Friday, December 31, 2010

A Kitten Christmas, Finished Projects and Learning a New Technique

Christmas is over and we're in the quiet week between Christmas and New Years. This year has been one of making new traditions and temporarily setting old ones aside.  Because we have two kittens in residence, putting the delicate blown glass ornaments on the tree wasn't an option.  This is the first year in many, many years that I haven't been able to put my beloved ornaments on the tree, nor could I use the new ones I bought earlier this year.  Ah well, there's always next year! We opted for a (shudder!) artificial tree this year, decorated with large bows and unbreakable gold ornaments.  The kittens regarded the tree from the beginning as their playground and have spent quite a bit of time up in the branches.  They've knocked off ornaments and bows. But they're so darn cute that we couldn't get angry with them.
Myst in the Tree
See what I mean?

We did add two new traditions to the mix.  I've always loved the tradition of putting candles in the windows at Christmas.  Several years ago I visited Frederick, Maryland at Christmastime. I finished my work early and took the opportunity to visit the historic district. For December, the weather was mild and the walking tour was fun. Several of the oldest houses had the candles in the windows.  Beautiful!  Just before Christmas, I found some battery-powered LED candles that come with suction cups.  They can sit on the bottom window frame and hold on to the window.  They're wonderful!  They also flicker, so they look a bit spastic, but I love them.  I also love that they have embedded timers, so they turn themselves on and off autmatically.

Byzantine ATC's for the Tree

I was bemoaning the no-delicate-ornament situation to my son who replied that since we're artists, we'll think of something.  And he was right. I decided to start a tradition of making a few ATC's for the tree. Friends can have one... but only if they bring one for trade! Thus far, it was a bust. Joseph was going to make some, but he didn't get around to it. Mom opted out this year. But I made five more Byzantine cards for the Christmas tree and they looked lovely... when they weren't being knocked off the tree.  But they survived.  At least four of them did. I assume I'll find the fifth one when we take the tree down.

Finished Projects
I managed to finish several projects.  Obviously I have oodles more to go, but I'm happy for what I've gotten done.

George's Fingerless Gloves
George's Fingerless Gloves
Well, I didn't make it by Christmas, but I only missed it by one day.  I finished the gloves on the 26th and cast on for the caps the same day.  But at least these are wearable... just in time for the weather to warm up.  Ah well. There's plenty of time for it to get cold again.

The Aran Sweater
The Aran Sweater
And not that I want to suggest that the world might be coming to an end or anything, but I finally finished the Aran sweater!  It's been on the needles for years.  It's finally off the needles!  Finishing it was a pain, but I'm so glad I can finally wear it... just in time for the weather to warm up!  It's very warm and snuggly.

I steam-blocked the seams and cables.  This is the first time I've had the courage to try steam-blocking.  I like it very much for thicker things like sweaters.  Probably fine lace will still be damp-blocked.  If I do much more steam-blocking I'm going to need a garment steamer, but the steam iron does nicely for now.

ATC's and Encaustic
Again, I've been putting off doing January's ATC's.  It's not so much being stubborn as being very busy. 
January's themes are "Inspired by Color" and "Make Your Own Background."  Weeellll.... I frequently make my own backgrounds these days.  I'm getting more comfortable with acrylic paints and am rather enjoying them.  But I've been tempted by encaustics.  Encaustic is an ancient Greek style of painting.  Ground pigments are mixed with beeswax and damar resin.  The paint must be worked  hot, but when it cools, it's very tough. I've put off and put off buying some starter paints and tools and getting going with it.  But George gave me some paints and tools for Christmas, so my excuses are running thin. So yesterday, I plugged in the hot plate, melted paint in an old muffin tin and got out the natural-bristle brushes.  Eight cards later, I at least had the theme done!
Encaustic Village Group
I did these on a sticky-back canvas card, which I probably won't do again.  Next time I think I'll try watercolor paper cards.  But these worked.  The background was done in white, cobalt blue, and an ochre color I made with cadmium yellow and a dark brown.  (Didn't have yellow ochre paint.) The village scene was torn from a cocktail napkin and embedded in the wax. I made every beginner's mistake in the book, but I'm kind of excited about it.  It's far more time-consuming than acrylic or even watercolor, but it has its compensations. The smell of the beeswax is lovely!  None of the cards is a miracle of technical perfection, but they all have a charm of their own.

Encaustic Village Detail

"There's pansies, that's for thoughts."

Inspired by Color has been fun.  With the weather overcast and as gloomy as it sometimes gets around here, I've been longing for color.  Pansies are a cheerful flower that can tolerate the cold.  So we bought lots of pansies when we bought the window candles.  I planted them in windowboxes and set them on the walkway.  I also put some in the "kitten pot" - the flowerpot that the kittens slept in when they were tugging on our heartstrings and finding themselves a home.  I bought as many different colors as I could.  I love them all, but my favorite is a "monkey-face" large pansy with a brown-ish purple center surrounded by gold and red.  I like to think this card is a mixed-media project of gardening, photography, acrylic painting and stamping!

Another Year
So what will next year bring? More learning techniques in all media. More weaving. I love to weave, but I don't get around to it all that often. George is about to finish the antique Sabina loom and I'm excited about getting a shawl woven on it. I have all kinds of things I want to do in 2011. I want to get this weight off. It's affecting my health and that's not good. I want to spend more time outdoors and on the boat. We'll see what comes my way! A very happy and productive New Year to all my friends and family and to those that may read this blog, but who I never know or meet!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The ATC's That Won't

Byzantine Retro
Some days it's just not worth getting up in the morning.  I'm only participating in one ATC swap this month: Retro Christmas.  I thought about making a 50's-looking card, but an icon I found called out to me.  I decided to go for a Byzantine look. I wanted the card to appear old with the paint somewhat peeling, so I decided to use Tim Holtz's crackle paint.  This is the first time I've used crackle paint.  What I don't know about crackle paint would fill volumes, apparently.  Here are the steps I used to make the cards:
  1. Paint an acrylic canvas ATC with gold arcylic paint. Let dry.
  2. Glue on the icon image. Let it dry.
  3. Gold leaf the halos around each member of the Holy Family. Let it dry.
  4. Apply clear crackle paint and let it dry.
  5. Panic
Maybe I read the instructions wrong, but they said to apply a thick coat of crackle paint. For reasons unknown to me, the crackle paint cracked all right, and lifted the ink off the icon image with it. In areas where I used little paint, the cracking is really pretty.  That would be one or two of the cards.  The rest cracked way too much, varying from a little too much to "I can rub the entire image off the card" too much.  Lesson learned: Use crackle paint sparingly, at least over a printed image.  I need further experimentation to see just how it works with various media.

I intended to varnish the cards anyway to protect them, but this morning it became a "glue the 'paint chips' back on" exercise. After two coats of varnish, gluing chips back on where necessary and possible, I think I have 9 finished cards.  I won't say they're all good.  Far from it!  But they're passable, if somewhat delicate.
Byzantine Retro ATC card detail

Phinished Phiberwork Projects
I've finished quite a few knitting projects, and one crochet project that I'm very happy about.  I've hated crochet for years.  It makes my hands sore and my gauge is a nightmare.  Working at the shop, however, has been a wonderful thing.  Crochet designer, Linda Permann works there.  Although we usually trade days - I'm there when she isn't - she and I found ourselves working together for a week.  During that week, not only did she take the time to correct many of my mistakes, she helped me find patterns and yarns.  In some ways, I now like crocheting better than knitting.  I can design as I go more easily in crocheting than knitting.  No, I'm not abandoning knitting, nor can I ever see myself doing so, but I'm getting to really like crocheting.  So without further ado, here is my first post-Linda project, the Cardiff Cowl from Lion Brand Yarns.

Cardiff Cowl Detail
The pattern is reasonably easy, very pretty and only took one skein of Mirasol Nuna.  I bought two skeins, thinking I'd need both.  The cowl came in a few yards under a single skein.  I decided to make a knitted cowl from the second skein.  George found me a lovely feather-and-fan (Old Shale, Print o' the Wave) and cabled pattern, so that's what I used.  And here it is!

Feather Cabled Cowl

And fresh from the needles of a girl who hates doing colorwork, here are two versions of the Argyle hat from Crystal Palace yarns.  Both are made with a solid color of Merino 5 and a handpaint in Mochi Plus.  The first is my hat with the variegated on cream.

My Argyle hat

The second is a more intense rainbow yarn against black.  Honestly, I like this one even better than the first one.  However, I promised this hat to George and he won't give it back!

George's Argyle Hat

More Projects??

But I have to start more socks, don't I?? I think I only have five pairs going just now. Here are the latest, a simple sock made to show off the Footprints yarns I have. The set includes handpaint yarn for the body of the sock and a smaller amount of a coordinating tonal yarn for the toes and heels. I'm hoping I'll have enought for the cuff at the top of the sock. I'm using the Upstream master pattern from Cat Bordhi's New Pathways book.

And last, but not least, I've started a pair of fingerless mitts for George.  These will have detachable covers for his fingers so he can choose whether to have more dexterity, but colder fingers or warm fingers and less dexterity.  I just cast these on yesterday, so they're not far along yet.

George's Fingerless Mitts
It's been a busy time! Of course, there's much more going on, but this is a start.  One of these days, I'll get this blogging thing working better and post less in one post, but more frequent posts.  Someday...