Thursday, 23 June 2016

Location and creating

I recently listened to a conversation between Kate O'Sullivan and Dan Thompson on the A Playful Day podcast. As I was listening to their discussion about connecting your art to the place where you live, I thought about how my own making and creating relates to my location. At first I thought it wasn't relevant. I’m not really involved in any local craft groups, although I’m aware of them: Eyeing the knit and natter group in the library on Wednesday afternoons, but thinking it wouldn’t really work with a toddler in tow; Talking to members of the local quilting group and mentioning I design fabric, but not taking it any further than that; Signing up for a newsletter from my local yarn shop, but not getting involved. I’ve lived in Sutton, in the south of London, for almost three years now, and while I would say I’ve now settled and enjoy living here, it definitely feels like a temporary home and not my „real“ home.

As I thought a bit more about the topic, however, I realised that, actually, location plays a big role in my fabric design. If you know me, you know that the question „where do you come from?“ brings a kind of tired smile to my face, and depending on how I feel, or how interested I think you are, you’ll get a simple or a more complicated answer. I’ve moved more than 70 times during my life, and lived on three continents, and in answer to the question „where do you come from?“ I could answer either Papua New Guinea, Canada, The Netherlands, Germany, or more recently, Sutton, in the UK. These locations, or more the mix of locations, understandably plays a huge part in defining who I am, and as I thought about it, I realised this does come out in the designs I create. Perhaps for me the answer to how being an artist is relevant to where I live is more about using my art to connect myself to the different places I call home - turning memories into tangible usable objects.

different designs inspired by places I've lived

Let me give some examples (click on the photos to see the whole design in my shop).

When I moved to Sutton, England from Heidelberg, Germany, I felt lost and depressed and struggled to come to terms with this new place to call home. At the time I spent months working on a design about Heidelberg, working from photo’s I had taken of my neighbourhood there. This was one of the first designs I made where I started to feel like I could almost get it to look how I saw it in my head. I spent hours poring over the lines, tweaking, adding details, and mentally walking around „my“ neighbourhood. Each building in this design has a memory for me, of many many walks past the river, through the streets to work and uni, and memories of ice cream and coffee, people I spent time with and conversations I had. Working on the design was therapeutic and helped me to slowly say goodbye to Heidelberg while at the same time creating something new that I could keep with me.

fabric designs featuring Heidelberg

When my grandmother died two years ago, I started working on a series of fabric designs all centred around her garden. The collection, called grandma’s garden, shows fruit and vegetables from her garden, each of which brings up a picture in my mind of long ago summer days spent there, picking rhubarb and eating it with a palm full of sugar, learning to pick potato beetles off the plants with my grandma, riding my bike past her garden and stopping to pick some fresh raspberries, going down to her cellar for a glass jar of preserves for supper. I couldn’t go to my grandma’s funeral, because I was half way across the world with a one-month old baby, but working on these designs brought me close to her and created something that makes me smile when I see it and remember being with her in her beloved garden.

fabric design featuring my grandmother's garden

I haven’t (yet) made many fabric designs about Papua New Guinea, although I think that will come. One I did make though, was to celebrate two other grandmother’s and their gardens. This design conjures up memories of a very different kind of garden, on an island in the tropical heat, cutting a length of sugar cane to munch on on the way home, gathering firewood or digging up some sweet potatoes for supper.

fabric designs featuring Papua New Guinea

Location doesn’t just play a role in my fabric design. I recently took part in a challenge on instagram, where I learned how to design and write knitting patterns. This was an incredibly fun challenge run by Francoise Danoy of aroha knits. We started the design process with a mood board of photos, and while I noticed many of the other participants used generic pictures to convey an idea for a design, I wanted to create my design around a real location, a real memory of a place that was important to me. I used photos from a recent holiday at the beach in Zeeland, the Netherlands, a place I also went to as a child. The resulting two pieces of knitting capture that mood and feeling for me, and now I can dress my daughter in a little cardigan that for me holds the location of the North Sea beach in Zeeland.

knit design inspired by the north sea

Creating all of these designs for fabric, or in my experiments with knit design, means that I can make objects to use on a day-to-day basis that are present with me where I am now, while reminding me of other places where I cannot be right now but that still mean a lot to me. For me, this is how I combine my location with my creating - translating memories and places into design.

Friday, 3 June 2016

a mini felt tea cup tutorial

My daughter has started serving me tea in little tea cups. Since she doesn't have any real cups she uses duplo blocks. Yesterday I had my box of felt out and decided it was time for some "real" tea cups. 

a mini tutorial on how to sew a felt tea cup

Here is a mini tutorial of how I made them.

learn how to sew a tiny felt tea cup

Step 1: Draw a tea cup shape, cut it out and use it as a template to cut out four felt tea cups, two in white and two in the colour you want for the outside of the cup.

Step 2: Decide on how you want to decorate the tea cup, cut out felt embellishments and choose embroidery floss colours.

Step 3: Embroider a design on one of the outside tea cups. I had an idea in mind but find it easier to decide on the design as I embroider, adding leaves and beads as I go, and little embellishments until if feels balanced.

Step 4: Using blanket stitch, first stitch the tops of the tea cups together, so that you have two pieces with white on the inside and green on the outside, then continue blanket stitching around the rest of the tea cup, this time stitching all four layers together. This will give you a tea cup that is open at the top. 

I wanted my tea cup to be able to lie flat, but if you want it to stand up, try adding an oval at the base.

Make a few and have a tea party!

ps. do you like this tutorial? See more of my tutorials here

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Introducing Honey Badger

Last week I spent all my free time pattern drafting, cutting, revising and sewing. When I get inspired by a project I often feel like I'm riding a wave of creativity and, knowing that it will eventually ebb, I tend to put all my thoughts into the one thing. I'm very happy with the final product, which is a stuffed animal called Honey Badger.

The idea to make honey badger came from a Facebook group I'm in for softie designers - with a challenge to create a stuffed animal from a bandana. I had two bandanas sitting in a back drawer. I've often looked at them when I sort through my clothes and have thought - I don't ever wear these, should I get rid of them? But both of them were gifts from special people, one from my mother and one from my grandma, so I didn't want to throw them out. This challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to make them into something I would actually use.

I started the design process by sketching badgers, thinking about what elements of a badger I wanted to use and trying to find an overall cohesive look for the stuffed animal, with preliminary thoughts about clothes, facial expression etc. Because I already knew what fabric I would be using, I also thought about what parts of the fabric I would use where, to create the light and dark markings of a badger. The basic shape of the animal was based on an earlier stuffed animal I created, the fox.

First I sewed a prototype. In order to get my head around sewing a 3D shape, I needed to actually try it out. Although the body is based on my fox, I made changes to the shape of the head, neck and stomach area, which meant more pattern pieces and experimenting with how changing the shape of a pattern piece would affect the shape of the badger. 
I'm glad I made a prototype. It helped me figure out the optimal spot for the ear placement (I changed and lengthened a seam so that the ear could be placed along a seam), and it helped me visualise how a different shaped head gusset would change the shape of the face. The prototype's face was too flat, so I adjusted the pattern pieces accordingly.

This is the fabric I used for the honey badger. The bandana on the left is from The Netherlands, I got it from my mother years ago. The bandana on the right is from Canada, my grandma gave it to me about 15 years ago. Here I laid out all the pattern pieces on the fabric to check how much fabric I would need. I ended up making the final honey badger twice as big as a the prototype.

Here the honey badger is starting to come together. I got a bit carried away in the meantime, knitting a little scarf for the prototype badger, and then a sweater. (I adapted the sweater pattern and made another little cardigan, but that is material for a different post!)

After the badger was all sewn up and stuffed, I sewed on the facial features, embroidering eyes, a nose and mouth and adding some whiskers. Next I needed some clothes. There was still quite a bit of fabric left from my two bandanas, so I planned a little trench coat and a dress. The pattern of the dress started out as a sketch but evolved as I went along and figured out what worked well and what was too hard at this tiny scale.

And finally, here is the finished badger with her coat and dress!

This is where I ran out of steam, but I still have dreams and plans for the badger. I took detailed photos of the process and documented all the sewing steps. I also kept and adapted the patterns for the clothes and started designing more. My plan is to adapt this into a cut and sew pattern to sell in my spoonflower shop, and create a detailed photo tutorial to go with the fabric (You can see the cut and sew fox I have for sale here). I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and once again realised how much you learn through actually doing something. 

ps. here's a final photo of the honey badger with it's prototype. My daughter has adopted both, calling them mama and baby honey badger. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

sew a doll's dress from an old t-shirt

 doll dress sewing tutorial
We recently had a doll visiting for a few days, and as a thank you to the owner, a four-year-old girl who loves blue at the moment, I decided to sew a quick dress for the doll.

I've created slopers for making doll's clothes before, and its a simple way to create a pattern and ensure a good fit. With a sloper made for the body and the sleeve, I created a pattern from some scrap paper. To make the pattern, just add a bit of ease along the side, and add a bit of flare to the skirt pattern. Since I'm using jersey for the dress, there's a lot of give and forgiveness in the fabric.

I had a pile of old clothes ready to go to the charity shop and used this t-shirt to make the dress. A t-shirt is perfect for this pattern, since you can use the existing neckline and hem, and it was the right size for this doll.

Cut out the front and back of the dress, using the existing neckline of the t-shirt.

Use the hem of the t-shirt sleeve as the hem of the dress sleeve. As you can see on the left, the pattern for the arm is longer than the sleeve. If you use a long-sleeved t-shirt you could make a long-sleeved dress.

Sewing steps (not all pictured here):

1. Sew the shoulder seams. Check that the doll's head fits through the neck hole.
2. Sew the pockets onto the front of the dress. I first attached the pockets by hand before sewing them on with the machine, with stretchy jersey this means a lot less puckers!
3. Sew the sleeves onto the body.
4. Sew the side and under-arm seams in one go.
5. Sew the hem. I did a blind hem, but you can do any kind of hem.

Put the dress on the doll, and enjoy! You can add anything to this basic pattern, I added pockets, you could do contrasting pockets, add a gathered waist, use the pattern to make a t-shirt... 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

tea towel calendars and a 2 for 1 sale

Every year spoonflower holds a tea towel calendar contest at the end of November. These calendars are designed to fit on a fat quarter of linen-cotton canvas. This year my design features sweet peas. I worked on the winding trellises of sweet pea flowers during a holiday in Germany a few months ago and enjoyed creating a seamless repeat. I love working with a scanner and a printer which I don't have at home, it means I can work on multiple versions of the design by hand, rather than doing most of the touch-up and fine-tuning on the computer.
I shared a photo of the process on instagram a while back:

While I'm still tweaking the repeating pattern, I decided to use this for a calendar, since the trellis shape was perfect to hold twelve months.
Here's the final design, which is for sale now in my shop:

A close-up photo of the colours printed on fabric:

I also finally updated my 2015 blackberry calendar for 2016. This calendar is available here.

Finally, spoonflower is having a 2 for 1 sale on all fat quarters, so you can either get both calendars for the price of one or choose any other fabric or type of fabric in my shop!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

fabric blocks tutorial

A few months ago on instagram I posted a picture of some fabric covered blocks I made for my daughter. Here is a picture tutorial of how I made the blocks. I used an old greengate placemat that I had kept, hoping I could make something with the beautiful matching fabric. And the blocks I've actually had since I was 13, dragging them across various continents in the hope that some day I would get around to covering them! I made ten blocks.

  • Prepare the fabric
  • Measure your foam blocks and make a template - I made mine 1/4 inch wider than the blocks on all sides
  • cut out squares of fabric

  • Sew six squares together in a cross shape, starting and ending the seams 1/4 inch in from the edge of the fabric
  • Sew Y-seams so that you have a little cube, leaving one edge open for turning

  • Trim the corners of the fabric, turn the cube and poke out the corners
  • Stuff with the cube and close the last seam by hand

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

custom shower curtain

My sister asked me to design a shower curtain for her, she chose a design I already had (these purple hydrangeas) and said she'd like them in red. I sell shower curtains in my society6 shop, so I changed the colours, ran them by her, changed them some more, created a humongous file (the shower curtain measures 71x74 inches, so the file is pretty big!) and just uploaded it to my shop.

This week (until October 11th) I'm offering free worldwide shipping on all my products in my society6 shop, just follow this link! 
I can't wait to see how the shower curtain looks in her bathroom, she's moving into a new apartment next month.