Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jewelry Factory at Full Speed!

This week, I really tried to get in as much time as possible creating charms for more Valentine's Day bracelets. I made another attempt at making a little book. This one is only 3/4" square, so it's pretty small! I added a little cotton loop for a jumpring and cotton strings to tie it closed as you see here.
I wanted to put some Valentine's Day message on the pages inside, but I didn't want to do each page individually. In an effort to streamline and speed up production, I made a word document that contained the phrase "I love you" in 18 languages in a variety of fonts, spaced just right so I could print a page and cut it up into little 1 1/2" x 3/4" pages. I printed the words on pink paper and stamped little hearts and things on the back so when the pages were folded, some would have words and some would have hearts. This is what the book looks like open:
As cute as it is, I still don't think it's small enough to blend in with the other charms I've been making. Maybe I'll put it on a necklace.

While I was frantically trying to come up with other ideas for charms, I received my first swap charms from the yahoo group! Here they are, below. They gave me just the right inspiration and push I needed! Aren't they great? I especially like the two wire hearts in the center, one with the beads threaded on and the other with the coil.
On Friday I managed to squeeze in a trip to JoAnn's Fabrics in between the orthodontist and the grocery store! I picked up some colored wire in both red and pink, some metal charms that say "love much" on one side and "laugh often" on the other, some larger, thinner jump rings, some filagree bead caps, some colorful plastic dice beads, and a few large red wire-wrapped beads. From those materials, I was able to make all these new styles of charms!
Now I have piles of pink charms,
red charms,
and mixed red and pink. I placed an order with for silver-plated chain and some heart-shaped toggle clasps. As soon as it arrives, I'll be able to put together at least 3 more bracelets. Just in time for February!
I also worked up that glass charm into a cluster necklace hung from a ribbon. While I'm waiting for the chain, I can keep working on these!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Ta-dah! Here is one of the charm bracelets I've been working on! I really love the way it came out. I have a lot of extra charms and I'm hoping to make more like this, some with red and pink mixed together and some primarily red. I'm hoping to work up necklace or two and possibly some earrings as well, so I can take some over to that gift shop in town by the end of the month. Hope I can pull this off! If not, I'll have plenty of inventory for my Etsy shop!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Busy, Snowy Day

We got our first significant snowfall of the year today. I believe by this time last year, we had already used up four snow days on the school calendar. But it's Saturday today so we still haven't used one! It was really nice to be home doing indoor things - no errands and running around, just fun and family time.

The "red-pink-white" charms I made need to be mailed on Monday, so I got busy finishing them up and getting them ready. I had to make 25 charms, so I used 15 of the heart charms I made for the "all hearts" swap and then made 10 of the variety shown below.
I was happy to find these inexpensive pink shell rings on sale at Michael's last week. I wasn't sure how I would use them, but I had so much fun coming up with different ways of combining them with beads and wire. Below is how I packaged the charms. On the other side of the card is my contact information, and on this side I stamped the little bunny and tied the charm on with bakery string (Don't you love bakery string? It's so festive looking. Remember the days when there was always a ball of striped bakery string in the messy drawer of the kitchen, just in case you needed to tie something up or wanted to play "cats cradle?"). The color scheme just seemed to fit!
Below is another charm I made up earlier this week. On one of my last trips to JoAnn's Fabrics, I bought out their entire stock of these cute glass bottles. I used some for my "snowstorm in a bottle" charms on my winter-themed bracelet, but I turned these into Valentine charms. I photocopied and drastically reduced a portion of a song by Andrew Lloyd Weber called "Love Changes Everything" and added that bar of music to the bottle along with some pink beads and red confetti hearts. Isn't it cute?
I also played with another method of making charms. I sandwiched a little collage between two pieces of memory glass one inch square. Rather than buying the premade metal holders for these or using solder to keep them together, I used polymer clay (I really don't feel like investing the time and money in learning to solder at this point in my life - maybe when I retire). I inserted a curved piece of wire to hold a jump ring before I baked it, and colored it with a silver metallic pen after I baked it. It's a little heavy and large for a charm on a bracelet, but it might make a cute necklace. I have a bunch more old stamps ready to turn into charms like this.
I made a few other charms out of polymer clay. I've seen people make miniature food out of clay and thought some sweets might be appropriate on a Valentine's Day charm bracelet. Here is a little mini cupcake...
... and here are some strawberry cream filled chocolate candies. Don't they look good enough to eat? Mmm!
Speaking of chocolate, next month I'll be making a variety of truffles with the adult Creative Playgroup. I needed to test out this easy recipe, and I decided a snowy day would be the perfect time to try it! These truffles are made with 3 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Melt them in a glass bowl in the microwave and then stir in one can of sweetened condensed milk and a teaspoon of your choice of extract. You can then spread the mixture into a pan, cool, and cut into squares for fudge, or cool slightly, then roll in various toppings, as I did. I used almond extract and rolled them in coconut, chopped almonds, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and white sprinkles. I think I like the coconut best. The recipe makes about 6 dozen. Wow! That should satisfy my need for chocolate for a long while! Hopefully, the girls will eat a bunch too - need to get back to healthy eating again!
Next post I'll show you photos of my first Valentine's Day charm bracelet. All I'll say is "I'm in love!"

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Making the Best of a Gloomy Day

This morning we woke to a bit of slush all around. I did have to shovel (can't get the car up that steep driveway even with the tiniest bit of slush) but at least the schools had a delayed opening. With the extra morning time, I had the chance to read the blog of another member of the yahoo artcharms group, Kia Dallons (see it by clicking here). She posted about these tiny pop-up books she made as charms. They're amazing! This came on the heels of a tutorial another art-charmer mentioned, which demonstrated an easier method for making a little charm-sized book (click here to see it). All day while I was at work, my mind kept ruminating on the possiblities for little book charms, pop-up or otherwise!

After work I stopped for a few groceries, and when I got back I was damp and chilled. I made myself a nice hot cup of chocolate, and then I made an interesting discovery: Although panettone is delicious by itself, it tastes even better when smeared with a little Nutella! Actually, that's not so surprising - I thing everything tastes better smeared with Nutella!
While enjoying my indulgent snack, I had the chance to browse through the latest edition of Quilting Arts magazine, which was just delivered today. Lots of fun surface design techniques to try!
After dinner, I finally got some time to play with the book ideas. First I tried the pop-up. I visited Robert Sabuda's website, as Kia suggested in her blog post, and found a simple valentine pattern. I copied it and shrank it down to fit in a book about one square inch. I put a pretty floral cover on it that I cut from a recycled greeting card.
There you can see the little hearts. Cute, but not amazing like Kia's castle and waterfall books! I'll have to keep trying.
My worktable looks like a hurricane went through and scattered all kinds of red and pink beads, papers, stamps, ink pads, and pieces of clay! Once again, I'm trying to do a variety of charms at once, rather than moving from material to material once a certain type of charm is finished. Because Valentine's Day will be here before we know it, I'm trying to complete as many charms as possible, and also trying to make them look as professional and polished as possible. Maybe I bit off a little more than I could chew with such a tight deadline, but I'd rather be doing this than sitting in front of the TV (not much of value on it, if you ask me.)

Oh - and I have a little good news: A new art gallery is opening here in town called the Look Art Gallery, and I received an email asking for artwork for their inaugural exhibit and sale called "Art from the Heart." Every piece they are taking must be less than 12" per side and they will each sell for $75 as a Valentine's Day special. I looked through my portfolio of completed pieces and finally found something appropriate - it's 12" high but 13 1/2" wide! I thought about creating something entirely new (by Friday!) but with all my energy going into these Valentine charms, I didn't see how I could do it. I didn't want to miss out on another opportunity to exhibit, so I finally e-mailed the owner/artist and she said to bring it on over anyway! So I'm able to focus on the quantity and quality of the charms and still have a chance to sell a piece of art - the perfect resolution! The piece I'm going to put in is one that I like and feel confident showing. It's called "Bleeding Hearts" (appropriate for Valentine's Day maybe?) and I made it almost two years ago. I forgot to put in the photo but you can see it in the original post by clicking here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

More Charms, More Goals

As you can see, I've been at it again with the charms! The yahoo artcharms group that I'm in is holding a "red-pink-white" swap this month. Even though I plan to send the hearts that I made earlier this month, I decided it would be fun to make a whole variety of charms with these colors. I'll let you know more about my motivation for this later in the post, but first, GOALS.

First let's see how I did on last year's goals. I had a long list last year and some I did very well on, others kind of mezza-mezza, and some I didn't complete at all. I did join SAQA, I did submit pieces to 3 different shows (and got something accepted in one - Sacred Threads), I did finish the large piece for my friend's office, I did narrow down my "brand" and signature colors and order business cards, and I did open an Etsy shop! Hooray for me!

I did not do 52 weekly journal pieces. I think I only did 12. If I had kept that up, I wouldn't have been able to complete anything else! I'm not sure regular journaling is for me. I also did not follow through on "The Creativity Book." Maybe I'll revisit that at a later time. I also did not update my blog or website. That is still on the list for this year. I also did not really develop a calendar system to keep track of show entry deadlines etc. I seem to do okay in my own haphazard way, but I'm not sure entering shows is so important to me at this point, so I think I'm going to let that one go.

I had wanted to complete 5 pieces in addition to the weekly journal pieces and the large one for my friend, but I think I only completed two or three. I spent more time on making coasters and jewelry to put in my Etsy shop, so that's the trade off. There are only so many hours in a day. I bought a new light to improve the quality of my photos and also researched how to make a simple and inexpensive light box, but I have not made it yet. I seem to be getting by with the set up I have, so I'm not sure I need that after all.

In addition to the goals I completed, I also made several artcharm bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, and joined the yahoo group. I also revised my manuscript "The Timid Seahorse" and sent it out to two new publishers. One of them still has it, but even if they reject it, I'm still not ready to give up on it.

SO, what's on the plate for 2012? First, I think I'm going to choose the word "open" as a theme for the year. Last fall I read a book called "Open the Door" by Joyce Rupp which was a six-week meditation series on opening your heart to God. I want to keep focused on the idea of openness - being open minded, doing open-ended activities, remaining open to any possibilities. That being said, my goals this year will be to
  • Continue to look for my authentic artistic voice in all my creations
  • Update my blog and website to reflect my brand colors and style
  • Continue to list items in my Etsy shop (and hopefully sell something!)
  • Possibly approach one or more local gift shops to see if they'll carry some of my jewelry (which is why I want to create some Valentine's Day charms - maybe I'll use the red-pink-white theme as my product debut!)
  • Revisit my seahorse manuscript again and possibly remake some sample art
  • Work on a retelling of a folk tale (possibly with illustrations) for submission
  • Complete an 18"x 8' "totem" fiber piece for a special FANE exhibit (due in April)
  • Spend at least 5 minutes daily in quiet meditation
  • Think positively (ban all negative thoughts and words!)
  • Experiment with adding more text to artwork
There it is! It's ambitious once again, but as they say, if you shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you'll land among the stars!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fabric Postcards

Cloth Paper Scissors Magazine is holding a postcard challenge, due in their offices next Friday. I knew I wanted to send them one as soon as I read about it in their Nov/Dec issue, but of course with all the holiday stuff happening, I put it off until the new year. Luckily I was able to get these completed and mailed today. The lure of having something published in an upcoming issue is too great (even though my pieces are not selected very often - just once - click here to see).

There was no theme for this challenge, so I had kind of a hard time deciding what to make. I came up with the above little character first, with a little poem on the back: "When stormy rains are falling, put on your happy shoes, with a smile as your umbrella, you'll always beat the blues!". I had wanted to simply stamp the words "Let a smile be your umbrella" on the front of the postcard, but I did some research and found out those lyrics are still under copyright, so I went with an original poem instead. The rules of the challenge require the postcard to be at least 50% fabric, and this one is all fabric, and not fabric that I've stamped, painted, bleached or altered in any way. Cloth Paper Scissors is really a magazine about Mixed-Media, and with no real mixing of media in the above postcard, I decided to make a second one, below.
For this one, I used a background of pretty blue batik fabric. Then I stamped positive words all over some green "paper-cloth" I made last year. I free-motion stitched some leaves around the words and cut them out to be the top of a tree. I stitched a trunk out of miscellaneous yarns and threads wrapped in tulle, then stitched it all together onto the blue background. It's definitely more mixed-media, but I still don't know what my chances are for being published. There are lots of talented people who subscribe to Cloth Paper Scissors! Even so, it was a fun exercise and a nice positive start to the new year.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Christmas All Wrapped Up

Once December 25th is past, I always comfort myself with the thought that there are twelve days of Christmas and there is still plenty of celebrating to be done. This year my family got together to celebrate on the 28th and my in-laws stayed with us until New Year's Day, so we had a full week of visiting, eating, talking and general merrymaking.

But here it is, January 7th, my in-laws have flown back home, and school is back in session, so we spent the day wrapping and boxing everything up again. Right after Thanksgiving, I almost wince with trepidation at the mountain of tasks I have to accomplish in the weeks ahead. We have to make room for Christmas - we have to rearrange the furniture to find space for the tree, take a few minutes to light the Advent candles every night before dinner, find time in our busy schedules for baking, parties, shopping and wrapping. And somehow we manage it all. We fit it all in.

When we put it all away in January and there are no more parties to look forward to or desserts to bake, things look a little bleak at first. The tree is completely bare of color and shine, the mantles and shelves are empty without the Nativity scene that graced it only yesterday
... and all the jolly carved Santas are safely wrapped in paper and stuffed back in the box, ready to be enjoyed again next year.

I felt so low that I had to go and finish off the last of the box of chocolates I received from two lovely twin girls that come to my Storytime classes at the library! Now even that is empty!
But January is like a clean slate. Long winter nights stretch ahead with very few obligations crowding the schedule. Which leaves me wide open for lots of new art projects! I'm already committed to several projects due early this year and I'm making my final decisions about goals for the year ahead...

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Day Off

On Fridays I don't work at the library, and I always plan to make it My Day Off, but I usually end up spending it doing errands and chores. This morning I actually went back to sleep after the girls got on the bus at 7, had a late breakfast, skipped exercising the dog, and sat downstairs and played. Yesterday I brought home yet another craft book, this one titled Microcrafts, which has about 25 mini crafts to make. I've seen directions for making mini books elsewhere and this included a new version, so I thought I'd try it out. It's kind of time consuming and I'm not sure this is something I could mass produce for a swap, but they are kind of cute. The book pictured above and below was my first attempt. I folded and cut paper to make signatures, then stitched them together by hand with nylon thread (the time-consuming part) and glued them into this cover. When I looked at it this morning, I decided it was cute, but wondered whether or not I should add words and/or pictures. I hesitated because I didn't want to wreck it after I just made it! But I had recently cut out some uplifting and meaningful words from a cool catalog that I get (Isabella), so I decided to jump in and add some. I started with stamping on the title, "be mindful" because that is one of my goals for the new year - to be more mindful of my thoughts, words, and actions. (More on the rest of my goals coming soon...).
I glued, stamped, and wrote words so they read sort of like a little poem: "think happy thoughts, Joy deep in your soul, Love all around you, Peace & Light, serenity for your Spirit, kindness can transform your world, Be the Change, spread joy, share hope, imagine peace, seek Grace, strength & wisdom, Pray always..." It might make a nice addition to my cluster charm necklace and help me remember to be more mindful.

Then I thought maybe it would be easier and quicker to decorate the pages before they're folded and cut, and then add some things here and there after the book is assembled. So I made another version, below. Of course, none of the words ended up where I hoped they would, but at least the pages have a little color and decoration. I suppose if I were sending this in a swap, I would leave it as is, and let the recipient add their own text.
Now that I've enjoyed most of the day, it's time to get some work done! I need to get to the grocery store and to pack up the cardboard for recycling day tomorrow. Before you know it, it will be time to cook dinner (maybe we'll do Chinese take-out tonight!).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Winter Sets In

On New Year's Day, it felt like spring, but the last two mornings we were greeted by bitter cold temperatures - single digits, with a daytime high of only about 22. Ugh! No snow yet, but the cold goes right through you! I've been able to settle in in the evenings with some hot food and cozy activities. On Monday afternoon I was actually able to take a Nap! It felt great to curl up on my favorite easy chair with a book and doze off when my eyes got tired. Tonight I made a Chicken Vegetable Chowder for dinner and followed that with a hot chocolate laced with Bailey's Irish Creme and topped with whipped cream! Even though people traditionally put on weight in December and begin dieting in January, I find December is just the warm-up. I get in the habit of snacking on sweets between meals and come January I find it very hard to break the habit. That's when I usually put on weight - during the long, cold winter months, not just during December.
I also started some real work on this 12"x12" project for the FiberArts Northeast group, which is due in early February. I wanted to use two fabrics with a high contrast in texture, but similar color. I layered the backing, batting (I used felt), burlap, and the shiny sheer, then put my drawing over it. I stitched over the drawing and tore the paper away. Then I cut away the sheer fabric in places where I want the burlap to show through, like a reverse applique. I'm trying to say something about our dual nature, similar to the yin and yang symbol - that we are both dark and light, rough and smooth, mortal and eternal.
I'm not sure everything comes across - the contrast is more subtle than I expected (also, it doesn't photograph well - the true color is closer to a golden tan). But there's a FANE meeting tomorrow evening, so I'll bring it and see what kind of a reaction I get. With the holidays behind us, it sure is nice to settle down and get to some creative projects!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Out With the Old

Today I unexpectedly had a full day to spend at home catching up on some tasks I've been putting off. We were supposed to drive back to LI (we were there last Sunday) for another family dinner, but my oldest was having symptoms similar to the ones she had when she had pneumonia 4 years ago, so we decided we all needed a catch-up day (catch up on rest, laundry, cleaning and organizing etc). We had a great holiday month, celebrating almost every weekend in December, and it felt like a breath of fresh air to just spend a day at home with no particular agenda.

Many of my tasks involved replacing the old with the new. Below is my new OttLite which I hope to set up next to my sewing table soon. I have a good natural light task lamp that I use to light most of my photos, but I needed one on the other side. I hope this does the trick. It also satisfies one of my 2011 goals to improve my photography set up at home.
Another thing I started was hemming and hanging the new curtains in the living room. We've had pleated shades on this window since we moved in 15 years ago, but we were tired of dealing with the cords, so when they finally broke last fall, we thought we might go with curtains instead. I found these in the Martha Stewart section at Home Depot and we rigged a wide pole to go beneath the burgundy valence that was already there. I think I like them; they let in some light, but keep out the cold, they can easily be pulled open or closed, and they add a little warmth, color and elegance that the pleated shades didn't have. I still have two more curtains to hem - maybe tonight or tomorrow.
I also decided it was time for a new purse. I tend to carry the same one through all seasons and they usually last me years. I really liked my old one (in front) but the lining kept coming up and getting caught in the zipper, as you can see in the photo. I didn't feel like dealing with replacing the lining, and I found this new bag which is very similar as far as storage goes. Now I have to find some time to sit down and move all my stuff from one to the other.
Finally, I am moving into the 21st century with my mobile phone. I've lived with a Virgin Mobile pay-as-you-go type of plan for the last 5 years, and that's been fine for me, but now all my daughters have phones and it makes more sense for us to all be on the same plan. So now I have a new phone that has a camera and can send text messages much more easily than my old one. I'm looking forward to figuring out all its new capabilities (I'll have to get one of the girls to show me what all those buttons are for!).
Finally, I finished the charms I've been working on for the next swap in my Yahoo group. The theme is "All hearts, nothing but hearts." You saw the beginning steps for these in a previous post and since then I've coated them with a craft glaze and added a beaded dangle to each one. I really like the variety and unique qualities of the set. I'll be able to send them off tomorrow.
Here is a close up shot:
And this is how I packaged them for the swap. I still have many more hearts cut out that can be finished for another swap. These will fit the next one which is "red-pink-white" with silver findings. I enjoyed making them and wouldn't mind making more. But it might also be fun to make some beads out of canes of polymer clay too... decisions, decisions!