Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oh, and I forgot to tell you!

I went to see the Kodak Salon at the CCP the other day, and they used one of my photos in the brochure! It's only available online (unfortuntaly) but you can see it here.

The other thing is that Becclebee has started a craft blog of her very own. It's called Marjory Jane and you can visit it here.

Go Becclebee!

Much goodness!

I realised that I didn't share with you the finished pictures of the Dragon Family! So here they are in my studio before delivery Of course, there was a dragon costume for the biggest one, but since it wasn't my work I figured I wouldn't photograph it for posterity.

Here is the Mid Dragon on set, being held by one of the two puppeteers. It gives you a good idea how the hands look when there are people in it.

And here is the Lil Dragon on the bed on set. Aparently the Lil Dragon was a huge hit with the younger guys on set, and the directors daughter, who is all of age 4 or 5, was dreadfully upset when she couldn't take it home :)

That's so sweet!

In other good news, the Mummy sold on etsy. How nice is that? I was reading The Gentle Arts by Jennifer Isaacs as part of the general research into the history of craft that I'm currently doing, and she mentioned Pin Money. She didn't really explain it well, so off to Google I trotted...

Pin Money: Catharine Howard, wife of Henry VIII., introduced pins into England from France. As they were expensive at first, a separate sum for this luxury was granted to the ladies by their husbands. Hence the expression "pin-money." from What Names Mean
Pin money is now regarded as a term for small amounts of money, usually saved by a woman. from their forums

I think that's a fascinating term. In the book, one of the women she interviewed said her mother used to take in sewing for 'pin money'. And it occured to me that many crafty type people are still carrying on that tradition, even though they might not know it. It'd be great to be able to earn a full wage from art and my etsy store, but really mine is only pin money. But I'm ok with that. It's nice to be continuing an ages past tradition.

I bought two more books today. One is Years of Adventure by the Country Women's Association, chronicalling 50 years of the CWA from 1928-1978. My grandmother was a CWA member, sometimes the president and sometimes the treasurer of her chapter, and I'm looking forward to learning more about it. I actually want to go to the Royal Melbourne Show this year to go and look at the crafts and the competitions.

The other book is Colonial Crafts of Victoria by Arts Victoria. Most of the photos are B&W but still it's a good history book of local crafts so I'm looking forward to diving into that. I've also bought No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting by Ann Macdonald via Amazon. Amazon books are usually more expensive due to shipping and monetary conversions, but I found one of the second hand sellers who ship internationally, so the whole thing is costing me $32 AU. I'm so stoked!

I'm not sure what I'm researching here. Usually when I'm doing research, I have a clear idea where to start and where to go. At the moment I find I'm interested in:
the history of craft
the individuals who made the items
the place craft had in ordinary lives
and the social history of craft.

I'm not sure where it's all leading, but it's certainly an interesting journey...

Friday, April 24, 2009


So this is just a quicky, showing an image I created the other day for an competition I'm entering.

It's called The Afterlife Ball.

I had a dream that, instead of the clouds of heaven, the fires of hell and the grayness of purgatory, the afterlife was a ball, with women in beautiful dresses and men in suits whirling around a sumptuous red and gold ballroom, like I imagine the Titanic would have had.

And that inspired me to make this work... Well, that and the fact I found a competition that called for a pivotal moment that fit this. As always, I like to have a reason to create something, rather than jsut creating it for it's own sake. I find I don't have time to make things just because...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A discourse on knitting needles, or, op shops are your friend!

I have a big list of things to do today, which is why I'm sitting down to discuss knitting needles with you!Photo orginally uploaded by The Shopping Sherpa

When I first started knitting a couple of years ago, I started off with metal needles. I can't remember where I got them from, but I had a couple of sets in different sizes and I knitted a couple of things, but I found that the metal needles were a little heavy, and add to that the knitting itself, especially when you're knitting a big thing, like clothing or scarves, that the weight becomes too much and it starts to drag on your wrists. So i decided to press on with knitting needle experimentation.

Next I tried the bamboo needles from a craft store. I found these nice and light, but occasionally when you first buy them you need to sand the points down a little to remove splinters that catch on the wool. An emery board is totally suitable for this, you don't need any special tools. I find, however, that occasionally the knobs at the top pop off (you need to reglue them on with PVA or a similar glue) and if you step on them, they break. I've got a couple of half sets now, waiting for me to break another half a pair...

I love the coloured plastic ones you can sometimes find in op shops and second hand shops, but I've never had any pairs of those, so I've never used them.

The needles that I most prefer to use, however, are tortoise shell needles. My grandmother once gave me a whole handful of them, which I promptly grabbed one pair out and put the rest somewhere safe and now I'm not fully sure where they are. But the pair I do have are wonderful. They're light, which makes them better than metal needles, and they're flexible, so they're better than the bamboo ones, and they have some kind of property that allows the wool or yarn to glide across them beautifully, but somehow the knitting doesn't slide off if you accidentally hold them upright, or upside down, which is also a big plus.

The only problem with them is that they're an animal product, which means that something had to die to make them. For that reason, I certainly wouldn't buy them new from a store, even if they did still sell them, and I totally understand if other people have a moral issue with using them.

But I only buy them at op shops and antique stores (when you can find them!) and I think that I'd rather rescue them and use them than have them thrown out. Yes, an animal died for them, but since it's already happened, I'd rather that death not have been for nothing, which it would be if they wern't used anymore. Plus, it's recylcing and that's always a wonderful thing.

But my advice for anyone who is starting out with knitting is try different needles and see what works best for you! Like everything, start at op shops where stuff to cheaper to experiment with, and you can also often find wool, yarn, pattern books and all sorts of excellent odds and ends.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How wonderful are books?

I love books. They're so wonderfully inspiring, you know, when you find the right ones and all, but I've lucked in recently and I wanted to share them with you.

It all started the other day when I was in an antique store, and found the History of knitting (also known as Sacred History of Knitting and The Sacred History of Knitting, recent discoveries) by Heinze Edgar Kiewe in the KNITTING section.

It's a strangely written book from the 70s, and has a number of unsubstantiated claims (for instances, his theory is that the 'sackcloth and ashes' that are constantly mentioned in the Bible is actually a mistranslation of a Latin word in an old version of the Bible, and should have been translated as 'knitted cloth'. However he doesn't say which Bible or even what the Latin word was, so it's totally impossible to check out for yourself) but for all that, it is a fascinating read. It also sparked a curiosity in me as to how and why knitting started. Kiewe states that it's one of the earliest crafts, and has identified what he claims is the oldest surviving knitting needle, which is "probably pre Bronze age". However, during the rest of the night, researching on the net, I found a claim that it's very difficult to correctly identify an object as a knitting needle, because it's basically a long thin rod with a point at one end, and there's a bunch of things that fit that description including hair decorations and cooking implements.

I found a wonderful article on Knitty.com by Julie Theaker about the history of knitting which I think is much more accurate and seems to be better thought out than most of Kiewe's claims. If you're interested, do take the time to read it, it's very informative and well written. Amongst other things, it explains that the history of knitting is hard to pin down because before people used two needles to knit, they used to knit with one in a process called nalbinding which arguement still rages wether that should be called knitting or wether it's the precursor to knitting. Upon reading the Knitty article, and others found on the net, it appears that Kiewe 's book mostly suffers from the fact it was written in 1969 (or 71, it's hard to say) and that discoveries and research since then have changed the accepted facts. His book suffers from our hindsight, as it were.

But so this book got me started thinking on the history of craft. I've had some thinks about it before, but more to do with the historical distinctions between ART and CRAFT, which can be boiled down to ART is produced by the upper classes and mostly decorative whereas CRAFT is usually more functional and created by the lower classes. Lords, Ladies and those with time and money have leisure time to create beautiful things that have no other function. Lower classes, who have to work long and hard, have little time and money to devote to things that have little actual use. The working classes need to devote what little spare time they have to making things they need, tables, bedclothes, pottery plates ect, whereas a Lady of means has all these things already and lots of time to paint and draw.

I've never really thought about the history of the skills themselves, which is strange because a) one of the things I love about knitting is that it makes me feel connected with generations of women who have come before me, and b) I'm a curious young thing. So I decided that I'd embark on learning more about the history of Craft.

The next book I found was Early Decorative Textiles by W. Fritz Volbach in the antique section of a second hand book store (how cool is that? First one was the book section of an antique store, the second was the antique section of a book store) Volbach walks his readers through ancient textile patterns and colours. Unlike most books published in the 70s, this one has all full colour pictures, which really helps with understanding the text. I can't tell you how many art and craft books I've read that specifically mention colour as the important point in the work they're discussing, yet only have black and white photos to refer to (the History of Knitting also suffers from this problem.)

Next I was in a second hand book store in a little village outside Melbourne which had a huge craft section, and in that I found The Gentle Arts. 200 years of Australian women's domestic and decorative arts by Jennifer Isaacs which was published as part of the bicentenary celebrations in 1988. It's a history of Australian women's domestic and decorative arts. She placed ads in country and community papers calling for people who have heirloom craft items in bottom drawers or packed away in boxes. She was interested in finding not only beautiful works but in the history that accompanies them. The many photos scattered throughout the book are often accompanied by the artist's name and history. It's a beautiful book and wonderful to be connected with not just the works but the personal histories behind them. It's also nice to have a book full of Australian stories. I'm not really that patriotic, I don't think that Australia is the best country in the world and I don't own any kind of Australian flag, but it is nice to hear our stories occasionally in books and films, rather than stories of people from across the other side of the world.

Having said that, Isaacs does occasionally draw a long bow on some of her theories (for instance, that the women embroidering Christian images which are based on ancient pagan symbols would probably have subconsciously taken comfort from creating things that recognise the goddess) and she also occasionally misses some important information. For instance, she spends almost a page talking about the Eureka Flag and a replica made by Val D'Angri, a descendant of one of the original flag makers, Anastasia Withers, but doesn't mention the other two women by name who made the original flag. A quick google search brings up the Wikipedia entry on the Eureka Flag which mentions all three women - Anastasia Withers, Anne Duke and Anastasia Hayes. I'm not suggesting that in 1988 Isaacs could have done the same, but since some of her information comes from the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery which now houses the flag, and she spoke with D'Angri, surely she knew the other two women's names? For a book dedicated to promoting the forgotten names of those who made such incredible craft work in our history, this seems like a glaring admission. But apart from small things like this, the book is a wonderful history. A nice aside is that one of the 6 or so photographers who have documented the crafts in the book is Julie Milowick, who was one of the photography lecturers at my uni. So it feels like the book has been created by members of my community, which adds another layer of warmth, familiarity and ownership to this book and the crafts within.

At that bookstore I also bought the book Dolls and puppets by Max von Boehn which is a history of dolls, and one I didn't come across while researching Totem. I'm looking forward to diving into that next!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tutorial - Real Hands for puppets and puppet suits

This is a really simple tute, which as you know, is always my favourite kind.

When you're building a puppet and you need it to be able to actually use it's hands, then one way to do it is to create what is referred to as "real hands", which is basically a big glove attached to the puppet which the puppeteer wears and then can use their own hands for what ever is needed. Like Rolfe, the piano playing dog from the muppets, used the puppeteer's own hands to tinkle on the ivories.

But you'll have to forgive the photos, they were all taken on my phone.

You'll need:
material for the surface (usually referred to as 'skin' (well, by me))
a piece of felt big enough for the hand/arm
a piece of scrap material, again big enough for the hand/arm you're making
quilting batting

Step one:
Firstly, you need to make a pattern. You need to know if you're making the hand for an adult or a child, this is important in the fitting! For this dragon puppet, the puppeter is a teenage girl, but it's ok for it to be wrinkly, so I used my hand as a pattern.

So grab the scrap piece of material and lay it out on the table, trace around your hand and arm, remembering to leave a couple of centimetres or about an inch as a hem allowance. Most puppets, like most cartoon characters, only have 3 fingers and a thumb, which are usually fatter and stumpier than a normal human hand. My theory on this is because it's easier to make/sew/draw/animate than the thin long fingers that people have. But a) I have no proof, and b) I have digressed. This dragon only needed two fingers and a thumb, so this is what I traced.

Then cut it out.

Step two:

Place the pattern on the felt, pin it down and cut it out. Then cut out a quilt batting hand, and fold the skin in half, right side in and cut out two skin hands.


Step three:

Place the hands in the following order
SKIN (place the right sides of the skins together

and sew around the edge. Then turn inside out. Slide your hand in and wave it around, pretending you're the dragon/animal/monster/puppet.

Let me explain the felt. When the puppeteer slides their hand into the Real Hand Glove, the last thing they want to have next to their own skin is the batting. So the felt is there to protect the human skin from the batting. You only need one layer of felt, however, because the other side will be the inside of the puppet skin. Phew!

Then do the same again, but ensure you use the other side of the pattern. That means that both hands will be the mirror opposite of each other. Look to your own hands to compare!

And that's it! A rocking pair of puppet gloves so you can pick up cups, write letters and play musical instruments through the puppet.


Phew! What a lot of things to cram into such a short time

Oh, there has been much art, much business and a internet connection MIA. Damn technology!

On the weekend, I worked on a short shoot of a showreel of a film written by local guys. Well, Jude and a friend of his. It was great to work on a professional shoot but stacked full of mates. It's set in an office, but one where weird and strange things go on. We shot it in the office where my studio is housed, and it was fun running around dressing the set with subtle and not so subtle weirdness. No photos to show, the day was too jam packed with action, but I had a ball. It was one of the best organised and smoothest run film shoots I've ever worked on, plus like I said, about half of the actors and crew were people I knew, so it was a good day. But like every shoot, it went for 11 hours and I stood up the whole time, bar the half hour for (homecooked!) lunch.

Next, I saw this callout the other day:

Exhibition at City Library.

April 2 - April 28
Blank Canvas
An exhibition by...You!

City Library invites you to 'make your mark' on our gallery wall. Draw, sketch, or write (poems, stories, observations on life etc) and hand your completed creation back to the Information desk to be 'hung' in the gallery. Please ask at the Information desk for A3 paper and art materials.

'Closing' Night Thursday 23 April, 6pm - 7pm
The Gallery @ City Library

(from Fizit's Livejournal)

I was really interested in that as an idea. I was right in the middle of reading Knit Art, by Ferne Geller Cone, a book from the 70s exhorting the joys of freeform knitting as artworks. I was fascinated by it, and itching to try it. So Blank Canvas came along jsut at the right time!

I've recently come into quite a pile of wool and half finished projects, so I grabbed a bag of interestingly textured balls of wool and started knitting.

This is the end product. It's called Abstract Experiment, and it is exactly that. Fascinating process to go through, knitted all in garter stitch, utalising the short row technique. It also incorporates a number of small pre-knitted pieces I found in the bag. I am the first to acknowledge that it's not the prettiest thing I've ever made, but it wasn't created with an asthetic in mind. It was knitted to try a technique out.

It's not a tumor! I was really happy with it.

The other piece I made for the show was something I'd been thinking about for a while, but like everything, I was waiting until the good idea had somewhere to go. I prefer to make things for a specific goal, rather than just randomly knit things.

I present to you KNITTYSCAPE

I love it :) I like all the tails of the yarn just hanging, and it's hung via the needles it was knitted on. This again is just garter stitch, this time utalising Instarta. I didn't have time to steam it flat, but I figured it added a little to the 'just finished' asthetic it has going on.

And just to finish off the news, here is the latest photo of the Mid sized Dragon:

I love the happy expression on his face. But can I just say, OH MY GOD I HATE sewing slippery crushed panne velvet! Ohhh, it makes for much, much frustration. It wasn't my idea, I'd much rather be using fake fur (which hides seams and little hiccups beautifully) or anything that isn't slippery, but I'm matching a costume that's already been made, so I have to go with their design choices. But again, I reiterate, BOO!!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

electrical faults aside, we got a family going on!

Yesterday I spent in the studio still working on the dragons. I bought a glue gun a week ago from a high end craft store that shall remain nameless as my previous glue gun, bought sensibly from a hardware store, had been suddenly called to Majorca to attend a family situation. Or at least, that's what the note it let told me.

So I had to buy another one, and since I was nowhere near a hardware store, I bought one from a craft store. A little nervously, I have to admit.

It's been really crappy. It's hard to work with, doesnt heat up well, which is pretty important in a hot glue gun, you'd have to agree, and generally has been a pain in the arse.

Yesterday, about halfway through the day, I plugged it in and turned it on with a sigh. About five minutes later, there was a flash, a pop and a wisp of smoke, and thus the glue gun went to heaven on little angel wings. (AHAHAH... what a great image! Now I'm considering fishing it out of the bin and doing exactly that to it :)

Because I'm a curious sort of girl, when it had cooled down, I unscrewed it to see what had gone on. It was exactly what I figured had happened. ..

Glue and circuitry boards should not mix... Notice the charring around the spiral of wire? That was all through the gun.

It also knocked out the power points in my studio and although the manager of the building and I spent the next 20 minutes going around to various fuse boxes, we couldnt find the one that had blown.

I'm now running anything electrical through a extension cord from the kitchen. Sighs. I was once told that you know you're having an adventure when you'd rather be home in bed.

So I continued the best I could without a glue gun, sewing skin for bodies and heads, stitching in the arms ect. I also decided that the little guy I had created was too small, so I started on making another, bigger Lil Dragon.

But eventually I got to a point where I ran out of silver thread, then ran out of red thread and decided it was best to go home.
Foreground is the half made Lil Dragon, being hugged by the Mid Dragon (sans facial features, because you need a hot glue gun for that) and at the back you can see the original Big dragon head that came as part of the costume. Of course, it doesnt fit the Big Dragon's head (the dragon head is much wider than a human or polystyrene one) so I have to make one of those too.

Those jobs that always seem simple but then spiral out bigger and bigger? I shall hearby refer to those as galaxy jobs and I think it's fair to say that they always make me sigh