Tag Archives: pro tips

Fave Craft Books: Oct. 2016

I don’t know about you, but I have a buttload of craft books lying around. It’s a problem. Let me justify my collection by telling you about a random handful of my favorites.

Stitch Alchemy

Stitch Alchemy
Combining Fabric & Paper for Mixed-Media Art
Kelli Perkins

There is a miraculous substance called “paper-cloth,” and you need it in your life. Paper-cloth is exactly what it sounds like: a combination of muslin, glue, and tissue paper make a surface that is the perfect compromise between the durability of fabric and the versatility of paper. You can do damn near anything with it that you would normally do with paper or cloth alone. A material that can make cards AND pillows? Yes, please!

This book was my introduction to mixed-media. To be honest, I almost never make paper-cloth anymore (although I keep meaning to), but Stitch Alchemy is also a great quick reference to a wide variety of mixed-media techniques. The featured art has a grungy, colorful aesthetic that I find inspirational. I was enchanted with its philosophy of pursuing serendipity–I much prefer to experiment randomly all over a substrate and figure out what to do with the outcome later, as opposed to this “planning” bullshit I keep hearing about.

Photo CraftPhoto Craft
Creative Mixed-Media and Digital Approaches to Transforming Your Photographs
Susan Tuttle and Christy Hydeck

What I love about this book is that it refuses to pick sides. It will tell you how to digitally edit a photograph to get a certain effect, then turns around and shows you how to get a similar effect without using a computer. Photo Craft emphasizes techniques that combine mixed-media and photography rather than segregating them. The downside is that the rapid pace at which software evolves made the Photoshop Elements instructions (and the recommended phone apps) a bit obsolete before the book even hit the shelves. Still, it gives you a general idea of what to look for and where. Bonus: Tips for improving photography and prompts to get projects started.

Print & Stamp LabPrint & Stamp Lab
52 Ideas for Handmade, Upcycled Print Tools
Traci Bunkers

I fucking love this book. With the knowledge it contains, you can go into a dollar store, spend five bucks, and walk out with the materials for making dozens of unique patterns. The concept is simple: one can stamp with almost ANYTHING, and if it won’t stamp it will make an excellent stencil.


Beading BasicsBeading Basics
Carole Rodgers

These days, I mainly use this book as a refresher course for beadwork techniques that I haven’t done in a while. But when I first started making jewelry it was a good, solid grounding in commonly-used techniques I could build on. I also recommend the sequel, Beyond Beading Basics by the same author.

Unexpected Knitting




Unexpected Knitting
Debbie New

I knit very seldom, and when I do it’s the most simple stuff I can get away with. That doesn’t stop me from appreciating the genius of Debbie New. This is a woman who can knit teacups, and she is constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with yarn and knitting needles. And she’s willing to share all her secrets with us!

I will most likely never use any of the patterns in this book, but I flip through it all the time to remind myself that art doesn’t have to follow rules. It’s pure inspiration. For example, the first section of instructions is titled “Swatchless Knitting,” which made my eyes drop out of my head and roll across the floor when I first read it. There just aren’t many knitting books that encourage you to take risks. Unexpected Knitting is unexpectedly refreshing.

What books do YOU think I need? Please tell me about them in the comments to help convince my husband to allow me in bookstores again.

2015 Holiday Market

On December 5th I participated in my first-ever craft fair. My dad and I shared a table at the Brownsville Art Center Holiday Market, and I had a lot of fun.

my side of the table

This was my side of our table at the Holiday Market.

Dad's side of the table

This was Dad’s side of the table.

Between Dad’s killer illustrations and my upcycling, we had quite the varied set of wares. I’m especially proud of the shirt pocket pen holsters for sketchbooks (please let me know if you can think of a catchier name). I sewed those up from old shirts, and I think my design is way more versatile than a standard journal cover pattern. For one thing, the size can be adjusted easily by moving the buttons. There’s no need for a lining or any kind of stiffening for the holster to keep its shape, as it’s supported by the sketchbook cover itself and doesn’t gap when opened.

Anyway, I’ll go into the individual projects in a later post. What I really wanted to tell you is what I learned from my first craft fair:

1.) Bring food. Luckily, I had a swarm of relatives popping in to the art center all day who could bring me noms. If I hadn’t, I might have starved to death from having to watch my table all day.

2.) Wear armor. I managed to stave off a lot of anxiety (I gots me some pesky brain problems) by wearing elaborate makeup, which subconsciously put me in “performance” mode rather than “freaking out because there’s too many people who want to make small talk” mode. I imagine a silly hat or a costume would also help.

3.) Bring supplies. The deciding factor for people considering buying cuffs was my offer to adjust the fit right there. I had needle and thread so I could quickly move buttons around and such.

4.) Speaking of cuffs, improvise. I sold one bracelet to a guy by pointing out that it could also be used as a coffee sleeve.

5.) Compliments are currency. The consensus among shoppers was that I am extremely clever and my art is awesome in all ways… but not so awesome that they were willing to pay for it. I got a lot of praise and very few sales. If I had been counting on the money from the fair, I would have been devastated, but treating my first fair as a learning experience let me appreciate the compliments. The boost to my confidence is money in the ego bank for encouraging me to keep on crafting.

6.) Stress is underrated. When I agreed to participate, I had very little time to prepare. (I was asked to join at the last second when not enough artists signed up for the fair.) I didn’t have even close to enough product to fill a table, so I had to bust my ass to get ready. That meant the occasional day of sewing for nine hours straight, and that I had to beg my dad to help, but I think the kick in the pants was worth it. The pressure taught me that I CAN do it, and now I have mentally opened myself up to opportunities I would have deemed “too hard” before accomplishing so much in just a few weeks.

7.) My nephew is too fucking adorable for words. I already knew that, but I thought it was worth pointing out to you delusional people who mistakenly think YOU have the world’s cutest nephew. His parents brought him to the fair, which perked “Auntie Mae” right up when I was in the midday doldrums.

8.) Something will go wrong. It didn’t occur to me that so many people would ask if my stuff would still be for sale at the art center after the fair. I had to tell them I would try to get the art that didn’t sell posted on my Etsy shop as soon as possible. I was positive that I’d prepared for anything, but I didn’t have those listings ready to go when I needed to. Also, there wasn’t room for two chairs at our table, so Dad had to sit in a nook behind the Christmas tree like an elf who had been banished to a corner by an angry Santa for not making toys fast enough.

9.) Don’t assume you can come up with enough pithy advice to fill a ten-item list. You will be so very, very wrong.

The Secret Life of Inner Tubes

Inner tubes.

tube bathtub 1


Many inner tubes.

inner tube IMG_0529 copy 01


inner tube IMG_0528 copy 01

At my request, the awesome employees of Bike N Hike in Albany have been saving old inner tubes accumulated through the bike repair side of their business. (Those guys are awesome. I highly recommend them for your biking and hiking needs. I’m not at all biased, I swear.) I completely failed to anticipate the sheer volume of rubber that would come my way. Still, it’s great to have a huge supply so I can feel free to experiment and waste a lot of rubber with my screw-ups.

Before I can use the inner tubes to make pouches and whatnot, each one has to be cut open and cleaned. Did you know bicycle tubes are coated with white powder on the inside? In addition, some tubes are filled with a mysterious slimy goo. I learned the hard way to make a tiny cut to see what I’m dealing with before slicing it all the way open.

Why am I going to all this trouble? I’m glad you asked, hypothetical reader! It turns out you can turn inner tubes into all sorts of cool shit. Pouches, belts, wallets, jewelry…just about anything you can make out of leather, really. Here’s a gallery of just a few examples (click any picture to view a slide show with commentary):

This gallery includes other styles of rubber flowers.

There are people out there who are much more experienced with this medium. Check out the work of this artist. And how about this suit of armor? A search for “inner tube art” on google will net you a ton of amazing stuff.

If you want to try out tube crafts, I recommend the guide by Bicitoro. You can also refer to this handy list of tips I put together through trial and (mostly) error:

1.) While slitting the tube along the inside curve will give you the flattest slab of rubber, it’s sometimes worth sacrificing that ease of use if cutting in another place will let you feature cool lettering or patches.

2.) A single standard tube doesn’t allow for long enough strips to box braid. I tried a lot of complicated solutions (machine stitching, various glues, etc.) before I figured out the best method is to simply knot strips together at the ends. Not only is it secure, the join isn’t obvious on the finished piece.

3.) Rubber does not taste good. (Tip provided by my cats, who LOVE playing with whatever material I’m working with.)

4.) Dedicate a pair of scissors to cutting inner tubes, and be prepared for them to dull quickly.

5.) The easiest way to clean the flattened tubes is to lay them out in a bathtub, scrub with dish soap and a kitchen sponge, and rinse with a shower wand.

6.) Say goodbye to clean fingernails.

7.) Be sure to have your favorite coping mechanism handy for when your sewing machine and the rubber refuse to play nicely with each other. Hours of snarled thread, crooked lines, tension trouble, and finicky feed dogs are guaranteed to make you stabby.

8.) When in doubt, use glue. A LOT of glue. (Actually, that’s a good motto for life in general.) It still might not work, but making a huge mess will make you feel a little better. Bonus points if you can trick someone else into cleaning it up.

9.) Cut and roll up inner tubes immediately for storage, even if you don’t have time to wash them yet. They take up way less space that way. This will also help flatten out any annoying creases.

10.) Snorting the powder inside the tubes will not get you high. Don’t ask me how I know.