Thursday, April 25, 2013

Of mice and men

People often say things to me like 'you are so clever', and 'you have such wonderful ideas', and 'you make it look so easy'.  I can't take it seriously.  This is why.

I have just spent ten hours trying to make a miniature mechanical toy.  I have a desk full of eraser shavings, metal scraps, and one seriously scorched mouse and a burnt polymer cheese to show for my efforts. 
Some days are like that.  Taking something from an idea to a product that works can mean a lot of head scratching and dead ends.
Then, just as I was about to nibble on eraser shavings and chew wires, the man came home.  He took one look at my work table, twisted a piece of wire and started talking about tolerance and play.  Not in the context of human relationships.  Remember he's an engineer...
I spent hours trying one type of fabric and another to give the gears more grip.  He asks, what about sand paper?  I spent hours trying to align every axle and gear, and get them centred.  He says, offsetting the gears will give better torsion.   Whatever that is, but I can see what he means.
So, now I have some new avenues to explore.  At this late hour I'm going to start over.   When I go to bed I will dream of dancing mice.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Singer Sewing Machine, and the Sinister Sister

I feel sorry for people who have to make do with a plastic sewing machine, I really do.  My favourite sewing machines are Singer, the old black cast metal hand operated ones.  Apart from the fact that they will stitch through almost anything without complaining, and will allow the most meticulous and accurate stitches, they look lovely when standing around, and can be accessorized and dressed up.

A while ago my friend Liz, the antique doll restorer, sent me this Singer Sewing machine in the mail.  It arrived safe, can you believe it, but it must have put the postman's back out!
The sewing machine belonged to Liz's mother, who received it new when she was a young lass.  The date of manufacture for the machine is 1884.  If you have a Singer Sewing machine, and would like to know when and where it was manufactured, all the information is available on the Singer website, just key in the machine's serial number. 
Sadly, when the sewing machine came to me it was in poor condition due to years of disuse.  It had been left standing in a damp place and it was rusting badly and the veneer on the case was lifting off.  Probably the worst damage was to the bottom part of the box, all the glue in the seams had come undone and it was falling to pieces.  I delivered the machine to our Singer agents, who spent a lot of time de-rusting it and servicing the machine.  They drew the line at the carpentry that needed to be done though.  I decided that I could do that part myself, and that is just what I did.  It took a day of patient sanding, and lots of glue and clamps, but finally I had it oiled and gleaming again, as good as it will ever get. 
After all that effort I decided that the machine deserved a little something to make it special.  The ladies who used these hand machines usually attached a band of felt around the arm of the machine so that they had somewhere to stick their pins.  From more than a century of sticking pins in the same place, this machine has had all its paint worn off. 
So I made it a new pin cushion to cover the spot.  Mine is made of felt, vintage buttons, and scraps of braid.  The doll head belongs to an antique dolls house doll, sadly the rest of her was lost.  My pin cushion is both functional and fun.  I’m calling her the Singer Sinister Sewing Sister.  Now all I have to do is find time to sew up a few of my little projects on the sewing machine.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dates for your Diary

One problem I never have when waking up in the morning, is wondering what to do today.   It is a privilege to live a life dedicated to creative endeavours.  There is also the adventure and challenge of dealing with daily life, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.  Just yesterday the dogs treed a troupe of monkeys in one of the big bush willows behind the pond.  I spent quite some time out there admiring the monkeys and wishing I could understand the comical curses and sign language they were hurling at the dogs.  Then I distracted the dogs with a snack and a walk so the monkeys could make a safe escape.   It was a few hours till I got back to work.  All that time I was supposed to be at my sewing table but what the heck, we only get to live this one life!

You will find a small Newsletter with Sew Along dates and Saturday Workshops for the second quarter of 2013 as a PDF HERE

We also have an all day bear making workshop on the first Saturday of every month.  This is great for beginner bear makers, and for those who want to spend a stretch of time with their works in progress.  

It would be lovely if you join us at Sew Along, or one of the Saturday workshops.

Not on the calendar, but happening soon:

Saturday 27 April 9am till 12.30pm 
Polymer clay play.  This is not a workshop.  I am busy making dolls house food and clay pins at the moment.  You can copy what I am doing, pick a project from a book or magazine, or just bring your clay and make whatever you feel like.  I will be available to answer questions and to assist if you get stuck.  This month the studio has acquired a dedicated clay oven, what luxury!  I’ve tried it out and it is working beautifully.  I’m eager for you to help me put it to good use :-)  Cost R 55.

Saturday 27 April 13.30pm till 16.30pm
Sew Along.  Bring any project that you are working on, bears, dolls, beading, crochet, whatever, and sew along with us. I will be available to answer questions and to assist if you get stuck. We will also have a sort discussion about pandas, and I will show you how to alter a one-colour bear to incorporate two or more colours.  Cost R 55.

Wednesday 1 May 9am till 12.00pm  and 13.00pm till 16.00pm
Polymer clay play.  This is not a workshop.  I am busy making dolls house food and clay pins at the moment.  You can copy what I am doing, pick a project from a book or magazine, or just bring your clay and make whatever you feel like.  I will be available to answer questions and to assist if you get stuck.  This month the studio has acquired a dedicated clay oven, what luxury!  I’ve tried it out and it is working beautifully.  I’m eager for you to help me put it to good use :-)  Cost R 55 per session.  There will be tea and biscuits all day long.  You are welcome to stay for the day, just bring your own snack for lunch.

Coming in June
A mohair teddy with needle felted face and paw pad details.  This is going to be an advanced workshop, and will incorporate many techniques apart from needle felting.  It will be a full day Saturday workshop, or complete the bear in two sessions on a weekday.  If you are interested and would like to put your name down for a place already, you can let me know.  More details and pictures available soon. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

A gift of time

Around 5am every day, I check my email. 
This morning I opened my mailbox to discover that I have received a precious gift.  No, I didn't win a few million in the Brazilian lotto, and my hereto unknown uncle Abdul didn't die and leave me millions in an undisclosed bank account.
The gift is TIME.   Just as unlikely as the other two you say?  Not at all.  You see, the reason I get up to answer email so early is that a big part of my business is e-commerce.  I sell downloadable patterns in my Etsy shop, I teach online classes, I write and I edit the stuff other people write.  In the last few years, the internet has indeed become a net that contracts the globe, and brings people together across vast distances and time zones.  It has also made people crave instant gratification.  A growing portion of my time every day is spent corresponding with customers, and sending out ePatterns.  My greatest worry is keeping my internet connection live wherever I am, and replying to emails timeously so that I don't lose sales.  
Today Etsy announced that they have brought their automatic download facility online.  In future when someone buys a pattern or tutorial in my Etsy shop, Etsy will automatically and immediately on payment forward a download link to the PDF files on my behalf.  This means that I will SAVE TIME every day. 
What am I going to do with all that time?  Sleep late every morning?  Ha-ha, hard working business owners don't do that.  I'm going to do what I used to do before computers ruled my life.  Get up at 5am and do something creative and physical with my hands for an hour or two.  Something to look forward to!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pin Cushion Bears

Recently Cathy A paid the studio a visit.  It was lovely to get in touch and catch up on the news.   She is the former owner of the Beary Important Shoppe, a founder of the Bearfanatix club and annual teddy bear competition, and a teddy bear maker, designer, and teacher of note.
Although Cathy promised never to stop making bears, after closing her shop her new life swallowed her up and we hardly ever saw her. 
A pin cushion sewing competition has prompted Cathy to get back to bear making, and here are the results of her endeavour.
Sabine is a wood elf with a tree stump pin cushion.  You will find her pattern in my Etsy shop.

Muffy is a prim little lady, standing on a pin cushion.  You will find her pattern in my Etsy shop.

Well done, Cathy!  It is lovely to have you back.

You are my blessing

Some days life throws more challenges at me than I know how to juggle.  Sometimes there are many days like that in a row...
By the end of last week as I was preparing for the weekend's teddy bear workshop, I had that feeling that you get when you have to write an exam and you fear that you haven't studied enough.  It feels a little like stage fright too.  I am shy person and I lack self confidence.  I think not many people realize this.  Sometimes my customers intimidate me.  Even after all these years I fear that I will stand in a group of students and not know what to say.

Then dawn broke last Saturday and all twelve the ladies who were booked for the workshop turned up on time. Some ladies I knew already, and a few were new.   They were enthusiastic about the bears that they were going to work on.  Everyone had a little of their life story to share, and everyone was kind to everyone else in class.  The two complete beginners were receptive and quick to pick up on techniques.  The advanced students waited patiently for their turn to have my attention. 

At the end of the day when the ladies left, I felt that I was walking away from an enchanted circle. 

If you didn't already guess, you, my students, are my blessing.  Thank you for giving me a day where I felt that I was doing good, and good at doing it.  I strive with every workshop to let you leave feeling that way too. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to make a Fairy Basket from an Acorn Cup

I’m slouched behind my computer, supposed to be concentrating on  work.  But somehow my mind only wants to wander today…  It is autumn in the Southern hemisphere, and staring through my studio window, I see that the trees are loaded with acorns.  Which makes me think of squirrels and hoarding things for winter.  Which makes me wonder what the fairies are harvesting right now?  And what are they using to bring the harvest home in?  Which brings me back to acorns.  Acorn cups specifically.  Wouldn’t an acorn cup make just the perfect gathering basket for a fairy?  So, let’s drop what we are doing and go help the fairies make some baskets to bring in the harvest!

Here is what you will need:
Acorn cups, duh, can’t do anything without those.
Something to make a handle with.  Materials that would work well—a platted pine needle, a pliable twig, a snip of wire, a sprig of grass, a scrap of ribbon or string.
If you want your basket to stand, you will need to sand the bottom flat, or glue a small button, metal washer or a flattened ball of polymer clay to the base.
Line the basket to cushion a fragile load.  Use materials that a fairy would typically choose—moss, tiny feathers, a scrap of lace or fabric, cat hair. Huh?  Just checking to see if you are still paying attention :-)

Constructing the basket:
Start by making the base of the acorn cap flat so that it can stand.  You can do this by rubbing the base over sandpaper, or by gluing a small button, metal washer or flattened ball of baked polymer clay to the base.

If you prefer a more finished and durable look, varnish your acorn cup.
Glue the handle to the sides of the acorn cup.  My handles are made from wire, platted pine needles, twisted polymer clay, ribbon and rope.  If you are using wire or rope, you could drill two small holes to put the ends of the handle through the acorn cup instead of gluing it.  I made a polymer clay grip for the wire handle.

Advice when platting pine needles:
These make the most natural looking basket handles, but they require a bit of patience to assemble.  I like to use dry pine needles, because of the natural brown colour.  Soak the pine needles in water for a few hours before starting, this will make them pliable and less prone to breaking.
Tape the end of the pine needle to your work surface with masking tape, and put a pin through it to stop it from pulling out.  Carefully and tightly plat the pine needle.  Rub over the platted length after every few twists to make sure that it is lying flat.  When you get to the end, tape the needles down with a second piece of masking tape, and leave in position to dry. 
I find it easier to glue one end of the basket handle to the acorn cup and let it dry, then cut to length and glue the other end.

Line the basket:
I used a variety of linings—moss in the wire handle basket, feathers in the baskets with pine needle handles, lace with the ribbon handle, and knitting wool fluff to resemble raffia and moss in the basket with rope handle and basket with polymer clay handle.
As you can see, some baskets have a more naturalistic look, and others are more colourful. 

Tip for lining material:
Some wool shops have an amazing variety of chenille and boucle knitting wool.  It can be unravelled or snipped into tiny pieces to make moss and raffia to line your acorn baskets.  Chenille sticks (pipe cleaner) also come in a variety of colours.  Use small sharp scissors to cut off the fluff and use it to line your baskets.
Fill the baskets with goodies and drop off at the Fairy Depot.  Here are some ideas to get you started.

You can download this tutorial as a PDF HERE

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rowena Rabbit

I just received this colourful picture from Jan in the US.  Easter bunnies for her grand children.  Aren't they great?
The bunnies were made from the Rowena Rabbit pattern, which you will find in my Etsy shop.