Keeping it Simple in the New Year

Potholders made with colorful loops and loom

We are starting a new year with the same concerns and challenges of 2020. In years past, I have kicked off the new year with an ambitious studio project – a large bed quilt, an intricate embroidery piece, or a series of projects for upcoming classes. This year I decided to start simple, knowing the larger, more complex projects are around the corner.

To begin, I dug into some of my daughter’s crafting supplies from years ago and found several yards of blanket fleece. In about 90 minutes, I had made a tied edge fleece blanket, start to finish, for friends’ 3-year old child. Perfect for cuddling under after a day of play in the snow. A straight-forward, simple project. You can find instructions here.

Recently, I also found my daughter’s potholder loom and some leftover loops (from hers and mine!), so in the days leading up to 2021, I also made a few potholders. Again, simple, useful and done in less than an hour. Another plus – I’ve stashed several away to pair with tea and baked goods to give away to friends and family. If your potholder loom is long gone, check with your local art/craft store to see if they have any in stock. If not, here’s a link to Purl Soho’s kit. Both the potholders and the fleece blanket projects are fun to do solo and with kids.

So, as we enter another roller coaster year of experiences and emotions, take on those big, ambitious, boundary-pushing projects for sure but intersperse some smaller ones in there as well. This practice also applies not just to what you are making but also to what you may be doing at work and in your community: )

Happy making in the year ahead ~

Purple Fleece Blanket with Bicycle Motif

Martha Mae-A Favorite Destination for Art Supplies and Inspiration

Unwrapped package with notecard

Once in awhile, you walk into a store and feel transported to another world. Martha Mae: Art Supplies & Beautiful Things is one such place.

Last winter, about this time, I discovered Martha Mae in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. Though not large, my husband and I spent well over an hour in there ticking through our holiday shopping list and finding gifts for artists and those who haven’t picked up a box of paints or sketchpad in years. We were not about to leave until we had looked, touched and tested our way through the store – yes, “tested.” Trying to decide between different pencils, we were invited to try them out at the back counter. Martha Mae, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel and the store’s namesake, was curled up in his basket sleeping away despite a bustling store – just so darn cute!

Flash forward from last year to this and, like so many other businesses, Martha Mae was forced to close its brick and mortar store because of the pandemic. The store has moved 100% online.

A couple of weeks ago, I popped onto the website to make a couple of gift purchases, and the box arrived a few days later. When I opened it, I was immediately wowed by all the care they had taken to package my treasures (eco-friendly, too!). For a few minutes, it was as if I was standing at the back counter waiting for my purchases. Tucked in a small bag were several items including a small watercolor of a kumquat with a hand-written thank you note on the back. In this era where we hunger for in-person gatherings, these little touches were so appreciated.

On this small business Saturday, shop local and be sure to check out stores that may have moved from Main Street to just online. And if you are looking for art supplies or a beautiful gift – especially for that hard-to-buy-for-person – check out Martha Mae. Oh, and my favorites at the store… Beam Paints, all the inks, and the Moon Calendars.

Celebrate Fall with Felt Leaves

Felt leaves on white cake stand

Fall is my favorite season – the crisp temperatures, beautiful colors, warming foods like hearty stews and ginger cookies. And, a reminder to spend as much time outside as possible before winter arrives with its plunging temperatures!

To extend the fall season in your home and capture the beauty of the season, whip up some felt leaves that make use of leftover scraps from past projects. They look great placed under a table centerpiece – think ceramic pumpkins, a glass candle holder, or a vase of branches gathered on a walk. Other ideas:

  • Add a magnet to the back of the stitched leaves and stick on your refrigerator – then rearrange often!
  • Stitch the leaves to a ribbon using a small tacking stitch and string up on the fireplace mantle or a bookshelf.
  • Cut a rectangle from burlap or heavy canvas, arrange the leaves in a random pattern, and stitch in place using a tacking stitch in several places on each leaf. Then, hang on the front door or someplace in the house where you can enjoy.

Here’s the how to:

Step 1: Collect felt scraps in fall colors – oranges, reds, browns, yellows greens. Then, get ready to play with the color, shape, thread color and stitching.

Step 2: Sketch out an assortment of leaf patterns based on trees that are real or imagined. Or, download leaf coloring pages from the Internet and use these as your patterns.

Step 3: For each leaf, cut out two sizes. The larger one should be about 1/4″ bigger all around than the smaller one. Enjoy the process of playing with the colors – make some leaves that high contrast, others with less – to see what you like best. Creating a mix of leaf combinations will help keep it interesting (IMO).

Step 4: Place the smaller leaf on top of the larger one in each leaf pair and pin in place to hold while you are stitching.

Step 5: Stitch the two leaves together to emphasize the overall shape and vein pattern. You have many options here for stitching: hand stitching using different embroidery stitches or a simple running stitch; machine stitching that takes advantage of your machine’s capabilities or a simple straight stitch (as I did here). If you are hand stitching the leaves together, you can use embroidery floss, perle cotton, or heavy sewing thread. NOTE: You can use a pencil to lightly mark your stitching pattern on the felt so that you can cover it with your stitches. Alternatively, use the edge and curve of the leaf to inform the placement of your stitches.

Step 6: Have fun, use and enjoy!

Sharing the making experience with others:

Here are some ideas for adapting the project if you are short on time or materials, have a little one who wants to participate in the leaf-making fun…

  • Glue the leaves together, then “make stitches” with a Sharpie.
  • Use a big needle and big stitches to hand sew the leaves together.
  • Divide the steps up to match each person’s age, skill level and/or interest.
  • Use heavy card stock or construction paper instead of felt. Then, using markers, draw the stitching pattern on the leaves.

Unplugging to Create and Explore

Brown and Orange striped knitted scarf

Election Day seems to be a good day to post about the break I’ve taken in this space, especially since I’m trying to tune out the news for at least part of the day. So, about that break…

My studio is where I go to create, express ideas, find peace, and get lost in the flow. Occasionally, it feels more like work than play – usually a sign that my creativity is tapped out. So, I took a break – or, as I like to say, cleared the table for awhile. Critical was unplugging from social media and engaging in activities that I find restorative:

  • Playing with color and texture. Finding a box of yarn for a sweater that I know I will never knit started me down this path. Now, 4-1/2 scarves later, I’ve got some ideas for future quilts and embroidered pieces – and gifts for my family.
  • Sketching found objects. When out on walks, I like to pick up leaves, acorns and other items lying on the ground. When the objects are too big or stationary (like tree bark), I snap a picture and then begin sketching at home. My sketches are not how you might see it, but they are as I see and interpret the object. Again, more ideas going into the creative tank.
  • Breaking out of a cooking rut to make some pretty terrific meals. There have been a couple of flops so not all has been perfect but I am learning and my taste buds are quite happy. The meal we are still talking about: Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken with Bread Salad. I’ve never eaten at this San Francisco restaurant but I know exactly what I’d order!
  • Connecting with family and friends via phone, Zoom, or in person. It is amazing how much your schedule opens up when you unplug. All of sudden, you have a bit more time – and energy – to connect with people one-on-one. One blustery, chilly day we sat around our friends’ table to enjoy a great meal and conversation, then watched My Octopus Teacher. (We first checked to make sure we had been following CDC guidelines when it comes to social distancing.)
  • Steeping myself in nature. Walks, sitting outside – even with a blanket wrapped tightly round – or just opening a window and taking a deep breath in to connect with the natural world.

I am working on making these activities daily/weekly habits to keep my creative tank from becoming depleted again. I’ve also established more clear boundaries around social media – checking in once or twice a day for 30 minutes or less and unplugging during the weekends. Exceptions will happen but that’s what they will be, not the norm. Focusing and prioritizing those things that matter most – like family, friendships and my creative practice – will get the most attention.

So, on this big day, go vote if you have not already. Next, unplug to find a few minutes to slow down and do what restores you on a regular basis. Then starting at home, create and do to build a better world for today and for future generations, a world that unites, is kind and inclusive, is built on science and truth.

Transforming Envelopes into Art

Quilt block stitched to white Tyvek Envelope

If you look at a Tyvek mailing envelope up close, you see what looks like iridescent fibers and feels like a cross between paper and cloth. Manufactured by DuPont, Tyvek is a non-woven material, and according to their website, is made of “100% high density polyethylene fibers randomly laid and compressed to form a remarkably tough printing substrate that is ideal for applications where durability and tear resistance is of prime importance.” You’ll find it in building materials, envelopes, reusable bags, building signs…

I like Tyvek for its water-proof properties, especially when mailing something important (like fabric or taxes) And, I feel guilty every time I send or receive something in a mailer, even though DuPont says it’s a recyclable material.

So, when a package arrived the other day in a Tyvek envelope, I decided to extend its life in a new direction: Using it and few scraps of fabric from an earlier project, I made a small quilt block, then stitched it to a piece of Tyvek. I wrote a get-well message on the back and will mail it to a friend tomorrow.

Here are the steps:

  1. Gather some fabric pieces and a used Tyvek envelope.
  2. Design your quilt block. Consider incorporating envelope seams, stamps, and the postage mark into the design. Also consider how you intend to use the finished piece. For example, will you write a message on the back and mail to a friend, tack it on your inspiration board…
  3. Cut out your pieces, allowing for a 1/4″ seam allowance. For the one-patch quilt pattern in the photo, I cut 4 squares (2 from each fabric) measuring 2″ x 2″.
  4. Stitch the block pieces together (1/4″ seam allowance) using a needle and thread or sewing machine.
  5. Stitch the block to a piece of Tyvek. Use tape to hold the block in place while stitching, removing it before the needle pierces the tape. This prevents the needle from getting gummed up. (Note: Pins will leave a permanent hole in the Tyvek, so tape works best.)
  6. Use a longer stitch length – or decorative stitch to add a border around the block. Be sure to use tacking stitches at beginning and end so that the stitches don’t pull out.

Several additional notes to keep in mind:

  • Do not iron the Tyvek – only finger press – because it will melt if your iron is hot enough.
  • You can paint Tyvek with acrylic or fabric paints. Just paint, wipe off any excess and then let dry before using in your project.
  • If you are writing on the back, test on a scrap of the envelope first to make sure the ink does not soak through onto your block – or that your message does not smear. I wrote on the back using a Uni-Ball Signo fine point gel pen (0.28mm tip).

To see other ideas on how to transform mailers into something both useful and beautiful, check out Reinvention: Sewing with Rescued Materials by Maya Donenfeld, available through your local bookstore and, hopefully, library.

Sunglass Case – Keep it Simple or Make it Fancy

embroidery pattern sketched on sunglass case

The beauty of being a maker is that you get to decide whether to pull out all the stops on a project or keep it simple. It’s all in the design choices you make along the way. Even for a simple sunglass case. Decisions such as:

  • Fabrics – cotton, washable velvet, felted wool…
  • Technique – hand sewing or machine
  • Embellishments (or not) – embroidery, applique, beading…
  • Thread – silk, embroidery floss, sashiko thread…

The instructions below for making a sunglass case were first posted on my previous blog in 2012 – kids were at home and time was limited. I needed a new sunglass case like yesterday so I went with the 2-hour version, nothing fancy at all. It’s a bit worn now but still in use. For the next one, I’m upping my game a bit with the hand-drawn, wavy line design pictured at the top of this post.

So, you decide – simple or fancy, then get making!

Step 1 – Cut out two pieces of fabric – one for the lining and one for the outside – each measuring 9-1/2″ x 8-3/4″. If you have a fabric sunglass case that works for you now, just measure it, adding 1/2″ for each seam allowance.

Step 2 – Cut out one piece of batting, slightly smaller than the fabric pieces. For my case, I cut the batting 8-3/4″ x 8-1/4″.

Step 3 – Make the quilt sandwich in the sequence indicated in the image below. Lay each cut piece on your table, smoothing each one so that there are no wrinkles. Next, pin the layers all together to hold them in place while you stitch.

Quilt Sandwich labeled

Step 4 – Stitch around the edges using a 1/2″ seam and leave a gap of about 4″ along one edge for turning. If you have a walking foot for your machine, use that for best results. When finished stitching, clip the corners, turn right-side out, and press. Stitch the opening closed using your sewing machine and stitching close to the edge.

Step 5 – Quilt by hand or machine. Experiment with different quilting stitches to see what you like best.

Quilted Sunglass Case Project

Step 6 – Fold the quilted piece in half lengthwise, right sides together, and stitch the bottom and side seams using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Turn, press, enjoy!

Completed Sunglass Case

Bits and Bobs: The Makings of a Most Excellent Creativity Lab

A collection of found craft objects

When I was young, one town we lived in hosted a pumpkin festival each year at Halloween time. Kids would select a category – like science fiction, famous people, or books – then, decorate their pumpkin accordingly. All the pumpkins were displayed on the courthouse lawn for a week or so with different events throughout, including a parade and an awards ceremony where 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbons were awarded in each category.

One year when I decided to create a pumpkin martian, a neighbor invited me to come by if I needed any supplies. Entering her family room, I was not sure this trip would yield anything of use – until she opened the closet door. This was not an ordinary closet!

There was a desk with drawing paper, pencils and some small hand tools. On the back wall, above the desk, were several shelves with paint (including a martian-perfect metallic green) and glass jars full of odds and ends – bits and bobs. Toothpaste caps, miniature glass Christmas tree bulbs, googly eyes in many sizes, pipe cleaners, beads, empty thread spools…

With no older brother or cat to get in my way, this space became my creative lab for the next week as I worked on my pumpkin each afternoon after school. While quite pleased when the pumpkin won a ribbon, it did not compare to the joy I felt when I was deep in the process of designing and creating the martian.

When my own kids were growing up, we filled several shoeboxes with an array of objects that might be useful for art and science projects – sewing machine parts, spools, pieces of leather from an old belt… The shoeboxes were in a closet – handy enough for them to pull out and sort through.

In my sewing studio, I have a random collection of objects that I often turn to when looking for inspiration. Case in point – this spice jar shaker thing that became the basis for the motif stitched on a linen napkin:

Circle embroidery pattern drawn on white linen napkin

Circle Embroidery Pattern Stitched in Blue Thread on White Linen Napkin and hoop, thread, scissors, and needle

So, where to start? Collect and organize the random objects currently stashed in the kitchen junk drawer, in a desk, etc. Next, set up your own creativity lab on a closet shelf or in the corner of a room. Then, of course, play! Here are some ideas:

  • Make a mobile.
  • Make a small sculpture for the middle of the dinner table. You could even change it out several times a week, taking turns with other family members.
  • Sketch an object or two, playing with color and layout.
  • Use the object as a starting point for an embroidery project as I did above.

Happy Making!

Exercising Your Creativity Muscle

Basket with Vegetable Garden Plant Markers to Decorate

Creativity has been likened to a muscle: We all have it – we just have to work to strengthen it so that we can reap the rewards.

Over the last few months, with sheltering in place and social distancing the new normal, implementing a daily creative practice is as important as ever. Our world feels a bit smaller, our days a tad mixed up (“Is this Sunday or Monday?”), and our work-life boundaries totally blurred (think kids playing at your feet while you’re trying to get work done, office texts and emails still flowing in at 8 or 9pm, or extra long shifts at the hospital). Expressing ourselves through writing, drawing, painting, sewing, quilting… can help provide a much-needed, nourishing break from the challenges we are facing in our lives right now.

And, if setting aside time to make and create sounds a bit indulgent these days, it’s not. The spillover effect I mention here – Step #6 on the Art Everyday page – is well documented. For example, this Fast Company article from a few years back talks about that spark we feel or breakthrough we have after engaging in a creative practice.

Decide on the best time to fit a creative break into your day, experimenting to see when you get the most benefit: Do you want to use the practice as a warm-up exercise for the day, a mid-day boost, or a transition from your workday to home life. It does not have to be a big chunk of time – committing to 15 minutes a day can make a big difference.

I’ve always got several projects going on in my studio at any given time. However, I keep a basket for just one simple, self-contained project. It sits in my office, ready to go when I need a creative break (usually at the end of the day). The projects rotate: Right now, I’ve stashed a vegetable marker kit from Target. The original kit had paints, which now look dried up, but we’ll see when I get to work. I might instead fill the space up with different patterns using Sharpies instead. It might take me all week to finish the project but the point is that it’s easy to start and stop and all my supplies are in one place, making it hard not to begin. Once this project is finished, I’ll find something else to put in the basket.

My recommendation is that as you develop a creative habit, keep it simple and start with what you enjoy – at least at the beginning. First find a container, something that works for the space you are working in and is portable – a basket or tote bag works best. Then, if you like to write, add a journal or notebook and your favorite pen or pencil to the basket. If you want to spend time each day working with watercolors, stash a small water color set, brush, and a 6″ x 6″ pad of watercolor paper in the basket…

If you have kids, consider making a basket up for each of them that is age appropriate and, ideally, something they can do by themselves at a time when they most need it. For example, a potholder kit, paper and instructions for making paper airplanes (include different kinds of paper to see what flies best!), or a coloring book and crayons.

I’ve long said that when I have a problem to be solved, the best way to figure it out, is to spend time in my studio making. Getting lost in the flow of making frees up headspace to think more creatively, beyond the box – first, in what I am actually doing in the studio and then for the problem/issue I’m trying to resolve.

In the coming weeks, months, and years, creativity will be key to generating new ideas for rebuilding our lives, our communities, our healthcare systems and, well, pretty much everything. And, throughout this process of creating new, focusing on lessons learned from the past, listening to experts, and cultivating out-of-the box thinking so that the end result benefits everyone and addresses what hasn’t worked in the past. Like many things, we can start at home – thinking more creatively about how we solve problems there and at work, then build from there.

So start flexing your creative muscle by building a daily creative practice, stick to it, and enjoy the process and spillover effect! Read more about building a creative habit here. Connect with us on Facebook to see some additional ideas in the coming days of what to put in your basket.

Make in a Day Pillowcase

Yvonne Malone Studio Make in a Day Pillowcase folded on top of quilt

Some days you need a quick project – one that can be made in a day or, better yet, a couple of hours. After spending half a day working on several frustrating technology issues (are there any other kind?), I decided to take a break and finish up this project and pattern…

Besides the almost instant gratification that making pillowcases provides, I also love that this is a great project no matter your skill level. New to sewing? Make up the pillowcase following the step-by-step directions here. Experienced sewist? Set aside your machine and make the entire project by hand. Or, use a solid color for the fabric next to the opening, and add an embroidered message like “Pleasant Dreams”.

So decide who you are making the pillowcase(s) for – you, a niece or nephew moving into their first big kid bed, a wedding shower gift… Then, open up the pattern here and happy sewing!

Be safe. Be well.

Cropped photo of Yvonne Malone Studio's Make in a Day Pillowcase

Wear in Good Health Face Mask

Completed Face Mask, Keys and Sunglasses on Table

Over the last few weeks, like many others, I’ve been busy sewing face masks. I’ve also spent a lot of time looking at and sewing different designs, then playing with the design to make the most of fabric yardage, streamline the construction, allow for a filter to be inserted, and produce a mask that fits comfortably and snug over the nose and mouth. The end result is the DIY Wear in Good Health Face Mask.

As I made these masks for friends, family and others in the community, the phrase “Wear in Good Health” kept coming to mind. It is a separate tag sewn into several vintage sweaters and other clothing items I’ve owned over the years, and it has always given me pause when slipping into those garments. In our 21st century world, it seemed like a good name for a mask pattern.

As the essentials we grab before running out the door expands from keys, wallet, glasses to also include a mask, if you don’t have one already, check out the free Wear in Good Health pattern here.

And, just a note: The science behind what materials make the best DIY masks, the best filters is evolving as scientists learn more about the virus and the effectiveness of these materials. Before making any mask, check with Centers for Disease Control website page for DIY mask coverings for the latest developments and guidelines.

Take care and be well ~