Gathering inspiration, ideas, materials, tools, information; Gathering together with friends, new and old; and Making things beautiful, delicious, healthy, sustainable, and useful ~ Gather & Make.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Alabama Chanin class at Art & Soul~

Happy dance, huge smile, swell of gratitude, these are just a smidgeon of emotions pinging around after Sundays' wonderful class. It always amazes me how quickly a room full of women can come together and share and laugh. Glenny at Art & Soul Retreats does such an excellent job of facilitating the perfect environment for any creative type to gather and enjoy. Thank you, Glenny.

We spent the day exploring all things Alabama Chanin, from the basics to the elaborate in hand stitching. Everyone came away with a solid understanding of how they can make their own heirloom pieces. I was promised photos of completed projects; and I can't wait to see them! I only wish I had more time to spend with each and every one of these talented ladies, to get to know them better.

A special thank you to Kristina for her lovely picture memorabilia that she sent to me after the class. It's the perfect reminder of a wonderful day.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Art & Soul meet and greet~

Sunday was a happy whirlwind of a day. I drove the three and a half hours to Portland. What a beautiful drive: over snowy mountain passes; long forested expansive views; picturesque river weaving its way to and fro along the road. The sun playing hide and seek would light up the water to that pale, icy, Alpine blue, sparkling diamonds along the surface, then disappear and plunge it into inky, mysterious darkness. The drop in elevation exchanges pine trees and craggy mountains for ferns and lichen covered trees. Miniature waterfalls explode suddenly from the sides of the cliffs. Every twist and turn brings a new vantage point and awe inspiring scene. Lucky me, the roads were clear and I could do nothing but enjoy the drive and drink it all in.

I arrived at the Sheraton a little early, and was warmly welcomed by Marie. I set up next to Susan Schenk who makes amazing paper collages. Her student samples from her pet collage class showed the striking resemblance of their pet portraits! Susan was so cheerful, and took me under her wing as a new instructor, introducing me around and making me feel right at home.

The time flew by as ladies asked questions and perused my sample books. Many had no idea what Alabama Chanin was, and it was a treat to introduce many to a whole new medium of making. Others had already been captivated and were Alabama Chanin enthusiasts, to say the least! I was thrilled to see one woman wearing her Alabama Chanin coat she made from the Craftsy class. It was gorgeous! She did an excellent job and wore it beautifully.

I brought mini-samplers and supplies for a demo, and about a dozen of us gathered together and began to sew. There was as much talking and laughter as there was stitching! I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and truly hope that my new friends will take up the needle and thread and make their own Alabama Chanin projects.

All too soon the evening ended, and I had to say au revoir until next weekend, when I have my Hand Stitching and Embellishing class on Sunday. I am so excited and looking forward to another wonderful day of camaraderie, teaching, and making.

Monday, February 16, 2015

One of  my favorite things about visiting the Alabama Chanin Factory in Florence, Alabama was being able to try on all (and I mean ALL) of their gorgeous styles and sizes of clothing. I have to say their sizing chart is spot on, and it has never steered me wrong. But in our ready-made world of shopping, there is something rather unnerving about sewing for weeks or months without really knowing whether the finished item will truly fit.

While I'm not able to carry a whole store around with me to my classes, I wanted to be able to offer just a slice of my experience to my students. The corset is probably the most popular and timeless item from the Alabama Chanin collection, so I've been stitching up a "set" of corsets, sizes small through extra large, for my students to try on at my classes. I'm hoping that seeing the flattering fit and feeling the quality of organic cotton will afford my students the confidence to have a go at stitching up their own wardrobe staple.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Cotton bolls and one lone plant ~

I grew up in a farming community in California. In fact, I lived on a ranch in the middle of cherry orchards for a time. But I had never seen a cotton plant until a few years ago on my first trip to Alabama. I knew that cotton was an integral part of southern history, but I personally wasn't very familiar with this fluffy, white plant and all that it entailed. Lucky for me, during my first class at the Factory of Alabama Chanin, Natalie Chanin introduced us all to the world of cotton, from its raw, microscopic form, through production, and how it related to the beautiful garments that were created at her company.

Frankly, I was enchanted with those soft cotton bolls. Feeling their cushy fibers in my fingers really connected me to this plant, and helped me understand just how important this bit of fluff really was.

When I decided to become an Alabama Chanin sewing instructor, I wanted to get enough cotton bolls to share with all my students. I knew not a lot of people from the Pacific Northwest had ever seen, let alone felt a raw cotton boll. I wanted my students to "feel" the connection like I had that first time I held one.

Recently, I went to visit my parents in Arizona. We were talking about farming there, and it hit me, perhaps Arizona was another cotton farming area. Was it so? Yes, they raised cotton in Arizona! In fact, there was a cotton gin just a few miles down the road from where I was staying. In the car we hopped, and we drove straight over there. The ladies in the reception area were so nice, but they had no cotton bolls left. The season was finished; the fields picked; the cotton ginned; and all that was left were drifts of white fluff along the edges of the cotton fields. Though one woman added, as an aside, that she had just seen a plant, one lone cotton plant, all by itself, somewhere, but she couldn't remember for the life of her where she had seen it.

Wouldn't you know it, but the very next day, as we were heading out of town, along the side of the road, across the highway from the barren cotton fields, amid some tiny drifts of forgotten fluff, there stood a lone cotton plant! Out we jumped, and in the dessert, in the middle of nowhere, we harvested some cotton. I packed it up and shipped it home.

I will be so happy to share this unanticipated boon with my students at Art & Soul in March. I hope they enjoy it as much as I do.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Doggy wear ~ Alabama Chanin style

My daughter surprised us recently with the news of our first "Grand Dogger" (thank you, Cheryl, for this cute and fitting title). This beautiful, fluffy, white Samoyed immediately found a place in our hearts with her sweet nature and smiley face. My daughter had a bandanna for her to wear, and when she put it on, she pranced about and posed for just a moment with her new adornment. We thought it might be fun to make a few more neck scarves for Luna to wear, and so I set about gathering fabrics and ideas for her new "wardrobe".

Beings that it was Christmastime, she definitely needed something for the season. The idea of the ugly Christmas sweater struck, something red and green, sparkly, and just a tad over the top. I had some scrap red jersey. Jersey meant no need to worry about edges and fraying ~ easy! I cut a triangular shape, then stenciled in white fabric paint the reindeer and snowflakes. I cut two-inch slits, keeping them at least 1/2" in from the edge, all the way around the two shortest sides. I wove a thick, green satin ribbon through the slits. With sparkly gold thread I stitched a sequin and bead onto each segment of the woven portion to secure the ribbon and dress things up a bit. A girl can always use a little sparkle and this was supposed to resemble the ugly Christmas sweater where more was merrier. I left the tails from the knots out as it reminded me tinsel, and added a tiny plaid bow. I wish I had a picture of Luna in it. The red really set off her white coat, and the green ribbon hung down just a bit like the ties on a little sailor suit. She looked like a true Christmas dog.

The Ugly Christmas sweater doggy scarf.

Next, I started on the Alabama Chanin scarf. I cut out my triangle shapes from green and blue fabrics. My green scrap was a bit smallish, thus the difference in size. I do like the edging effect, though. Next I used the Bloomers stencil and with a silver Sharpie traced the stenciled shapes onto the green fabric. The Alabama Stitch book comes with a placement Bloomers stencil included.

Alabama Chanin styled scarf before stitching.

I pinned the green fabric onto the blue fabric. Then with a double strand of gray button craft thread, I hand-stitched just outside of the Sharpie line. I used a running stitch and knotted off after each element. Using the reverse applique method from the Alabama Chanin books, I snipped off the top layer, just 1/8" inside each element. The lime green fabric was jersey, so no need to worry about fraying; but my blue fabric was woven, and thus subject to coming apart. My house was full of kids and Christmas, and rather than trying to pull out my sewing machine and iron with ironing board and find room for them, I opted to use Fray Check on the woven raw edges.

This was a super quick and easy project. I finished it in an evening, while watching a movie with my kids.

I'm sure I'll be looking at my scrap fabric a little differently now, dreaming up more pretty scarves for our Luna girl to don.

Here's a picture of my daughter and Luna skijoring.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Mr. Rat ~ a crafting adventure of the felting type

My kids are home for the Holidays (Love it!), and we've all been rounding up presents; doing a little shopping; searching for that perfect something for someone. Sometimes those "perfect" gifts can be quite elusive. Over the years, I've always enjoyed when one of my children would come to me asking for advice, or even asking if I could make something special for them to give as a gift. I relish the challenge of creating something tangible from a thought or idea, crafting into existence a gift that begins in imagination, but happily made, given and received with open hearts.

It was in this spirit that my son was bandying about the idea of a gift for a friend that likes rats. Now, rats are not one of the cute fuzzy critters that seem to be nestled happily on the display shelves for the Christmas shoppers to exclaim over. No, they are more in line with Halloween-themed decor, something macabre and rather nasty. But my son didn't want some leftover gray, plastic rat, nor the dead looking drowned type, nor the beady-eyed, yellow-toothed evil looking rat. He was reaching for something heartwarming and sweet, what a real pet rat would be.

I remembered that my friend had felted a very realistic rat. It was so realistic that the cat did not want to be parted from it! So I thought, a-ha, perhaps I might make such a felted, fuzzy creature as this. Immediately, I did what I almost always do when embarking on a new crafting adventure, I went to Pinterest, and began my research in earnest. My, my there were quite the array of felted rats ~ some sweet, some burly, some steampunk, some cartoonish, and some so very realistic. I started my "Felted Rat" board, and added pins left and right. I liked the size of this one, the eyes of that one, the color of another.

Then a quick search over at youtube to see if there were any tutorials. After viewing a few,  I happened upon Sara Rensulli, and I knew I had hit the motherload. Sara has been quite the busy felting wizard! She has made dozens of amazing (and I mean AMAZING) youtube videos on how to felt beautiful, tiny critters. Her videos are easy to watch, concise, filled with uncomplicated directions, with a generous flow of useful information. Her website is Sarafina Fiber Art. If you are thinking of felting a tiny animal, are looking for any felting supplies, please visit her site. Her ample selection of videos are organized and sequenced all together, in one tidy location. She sells supplies, and even complete kits with all the bits and bobs that you'll need to finish your project. It is so convenient having all pertinent and quality supplies in one place.

I, being a bit of a self-admitted craft hoarder, had many felting supplies on hand. I adore going to yarn stores. I look forward to our annual, local fiber festival with much craft-geekiness.

I watched Sara's video on armature and decided that I was going to attempt it. I'm glad I did. It took much less time that I thought it would, probably half an hour. I really like that Mr. Rat can now be put into different positions and poses, giving him quite the personality.

Armature of Mr. Rat

The actual felting and sculpting of Mr. Rat took many hours. There were a few tricky parts, but again, Sara's videos took me through the whole process step by step. It was almost as easy as doing a paint by numbers picture. I watched her mouse series, and tried to make the face a little more elongated and rat-like. For a first attempt, I am satisfied. A tiny bit ratty, but mostly cute.

Here is Mr. Rat au natural.

Mr. Rat's eyes lacked definition, so I rimmed the eyes with cream yarn. I think it helps a little bit.

Mr. Rat with rimmed eyes.

I liked the overall look of Mr. Rat, but I thought a few additions might be fun. My son's friend is a glass blower, so I made a tiny glass pendant of millefiori and copper wire, and hung it on leather. Mr. Rat is holding a glass stringer, and what is supposed to be a tiny torch (a little stretch of imagination here, please). Of course he needed safety glasses, so I made some in a funky, steampunk fashion. A tiny wool robe has finished his ensemble nicely. I'm sure my son's friend will add his own flourishes when Mr. Rat arrives at his new home.

Mr. Rat, the glass blower.

I had so much fun making Mr. Rat that I now can't wait to create more critters. My only problem is which one to choose? There are so many possibilities! Please visit Sara's website. I know you'll be enchanted by all her creations. And don't be afraid to give it a go. She makes it all very accessible. Thank you, Sara!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Oh, Christmas tree skirt, Oh, Christmas tree skirt ~

Growing up, my dad would methodically wrap each branch of the Christmas tree with lights; making sure that wires were hidden and each portion of the tree was equally as bright as the next. In the early days there were the large, colored bulbs; and then the tiny lights appeared, sometimes colored, sometimes all white, sometimes flashing, and sometimes all of the above (oh, my!) Then Mom and I would work our magic; carefully unwrapping cherished ornaments, each with its own life and story. To tinsel or not to tinsel would be a yearly topic of discussion. When we gave our collective nod of approval, a white sheet would be placed under the tree, tucking it up and swirling it around. It always reminded me of snow. What might this tree have looked like in its native forest, on Christmases past?

Over the years I've seen many a tree skirt; some folksy, some funny, some plain, some fancy, some akin to the "ugly Christmas sweater", some simple, and some beautifully embellished; but nothing could sway me from my traditional plain white sheet.

The last few years there have been fewer presents under the tree. My husband and I don't really exchange many gifts: These days we purchase things as we need them. My children are now adults, and prefer a single special item rather than a plethera of non-essentials. So the idea of a pretty, new tree skirt to provide a little more sparkle under the tree, in lieu of a multitude of glittery packages, hit me. I knew it must be all white, but with some sparkle, handmade, and larger than your average tree skirt. The Alabama Chanin style fit the bill perfectly!

I began searching for a 5 foot circular table cloth. I opted for a white one with a silvery sheen. This was my base or under layer, and also my template. The top layer is Alabama Chanin's beautiful organic cotton jersey in natural. I used about two yards. White, cream, and silver paint, thread, floss, and beads are my embellishments for my tree skirt.

I began this project last year, full-on into the Christmas season, so I knew it would be a work in progress. I warmed to the idea of pulling the tree skirt out each year just before the Holidays and adding a few more touches before tucking it under the tree. Fingers crossed that just about the time this skirt is finished, one of the kids will be putting up their own tree and needing a tree skirt. I could pass it on to them and start a new one, in hopes of finishing that one just in time for the other child to use for their own tree. It brings a quiet smile to my lips, just imagining what precious times lie ahead for my family.

This is how the tree skirt looked, when I pulled it out of the Christmas closet last month, my 2013 version.

Last year I spread the tablecloth on top of the jersey fabric, and using that as the pattern, cut the jersey to match. I then cut a plate sized hole in the middle of both layers, and formed an opening from the middle hole to the edge.

I wanted a multitude of snowflakes in different sizes and shapes. I found some smaller stencils, but a larger snowflake stencil proved elusive, so I made my own. I followed the directions in the  Alabama Chanin books.

Using Simply Spray fabric paint, I stenciled the tiny and large snowflakes, some in silver and some in white onto the top, cotton jersey layer. I used a medium sized snowflake cookie cutter as a template, outlining it with a silver Sharpie. I had a half dozen shapes and sizes of snowflakes randomly scattered about the skirt.

After the paint dried, I pinned the layers together, cotton jersey stenciled fabric on top of the table cloth. With a double strand of white button craft thread, I used the running stitch to stitch the two pieces together, all along the slit and center hole. I left the middle hole and the slit opening edges raw.

I finished the circular, outside edge off by rolling it up tightly onto itself, about two to three inches at a time, pinning the rolled sections as I worked my way around. I used white embroidery floss to whipstitch around the rolled area. It was a bit tricky and fiddly trying to take up the ease as I progressed around the skirt. There are some rough and tumble patches, but all in all, I'm very pleased with the effect. The rolled edge gives it a heavy, rustic, yet luxurious texture, as well as hides the raw edges and shows the sparkly underside.

I worked the larger snowflakes in a revere applique. With the running stitch, I used white button craft thread to outline the painted shape, and carefully snipped the painted, top layer, middle away.

I like how the sparkly tablecloth shows through.

Still a work in progress, this is my 2014 version.

This year I've added lots more beads! I've worked the medium sized snowflakes in a beaded reverse applique.

I saved these cutouts and appliqued them on, incorporating white beads and sequins.

Around the edges, I've sewn hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of Alabama eyelets in silver floss and white and dogwood button craft thread. Using the "random" beading method from the Alabama chanin books, I added sequins, chop and bugle beads in light gray, silver and white. Finally, I added ties along the slit to keep the tree skirt in place.

Next year I think I'll do some couching and add more beads and sequins, but who knows what might strike my fancy in 2015.

My husband has finished painstakingly wrapping each branch in Christmas tree lights, and I've carefully unwrapped each ornament and placed it on the tree, so it's time to put down my needle and thread for the 2014 version of our Christmas tree skirt, and place it in its new home. It's now wrapped, twirled and tucked under the tree. As I stand back to take it all in, I still wonder, what might this tree have looked like in its native forest, on Christmases past?

Supplies you'll need for your DIY Christmas tree skirt:
1 - 5 foot round table cloth
2 yards organic cotton jersey fabric
Embroidery floss in silver, white, and cream
Coats & Clark button craft thread in white, cream, and dogwood
Bugle and chop beads and sequins in silver, white, and light gray
Fabric paint in white, cream, and silver
Snowflake stencils
Fabric scissors
Embroidery scissors
Safety pins
Any of the Alabama Chanin books will give you further, complete instructions on many of the techniques used here.