making a watery blue ombré quilt

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

It's done!
I finally completed the quilt I've been working on since April for my new nephew, Nate, just in time for his first visit to the east coast last weekend. It's the only quilt I've completed since having my own kids. I tend to get wrapped up in some kind of intricate colorplay that needs 50 fabrics to pull off and that takes time. That was the definitely the case with the ombré effect I was going for with this water scene.
Photo: I'm going to be an auntie to a new nephew in June! So I'm dusting off my quilting skills and going a little crazy in all the fabric shops on Etsy ;)
I found some great watery prints from several fabric shops on Etsy. I used the Micheal Miller fish print for the back.
But to get the ombré effect, I needed many more shades of blue than I could find in quilting cottons. I filled in the gaps with my strangely large collection of men's dress shirts. Using them also made the quilt more masculine. I also like the idea of mixing in apparel fabrics because it is the way people used to make quilts before the whole "charm pack" thing came along. My grandmother would use the good parts of worn-out clothes or scraps from making clothes for her quilts.
The quilt top spent a week in pieces on my work table as I planned out the color gradation. The diamond pattern helps the colors "feather" together because there are no straight horizontal lines. The sea creatures were appliquéd on top after I sewed the background together in diagonal strips.

I actually had never hand quilted any of my past quilts until this one. I used to send them out to an Amish lady who would get them done in a flash. This time I decided to do it myself, thinking it was a pretty small size (48" x 36"). Oh boy! You gotta hand it to those Amish ladies! It took me about a month and would have taken even longer except I was stuck on the couch anyway after having foot surgery. I couldn't remember how to do the binding either, so I watched this youtube video which was very helpful.

Oddly, the foot ordeal turned out to be positive creatively. With grocery shopping, errands, and trips to the gym off the schedule, it's amazing how much time frees up to spend on creative pursuits. Back soon with more...

head-clearing and western inspiration

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

There's nothing more inspiring than a change of scenery. Our summer vacation was to Oregon this year to visit family on both sides and attend a big family reunion. This was a big deal for us since we live completely on the opposite coast in muggy misery in the month of August.
We hung out with cousins in Portland for a couple of days enjoying the cooler, drier air. Then we followed the Columbia River east through a dry hilly landscape. I didn't realize how desert-like and sparsely populated the middle portion of the state is. The family reunion was at a nicely wooded camping area at crystal-clear Wallowa Lake at the base of the Wallowa mountains near Joseph.
Besides seeing family we hadn't seen in years, and some that we'd never even met yet, the highlight was the horseback riding.
I was attracted to the patterns on the horse blankets and the tooled leather of the saddles.
I started having a hankering for fall and wool sweaters and leather boots
and maybe even a poncho. It was chilly, what can I say?
This is Emma riding "Biscuit", a sweet horse who liked to go slow and take many grass-munching breaks. Perfect for her first riding experience.
And here's the family. It was a job to get the whole group in one spot at the same time for this shot. You get a lot of cousins and chaos when your mother has six siblings!

Maybe it was the low humidity, but I came home with such a clear head. Right off the bat, I churned out a few new boys' ideas for my professional portfolio. Now the weather is drying out here too and hinting at Fall. Goodbye summer!

a gardening mothers day

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The last few weekends here in northern Delaware have been spectacular! I've never felt compelled to do so much gardening. Today I had intended to be in my basement studio making a pattern for this bubble romper I've been thinking of, but then I went for a walk. There was no going back inside.
Since I only have gardening on the brain right now, I bought this perfect little card for my mother-in-law for Mothers Day on Etsy from redcruiser. If I could buy it for myself, I would. Actually I did buy myself my own gift- kelly green pants that fit like a dream- thanks, honey. But I refuse to buy my own card- kids, get busy!
Also got her these Bahco pruners that are so nice, they are not available at Home Depot. The have different sizes depending on your hand size. Get them here.
Took a detour the other day to Terrain and it looks like full-on summer there. The cafe there would be a lovely spot to bring Mom on Mothers Day, but don't try it without a reservation. Even on a regular weekend you need one now.

As soon as it rains I'll get back in the studio...

color palettes: april in delaware

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

There's nothing like a long walk to clear the mind and boost creativity. Couldn't resist making some color palettes from pictures I snapped on my stroll along the Delaware Greenway in Wilmington this weekend. I'm thinking this could be a regular thing...
Happy Spring!

facing reality

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I don't know anyone who likes tax time, but even though I usually get a refund, I very much hate it. Like many creative types, I have no interest in practical matters like staying on top of the accounting. I pretty much keep my head in the sand all year until it's time to add up all my expenses in order to do the taxes. That's when I find out whether or not I made a profit. After happily running my Etsy store all year and feeling like sales have been good, it's always a rude awakening to face the numbers. It's gotten to the point where it's illogical to continue unless I can make my business into something that generates some income for my family.

So I've been doing some soul searching and some scheming and have decided to give myself one more year to make it work. During this year I have a few concrete measures I plan to take to try to improve my efficiency.

stop wasting time

Time is money, right? So I am becoming acutely aware of when I am wasting it.
I have always made lots of trips to the post office, sometimes with just one measly package, and stood in line FOR-EVER! No more. I can't believe I waited so long to get a postal scale! I love this thing! It saves me gas too, because I buy the postage online and the mailman just takes the packages from my doorstep now.

A little harder to quantify, but keeping the office & studio more clean and organized is another of my measures. I just hate spending time and energy trying to find a certain fabric or trim, even just my scissors, while the clock is ticking. 15 minutes at the end of the night folding and putting away will keep it under control (I hope).
I can't do a full-on assembly line approach to my sewing now that I've decided to stop doing shows (that was last year's hard-learned lesson) and shifted to a mostly made-to-order business. There are a few tasks I can combine, though, to make the assembly process a little quicker. One thing that takes time is constantly changing the threading on the serger for different stitches. So I've started consolidating steps like rolled edging which I use on anything ruffled. When I have one thing to do on that setting, I'll go ahead and prep for future projects that I am reasonably sure I'll get an order for, like ruffle-butt bloomers. This way I'm not committing to stocking entire garments as I can use the pieces on any size, just cut them down accordingly.

keep on top of the accounting

I really should be adding up my receipts and expenses monthly. Duh! So I know if I'm veering off track. Bad me for not doing it sooner!

stop over-buying fabric

Every time my husband comes in my studio, he remarks on how much fuller it seems. How can that be if I'm selling at a decent clip in my Etsy store? Well, because my eyes are bigger than my head when it comes to buying fabric. I overestimate how many items I can physically make in general, and I buy without a always having a specific project in mind. I have been acquiring fabric at a faster rate than my actual sales. This is the year to go the other way and use up what I already have and be more selective about what I do buy.

stock certain supplies

This is counter intuitive to what I just said above, but now that I have a good feel for what I sell a lot of and what I tend to run out of all the time, it made sense for me to stock up on certain supplies like elastic, eyelet trim, and packaging. It's cheaper to buy these things in bulk. It's a time and money waster to have to run out in the middle of a project for more lace and then to pay a premium.

rethink what I sell

This is a hard one because it really is the core of the problem as much as I hate to admit it. I can't compete on price with mass produced children's clothing. I pretty much charge the the maximum amount the market will bear for, say, an appliqued onesie. Yet these onesies take 3 hours or more to complete and if you subtract the cost of materials, I pocket minimum wage at best for my work. People like them and can tell they are better than something from Walmart, but do I want to continue on this trajectory to nowhere?

pursue other creative endeavors

I have a lot more ideas than I can actually execute for my little store, but I don't want them to languish. Knowing what the profitability of my handmade business is, taking more breaks from it to pursue other things doesn't seem so bad. Actually, it's kind of freeing. The world will go on if I take time off to do a little freelance work in the apparel world or try my hand at a book proposal. Maybe I can even go for more walks or work in my garden.

Sigh! The reality-check of tax time!

fabric flower corsage tutorial

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The crocuses & daffodils came up this week! Spring begins next week. Easter is around the corner. It's time for flowers! I thought I'd share with you how I make my fabric flower corsages. They are lovely as an embellishment on a dress, hat, or cardigan. Nobody else does it quite like I do...

To make this fabric flower corsage, you will need:
  • 3/4 yard fabric
  • paper to make pattern
  • serger
  • regular sewing machine
  • Fray Check
  • needle & thread
  • Strong glue like Gutterman HT2 textile glue
  • 25mm brooch saftey pin
Begin with drafting this simple pattern.
Cutting on the bias uses more fabric, but gives the flower a wavy effect. It also looks really nice if you use a plaid or check.
Using a serger set to "rolled edge" makes a lovely finish along the edge. You could also do a tiny rolled hem by hand or using a rolled hem foot on a regular sewing machine.
Fold your edged piece in half lengthwise to define the middle.
Next, set your machine to a long stitch length and run two gather stitch lines, one on each side of the fold, about 1/4" apart.
Pull the back side threads to gather the piece to about 11".
Now keeping wrong sides touching, hold in a folded position to begin the coil.
Secure the begining of the coil with a needle and thread. Continue coiling & tacking in a circle, keeping stitching plane flat.
It will start to look like this on the other side.
This is what I mean by "flat". You don't want it to turn into a cone or it will be hard to attach the pin at the end.
You could attach the pin at this point, but for a neater finish, I like to cover the stitching with a self fabric disc. Cut a 1 1/2" diameter circle out and seal the edges with fray check. Once dry, glue it to the back. I use Gutterman Ceativ HT2 textile glue, but others may work too. It's the glue that all the frame purse makers use.
 Finally, sew on the brooch pin. These are easily found at JoAnn or on Etsy. I prefer the locking kind to the kind with the safety pin action. The safety pin ones are not safe. In fact, for children, I suggest hand sewing the flower on to the item you are embellishing.
Happy Spring!

goofy valentines to download

Friday, February 8, 2013

Remember when valentines were all about silly puns and not licensed characters? I have fond memories of them from grade school. The sillier the better.
My parents always made them. Dad would think of the pun and Mom would do the art. The last couple of Valentine's days, they've revived the tradition with the help of Photoshop. I'm filled with nostalgia whenever we get them, and the kids think they're pretty funny too. Mom, also known as collage & mixed media artist, Rosemary Luckett, has agreed to let me offer 8 valentines for free downloading  here! Just don't go trying to make a million dollars selling them- they are for personal use only, please. They are arranged 4 to a sheet, just print on card stock, and cut them apart with an exacto to make flat cards. Enjoy!

 Happy Valentines Day!

printing a fabric design on spoonflower

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Can I just say how excited I am to be in possession of my first yard of fabric digitally printed with my very own artwork on Spoonflower? It is such a treat to do a design, send it off, and have it in my hands within a week!
When I work for clothing companies, it takes at least 6 weeks for a traditionally printed approval swatch and then another few months for the final yardage. And here's the kicker- a common minimum for traditionally printed fabric is 3000 yards. On Spoonflower, the minimum is 1 yard or a 5" swatch. As a clothing designer, the freedom that this allows is like a door opening wide. It allows a small company to test a print, make up samples, and show to buyers quickly without having to commit to a large run of yardage. With so little investment at stake, there's nothing stopping a designer from experimenting. If you wind up needing mega yardage, digital is probably not the way to go- printing just one yard takes several minutes and the cost is relatively high- but many times you don't need that much and for that, digital is perfect.

And if the low minimum & convenience is not enough, the Spoonflower process is eco-friendly! Traditional printing results in gallons and gallons of excess toxic dye being dumped into the environment at the end of the run. Spoonflower uses dye that is eco-friendly, and because of the nature of the digital printing process, uses only the amount of dye needed for the yardage being printed. AND this all happens relatively nearby in North Carolina, USA as opposed to China or Japan. No airmail necessary! My tree-hugging side is satisfied!
the nitty gritty
When printing through Spoonflower, you will have to submit artwork that is in repeat so your design is seamless. For the general idea of how to do a repeat, this post on Design Sponge gives a good basic idea. For digital printing, you won't be able to make suitable artwork without Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop or something similar. Taking a course in Illustrator was one of the best things I ever did, so I highly recommend it (then you can get the student price on the software which is a plus!).

I like to start with hand-drawn artwork so it will have some spontaneity to it, then scan it into Illustrator, and finish it there. I'm working in an 8" square and black & white knowing I'll increase the scale later and recolor. I just want it to be a manageable size for scanning. I fill the middle of my square with motifs covering a general diamond shape area that comes close to the edges on the points.
Then I open a new file in Illustrator set up the document to have an 8'x8" artboard. I scan in the rough art, resize as necessary, and use "live trace", then "expand" to convert it to vector art. It's important to have the setting "snap to grid" turned on for the next steps. I ungroup the elements and delete the white. I make a new 8" x 8" white background and "send to back" to simplify things. Now I chop art through the middle vertically using the "divide objects below" function. Then I swap the position of the 2 pieces so the middle part of the art is now touching the edges. For a regular repeat, you would do the same thing again, horizontally, so now your artwork is positioned in the corners. I decided to be fancy, though, and do a half-drop repeat, so I only chopped one side horizontally. My design will line up when offset half a step across the width of the fabric.
Once the edges are set up, you can fill in the middle. I scan in a few more motifs, fill in gaps here and there, and shuffle elements around until I like it. If any other shapes need to overlap the edge, I make sure they line up by positioning a twin on the other side and snapping it to the same position on the grid. Tricky, yes, and time-consuming with a pattern this intricate. Patterns with more ground spacing are definitely easier to put into repeat.
I double check the repeat by copying the artboard, opening a new layer and placing the copies as they would repeat. Sure enough, I see a few spots that need adjusting, so I tweak and repeat the process until the edges line up exactly. For a true preview, you can temporarily expand your artboard to include the repeating parts and print. The paper doesn't lie.

It's a busy design, so I like it best with just 2 colors on a white ground. To recolor, switch the color mode from black & white to RGB and go to town. If color matching is important you can use Spoonflower's color map which you can have mailed to you on actual fabric. I was too impatient, so I didn't bother, but I think I will get it for the future.

To finalize the artwork, copy the contents of the artboard and "paste pixels" into a new document in Photoshop. Here is where you will determine the final size of your print. Spoonflower prints at 150 dpi, so I input that under image>size and go from there. I decided to resample my image to be 14" square. Since this is sharp 3-color artwork, I save as a .png file. Jpegs work too.

Now to decide which fabric to print on...When they first opened, Spoonflower only offered basic cotton. Now they have 10 choices including silk crepe de chine ($38) and wallpaper too. The basic cotton is the cheapest at $17. I chose linen/cotton canvas ($27) because I thought it would be nice for an apron, tote bag, or pillow.  The prompts are pretty easy to follow on the Spoonflower site...and voilà!
The fabric got here so quickly, I never fully decided what to do with it. What should I make?