Saturday, December 26, 2009

World Crafts Village

Every year for Christmas, my mother-in-law asks me what I'd like from World Crafts Village, a nonprofit organization that supports artisans around the world by selling their handcrafted products. Most of the artisans are combating poverty, and World Crafts allows them to recieve fair trade prices for their work. I really enjoy reading the short descriptions of each group that makes a certain item. They have all kinds of stuff from all over the world.

This year I asked for some embroidered Christmas ornaments from Yunnan, China. I love the blue on white. We don't have very many ornaments for our tree yet, and these are really nice ones.

I'd been wanting this Turkish bowl set for a few years and was so surprised to receive it. I have a thing for handmade bowls, not mugs or plates or anything else--just bowls. I love the colors and detailed designs on these handpainted ones. (They're so nice, I'm almost afraid to use them!) The information that came with the bowls said that they're the type people have used for thousands of years to serve finger foods to guests, such as olives, nuts, and dates.

This tote's design is called the "Doors of Aceh", which represent the opening of Indonesia to the rest of the world. I'm planning on using it as my "mom purse" after the baby is born, since it's a lot bigger than the one I use now. I think the common theme in what I like about ethnic designs is the complexity and attention to detail. Most of the textiles and pottery of modern America is so plain and unadorned--it makes me appreciate the intricacy found in other culture's traditional style.
So, if you're into handmade stuff from other countries, or need ideas for presents--this is the place to go. They have items for any price range, I think the most expensive thing is the $200 Turkish area rug with a Mount Ararat design on it--amazing. (Maybe I'll save up all my Christmas money for that one next year.)

last-minute presents

I made three pairs of these slippers for friends that have cold wooden floors in their houses. I looked at a few different slipper patterns and ideas, but ended up making my own pattern and figuring out solutions to various problems that came up.

They are surprisingly easy to make and, since I did 3 sets of them and am now an expert, I'm hoping to put together a tutorial to post in a few weeks.

This is a close-up shot of an upside-down slipper. I wanted to show the sole, which is covered in a thin layer of silicone. I read online that it's a great way to make the slippers have traction, so they won't slip on smooth floors. I was a little unsure about spreading silicone on a nicely finished slipper, but it works wonderfully!

While we drove to St. Louis to see my husband's family for Christmas, I decided it was a good time to knit these fingerless mitts for a friend of mine. She has four children and mentioned once that she can't wear gloves because she's always dealing with carseat buckles and zippers and things she needs tactile ability for. So I thought she could at least keep her wrists and palms warm with some fingerless mitts, even if her fingers are still exposed. I used the Lovisa pattern from ravelry, but changed a lot of it. I made them shorter, used only one color, added ribbing at the two ends, and actually had to start over with 10 less stitches than the pattern because they were huge. (I must have had the wrong gauge or something.) But they came out nicely.

We had a white Christmas here in Kansas City, it's been snowing for two days now. I wish I could get a good picture of it. There's just nothing more contenting in the winter time than to knit or weave by the fire and watch the snowflakes coming down in thick flakes outside.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas Projects

Here's a few things I've been working on for Christmas presents. First, a wrist pincushion using an offset square that I found a sewing tutorial for on Planet June's blog. (She gave excellent instructions!) This is for one of my co-workers who does a lot of sewing for Missouri Town. It was an extremely easy and quick project, and I really like the unique shape.

Next, a pillow for our annual Weavers Guild gift exchange. This year the theme was rectangles. I'd seen a pillow in a department store last year that was decorated with strips of different ribbons, and of course I thought, I could do that! The gift exchange can be anything sewn, woven, felted, etc., and I chose the easy route this year. If you're going to weave something, it's much better to have extra from an earlier project, since last-minute weaving doesn't really work.

Also, these baby oxen are a present for my other friend from Missouri Town (the ox-driver). I'm using the lamb pattern I made last summer and will eventually give them needle-felted horns and spots. I'll be sure to post a finished picture.
Of course, I have at least 4 other projects going that need to be finished in the next two weeks, so hopefully they will get done in time!
Do you have any great handmade Christmas presents that you've either given or recieved?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Christmas Cards

Wow, it's been too long! Sorry about the lack of posts lately. The only thing I've been working on is printing Christmas cards. I usually carve a lino-block and use it to print my cards every year. It's so easy and rewarding, and fun to come up with a new design. I also like the not-so-perfect look of the prints, it gives it an old fashioned effect.

As far as lino-blocks go, I definitely recommend the sturdier, thin gray material over the "easy-cut" thicker, usually tan material. The easy cut is thicker and definitely cuts easier, but is extremely easy to break in half when you're handling it during printing.

For some reason I usually go with blue for Christmas, but this year I picked green because that's what I had the most paint of. I like the way they turned out. The only thing I would change is that I forgot to reverse the bird! I meant it to be printed facing left, but forgot about the reverse effect. Oh well.

Monday, October 26, 2009


It's time for some awesome book recommendations. I've been finding several amazing books lately that are just too inspiring not to share.

Weekend Sewing: More than 40 Projects and Ideas for Inspired Stitching, by Heather Ross
I usually get my craft books from the library first, to make sure I want to splurge on buying them. This one is definitely worth paying for. There are so many great ideas for projects in here and they range from beginner to advanced. The amazing thing is, even the beginner projects caught my interest. There are just too many cool ideas to pass this one up. I even liked her suggestions for setting up a sewing space, which I finally have room for now!

Woven Treasures: One of a Kind Bags with Folk Weaving Techniques, by Sara Lamb

If you are interested in weaving, this is the book for you! She has some amazing projects to try all different types of weaving. There are two reasons the projects in this book are so great: 1) They are all bags, so they're useful, giftable, and straightforward to make. 2) Every project is done on the same loom: a rigid heddle loom. This is the perfect starter loom, very inexpensive and easy to use but with a wide variety of potential projects. I can't wait to try some of these bags!

Carefree Clothes for Girls, by Junko Okawa
Okay, so I haven't actually seen the inside of this one (or the next one) yet. But they just came out in English, and what I have seen of this one looks so fun to make! I'm expecting my first girl and I just can't wait to make her some dresses.

Felting for Baby, by Saori Yamazaki
How cool is this? I just love felting, and what better way to satisfy the urge to felt than a nice small project for baby! I'm sure the gifting possibilities are endless with these projects too.

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gallery Show

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but I've been moving into a new house and getting ready for this:

I am so excited to have a gallery show! The silk paintings I made are very large and it just doesn't seem right for them to only hang in my house. If you are in the KC area, come check out the gallery for First Fridays in November!
Here is another of my panels and the write up for the show.

Suspended Narrative
Stories in Silk and Oil

Delicate silk paintings flowing with soft lines contrast with hard edged oil paintings and prints with intense color combinations. On the surface, the artwork created by Christy L. Berry and Steph Toth Kates seems curiously dissimilar at first glance. But dig a little deeper and the connection becomes clear. Both artists collect visual imagery from familiar stories and guide the viewer into a reflection of their personal connection with these tales.

Kates draws her imagery from fairytale and myth. Like myth, her paintings seek answers from a confusing universe, but on a more intimate level. They are interior landscapes – delving into remote inner corners where body and conciousness combine, exploring ideas of the body as a universe and a home. Inhabiting this inner expanse are animals familiar from children's storybooks along with cells, veins and neurons lifted from medical diagrams.

Berry’s silk paintings also reinterpret familiar stories. She draws her inspiration from Biblical passages – capturing fleeting moments in dream-like condensed images on voluminous silk panels. The women in her silks are both a self-portrait and a universal figure forming metaphors concerning the soul. Colors and lines flow and evoke the sense of an unexpected memory.

Stories twine throughout this exhibit – sometimes recognizable, sometimes just touching on a familiar cord but always inviting viewers to explore and impart their own memory, dream or experience into the narrative.

Friday, October 9, 2009


It was such a busy day at Missouri Town that this is the only picture I got of the weaving project. Unfortunately, you can't see the front where the pattern is. It was really fun demonstrating; there were so many people interested in the weaving process. The hard part was remembering where I was in the pattern sequence while talking to people. Needless to say, I had to unweave several times! I only got half way done, but when I finish and take it off the loom I will post more pictures. (Note the shawl and arm-warmers, it was chilly!)

Last week, my younger students felted balls and sticks and sewed them together to make little animals. This one is still getting its face stitched on. They had a lot of fun with it and were surprisingly good at the sewing part.

Here are students needle-felting. If you are looking for a super easy way to embellish, try needle-felting. It's instant gratification and no mess. The kids loved the "stabbing" motion, and thankfully only one needle was broken!

Close-up of a face in progress. She's felting very safely: foam underneath the project, pencil to hold in place (not fingers), and stabbing straight up and down.

And lastly, we spent all day Tuesday making apple butter. If my husband wasn't so motivated, I don't know if I would do it every year, but the end result is always worth it. This year we actually made twice as much as usual, which means more to share with friends!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mother-In-Law's Dress

A few months ago, my in-laws came to visit and I was wearing this dress. My mother-in-law liked it so much she asked me if I could make her one. She wanted a few things different like the color and thickness of the material and the length of the skirt and sleeves. It's such an easy pattern that I agreed.

I didn't end up finding the right fabric until we visited them again in St. Louis and we went fabric shopping together. There is this wonderful little fabric shop in Kirkwood called Sew It Seams. I was drooling over half of the fabrics in the store--lots of linen-silk blends, tencel, fine wools, and cool woven structures like herringbone. We decided on a lovely sage green tencel twill that fit both the requirements: it had a good drape and it wasn't see-through.

The printed pattern is one I borrowed from an Anthropologie blouse about 3 years ago. I'm very pleased I was able to use the print blocks again, and they're still in good condition despite being carved from the easy-cut stuff which typically breaks easily.

The hard part of this dress was the printing of the design. It's a little nerve-racking trying to line up each one and print the whole hem and sleeves evenly. It also took me longer than I remembered.

The finished product. It would look much better if I had a picture of her wearing it, but I got a call from her yesterday that she'd received it and it fit quite well. If I get a picture of her in it, I'll have to post it.

Just a note on sewing for other people: If someone wants a very specific thing made for them and it's fitted at all--good luck with that. I have had several experiences making fitted bodice dresses for friends that went very wrong and were very frustrating on both sides. It probably attests to my lack of sewing skills to fit people other than myself, but I would caution anyone considering a complex project for a friend. I agreed to this project because it was not fitted, was a very loose shift dress, and because I had made the pattern before and knew it was super easy.
Do you have any interesting stories about making things for other people?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Student Felting

I teach art at a homeschool co-op and this year there was enough interest to offer a fiber art class. One of the first processes we're doing is felting. The students hand-felted a small sample piece in class first. Now we're doing a group felting effort on two large pieces that will be cut apart to make slippers or bags.

I laid out the wool at home on bamboo blinds (hardware removed), put a support cloth on either side of the wool to keep it stable, and then rolled it all up to take to class.

Usually 3 layers of wool roving is laid out, alternating the direction of the fibers. This roving seemed extra fluffy and thick, and I have a track record of making felt too thick, so I only did two layers.

At class, we went outside to the parking lot, unrolled the dry bundles and sprinkled hot, soapy water evenly over the wool. The bundles were then rolled back up tightly and secured with twine. Here are the girls taking turns felting with their feet.

The basic idea is that you step on the roll up and down one side, then turn it a quarter turn and step some more. Keep turning and stepping and about every 10 minutes unroll it and flip the felt before rolling it back up, to give even pressure. You can also sprinkle on more hot water to help the shrinking process. When it's good and felted, take it off of the cloth and dunk it in hot water, scrub it and mash it around to give it a final sturdy finish.

Things I learned from teaching this:
  • teenagers get bored of manual labor quickly
  • talking is distracting from learning good felting techniques
  • an hour is not enough time to felt a large piece

I took the rolls home and finished the felting myself, which didn't take too long, maybe 3 hours. The felt actually came out quite nicely, except for a few thin spots.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Weaving 101: Starting to Weave

No matter what pattern you're weaving, you usually weave what's called a header in plain weave for one or two inches. This spaces out your warp threads evenly and can be used as a hem later. Here I've woven the header in the same cream as the warp.
My shuttle is ready to start the pattern in blue. A shuttle is what carries your weft thread back and forth through the shed (see previous post). It should be easy to throw through the shed with one hand. They come in various sizes and styles, but this one is a pretty normal model.
(I read that the word shuttle is original to weaving and later came to stand for anything that carries back and forth--such as a bus shuttle or a space shuttle. Interesting!)

Winding the bobbin is the same concept as when using a sewing machine, only you're probably going to do it by hand. Depending on how thick your yarn is, you'll have to stop weaving periodically and refill your bobbin. If you're weaving with more than one color, you'll probably have two bobbins in two shuttles going at the same time.

Here I've started weaving the main pattern. I haven't even gotten more than an inch done and I can already tell there's a problem with a certain area. Thankfully most of it looks quite pretty.

Squint your eyes when you look at this picture and you'll see what the pattern is supposed to look like.

Compare with this picture--I'm not just missing a thread here, it's also a skip in the pattern.

At this point, you grumble to yourself and rethread the heddles to fix the pattern. Bleck. Interestingly, this is the first time I've had to correct a problem this bad.

There won't be any more Weaving 101 posts until after October 4th. After I fix the pattern mistake, I'll save the main part of weaving for the Missouri Town Fall Festival. If anyone is in the Kansas City area, come by and see me demonstrating weaving the first weekend in October.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


My apologies for the pictures with no text, I had a blogging goof!

Weaving 101: Checking Pattern

The last part of the pattern set up is called the "Tie Up" (not to be confused with tying on). The tie up is diagrammed in your weaving pattern, it's the little square box with X's in the corner (see previous post). It tells you which shaft of heddles to attach to which pedal, or treadle (tred-le). This picture shows the treadles. The white strings coming down are detachable and you use these to determine which treadle will operate which combination of heddle shafts. All that means is: it makes your pattern come out.

When you push on a treadle with your foot (these are under the loom by the way), it raises whatever heddle shafts you've attached to it. So if you were just doing regular plain weave (over-under-over-under), you would only need 2 treadles: one to raise half of the threads, the other to raise the other half. I'm doing a twill, so I have the 2 left ones for plain weave and the 4 right ones for the twill pattern.

This is what happens when I press a treadle: half of the threads are raised and the other half stay down. This side view shows what's called the shed, it's a nice open space for your weft thread to go through.

Checking the pattern is important incase you have a threading error. I had one thread out of place that I had to fix (I'll spare you the details). This picture shows a close-up with my weft thread after 2 passes through the shed. It's just plain weave and should be the over-under pattern.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Weaving 101: Tying On

Now that I've wound on all the warp length, I'm ready to tie the front ends to the front beam. Here the picture shows the ends after I've cut the loops, hanging ready to be tied.

Starting to tie on to the front beam. Always start with the outsides so that your beam is held out and won't wobble (it wobbles if you start in the center). Then move in to the center one group of threads at a time, alternating sides. The knot is the same as on the back beam.

Here all the threads are neatly tied across the front beam. Notice the tail length, it's a little bit long, but is easier to tie that way.

Lastly, check the tension of your threads. Tension is very important, so tweaking it until you're satisfied is important before you start weaving. The goal is to get all the threads with the same even tension. I always have trouble with the two side groups being loose, so I usually go back and tighten everything, leaving the sides for last.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Weaving 101: Winding on the Warp

After all of the heddles have been threaded, the yarn can be tied onto the back beam in small groups. The back beam is a rod that secures the threads, but also enables them to be wound and unwound from the back. This means you can have your threads a lot longer than just the length of your loom frame.

Note how messy this looks, especially on the left side. The threads are all technically in order and going through the reed and the heddles straight, but once on the back side the order gets slightly mixed up when tying onto the back beam. This is not a problem, it is normal.

A close-up shot of how to tie the knot around the back beam. You take a group of threads, bring the group over the back beam, then split the group in half and bring the two halves up and around on either side of itself. Then just tie a square knot. This method will prevent any chance of the knot slipping when you put tension on the threads. (I tried overhand knots once--not a good idea!) It's important that your thread ends are all about the same length at this point, it will make the rest of the process at the front much easier.

Here is the whole loom just before I start winding. The ends of the threads are tied onto the back beam and pass through the heddles, then the reed, and come out the front. You can see there is quite a lot of length to wind on just lying on the floor, still in its warp chain form. When I start winding onto the loom, the thread will move onto the back and be wrapped around another rod.

Here I've started winding on. This shows the back with the threads all nice and orderly going around the second rod. You can see the handle to turn it around at the bottom of the picture. Also note the brown paper being rolled at the same time. If you don't use some sort of paper in between the threads, you'll have major problems. The paper keeps the different layers seperated. Notice that the threads look nice and not messy anymore; they're being spaced out evenly by the reed and heddles they pass through

Periodically when winding on, you have to stop and untangle the threads at the front so they can feed through easily. It was very interesting working with this set of warp chains. You remember I had three separate chains. Well, the group on the left (in this picture the one at the bottom), was perfectly straight--I hardly had to untangle it at all. The center group was pretty good, it had a normal amount of tangles, but nothing too annoying.

Then, the group on the far right (see the top of this picture, behind my hand), was so incredibly tangled and messed up that I spent way too much time fussing with it to straighten it out every few inches. The cause of this is some mistake in the warp cross when I sleyed the reed. It was all out of order and twisting around itself. So, take this as a prime example of the importance of breaking up your threads into different groups, and the importance of the warp cross. If I had one big warp chain and the whole thing was that tangled, I'd probably trash it and start over.