Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Two Thumbs Up for Kanzashi in Bloom!

I'm crazy kinds of thrilled to be part of Diane Gilleland's Blog Tour for her new book, Kanzashi in Bloom. Kanzashi in Bloom is beautiful, inspiring and very easy to understand, and will introduce you to the ancient-yet-still-pertinent art of folding flower petals from fabric.

Diane is one of the most prolific, professional crafters around, and her level of expertise and attention to detail make Kanzashi in Bloom one of the best, easy-to-follow, most complete craft books I've read in ages. Diane has a gift for breaking projects in to simple steps that are accompanied by crystal clear photography. Reading the book is just about as close to sitting down with Diane to learn as you can get, and because the instructions and photographs are so clear, the learning is fun - not frustrating.

After teaching the basics of petal folding, Diane walks readers through almost two dozen projects using these beautiful flowers. True to Diane's form, she's included all kinds of extra information. In the basic instruction section of the book, she's included extra pictures to step out things like tying a surgeon's knot and specific sub-steps, as well as an entire section on "fixes" for common mistakes. She's covered every base possible, and follows with a range of beautiful projects that are very modern takes on this age-old craft. Kanzashi in Bloom is a dreamy craft book that won't disappoint.

So ... what's with all the thumbs?

You see, when I first started reading Diane's blog three years ago, I noticed (and appreciated) how nice and clear her tutorial photographs were. As I followed Diane's prolific projects, I got to know her ... by her thumbs. As I scrolled through hundreds of blog posts in my Reader, I could always tell when I hit one of Diane's. Her thumbs became a signature for me, and there were countless times when I'd see a blog - or even an article in a magazine - and know that it was one of Diane's projects not by reading the by-line, but by recognizing her thumbs! I've even noticed that Diane has inherited her good-thumb-genes from her mom, Pam, of Gingerbread Snowflakes! (By the way, Pam is a gifted photographer who happened to take all the pictures for Kanzashi in Bloom. How fantastic is that!? A mother/daughter team working together!)

This has been an on-going joke between me and Diane. I worried that, perhaps, Diane might think I was getting a little thumb-stalkerish or was just plain goofy. That was until she sent me an email with a picture of her thumbs with smiley faces on them and a sweet "Get Well" message when I was knock-down-drag-out sick at the end of last year. At that point, I knew that she not only *got* my weird thumb obsession, but was willing to play along. ;)

When I got my copy of Kanzashi in Bloom in the mail, my first message to Diane was, "It's beautiful!" Followed by, "It's like Thumb Porn for me!" Fortunately, she took that as a compliment (as it was, of course, intended).

I think it's time you get to know Diane's thumbs as well as I do! Please enjoy this interview between me (AJC) and Diane's Thumbs! (DT) And be sure to pick up, thumb through (har!) and purchase a copy of Kanzashi in Bloom as soon as you finish reading this post.

AJC: As Diane's thumbs, you get quite the crafty workout on just about a daily basis. How do you keep up?

DT: We really try to stay in shape with plenty of deep bends and stretches. And we thumb-wrestle several times a week for extra cardio.

AJC: What's the toughest part of folding Kanzashi for you?

DT: The folding comes pretty easily, actually - the only challenge we find in the process is in assembling the flower. There's a part where you have to tie a knot in the string of petals and then tighten it - well, let's just say it's a darn good thing we're opposable.

AJC: What are your favorite fabrics with which to work?

DT: We love quilting cottons, because we can pinch an excellent crease in them. We were a little pooped after making that vinyl Kanzashi belt buckle, though. And, covered with super glue.

AJC: How do you get along with the other digits?

DT: Well, they're all like, "We have two joints, and we're tall, so we get to make the rules."
Heh - yeah, well, let's see you operate a pair of scissors without us, pretty boys.

AJC: When you're not crafting, what other kinds of activities do you like to do?

DT: Sometimes we like to get a little jam session going, table-top drumming. We also make a mean batch of BBQ meatballs.

AJC: What was your craziest/messiest crafting experience?

DT: Oh, that would totally be when Diane decided to make about 300 magazine reeds. You have to roll magazines around a thin bamboo skewer - total grunt-work for thumbs, by the way. By the end, we were sticky with glue stick and covered with magazine ink. Being a thumb is not a glamor job.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Craft for Good!

The gals at the Stitch Lab here in Austin are teaming up with Ann Randall of The Stitching Studio to craft for charity. Ann heads up the Charity Craft Volunteer Network, and coordinates dozens of different ways that folks can lend a helping hand with their craftiness. Leslie and Carol at the Stitch Lab are coordinating a series of crafternoons where folks will tackle projects assembly-line style. The first session will be this Sunday, July 26 from 3:30 - 8:00 PM with the goal of setting up twice monthly sewing sessions to follow.
This weekend, they'll be making "cloth medical play dolls for children in the hospital. Medical play dolls are used in hospital as a communication tool for explaining an invasive procedure to a child or for diagnosing a child's discomfort. If a child is facing an IV for the first time, medical staff in the emergency room insert an IV on a doll's arm as they explain the procedure to the child. The child is then given the doll to keep and hold for comfort and security."

They need people to trace, stitch, cut, turn, stuff and close by hand. It's a great chance to spend time crafting with friends (and even learning some new techniques!) and helping others. I'm so glad to see the Stitch Lab offering this opportunity.

If you are interested in helping out, just RSVP to Leslie and Carol at beez[at]glitzkrieg[dot]biz and let them know what time you can make it. The event will take place at The Stitch Lab. If you haven't been there before, you'll directions to the location when you RSVP. If you aren't here in Austin, or can't make it, you can give a quick cash donation through the Craft For Charity web site.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Stitching Flashback

Oh goodness, folks. Summer is ruining me. Kids and I are having loads of fun and craziness and are trying to survive weeks of 100+ temps. I'm just not having much time to craft on my own and blog about it.

I actually have been working on some stitching projects in the last couple of weeks, but they're a little secretive, so no blogging them yet. Instead, I'm going to take you back a couple of years in my stitching. This is a little tooth fairy pillow that I made for my daughter back in 2007 when she started showing signs that her first loose tooth was getting close to popping out.

A little bit about the project: the floral fabric was scavenged from a mumu I found at the thrift store. Now, don't go spreading the word, but I actually covet a mumu. I'm all about comfortable home wear, and I have to admit that I've lovingly fondled mumus in discount stores. As of yet, though, I haven't been able to actually go through with the purchase of one. I thought this "vintage" mumu might satisfy my desire to wear a robe-dress around the house while being hip and retro at the same time. Sadly, it was too small, so parts of it became this tooth fairy pillow.

The embroidered image is actually from a Bambi coloring page. My daughter has always been obsessed with forest creatures (animals of any sort, actually) and deer - specifically "stags" - are at the top of her list. This was some of the most delicate embroidery I've ever done. I think I used just 2 or even 1 strand for the whole thing.

The sewing was not my finest work, but it did the job, and my daughter actually loved it. She's used it for every tooth she's lost so far - including the one where the tooth fairy forgot to show up and take the tooth! Ooops .... she remembered the following night.

Also of note is the wee pocket. I'm a frugal gal, and my whole life I only remember getting a quarter for a lost tooth. I made this pocket just big enough to hold one quarter. Nothing more. Even the tooth fairy is falling victim to the weakened economy!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Get to Know the Space Geek Side of me

If you are following me on Twitter, you know that the only thing I tweet about as much as crafting is .... Space. That's right, I'm a complete and total Space Geek.

My fascination with Space and Space travel started when I was about 11 years old. I'd always been interested in Outer Space and astronauts, but it was specifically the Challenger tragedy that spurred me into declaring I wanted to be an astronaut myself. I still remember sitting in my 5th grade class and seeing the teacher from the next classroom over come in and start whispering grimly to our teacher. I heard things like "shuttle" and "explosion" and had an immediate lump in my stomach. As I continued to follow the story and learn more about the astronauts on the Challenger's crew, I developed a deep appreciation for the brave pioneers who were willing to risk their lives in the name of science.

That's me in the middle (with some totally bitchen pink frosted lipstick) and my friends who went to Space Camp as well.

A year later, I went to Space Camp. (I have to thank my parents profusely here for being willing and able to send me) It was an amazing experience, that differed just a smidge from the classic 1986 movie - which I have almost memorized and adore. I learned loads, made great friends and ate french fries shaped like Space Shuttles. I bounced around in a 1/6 chair and got to feel what it would be like to walk on the moon. It was amazing.

That's me as mission commander in our end-of-week mission simulation. Two words: Insanely Fun.

My love for Space has continued my entire life, and has recently been infiltrating my tweets, especially during the last Shuttle mission back in May. I was able to sit in my office and work while I streamed live video of the astronauts' space walks and their repairs of the Hubble telescope.

Surely I'm not the only one amazed by this, right?

I mean ... HELLO! Live video streaming from hundreds of miles above us - astronauts chatting (and so politely!) - dear ole Hubble ... this is amazing stuff, folks!

I was watching the shuttle launch (actually, scrubbed due to weather issues, crossing fingers for tonight) last night, and couldn't believe that no one else in my family wanted to watch with me. I gasped as the astronauts disembarked the orbiter (some even giving a wave and a thumbs up to the little camera positioned in the white room just outside the orbiter's hatch) and said, "Look! It's the astronauts! They're getting off the orbiter! Check out their suits! Their helmets! Look at the guys helping them!" Apparently, it wasn't enough to pull the kids from watching iCarly.

My husband looked at me and said, "You are such a dork."

Commander Polansky gets strapped in to the Orbiter today. Amazing!

Now, I know he wasn't being mean and I've never been one to hide my nerd badge, but come on! We are blasting humans in to space. They are hooking up with the International Space Station. There will be Space walks ... in SPACE. All of it real and there for us to watch and admire. Teams of people, working hard, using their insanely smart brains and making all these amazing things happen ... up in SPACE!

How is this dorky? How is this not the most awesome thing we can experience? Why isn't everyone excited and interested and fired up about it?

I have a theory: we've (mostly) lost touch with the 11-year-old inside of us.

This was my set up in my office on my side desk to watch the spacewalks with Hubble back in May.

Nothing brings me back to that excited, full of wonder and awe self like Space. When I watched astronaut Mike Massimino take the coolest space tools ever to Hubble, I was instantly transported back to 1986. I was giddy and excited and interested and in complete awe. Being able to follow Massimino on Twitter (and the numerous other NASA twitter feeds) allowed me to feel like I was along for the ride and left me feeling completey inspired.

So here's where my love of Space and my love of crafting coincide: Inspiration, wonder, awe, excitement, and tapping back in to that carefree feeling I had when I was a kid. They actually both evoke very similar emotions for me.

This is me talking to a woman from NASA at Maker Faire. She's just told me some very exciting news about NASA (that I'll share when I get the green light) and I'm hitting the table saying (I'm not kidding) "SHUT UP! That is SO COOL!" I guess I am a dork ....

Aren't we all looking for inspiration? Don't we all want something that leaves us breathless and happy and excited to see what the future will be? Am I a dork for thinking that things like Space travel and crafting can bring that feeling to others? I'm ok with that.

Give yourself some time tonight to watch the launch. Follow NASA on Twitter, follow the astronauts on Twitter. If you have kids, get them to watch, too. Maybe you can make something while you watch. Open yourself up to the possibility of being completely inspired.

Or ... just go ahead thinking I'm a dork

Some resources:
10 Ways to get involved with NASA
Space Flight Now - up-to-date information on launch and video
SpaceVidCast - another place to watch - it's in HD and has a couple who do commentary during the launch prep. There's also a chat room. You might see me in there under avgjanecrafter
NASA TV - you can watch online, but there's a bit of a delay behind the first two sites listed here. If you have staellite tv, you can catch it there.
NASA on Twitter
Astronaut Mike Massimino on Twitter
Astronaut and Commander of the current mission, Mike Pollansky

Monday, July 6, 2009

Special Guest Review: Vintage Baby Knits

Anyone who has read this blog for more than a few posts knows that I'm not a knitter. I'm just too hot-natured to spend much time handling a bunch of yarn or wearing sweaters. I have to admit, though, that when a copy of Vintage Baby Knits by Kristen Rengren showed up on my doorstep, I almost decided to change my views on knitting.

Aaaaaaaand then I thought again. Being realistic, I knew I wasn't about to pick up knitting, and knew I'd need some help giving my readers an educated review of the book. I asked my friend, Melissa Henderson, to do the honors instead, and I'm thrilled that she's giving the first guest review here on Average Jane Crafter.

I know Melissa through a vibrant online mom community here in Austin. We've connected over all things crafty, and I was lucky enough to have her in one of my embroidery classes. I've always admired Melissa's writing and her knitting, so I think she's the perfect person to share her thoughts on Vintage Baby Knits with you. Here's a little bio on Melissa to get you acquainted. I'm really hoping she'll have more to share here for all the knitting faithful AJC readers.

Melissa Henderson is a knitter, writer, editor, wife, and mother, though not necessarily in that order. She learned to crochet at the age of five. Her grandmother unraveled the orange scarf she was making over and over until Melissa's stitches were even enough to warrant the use of the yarn. At seventeen, she taught herself to knit and has been stitching away ever since. She has recently taken up sewing and embroidery as well, causing even more confusion over how to best use her limited time.

And without further ado - here's Melissa's review of Vintage Baby Knits by Kristen Rengren.

This book marries three of my favorite things: knitting, vintage clothing, and babies. When the book arrived, I tried to temper my initial excitement before diving in to avoid disappointment. I’ve seen many knitting pattern books that look equally promising at first glance. Somehow, after flipping through the pages, I realize thee books held little in the way of items I’d actually want to knit. How many sparkly shrugs and wool bikinis can a girl use, after all?

I took a deep breath, opened the book with a stack of stickie notes on hand, and began marking each pattern I’d actually want to knit. It was soon clear that this book passed my initial test: The patterns are simply lovely. I marked nearly a dozen on my first flip-through.

I began knitting the Stella Pixie Hat since I had some leftover sock yarn in my stash. The mitered construction intrigued me. And I’ll confess my great knitting weakness: I am lazy about seaming. This little hat has only two simple seams. I knit most of it while watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. There’s something about the process of crafting a cute vintage bonnet that calls for the company of a black-and-white movie.

Since the newest member of our family is in his or her thirty-eighth week of gestation as I write, I enlisted Curious George to model my Stella Pixie Hat, knit out of less than one skein of Knit Picks Essential Sock Yarn in Kettle-Dyed Spruce. The pattern was simple and easy to follow. This little hat is also a perfect on-the-go summer knitting project. You can easily stash it in your purse, and you don’t have to endure the unpleasant sensation of thick wool heating up your lap as the sun shines down on you.

This brings me to another thing I love about Vintage Baby Knits: the wide variety of yarn weights used in the patterns. There are some patterns that call for worsted weight yarn, but most call for double knitting, sport, or fingering weight yarns. Using lighter weight yarns creates gorgeous detail in these wee vintage knits. As wise knitters knew years ago, lightweight yarn paired with small needles means you use less yardage per garment, a great way to save yarn while turning out heirloom-quality items.

The projects in Rengren’s book are so lovely that I’ve already started the Rufus Textured Cardigan in a shameless shade of red wool. Yes, it requires seaming. But these patterns are just so lovely, so simple and stylish, that I will venture back into the land of seams for them. Next on the knitting list is the Betty Lou Lace Cardigan. I’d be knitting it now if I had the right yarn. This beautiful little swing-style jacket is, in fact, a seamless pattern. I have a feeling it will become one of those stand-by knits I make again and again for baby gifts. After that, I have my eye on the Daisy Soaker, or maybe Rupert the Lion and his pal Elmer the Elephant.

You get the picture: This is one knitting book you’ll use again and again. What a delight to find so many gorgeous photos and timeless patterns in one lovely book. I highly recommend taking an afternoon off to close the shades, crank up the AC, and knit one of these ridiculously cute gems while taking in a black-and-white double-feature. That’s what I’ll be doing as I wait for my water to break.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Embroidered Pieces From my Mom

I think I've mentioned before that my mom went through quite the crafty phase herself when she was in her mid twenties to early thirties. She and I seem to share the same interests and habits in crafting. Neither of us really craft(ed) with our kids, and we both have a passion for embroidery. I don't mind that my mom didn't craft with us much as kids, because I can see why it was her thing. It's the same reason I don't do much crafting with my kids, especially when it comes to embroidery. That is my sacred, post-kid-bedtime activity. My mom revealed to me that it was a hobby she picked up with she was a young mom (like me) with a long-working-hours husband (like me) and she was trying to keep her hands busy at night when she watched tv so she wouldn't overeat (like ... me!) I love that even though we never really *talked* about craft before, I still managed to evolve into the same craft habits that she had.

A few weeks ago, I was at my sister's house for a playdate with the kids. I walked down her hallway to fetch one of the kiddos, and stopped dead in my tracks when my eyes fell on this old piece of embroidery. I'd completely forgotten it, but as soon as I saw it, memories and feelings from childhood came rushing back. My mom made this for me and it hung in my room for years when I was a little kid. I remember looking at it so much, for so long, studying every stitch.

This was another piece she stitched. I can't remember if this was in my sister's room or my room, but again - it brought back floods of memories. I remember looking at these pieces with such focused attention, taking in every color and shape and stitch. They were so familiar to me once I saw them again that I can't believe they had ever slipped to the far reaches of my mind where I forgot them for a while.

I love these pieces, not because they are "kitchsy" or "vintage" looking. That's fun and all, but I love the memories of knowing them so well. And now that I know more about why and when my mom made them, I love having that new connection to them. It makes me want to make more things like this for my kids, and to not worry so much if they seem excited about them now. I have a feeling that if they land in their houses decades from now, my kids will have the same loving connection as I have with these.