The Christmas making

Christmas this year was unusual for one reason: I didn’t commit to making anything. In the end, there were only three handmades under the tree, and technically-speaking, two of them were actually on the tree, not under it.

I make ornaments for my kids every year. At first they were always polymer clay, but in past years I have branched out and used fabric, yarn, and even paper. This year I went back to basics, though, and did the clay thing.

I started with the ornament for my younger son.

The Christmas Making

See the resemblance? :-) He wears that hat in the opening credits for many of his YouTube videos.

24 beach 21

I am really happy with the way this one came out, although it was a fiddly process getting all of the colors just right. In fact, it was so fiddly that by the time I was done, I had very little creative energy left for my other son’s ornament.

The Christmas Making

It’s supposed to be from the logo for the game company he started. By the way, he recently published a free PC game, if you want to check that out!

It’s not a bad little ornament. I just wish I had not run out of time and energy by the time I made it, or I might have taken a bit more care to make it better. I was under the gun at that point, though, and the polymer had to be put away to make room for the nativity scene. The drawbacks of doing your creative work in the family’s living spaces!

The last of the Christmas crafting is also for one of my kids. I recently bought a pair of satin PJ pants for myself, and my younger son (who has always known how to appreciate being comfortable and cozy) thought they were awesome.

I tried to buy him a pair online, but it is nearly impossible to find satin pajamas for 11-year-old boys. So I made him a pair.
The Christmas Making

The Christmas Making

I traced a pair of his existing pajamas to make the pattern. I do think there may be a bit of a fit issue, though. He hasn’t worn them as much as I had hoped. I may have to take a seam-ripper to the elastic waist and sew another inch or two of fabric to the top, and re-do the elastic casing.

So that’s it for this year. A short and sweet list. There’s something to be said for not turning yourself into some kind of making machine!

Back at the clay table

You can probably tell when I get my creative mojo back. Things get a bit silent around here. And, in fact, if I hadn’t remembered at the last minute that today was Wednesday and I hadn’t blogged in a while, it probably would have been yet another day before I popped in here.

So, what have I been doing? Crochet hooks!

Crochet-hook-making, Batch 1, Day 1.

Crochet-hook-making, Batch 1, Day 1.

Working at the clay table is tough for me, because I have a tendency to hunch over my work, and that position is not too friendly for my right shoulder. I generally only have about two hours in me before it hurts enough that working is no longer enjoyable.

Because of this, I usually plan on making only six hooks per day. I can spend my two hours putting on the handles, and then rest my back and shoulders while they harden in the oven. Once the hooks are cooled off, I can spend another hour or so sanding the daylights out of the handles, and buffing them to a nice shine.

Six hooks is physically comfortable for me in a day.

Crochet-hook-making, Batch 1, Day 1.

This week I decided I would attempt to do eight hooks per day. I had thirteen custom orders I wanted to complete this week, which would mean I could do eight of them on Tuesday, and the other five plus three for the shop on Wednesday. Only that didn’t happen.

Oh, I put the handles on the first eight hooks, alright, and my shoulders were none-to-happy by the end of it. But later, instead of sanding and buffing those eight hooks, I decided to put handles on the other eight. My shoulder felt better by then (it generally does in just a short while). And then after supper, I did another eight! Only that last eight turned into ten when I had some leftover patterns I wanted to use. So altogether twenty-six.

Crochet-hook-making, Batch 1, Day 2.

I put handles on twenty-six hooks yesterday! That’s twenty more than my usual daily quota.

I was definitely sore after each session, but it’s so nice to have all of these hooks done now!

Well, not done done. They still all need to be sanded and buffed, and I suspect that’s another two or three hours of work, but that’s a job for tomorrow.

So if you ordered custom hooks from me, they are on schedule for shipping by this weekend! Yay!

If you did not order custom hooks from me and you are kicking yourself, go ahead and place an order. I’ve decided I’m up for one more marathon hook-making session if necessary. Just don’t wait because I won’t be in this mood for long…

If you miss that custom ordering window, those extra thirteen hooks will be showing up in the shop this week sometime.

Whew.

Unadorned

Organized.

How do you like my naked crochet hook collection? Someday many of them will have polymer clay handles, but today they’re just hanging out in the buff.

I’ve been storing them in this homemade organizer ever since I started accumulating them in any great number. It’s been a few years at this point, I guess. The box is a sturdy Lands End shoebox. Inside the box is a set of 28 toilet paper tubes, held together with paper clips, and inside each tube is a rolled-up piece of card stock where I’ve written the contents of each tube.

I’ve often thought I’d like to decorate the box and make it more visually-appealing, but its plainness has grown on me. That, and laziness. Ok, it’s mostly laziness. I will probably never get around to decorating that poor box.

I did re-organize the contents, though. I realized today that my old method wasn’t working for me. I hardly ever sell steel hooks, and yet they were taking up more than half of the box. So I grouped them together into fewer tubes, and spread out the aluminum hooks in a way that will make it easier to find what I need. Yay!

Did you know that within twelve hours of announcing last night that the shop was open, I had already received one third of the total number of orders I can realistically handle? Wow! At this rate, I’ll have to close the shop in just a few days!

So thank you very much. Seeing those orders come in is simultaneously thrilling and panic-inducing. I’m so happy you like my work, but eek! Now I have to actually set up the clay table and make these things in a timely manner. Eek!

Spotted in the wild

274/365: Oct 1 - Six hooks in progress

I haven’t had my polymer clay supplies out in some time. (My dining room thanks me – it’s been neat and clean for months – some kind of record around here!) But, when I do have the clay supplies out, and I am cranking out batch after batch of handmade crochet hooks, it might seem to me as if I have crafted thousands of the darn things and that they are as ubiquitous in the crochet community as an unadorned Susan Bates metal G hook.

But in reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. I have probably made a few hundred hooks in my time, and they are scattered far and wide. Most people have never heard of my little hook-making operation – a fact about which I am not complaining, because too much more popularity would only chain me to the work table in an utterly unsustainable way.

(Although I wouldn’t refuse just a little more notoriety, if it came my way.)

02 hooks

I say all this so that you will understand what a pleasant jolt it gave me the other night to spot my hooks “in the wild.”

Last night it was too close to bedtime to put on any tv shows of any substantial length, but it was too early for me to want to head upstairs just yet. I remembered I had a Craftsy class I hadn’t yet watched (Professional Finishing for Perfect Crochet (w/ Linda Permann)), so I figured I’d entertain myself with the first lesson.

I got it all set up on the Google TV, pressed PLAY, watched Linda start to talk about neatening up the edges of a flat crochet piece, and that’s when I saw it: my hook! In fact, I sat up straight and said aloud, “hey! that’s my hook!”

273/365: Sep 30 - Making a lot of hooks this week. Finishing the first batch.

I know I sold hooks to Linda. I know she writes books and patterns, and teaches online classes. So it should not have been such a surprise to see her using one of them. Still, there on the big screen it jumped out at me, and I kept thinking, “How cool! My hook is on TV!”

Part of the excitement, I imagine, is that I watch these classes on my television, so what most people are seeing on a computer or tablet screen, I’m seeing in 37 glorious inches. I’m sure it gives inflated importance to the whole thing…

But still: Cool! My hook is on TV! ;-)

This has me thinking, of course, that maybe it’s time to make some more. I’ve had many months (or has it been a year already?) to recover from the last hook-making sessions, and there are currently only six of them left in the shop.

I may even be inclined to open up the shop for custom orders sometime next month. Would there be any interest in that? (When you place a custom order, I make a hook exactly to your specifications – size, brand, handle pattern, type of thumb grip, etc.)

05 hooks 02

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you in the market for custom crochet hooks for yourself or maybe for gift-giving?

Wow. It’s been a while since I’ve had any interest in getting out my clay supplies. Maybe I should see my stuff out in the wild more often! It seems to be the jolt I need.

(BTW, that Craftsy link up there is an affiliate link, but I would have written this exact same post, even if it wasn’t. The usual disclaimers apply.)

That’s a wrap.

Scrap clay buttons from Polka Dot Cottage

Scrap clay buttons from Polka Dot Cottage

Scrap clay buttons from Polka Dot Cottage

Any Way Wrap (pattern by Twig + String) at Polka Dot Cottage

Any Way Wrap (pattern by Twig + String) at Polka Dot Cottage

Any Way Wrap (pattern by Twig + String) at Polka Dot Cottage

Any Way Wrap (pattern by Twig + String) at Polka Dot Cottage

Any Way Wrap (pattern by Twig + String) at Polka Dot Cottage

My browser ate my post last night.

Dump one measly cup of coffee into your laptop and it gets all temperamental on you! I tell you. Computing has become an exercise in frustration lately. I think I need to be on the lookout for an affordable replacement for my laptop.

Anywho, I am not prepared to rewrite the whole darn thing, so please allow me to let the pictures do most of the talking for me.

I will say, that this is the Any Way Wrap by Stephanie Sario of Twig & String. You can find the Ravelry details here.

I made this sucker in just a few hours. I’m primarily a worsted-weight and G-hook kind of girl, but after this I can totally see the appeal of super bulky M-hook projects!

My biggest difficulty with this wrap is that I can’t figure out the best way to wear it for a flattering fit. I was originally seduced by the cover image where the wrap is buttoned in the back, but on me the button is too low. I must be too short. I’m going to try blocking the wrap to the listed measurements and seeing if that works. I also plan to stalk Ravelry and see how other people wear it.

If I can’t make it work, no big deal – I can just whip up another (smaller) one. They are SO fast!

The buttons are also handmade. I used my usual button-making method, but instead of veneering them with a fancy millefiori cane design, I took a few slices from a chunk of funky-looking scrap clay I’ve been saving. I love the way they came out! I’m glad I made a few extras.

[edited: I just had an ah-ha! moment. When you button the back of the shawl, you also should button the front of it. That brings the back button up significantly, and holds it all together much better. Unfortunately, I’ve also discovered that I’m kind of a terrible shape for this look, so until I skinny up significantly, I will probably wear it another way.]

Buttons!

Making polymer buttons with Polka Dot Cottage

I made buttons last week. They were a prerequisite to getting some scheduled writing done. You see, I made the buttons so that I could put away the polymer clay supplies for the year. I needed to put the polymer away so that I could set up the sewing machine. And I need to sew so that I can write this month’s eBook (it’s going to be patchworky, my friends!).

Whew. It really is a relief to have the polymer clay put away. I am now a full week behind on my self-imposed writing deadline, so it feels good to finally be ready to sew the samples. Yay!

So, how about I show you those buttons?

Making polymer buttons with Polka Dot Cottage

Making polymer buttons with Polka Dot Cottage

Making polymer buttons with Polka Dot Cottage

Making polymer buttons with Polka Dot Cottage

The first three sets of buttons are for three little sweaters I just finished knitting. (I’ll show you the sweaters later). I wanted them all to be similar, but different. So, there are two polka dot sets and one striped set.

Making polymer buttons with Polka Dot Cottage

I have a polka dot button tutorial that you could follow if you wanted to make these. The only differences are in the size of the round cutter, and the placement of the polka dots. I went for a more precise placement this time, impressing a grid pattern on top of my button slab, and using a tiny cutter to make uniform dots. Given the size of these buttons, I probably could have gotten away with less precision. You don’t really even notice it.

Making polymer buttons with Polka Dot Cottage

If stripes are your thing, try this old tutorial of mine. I didn’t make these that way – I used a pasta machine to build a striped cane for uniform striping. But if you don’t have a pasta machine, or you like a bit of asymmetry, the tutorial should do you just fine.

Making polymer buttons with Polka Dot Cottage

Making polymer buttons with Polka Dot Cottage

The last set of buttons is for a sweater that doesn’t exist yet. This set was made almost exactly the same way as the rustic buttons I showed you last month, but they are less complicated. Instead of using multiple colors of pastels and cutting up the sheet, I just went with solid black. In the end, it might have been too much black, but I think they’ll still do.

Those buttons will be on the front of a cardigan at some point. I was thinking originally in terms of Christmas gifting (as you may know) but I am pretty sure I have talked myself out of that at this point. I think. Probably.

Tomorrow I will show you the cute little sweaters that the stripes and polka dots were made for. See you then!

How to make rustic buttons even when it all goes horribly wrong

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

There is a new sweater in my closet. (Well, not quite in my closet yet. It’s actually on the floor at the moment, being blocked.) You may have caught glimpses of it on my Instaflick stream. Sally has been ribbing me on Facebook about the GREENness of it, given how many green sweaters I already have, but hey – this one is Granny Smith green. The others are teal, kelly, and pine. One can never have too many different shades of green in their wardrobe, I say. Am I right??

I’ll show you the sweater properly after I’ve blocked it, and had a backyard photo shoot (oh, my neighbors must wonder about me, when I head out there with my tripod and shutter remote…)

Today, let’s talk buttons.

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

I had a plan for these, but I got a little lazy in one step, and my plan went awry. Still, I soldiered on, and I’m happy enough with the results, that I think it’s worth showing you, mistakes and all.

I wouldn’t call this a full-blown tutorial, but if you have any experience with polymer, you should be able to figure out how to do what I did without too much trouble.

I started with two shades of green clay – one lighter than the sweater, and one darker. I believe they are both straight-out-of-the-package Premo, but I can’t be entirely sure, since I found them just laying there on my work table. I rolled both colors out on a medium setting of the pasta machine, and set the dark one aside. That was to be the base of the buttons.

The light clay was for the top of the buttons, and that’s where all of the embellishment needed to happen.

I used a method I originally learned from Ellen Marshall (or, at least, that was the plan at first):

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

I selected a few colors of chalk pastels, mostly green, mostly darker than the light clay.

I used my tissue blade to scrape some dust from the ends of the pastels.

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

Using my fingers, I colored the surface of the lighter clay with the pastels.

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

Then, I cut up the sheet and re-arranged it as shown.

At this point, I should have gotten my lazy butt off of the chair and gone looking for my acrylic rod so that I could roll the pieces and fuse the sheet back together. But, well, I was lazy, and instead I tried pressing it together with my fingers and then running it through the pasta machine, which worked okay, until I tried making more cuts and then, blech! The sheet became a total disaster area.

I very nearly balled the whole thing up, but for some reason, I paused.

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

Then, I took all of those screwed-up pieces and arranged them on the dark clay sheet. Hmmmm. It had potential.

I ran that mess through the pasta machine, and decided to proceed as if my original plan had worked: I would texture the sheet, and make buttons from that.

I used a texture sheet of my own design. I’ve used this several times before – it’s kind of my signature texture at this point. You might remember it from this jewelry collection a few years ago, among other things.

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

This time I got out of my chair and retrieved the acrylic rod. Lesson learned.

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

Once the texture was applied to the sheet, I began cutting out buttons. I always make a few more than I need, so that I can pick the best ones. My sweater needed 6 buttons, so I made 8.

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

I used my little button hole template to mark where the holes should go, and then I poked pilot holes.

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

In order to protect the powders on top of the buttons, and also to smear them around in a way that would enhance the visibility of the texture, I put a tiny bit of Liquid Kato Polyclay on my fingertip and rubbed it on top of each button. I repeated the process until I was happy with the way they looked, and then I baked them.

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

Rustic Polymer Clay Buttons, tutorial from Polka Dot Cottage

After they were cured and cooled, I drilled holes and lightly buffed them.

Now they are on my sweater, and I think they are such a nice match with the yarn! The texture is not as pronounced as I originally had hoped, but I have bonus texture on a lot of them, where the darker under-layer is showing through. That never would have happened if all had gone according to plan, but I really love that effect.

Hooray for lazy actions that pay off in the end!

Sometime in the next week or so, I’ll show you the sweater. If you’re a knitter and are looking for a long-term project, you might want to keep an eye out for it. This granny smith sweater is one I designed myself. I want to publish it, and I’ll be looking for test knitters to help me make sure the other sizes work!

It’s clay week

275/365: Oct 2 - The week in handle-making

This is the week I have set aside for completing your custom orders. (Ordering closed on Monday) I find that a nice, do-able workload for me is about six hooks per day. At that pace, I have time to craft the handles in the morning and then work on other responsibilities while they cure.

274/365: Oct 1 - Six hooks in progress

After lunch, I spend time in the finishing phase – sanding through five grits of sandpaper, and then buffing them to a high shine. I’m realizing, actually, that I spend just as much time finishing the hooks as I do putting the handles on. That’s kind of a shame, since finishing is my least favorite part.

273/365: Sep 30 - Making a lot of hooks this week. Finishing the first batch.

If you ordered crochet hooks or loom tools from me, know that I am working on them this week. Some orders may find their way into next week, depending on whether I can pick up my pace a bit. I may be able to stretch to nine hooks per day. Or maybe not – I’ve got kids home with colds, and I kind of can’t ignore them. Not completely, anyway. Sometimes I have to stop and play a game, or listen to a story. That, of course, is no hardship at all, but it does impact productivity a bit. Just so you know.

02 hooks

Those of you who missed out on custom ordering? Don’t worry – I haven’t closed the shop completely. You are still welcome to order anything that is still in stock. And while I really can’t commit to another few weeks of filling custom orders, I do expect to sit down at the table and make a batch of hooks or loom tools now and then before Christmas. I’ll add these to the shop as I make them. If you have any special requests for sizes, just leave a comment here. I’ll try to make what seems most popular!

Now accepting custom orders!

New patterns for this season's custom orders at Polka Dot Cottage

It’s been a momentous week around here. First I publish a new book, and now I open up custom ordering in the Handmades Shop. Who knew putting one’s work schedule onto a calendar could actually inspire honest-to-goodness work to happen? And accomplishments to be made? Hooray for that!

New patterns for this season's custom orders at Polka Dot Cottage

So let me tell you a little bit about the subject at hand: custom orders.

Those of you who haven’t known me for very long, and have only seen me sew, crochet, or knit, may not realize that my background is in polymer clay. And every once in a while, I open up the shop and let people tell me what to make (within a rather specific set of guidelines, that is).

New patterns for this season's custom orders at Polka Dot Cottage

My specialty is creating ergonomic (and attractive, if I do say so myself) handles for metal crochet hooks. I’m told by people who have joint pain or Carpal Tunnel that they can crochet much longer with my hooks than they can with a plain metal hook. I am so happy to hear these stories! You can see what else people have had to say by reading my crochet hook feedback page.

New patterns for this season's custom orders at Polka Dot Cottage

New patterns for this season's custom orders at Polka Dot Cottage

New patterns for this season's custom orders at Polka Dot Cottage

New patterns for this season's custom orders at Polka Dot Cottage

New patterns for this season's custom orders at Polka Dot Cottage

I took the summer off from polymer, but I dusted off my work space early this week and got right back to it. A few days of playing with designs, and I had a selection of nine patterns to use for this season’s work.

If you would like to order a crochet hook (or a set of them!) or any of the other handmades that I offer in custom styles, please place your order as soon as possible. I have looked at my calendar, and I don’t see any other possible openings for me to be doing custom work after September! That doesn’t mean I won’t necessarily be able to squeeze a little work into October or November, but please don’t count on it. Better safe than sorry!

New patterns for this season's custom orders at Polka Dot Cottage

Please think ahead for holiday gifting. Custom ordering will be closing on September 30th.

Click here to order crochet hooks.

Click here to see what else is available in the Handmades Shop.

Any questions about what I do, please feel free to ask! If you’ve bought something of mine in the past and would like to leave a little feedback here, that would be great, too! The comment section is all yours.

[UPDATE: I’ve been asked about family portrait ornaments. I’m sorry, I will not be doing a batch of family portraits this year.]

The Sparkle Factory

Book Review: The Sparkle Factory

I was asked if I’d like to review this book, and I kind of surprised myself by saying “yes.” After all, I’m not the most blinged-out person you could meet, and I doubt anyone is using the word “sparkly” to describe me. Nonetheless, I was intrigued enough to look at the first few pages on Amazon. And when I saw there was polymer clay in this book, I decided it was worth a look.

Let me tell you a little bit about me and polymer clay. My first pieces were made (about 18 years ago) following the instructions in a book intended for kids. I did a lot of cutesy/crafty things before I started to get more serious/artsy about it. I’ve been a part of the polymer community for some time, and in the last several years, I’ve seen a collective focus on promoting the artful side of the medium. People have worked tirelessly to get polymer into museums and to prove its worth as an art material. There are some truly amazing things being done with polymer right now, and it’s been talked about all over the polymer blogs, Facebook, and Flickr.

Book Review: The Sparkle Factory

What’s funny to me, though, is that all of this focus on art has somewhat ignored the humble roots of this stuff. You don’t hear much (in my circle, at least) what the average person is doing with a pack of craft store polymer. Not everyone cares about sanding their pieces. Not everyone is looking to make a work of art. Not everyone even knows that there is so much potential in that little packet. Some people just want a lump of color they can mold into something wearable and fun.

Hey, that’s exactly what drew me to polymer in the first place: fast, easy, wearable. Done.

And that is how polymer is used in this book. It’s a means to an end, just another craft material that will get you where you want to go. And I find that kind of a relief. It takes some of the pressure off.

Book Review: The Sparkle Factory

The clay is only used in a few of the projects in this book, mostly as a colorful base for sparkly crystals and jewels, and sometimes as a molding material. Do you see that funky cameo up there? It’s not exactly my style, but I can definitely appreciate the way brightly-colored clay completely changes the mood from traditional to rebellious.

Throughout the book there are projects that celebrate color and inexpensive materials. You are encouraged to find your supplies at the dollar store!

There are several projects, but then there are also chapters where the author shares her story, and then provides encouragement for budding jewelry designers.

It’s an interesting book, and while I (probably) won’t be dying my hair pink, it’s got me thinking about injecting a little more FUN into some of my jewelry.

Intrigued? Here’s a link to the book on Amazon:
The Sparkle Factory: The Design and Craft of Tarina’s Fashion Jewelry and Accessories

(By the way, the usual disclaimers apply re: affiliate links and the free book I got as compensation for my honest review.)

Adventures in self-color-changing cane-making

The Afghan Cane in progress

The Afghan Cane in progress

18 clay 02

The Afghan Cane in progress

It’s been a clayful couple of days around here. Well not, strictly-speaking, around here, per se, since I was actually in Philadelphia for some of it, but you know what I mean.

Last week I built a new Afghan Cane in the Rainbow colorway. I don’t often repeat canes that I already have made. Once they’re gone, I usually move on and make something else. But this time was different. For one thing, I really liked my original Rainbow Afghan pattern, and for another thing, I had an order to fill. My customer specifically requested that pattern on her pendant and I hated to let her down.

But perhaps the most compelling reason to forge ahead and make a new one of these was that the Afghan Cane is a perfect example of the concept I was planning to demonstrate to the Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild on Sunday.

This is one of those canes that is a bit on the tedious side to assemble. It’s not hard, it’s just time-consuming. It took me roughly an hour to get to the stage you see in the last photo up there. Imagine having to do that exact same step sixteen times in order to make a 4×4 polymer clay afghan with 16 differently-colored squares inside of it? My head hurts just thinking about it.

And that, precisely, is why I designed that cane to be a self-color-changing cane. In other words, when you cut into the middle of it, you no longer have a navyblue-red-yellow square in the face of it. You have a chartreuse-skyblue-pink square. And elsewhere, you can slice off a brown-yellow-purple square. And so on. And through the magic of well-placed Skinner blends, you get all of these colors in a single cane – in other words, you only have to build one square, but it looks like you built a whole bunch of them.

I was visiting the PAPCG this past weekend as their guest artist, and the topic of my demonstration was this alternative use of Skinner blends. I prepared enough clay to show them simple ways to make gingham and plaid, and I showed them the cane that got me started on this path more than six years ago: the Triangle cane. I hadn’t planned to show them an Afghan cane, because of how involved the process can be, but then the serendipitous need to build a new one popped up. Perfect! I did the most uninteresting parts at home and saved the Big Reveal for Sunday.

The Afghan Cane, after the first reduction and re-assembly

If you’ve ever made a complicated cane, you know that the most exciting part is cutting into it and seeing how it came out in the middle. That excitement is multiplied exponentially when you are working with a cane that you know will be significantly different on the inside than it is on the outer edges. I tell you, it was killing me not to cut into this Afghan cane for two days! Still, I managed to survive, and together my Philadelphia friends and I cut into the cane and re-assembled it. I lacked the presence of mind to photograph that step, but someone in the guild was on the ball, and they took the image above.

Teaching an alternative use of a Skinner Blend at the PAPCG

I reduced and re-assembled one more time to get the 16-square version you see on my Philly worktable there. Not much of a glamour shot, I know, but it’s pretty much the same as the cane on the cover of the eBook, with perhaps a teensy bit more intensity in the bluish parts.

So, the weekend went well, I had fun, I enjoyed seeing everybody again, but I am still a teeny bit relieved to be done with it. Public speaking is not exactly my forte. (Oh! and along those lines? There will soon be a YouTube video on the PAPCG channel – an interview with me. Ack. I’ll probably share it with you when it’s up. Maybe. Depends on how my hair looks, and whether I said anything stupid. Heh.)

I am also relieved to be nearly back to normal in regards to Neil’s eye. He’s healing well, and was allowed to take the weekend off from doctor visits. As I write, it is 5:30 on Monday, and we have 7pm appointment to see how things have developed over the last few days. Fingers crossed there are no signs of fungus!

This may be the first normal week I have had in ages. Maybe now I can finish my taxes (thank goodness for extensions!)…

Polka Dot Crochet Hooks!

The shop is open for custom crochet hook orders! Hooray!

I decided to try something completely new this time, and offer only one pattern, but offer it in multiple colors. Allow me to present Polka Dots! What can I say? It seemed appropriate somehow…

hook_patterns7

I am excited to be switching gears a little bit this time. These polka dots are not made with my usual millefiori caning technique. I’ve come up with a way to make the dots pretty darn even, and keep them round, so I think you’ll like the results.

You can order some standard combinations of black, red, and white (options 1, 2, 5, 6, and 10), two variations of aqua and brown (3 and 7), or patterns based on the color of the metal hook combined with black or white (4, 8, and 12). Also, if you have other colors in mind that I haven’t listed, you you can select option 9. And if you just don’t care what colors I use, select option 11 and let me come up with something fun and unexpected for you!

Now, I know polka dots are not everyone’s cup of tea, and so if you are in the market for a nice crochet hook but don’t want the dots, you have three options:

  • check the shop and see if any of the in-stock hooks will fit your needs
  • wait until I change up the pattern choices (probably in a month or two)
  • email me – we might be able to work something else out

For those of you who are new around here, let me fill you in a bit on these hooks.

They start with a normal metal hook in your choice of Susan Bates, Boye, or Clover brand. You choose the hook size and whether you would like a thumb rest or not, and then you pick your favorite pattern from the currently-available list. I cover the metal handle with durable polymer clay in your chosen pattern. Once the hook is cured, I then sand it through several grits of sandpaper, and buff it to a nice shine on a buffing wheel.

It’s a fairly labor-intensive process, but the results are worth it. I use these hooks for all of my own crochet projects, and many of my customers have left me marvelous feedback, as well. (Thank you, Kat, Beth, and Adele for being my most recent additions to the feedback page – I appreciate your kind words!)

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Now, may I ask you to do something for me? If you can’t afford to buy a hook (don’t need one now / don’t crochet / whatever) but you know someone else who may be interested, would you please share this post? or a direct link to the crochet hook section of the shop? Word of mouth and positive feedback are so valuable to me.

Thanks a million!

P.S. Today’s installment of the Lakeside Forest Blanket tutorial is going to be a little bit late. I just couldn’t squeeze in more writing this weekend, between all of this hook stuff and family things. I’ll get it posted sometime Monday. I just won’t be my usual first-thing-in-the-morning punctual self!

 

Polka dots and chevron stripes

65/365: Mar 6 - Experimenting with polka dots 06 clay 01 06 clay 02

I have to admit, I thought I’d have a big pile of potential handle designs to show you by now, but I haven’t been nearly as prolific as I’d have liked to be. In fact, all I’ve managed to do is come up with a simple way to make a polka dot cane, rejected that cane because the dots were too square-ish, and squish that cane into a chevron stripe thingy.

The chevron thing has possibilities, I’ll admit, especially if I were to introduce more color into it. And I’ve thought of another (non-millefiori) way to get even polka dots, and I plan to play with that today.

We may or may not be getting snow this afternoon. It’s snowing as I write (at 8:30am), but the sun is also shining beautifully, so who knows? Apparently March storms are hard to predict.

Almost time…

63/365: March 4 - Photographing hooks for the shop

I’m getting ready to re-open the Handmades Shop for custom orders. Today, that meant sweeping up some of the virtual cobwebs and updating the stock on the shelves. I concentrated mostly on the Crochet Hook section.

Remember that handful of hooks I made at the Clayathon back in January? Well, I finally photographed them properly and got them listed in the shop. If you’ve been waiting to buy new hooks, go have a peek – maybe there’s something there that will grab you!

The new inventory is entirely Boye brand hooks. I did something I don’t usually do with this batch – I used pearlescent clay in many of them. This gives the handles a really nice sparkly effect. It’s hard to do it justice in a photograph, but if you buy one and let the light bounce off of it in just the right way… very pretty.

04 hooks

Tomorrow, I am going to start making some new millefiori cane patterns to be used in custom hooks. This, too, is a departure from my norm. I usually choose a selection of canes that I have already made. This time, I plan to start from scratch. There will be a whole new batch of colors and patterns, and most of them will be limited-edition. I’m looking forward to this, and I can’t wait to share my progress with you!

I’ve had some requests for polka dot crochet hook handles, so you can bet there will be some of those! I’m also feeling stripey, so there will be a selection of skinny spikey stripes. What else? Who knows. I’m kinda winging it over here.

My goal is to have custom ordering up and ready by this coming weekend. I’ll let you know for sure when it happens. In the meantime, maybe you’d be interested in one that’s already made and ready to ship?

Also, if you’ve ordered my hooks in the past and loved them, would you consider leaving feedback ( <—just click that link to do so)? I would love to feature a few more testimonials on the ordering page. Thanks!

I’ll be back later in the week with an update :-)

What do I mean by Millefiori Canes?

20/365: Jan 20 - The first batch of Clayathon hooks 20 clayathon 01 20 clayathon 02

I know that many of you are here because of your interest in the yarny or fabricky things I do, and that sometimes when I talk about my work in polymer, you might not really get what I’m saying. It’s ok. Every craft has its lingo, and sometimes you just need somebody to clarify a few things.

Allow me to be your guide today :-)

The vast majority of my polymer work involves caning, also called millefiori. I like to describe a millefiori cane like a tube of slice-and-bake cookie dough, where the image goes all the way through the length of the tube. No matter how many slices (cookies) you cut from that tube, they will all have the same image on them.

(Sadly, Pillsbury has gone and screwed up my analogy by no longer selling those cookies in tubes. They’re all pre-sliced now. What a bummer. Yet stubbornly I persist, and hope that you are all old enough to remember said cookies.)

Anyway, I build these millefiori canes, and I use very thin slices from them as veneers to cover things like pens and crochet hooks.

Kasey and I chatted about this in the comments recently, and we came up with the analogy that my millefiori cane collection is like my yarn stash or my fabric stash. They are the raw materials I use to make my finished objects.

However, it would be even more accurate to compare the millefiori canes to handspun yarns or handwoven fabrics, because I didn’t buy them. I made them myself.

I played around with a lot of new cane designs at the Clayathon this weekend, and for one of them I actually had the presence of mind to photograph the steps.

I’ve put together this short video for you. It’s not meant to be a tutorial, but rather just a visual example of my process. It’s a little over a minute long, but it should be enough to give you the gist:

I don’t make every cane exactly this way, by the way. The initial building of the design varies from cane to cane. But once I have that initial pattern (in this case let’s call it a 9-patch quilt block) just about every cane follows the same process: stretching (aka reducing) the cane to miniaturize the design, cutting, recombining the pieces, and reducing again. And sometimes yet again. My simple 9 patches became 144 with this process!

I hope that gives you a bit more background. I realize I didn’t explain every step, but I do have some free tutorials around here somewhere that do that, if you want to know more.

Also, if there is interest in a Beginner Caning Class similar to what I did with the Beginner Button Class, I’m all for it. I’d be happy to oblige.

Some administrivia

I’ve decided that Mondays will be hexagon blanket days, so if you are crocheting along with us on the Lakeside Forest Blanket, look for new information every Monday. Of course, there will come a time where there is no new information and we are all just plugging away on the crocheting of it all, but I’ll still post and show you my progress (and give you a chance to show me yours), if nothing else!

If I were to put a dozen of my eBook tutorials together into a print book, to be sold in the $20 range, would that be something you’d be inclined to buy? I’ve been mulling it over for some time, but stopping short of committing. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on what you’d like to see in a Polka Dot Cottage publication!

Speaking of eBooks, cabled headband tutorial coming soon!

Fun with freebies

19/365: Jan 19 - Millefiori experimenting at the Clayathon

It’s Sunday morning, and I am sitting alone in my hotel room, sipping coffee and waiting for my family to join me in a google hangout that they probably have no idea I’ve invited them to. It sounds more needy and sad than it actually is. The coffee is quite delicious, and if I don’t hangout with the family now, there’s always later.

Connecting with each other is easier every year. In the past, I only had my crummy little cell phone. Now I still have a crummy little cell phone, but there’s the laptop for face-to-face when I’m in my room, and the tablet for instant-messaging when I’m at my work table in the clay room. And yesterday, Aidan and I used the tablet for a google hangout during which I walked from my room to the coffee station in the lobby, and then to the clay room, giving Aidan a tour of the facility in the process.

Ain’t technology fun?

19 google hangout

It’s now been fifteen minutes since I wrote that last paragraph, and I’ve had a little face time with the family during which I learned one child has a sore throat (I directed him to the oscillococcinum – stay away, flu!) and the other child is in the middle of a Wii U adventure (which is pretty much his natural state of being).

19 millefiori 01

I want to run down to the clay room now and get my money’s worth out of this weekend, but before I do, let me show you what I’ve been up to here. Usually by this time, I’ve amassed such a ridiculous collection of finished objects that I am the subject of some good-natured ribbing about my productivity. It’s really kind of gross how prolific I can be at the Clayathon. Heh.

This year has been different. I’ve sat around and chatted more than I’ve put my nose to the grindstone, and when I have worked, it’s been more of an experimental play-time than anything else. We were given some small packs of pearlescent Premo and a few silver-tone jewelry findings from Sculpey, and here’s what I did with them, adding only a little bit of my own white to the mix:

19 millefiori 02

 

I’m happier with this necklace and these crochet hooks than anything else I’ve done all weekend so far. I don’t usually use sparkly clays in my work, but once in a while it’s fun to add a touch of it. You can’t tell from the photos, but these have somewhat more than a touch of sparkle. You can get a slightly closer view if you click the image.

Well, it’s time to get back to it. And I just remembered that I told you I’d take some step-by-step photos of my millefiori process. I’ll try to do that today. I suspect that I am going to spend the whole weekend in this experimental mode, so the step-by-steps may result in a big pile of ick at the end. That’s probably ok, though. It would certainly be realistic! Not every experiment ends in something beautiful.

I’ve got more hexagons planned for tomorrow’s post, but after that I’ll be back to show you more of my polymer weekend. Happy Sunday!

Family portrait show-and-tell

Good morning! I come to you from Congestion Land this snowy NJ morning. We had ugly weather last night, which made us miss our traditional day-after-Christmas celebration with my family, and although I really hated to cancel, it was probably just as well. I managed to pick up a head cold and it’s just been getting worse and worse. You know how that is. Yesterday was day one, where the pressure in my head was steadily building, and today is day two: full-blown miserable. (Well, almost full-blown miserable. I still feel ok enough to blog!)

This is the first cold I’ve had in something like two years, so I’m not going to complain any more about it. I had a really good healthy run, but I was overdue for this.

How about I start showing you some of the handmades that had me running around like a nut, compromising my immunity, until the very last minute before Christmas? Today, the claythings: Family Portrait Ornaments

The thing about these ornaments is that I don’t really enjoy making them. That’s why they only pop up for sale around here once in a blue moon. The last time I made one for my own family was in 2005, I think, and so I decided we really needed an update.

I made an executive decision to forego the English viscose doll hair I usually use, and make the hair out of polymer this time. It was a good decision. I like the way it came out, and it saved me that nerve-wracking step of plunging hair into the raw noggins of a fully-sculpted family. Screw that up, and you’ve wasted a few hours of your life!

This way I was able to sculpt each individual family member completely before posing them together.

One thing that amps up the fun for me is to dress us up in clothes we actually own. See my new green sweater there? Neil is wearing corduroys, and the boys have on the vests I made them.

This year I also made two other family ornaments: Neil’s sister’s family because there was a wedding, and Neil’s brother’s family because there was a new baby:

I’m pleased with these, but glad they’re done :-)

You know, given that I am so averse to making these things and I do get requests for them every year, maybe I should make a how-to video, so others can have a go at them. Something to think about for 2013…

 

An ode to extrusions

I love it when a customer gives me creative license. As in, “I’d like a set of six crochet hooks, but you can choose the handle patterns, heavy on the Retro look.” It’s fun for me to paw through my several hundred raw millefiori canes and dig out the ones that with coordinate nicely with the metal hooks I have.

Six hooks, six Retro handles. A “Retro” cane, for those not in the know, is created by extruding a stacked multi-color log of clay through a small opening in a clay gun. While you can make a Retro cane with pretty much any random stack of colors, I have a very specific methodology I follow for these, ensuring plenty of contrast and vibrancy.

This one particular Retro cane on this hook breaks a few of my rules, but I love the effect. It’s got depth and sparkle, both of which work best in small doses, in my not-so-humble opinion. (If you would like more of my not-so-humble opinions on Retro canes, I’m working on it. There will be a magazine article on this topic in the not so distant future.)

This recent experience of digging through my boxes of canes has highlighted one fact for me: I am running dangerously low on nearly all of my favorite patterns. Uh oh!

There are two modes I inhabit when I am in my polymer world: Cane-making and cane-using. The last few years of hook production has had me firmly in cane-using mode, leaving my millefiori supply fairly decimated. Oh, I still have plenty of the less-appealing (to me) designs. But the ones I really truly love? They’re reduced to 1/8th-inch slivers, and are barely-usable shadows of their former selves.

I think I’m going to spend this year’s Clayathon madly cane-making. It’ll be nice to replace some oldies-but-goodies, and maybe I can work on a new color scheme or two. That would be nice!

P.S. Over the years, I’ve encountered more than one person who is under the impression that most of my millefiori designs are extruded. Not true! This Retro cane is the only one I use a clay gun to make. All of the others are built the “old-fashioned” way: with logs and slabs and Skinner Blends (oh, my!). Perhaps it’s time to do a few more cane-making tutorials around here? I’ll see what I can muster in 2013!

Yarny Buttons: Heathered

Remember waaaaaay back in October when I showed you how to make buttons to match your tweed sweaters? Well, I’m back, as promised, to show you what to do if your yarn is of the heathered variety. Many of the steps are the same for the two types, so I will refer you back to the tweed instructions, when necessary.

In addition to the black clay and all of the supplies listed in the first tutorial, you will also need clay to match the color of your yarn. Heathered yarn consists of one main solid color, and one (usually) secondary color that has been wound into the main color.

When mixing your colors, be careful to really see what component hues are present in the yarn. It is easy for the eye to blend the colors for you, resulting in inaccurate mixing. See the tweed tutorial for more color-matching tips.

Condition the black clay and your two yarn colors.

Roll the black clay out to a thickness of 8 cards. (See the tweed tutorial to learn why we are measuring thickness in stacks of playing cards.) Cut off about 1/4 of the sheet and set the rest aside. Roll the smaller piece through the pasta machine on the 4-card setting.

Roll out your two yarn colors at the 8-card setting, and trim the sheets to square-shape.

Slice diagonally into the blue to create two blue triangles, and set one piece on top of the other to make one thicker triangle.

Repeat with the green.

Line the two thick triangles next to each other, slightly offset, to create a rectangle. Cut off the protruding tabs.

We’ll be using this square to make a partial Skinner blend.

Place the rectangle in the pasta machine and roll through at the 8-card setting.

Fold the resulting sheet in half, as shown, and put it through the pasta machine again, fold-side-down.

Fold that sheet in half, the same way as before, and put it through the pasta machine again, fold-side-down.

Repeat one last time.

Your sheet won’t look very blended from the outside, but you will see, there is quite a bit going on inside the clay sheet when you slice it.

Cut the sheet down the center as shown. Take note of the direction you should be cutting – it makes a big difference!

Place one sheet on top of the other without flipping it in any way.

Cut this stack of two in the same direction as before, and stack one of the pieces on top of the other without flipping.

Repeat this process one more time, and then look at the cross-section of your cuts: the colors are fading into one another, but there are still “strands” visible. These narrow stripes of color should resemble the individual strands in the heathered yarn.

Using your clay blade, cut very thin strips from the face of the blended stack, and place the strips side-by-side on the thinner black sheet.

Run this sheet through the pasta machine at the 8-card setting, keeping the blend running vertically (top to bottom).

Repeat, same direction, on the 6-card setting.

Now, flip the sheet in the other direction. Is it too wide for your pasta machine? If so, slice off an end of the sheet to make it fit. I would recommend cutting from the end that is not your main yarn color. In this case, the green.

Run this trimmed sheet, with the pattern running horizontally, through the pasta machine at the 4-card setting.

Trim the sheet into a rectangle and slice into 1/4-inch strips as demonstrated earlier with the tweed buttons.

The woven sheet is created the same way for heathered buttons as it is for tweed, with one exception: the order of the strips matters.

You’ll notice that one side of your sliced sheet contains strips that are more blue than green. The other side contains strips that are more green than blue.

When placing strips on the base, pull from the bluer side for the vertical strips, and pull from the green side for the horizontal strips.

Your sheet should look something like this when you are finished.

Form your buttons, bake them, and finish them in the same manner as for the tweed buttons.

Next time? We’ll make bigger buttons, and we’ll make them to match variegated yarns. Stay tuned!

If you’d like all three Yarny Button tutorials in one handy eBook format, you can snag a copy below. I appreciate your support!

Yarny Buttons
Yarny Buttons

Learn how to make coordinating polymer clay buttons for your next knit or crochet project. The buttons mimic the properties of the yarn!

Click here for materials list, topics covered, and required skills


Price: $2.99
Format :

 

Rhinebeck and Down Cellar

image

Somehow I found myself throwing a change of clothes in a bag and flying down the highway at 10pm tonight. I was all set to enjoy a typical Friday night: I’d probably brew a warm beverage, put on a British mystery, and knit a few more inches on my Milady vest. But somehow, somehow, I found myself speaking the words, “wouldn’t it be cool to add an extra day to our tip and leave right now?” I was half kidding, but I had made the fatal mistake of half-kidding within earshot of my traveling companion, and well, he did think it would be cool.

So, here we are, Aidan and me, in a hotel in Fishkill, NY, which (it turns out) is further away from the Duchess County Fairgrounds than a glance at a google map might have you believe. We’re headed to Rhinebeck in the morning for the Sheep and Wool festival. It’s actually not a bad thing that our drive will be 45 minutes long. I was feeling kind of gypped in the leaf-peeping department, given that we’d stolen up here in the dark at 10pm, instead of in the glorious sunshine 10 hours later, as originally planned. All we could see was black sky and highway. I will welcome the extra time to take in the scenery before the festival.

I’ve never been to a sheep and wool festival when it wasn’t ninety degrees, so this will be a great change of pace :-)

If you are at Rhinebeck on Saturday, and you see me there (I’ll be wearing my green Tweedy Tea Leaves – temperature permitting – and carrying a Polka Dot Cottage shopping bag) feel free to stop me and say hello!

By the way, those hooks in the image above? I just dropped them off today at Down Cellar, my LYS.  Local peeps, you are cordially invited to go see them in person. You’ll be glad you did – there are so many tempting goodies in that shop!