree thoroughly enough that it will give you a generous bounty of them. Raspberries bloom fast and furious, then give you an abundance of fruit for a few short weeks before they’re finished for the year and yes, you really do have to wait 11 more months before there will be new ones. A carrot really does take the entire summer to grow big enough to eat. And a Christmas stocking — at least, the way I do them — really does take hours and hours and hours of work before it’s finished.

Every so often, someone will ask me if I would make them a stocking, and even offering to pay for my materials, not understanding that the stocking they so admire and want to have for themselves not only uses $40 worth of materials, it took me 80 hours to finish.

Family members get stockings. Nieces and nephews get stockings. Dear friends who really should be family get stockings.

Random people on Facebook who admire my stockings and want one for themselves? Not unless they’re willing to pay for my time as well as my materials, which they inevitably aren’t.

And then they often get grumpy about it.

I don’t mind them changing their mind and not commissioning a stocking when they find out the price tag has three digits in it, not two. I don’t even mind them questioning why, exactly, I charge so much for such a thing when they can buy simpler ones much cheaper at Walmart.

But I do mind when they get grumpy about it and start saying nasty things about people who have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they can charge hundreds of dollars for what amounts to something a monkey could do.

To them, I ask: When was the last time you gave away 80 hours of work for free?

Not free, they tell me, being willing to pay for the materials and maybe a few dollars extra.

Yes, free, I tell them, knowing that even if they double their initial offer and pay me a whole $40 on top of the cost of materials, that still works out to an hourly wage of about fifty cents an hour, or a grand total of $4 for an 8-hour day’s worth of labour, 10 days in a row.

No, thank you.

Every so often, there’s someone who gets it. Someone who understands that what they’re paying for is one of a kind, crafted by hand, thoughtfully and mindfully and with an abundance of passion. I love those people. I strive to be one of those people when I visit craft fairs and art shows. Even if it means I can’t even begin to be able to afford all the things I want, it ensures that the people who are making the things I so admire will be able to continue to make a living making.

And just maybe, some day, we will realize the folly of devaluing ourselves for a little “exposure,” and treasure once more the art and skill that goes into whatever it is that we choose to do.

In the meantime, I have a new stocking to make for a sweet little nephew who is adored beyond measure. I’m four hours in to the process, and here’s what those four hours look like:

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Needle and thread

Life has been crazy busy lately and it has been ages since I’ve had needle and thread in hand for a little bit of embroidery. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join a lovely group of women for a community craft night.

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Amidst much laughter and yummy treats, I managed to make some progress on one of my crazy quilt blocks. I had set this block aside for a while, knowing the look I was aiming for, but unsure of how to get there.

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In adding a few small pieces, it is starting to move closer to what I see in my mind’s eye, but it is still not there yet. I keep turning the block this way and that, letting my eye follow the lines of stitches, chasing down seams where the fabrics come together too harshly and need softening, or points that need a little bit of focus to draw the eye in.

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And always, I think back to Sharon Boggon‘s insightful advice during the Encrusted Embroidery class I took several years ago now: “Add more.”

With her words so fresh in my mind, I’ve started visiting her blog again recently – coincidentally, just as she returns from a blogging hiatus. I’ve been searching for more inspiration for seam treatments. This morning, what should I find but the happy news that the Antique Pattern Library has put up an entire 100-page book of hand embroidery patterns, many of which would be perfect for seam treatments! And as they are out of copyright, they are absolutely free.

It’s going to be hard to keep my mind focussed on work this morning when my fingers are itching to pick up needle and thread instead!

Another horse, of course!

Another horse has come to life under my fingers and I couldn’t be happier. This time around, the underbelly is a different colour of felt than the rest of the horse, and I rather like the look.

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The mane and tail are a lovely curly merino wool, and the body is Eco-fi felt which is made from 100% post consumer recycled plastic bottles.

This horse comes with a few extras, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. A bridle crocheted out of thread was the first addition.

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And a lovely flower-embroidered saddle came next, complete with bedroll and rope.

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All in all, I am delighted with how this little horse turned out.

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A stocking full of joy

When I was a young girl, I don’t even remember what age, other than it was when we were living in the house on Fuller Street, my mother spent a Christmas or two working on a felt Santa kit from Bucilla. It was just his head, with an enormous white bear and a funny little mouth tucked under his mustache, and we spent what felt like hours and hours and hours sewing on sequins to that vast expanse of beard to emulate frost-tinged curls and tufts.

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I think I fell in love with Bucilla during the time we worked on that Santa head.

Up until then, I had always loved and admired my grandmother R’s fabulous quilts, my grandmother D’s beautiful handpainted ceramics, and my mother’s many art projects… and known, deep in my heart, that my own efforts could never, ever compare to the beautiful creations of the women around me.

I was not the sort of child who had a lot of self confidence, especially when it came to things artistic.

But Bucilla… they were exactly the sort of company that my girlish insecurities needed. They did all the hard part for you! They designed it, they picked out the perfect sequins and threads and felt, and they put it all together in a shrink-wrapped package just waiting for you to begin. They even included the needles. As long as you could follow the written instructions, you would end up with an end product just as fabulously perfect as the one on the package.

And as a child, I was nothing if not good at following written instructions. Anything written on paper was practically my BFF.

Fast forward to a decade ago or so–13 years, to be precise–and a fierce desire to provide our new little man with his very own Christmas stocking. I must have shopped for weeks, never quite satisfied with what I found in the stores, before I wandered in to a craft store that had a display of Bucilla stocking kits.

I poured over the plastic-wrapped packages, my heart finding joy in the simple shapes and straightforward-looking embroidery, and thus began what would turn into a decade-long love of assembling stockings for the many children in our lives, and my brother and sister, too.

The first stocking I made:

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Over time, the patterns I chose drifted towards the more complicated end of the scale. Then, after taking Sharon Boggon’s classes on embroidery and design, I started using the patterns mostly as a jumping off point, embellishing them heavily and drifting further and further away from the packaged design. When I look back now on that first plump Santa climbing into a chimney that graces K’s stocking, I smile at the memory of pride and joy and know that first effort bears so little resemblance to the stockings I make now.

The second stocking I made:

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But through all these years, The Man We Call Dad and I have been using store-bought stockings. They’re lovely, don’t get me wrong, but when the kids pointed out that everyone we knew had one of my stockings except for me and The Man We Call Dad, I realized it was time.

As I mentioned a week or so ago, The Man We Call Dad’s stocking was finished sometime this summer and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

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