Making Things Better
A while back, I posted about my little embroidery setup. But since I am a mama bird and constantly building new nests, I was looking for a setup where I could keep ALL my supplies. I kept everything in a photo box for awhile, but then I found this goofy little treasure chest at the craft store, on sale for 40% off. Yay! Trouble was, I thought it was pretty, um…UGLY.
So I asked Myla to help me with it, because she makes everything awesome. She immediately grabbed a marker, and started filling each panel with a new type of dragon. Because she’s awesome, and that’s a great idea.
I added some details and backgrounds to it, as she told me about each one…
And when I painted it and added the details of what kind of dragon each was, it made me smile super big, because HOW COOL?!?!
On one side, she filled the center panel with a SEWING DRAGON, with pin legs, button eyes, and yarn hair. There’s a skeleton dragon, nature dragon, and something called “zero knowledge dragon” at the bottom center (see how he doesn’t know his abc’s and thinks a dog is a cat and a cat is a dog? That’s because he has zero knowledge).
On one side panel (above), she drew a mushroom dragon, the other was a flower dragon and a tomato dragon.
On the flip side, the center panel features a flame dragon, a candy dragon, grass dragon, slime dragon, and a water dragon.
Because OF COURSE IT DOES.
So now that I have a lovely, magical treasure chest of crafts, let me show you the setup inside…
First off, I put a foam core panel in the top lid, to hold things (that was my nephew’s great idea), and then everything else fits inside.
In the little ram zipper bag (which features the spider ram art on Redbubble by me & Myla), I keep fabric, glue, clips, and everything I need to put together the little Dandelyne hoops I use to frame the tiny embroideries. Then I have another little thread folder (with a doxie-girl on the front by Mab Graves) that holds all my cotton threads, separated by colors.
And the little top panel in the box lid comes down to tuck away the frame hoops (which have 3 parts each, so I separated them all up), and a few specialty threads. But it’s tucked away up there so that it’s out of the way.
But the new thing (above) is a little box that holds my collection of silk embroidery floss! They’re a new find for me–softer and smoother, just for something a little more fancy. So the silk threads are in this little tackle box, so I don’t get them confused with my cotton threads.And that’s my setup so far! Do you have special setups for your hobbies?
How Art Saved My Sanity (and I didn’t even realize it)
Open on the beginning of a long story. The scene: There is darkness. Times are tough. For two years, there is turmoil upon our small family. Thankfully, no one is terribly ill or dying, but events have thrust themselves upon our happy little lives like a terrible monster. Not something between us, but something UPON us…we are worried. We are upset. We feel miserable and unsure of what will happen, and what the state of our future will be. We are in limbo for a long time like this….and there is NOTHING I can do about it.
Hopefully, the vague terms to protect my family’s privacy don’t distract from the telling of the tale. Because really, the details are not important. What is important is that for a very long time, my family was standing on a high cliff with very unstable cracks beneath it, like one of those cartoons where at any moment, the ground falls out from underneath them, leaving nothing but a poof of smoke behind.
I was helpless, and there was nothing I could do but maintain. I kept the house functioning the best I could. I tried to do fun things to get our minds off of the struggle. I put my energy into doing fun things with our daughter, so that she wouldn’t feel the worry that consumed the adults. I kept a brave face. I duct-taped our household together the best I could, and kept on going.
My husband found my stoicism odd. He worried that I was repressing my feelings. I didn’t THINK I was…I felt like I was doing okay, handling things the best I could.
I drew a lot in my sketchbook. Looking back, there were a lot of monsters, a lot of trying to make friends with monsters as they climbed all over you. I didn’t realize it at the time…
Then I found myself picking up a craft I hadn’t touched in ages: the embroideries. You know the ones? I did a post on them a couple of weeks ago…
They were fun because they were a challenge–what can I fit in the space of these tiny Dandelyne hoops? I found myself bringing them EVERYWHERE. Any free moment I had. Dropping Myla off at school, waiting for her teacher? Bring the ‘broideries. Five minutes in the doctor’s office waiting room? Bring the ‘broideries. On hold on the phone? Bring the ‘broideries. The kid is brushing her teeth? Bring the ‘broideries.
I found myself thinking, “Wow, Mica. You’re kind of sort of obsessed with these silly things…” I was doing one after another, not stopping to think, just making happy little things that made me smile, all in the space of a few inches. It was like my eyes couldn’t see past my hands. It was like my hands were going and going and going and I couldn’t stop them, and all I could do is sit back and watch them go. It was fun, but I also sensed something a little deeper behind it all.
And then a word floated to the surface of my mind, and kept popping up at odd times: Catharsis.
Although there was nothing deeply introspective about Chewbacca or Yoda or a bumblebee, I realized that controlling these tiny little spaces gave me a huge sort of relief. Like, actual PHYSICAL relief. It was like I could breathe. It was like life support that was helping my lungs keep moving. Like, okay–maybe I can’t control what’s going on around me, but I can control this tiny space and make something lovely in it. And it’s not overwhelming. And I consumed that feeling of accomplishment like a junk food junkie, after each one was finished.
It wasn’t so much WHAT I was doing (although that was an additional fun challenge, and still makes me smile), but the process.
I was savoring that feeling of accomplishment over and over and over again. Here were these silly little embroideries, but they were part of making me feel better. I couldn’t DO anything about our situation, so I gave myself the surrogate feeling of accomplishment in these tiny ‘broideries.
AND THEN WE GOT GOOD NEWS. Again, the details are not important. It could be anything. The important thing is, the news was good. Our family was better. Finally, after such a long struggle, we were through the other side, and the outcome was wonderful. We were off on a new adventure, but the ground was reinforced and stable. Things had turned out for the best, and we were going to be okay.
..And there was much rejoicing.
We could breathe again, we could laugh, and things were going to finally–FINALLY–be okay. I felt the obsessiveness sort of slide away, and while I’m still doing the embroideries for fun, I don’t feel that same furious obsession that I felt before.
Listen, it’s a strange thing. And it seems silly. But it’s funny how these things that you love have a way of taking over when you feel like you can’t deal. They go on autopilot; they say “hang on, I’ll take care of this,” and they get you through it. For me, it was art and these silly little embroideries, and I didn’t even realize it until it was over. I wish I could tell it “thank you.” The best I could do to show my gratitude was reward it with a couple of pairs of cute scissors…
If I were another person, it might be books. Or cooking. Or painting, or dancing, or filmmaking, or animation or whatever. What do you have that gets you through? What do you do that lets you breathe, that gives you that feeling of relief?
Whatever it is, nurture it, and with luck, it’ll get you past the storm, through the dark forest, across the cliffs–safe and sound, with only a few bumps and bruises to show for it.
All The Small Things
Last week, I posted about my new tiny obsessions–how they started out as simple fun and have evolved into a frantic therapy of sorts…a calming way to deal with the chaos around me.And they’ve been extremely therapeutic. I may not be able to control what’s going on, but I can do my best to control this tiny space…
(I’ve been protecting myself from custom orders–I’m just enjoying doing whatever suits my fancy, and it feels good. But as it’s the process more than the end result, I thought I’d gather whatever I have available and release them in a shop drop on April 2nd. So keep an eye out in my Etsy shop for that!)As I’ve had a wicked case o’ the ‘broideries lately, it’d be fairly unusual for the kid not to have noticed. So she asked me the other day, “hey mom, can I try?”
I had tried to teach her basic hand sewing before, but it didn’t hold her interest. And yet now, she was asking to join in on her own, because of my interest.
I started by letting her sketch something small with pens (a tiny drawing of Finn and Jake and Fiona and Cake from Adventure Time), and then she added some stitching to embellish it.It held her attention…and it ended up lovely! Sure, she made a few mistakes. Sure, I had to stop and help her a lot, despite being mentally tangled in my own work. And sure, she sometimes stitched over instead of under, meaning I had to completely undo and rethread her needle. But the look of pride when she’d finished? So worth it.She started a second piece, of Fern and Finn from Adventure Time…I didn’t give her a plastic kid’s safety needle, she’s learning on the real one. She’s using the same fabric I’d use, and the same hoops. Although I didn’t have very many of the nice tiny hoops to frame them in (as they were ordered from Dandelyne online), and although I hoard them greedily for myself, I went ahead and sacrificed a couple for her to use.
Most often, I have to be the “authority figure.” I’m MOM. I have distractions, I have things to do, worries to worry. In short, I’m busy. The time I take to craft and make art is like fuel to me–I have to fill it up to be able to do the day to day things I need to do. And a little crafting goes a long way.But giving her the respect I’d give any other artist is fundamental. Taking a few moments to really share with her the things I love to do makes her feel important. It makes her feel included.
And it makes her proud.A few days later, she made me a special mockingbird with my name on it. She was focused and careful and took her time. Maybe it’s not something she’d take further, but I think the fact that I didn’t just dismiss her helps build her confidence, and let’s her know she’s capable of doing a great many things.
I remember being a kid, interested in something a grownup was doing, and being sort of dismissed and told to go play. I remember getting the feeling that, “well that must be something I’m not capable of doing, I guess,” and even in adulthood I’d hesitate to try. But I’d like Myla to be able to try things and decide that for herself. A few days later, her Papa–while busy with his own projects–gave her some scraps of wood and a real hammer and nails, a little bit of instruction, and let her create. That’s all it takes!She ended the day happily singing me a little song: ” I, I, I love that you love to do the things I love to doooo…”
So give them the good supplies! Let them try the real things! Show them how, and see where they take it. It only takes a little time and attention…
Sometimes I need a reminder myself: Its the small things that mean a lot. ❤❤❤
Sometimes I go through phases, where I furiously draw….or sculpt…or sew. But lately, it’s embroidery, and I’ve been pretty hardcore into embroidery lately (“hardcore embroidery” being a phrase that makes me giggle).
As with any new craft obsession, I jumped in with both feet, full-in, when I first started. I got a couple of little books on stitches, and practiced those. I watched stitch tutorials on YouTube. And then I just sort of “winged” the rest.
Usually, it’s been these large pieces, based around my parallel obsession with the wizarding world and Harry Potter characters…
But then I discovered tiny embroidery, and have been going at it full-force…
I found these tiny little blank hoops from a site called Dandelyne, and that got the ball rolling. Functional art? I am TOTALLY okay with that.
And since I’d consider myself an intermediate embroiderer, I thought I’d share my wonky setup with you.
It all starts with this totally awesome little travel bag, which I found by chance at our local craft store. I like it because I can quickly shove everything in there and take it with me wherever we go.
It opens up to several little compartments, with places to hold my stitch guidebooks, needles, scissors, thread, and anything else I might need.
WHOAH. Wait, did you get a good look at that? I’ll zoom in for you, in case you somehow overlooked it:
Yep, since I taught myself, I am TERRIBLE at organizing my thread. I tried those long plastic binder pieces above, and they end up tangled. I tried putting them on the little keychain tabs, and they end up tangled. And often, as I’m working with a particular color, I just end up shoving it in this little zippered pouch, tangled for all eternity.
Finally, I’ve tried this other method, which is a little binder:
And I think it seems to work the best? Maybe? I haven’t found an easy way to separate the strands (the embroidery thread I buy comes in strands made up of 6 strings, and since I am sewing tiny things, I often only want to use one string, for detail. So when I’m getting ready to start a new project, I painstakingly separate them (with a mild amount of swearing) and shove them into little pouches in this strand binder I found in the embroidery section of our local craft store. That’s the best I can do.
(Do you know an easy way around this? Should I be embroidering with special thread instead of embroidery floss? This can’t be the best way of doing things, I’m sure…)
Anyway, as for tools, that little travel case is awesome, because I can carry all the goods: a leather thimble for tough fabric, little beads (since I often like to add texture), a seam ripper, and a few little books on simple stitches (believe it or not, they come in handy quite often).
I just discovered this little blue fabric marker that I can draw with, and when I want my lines gone, I just wet it, and it disappears! So cool (unless you’re making small sketch corrections, as it’ll take forever to dry the fabric so you can draw over it again). Another useful tool is next to it, in the photo above: a little metal threader, for threading problems. I have trouble threading metallic threads (they’re very wobbly and they fray), and that tool’s saved me from throwing my project across the room in anger more than once.
I show you this wonky setup to demonstrate that I don’t really know what I’m doing. Meaning, I’m not some super experienced expert who’s been doing this for ages and has all the answers. I’m learning, and there is always more to learn. If you’re into something, you can learn a bit about it, and jump in, like I did.
The world’s at your fingertips–literally, on the device from which you’re reading this! Look up some videos about the hobby you’re interested in–it doesn’t have to be embroidery, it could be ANYthing. Check out some hashtags and see what other people are doing. I’m pretty willing to bet you can do it too, or that it might inspire you to do something similar in your own way.
When I asked Myla what she’d want on one, she immediately requested Fiona and Cake, from Adventure Time (our current favorite show).
And if you try it, and you’ve given it your best, and it’s just not working out, don’t consider it a loss; it might just not be your time! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried needlefelting with disastrous results. Doesn’t mean I’ll never try it again, it’s just not my thing right now, and that’s okay. Maybe some day I’ll get it, maybe some day I won’t. But I TRIED.
I’ve actually wondered why this embroidery is such a thing for me right now. I sometimes find myself FURIOUSLY “IN” to something. Sometimes it doesn’t last long. I do it til I just don’t feel like doing it anymore. Right now, this is what I feel like doing. I’ve tried drawing recently, and it doesn’t come out right, which happens sometimes, and is a sign that my brain doesn’t WANT to do that right now. Right now, it wants to poke things with a tiny magic wand, and that’s okay.
You’ve got to follow whatever you’re into–it helps you get through things. For me, I think it comes from a tendency to want to control some very out-of-control situations we’ve been going through. I might not be able to control what’s going on in our lives, but I can control this little tiny space, and that’s okay, too.
I’ve been asked if I’d sell them, and I’ve decided I will, but I’m going to just sew what I like. I wish I was the type of person who could do the same design again and again, or that thrived on custom orders, but I’m just not. I can handle it a bit, and sometimes I really can do it. But with these, it just feels good to do what I like, and let the chips fall where they may.
So that’s where I am at the moment…holding a tiny wand with my head down, furiously stabbing a little piece of fabric, unable to control the world, but trying my best to manage this tiny space. Sure, it’s a little obsessive. Sure, it’d be more productive if my obsession involved housekeeping or making lucrative stock picks or something useful.
But it’s been making me feel better, and that’s definitely okay. ❤
Yes, that’s a word I just made up: Dumblebroidery.
I swear I’m not strictly a Harry Potter blog, so I apologize if Potter’s not your thing….but I can’t say I haven’t been reignited in my love for all things wizarding by our trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter mid-December, as well as by the fact that I’m rereading all of the books from scratch by listening to them on Audible, so I can “read” while I craft.
Between the beetles I love to paint, the Stuff Myla Says, the Dream Creepers, and the other random doodles I do, I sometimes like to try my hand at embroidery.
I’ve done several hand- and machine-stitched portraits on paper, but “real” embroidery has often eluded me. I have been known to lack a great deal of patience, and swear under my breath a lot when my threads get tangled. But (as I frequently do), I still had a sudden urge to embroider a Dumbledore one day last week, and immediately set to work.
Thankfully, as I have dabbled in nearly every craft imaginable, I had some embroidery tools on hand from a forgotten project long ago.
First, I gathered some photos of Dumbledore from online. Although I was working mainly from movie Dumbledore #2 (Michael Gambon), I also wanted to include a hint of Dumbledore # 1 (Richard Harris), as well as the descriptions of the professor from the books.
I started with some plain muslin I had lying around, and did a very rough sketch with pen (I hear they make disappearing ink pens for such tasks, but I didn’t have one at the time, so I just did my thang), and started stitching with the threads I had.
Some people have described it as “painting with thread,” which seems fairly accurate, as I went about shading it as I would a sketched portrait.
One of my favorite things is to embellish with beads and metal jumpers, so I had a lot of fun adding those details to his beard as soon as I possibly could.
It soon became apparent that I didn’t have enough variations of colored thread to contour his face, so after a quick trip to the craft store, I was able to get a wider variety for shading and highlights.
I wasn’t going for realism, but a more illustrated approach. I wanted him to have lots of hands, one of them holding the Elder Wand, with some beads to accentuate the gnarled wood bumps in his wand.
I’m no pro with embroidery by any means, but whenever I start working with a new medium, I like to research it a little. People tell me this is called “crewel” thread? Just the simple thread from any old embroidery store (are their fancier threads? I’m sure there must be, and now I’m curious…), and each is made up of 6 threads, so I split them in half by hand (another process which causes some occasional swearing), and used 3 thread strands at a time.
A good tool to have on hand has been a laminated embroidery card with directions for a few basic fun stitches, which I found in the embroidery section of WalMart ages ago. So aside from a few basic stitches, I tried to pay attention to the direction of the thread to accentuate whatever part I was working on (like trying to keep the lines in his collar going in one direction to avoid attracting attention from elsewhere).
People reminded me about his half-moon glasses, which are mentioned in the book SEVERAL times when describing him (although Albus #2 rarely seemed to wear them in the movie). So I got a little metallic thread, and added his spectacles.
The “magic” above was a simple chain stitch, with a few clear and metal beads sewn in. Next was finishing his beard, and working on the second set of hands…
And finally, the finished Dumbledore! I’m still not sure I like the hands floating randomly like that (I may paint a background, or add some more “magic” lines around them). I think it’d work really well in a drawing, but in an embroidery piece, it doesn’t translate as well…
I wasn’t quite sure what to do with him next, though, and I got several great suggestions online, such as making a pillow, displaying him in an embroidery hoop, and turning him into a patch. But then someone suggested an embellished frame, and another posted a link to this:
…which I promptly picked up on Etsy for around $20 and it’s sized just perfectly for him. Woohoo! Another reader–a former framer–suggested pinning the piece to foam core before mounting it, and another suggested sculpting additions to the frame, BOTH of which I’m going to try, and you can be sure I’ll post it when I do!
For now, since Dumbledore’s done, I’ve started my next one: Luna Lovegood, which I plan on placing by our entryway, along with the phrase, “Weirdos Welcome.” I have a Snape in the works (in my mind), and even a Newt Scamander (from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) with his case. Maybe I’ll get to them all before running out of steam. For now, I’ll keep doing them for as long as they’re fun. I can’t wait!