Thursday, December 8, 2016

Stitch-Along Decisions

So you want to do the Stitch Along that starts in January.  There are many options and so the diagram I published yesterday (and was likely unreadable) will help get through them.  Lets take half the diagram and examine it now.

The first decision is do you like the design I am stitching.  It is called the Five Senses Design and if you go to the COC Part I class page and have access to it, you can review the entire design both in three dimensions and in full size tracing diagrams.

This side of the digram assumes that you like it as is.  Great! Your design is set and you are ready to go.  Time to think about the techniques you want to do your piece in so you can select a ground fabric.

If you move down the left hand side and say, I want to work it as a counted work design, you have the choice to use a graph and use the same fabric I am using and producing a graph for those students.  If that is your desire, get a piece of the Montrose linen and start working from the cutting and framing diagram on the site to get ready to stitch.
And note that you should put your casket on order.  We have the choice of putting all the panels on the casket at the end of the stitch along (24 months) or at an intermediate point to liberate our frames, changing the over all costs (i.e. having enough frames to fit all of it). I will be breaking up the monthly stitching with finishing of the box.  Decide when you want the box - but you need to order it ahead to have it there the day you finish the embroidery.

Ok, but say you don't need a graph but maybe want to do it on a finer count than 24 per inch.  So that
Five Senses Design for the Stitch-Along
requires you to trace the pattern onto the linen and choose the exact placement of the colors, kinda like a coloring book.  You can use my color placement as a guide.  So going down that decision tree, choose a count, buy a 36" x 36" piece of linen and start working through the instructions for framing and tracing.  One of the important things to get right when tracing is that the linen is square with the traced design and that the stretched linen isn't bigger than the box side.  So there are things to do and think about in the order you are going to do the tracing and framing (on the sheet).   You then need to place a casket on order for the reasons cited above.

Now what if you like the design and want to embroider it instead?  Maybe go for the full gusto (please - I want to see!) and do stumpwork of those figures.  In that case, you will need a 36" x 36" piece of ground fabric that will hold that embroidery well, and if the background won't be stitched over, is tightly woven enough so glue won't seep through the holes.  An easy way to test is to take some extra paper from your trinket box project and wet it with the glue and place it on the back of a small piece of that linen or fabric you are thinking about and look.  Let it dry and look.  If it looks fine - you are set.

I have already worked with the silk satin and the 40 count linen on the website and so I know those work.  One thing to caution against is using a backing muslin.  Choose a heavy weight silk satin and not a thin one, and remember that teachers often suggest backing with muslin because of the weight of the embroidery on the non-supported silk in a frame.  But ours will be glued to a support.  And the Japanese don't line theirs and it lasts unsupported for hundreds of years.  I haven't ever seen a full piece ever done this way in a museum.  What I have seen is the backing used and then cut away with only about a 1/16" of it showing beyond the heaviest parts of the embroidery.  Not sure when this full muslin on the back showed up in our lexicon.  And it is used slavishly like it came down from god.  Why not to do it? Because it will be the part that is glued to the paper and the box and not the silk ground that doesn't have embroidery on it.  When people have asked, I encourage them to cut away the excess backing because their embroidery background will bubble away from the casket.  The only way it won't is if the glue seeps through the muslin enough to bond the silk to the muslin.

After the choice is made, you then join the rest of the flow diagram and get to cutting, framing and tracing via the document on the class site.

Tomorrow - we go down the fork of how to make changes to the design


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Which Casket - Summary

Ok - so now we are through the 'Which Casket' discussion as well as an examination of some of the other issues that keep us from having fun and letting our fear of failure get in our way.  So the full decision matrix looks like this:

I will be posting this so you can print it out in the COC part I class page.  

The next thing is to go through the design decision process for those who are jumping aboard the Stitch-Along so you can be ready to start with your linen and tracing or graphs and are framed up.  That diagram looks like this:

Don't worry, the next few blogs will go through all the steps, one color at a time.  Now I can't help but mention the friendship algorithm by Dr. Sheldon Cooper.  A fantastic joke and not far off our diagrams here.  :-)  Everything can be diagramed as a decision algorithm it seems - from making friends to getting embroidery ready.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Casket Toy Contest - Entries Due December 31st

Just a break in the blog thread to give a reminder that there is a month left until the entries are due for the Casket Toy Contest and the entries have already started arriving in my email!  I am getting excited.

There is plenty of time to finish up your piece, design a new one or get started.  They are supposed to be smallish.

If you don't know what I am talking about - look at this older blog posting to find out the details and read the next several for inspiration.

Here is the link to the contest rules as well.


Monday, December 5, 2016

You're Worth It!

The next emotion that I want to discuss that stops some from starting their piece is the fear of not finishing the project.  Actually it is more complex than that, it is the fear of having someone else imply that you are wasting money if you haven't finished.  Today I was talking to someone and I called it the Embroiderer's Guild equivalent of Catholic Guilt.

Yes, there is enormous pressure that we let others put on us to finish - that the output of anything that we women do is supposed to be a tangible object.  For some reason, we are not allowed to just enjoy ourselves.  You are hearing the voices in your head right now - yours, your friends, your mother's - all justifying something they want to have or enjoy with all kinds of complex arguments as if just enjoying yourself is evil.

I have heard it and so have you.  Sometimes out of my own mouth. "I will take this seminar class because I am going to use it as a Christmas gift".  Have you ever heard any gentleman protest that he is going fishing to catch a birthday gift for Grandma?  No, he is going to relax and enjoy himself by sitting in a boat for hours knowing it is likely to end in nothing, perhaps with a friend and a cooler.  It is time to be honest with ourselves, we don't spend hundreds of hours on a project because we only wanted the end product.  We love the PROCESS.  That is where we get all our joy.  It is rhythmic and progress at the end of a hard day of never-ending picking up after kids.  It is the love of colors and tactile pleasure.  It is using a guild meeting to get out of the house and have female friends and getting to see the cute things they have made.  And as you are stretching yourself to design, it is the excuse to read that book on renaissance history and go to the museum exhibit and sit on NING and converse with people all over the world and take another class to 'polish your skills' for the project.  And maybe start to watch auctions for examples to look at (and maybe buy).

If we had just wanted the end product - we would have found a way to buy it or something similar.  How many of us make quilts when we can have something similar from China or a lovely piece the Amish have made.  I can go to an antique faire and buy a really amazing antique quilt for around $500 instead of spending 10 times that much on my stash of reproduction fabrics.  (again that voice in my head says something like 'well we can use the quilts I make' to justify that lopsided monetary argument).  Sorry, the real reason is I LOVE fabric and playing with the colors.  The end product is the EXCUSE for all the stuff in-between that gives us joy.

So start to take the joy and make that the point.  Start with the thought that this will not be your only casket and just start for the fun of it, that nothing you do that gives you joy wastes money and damn it - you are worth it!  (Tell the whispers in your ear that Tricia said so!)

I have gotten so many emails from students who have admitted they haven't started and maybe never will, but they are so enjoying the journey.  That makes me happy as they have gotten to nirvana.  They are no longer fretting - but living inside their passion.  In fact, sadly we have had more than a handful of fellow students who took the class knowing they would not make it to the last lesson but who conversed with me and you all - wanting to drink as much beauty and photos of their passions while they underwent treatments they weren't sure would help.  I would cry when a husband or sister would email me and let me know the fight was over but that they had enjoyed being with us virtually when they no longer could stitch.

So yes, perhaps if you start your casket you might never finish it.  Your sides will grace your walls or the walls of your family - just make sure that the memories behind all of those pieces are happy memories of the journey you allowed yourself to take through every bit of research, every picture you looked at for inspiration, the get-togethers you had, the chatting on NING with someone so far away who was a soul mate and who understood your passion and the threads you stroked and stitched and ripped out.  Don't make it a guilt object of shame that you didn't finish it.  I am thinking of attaching a note to a box of samplers that I have never framed so my sons can find it after I am gone.

Dear boys - don't look at this pile of finished work and think of it as wasted time and for some sad, pathetic reason were never framed.  Not a bit of it was regretted.  It wasn't the finished piece that I needed at the time, it was the process and the rhythm and the comfort.  Each time I pull out the box I say to myself - oh look at these old friends!  They helped me through so many times.  Happy times and trying times.  This one helped me get through my PhD dissertation writing.  This one was in my hands as I fretted during your birth, helping to lower my blood pressure in the hospital and this one kept me busy as you were in the Nic-U.  This piece was worked on my first trip to Europe on the endless and amazing train rides.  This was an experiment in green linen.  Here I was obsessed with learning to use metallic Kreinik threads as a teen.  This was a seminar piece where I met lifelong friends.  Please look at them with those eyes, and then find someone for whom they give joy and pass on the old friends.  They were all stepping stones to something else I wanted and I had fun - and I was worth it.
So get out your coloring pencils and your half finished design and start coloring and humming and have fun.  Lay out the threads and organize them and make sample stitches on linen and make decisions without the guilt of never finishing and stop caring what others say.  Just look at them and say "I am having fun and I am worth it" - surprisingly your progress will actually go faster.

Go figure!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Fear of Failure

I chastised one of my robot parents the other day as he jokingly gave his daughter a hard time about the robot run she was practicing.  The language was all about how she hadn’t gotten enough points and wasn’t perfect.  I pointed my finger at him – father of four girls – and said ‘you’re part of the problem!’.  He knew what I meant as I had shared my recent blog with him.  I meant that girls are chastised for not doing things perfectly the first time and it starts to keep them from stretching themselves, whereas sit back and listen to the language we use with boys.  “Get out there and give it the old college try”, “Give it one more chance”, “Keep at it”, “Nice try”.  Notice that not once do we chastise them for not being perfect.  It makes me mad.

So fast forward to your life and realize that some of the anxiety related to starting a large, creative project is due to your pre-programmed fear of failure, to not being the perfect little girl.  Well – screw that crud because that is what it is; crud. 

Now lets talk about the truth to getting any complex and creative endeavor done – building a winning robot or designing and stitching a casket.  There will be a TREMENDOUS amount of failure involved.  Sometimes I don’t even realize how programmed everyone else is to be perfect or fearing failure as failure is all around me and I am so comfortable with it.  There is no class in “how to build something no one ever has done before” – what happens is the maker explores, prototypes and makes lots of false starts while trying to figure out the best way to go about it, throwing away many attempts.  I can give you lots of advice to warn you about pitfalls, suggest going through checklists to be sure you have thought through possible issues before you start a path of action, but that only saves you from some of the problems.  And the truth be told, I only know these because MY first attempt FAILED. 

So in full disclosure here, I am going to show some of my failures in getting to the final products and how I make peace with it.  Some failures are things that can be removed and redone.  Some turn into other projects.  Some just have to be accepted if they can't be fixed.  And some show you to a new and better idea and that is just what the creative process is all about.  Those of you who have taken my classes for a long time may have noticed that sometimes there is progress in my photos that is out of order from the text.  Well, I failed and decided another way was better.  And often I try to include my failures as part of the instructions.  In other words - if you find yourself in this place - here is how you fix it.

My Stumpwork Mirror -
 Looks great from the front
Failure #1 is my stumpwork mirror frame.  I juggled writing the instructions while making it and in the final days I was so excited yet also tremendously scared, as I had no idea what I was doing – I was writing it as I went along!  But the lesson needed to be posted and I needed to finish so I was thinking about that when I pasted my embroidery onto the finished wooden form. 

Think about the line in the directions to ‘be sure to mark the top of the frame’ before you paste on the embroidery.  You know the front is symmetrical and the bottom and top look the same.  Well the back doesn’t.  Mine is upside down.

Yes – crud.  And so the easel doesn’t work.  Well, I could throw the whole thing away.    But how many people would ever know?  (Ok now everyone does….)  I can put a hanger on the back and hang it on a wall.  Or I can get a iron plate rack and let it rest angled on a table as I had intended and just move on.              

Turn it around and you realize that I pasted
the embroidery upside down
I have moved on.  It is beautiful and people see it and freak out over the figures, bugs, etc.  No one yet has noticed that the easel is on upside down.  And I have saved many of you from the same fate.   And as time went on, I realized that soon I will just have a plexi face made for it and will end up hanging it on a wall with the plexi over it to protect it from the build up of dust that will prematurely age it.  So the easel doesn’t even matter. 

Failure #2, I can’t seem to get my Flat Casket designed.  Ugh.  The casket is even all finished with the papers and everything.  I want the four elements (Water, Earth, Wind, and Fire) but I have found three different allegorical representations of these and have gone through so many versions on the sides of the casket.  Noah has copied even more of the themed motifs for me from old pieces so I can try.  So far all of the motifs have come from mirrors and because of that, I can’t seem to get the symmetry to work on a casket.  I think I will have to give up and work the motifs into a mirror where they truly want to be.  I have to say that I LOVE the water element.  I just want to do that grotto and ship so bad.  But
A front for the Elements Casket with Earth and Water
trying to share the space nice and symmetrical.
I have issues with the Wind and Fire sides - so boring.  So I periodically print it out and tape it to my casket and walk around it and think.  It has been over a year that I have been doing it and the problem has not been solved yet.  It might be time to experiment with a different design idea for this box.

This is my favorite version of Water.  Love that ship.  
In fact I have many partially designed sides, caskets, trinket boxes, and mirrors on my computer.  Sometimes they are abandoned and led to something that was better.  Sometimes they just represent an idea that won't work or I didn't like as much as I thought when I started drawing it.  None are wasted work, they are just part of the 99 ways on the way to a better light bulb.  And I am comfortable with that, I know that every time I do a side that doesn't work out I am actually learning and discovering the rules for what works well on a piece and it makes it easier to design one or look for a new solution.

The Fire side.  Not working for me.
What do I put in the rest of the white
space?  More fire?! Ugh.
So hopefully you are understanding that the design process is messy.  There are more false starts than you can shake a stick at.  And that is before we start embroidering! One of the benefits of looking at all the historic pieces up close is being able to see the false starts. I can't tell you how many pieces I have turned over - 17th century stumpwork and 18th century crewel pieces - to find the first draft tracing on the back!  They messed up and then turned the linen over and drew it again!  It makes me much more comfortable with my own mistakes to know that it isn't because I am a screw up, it is just a natural step in the creative process.  So I just try to have a bit of extra linen on hand 'in case'.

So I have to give an analogy now.  It is easy to fall into the trap of the master plan.  We do this thing
Our FAT contraption - no master plan, it just evolves.
every year called FAT at MIT.  Your team builds a 2 foot by 8 foot part of a giant chain reaction.  We do it in only 1-2 days and it always follows a predictable pattern.  My dad gets nervous because we don't have a 'plan'.  We have an assortment of cool ideas that everyone has spouted out and has run off and gathered the parts to put together the separate units.  All of the rest of us have gotten really comfortable with expending effort to try out an idea and accepting that some number of them will fail - ruining materials or costing us time.  But in that process we find out the problems and unexpected wonderful effects we can build on - things we just can't predict.  So for awhile we have to ignore him and his upsetness because we are all bulling forward without a master plan.  Then at some point hours later, it starts to become obvious that parts are starting to come together and we will 'make it' and have yet another really cool device.  But to get there, we all have to join hands and jump into the unknown and try things and be willing to throw many of the ideas away.  If we waited until we had a perfect master plan - a recipe to follow - we would fail in the end because it wouldn't work.  We have to have the minor failures along the way to actually succeed.

A side of a casket never finished - but soooo lovely and sold for $$$.  Was this someone's failure?
For those of you who are used to doing a sampler from a pattern, this is likely the most scary part of
becoming a designer.  To realize that there really isn't ever a master plan - there is a direction and a feeling you are trying to get and to accept that you will change your mind as you go.  You will end up with a box that has a few extra stumpwork apples in it, a partially made skirt in what is now the wrong colors, a face that looked scary and you might be making a stuffed tree trunk to cover up something you don't like on the partially finished embroidery.  None of it is wasted work, it was part of the process.  And in some cases, you might realize that you need the design to be different on that panel and you will abandon it.  Perhaps you will finish it and frame it on the wall (or give it to someone).  And it might then be like some of these antiques which are obviously panels that never made it on a casket.

Your design and colors and plan for techniques will evolve.  And some days you will leave your frame across the room and just stare at it...for a month trying to realize what comes next.  Always good to have another panel in process so you can turn to that when you are stuck on the other.  Nothing really great comes without the blood (can cover that up with a bug!), sweat and tears.

So embrace the possibility of failure and jump in with both feet...

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Design Shows the Way

The last factor that can effect your choice of casket is the design concept you want to do and how that fits on a casket.

The first thing to do if the design concept/story or technique is the most important factor to you is to make a list of everything you want on your casket.  Then look at the list and divide it into major items and minor items.  The easy way to think about that is to separate the ones that are to be in the background like trees, flowers, cats, castles, etc. and put those in the minor category.  The figures like the characters, family members, etc. are in the foreground and they are the major items.  Typically, only one major item will fit on a panel and the minor items will be used as the background fillers.  You can have two to three on a large panel like the top of a Flat Casket or the back of a piece if you have some that relate in a scene of a story.

Now count up how many of the panels you have.  If I was doing my family I would have four people and thus four panels.  Then look at the guide in the diagram.  Four panels would fit well on a Flat or Short Flat casket if you used something else for the top (like a flower jar).

If you had six different major characters (a family of six, lets say) it would be easier to fit that on a Double Casket with the two doors, two sides, a back and a top which equals six panels.

Hopefully this helps show how your design can lead to a smaller number of casket type options that you can pick from, and then you can use other factors to chose the one you want.

Tomorrow, I will start to talk about other factors that keep us from starting - how perfect is the enemy of the good.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Which Casket? - The Budget

Continuing yesterday's thread of the three primary reasons people use to choose which casket they want to get, we will consider budget today.  Again, you have to choose which of the three is the dominant factor for you.

When people talk about budget, it is from two different angles.  The first is that they can't afford a very expensive item in their fixed budget.  The second is that they have so many ideas that they want to execute that they feel the need to buy several caskets and that really exceeds what they should spend.

Lets take the second one as that is easiest.  Having many ideas is great!  But after trying to design many caskets based on my ideas and failing many times, I have realized that it is hard and not all ideas fit on a casket very well.  So having many ideas you want to do is actually great.

I would suggest in that case that you work with them on paper and try to design a casket, mirror or picture with each idea.  One of those shapes will work for it.  The one that works on a casket is the one you go with.  And meanwhile, you have 'parked' the rest of the ideas on shapes (mirror and picture) that I can support for you for many years forward and that are low in cost (no support structure cost for a stumpwork picture and only around $500 for a mirror).

This comes from experience I have gained in this class myself, trying to design many caskets for the course as well as mirrors.  I have many unfinished casket designs that are such because they just don't fit the symmetry of the object I am trying to force it on well.  So many ideas are good and sometimes you just have to accept that a cool idea would be better as a framed picture on the wall instead of a casket.

Now the back to the first angle, budget is the issue.  While there are seven different options, some are so close in price to make there really only four options - a price point for the structure of nothing (picture), $500 (Short Casket or one of the Mirrors), $1000 (Flat Casket) or over $2400 (Double Casket or Flat Top with Doors).

In my little diagram I use the greater than sign to remind you that there are additional costs like the papers, glue, woven tapes, and lining fabrics to account for and that they scale with the options.  As in there will be less of those for the mirrors than for the double casket.

The first thing you should think about is if putting these items on a monthly plan would make the one you want more affordable.  If so, then use that as a basis.  If not, use the budget number you have to draw the line and choose among the items below that.  While often stitchers oh and ah over the double casket, the short flat casket can be done up so over the top that you would never know that you hadn't gone with the expensive option.