Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The rest of the dichrophane saga

OK, so it's not "tomorrow" in terms of the last post. Things take more time now. And we're at the other end of the resin-setting spectrum, when it's so chilly in my workshop that I have a really long working time with the mixed resin...and a really long period of waiting for it to set up. A nice incandescent lamp over the stuff would speed the process; maybe I'll set one up before the cold weather ends. Anyway, I've been fooling with that polymer-clay-and-dichrophane piece. First thing needed, obviously, was to tone down that brilliant background. The bezel had a watery feel to it, so I poured a thin layer of lightly tinted blue-green resin.

A lot better than the initial look, but it still wasn't as dark as I wanted it. So when that had set up, I added a tiny silver fish and covered it with seriously dark blue resin.I wanted the value to shade from light at the top to very dark at the back, so while this was curing I deliberately didn't lay it quite flat. Two little pieces of paper towel lifted the top just enough to encourage a glacial drain towards the bottom. I think the cold weather and long setting time helped here; in summer I might use just one piece of paper towel. Or one piece of copy paper. A little unevenness goes a long way!

I'm happy with the colors now, so in a few days...when that pour was finally set up....I added the swan charm and covered everything with clear resin. The clay bezel is resin-coated too, to protect the layers of paint and patina and dye that I used to get the color I wanted.

Does this last photo look just slightly better than the first two? I finally broke down and bought a tiny little light box. I've spent several days fooling with lights and angles and have finally decided that there's no way I can get the Great Big Photo Flood Lights that I bought for photographing quilts to play nicely with the light box, not when it wants to sit on the work table and the floodlights want to stand on the floor. It's just too darn hard to get the lights at the angle I need. This is the last photo I snapped before dismantling the whole apparatus,and it's not as bad as the others; all my test pictures were of more difficult pieces that came out either all shiny and glaring, or sunk in deep shadow, or half of one and half of the other. So I've ordered a couple of tabletop photo lights, and we will try again after they arrive...which should be just after Three Kings Day.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dichrophane and resin and polymer clay, oh my!

So....this summer I finally overcame my fear of two-part epoxy resin,thanks to Carmi Cimicata's wonderful blog Resin Crafts and all the juicy, sparkling things she makes.

For a while I went through the stage of putting anything stable and shallow enough into a bezel,containing it in resin,and usually dropping in some glitter or pearls or AB crystals,and that was very satisfying. Then it got to be mid-July. In Texas.

Two-part resin likes two things. It likes to be stirred for 5 minutes to get the resin and the hardener well and truly mixed. And it likes a nice warm room to help it set up faster. Well, by midsummer the my studio was so warm that my resin was trying to set solid while I was still mixing it. O kay. I can take a hint. God doesn't like people trying to mix resin in the height of the summer. So I put the equipment and supplies away and decided this would be a good time to organize the studio,throw out dried-up glue and paint and moldy sponges and alien life forms trying to crawl out of the bucket of soda solution I was saving in case I suddenly needed to dye anything.

It was a slow process,even with my Organizer daughter's help; we spent a lot of time languidly reclining with our Diet Cokes and discussing the utter discomfort of being in the last month of pregnancy during the hottest month of the year.But we got it done. And two days after that,she produced the First Grandkid. And two days after that,I got out of bed and screamed in surprise at the lightning bolt of pain running down from my left hip.

Everybody's body starts falling apart eventually,and the details are not really interesting to others,so I'll try to keep it short.After rounds of appointments with orthopedists,spine doctors, X rays,an acupuncturist,and pain management specialists,the consensus of opinion is that my lower vertebrae are crumbling like a Roman ruin, whenever I move they pinch a nerve,there's no obvious surgical fix,and how about some nice hydrocodone to help with the pain?

I loathe taking opiates;they make me slow and stupid. I'll take one at night,because I'm not planning to use my brain anyway,and Steve was finding it disconcerting to have me move in my sleep and wake up screaming.And I'll take half of one in the morning to help get through the morning stiffness.

The rest of the day I chew rusty nails and grind the enamel off my teeth.

So what does this have to do with ART? Well...just that my life has grown smaller all of a sudden.Working through pain,whether it's Art or merely laundry,is surprisingly tiring.I've shaved my housework to the minimum,and I find myself attracted to small,quick projects that don't require much stretching and bending.Alors,back to the resin pendants.Except now I want more space for my mini-compositions,and more depth so I can create,well,a sense of depth.A study of supplies online convinced me that I'd either have to do some serious metalsmithing or pay through the nose for pendant trays that were not even what I really wanted.

Enter polymer clay.I'm not sure how this will work out in the long run,but I've produced several pendant trays that aren't half bad.The example at the top is textured black clay brushed with Pearl-Ex,with a square of dichrophane pressed into the back layer.It's too much; it's too glitzy; I need to tone it down some so that the mesage of the piece won't be,"Hey,Ma! I got me a big new sparkly thing to wear with my pole-dancing outfit!"

Solutions, possibilities. I'll try something today (if I wake up in time)and report on the results.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A brief return to quilting

For those who may think that I simply skip from project to experiment to project, I present this as evidence that I do so finish (some) things! Granted, the First Grandkid is already three months old, but I know of some grandchildren who were in kindergarten before their crib quilts are finished. It's not a very demanding design, but it's to the Organizer's specs: she said his room theme was going to be elephants, and elephants he got; red and gold ones galumphing all over the quilt. (You can't tell from the picture, but the red pieces actually have gold elephants printed on them.)

Fortunately she didn't add the information that his room theme was going to be grey and ecru elephants. At least this doesn't clash with them, and I explained to her that most of the elephants I'd seen up close and personal were in Tsavo National Park, which has red soil and little rain, so they actually were red - well, covered in red dust. They blended quite well with the landscaps. A little too well. The road from Mombasa to Nairobi was, after you got into the uplands, well over two hundred miles of dead-straight two-lane and it was dangerously easy to get into a sort of driving trance in which you assumed a red elephant in the road ahead was a piece of the distant horizon until you were much too close to him. At which point one would turn off the engine and sit very quietly and politely in the car until the elephant decided to move.(As a matter of principle, I never honk at anything that outweighs me by more than two tons.)

Ah well, that was 40 years ago. I wonder if they've kept that road low-profile and easy to cross in the interests of the wildlife, or if it's been turned into a freeway with fences and occasional bridges over Designated Animal Crossings?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dichrophane dragon in detail

Let's start by taking a look at the whole dragon. All the dichrophane was fused with the painted side down, so you look through the iridescence at the color. The two sample pieces I photographed yesterday didn't look all that different, but as you see, the colors really pop once you press the dichrophane flat onto a neutral surface. I used Pinata inks for all the colors; diluted for the wings, full strength for the body and flame.
There are plenty of subtle color variations within each piece, too.
Look how clean and sharp the pointy bits are! I embroidered over the edge of the whole piece to define the outline (and,to be honest, because I never totally trust fused things not to start curling up at the edges) and none of the dichrophane split, even when I got to the teensy little ends of these points.
I got out my embellisher and felted down lots and lots of coordinating fibers to reduce the glare of the dichrophane to a hint of glitz peeking through. Okay, a lot of glitz. It's still not as blinding as the initial version, trust me. The needlefelting worked because I was using mohair fibers and the base fabric was felt. It would also have worked if I had used a piece of cotton fabric bonded to felt as the base, which probably would have been a better design decision.
I didn't do much needlefelting on the flames coming out of his mouth because I wanted them to glow. I did add a little orange embroidery along the mouth to dispel the disconcerting impression (in the initial fused piece) that the flames were just coming out of nowhere.

So - that's it! You've got glitz, color, flexibility, fusability, no fraying, and you can stitch through it by hand or machine. I am so in love with this stuff!

Friday, November 22, 2013


That's what I'm calling the results of a happy accident. Because it's shorter than "Cellophane that's been abused until it looks like dichroic glass." A while ago, probably when I was avoiding some real work,I decided to try something I vaguely remembered from an English embroidery book.(Q: Why are the English so much more innovative and exciting in the field of embroidery? And so far behind us in art quilting?)Anyway, what I thought I remembered was something about coloring and heat-treating cellophane to create a surface for stitchery. So I had a package of iridescent cellophane, because I'm the kind of person who has things like that (Hmmm, I don't know what I'll do with this but it looks interesting) and I had some Pinata alcohol-based inks, which just looove nonporous surfaces, and I brought the two together. And when the ink dried I attacked the cellophane with my heat gun and created this amazing stuff. Here's how,step by step:

1) Acquire some iridescent cellophane.

2)Cut off a chunk of it. Actually, you see two chunks here, because I want to demonstrate different media.

3)Color one side, either side, with whatever works. I used alcohol inks for the blue-green piece and oil pastels for the other. There are probably lots of other possibilities. Experiment!

4) Use a heat gun to create a bubbly, wrinkly surface. Here's what it looks like partway through. If you hold the heat gun too long in one spot you'll get a hole in the cellophane, which is fine if the application you're planning requires holey dichrophane but rather a nuisance otherwise.

Ta-da!You'll get stronger colors on the colored side, more iridescence on the flip side.

So what's so great about this stuff? Well... it doesn't fray. You can cut intricate, detailed shapes out of it without any worry that those spiky bits on the edge are going to dissolve into their component threads. You can fuse it: after ordeal by heat gun, an iron isn't going to bother it. It's flexible. You can needlefelt fibers over it, which I often do to knock back the shine a little; you can machine-sew through it; you can hand embroider it with a big fat embroidery needle and it won't split. And that's just the fiber-arts virtues of it.

Tomorrow I'll post close-ups of the dragon at the top of this post and say more about the fiber-arts techniques involved.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Always seeing rainbows

I got the string of green glass beads up some time ago (i.e., talked my tall husband into hanging it) and surprise, surprise, it didn't need any extra support; it hangs in a graceful swag from far left hook to far right hook. So I used the free cup hooks to hang loops of green glass beads. Took forever to get a picture, because you have to catch it at the right time of day and there was this problem with getting my camera back from the house hob, which required an abject apology, some groveling, and the sacrifice of a handful of ballpoint pens. But here it is:
At this time of the year, most of the day,the sun shines right through it, which makes it impossible to photograph but in compensation, the chandelier crystals throw mini-rainbows around my workroom and the kitchen. I've also cleaned up the windowsill and filled it with things like tall jars of sea glass and desert glass and a big abalone shell and a shell-shaped bowl to hold my strings of pearls.
There remains a rather large window through which you can still see Central Texas; but right now Texas is remarkably green, so I'm not highly motivated to work on that.
Come the dry season, when the window shows a lot of dead grass, I'll probably think of something. In any case, this'll be the last decorating blog for a while, because I've been making things that I want to talk about.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Casting your beads upon the water

Okay, the original Bible translation clearly contained a typo, because if you cast bread upon the water....well, I always figured you'd get back soggy bread. Or ducks. Lots and lots of starving ducks who haven't eaten since the last idiot strolling around Lady Bird Lake threw them a sandwich crust, about ten minutes ago. What I got was more like French toast. Robbie of Robbie's Paw Prints expressed an interest in the fabric beads and look what I got in return!
It 's soo cute! I want to carry it as a clutch bag but the workshop grabbed it out of my hands and said, "No you don't, it's going over here in your corner of blues and greens and I know the perfect thing to hold, something light and clean that you use a lot of but that isn't pretty to look at...so, for the moment, this is what it's holding.
Incidentally, the Beads Across the Window project worked out beautifully. I took a couple of snapshots when the light was good. Then I caught cold and spent a week chugging Nyquil and using up Kleenexes. (Or, if you want to be classical about it(which I sometimes do)Kleenices.) During that week the hob stole my camera. I hope he'll give it back if I apologize by picking up enough stuff, but for the moment I am Without Camera and was frustrated about how I would get pictures of Robbie's creation, and then it dawned on me...the Ipad is a camera. My phone is a camera. Everything is a camera nowadays. The NSA probably has a camera installed in the dog's head (nobody would notice the aperture under all that hair)and good luck to them; I hope they enjoyed those close-ups of the last mouse he killed. I am not, really, quite adjusted to the twenty-first century. Oh well, that's what kids are for: to fix the network router and teach you to use an iPad.

Friday, October 18, 2013

More making your own beads - and a solution

The Misadventure of the Fabric Beads didn't teach me to stop looking for the most difficult way to solve a problem. After all, fabric and wire aren't the only things I have in the monster stash. I also have 2-part resin(of which more later), stuff to make the resin different colors, and an ice cube tray for making itty bitty hexagons.
So I mixed a lot of resin,colored some of it green and some blue, and randomly poured resin and mixed colors. After giving it time to set, sanding the sharp edges, and drilling holes, I had...well, a little more than a handful of resin beads.
I like these a lot better than the fabric beads, and they're definitely going on the wire across the top of the window, but, you know... I've also got these fantastic chandelier crystals that I want to have dangling down from the wire, and they are...not lightweight. And some of my old lampwork beads that I'm not doing anything else with; also not lightweight. So I stirred the bead box and stared at the two cup hooks on either side of the window and thought about the weight I was asking them to carry, and finally came to the obvious solution.
It's surprising how many places do not sell little white cup hooks. But I finally located these, and Steve put them up for me last night,and wasn't it clever of me to marry a tall man?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Making your own: a cautionary tale

I'm still fiddling with making the workshop beautiful without sacrificing either storage space or light, which is a tall order and also not something I work on full time, because I'd rather be making than decorating. In particular I want the corner where I do beadwork and resin work (no, not simultaneously; I'm not that crazy) to feel like a cool green underwater retreat. Which, if your starting point is Central Texas, is not really possible unless I spend way more money than I want to and block some light. Replacing the (large) window with a stained glass undersea scene would probably do it but I expect that would be prohibitively expensive, so I'm going for half measures. The windowsill is now loaded with things like jars of sea glass and iridescent desert glass, an acrylic carved castle I bought back in the Dark Ages, and my entire, way-too-large collection of freshwater pearls spilling out of a shell-shaped dish. I'll post a snapshot of that when the light permits; right now the afternoon sun is streaming through the window and sneering at my attempts to make anything look cool and green and watery. So, on to another bright idea: during the reorganization I found some boxes of beads that I hardly ever use, because they're too round and fat and heavy for bead embroidery and I'm really not that interested in stringing necklaces. What we will laughingly refer to as my thought process ran something like this: I could pull out all the transparent green and blue beads, which is more than half the collection, and hang them up in the window somehow... I'll put a cup hook at the top of the window on each side, string the beads randomly, and that way I can also use these chandelier crystals... That's going to be way too heavy, and I've got more than enough beads; better just use the lightweight acrylic beads on this wire... I do not have more than enough plastic beads... At this point your person of normal intelligence would either strengthen the supports or go to Hobby Lobby and buy them out of transparent plastic beads in ocean colors. Me, I decided to make my own. Fabric beads are nice and lightweight, and I've always wanted to make some with wire and tiny beads wrapped around them. You will probably not be astonished to learn that I have an extensive collection of blue and green sheer fabrics. Even restricted to the synthetics (because I want to melt the beads into shape with a heat gun) I found quite enough variety.
So here I am in the sewing room, cutting strips of sheer fabric. Next bright idea: let's run shese strips through the needle felter to make them nice and puffy.
Finally, back to the new heatproof surface in the workroom(3 big ceramic tiles set very close to each other) with my ruffly strips, some 28 gauge silver-colored wire, and a mix of tiny clear/blue/green beads for embellishment. I use a fat aluminum knitting needle for a mandrel. Wrap a fabric strip around the knitting needle, remember that you should have threaded beads onto the wire first. Ok, drop fabric and knitting needle and string a dozen little beads onto the wire. As you were, only this time I have the wire ready to wrap and hold the fabric around the mandrel until I heat-gun it into shape. Anchor the wire with a twist, shove a bead up next to the fabric strip, pull the wire a quarter-turn around to hold the bead snugly, repeat until out of beads. Then attack the whole thing with a heat gun, watching closely to hit that sweet spot between Not Melted Enough To Keep Shape and its reverse, So Melted The Fabric Is All Gone. I did get some pretty fabric beads.
But after making this handful of beads I discovered that I do not actually find wrapping wire and seed beads around a strip of fabric all that fulfilling. It might be fun if I were trying to make huge, over-the-top,multiply embellished beads. But making beads whose only purpose is to be lightweight filler? Boring. And they don't even work for that;when I hold them up to the light, I don't see the colors of the fabric, I only see the tangled twists of wire. But it's not time to go to Hobby Lobby yet; I've got another idea to try out. And if anybody would like a handful of fabric beads wrapped with wire and little beads,send me your address and I'll be happy to stick them into a padded envelope. Use the gmail address: margaretballseven at gmail.com, substituting an Arabic numeral for the seven and that symbol for the at.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Happiness is having a place to store all your flex shaft bits

I've always been a fan of the slogan, "A neat desk is a sign of a sick mind," but eventually creative disorganization becomes dysfunctional. This summer I discovered that my wonderful concrete-floored workroom with built-in sink had reached that point. Not only had I reduced my usable work area to a couple of 12" squares, but I didn't want to go into the workroom at all because it was such a hodgepodge of things I don't know what to do with, and dust, and plastic containers too pitted to ever become truly clean, and grime, and dusty bottles of stuff that probably dried up during the Clinton administration...Well. Part of the problem is that I really have too many interests, so the workroom has to serve too many purposes. It's where I cut and fuse glass, sinter metal clay, dye and discharge fabrics, drill holes in stuff, sand interestingly twisted juniper roots, pour resin, paint papers, make collages, sketch designs, heat-torture Tyvek and synthetic fabrics, patina metal...there are probably a few activities I've left out of the list, but you get the idea.

Okay. I can sweep and scrub and clean, but that's the easy part. Figuring out where to put tools and supplies so that I can find what I want quickly is the hard part. The Rational Mind said, "You have too many interests and you should give up some of them and focus on one or two things that you really care about."

I pointed out to the Rational Mind that one of the things I really care about is trying new stuff, and anyway, I already gave up lampworking, knitting, playing chamber music, and polishing the silver.

Fortunately, I have a daughter who is a genius at organization. A daughter who, last month, was hot, bored at home, and too pregnant to do most of the things she enjoys. So I enlisted The Organizer's help. She was in no condition to do any heavy lifting, but that's what husbands(hers and mine) are for. What she could do was place the entire contents of one overcrowded shelf in front of me and insist that I throw away dried-up glues and unidentified liquids and tell her what each remaining object was and what it was for. Then she classified and organized until, instead of three shelves jammed full of mystery bottles, I had this:

And instead of two deep drawers full of hand-painted and exotic papers whose entire contents I used to strew across the table when I wanted to make a collage or a card, I had this:
She even figured out how to wedge a 20-odd-drawer parts bin in between shelf supports on the counter next to the table where I sit to use my flex shaft!
And it's taken three rounds of recycling pickup to get rid of most of the unusable plastic.

Now that I have all these beautiful vinyl-covered work surfaces, and can actually find most of the things I'm looking for, I've started to get ambitious. Clean and neat is nice, but can I go farther and make it beautiful? A room that not only makes it physically easier to make art, but that also inspires art? Can I put out postcards and embroideries and ethnic jewelry and stuff I just like - smooth stones and driftwood and sea glass?

This idea has led me down some strange and twisty pathways, some of which might be worth writing about as I get stuff in place. (Discovering that cleaning up the workroom only tempted me to start yet more projects, the Rational Mind has retired to the fainting couch.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Birth, death, and something in between

It's been that kind of two weeks. I lost a beloved cousin, but gained a grandson; and me, I've been having the kind of pain that probably means one of my degenerate vertebrae has crumbled further. I hope there'll be a way to fix that, but at the moment all I've got is the kind of pain medication that turns me into something like a potted plant. With careful timing I get to use my brain long enough to do errands in the morning and to fix dinner in the evening; the rest of the time I just lay around admiring the latest baby photos and languidly waving my fronds. Fortunately the Organizer keeps a steady stream of pictures. In this one he's scooched up on the little bitty baby quilt I finished just before he was born. The crib quilt...eh, I'm about halfway throughstitching the binding on it. Isn't it strange how even a small quilt turns out to be about six miles around when you get to the binding stage?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Crabby with shells on

A friend came over for dinner last night wearing a shirt with this beautiful crab embroidery on it...that was falling off because the manufacturer had only fused it on. The poor guy had lost portions of two limbs already and it looked like the rest of him would not survive the next wash. So I made her go home in one of my old shirts and did a quick rescue-stitch all around the crab. What to do about the missing bits? These shell-shaped sequins would cover them, and if I put a few extra shells on perhaps it would look like they were all part of the design, not patches. Then I started eyeing some lavender AB seed beads, but my Voice of Reason said, "Joanne would probably like her shirt back some time next year, and you haven't finished stitching the binding on that crib quilt yet and #1 Daughter, aka The Organizer, is 39 weeks pregnant." That Voice of Reason is a real party pooper sometimes.