Hanging by a thread

As promised, here are my experiments in embroidery! I started by finishing a project I had started last winter… beleive it or not those satin stitches took FOREVER. I do love the results and have proudly listed it in my second etsy shop, although I’d be happy to keep it too! My first brand new design began with a monogram. I don’t think it was quite as successful, so I’m going to try the idea with a different stitch next.

But while I was still in love with French knots, I tried a few more things. Though I’ve embroidered before, I couldn’t remember how to do them (I found a great tutorial here!), and once I figured it out I was hooked! I started with my own color experiment in red.

Next up: combining those French knots with other stitches in a less abstract design. I’ve always loved poppies and I thought their black centers would be a fun way to work in texture to a piece. Red Poppy hoop available here! Stay tuned… I’m just waiting on more hoops to arrive in the mail and I’ll show you all what else I’ve been working on!

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So I just started doing yoga…

I know, I know, what is it 2005? A combination of not having (or making) enough spare time, being intimidated and a habit of neglecting my body has kept me from yoga until about a month ago, but now that I’m in, I am in. I’m not going to try to tell you I’ve achieved inner peace, but it really has helped the aches and pains that accompany sitting at a computer for 8+ hours a day, eased the parts of my body I was holding tense without even realizing it, and has done wonders to quiet my inner monologue in times that I really needed it.

(A slightly related anecdote to prove that you so do not have to be in a great place to begin yoga: My first class was the morning after a friend’s birthday, so naturally I slept in until the last possible moment, unaware that most people arrive 15 minutes early as the classes at my gym start ON TIME, if not a few minutes early. By the time I payed my fee, found the classroom and ditched my shoes, the instructor had of course already began with a calming seated pose to quiet everyone down… but seeing as I hadn’t ever done this before, I had to ask whether I was in the right class, where the mats were and squeeze in between two other beginning yogis in the back row… oh and then find my inner breath or whatever. Nonetheless, when I walked out an hour and a half later, I did feel quieter and stronger inside, plus my body felt like it had just had a deep tissue massage. I still wouldn’t recommend rolling in late… but yoga will be able to work its magic even if you do.)

So anyway, without further adieu, a collection for the yogis!

First up: the pants! I owned three pairs of yoga pants before I ever hit up the studio, (What? They’re comfy!) but this pair, hand silk screened by Nic and the Newfie might just get added to my collection soon.

The varying poses in yoga requires a wide range of motion and the Athena top from Mountain Lotus is perfect! Plus it’s made from a lightweight hemp and organic cotton blend, so you can feel good about the resources you’re using and what you’re putting up against your skin.

A mat to cover your mat? Why yes! Yoga Comfort Co.’s Yoga Mat Runner sits on top of your mat to provide a little extra cushion.

Sure a mat bag is nice, but a mat bag that’s also a purse? Now that’s something to celebrate. Check out this innovative design from LslieArt on etsy.

For the hard days

Some days are harder than others. On the hard days, I usually skip blogging because I’d prefer to keep the energy I’m putting into the world positive. But today I decided to harness that energy into putting together a little collection of encouragement for your own dark days.

Since I’m not feeling too chatty, just click on each image to see more from each vendor—here’s to a better day tomorrow!

Vickangaroo

Greetings from the strange and wonderful creatures that populate The Vickangaroo Toy Company! I first fell in love with these little guys because of their animated faces—and upon closer inspection realized they really are miniature works of art. Aside from their whimsical and ever-appealing strangeness, each one has its own story—as told through the eyes of fictional explorer Professor Morongo Faust.

This evening we sit down with Victor Huang to talk about creativity, being unique and how he molds fabric into friends.

Tell us about your work—why do you create what you do?
I am a toymaker attempting to fill the world with as much nonsense as possible. I create a variety of toys that range from bunnies and crabs to larger, stranger monsters with more legs or teeth than they actually need.

Toys have a tremendous purpose and importance in the world. Whether they are manufactured and sold by the millions or entirely unique, ultimately the purpose of a toy is imbued by its owner not it’s creator. They are meant to be played with. The moment a toy is unwrapped and taken from its packaging it has the opportunity to fulfill any great number of roles from companion to accomplice or confidant to protector. They are an invitation accepted by a significant number of children, or those simply young at heart, to imagine, discover and create.

I am delighted and honored to be a contributor in that experience.

I’m also a printmaker, generally utilizing screen printing, with most of my print work focusing on unusual creatures and narratives involving robots.

Tell us about your process—start to finish.
In November of 2007, I decided that I wanted to make my own toys. I considered the cost of materials and the complicated processes involved for finishing plastic or wooden toys, and ultimately settled on utilizing spare fabric and thread. I had to teach myself how to sew and like most skills in life it required practice and patience, so my first “toy” was an uneven mess of a rectangle, made of orange cotton and stuffed with newspaper.

I generally keep a drawing pad on hand so that I might doodle as much as possible, of course a stack of napkins or a takeout menu would also suffice. Doodling is undoubtedly the greatest practice a person could adopt in the pursuit of creativity. Usually I’ll sketch a fairly simple form, fill it with teeth and add any number of ambiguous limbs. Not every idea is new or very different from that one that precedes it, however if a drawing begins to repeat itself often enough I tend to take that as a sign that it wants be made.

Eventually the work has to begin with making patterns, which I’ve discovered requires a fair grasp of geometry. Understanding the different ways that different shapes can be built is a great boon in creating more challenging and stranger creatures.

The fabric is cut based on the pattern. The pieces are sewn together. The toy is stuffed. I find it delightful that my plans for a toy can be torn asunder in that final step. I may understand the geometry of the parts of the monster, but the stuffing pulls and stretches and until I cut the final knot of the final closing stitch, I remain unsure but optimistic of the result.

What type of environment stimulates your creativity?
I have a cat and prefer to keep him separate from my work, so I’m holed up in a small pleasant room in the basement with half of a ping pong table to work on. It’s nice to be able to wake up in the morning and get started in the sewing room. It’s comfortable, well lit and all the necessary materials are within reach; it’s all I need to make toys. Although inspiration for work can strike anywhere!

What inspires you?
Good Golly, I can hardly fathom what my inspirations are. There are certainly general inspirations such as my own childhood toys, animated films, dinosaurs, octopuses, robots and I sincerely doubt there’s an end to that list. However, I do love discovering new toymakers and artists. Being knowledgeable of what others are creating helps me in challenging myself and creating more and more unique items.

What is your greatest challenge?
While I do have a work space a hallway away, I find that working from home can be somewhat daunting. Honestly, my greatest challenge in being a toymaker is actually just sitting down and getting started. Even with stacks of doodles and unfinished patterns craving to come into existence, I’m quite easily distracted by the idea of lunch or scouring Netflix for a good movie or TV show to play in the background while I consider the possibility of getting started on my work. I think it takes a particular strength of character to work from home; a trait I’m still developing.

How has your work evolved?
I believe it is important to constantly challenge yourself. My sewing work began as two dimensional plushes where the back and front are roughly the same shape. I then moved onto three dimensional plushes; creating cubes and spheres keeping the details while trying to grasp working on creating geometric shapes in fabric. Ultimately I found myself adding teeth, lips and tentacles searching and refining my own style of toymaking. I still am of course! There’s always room for improvement and always more opportunities to evolve. I actually find that creating smaller, simpler toys is very difficult. It’s much more of a process to create a tiny cute toy, that still feels unique.

Tell us about your etsy business.
Honestly, I don’t consider myself much of a business person. I started selling my toys at the end of 2007, after I had decided that my toys were worth selling. Way back when, (four years have already passed by?!) Etsy while certainly sizeable was still somewhat unknown and outside of Ebay, my selling options were fairly limited.

I remember the very “reasonable” prices that I originally set for my toys and I remember the gradual increases over time as I began to take into account how much work would go into some toys. Of course I had my share of mistakes, which unfortunately I think others have had to experience as well. I’d rather not go into specifics, although it is certainly wise advice to make sure the customer’s Paypal shipping address and listed Etsy address match before sending out a delivery.
Selling on Etsy is not my full time job; I have a number of other long term projects that require as much of a time investment as my toys. Since I’ve started selling on Etsy I’ve had a few long stretches where my shop would be completely empty; not the best business practice!

What advice do you have for new etsians?
New Etsians of the world! Don’t expect that because you’ve opened your doors that the sales will flood in. Share your work with the world, but be cautious, patient and prepared for mistakes. Challenge yourselves and offer a product, that doesn’t just feel like a rehash of a trendy object but something that you’d be willing to buy yourself. It can be difficult to be found on Etsy, with so many other sellers seemingly pushing your products to furthest, darkest recesses of the Etsy search pages. Persevere! Keep creating and listing new work and be hopeful.

Where can readers find your work?
Currently, my work is only for sale on Etsy however I am quite optimistic about this new year and selling in other venues, most likely in and around Chicago. My website, www.vickangaroo.com, is also in progress (has been for a while) but I foresee a particularly exciting event occurring when it’s ready. I’m also working on a mailing list: join by emailing “mailinglist@vickangaroo.com” with “mailing list” in the subject line.

Bo Betsy

As I mentioned, I have a new obsession. Bo Betsy was one of my original inspiration artists in my last post, but I decided to ask her for an interview instead! Cath has quite the variety of work in her etsy shop, but my favorite by far are the marine/floral/abstract pieces in the most fantastic color combinations.

Tell us about your work—why do you create what you do?
I embroider because I can’t stop. I don’t know that there has ever been something I so loved to do that I didn’t want to put it down. Stitching is certainly like that for me. There’s something wonderful about hand stitching… each slow, purposeful stitch adds up to something lasting and beautiful.

What are some of your first memories of the craft?
I first learned to embroider in junior high home economics class. I loved it. My mom recently found an embroidery I did back then—of an easter egg. A sort of sampler with lots of different stitches and colors. Very similar to the colors and variation i use now! When the class ended, so did my embroidery until five years ago, when my baby daughter’s pink sweater with gorgeously bold hand embroidered flowers inspired me to pick it up again.

Tell us about your process—start to finish.
I have been using mainly new fabrics in colors I love for my hoops, which are my current obsession. I’ve also discovered the amazing stash of scrap pool table felt my dad has at the pool hall he has owned for nearly fifty years. It’s 80% wool, super dense, and i’ve got loads of it now in the most beautiful colors—I love the stuff!

Typically, my only “plan” is a color scheme (and maybe a new stitch I want to try out)… I’ll pick the fabric or felt and a few floss colors I love together. Often, i’ll start with a buttonhole stitch flower (I don’t know when I’ll tire of them—I know I will eventually, but for now I’m in love) then embellish it with unique stitches and colorful goodness.

Where do you work?
My happy place is generally on the couch next to the ott-light lamp in our cozy country bungalow. I just have to ignore the voices from the kitchen and laundry area, telling me things are piling up… I’m pretty good at that.

How has your work evolved?
My first beloved project was embroidering one of my son’s drawings onto a handkerchief for father’s day. I’ve stitched a ton of sublime stitching and Aunt Martha patterns and wonderful vintage patterns I’ve found online. I started doing monograms and words on handkerchiefs and pillowcases and have stitched up tons of custom wedding hankies. The amazing Sandy Mastroni, a Connecticut artist who is also on etsy, has allowed me to recreate some of her art in embroidery, which is a joy. I began doing custom portraits of children and babies—and even stitched the faces of three adult siblings onto a duvet cover for their parent’s 50th anniversary.

Something changed in me last spring, and I started going in a new direction. My etsy shop has been directed largely by requests from customers, and I suddenly craved creating and experimenting with stitches in new ways. Most of my work up until this point has been prettying up something functional – pillowcases, handkerchiefs, tea towels, underwear… My current hoops are just decoration. Dare i say “art”?

What is your greatest challenge?
Learning to smile and say thank you when someone compliments my work—instead of rolling my eyes.

What inspires you?
Mmmmm…. Color. I notice color combinations in movie scenes, magazines, fabrics, vintage children’s books—all around me—and incorporate them into my embroidery.

A few embroidery artists have also been hugely inspirational to me. I tend to be a perfectionist in my stitching, which has it’s place, but Aimee Ray’s book Doodle Stitching got me to realize that it’s the imperfect, organic sorts of designs and lines that are the most fun for me to look at. I remind myself of that, and try to stitch in some wonky-ness.

And Carla Madrigal’s amazing stitching… Who could not love it? The stitches, the colors—that is what is the art. Not some design or outline she stitches along. It is gorgeous and freeform and fantastic.

Tell us about your etsy business.
I first happened upon etsy at a crafty wonderland christmas show in Portland. Several of the business cards I collected took me to etsy shops. I’d never known there was a site like etsy out there—and it got the wheels turning. The next May (2008), I opened my etsy shop. I’ll have had bo betsy open for four years in May. It’s changed so much in that time—i’m excited to see what the coming years will bring!

What advice do you have for new etsians?
If your art/craft allows, I would suggest offering custom work. The custom work I’ve done was invaluable for building sales, relationships, and glowing feedback. Working with people to create what they want gives you the awesome chance to make people happy—and let your work and customer service really shine.
I also tell customers that I’d love to have their feedback in the shop after they receive their order… And I always leave feedback for them quickly after the sale, as opposed to waiting for them to leave feedback first.

Where can readers find your work?
A wonderful place called The Marketplace at Rain Dance Ranch, here in Newberg wine country, is carrying my embroidered hoops. And now, an amazing gallery called knack has my hoops. You can find knack nestled into the charming Multnomah Village of southwest Portland.

I should also say that my facebook page is a nifty way to keep in touch with the friends I’ve made through bo betsy. I’d love to see more people there!